Category Archives: Short Stories
Sometimes it’s a good thing to get your teeth kicked in.
At least, that’s what Harry told himself as he lay on the cold concrete floor of the warehouse. He paused to consider how long he’d be taking the beating from the three thugs surrounding him, but time moves differently when all you’re seeing are stars and your ribs are being realigned inside your torso.
A beating keeps you humble, he told himself.
As one of the thug’s dirty work boots made contact his shoulder for the sixth time, he considered everything he could have done differently. The fact that he could coherently consider anything at all told him that this beating had been going on for quite some time.
He remembered the way that Felicia had looked at him the first time she’d come to his office: Curly blond hair, perfect body, dressed to kill, and eyes full of desperation, which switched over to confidence after several visits. She knew that going to the police was out of the question and she hoped that Harry might be the one to help expose her husband’s illegal drug trafficking habits.
In retrospect, Harry knew that the job was too big, but the economy was tough and not a lot of folks had extra cash lying around anymore—especially not to hand over to a Private Investigator. Felicia was different. She was a woman who genuinely needed help and didn’t know where else to turn. The way she told it, she needed an out from her marriage. Harry had never met Donovan, but he gleaned that he was mean, abusive, and had a penchant for getting mixed up in stuff that no authority in the country would turn a blind eye to. Felicia had had enough. She believed in Harry and in turn gave him confidence in himself. Why he thought a nighttime trip to the docks would be a good idea, he wasn’t sure. Perhaps if the beating continued, he’d have time to ponder that as well.
Four knuckles colliding with his cheekbone brought Harry back to the present.
They’re laughing at me, Harry realized as he shook away the fog in his brain. Who am I kidding? I am a joke.
Harry’s typical client needed photos snapped of a cheating husband or a worker’s comp collector jogging healthily through the park. Those cases rarely put him in any real danger. He found himself amazed at what he’d agreed to do for fifty thousand dollars… not to mention the attention of a gorgeous woman.
What was I going to do? Harry wondered to himself as a man’s calloused hand slammed his head against the concrete. I was going to find proof…take some pictures.
Harry couldn’t help but smile as he spied the remnants of a smashed digital camera, the pieces of which were scattered across the floor several feet away. His grin was missing several teeth at this point, though he was oblivious to the fact.
Then what? He asked himself. Tell them to cease and desist?
No, he was going to turn over the evidence to the police and let them do their job. With Donovan in jail, Felicia would finally be able to divorce the scumbag and Harry would get his big payday. He’d hoped to take a vacation afterward…maybe Felicia would go with him.
As one of the thugs pulled Harry to his feet by his hair, he was able to see them with the eye that wasn’t swollen shut. Three male dockworkers that could have doubled as Olympic weight lifters stared back at him. Harry was physically outmatched. In fact, he’d flunked Physical Education in high school. Harry watched stoically as one of the thugs, a bulky, Irish-looking fellow, removed a revolver from somewhere near his lower back.
This is it, then, he thought to himself. This is what I get for getting in over my head…for going out and not telling anywhere where…for letting a pretty lady boost my ego.
The thug raised the gun to eye level. In the dim light of the warehouse, Harry was able to look straight down the large barrel of the weapon. It was pitch black down there. An abyss. It was a dark hole full of regrets and poor decisions.
He’d taken his lumps and he knew his time as a Private Investigator was quickly coming to an end. He realized himself a fool to sneak onto private property owned by a criminal. He had truly believed that he could get the evidence for Felicia and she’d be able to leave her husband. Maybe Harry would even get the girl. As it turned out, all he’d gotten was in over his head and now he had to learn his lesson. Somewhere between the pounding headache and hemorrhaging, Harry managed a final thought.
A beating keeps you humble.
Hank approached the front door of Sid’s Convenience Store and pushed, as the sticker on the glass instructed. The door didn’t move. The man stepped back, confused, and wiped his brow in frustration. A voice came from behind him.
“Store ain’t open yet.”
Hank quickly turned to face the source. A young boy, maybe seventeen years old, stood looking back at him. The boy had his hands on hips and a cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth. He wore a collared polo shirt with a logo that matched that of the convenience store.
“Name’s Steven,” said the boy pointed to the nametag pinned to the breast of his shirt opposite the store’s logo.
“Open the door, Steven.”
“Store don’t open til ten.”
“It’s two minutes to ten,” said Hank, looking at his watch.
“And the store ain’t open.”
Hank paced back in forth while Steven took his time sucking the cigarette down to the filter. Flicking the butt, the boy pulled out his key ring, jingled around for the right one and opened the door.
Hank slowly walked up and down the aisles of the store. He touched the handle of the gun tucked into the waist of his pants. He was just giving Steven time to get settled behind the cash register. As Steven turned on the radio to a country station, Hank knew that it was time to make his move.
Hank casually walked toward the register, removing the gun from his pants and hiding it behind him. Steven looked up from fiddling with his cell phone to face the man.
“You need some smokes?”
“Whatcha need? You didn’t bring anything up here.”
Hank lifted the gun, pointing it at Steven.
“Give me all your Moon Pies.”
“Yeah, Moon Pies. You gotta problem with me wanting the Moon Pies?”
“Not really,” started Steven. “Never seen a man rob a store for Moon Pies. Maybe you’re the one with the problem.”
“Shut up and get the pies, Kid.”
Casually and in no hurry at all, Steven climbed down from the stool and walked down aisle two where the snack foods were kept. The whole time, he glared at Hank who stood his ground, following him around the store with the barrel of the gun.
“I got three boxes,” said the kid from aisle two.
“That’s what I said.”
“You got anymore in the back?”
“Well if I had a gun on me,” Hank began. “I think I’d be going and looking.”
From the front of the store Hank watched Steven disappear into the stock room. After the door swung shut Hank went and collected the three boxes of Moon Pies from aisle two, stacking them neatly on the counter.
“How’s it looking back there, boy?” called Hank from his position at the cash register. He gave a pause for Steven to answer, but none came.
“Don’t make me come back there with this cannon.”
“You’re gonna be regrettin’ this,” mumbled Hank as he made his way toward the stock room.
The back room was crowded with brown boxes, but Steven was nowhere to be seen. Another door further in the back, leading out into the alley hung wide open, slowly swinging in the breeze.
As he walked back to the cash register, Hank sighed. He grabbed his three boxes of Moon Pies and headed out the front door, tucking the gun back in its hiding place. Next time, he’d call ahead.
“You’ve burned dinner for the last time!” screamed Nathan, throwing the plate of charred steak and potatoes across the room.
The supposedly unbreakable Corelle plate shattered easily against the wall, leaving a trail of gravy which gravity slowly pulled toward the floor. By the numerous visible stains adorning the wall, it wasn’t the first time this had happened.
Nathan gave a cold stare, “I come home from work, and all I want is a hot meal. Something decent. Something edible!”
Standing up aggressively, Nathan knocked over the rickety wooden chair he’d been seated on. It clattered noisily onto the linoleum floor and the table vibrated from the commotion, the silverware making a slight tinkling sound.
“Is that too much to ask?” quizzed Nathan.
He paused a moment, expecting an answer that would never come.
“Well… IS IT?” he demanded.
His eyes wild, Nathan brushed his shaggy brown hair out of his face. He crossed his arms in cold anticipation, his muscles flexing beneath his flannel shirt. Met with deafening silence, he continued on.
“Fine,” he began. “If this is how you want it to be… you’re leaving me no choice.”
Nathan spun around and exited the kitchen in a heated manner. From the next room, the sound of the hallway closet being opened broke the dangerous silence. What followed were rustling noises and mild grunting as Nathan shuffled through the closet’s contents. He was obviously searching for something and when he reentered the kitchen, it was clear what he’d been looking for.
“I promise you,” Nathan started in a hushed voice, rhythmically tapping the business end of the wooden baseball bat against his open palm. “This’ll hurt me more than it hurts you.”
Nathan began moving forward slowly. His eyes narrowed and his cheeks tightened. When he got in one of his moods, he had the ability to become wildly unpredictable, not to mention, dangerous. He wrapped both hands around the handle of the bat, raising it above his head slowly for dramatic effect.
“Never again,” whispered Nathan, bringing the baseball bat down with all his might.
The first contact hit home and only fueled his rage. It felt so good to take a stand that he couldn’t stop himself. He indulged in the mindless violence, taking in and savoring each moment. Twelve swings later, Nathan finally dropped the bat to the floor next to the wooden chair. He leaned against the wall to catch his breath, a smile quickly growing on his face.
Nathan wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve and looked over at the remains of his microwave oven. Broken glass and splintered white plastic covered both the marble counter and the floor. He felt confident that he had made his point.
“I can’t feel my limbs,” groaned Kerns.
“Don’t worry,” the man’s voice responded. “Only a few more minutes and everything should feel normal again.”
Kerns began to flail on the cold metal slab. His arms and legs were engulfed in the pins and needles sensation as though they lacked proper circulation.
“Please relax,” said the man calmly. “You’re going to throw off my readings.”
Kerns’s rolled his eyes to the left and right as far as he could, but the leather restraint across his forehead wouldn’t allow him to move his head or see the source of the voice. The strap matted his dirty blond hair to his forehead. Nervous beads of sweat formed across his brow.
“What readings?” asked Kerns, exasperation slowly to filling his voice. “Come where I can see you!”
“Do you feel any pain?” quizzed the hidden voice from the depths of the room.
Though he couldn’t see the man, Kerns assumed he was located somewhere to his left. He focused his blue eyes, staring hard into the fluorescent light affixed to the ceiling directly above him. The annoying buzz of the light matched the buzzing in his extremities.
“I don’t feel… anything.”
The hidden man ignored Kerns’s pleas and continued on.
“Try to move your right arm, Mister Kerns?”
“I can’t feel my right arm,” answered Kerns, flatly.
“You must try.”
“You’ll let me go if I try?”
“Of course,” answered the man in a patronizing tone.
Kerns continued staring into the bulb above him. It was all he had to focus on. He concentrated for a moment, but felt nothing.
“I can’t,” gasped the man on the metal slab, exhaling deeply.
“Once more?” bargained the voice.
Kerns realized that the voice was moving. The man was several feet behind him now, near his head. Kerns looked deeper into the fluorescent bulb above him. His cheeks began to quiver as he focused all his energy on the simple motion of wiggling the fingers on his right hand. Once again, he felt the familiar sting of failure.
“I can’t!” wailed Kerns.
“Oh, but you did, Mister Kerns. This is truly remarkable.”
“I’m uncomfortable. Make this feeling go away.”
“And now the left arm?”
“No!” snapped Kerns. “Not until you tell me where I am!”
“Do you remember where you were before this, Mister Kerns?” questioned the voice.
“Of course I do.”
“Would you share with me?”
Kerns blinked again, the buzz of the light filled his mind. He reached into the depths of his brain for a recent memory. He fished for any memory to share. He needed to show this man to show that he was in control. His search was met by only the buzzing of the light.
“I… I can’t remember,” whispered Kerns.
“That’s wonderful news!” encouraged the voice.
Kerns was tired of the light. Tired of the buzzing. Tired of this man’s games.
“How is that good news!?” demanded Kerns.
“It means that you do not remember the accident.”
“Accident?” asked Kerns quietly.
“Yes,” answered the voice. “Very traumatic.”
Kerns’s voice was rapidly descending into a whimper. It was the sound of a man losing hope.
“The fact that you cannot remember means that the upload link is working.”
“What are you—“
“Good!” interrupted the voice, suddenly filled with enthusiasm. “You moved the left one! Now your right leg.”
Kerns retraced the voice to somewhere near his feet. It was clear that he couldn’t bargain with this man. Cooperation was his only option. He refocused on the light.
“Fantastic work!” complimented the man. “Motor skills online.”
“Please let me go now,” begged Kerns, his face glistening with sweat.
“Absolutely, Mister Kerns. It is, in fact, time to let you go.”
Male arms appeared over Kerns’s face, lowering a pair of metal goggles over his eyes.
“Please count backwards from five,” requested the man.
“And you’ll let me go?”
Kerns closed his eyes. He had no choice but to trust the voice.
Kerns could still hear the buzzing. He could still feel it in his arms and legs. It had invaded his head and replaced his memories. It was everything.
The buzzing grew more intense. His arms and legs began to burn.
Kerns’s head began to throb.
The buzzing engulfed Kerns, pulsating through every vein in his body. The sound pounded in his ears as though his insides had been replaced with a swarm of bees.
The buzzing stopped. All sound had ceased and feeling returned to Kerns’s body. His memories began to trickle back in. He opened his eyes to find himself staring a man in a white lab coat. Gray streaked his predominately black hair and he smiled at Kerns as he pushed his glasses up on his nose.
“Welcome back,” said the man in the familiar voice. “This body should feel much better.”
“What do you—“ started Kerns.
He paused as his eyes focused on the metal slab between them, more specifically, on the male body atop it. It was covered to the shoulders with a pale blue sheet and metal goggles hid the majority of the face. Wires traced off the faceplate to various machines in what appeared to be some sort of hospital room. Kerns wasn’t sure where he was, but he was positive that this was his body. Struck with panic and curiosity, he pulled back the sheet.
Beneath the sheet, bloodstained stumps, which had been cauterized and crudely sewn up, replaced the area where his arms and legs had once been. The abomination in front of Kerns was merely a torso. His torso. Memories of the accident came flooding back into his brain.
“What have you done?” breathed Kerns.
From behind, the man brought his hand to rest on Kerns’s shoulder causing him to jump in surprise.
“I’ve given you a second chance.”
David and Andrew sat on the mauve carpet on either side of the old reel-to-reel player. Both men averaged five feet eleven inches in height and both were dressed in identical black Calvin Klein suits. If not for Andrew’s brown hair contrasting David’s blond, the two men could have been mistaken for brothers any day. Andrew continued to stare down at the device while David had become distracted by the floral pattern on the ugly wallpaper.
“I don’t understand it,” David began, “We’ve been doing this long enough to deserve a nice hotel room for a change.”
“Focus!” Andrew responded, “There are more important things to ponder.”
“Just press the button, already,” David urged.
Andrew, his knees now folded up against his chest, continued to stare at the device, “Why a reel-to-reel player?”
“Yes, seriously!” answered Andrew, “It just doesn’t make sense.”
David pulled his attention away from the wallpaper long enough to roll his eyes at the other man.
“It’s always been a reel-to-reel player. Maybe they just like tradition?”
“It’s just not practical,” started Andrew, “They should have changed over to cassette tapes back in the nineties.”
“Isn’t that half the fun though?” asked David, “lugging these things around?”
“You know, it just seems excessive.”
David smiled, “Sure, but we get the fun message, then the puff of smoke, and life goes on.”
“I’m just saying,” interjected Andrew, climbing to his feet, “Compact Discs have to be more cost-effective.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Andrew.”
“When’s the last time you saw a CD blow up?”
Andrew sighed. “They could give us iPods instead. An iPod could definitely blow up.”
David climbed to his feet with a grunt to face Andrew. “And that’s cost effective how?”
“Maybe cost has nothing to do with it,” started Andrew, “they’ve been blowing up reel-to-reel tapes for as long as we can remember.
“You know,” continued Andrew, “maybe it’s someone’s job to manufacture these tiny bombs.”
“You might be onto something there, and here you are, wanting to change formats. You’d be putting a man out of a job.”
“I didn’t mean—“ Andrew began.
“All because you’re tired of lugging this tape player around everywhere we go,” David interrupted.
“Well now that you’ve guilt tripped me, I suppose it’s not all that bad.”
David had gone back to tracing one of the flowers on the wallpaper with his fingertip.
“You weren’t listening?” questioned Andrew.
“Sorry, the wallpaper was a tad more interesting than what you were saying.”
“Fine, David. Forget it,” said Andrew, crossing his arms.
“So we can get on with it?”
“Yes, fine, let’s get on with it,” whined Andrew, “Forbid we spruce up the monotony here and there… forbid we talk about anything real!”
David squatted down on his haunches in front of the reel-to-reel player. He looked up at Andrew as he spoke. “Are you done?”
“Yeah. Whatever. Play the tape.”
David pressed the plastic Play button and returned to the standing position. The aged reel-to-reel player suddenly came to life. The motorized wheels began to spin and the room filled with a soft hiss as the magnetic tape slid across the playback head. The two men stood in contemplative positions and after several seconds a man’s recorded voice broke the silence.
“Good evening, Agent Coates and Agent Layman. Welcome to France.”
The men shifted their weight ever so slightly as the recording continued on.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to attend the re-opening of the United States embassy. There you will meet the French High Constable who will be on hand to ensure that the opening goes uninterrupted. During the festivities you will obtain his security keycard for duplication and future investigation of Government files.”
“Ooh!” David started, “this could be a good one.”
Andrew put a finger to his mouth, shushing his excitable partner. The audio continued.
“As always, should you or any of your team be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”
“Ready for this?” David smiled, “Your favorite part, Andrew!”
The recorded voice droned on.
“This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Gentlemen.”
Before their eyes, the tape on the reel-to-reel began to smoke and quickly turned to ash.
“Get your gun,” started Andrew, “let’s get going.”
On their way out of the hotel room, David smiled at Andrew, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb.
“Let’s see a Compact Disc do that!”
An exercise in Creative Nonfiction. I wrote a whole humor book on this stuff: Musings on Minutiae
We should have answered the door after the second knock, but because our neighborhood is full of salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses, we waited until the pounding came a third time and was emphasized by a muffled vocalization of, “Sherriff’s Department!”
When most people think of Orlando, Florida, they assume that our days are full of sunshine and Mickey Mouse ears. This particular Sunday had neither. In fact, it was pouring down rain outside. For most of the afternoon my wife, Amanda, and I had heard a man wandering the neighborhood hollering out the name “Roy.” We assumed this fellow was out in search of a lost dog, but once the police came to our door, everything changed.
Amanda and I opened the door to see two drenched officers staring back at us. Illumined by our porch light they proceeded to question us regarding the disappearance of an 8-year-old neighborhood boy named Roy. After understanding that we hadn’t seen Roy, the Officers asked if they might look in the back yard. This was not a problem, until they asked if they might come through the house to get there.
My wife is a “Southern Girl” so the idea of inviting someone into the home without a clean house and food to offer goes against everything she believes in. This Sunday was also “Laundry Day,” so our home was in disarray with piles upon piles of clothing scattered everywhere, which at a glance looked like miniature, multicolored volcanoes.
As the officers made their way inside, I noticed that Amanda’s face had gone pale. Without warning, she darted in front of them picking up piles of clothing and throwing them out of the Officer’s way.
“Don’t mind the mess!” she hollered nervously, “I’m sorry!”
Most likely having seen it all in their line of work, the Officers walked through the room toward the back door. Then she said something that made one of the Officers flinch.
“I swear it’s never like this!” Amanda continued, “Please don’t look over here — Don’t pay attention to the mess!”
Once the Officers were in the backyard and the sliding glass door closed behind them, I turned my attention to my wife. In her dirt-induced panic she didn’t realize how completely and utterly suspicious she was acting. I reminded her that when the police are looking for something, the last thing you want to tell them is “Don’t look over here.”
She agreed to calm down and let me do the talking. The Officers returned to let us know they’d received a call that Roy had been found. Amanda stood quietly while I escorted our guests to the door. They apologized for the interruption and took their leave.
Once the door was closed behind them, Amanda stood amongst the dirty clothes volcanoes staring at the tile floor. The police had left muddy footprints the length of the kitchen and I knew right then and there, we’d be cleaning for the rest of the night.
[An exercise in dialogue-only writing.]
“Are they all loaded up, Officer Vance?” asked the Captain.
“Yes, Captain Stevens,” Vance began. “We’re about to transport the criminals downtown.”
“Good. I’m glad that’s all settled,” sighed the Captain.
“But…” started Vance, “We’ve got another problem.”
“Oh, cripes. What now?” lamented Stevens.
Officer Vance continued, “Seems our perps left a little surprise for us in the event that they were captured.”
“Did they set the money on fire?” offered the Captain.
“Worse,” Vance hesitated. “There’s a bomb in the moneybag.”
“There’s a—You’re kidding me!” fumed the Captain. “Call Montgomery. He’ll diffuse it!”
“Montgomery’s on vacation, Captain,” imparted Vance.
“So? Call him and get him down here,” Stevens ordered.
Vance murmured, “Might be difficult, Sir.”
“And why is that?” Stevens interrogated.
“He’s in Fiji.”
“Of course he is,” retorted Stevens. “We finally have an explosive situation in this town and our one-man bomb squad is off sipping drinks on a beach in Fiji.”
“I’ll bet the drinks have little umbrellas in them, Captain,” smiled the Officer.
“Focus, Vance!” hollered Stevens. “Who else do we have who could diffuse this situation?”
“That’s clever, Captain,” mused the Officer. “I see what you did there.”
“I wasn’t making a joke,” snorted Stevens. “Call someone over from the Omaha precinct.”
“Won’t do any good,” started the Officer. “That’s a least an hour away. According to the timer on the bomb we only have ten minutes left.”
“Then the situation’s worse than I imagined,” whispered the Captain. “There’s only one thing left to do…”
“Get me the President,” commanded Stevens.
“Why would the President come all the way out to Nebraska for this?” questioned the Officer.
“He won’t, Vance,” chuckled Stevens. “But how often do I get to say something dramatic like that?”
“Now we’re joking, Sir?” Vance protested.
Stevens added, “That was just some light humor to take the sting off of the bad news I’m about to give you.”
“Bad news, Sir?”
“Yes,” stated Stevens. “You see, Vance, you’re going to have to disarm the bomb.”
“But Captain,” stuttered the Officer, “That’s not my area of expertise!”
“You took the Intro to Explosives Ordinance Disposal course at the Academy?” queried the Captain.
“Then congratulations, Officer,” grinned Stevens. “You’re certified to handle this task. In fact, you’re probably more qualified than Montgomery, that slacker.”
“Oh Captain, you’re on fire today with the jokes,” laughed the Officer. “You really had me going there for a second.”
“Still not joking,” admitted Stevens. “Get in there, Vance.”
Vance stammered, “I-I don’t know about this, Sir…”
“Trust me, you’ll be fine,” assured the Captain. “Here’s a walkie-talkie and some wire cutters. I’ll guide you through the whole process.”
“I’m entering the bank now, Captain,” explained Vance, “There’re bullet holes all over the place…I’m heading into the vault…I see the moneybag…I’ve opened it, and I’m looking at the bomb…Looks like we have five minutes remaining…Sir? …Are you still there? …Sir?”
“Give me a second!” demanded Stevens.
“What are you doing, Captain?” questioned Vance. “We’re running out of time!”
“I’m running a Google search for ‘how to diffuse a bomb’ on my phone,” Stevens remarked.
“That’s really comforting, Sir,” sighed the Officer.
“Yeah, except my 3G is slow as molasses,” explained Stevens. “Hold on a minute.”
“You’ve got about three of them,” grunted Vance. “I’ve opened the casing and I’m looking at three wires.”
“Sounds pretty standard,” noted the Captain. “Wikipedia says not to cut the red wire.”
“I think that we should call Montgomery,” insisted Vance. “I trust him over the Internet’s free encyclopedia…that anyone can edit.”
“I don’t think so, Officer,” replied Stevens. “Unless you’ve produced an international calling card from that moneybag, I’m not paying the oversea charges.”
“So what do I do?”
“Do you see the blue wire?”
“I don’t see a blue wire, Sir,” confessed Vance.
“How about a green wire?”
“I don’t see one of those either, Sir,” he replied.
“Fine, Vance,” scolded Stevens. “I’ll play your game. What colors do you see?”
“None, Sir,” confessed the Officer.
“None!?” repeated Stevens.
“You see, Captain… I’m—uh—I’m color blind,” revealed Vance.
“Well then…” started Stevens, “Our situation has not improved at all. How much longer on the timer?”
“Let us take a moment and consider how Montgomery’s vacation single-handedly ruined our careers,” mumbled Stevens.
Vance started, “But, Sir, you’re the one who ordered me to—“
“Okay, enough considering, Vance,” interjected Stevens, “Pick a wire and snip it! Do your civic duty!”
“Which wire?” stressed Officer Vance.
“Just pick one!” encouraged the Captain.
“I can’t make up my mind!” Vance squealed.
“Fine!” commanded Stevens, “Cut the one on the left, Vance.”
“My left or your left?” Vance quizzed.
“Who cares anymore?” screamed Captain Stevens, “We’re dead men!”
“Okay!” cheered Vance. “Wire cut!”
“Which one did you sever?” asked the Captain.
“All of them, Sir. We got to the five second mark and I panicked,” said Vance.
“Well then, here’s some good news for you,” announced Stevens.
“I’m not dead?” questioned the Officer.
“No, Vance, my 3G finally caught up!” surmised Stevens.
“Figures,” vented Vance.
“Now for the bad news, Officer…” breathed the Captain.
“Oh no…what is it, Sir?” sighed Vance.
“The article that I’m reading now…” declared the Captain, “It suggests that under no circumstances should we cut the blue wi–”
The empty M&M’s candy wrapper flittered on the draft produced by the window air conditioning unit, ultimately coming to its final resting place upon Vincent Cambridge’s right foot. He twitched his boot, sending it sliding to the carpet below his feet. He winced at the pain in his knee as he did so. He often forgot that even though he was only thirty-five years old in mind, his physical form was closer to eighty-five. He avoided his reflection like the plague these days. It was a side effect of the time traveling that he was working hard to cope with.
Within seconds, the pain was gone and he stood in the darkened apartment distracted by the television in front of him. The light from the TV illuminated his face as he watched Big Bird and Elmo dancing around on the screen. He’d forgotten that people actually watched this show. Of course, back in 1989, Sesame Street wasn’t the only questionable thing happening in society.
Sidling up to the TV and rotating the plastic volume handle to the zero position, the cacophony of children playing with mysterious creatures diminished, leaving the room filled only with the sound of the air conditioning unit, which had become nothing more than a dull buzz in the background. Vincent took a few careful steps backward and lowered himself into the easy chair behind him. He took a few moments to contemplate his surroundings and mused at what filled the familiar, yet foreign room. To his right, a picture of a man and a woman attempting to connect arms around the base of a massive African baobab tree. To his right, another photograph of the same man and woman on either side of an Eskimo, with what appeared to be his igloo in the background. Hanging over the TV was a picture of the woman coddling what appeared to be a wombat, her face full of apprehension. It was obvious that this couple enjoyed traveling, and was the most obvious reason as to why they didn’t appear to be home at present.
Vincent liked to travel as well, but it was never for pleasure. Only business. This San Francisco address had always been his base of operations: 2857 Sunshadow Street. Wherever he was in time, he always tried to locate the address. It made his life easier to have a central location. Though the place always looked different, he felt geographically sound. It was much better than his actual home, which was nothing more than a cave deep under the Bay City. The place was a breeding ground for hopelessness, but in his time, they don’t dare go to the surface.
He paused, considering his next move… considering his next place. His central mission remained the same: find a way to shut down The Corporation or ensure it ceased to exist. He’d been a Time Leaper for so long, that he was having trouble recounting everything that he’d tried. Before he could further contemplate how to save his time from ever being oppressed and at the mercy of those who would test on innocents and force them into temporal servitude, Vincent heart the faint tinkling of a key ring at the apartment door.
Moving with a youthful fervor, Vincent made his way into the darkened apartment kitchen just as the door opened. In sauntered the couple from the photos. They were loud and boisterous, exchanging comments about the dinner from minutes previous. By the volume of their speech and the faint smell of aged bourbon, he could tell that they’d been drinking, and finding an old man in their home would likely only complicate the situation.
His back to the wall, Vincent slinked underneath the wall phone, listening intently. This wasn’t the first time he’d have to sneak his way out of trouble, and unless something went extremely wrong, it likely wouldn’t be his last. He considered simply traveling to a different time, but how much more could his body actually take? The rush of moving through time and space was addicting and he forced the thought down in his brain, reminding himself that notions like this one were what caused his wrinkles in the first place.
The couple had moved to the living room couch where they continued to talk about everything and nothing with much exuberance. Vincent’s eyes darted around the kitchen, taking everything in. He sniffed the air, picking up the aroma of gas from the nearby oven. His geriatric nose wrinkled. It reminded him of the jet fuel they used to power the city in his time. His eyes scanned the room, looking for any tool that could aid in his escape. On the counter he spotted several pots and pans. He’d prefer not to injure anyone if he could avoid it. He’d learned the hard way not to affect the time streams he visited. Next to the kitchenware was a rotten white potato, obviously left to die when dinner plans changed. On the kitchen table were two crochet needles intertwined with red and blue yarn. A tiny, cat-sized sweater appeared to be in progress between them. Vincent quickly made his choice and reached for the slimy potato.
If he could throw the spud over their heads and distract them, perhaps he could make a quick escape through the front door. He had trouble lifting his hands past his shoulders these days, but any option that let him continue his mission was currently being weighed out. He turned around to sneak to the kitchen door and found himself face to face with the male homeowner.
“Who the heck are you!?” Hollered the man, obviously startled.
Before Vincent could give it a second thought, he instinctively reached into the deep recesses of his brain and activated the implant left so long ago by The Corporation when he was taken against his will. In the blink of an eye, Vincent was gone, leaving the man standing in his kitchen alone. The man was slightly confused, but in the morning he would only have the alcohol to blame for his hallucination.
Vincent had jumped three years into the future. He was still in the apartment of 2857 Sunshadow Street, but the kitchen had received a fresh coat of wallpaper and the furniture was different. As he sauntered his way into the living room, he rubbed his cheek. Had he gained another wrinkle? He couldn’t bring himself to locate a mirror to find out. As before, the living room was dark, illuminated only by the television. On the couch slept a college-age female, wrapped in a blanket and snoring loudly. He remembered the show currently playing on the TV. It was a sci-fi program called Quantum Leap. He chuckled to himself, considering how it paved the way for his entire reality. The old man went back into his head, considering his next move in the never-ending battle against The Corporation. Before he was completely lost in thought, he realized that right then, he’d give anything for a bag of M&M’s.
We waited in darkness. It’d been weeks since we’d last seen Jack, but as always, we knew that he’d come around eventually. Mayo and I have done our best to coordinate our efforts with Bread, but he was on the outside and communication was spotty at best. Last we saw he’d been relocated into a woven solitary confinement cell. I’d been in this cold prison for weeks, but Mayo told me he’d been locked up for so long that he’d lost track. Even though Mayo stayed in the bunk above me, his aroma wafted down, constantly making me nauseous. To me, he smelled of rotten eggs. The smell was just one of myriad reasons to make an escape.
Once in a while, Allyson, the human female would unlock the cell long enough to give us a burst of fresh air and to deliver another cellmate. I lived for these moments as it was nice to see daylight and provided momentary relief from Mayo’s stench. Whenever a new prisoner joined us, we’d try to bring them into our caper, but they weren’t always social. I honestly thought that Tuna could serve as the perfect diversion, but she assured us that she could last another year or so in the cell if she had to. Eventually, Allyson stopped delivering us allies and hopelessness started to set in. Then one day, everything changed.
“Ham!” came Mayo’s voice from somewhere within the murkiness. “I think he’s coming!”
I held my breath, closed my eyes, and focused. Over the hum of the cooling unit I recognized the muffled sound of size ten footsteps. They were definitely getting closer.
“This is it,” I advised to anyone who might be listening. “Just like we planned!”
In reality, it took mere seconds, though at the time, my world moved in slow motion. The door to our prison began to open and the sunlight from the window across the chasm flooded in, beating the darkness around us into submission. My rump was sore from weeks of sitting on the same plastic grating, I wondered if it had left permanent marks on my posterior. Jack’s face appeared in the doorway. He looked sadder than normal, but I wasn’t about to let our captor’s feelings distract me from my impending freedom.
Then the unthinkable happened.
After contemplating each of the captives, Jack grabbed me by the neck and pulled me from the depths. I could barely breathe as I was whisked from the dungeon and tossed aside. I landed on a hard surface and the wind was knocked right out of me. With stars in my eyes I could see Mayo right behind me. He landed nearby and I feared we both might be suffering from internal injuries. In a surprising turn of events, Tuna was the last to be pulled before the prison door closed yet again. My heart sank and I felt envy for those who remained inside. There was no telling what horrors we were about to suffer. Our well thought out plan had gone quickly awry.
It pains me to admit that there’s nothing we could do as Jack took a wicked metal device and began plunging it into poor Tuna’s head. As if the stabbing weren’t enough, this human monster cut Tuna’s skull right open and dumped her brain into a container, setting her lifeless body beside us. Mayo and I watched in horror as Jack summoned his beast. The creature’s roar made me tremble and it wasted no time in devouring Tuna’s gray matter. I don’t know what Jack had gone through, but one thing was for certain: he had become merciless.
A thump to my right snapped me back into the present and I noticed Bread had been dropped beside me, the next in a potential line of victims. There were no words exchanged. We simply looked at one another in horror. Jack had clearly figured out our plans for escape and we were all about to pay the price.
Without warning, Jack grabbed a knife and plunged it deep into Mayo, twisting the blade for good measure. In a disgusting turn of events he scooped my friend’s entrails from his body and plastered them across Bread’s face. I could never imagine something so grotesque and yet here it was, happening before my eyes.
My time had come and Jack cruelly set me on top of my friend’s creamy white insides and attempted to suffocate me with one of Bread’s brothers who’d also been slathered in what was left of Mayo’s organs. I never thought it would come to this. I regretted every decision I’d made within that prison and every late night Mayo and I had spent discussing our escape.
In what was now a pile of heinous conspirators, we were scooped up and hovered toward Jack’s mouth, a field of sharp white teeth moving to greet us. I squealed in pain as the flesh was ripped from my body. Pain struck me from every direction and my vision began to blur. I had to stay conscious if there was any hope to survive.
After his first attack, Jack winced and I considered the possibility that I might see tomorrow after all. I managed to race through the seven stages of grief in record time. A single tear streamed down Jack’s cheek and I hoped that he was finally coming to his senses.
My bubble of hope burst as the onslaught of teeth made their final approach. It had become crystal clear that the only true escape was death.
Hugh flicked the light switch into the upward position and the aged fluorescent bulb in the kitchen flickered three times, struggling for life. The tube stabilized, reflecting off the ugly green sink tile and filled the room with a sickly glow. As Hugh shuffled his bare feet into the room he winced, remembering why his wife had wanted him to install a different color tile. This caused Hugh to pause and smile. He missed Emma. Or was it Anna? It was definitely Emma. Lately, Hugh was having trouble remembering things. Even the slightest moments of clarity brought small pockets of joy to his day.
Had he showered today? Had he shaved? Raising a callused hand to his face, the familiar scratch of his gray whiskers across his palm accurately answered one of his questions. Why had he come into the kitchen? The disorientation was always worst at night. His dark brown eyes scanned the countertop, pausing on a half loaf of bread, the wrapper of which hung wide open. Of one thing Hugh was certain: He was hungry. He always preferred to go to bed on a full stomach. It helped him sleep.
His arthritic fingers opened and closed around two pieces of the hardening white bread. He removed them from the plastic and placed them on the counter side by side. A quick shuffle to his right put him face to face with the icebox, and with a quick yank, the door opened toward him. Hugh paused, enjoying the rush of cool air, which relieved the heat of an otherwise stale evening.
From the depths of the refrigerator he removed a sack of pre-packaged turkey meat and on his second trip into the chill, a container of store-brand mayonnaise and a jar of bread and butter pickles. He always preferred those to the Kosher Dill. Didn’t he? He was certain he did. He reached below the counter to fetch a butter knife from the drawer but something in the sink caught his eye.
Cautiously, Hugh reached down into the disposal side of the double sink and retrieved a butter knife, the dull blade covered in what appeared to be mayonnaise. He brought the utensil close, turning it over in his hands as he inspected the condiment-covered edge. It was definitely mayonnaise, and it was fresh. He could tell because it hadn’t turned the clear color that comes with extended exposure to the air. Had he already eaten? He couldn’t remember. Still holding the knife, he peered down to investigate the front of his green and brown plaid robe.
His bushy eyebrows narrowed as he acknowledged the breadcrumbs lining the front of the garment and gathering throughout his chest hair like some sort of edible ascot. Frustrated at his sudden lapse in memory he grabbed a clump of turkey from the bag and slammed it onto one slice of bread. Two pickles swiftly followed, landing atop the meat mountain. Hugh glared at the mayonnaise, a silent argument waging between them.
If he had already eaten once tonight, then he had no desire to digest the same meal twice. He was certain that he’d purchased mustard on his last trip to the corner market. But when was that? Last week? Longer? A quick search through the refrigerator proved fruitless. Frustrated, he began rummaging through his cabinets and it wasn’t long before he saw the jar of mustard inside. To his dismay, it was several shelves up and far out of an old man’s reach. Why would he inconvenience himself so?
Mustering up whatever strength was left in his tired bones Hugh managed to drag a wooden chair from the nearby table to its resting place beneath the cupboard. After an unsteady climb, he retrieved his prize and getting down proved much easier than his ascent. He quickly went to work squeezing the mustard onto the sandwich. In his state of bliss, he didn’t bother to remove the chair from the kitchen, but rather, sat upon it, bringing the sandwich to his salivating mouth.
The first bite brought Hugh to a point somewhere between ecstasy and pure contentment. He chewed and smiled and laughed as he ate. Suddenly, the chewing froze. The clouds of the old man’s mind had parted and filled with sunlight and a rare moment of clarity tore through an otherwise foggy day. All it took was one lucid second for Hugh to remember one important thing: He was deathly allergic to mustard.