Category Archives: FlashFic

#FlashFic: Benton House

The Benton House by JC Rosen

She crept along the hallway in dappled light, dawn peeking through drapes. A sound ahead made her freeze, her bravery faltering. She had to keep going. If she didn’t, they might catch her. Big brother Jackie had told her to keep going and “don’t look back, Ellie, not for anything.” Her little hands turned to fists.

It had been a long night. Super scary, being alone in the dark, old house. The wind didn’t help. It made the building creak. Its fingers dashed chills all over her little body. Scrawny, even though she was seven, and stubborn to go with it, Mama said.

Her brothers each spent a night in the Benton House. The twins teased her until she was angry enough to show them she was as brave as they were. Braver! They were ten years old when they did it. She ignored their spooky stories of cold places and whispers. Secretly, she curled up in her room with a pillow afterward, when she was alone. She was scared all right, but she wouldn’t show it to them.

Only Jackie, her oldest brother, understood. He held her hand and told her she didn’t have to do it. It was spooky in the abandoned house, he said. When he saw her jaw set, he stroked her hair. His eyes looked sad. That’s when he took her hand and told her not to look back. He told her a lot that afternoon. Nearly changed her mind, but she gulped and held her ground. At least the twins weren’t there to hear or see. Bobby and Thom were only twelve. All they knew was how to make fun of her.

The night was darker than Ellie ever saw. There were chills even when the wind wasn’t shaking the house. Weird noises, too. The worst was the whispery sound, like voices too quiet to hear right. Ellie thought she heard “girl” a few times. It was probably the wind, though, wasn’t it? Jackie snuck her a flashlight and told her to save the batteries. She only turned it on when she got really scared. Its beam swung around her closet hiding place, scouring the walls and corners. Nothing there. Breathe nice and slow, like Jackie said. It helped.

The darkness under the door seemed to reach for her. When it turned gray with the coming dawn, she shed silent tears. Easing from the closet, she saw a dingy, harmless room. Light filtered half-heartedly through tattered curtains. She tried to laugh. It came out as a cough, her body shaking. All she had to do was get out of the house.

The sound ahead in the hallway made her freeze, her tummy tingling. Keep going, she told herself firmly. Jackie said keep going. She swung her fists at her side as she marched down the stairs and through the living room. Ellie ran when the front door was in sight. It fought back when she tried to open it. She almost panicked, but the hinges groaned open. Trembling, knees rubbery, she flew through and down the steps of the porch. Ellie turned and looked at the Benton House. It had so terrorized her. In the half-light of sunrise, it looked old, sad and saggy.

Ellie, over here, be quick.” Jackie held out his hand over the fence edging the property. Ellie smiled smugly and strutted through the yard. She did it! Bobby and Thom might stop teasing her. At least for a while.

She reached for the gate. It didn’t budge. She tried pushing and pulling. Jackie ran over and grabbed the gate. He leaned against it hard. A quiet scream built in her throat. It died as a cold finger caressed the back of her neck. “No, Ellie! Climb over, keep moving!” Jackie pushed and pulled frantically. Ellie knew it was already too late.

Invisible hands grabbed hold and dragged her away from her horrified brother. Ellie heard the whispering voices clearly. “A girl child! We’ve waited so long. Welcome, welcome.” The voices soothed away her fear. The farther away they lifted her, the more peaceful she felt.

They took her high above the yard. Below, Jackie yanked open the gate. He gathered up a small, limp girl. Curiosity made Ellie hover, watching as he shook his head and cried. Boredom came. She swirled through a window. Her new family waited.

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FlashFic: The Deading

 

A flash by JC Rosen

 

The secret to successfully being dead is to remember what it was like to be alive. Does that sound too simple? Until you’re dead, you can’t understand the big deal. Moving to the other side of the veil makes it harder to stay like a human.

I don’t know many dead people. Those I met convinced me I’m not missing anything. Lots showed me what I didn’t want to do. Being with them made me understand how to have a good life after death. What a tired saying that is. “Life after death.” There must be some other way to put it. There’s “living,” maybe there should be “deading.”

I’m rambling. I rambled a lot when I was living. I do it more now that I’m dead. Now that I’m deading. There’s so much time to fill, you see. Think of all the busy things the living do. They eat, there’s school or work, they sleep. These take up time. These help the living stay tethered to time. These are things that were stripped from me when I died. So much time to fill and no tether to time anymore. It’s easy to lose track.

Losing track of time is worse than idle hands. To say it’s the Devil’s workshop is only a figure of speech, so relax. Losing track means time passes without notice and all the familiar things blur away. The dead lose their sense of self. Just like the living, the deading get depressed, angry, confused.  They start acting stupid, brushing at the veil between the dimensions. Pushing themselves on the living. Terrifying them. It’s hard to come back from that and be all humanlike again.

The veil is gauzy thin. I watch the other world through it. I fantasize I have a tether to time. Familiar people, places and events remind me what it was like to be alive. Whisper light and lovely, the veil is so attractive. I want to touch it, even reach through it and touch my familiar stuff. I move close, too close sometimes. The idea of having an effect on my stuff is crazy cool. I miss it, but I’m afraid of scaring the living. I’m afraid I’ll lose myself in the rush, too. I dance away again, but I don’t lose sight of the familiar. My anchor to time and remembering my living self.

The living press against the veil from the other side sometimes. People who die and get saved, go back to living. Curious people, mourning or looking for kicks. Most often it’s just a dreamer. Like a nurse to a confused old patient, I say soothing things to the dreamer. “Yes, I’m here. I’m fine. I love you.” Pretty words. As close to having an effect on the living as I let myself get. No idea who they are, but they always leave the veil peacefully. It’s part of remembering what it’s like to be alive. Remembering that need to know loved ones are okay, even when they’re deading.

Age at death doesn’t much matter. I’ve seen old and young spirits lose track of themselves. They become ugly and mean, lashing out at each other and pushing at the veil. Sometimes they become desperately sad and try to reach through. Either way, I pull in tight and think myself away.
Leaving makes me lose sight of the familiar, though. Time blurs. I grasp hold of something, anything, that can be an anchor. Pets are nice. They can see through the veil. Their eyes are soothing. They make me remember being alive and loving my dog. Good anchor stuff. Good reminders of living for the deading.

Familiar things from life give way to new things as the living change. As the living join the deading, new familiar things take their place. If time blurs too long, all the familiar stuff is gone. There’s no anchor. Rebuilding the pretend tether to time is hard. Giving over the memory of living is the easy way out. I fight hard to remember living. Mom always said I was stubborn.

Don’t be sad, Daddy. She’ll be here soon, too. Hold her in your sights, let her be your familiar anchor. She’ll help you remember what it was like to be alive. Just like she does for me.

August 2015 Daily 100

Flashes

 

A few friends and I joined in a writing challenge last month. We wrote flash fiction of at least 100 words a day to get our creative juices flowing. I took the first word that came to mind and just let it flow. I didn’t edit, didn’t mull for hours. When I read back, I often found a dismal display of writing. Occasionally, I hit upon something I might continue into a longer story.

Here are a few I liked. I hope you enjoy them.

 

14th

 

“Frittering it all away, my girl,” Granda told me, papery voice nearly swallowed by the television. Yet another game show.

I put my hand over his, warming it. “What am I frittering away?”

He turned away from the television, giving me a gentle smile. “All, Emma. Listen when I talk to you.” He winked.

“And all would be…” I lifted a shoulder and a corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk.

“All, love. Time, opportunity, ingenuity… but especially time.” He closed his eyes, resting after the forceful response.

As he stayed quiet, I reflected as well as I could. I always felt these moments as what writers call “comfortable silence.” I liked to think Granda thought so, too. Wasting it all, especially time? I waited for him to open his eyes. “I’m seventeen, Granda. Going to the university on scholarship next fall. How am I wasting time?”

He fidgeted and his hand bumped up under my palm. I turned it so we loosely clasped fingers. With a sudden surge, he grasped my hand. He gave me a look so fierce and his voice was strong. “Love you, girl. I’m proud. Mind your time.”

He didn’t so much lean back as crumple, caught with a sweet smile forever more.

 

21st

 

Worn, this servomotor. Worn out and used up. Just like me, she snorted softly. Too bad for both of us, had to be cleaned up and keep on going. Angel Station was just a diurn’s flight, anyway. Had enough for some food, some fuel, and a few servomotors besides. Off to Valkyrie Hill for a meet and greet with the new clients on that crappy moon beyond Passapore. Possibly made it Passapore’s moon. Elladora made a mental note to check when she jacked into the navcomp for course corrects.

Just had to get another day out of this servomotor. Again.

 

25th

 

Grey blanketed her, in color and in mood. She had no desire to shake off either the dull, plodding thoughts or the quilt. The poor thing was tattered, worn, bearing stains of generations. It was appropriate. She huddled into its warmth, turning her face away from the window. Streaks of sunlight had the audacity to peek through the glass.

When the sunshine went away, she ventured from under the covers. Lumbering between shadows, she went to the kitchen. She didn’t want to eat. She wanted to sleep. More sleep, not food. Her shrink’s voice joined the others. “Prove you can take care of yourself this week, Marnie. The nurse will check on you Tuesday morning.” Monday night now. The battle between self-care nonsense and getting stuck in the hospital again. Right, soup and a shower.

Then she could sleep again.

 

29th

 

There was something unnatural about the way these beings moved.  Petram nearly laughed aloud, a terrible breach of protocol. She felt the eyes of the ambassador swivel her way and her merriment disappeared. Alien meant different, after all. Not of our experience. The four legged yet upright Fiirmi certainly met that requirement. Coming from a nebula beyond Terratoo’s reach sealed the deal. The hiss of their respirators pumping who knows what into their flat noses was the only sound as they approached.

Petram was far down the line from the ambassador. Celebrity had its perks, but it didn’t trump political and diplomatic credentials. Her predictions as to contact with alien species paid off bigtime when the Fiirmi arrived. As she wrote, they were the ones driving the tram. Terratoo’s people liked to think they were advanced enough to explore the cosmos, ready for first encounters. The truth is, her people were just poking about in the galaxy while the Fiirmi, and likely others, observed. Were they amused? How would she know? They were alien. Along with the others, she bowed to them, but lifted her head quickly. Mustn’t miss a moment of this.

#FridayFlash: Box of Rox

 

Diamonds are Rocks

 

“Dumb as a bag of hammers.” Harvey Feasler snorted, pointing at her.

“No, dumb as a box of rocks!” The other kids howled laughter when Monte Lyman spoke up.

Roxanne heard them in the distance. They weren’t far away, but if she listened, she’d hearseefeel everything. They stayed in the distance like all the other stimulation. Mr. Sattler called her name, but got no response. He waved from a few feet in front of her and waited there. He was safe that way.

Easing him into a space of her awareness, easing him out of the miasma of colornoiselight, Roxanne took a slow breath and prepared to engage in conversation. “Good morning, Mr. Sattler.”

“You having a good morning, Roxanne?” She searched his face for cues. A slight smile, widened eyes that might be happy rather than scared, hand palm up. That last one confused her, but he seemed to be friendly. He always did.

Trying to mirror his expression, she looked a little frightened when she responded, “It’s good.” She was busy making the colornoiselight absorb the children’s continued laughter and chanting. Was that concern on Mr. Sattler’s face now? “Thank you for asking,” she belatedly finished. His face slackened into what she recognized as calm. Filing away the information, she tried to offer a calm smile back.

Knowing better, he didn’t chatter with her on the way to her classroom. His position of authority quelled most of the abuse heaped on the poor girl. She seemed oblivious to it, even when a rowdy jock called out, “Lookie now, here comes the box of rocks!” Sattler didn’t understand her lack of reaction, not really, but decided it was a small mercy. When he held the classroom door open, Roxanne hesitated only a moment before awkwardly sidling into the room. That’s progress. He nodded, waved to the Spectrum Class Block, and quietly closed the door.

“Dumb as a box of rocks, my butt,” he muttered before shooing late students toward their classrooms and sending the rowdy jock to the principal’s office. Not a very glamorous job, being middle school vice principal.

Standing at her locker in the SCB, Roxanne peered into the shadowy space and frowned. Miss Emily watched her shrug her shoulders and knew it had nothing to do with dismissing a thought. Roxanne didn’t do that. She couldn’t do it. Giving the girl a wide berth so she didn’t startle her, Miss Emily waited patiently to be noticed. Roxanne stopped shrugging and shaking her head. She waved to her teacher and waited.

“It’s too warm for a sweater or jacket, Roxanne. You don’t have one to put in your locker,” she explained patiently. Watching the girl process the information and then light up with relief made happy bubbles dance in Miss Emily’s belly. It’s times like this when Roxanne gave a spontaneous smile, eyes alight with understanding and connection, Miss Emily knew Roxanne was meant for more than the SCB had available.

Settling in at her seat alone at a table, Roxanne began her customary decompression with paper and pencil. Miss Emily left her to it and circulated in the classroom. Nearly each student had a personal teacher’s aide who helped with monitoring and helping them with their tasks. Roxanne was able to work with little supervision, only a reminder to focus on the worksheets or computer from time to time. As she passed Roxanne’s table, Miss Emily noted the girl wasn’t writing equations as expected. Words filled the page.

She got Roxanne’s attention with a little wave from several steps away. After getting a wave back, she sat across from the girl. “May I look at your paper?” Roxanne looked blank and nodded. Nearly every line of the page held the words “box of rocks.”

“You are writing very well, Roxanne. I have a question.” She paused until Roxanne tilted her head slightly. “What is a box of rocks?”

“Dumb,” the girl replied flatly.

Miss Emily caught herself, stopping the frown before it could form. “May I show you something?” Roxanne tilted her head. Extending her hand over the table, Emily showed her rings. She pointed to her engagement ring. “Do you see this?”

“Shiny.”

“It is shiny, yes. It’s called a diamond.”

“Diamond.”

“Diamonds are rocks, Roxanne. They’re bright and shiny.”

Roxanne tilted her head one way and then the other slowly before her shoulders relaxed and she put down her tightly gripped pencil. “Diamonds are bright.”

“Right. Diamonds are bright. Diamonds are rocks,” Miss Emily nudged.

“Bright as a box of diamonds,” Roxanne said slowly.

Miss Emily smiled, her head tilted slightly to engage Roxanne more closely. “That’s very good. Bright as a box of diamonds.” She gave a little nod. After a moment, so did Roxanne. “Would you like another sheet of paper?” Another nod, another piece of paper. This time, the equations flowed.

When Mr. Sattler walked her to the bus as he did at the end of each school day, she walked along quietly as always. The colornoiselight was thick. “Dumb as a box of rocks,” Monte shouted from down the hallway, ignoring the vice principal’s presence in his enthusiastic delivery.

The voice squeezed out of the colornoiselight and Roxanne heardsawfelt it. She stopped after a couple steps. In an even tone, she commented, “Diamonds are rocks. Diamonds are bright.” Continuing on her path, she was unaware of Monte’s face turning red as the other kids heckled him about getting burned back.

Mr. Sattler didn’t understand, not really. He decided he didn’t have to understand. “Very good, Roxanne,” he told her.

 

~

Inspired by my younger son, who has autism, this story is presented for Autism Awareness Month. The character of “Miss Emily” is a tribute to one of my son’s favorite teachers. Although he’s an adult, he remembers his elementary school teacher often.

Everyone on the autism spectrum is different, but all face challenges, as do their families and friends. Please know your kindness is deeply appreciated. 

 

#FlashFiction: See How They Fall (Conclusion)

<– start at Part One

 

JC Rosen, See How They Fall

 

Molly, still done up all girlie and sweet, sat on a divan with Sylvia. George – no, wait, Arnie – took a wingback facing him.

A door he hadn’t noticed opened above the bookcases and a woman stepped in. The door and the staircase leading down were the same shell color as the wall, so she seemed to float along the wall down into the library. Her gauzy gown flowed around her. She appeared somewhat older, her thin face pinched as it pointed at him. “I told you he wouldn’t recognize me,” she announced to the others. Recognize her?

Michelle went to the older woman, perhaps a handful of years older than Rich. The woman stroked Michelle’s cheek tenderly. “You’ve done all you promised and then some. Such service will not go unrewarded, my dear.” Michelle seemed to tip her head slightly and step away. The woman came toward Rich and stood out of reach. Close enough for him to examine her features.

He went still. “Pamela?” he whispered.

The woman’s eyebrows shot up. “So you do remember me. Do you remember what you did to me?”

Memories, hidden from his awareness all these years, buffeted Rich’s mind. Pamela, darling and so pliable as his girlfriend at Ithaca College. He knew she was looking for an MRS degree, her goal being marriage rather than an education. School was merely an excuse. He filled the bill, but only to a point. Her family was reasonably comfortable, but not the high and mighty he wanted. Still, her grandfather and father attended Dartmouth Law, his dream. It didn’t take much to convince her father to write a glowing recommendation for the clean cut, devoted boyfriend. He even gave Rich his Dartmouth ring with his blessings. Rich realized absently he was twisting that ring around his finger.

“Pamela Lightner?” He shook his head. “Wait, how are you Miss Stemple?”

Pamela sighed theatrically. “You paid close attention, didn’t you? Stemple was my mother’s maiden name, Rich.” Her eyes narrowed. “My middle name.”  She turned away from him, her gown fluttering, to address the assembled. Her conspirators. “Oh yes, he paid attention. Paid attention to my father’s Dartmouth connections, to my good name, even to my future. When he proposed – that’s right, he proposed to marry me – I gave him everything.”

She closed her eyes and went very quiet, not moving but for the shaking of her hands, barely visible in the folds of her dress. “Rich pulled away quickly once accepted at Dartmouth.” He separated his hands, letting go of the ring, and rested them in his lap. “My sorority sisters shunned me after he dumped me. After all, I was tarnished. They at least married their lovers. Oh, I’ve been invited to all the balls and charity events. At least, my checkbook has.” Pamela hissed. “Acceptance into their society, though? Never. Sacrificed on the altar of Richard Brandt’s ambition.” When she turned back to Rich, her lip curled.

A vague memory niggled at him. Quietly, he spoke in her silence. “I was sorry to hear about your parents, Pamela.”

Her eyes widened and she paled. “How dare you? Even now, you use everything you can against me? Where was your sympathy when they were killed? Did you so much as call after their accident?” Abruptly, tears trailed down her cheeks and she sobbed briefly, one hand covering her eyes. “Of course not. You were busy with your goals: a career, a rich wife.” She dropped her hand and bent toward him, tears highlighting the crazy in her gaze. “Poor Pamela, too lowly for Richard Brandt. Used and discarded.” She whirled away, dismissing him.

In a sudden change of tone, she laughed. “Too lowly. Joke’s on you, Richard. Daddy invested well, taking a chance on some tech industries early on. Microsoft ring a bell? Apple? He made sure I had the best of everything, including stock market advice. There is more money than even you ever dreamed of having. My life became a gilded prison.” Rich shut his eyes. So close. He had been so close.

“May I, Pamela?” Michelle asked, raising a hand.

“By all means, darling.” Pamela touched Michelle’s fingers lightly as though handing off in a game. She draped herself in a vacant loveseat, crossing her legs and peering at him with a vicious smile.

Michelle came to him. Bracing herself with hands on the arms of his chair, she lowered her face to his. Her breath misted against his ear as she spoke against his cheek. “You had your fun, didn’t you, Rich? With Miss Stemple. With me. Now it’s our turn. You’re getting screwed royally.” When she laughed lightly, Rich lost it. He grabbed her by the waist and surged out of the chair, throwing her to the Persian rug. In seconds, he was smashed back into his chair, meaty hands on his chest. George’s dumpiness turned out to be Arnie’s protective brawn. Rich gasped for air while Michelle rose, laughing.

As she told the tale, Rich envisioned it clearly. Pamela sat at a juice bar at the club. Straining to listen to whispers about her, she overheard a former sorority sister. “The Vengeance Vixen did it all. Cost a bit, but got me everything. Prenup? What prenup?” The woman and her friend laughed as they left, unaware of the seed planted. Ironically, Pamela’s research for this vixen used the same technology which raised her beyond Rich’s league.

“I knew Miss Stemple was searching for me, but I was working a project,” continued Michelle.

Pamela interrupted. “When I opened the envelope and found the card with Michelle’s name on it, I knew immediately who she was. No mention of her nickname, just her name and no number. An elegant introduction, don’t you think?” She nodded to Sylvia. “Your turn, I believe.” Michelle raised her chin slightly, but yielded the floor.

Sylvia cleared her throat and sat up straight. “You’re an asshole, Rich.” She laughed with everyone but Rich. “So good to get that out finally!” Apparently, according to Sylvia, she was an assistant and not a secretary. “Do this, fetch that. You were supposed to be teaching me, mentoring me for advancement, not treating me like some girl Friday. I was the joke of the company.”

“Why didn’t you talk with me, Sylvia?” Rich asked, surprised at how calm his voice sounded.

“Like that would have done any good. No, Miss Stemple’s stipend and promise of retribution kept me with you.” She leaned forward as she explained. Rich leaned back, taking it in. Sylvia was with him for several years.

He looked to Pamela, then to Michelle. Pamela was the crazy, but Michelle was the source. “How long?”

She grinned. “Oh, at least three years. Long before you quit smoking.” Her eyes shone merrily.

Before he… oh no. No. The enormity of this plot finally began to sink in. His head dropped wearily.

Michelle rose and stalked toward him. “Miss Stemple was too lowly for you? You’ve no idea how lowly you are now. Not yet, anyway.” He saw the pointy tips of her boots near his Italian loafers. “Raise your head and look at me, Richard Brandt!”

When he met her eyes, he knew he was lost. They were dark and flat, a menace within them he’d never seen in her, in anyone. A shiver passed through him and he looked away, looked at Molly. Michelle followed his gaze. “Oh, Molly? Yes, she’s been your attorney for what, two years now?”

“About that,” Molly piped up, grinning. “Right about the time your previous attorney at that firm retired early.” Rich nodded, remembering vaguely how jealous he had been. “With a nudge from Miss Stemple, the partners gave me his clients. I led you to Arnie’s accounting more easily than expected, too.”

With an exaggerated and so-fake tone, “George” drawled, “Oh man, you handed over the keys to your groovy kingdom. I had so much fun with your stock portfolio, duuuude.” He chuckled.

Rich all but spat, “You obviously already destroyed me with all this. Why go so far as corporate espionage with the fire, for God’s sake?” Rich rose and began to stalk the room. Michelle stilled Arnie with a headshake when he made to put Rich in his chair again.

Michelle’s words brought Rich up short. Quietly, she said with a shrug, “Why not? The espionage would just put you in a country club for a prison. How long do you think you’ll last in a real one?”

Chill tendrils trailed down Rich’s spine. “You’re all mad!” he cried.

“Angry perhaps, but not quite mad,” Arnie put in.

Vengeance Vixen, she was called. Years of plotting, who knows how much spent on his destruction? He slumped. “You maneuvered well, even holding my bail,” he conceded.

“Miss Stemple is the proud owner of your freedom on that count.” He looked over at Pamela, whose eyes glittered with hatred.

“Are you thinking of running away, Rich?” she asked acidly. “I suppose you could try, but how would you get away from here?” She was right. Even if he could get out the door, he had no transportation and the location was remote. He had no money, either. They’d seen to that. His legs were shaky when he returned to his chair and dropped his head into his hands for a moment.

Looking up, looking around at them, he felt lost. “What now?” Only then did he see Pamela fondling a small plastic bag with several cigarette butts in it. His eyes widened, hands tingling. “You … you can’t be serious. Haven’t you done enough?”

There was general laughter, but Pamela’s was a crazed cackle. She handed the baggie to Michelle, who strode back to him and dangled it before him just out of reach. “We’re not monsters, Rich. We decided to put you out of your misery.”

She waved her hand and they rose. Molly and Sylvia murmured a goodbye as they passed him. Arnie actually patted his shoulder and said, “It’s been groovy, man,” and then laughed as he left.

Pamela stopped before him.  Her voice was cutting. “You earned this, Richard. Your legacy will be shameful, heartless, and selfish. You will be remembered as the bastard you are.” Turning, she said in a sweet tone, “He’s all yours, Michelle.” Without so much as a farewell, she left.

He couldn’t see exactly what Michelle was doing as she crouched near the fireplace. He boggled at what she left behind as she came to him. A wicker tray with the cigarette butts smoldered on a metal frame above a bowl of some sort of liquid. He saw other butts scattered near the back of the stone fireplace. She stroked his cheek with a gentleness not reflected in her gaze. “Take care, Rich. We’ll watch for a bit, so don’t do anything stupid, okay? There’s a good boy.”

He stared at the fire when the wicker caught, listening to her heels click on the parquet foyer floor before the big door slammed shut.

 

 

photo credit: rezavoody via photopin cc

#FridayFlash: See How They Fall (Part Five)

<– start at Part One

 JC Rosen, See How They Fall

Rich sat in the generic chair in his suite at the Hyatt. Only then did he realize he rode back from the restaurant in George’s old Audi without feeling self-conscious. Body blows, each mysterious revelation by Molly and especially Michelle. “Be there at eight,” Michelle said. The address on the card she gave him indicated an exclusive area outside of Georgetown, way out of his budget even when he had a budget. He shook his head, but the pieces of the puzzle still didn’t quite fit together.

His phone buzzed on the table. “You say you quit smoking some time ago?” Kitterick sounded jovial, skipping a polite greeting. “Very interesting. I’m eager to hear how you explain your DNA on the cigarette butts we found at the fire.” Click. Holy hell. His DNA? Rich shivered, twisting the Dartmouth ring, a cold sweat beading his upper lip.

He was getting railroaded, but his normal mental agility was sprained. His DNA at the fire. Brandt and Associates, BandA, stealing his own deal. All that work on the Stemple project down the drain. Insurance? That was a dream. He looked around, wondering if the Hyatt was now beyond his means. Maybe George had a spare room. He barked a hoarse laugh, splashed some vodka in a plastic cup, and downed it.

As seven o’clock approached, Rich decided to face whatever was coming with his usual strengths. A fresh shower and suit helped him set his own stage. No more vodka, though it was tempting. He needed a clear head. At the half hour mark, he made his way to the lobby with long strides, a man with a purpose. George pulled up, his ride to Michelle’s place, and Rich pretended the Audi was a glittering chariot taking him to the arena.

“So what’s going on, man? Michelle’s got something brewing, sounds like.” George’s attempt at conversation didn’t fit Rich’s image of himself at the moment. No small talk for him. George soon dropped it and just drove.

They pulled into a circular driveway before a stone … well, demi-mansion was all Rich could call it. Huge, three stories, but fit into a smallish plot of land near other similarly well-appointed houses. More like edifices. Rich stopped and looked around at the neighborhood, each home lit up in the growing darkness. “Come on, man. We’re going to be late.”

It didn’t occur to Rich that George invited himself until Michelle opened the thick oak door and wrapped her arms around George’s neck, standing on her toes to give him a quick kiss. She wrinkled her nose. “At least you’ll be able to get rid of that beard finally, Arnie.” George laughed and squeezed her in a hug. Rich stared at them, his self image drooping.

“We’re being rude, Arnie,” Michelle announced in a silky voice. “Do come in, both of you. I told a little white lie, Rich. This isn’t my home per se. It belongs to my client. Miss Stemple wanted to be sure you’d answer the summons.”

Summons, was it? Rich stiffened his shoulders and lifted his chin. No one summoned him. They invited, he accepted. “I’m here, so let’s get on with this charade. Or are we unraveling one?” Michelle’s smile was slow, but her eyes were cold. Not at all his Michelle. This Michelle dressed in stiletto boots and a short skirt. His Michelle wore flouncy skirts and chunky high heels, pretty blouses, all flowers and light perfume. No, this was not his Michelle. Apparently, it wasn’t his George, either.

He followed Michelle through a foyer with a huge floral arrangement on an antique round table in the center. They entered a large room, a well stocked library. Familiar faces grinned at him, some nearly leering with anticipation. Gritting his teeth, he sat in a wingback chair as Michelle indicated.

“Please, make yourself comfortable, Rich,” she told him. Yeah. Comfortable. That would happen.

 

 

Conclusion scheduled for posting next Friday!

 

 

 

 

 

photo credit: Prayitno / Thank you for visiting ! (3 millions ) via photopin cc

#FridayFlash: FlashFic: Trying to Leave

 

Trying to Leave, flash by JC Rosen

Even a real flower…

 

After putting the last unisuit into the case, Tessa sealed it in, taming the overflow. She took a sad look around the unit. Her gaze stopped on a holo from a few years before. She and Tony looked so happy. She closed her eyes and blew out a breath. It was a long time since happy. She trudged through the hatch and spun the lock. It was over.

Tony still left gifts outside the hatch to Petra’s unit two months later. No surprise he figured out where she went when she left him. Ear drops, tongue fizzles, even a real flower one day. So lovely – if she didn’t know him so well. Creepers since she did.

Alry and Petra’s relief when she left Tony surprised Tessa. She hadn’t hid the bruises and jumpiness as well as she thought. Her friends were encouraging, helping her through the fearsome fits and backflashers. Tony’s little presents didn’t help. They weren’t meant to help.

The gifts stopped, replaced by notes. Sweet words, cajoling tones. She could hear Tony’s voice, all soft and kind like in the beginning, when she read them. Petra tossed the first one into the cycler. Tessa saw the wisdom and cycled them each upon arrival. She went cold and still when the first angry one arrived. Petra didn’t throw that one in the cycler. She kept it for the law takers. Kept it and all the ones following. Alry insisted on giving her a lasertaze to carry in her handsack. “Better to have it and be safe,” he told her. Tessa put the taze in her sack, hand shaking.

Ever since, she was freakered, imagining she saw Tony in the sea of workers commuting each day. Ridiculous. His work assignment was too precious to him. He’d never risk it by coming all the way to this side of the dome during worktime. She shook it off again today, forcing herself not to reach into her sack and clutch the lasertaze.

Working late was super sour, but she took a wage slice when she moved across dome. The overwage helped. Tessa scurried to join a group of people waiting to cross a pedi zone. She caught a single glimpse of Tony off to the side, his eyes glittering in the genny light. The crowd surged forward and Tessa was carried along, her belly shivering. No freakering this time. It wasn’t her imagination. The taze was cool against her palm.

She took a crosswise pedi zone on the other side, ending up across the motor zone on another blocking. A mob of people was in front of the flimsiplex. She mixed into the crowd. A small group broke free, walking a blocking before taking the next pedi zone. She walked beside a tall woman. Tessa figured seeming like an anonymous couple in the dim lighting might hide her. Tossing a glance over her shoulder swiftly, she thought perhaps she lost him.

Her walking partner shot her a look when Tessa kept up to the next blocking. Survival instinct told her to shift her path. She joined people taking the left pedi at the next turnout. She felt more than actually tweaked a look at the imminent danger behind. More freakering? No, she didn’t lose him after all. She gave in and tapped her temple, muttering Petra’s name to buzz up her vidscreen. “Tony’s following me,” she squeaked to her friend’s image.

Alry yelled from the background, “Where are you?” She darted a look at the glowbox on the building she was passing and read it quietly. “Law takers are on the way,” he called out. “They have your PhysIdent. They’ll find you.”

“Bono, Alry. Breaking comm, need to think.” Without waiting, Tessa tapped her temple twice and reached into her sack to grip the lasertaze again.

Hurrying through the next pedi, leaving complaints in her wake, she heard her name called out. Breath caught in her throat, she again darted a look over her shoulder. Tony pushed his way toward her. His thunderous face made her go cold, her feet heavy and slow. A roaring filled her ears as she tried to drag in air. Her numb fingers gripped the taze.

Tony grabbed her shoulder roughly and yanked her back against him. At the same moment, something cold and sharp bit her throat. An actual old-timey knife? He didn’t want just to scare her this time. “Come with me, Tessa,” he hissed, pulling her back even harder.

“Yes, Tony. I’ll go with you. Please don’t hurt me,” she whimpered, caught in backflasher and trying to placate the monster he became.

Vicious laughter sent warm breath against her ear. “You’ll get what you deserve. No more, no less,” he warned. As she trembled, the knife cut more deeply. She felt hot blood dribble from the cut. It sliced through the backflasher. Anger boiled in her belly as she thought of what he put her through, before and after she left. What he was putting her through right now. A flick of her wrist in the sack.

ZZZZZTTT!

The smoking hole in the sack told the story as much as the shock paralyzed on Tony’s face. He dropped like a plasteel chunk. Tessa held her hand to her bloody throat, relief flooding her as she took in the sight of him, still and gurgling. The shiny blade clattered, falling with him. Law takers surrounded him and someone gently tugged her away.

Dazed, shaking within her warm mylar cocoon, she held up her chin so the medic could seal the slash. “Lucky he didn’t have good aim, lady,” the medic murmured.

Petra’s voice was distant. Tessa opened her eyes and startled. Petra was right next to her. “Tessa, you’re safe. It’s bono, you tazed him.” Her friend’s hand was warm as it cupped her cheek.

Tessa replayed the scene over and over as the medic finished. Her thoughts alternated between Tony falling and that hateful look on his face beforehand. “Where is he?” Her whisper was hoarse.

Alry leaned in to where she sat in the medimotor. “All smooth, Tessa. The taze wore off and the takers got him talking to a lawbot now. He’ll be underground longtime. You stopped him.”

“All bono, yeah?” Petra’s smile sparked a faint one from Tessa.

“Bono, yeah.” Super smooth.

 

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/3724807427/ By Kevin Dooley