The Black Side of Wonder

Word Count: 498

If I count to thirty-nine and miss twenty-seven would anyone care? If I take the stairs two at a time does the stairway become six or seven steps long? I go up to the bedroom and somehow don’t remember the stairs. What if I take them in one giant leap; will they even be there? Do people run numbers or instead, are lives dictated by the hours, the minutes, the weeks and the years so that all we can do is estimate, guess, return numbers that didn’t work out back to the hollow dark of the lottery ball and spin it and spin it again?

I woke up at five and the sun was missing from the morning. Something else wasn’t there, an escape of breath like an early spring breeze. A twitching of toes like a caught bird at the foot of the bed. If I rewind the time to yesterday’s dawn, will the sun pop up as it did? I worry. Tomorrow has such an effect on yesterday that if I can hold it back on the other side of the covers, keep it from entering, I can control the next day. So I burrow under the worn satin quilt that my grandmother made for our wedding. I hold the top tight against the pillows, yours and mine. I search this oyster shell for a pearl, a hair from your head that I will then have cloned and grow into you.

I wonder if you would still leave me if I am there from the start. If I suckle you and teach you colors and numbers. If hand-in-hand we follow butterflies to the edge of the meadows and live in a treehouse and climb up a ladder not stairs. If we made up our own secret language, something that sounds like the chirping of tree frogs out back near the pond every night. Songs of harmony, accord, communication.

There were times when I knew, I just knew that I should have backed down, should have smiled and nodded and floated along with your flow. What is it in me that couldn’t give into the moment? That assumed a position and found it always opposite yours? That stood straight and tall against windstorms both good and bad, unbending, unwillow-like, but more like the cliffs where your waves crashed against me trying to split me, to find a small crevice. Or maybe it was just to smooth out my rugged and ragged facade. Maybe that’s all the war you mounted against me but I came to it fully armed, too alert, ready for all the wrong things.

I don’t know if the sun has arisen. I know I won’t for a while. The lightweight summer quilt is dark and heavy as a shield. I wonder if morning is mandatory and if I’m required to respond. In this soft blackness I can wonder and no one else, least of all you, wonders or cares.

(Inspired by this video by John Timmons: and no one would wonder)

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100/2012 Stories

Word Count:  426

I sat there reading the words I typed the previous night. Another late evening into dawn weaving stories of people I don’t even know, maybe have passed for an instant on the street. Or buying fat German sausage and sampling the slivers of cheese at the butcher’s. But the words tell of lives I don’t remember.

This character, Jenny, I told of her sadness. She lost her lover to a woman he met at a diner. A woman he saw sitting in a back booth holding onto her coffee mug as if it was her entire world. She was crying and he went over to ask if she was okay. I left Jenny at her kitchen table, crying into her tea. But in the morning I read that she’d gotten a phone call. Her lover begged her to take him back and she did.

I’m savvy enough to know you don’t write happy endings. They don’t sell. Readers want to escape their own troubles by believing that someone else is worse off. Yes, there are still some people that want romance to last forever, even if it isn’t their own. But most people, most of them don’t.

Each day I’d wake around noon, read what I’d written. But by mid-story I was lost. It was my style of writing, my voice, my short sentences and wrong punctuation but the story, it wasn’t my own. Every day, the same thing would happen. Eddie got his job back, the Smith’s baby survived. Somehow while I was sleeping, their lives had been turned around.

I’d rewrite them, with the ending I knew I’d originally planned. By morning they’d changed back again. At the end of each night I’d backup onto a flash drive. The flash drive rewrote itself too.

Last night I wrote a personal story. About a writer whose characters took control of their own paths. Made their own choices. Lived, as cliched as it sounds, happily ever after. And he, the writer, me in fact, made more than a living off book sales. Was featured on talk shows, his stories carried to beaches on Kindles to read.

This morning I rush to the laptop, start reading, and am relieved to see all of my words are there as I remember them. Until the last paragraph and I’m reading in horror the end where the writer dies in his apartment as the building blazes in an impossible fire.

It hits me then, what’s happening, as the awful black smoke wisps in like a shadow under the door.

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099/2012 The Movie

Word Count:  397

He lays awake in the dark room thinking, thinking about you. Wondering if your eyes will swim with terror before they open black and wide in a dead stare. If your scream will be instantaneous with the knowledge of death as it circles into your view. If you’ll fight, if you’ll manage to scratch and draw blood. If you’ll sink to the floor in an unlovely pile. Your head slightly askew. Your arms helplessly flailed. Your knees buckled beneath you. That’s what he thinks about as he drifts into sleep.

Sometimes he rolls out the movies he has in his head of each one of his victims. The most individual and unique way each one managed her own dying. Some were so scared they molded themselves to his hands. He likes the soft-flicker of light and dark, black and white with a bright splash of red when the knife slits the skin.

He prefers to think about the women who will fill up his future. You’re only the next one in line. He knows that he really wants to see you naked. Knows that if he has planned it out right, he will have time. To strip off your clothes as you lay there unbreathing. To carve “LOVE” in the fringe of your bush. Like the panties he’s seen in the catalogs at his Aunt Janey’s when he was a kid.

When he can’t stand the anticipation any longer, when the need overcomes, he’ll follow you home. He’ll knock on your door and you’ll open it, smile, ask him in. He’ll have that drink, run out for Chinese, watch as you crack open the cookie and read the tiny print of your fortune. You’ll both laugh.

But he’ll still be laughing as your smile changes to horror. It’s that transition he studies between comfort and pain. Maybe he’ll carry you into the bedroom–if you haven’t already invited him into your bed. That would make his task easier, but not as enjoyable. For he likes the thought of unbuttoning your jeans, pulling them down from your hips. The zip of the knife slitting your shirt open. The snap of the bra releasing your breasts.

You won’t see the end of this story and he’s sorry for that. You, the star of the movie that will run in his mind till he needs to do it again.

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098/2012 Warning Signs

Word Count:  388

She felt she gave plenty of warning. When she painted her lips flaming red it was a good sign that that day, someone would die.

A middle-aged man in a vague gray wrinkled suit like her father. Or a woman with bunned hair and a jacket still creased from the drycleaners that she’d picked up the previous night.

Her killings followed the sun coming into her bedroom each morning. If she lay there awake to await it or it tapped its warm fingers on her face. The nightmares provoked, awoke her. The dreams made the world appear halfway all right.

On this morning, this Friday morning in an October chill that the quilt couldn’t keep away, she shivered and rolled onto her side. Scrunching into as much of a fetal position as her thirty year-old body could mimic. Still, the dusky dark morning and the shreds of a sweet dream turned to nightmare left her still running, her heart still screaming from strain.

The coffee tasted bitter. The hot shower felt cold. Her eyes stared back at her in the mirror with a smoky residue of the night. She drew lips on her mouth in a bold vivid red.

It was at the bar at the restaurant where she picked him out, though he probably thought he’d picked her. He was good-looking, with odd auburn-black hair and eyes so dark brown they were black. He bought her a drink, then another. They talked about mundane things. He laughed easily and she made a decision.

He made love to her twice, more gently than she’d expected. But it left her exhausted and weak. She got up and went into the bathroom, still naked, knowing he watched her walk away.

She looked at the face in the mirror and opened a drawer. Painted her lips striking ruby. Fingered the blade of a knife. His eyes were closed when she came back, stood for a moment watching him and he slowly opened his eyes. But he caught her hand as she raised it, lost her grip on the knife. He pulled her down on the bed and beneath him.

Her last thought as he tightened his fingers to press out her breath, admitted she hadn’t looked closely enough at her prey. Hadn’t noticed his lucky blue tie.

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097/2012 The Smile

Word Count:  476

His whole day would’ve gone down differently if Marilee Prance hadn’t smiled at him in the hall. If he hadn’t woke up with the feeling that nothing mattered much anymore. If that hadn’t given him the courage to ask her out for a latte after last class. If she hadn’t said yes but she did.

Funny, he thought; how nearly four years of being no more than a ghost in the classrooms, an occupied chair in the cafe, an average pimply-faced Freshman who outgrew his zits and developed a shell, that Marilee picked today of all days to smile.

There were different levels of outcasts and cliques. Each had their own slate of members. He and Darren had drifted and stuck in their own little group by Sophomore year. An exclusive club of two who were invited nowhere. Had one-time dates and randomly rare at that. But today, Marilee had smiled.

He tried to focus on the test paper which he hadn’t studied for because he didn’t think he’d need to. But the numbers and letters and lines made no sense at all. He looked up at the clock; eight forty-seven. Tried to sneak out his phone to text Darren. But the silence of tests, the focus of the instructor at test times made it completely impossible.

He ran down the test questions, found one he thought he could solve. Started working. The minute hand clicked again and again in his mind. Oddly yesterday’s lit class on hypertext slipped into his thoughts. What seemed like a ridiculously dumb series of what ifs? and choices made so much more sense to him now. What if, for example, Marilee hadn’t been there in that one spot next to him by his locker. What if he hadn’t been four minutes late because he and Darren had talked on the phone right after they’d gotten up.

There, one problem solved. And here was another he though he could tackle but first he looked again at the clock. Nine-o-two. He tried again to reach Darren but his hand froze in his pocket with Mr. Treacher’s stare. Came out empty and settled the paper in front of him again.

Click and click and click; he could hear the second hand going around now. Marilee Prance. Wow. She wasn’t the greatest good-looker but she had a cute smile and was nice. Not out of his league but above it. Definitely above it.

He looked at the clock; twelve after nine. Darren would be out there pacing by now. He guessed that Darren would figure by now that he wouldn’t be meeting him in the hall.

Click, click. Nine-fourteen. Thinking of Marilee and her smile. Click, click, just about…and the door burst open and Darren stood there, leveled the gun and blasted away at them all.

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096/2012 The Boy

Word Count:  524

He spoke in grumbling growls and grunts with an occasional purring sound that he made when he was eating or falling asleep. Indeed, it was clear we had to learn his language first before we could hope any attempt at teaching him ours.

There had been talk of his possible existence in the back alleys of the city with just a few reported actual sightings that prompted brief thorough searches but brought nothing to light. He was described as both troll and a tiger. Quick and limber, unable to be caught by any who happened upon him and had the chance of a chase.  It was only through his own misfortune of being grazed by a car that the police followed a blood trail and cornered and caught him and brought him first to a hospital, then subsequently to us.

No one knew who he might be, this boy, somewhere in age between twelve and thirteen. Everyone had theories, of course. We’ve gone through some very bad times in the past several years and children were abandoned at churches and hospitals. We believe that’s what happened, only he wasn’t left someplace safe.

He’d been on his own for a long time, maybe since he was as young as three or four. We were guessing because he seemed to have no language skills developed well enough to have survived his isolation. Eventually he grasped verbal communication enough to comprehend what we asked of him but still pointed to or grabbed what he wanted rather than attempt speech. He’d eat most fruit and vegetables though he wanted them uncooked. Meat too, uncooked. We’d found we had to hide meat in a cellar freezer. He once pulled chicken parts out of a simmering pot, burning his hand. We also suspected he had killed and eaten the cat.

As time went by we made small steps towards civilizing him but he retained a wariness that wouldn’t allow us closer physically or emotionally. Loud noises scared him and he could run like the wind and hide where he couldn’t be found.

There was one other thing that impeded his progress, or perhaps better put, our progress with him. He seemed to resist our efforts to show him he was one of us, a boy, a human. Though he had no relation with animals either, he seemed to have no understanding of nor inclination to accept his commonality with man.

After a particularly stressful session he grew more and more disturbed, exploding in a pinwheel of destruction in his flight to escape. He never came back. We never found him, though we’ve again found evidence of his having been nearby, likely reverting to his own ways of hunting for food in the night.

But he’s never been seen, now having lived with his enemy and knowing our ways. And that strange sense of unrest that I thought was aloof, timid, or fearful on his part, makes my skin prickle, having seen that last hateful look in his eyes. It was a wildness that will never be tamed. Something that scares me. And I lock my windows and doors every night.

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095/2012 Hunger

Word Count:  311

The firstborn and second were spared as they were wanted and loved and the times were easy and good. The third child was sliced up for sandwiches. A few of the children were stuffed for Thanksgiving while they were still tender toddlers and one, the little blonde curly-haired boy was saved for a big Christmas dinner which the whole family, mother and father and two growing boys, grandparents and two aunts and uncles enjoyed.

They’d started out with all the hopes and dreams of every young family, did the best they could do. Hard times had hit with the loss of his job and the raising of  rent on the flat and the high cost of diapers and food. She was healthy and fertile and the easy production of babies only added to their troubles. A male lion will sometimes kill off cubs in hopes of a mating. A mother may eat her own young to ensure the survival of some. So it’s not all that unnatural in nature, though not acceptable by most societies of man.

Thus they survived as they could, a family who struggled and barely got by. But they managed to raise their two older children and one little girl who broke her mother’s heart with a smile before her first cry. But they never had plenty, just clearly enough, and the children left home rather young. He was old, she no longer fertile, and they both worried about what they could do.

He slept with a knife gripped under his pillow. She always first sniffed her food and her tea. And with each passing day they grew hungry, more desperate, wishing the children might come for a visit. Wishing and hoping and growing older and weaker until one died from starvation and before the other could carve the body up proper, died of starvation too.

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094/2012 Pregnant State

Word Count:  370

I no longer can bend from my waist to pick a dropped spoon off the floor. My feet are swollen into sandals. My boobs for the first time form into cleavage but even the most lascivious of men feels it rude to look anywhere but into my eyes or toss a casual glance at my belly. It was not supposed to be like this.

I don’t glow though I’m puffy round like the sun. This pregnancy is nothing I wanted, nothing I’d planned, not a conception of love. Not even of lust I am told. Rape’s desire is control. Rape bypasses foreplay and lubrication. Rape hurts a whole helluva lot.

Friday night happy hour was a regular thing for a few of us at the office and McGregor’s was our place to meet. We stuck to ourselves and yet the same faces from other offices became familiar to each other as well. Soon we were saying hello to people we knew only from sloshing down two drinks in an hour at half price. Soon we were mingling. Soon I was leaving with someone I didn’t know I didn’t know at all.

This baby inside me is his. After that night I never saw him again. Did I report the rape? No. Happy hour comes with its own set of rules. And I guess I was wrong about him looking familiar. Bloody Marys made me think that he had.

The law holds abortion illegal. Though in rape you have one day to decide to opt out with the morning-after pill. There are no week-after pills. Or month-after pills. When you’ve had time to get your head stitched back on. No, there are nine pregnant months and a baby.

I’ve lost my job and my insurance. I’ve lost most of my friends. I can recover, make it on my own, but not with a baby.

Someone has told me about a man in the west end of the city. Word is he once was a pediatrician, a surgeon. He’s more expensive, they say, but much better and safer than the butcher my friend Amanda went to, who works his own “happy hour” down at the end of the street.

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093/2012 The Vault

Word Count:  526

She knew it was three turns to the left, one to the right, two to the left and the vault should have clicked and swung open. She kept trying that over and over until she grew confused and tried different combinations: two left, three right, one left; three right, two left, one right. By this time she realized she’d likely screwed it up so bad that the starting point of it all was completely and hopelessly lost.

Still, she had to keep trying. He’d left her, took off, disappeared, and the paychecks stopped coming a month later. Though she was pretty sure he’d likely cleaned out the vault she had to at least hope he’d left something behind.

He’d given her the combination years ago, in case of emergencies (like this?) of needing to sell some of the coin collection, get cash, pawn jewelry. Or, since the vault doubled as a safe room, in case she got herself accidentally locked in. She’d opened it a few times the first month, with him watching to make sure she’d gotten it right. He told her never to write it down anywhere but to commit its simplicity to memory.

She lost interest shortly thereafter and didn’t think of it again until now. When she had to get in there. Hoped beyond hope that he’d at least left her some sort of security. Some way of holding onto the house.

It was a shock to accept that he’d left her. No note, no warning, no reason, she’d thought, for him to have been so unhappy with her, with his life. But there you have it, he just picked up and left and she had to find some way to carry on all alone.

Every night after dinner she would go into the library and work at the combination until she could no longer see. She finally said something to her sister in Cincinnati who suggested she just call a locksmith. Or the company who manufactured the safe. For a fee they would send someone out who likely could get it open. She made the appointment for the first date they offered.

She felt humiliated because she had to once again tell the whole story to the man who came, showed his credentials then asked her for something to prove she was who she was before he would attempt the lock. It took several hours of watching him listen and dial, dial and listen, swear under his breath until they both heard the loud click! and grinned.

He wrote down the following: Start at 0 – turn 3 full turns Left (counterclockwise) to 0 — turn 1 full turn Right (clockwise) to 0 — turn 2 full turns Left to 10 and pull the handle Down to open. Ten! That was the mistake she’d made–he’d left it at 10, the 10th of April, their anniversary!

She thanked him and paid him and after he left, hurried back and with a huge sigh of relief, she pulled open the vault door. Oh, the money, the coins, the jewelry, it was all there. Along with her husband, who lay shriveled and dead on the floor.

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092/2012 Living Will

Word Count:  385

I didn’t think I would change my mind and I didn’t, even after the diagnosis that gave me three months at the most. Now that I’m closer to the end of it all I want more. I ask the doctor about the new therapy that’s been in the news. He tells me it hasn’t been proven. But I’d be willing to try, I say. He smiles that same odd smile he used when I’d asked him about a transplant. That’s his answer. There’s really nothing he can do.

And he can’t. It’s out of his hands. Out of mine.

I made the living will years ago when younger and healthy but with a door that could always be opened, always be changed with my mind.

I’m forty-eight. As of six months ago I’d had no signs of health issues. Non-smoker, non-drinker, get sex as often as I can and no proof that it’s ever hurt me or led to this shortening of my life. Congenital heart failure, passed down from my father’s side but I never knew. Dad was killed in a car accident when he was still in his early forties.

Would I have signed papers had I known this? Probably. When you’re in what you feel is your prime nothing like your own death makes any sense. So a document, albeit legal, has no reality to you either. It’s just the right thing to do. So you don’t live for years like a carrot which is something, oddly enough, that you can relate to even as death, an unknown, you cannot.

No to the transplant, no to the promising new process, no to super fast food via a tube. No CPR, no to any last chances at all.

It’s hard to breathe now and they will give me oxygen and morphine to help hide the pain. I ask the nurses, beg the doctors, even tell the cleaning lady I want to live.

But the living will, that simple document that was supposed to help in case I couldn’t tell them what I wanted, overrides any choice I make now.

I’m sorry, says my doctor, but once it’s been filed with the state it’s in the database. There’s nothing else we can do. While I was busy living, extraordinary means has been redefined by law.

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