Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Watcher

The old man sensed the young boy approaching the weathered wooden bench.

“What are you doing?” the boy asked.

“Watching that man shovel rocks into the tram.”

“Why’s he doing that?”

“Because the Master ordered it.”

“Why did the Master do that?”

“Because the man dared challenge the Master’s ideas.”

“Oh.” The boy stood at the opposite end of the bench, leaving space between him and the old man. The boy knew the man was old because of his gray hair, hunched shoulders, and long beard, like his grandpa Haro. And he smelled, also like his grandpa Haro. The man’s shoes were scuffed, his clothes covered with a black dust. “Was he right?”

“Many thought so, but they didn’t dare say anything.” The old man continued to stare through the glass window, his eyes unblinking.

“How come you keep looking at him?”

“Because the master said I had to?”

“How come?”

“Because he can, I guess.”

“You don’t know what you did?”

“Oh, out of frustration I may have called the Master a bad name in front of a friend of mine. At least, I thought he was a friend. But this seems a harsh punishment if that's the real reason.”

“Do you know his name?”

“The man in there?” the old man asked, pointing at the glass.

The boy nodded.

“Not his real name. I call him Sissy Puss.”

“That’s a funny name,” the boy said with a giggle. “Why do you call him that?”

“Well, he’s wearing that pink onesie - - by order of the Master - - which makes him look like a sissy, and he for sure has an ugly puss.”

“You’re funny.” The boy giggled again, then stared through the window and watched Sissy Puss shovel some more. “He looks tired.”

“He should be. He’s been shoveling for a long time.”

“How long does he have to keep working?”

“Until the pile is gone.”

The boy watched again, tilting his head from side to side.

“Every time he picks up some rocks, more fill in. How’s he going to finish?”

The old man leaned forward and put his arms on his legs. “Probably won’t,” he said.

The boy picked up a stone off the ground and held it in his hand. “It’s hard.”

“It’s some special metal only found on this planet. Explorers discovered it around eighty years ago. It’s harder than anything known before then. The Master ordered it be used by the military for everything from bombs to bullets.”

“Only bombs and bullets?”

“Airplanes and ships too. His enemies don’t have anything to stop an invasion. That keeps them in line. And besides, the Master likes bullying them into going along with what he wants.

“Bullying is wrong. Our teacher told us to report anyone who bullied a classmate.” The boy moved closer to the window. “You should tell on him.”

The old man attempted to smile, but his dried, cracked skin wouldn't allow it.

“Does the Master live here?”

“No. He lives on Earth.”

“Does he rule Earth?”

“He’d like to." The old man sat up and stretched his arms over his head. "You sure do ask a lot of questions.”

“I’m seven,” the boy said with a shrug.

“Why don’t you come and sit next to me?” the old man said, patting the bench.

The boy stared at the old man, a puzzled look on his face. “I shouldn’t. My parents told me to beware of strangers.”

“Are we still strangers?”

The boy stood quiet for a few seconds. “I guess not,” he replied and slid on the bench, his feet dangling above the ground.

“Why don’t you leave?” the boy asked.

“Can’t. Not until I find a replacement.”

“How long have you been watching?”

“Oh, since I was about your age.”

“That’s a l-o-o-ng time.”

“Yes, it is,” the old man said, standing for the first time in he didn’t know how long. His knees ached. His back was stiff. He took a step and grabbed the back of the bench to keep him from falling. He waited until he felt stable and then walked away.

“Where are you going?” the boy asked.

“To get a drink.”

“Who’s going to watch the man?”

“You are. Sorry kid, but I’ve done my time. Now it’s your turn,” the man mumbled.

"What did you say?" When the man didn't answer, the boy turned to the window. The man on the other side of the glass kept shoveling, oblivious to the change beyond the window.

"Hey, mister? How do I. . ." The boy stopped as the old man disappeared into a mist. He tried to stand but couldn't. It was like someone had put glue on the bench. He attempted to unsnap his pants to get out of them, but couldn't do that either. He turned toward the mist, which was gone, and then back to the man behind the window. The boy put his elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands, and began to count each shovelful.



Friday, October 6, 2017

A Duel in Dodge City

First appeared at Aphelion.

The challenge was to write a story with a twist ending in fantasy, sci-fi, or horror genre.


Maddie dismounted, tied the palomino's reins to the hitching post, and ambled through the swinging doors into the noname saloon, the chaps slowing her progress. She sauntered to the bar, her spurs providing a musical accompaniment to each step, and perched on a stool with her feet dangling above the floor.

"Barkeep, gimme a beer," she said and placed her Stetson on the bar.

"You wanna keep that hat I suggest you put it someplace else," the bartender said with a stare like her father used to give her.

"Didn't mean no harm," Maddie said and put the dusty hat back on her matted, black hair. "Jason been in today?" she said taking a sip of warm beer.

"Should be here anytime now." The bartender casually wiped the bar without looking at Maddie "You know Jason?"

"We've met," Maddie replied, while attempting to act like it didn't matter if Jason showed or not.

She saw Jason's reflection in the mirror behind the bar when he entered the saloon. Lowering her eyes, she pulled the brim of her hat down so he couldn't see her face.

"Hey, Paco. How's it going today?"

"Goin' fine" the bartender said. "Got somebody here wants to see you," he continued with a nod toward Maddie.

Maddie slowly slid off the stool and flexed her fingers. "Hello, Jason. Long time."

Jason stopped and smiled. "It has been a while, Maddie. How's Susan?"

"None o' yer business how my sister is. Not since you left her at the altar. She about died of heartache 'cause of you." Maddie spread her feet a little wider and rolled her shoulders to ease the tension.

Jason matched her pose.

"Hey, you need to take this outside," the bartender said.

"Shut up, Paco. This isn't any of your business." He stared at Maddie. "Anytime, Maddie, but we know how this is going to end."

"Oh yeah?" Maddie drew her gun, but Jason was faster. The bullet seared through her shoulder causing Maddie to lurch backwards. When she looked up, Jason was gone.

Maggie staggered toward the door and into the street. She removed her headset and spied Jason waiting with a teeth-baring grin on his face, his arms crossed on his chest.

"Let's see. That's me three and you zero," he said.

"I'm still new to these virtual reality games," she said punching Jason in the arm. "I'll beat you yet."

"We'll see little lady," Jason said with a bow, his arm pointing to the parking lot. "We'll see."

"You're damn right we will. Next time I get to pick the scenario," she said with a wry smile, "and it will be a joust. We both know how much you hate horses." Maddie winked and strode toward her car, confident she would win the next time.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Oh, What the Hell

First appeared at CommuterLit.com.

My memory's not what it used to be. The doctor says I might have early onset dementia, but I remember the night my Aunt Janine stormed into the house all livid--that's the word Mom used--and collapsed on the couch next to Rex, our Labradoodle. Her face was as red as the clay in our yard. Mom nodded at me, a signal I knew meant it was time to go upstairs.

Instead, I went into the dining room far enough so they couldn't see me and sat on the floor with my back to the wall. I could tell by her voice that Aunt Janine was really upset. Every time she said Uncle Bill's name, her voice elevated to a higher pitch. She talked and sobbed at the same time, which made it hard to understand what she was saying. That was okay, because a few words, especially those that surrounded Uncle Bill's name, weren't suitable for a ten-year-old's ears.

She told Mom how whenever she and Uncle Bill argued, which was a lot, Uncle Bill would rant and rave about being underappreciated, and then he'd storm out of the house saying he was going to see his friend James. Aunt Janine followed him tonight and saw Uncle Bill standing in front of an apartment building kissing someone who  definitely was not a James, unless James was a cross dresser with long, black hair, wearing a short dress that showed off a pair of athletic calves. Aunt Janine stopped talking and cried so hard she choked.

After a long silence, she said she didn't have any other family nearby and asked if she could spend the night. "I don't know what else to do." Then in a softer voice, she said, "You won't even know I'm here." I edged along the wall and saw Mom get up and bring her sister-n-law a glass of water, then hold Aunt Janine in her arms and rock her like she did me when I had a fever.

My mother said, "Of course, you can stay." Neither of them spoke after that, so I went to my bedroom and played with my Power Rangers until Mom hollered it was time to go to bed.

Now, forty years later, I'm sitting alone in my own home, on my own sofa, rubbing my Schnauzer Gus' belly with my right hand, and holding an empty Miller Lite in the left. I don't need to find a place to stay, not like Aunt Janine. My Karen and her 'James' ran off someplace. Her note didn't say where. I suspect Las Vegas. She's always wanted to go there.

I never understood what was going on in Aunt Janine's head that night long ago. I do now. And it sucks. Marriage is supposed to be forever. I keep making mental lists of what went wrong, what I did to make her leave. None of them make any sense to me. Maybe that's the real problem.

I've been fighting off the tears and the sobs and the angry words for three Millers. It's not a manly thing to do, but I wonder if it might help. Aunt Janine seemed better the next morning.

I look at Gus and he burps, as if to tell me to get on with it. I pet his stomach. He rolls on his back to give me better access. "Oh, what the hell, boy. It's only me and you."

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Man's Best Friend

This week's 5 to 55 challenge from the Flash Factory. Prompt words below. 

We shared a salacious look. She on the jury. Me a hopeful. Her eyes flickered and danced, like a lantern on a windy night. I smiled. Leaned down. Gave TJ an enthusiastic pet. "Let's show these folks a winning routine." TJ raised a leg. Peed on a plant. I hoped for a rating above zero.

Prompt words: zero, dance, jury, lantern, salacious

Friday, September 1, 2017

Dinner Time

First published at Palm-Sized Press

Margaret toddled down the hall on her way to dinner. She didn't normally wear pajamas when she went out, but there wasn't enough time to change.

She stopped to look at a painting she didn't recognize. The sign on one building had the words Cafe Bourgeois. Aliz's Pub was on another. The streets were narrow and cobblestoned, the buildings small and old, like her. She moved on. A wheel on her walker wobbled with each step.

Margaret reached the dining hall and noticed the man sitting at a table in the corner. His gray hair was cut short--military style. His eyes were closed. He wore slippers. She frowned and looked away.

It bothered her that no one else was seated. People needed to be on time. It was a rule.

Leaving her walker along the wall,  the one with a large calendar listing activities for July, she made her way to her chair. The menu perched in the middle of the table had two pages—one for lunch and one for dinner. She read the dinner side, crinkled her nose when she got to broiled fish and nodded at the chicken pot pie.

"Hello, Margaret."

"Hello," Margaret parroted and added a wave, like she saw the Queen do on TV.

"What are you doing here?" the woman dressed in an orange blouse and pants set with Karen on her nametag said. "You should be in bed."

"I'm hungry. I came down for dinner."

"It's 2:00 in the morning."

"But I'm hungry." Frustration spread across Margaret's face. "Didn't you hear me?"

"I'm sorry, Margaret." Karen smiled and put a hand on the older woman's shoulder. "It's been a long night. How about a package of cookies and some juice? Will that hold you until breakfast?"

"I guess it'll have to," Margaret mumbled.

"Well, I can always sneak you another package of cookies if one isn't enough." Karen bent down so her lips were near Margaret's ear. "Our little secret. Okay?"

"How about him?" Margaret nodded toward the man in the corner. "Will he tell on us?"

"Nah," Karen said with a wave, like she was shooing a fly. "He's probably asleep."

Margaret went back to reading the menu. When Karen returned with a glass of apple juice and a package of peanut butter cookies, Margaret looked up and, pointing at the menu, said, "I'll have the chicken pot pie and fruit cup."