The Damned Cat

How am I doing? I’ll tell you Marty, I’ve had a hell of a day already.

Pulled myself outta bed to take the kiddo to school. I’m trying to get him up but he’s being an absolute ball buster this morning. You know I’ve had this god awful cold all week, so my head is just freaking pounding. I’m trying to be in a good mood, I’m really trying here but, here’s all this whining and pouting about getting out of bed, and for once it’s not me. You know what I’m saying Marty?

Anyway, I’m practically begging the kid to get dressed now. I’m hoping to god that I can get him out the door in time to just stick him on the bus, but the clock’s ticking. Instead he’s just pissing and moaning about how he can’t find his freaking monkey socks. I don’t even know what a fucking monkey sock is. So I’m helping him look for these god damned socks but everytime I bend over all the snot in my head goes sliding forward, I get all dizzy. It feels like I’m gonna go over like a stack of dimes. Anyway, we find the socks, he gets the left one on but as soon as I try handing him the right one the whole freaking thing falls apart, and he starts yelling at me and pushing me away. Finally, I get him to out of the bedroom by promising I’ll put his shoes on for him while he eats his damned oatmeal.

This whole time Marty, the whole time I’m being nice about it. I’m acting all smiles and god damned sunshine, I swear.

So, then we go to the kitchen, I set the kid up on a stool the wife puts the bowl of oatmeal on the counter. I ask my wife if she’s seen the cat.

Now that damned cat is the whole reason I even dragged my sick ass out of bed this early I’m getting the kid to school, so that my wife can take that murderous little turd to the veterinary clinic for it’s shots this morning.

Of course the answer is no, she aint seen the cat. Because, it’s a cat.

They’re completely unreliable. That’s why I’m a dog guy. You want reliability you, get a dog. I’ve always said that. You know I’ve always been a dog guy.

So, There I am, struggling to put canvas high tops on the dead weight that is my child. He’s not cooperating. He’s just complaining about how I’m doing it wrong between shoving spoonfuls of apples and brown sugar in his face. Meanwhile the wife’s outside calling for the freaking cat. I’m sucking snot back up into my nose, trying not to get any to the kids sneakers, ‘cause that’s gonna open up a whole new can of worms with him. I’m looking at the clock, just watching time melt away from me here, and I know, I just know there’s not a chance in hell of making it to that bus stop, not today.

So anyway Marty, you know the car’s not running right. That’s why I needed you to come pick me up this morning, right. By the way thank you. So, that means I got to get him to school on his bicycle.

I take out my phone to find out what the weather’s doing, ‘cause the radio ain’t being no help. They’re too busy yammering about what this dipshit we put in office is screwing up today. So, I look at my phone and it’s thirty-four degrees out. Now I’m like are you shitting me? Two degrees above freezing and I gotta get this kid on a bike? I tell the kid to get his helmet and, there’s suddenly all this shock and amazement. He starts whining all over again, about how it’s too cold and that he want’s to ride the bus. At this point I sort of lose it a little bit. I start telling him all of the problems I’ve had this morning. The wicked sinus headache, the blocked nasal passages, the constant whining from him. I tell him how, despite all of it, I’ve been very nice to everyone so far, and if he had just gotten up when I asked him the first time he could’ve rode the bus. So, if he didn’t mind, could he please just go get his god damned helmet so we can get on our way.

To be clear Marty, I never raised my voice. Not once you know, not really.

I go outside, I walk past my wife. She’s shaking a god damned bowl full of food for the cat all over the place, trying to get him to show up. I go back to the shed to get the bikes. Of course mines buried all the way in the back behind all the Christmas ornaments. I wrestle the damned thing out. The tires are fucking flat. I gotta pump them up. Which means I gotta dig around for the damned pump.

I do that. I bring the bikes back around to the front of the house. I go back inside.

There’s my wife, staring at me. Giving me that look. You know, that look. Apparently I upset our little angel.

I didn’t even yell at him Marty. I mean here I am. Sick as a dog, getting up early. Being nice to everyone, not complaining once. I’m being the loving husband, the dutiful father here. All so she can take this freaking cat to the vet. Now I’m all of a sudden the bad guy again.

She tells me don’t worry about it. She’ll take him to school. She can’t find the cat anyway, so she’ll just call and reschedule the appointment for later in the day. She’s not raising he voice, not making a fuss, but I know I’m gonna hear about it later, believe me.

They walk out the door.

I sit down on one of the kitchen stools.  Finally, I take a sip of my freaking coffee that I poured myself forty-five minutes ago. It’s ice fucking cold. I look down. There’s the cat. Crawling out if the fucking pet carrier. It’s been asleep in there this whole time.

Jesus, I tell you Marty, I hate that damned cat.

So anyway, let’s talk about how you want to do this bank heist.

Night Watching

Delores lay in bed, listening to sounds of the sleeping house. She was thinking. Thinking about all the little ways that they controlled her. How their rules and expectations seemed so unfair. She was thinking it was time to do something about it. About how she had been planning this all day. She glanced over at her clock. It was time.

Her bare feet slid down and touched the icy wooden floor. In long slow steps she padded her way down the hall, stopping at their room. She held her breath for a moment, listening at the door. Once she was sure she heard two different types of snores she slowly moved on. Down through the kitchen.

Jazz, the family dog snuffed awake and picked its head up at her approach. The old mutt wasn’t likely to start barking, but he could be such a spazz sometimes. She fished out the biscuit she had hidden in her pajama pocket before bed, and held it up. Jazz instinctively sat and waited for his treat. She patted him on the head and dropped the biscuit in his mouth. He wagged his tail expectantly as she crept away, and when he was reasonably certain that there were no more treats in his future, he cocked his head, stretched, then walked around in a circle three times and laid back down.

She was almost to the living room when a thought occurred to her. If just getting caught was going to be bad enough, why not make the most of it? She crept back into the kitchen. From the fridge she poured herself a large glass of soda. She took a small sip, smacked her lips and let out a quiet satisfied sigh. She put the bottle back and carefully and quietly she snuck out through the doorway into the living room.

She walked around the sofa and took another dainty sip from her glass before setting it on the coffee table. Thinking better of the action she lifted it back up and slid a coaster under it, one shouldn’t tempt fate. Being caught out of bed might not go particularly well but, she was fairly sure she didn’t want to go through the whole, “water rings on the furniture speech,” again. She cautiously picked up the remote and gently pressed the power button. Her hands flew to the volume control to start turning it down before the television had a chance to make a sound, she’d made that mistake before. She smiled and dropped herself on the sofa and brought feet up onto the armrest. She wiggled he shoulders against the throw pillows and settled in for a night of “grown up” TV shows.

No one was going to tell Delores when she should go to sleep. Bedtimes were for suckers.

This story was written in response to a Flash Fiction Challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at his blog Terrible Minds. You can check out the other entries in the comments there

Prisoner

Gabriel paced the length of the dark cell. The same grim worry on his mind as the day he was first walked past the long hallway of doors.

They always said that the innocent have nothing to fear but, that night, when they came bursting into his apartment, he had run. Everyone in the building had run. No one seemed innocent enough to be fearless these days. He was one of the ones that they had chased after specifically. He hadn’t been fast enough. Each of those doors, he now assumed were cells like his. Each another life much like his. That first night as he glanced nervously at each closed door, was when he began to wonder. if they were here as well. Eventually they stopped him at one door, just like all the others, opened it and pushed him inside. The door shut. He began to pace, and worry.

In some hours, unable to sleep, he got to know about the cell. The walls were cinder block, and cold. The bed was a pallet on the floor in one of the back corners. A toilet, or what passed for one, and basin. There was dim light, barely enough to see by, coming from a fixture set recessed into the ceiling. That was all. Just himself, the chilly gloom and the silence.

After a time the door opened and a guard came in. He was relieved for a moment to see it was Michael. That soon faded as he looked into the hardened eyes of the man he had once known, and had spent a childhood with. Still he had to hope. Just maybe there was a chance that he knew, or cared.

“Have you any news of…”

“You must follow me.”

That was it. They walked silently through the long hall of doors. Stopping at one identical to the rest. Maybe they were here, Gabriel thought. Again his hopes fell as the door opened and instead of a cell there was a large room, with a table and with chairs on either side of it. A man in a suit was smiling at him from across the room. A small nudge from Michael urged him into the room. As he stepped in the smiling man motioned to one of the chairs.

“Please sit. I only have a few questions.”

“Please? If you…”

There was a brief flicker to the smile, but it was just long enough to show there was a second way things could be done. “I only have a few questions. With your cooperation I can have my answers. Then we can be done here very soon, and you can go home.”

The smiling man asked for the names of certain individuals, and locations where those individuals met. Gabriel did not have the answers the smiling man was looking for. The smiling man sighed and told him how very disappointing it was that he was unable to cooperate. He was brought back to the cell down the long hall of doors. When he was inside he turned again to Michael and pleaded.

“Please I’ve done nothing wrong. I just want to know if…”

“I can not help you.” Michael stared through him. “Just cooperate and all will be well.”
“Michael it is me, you know…”

The guard left the room.

The door closed.

In the darkness time stretched and dilated. Days, hours, and minutes didn’t truly exist for him here. The only punctuations to his life here were when trays of cold broth and bread were brought to him through a slot in the door, or when Michael or another guard would collect him from the darkness. And take him to the room with the smiling man and his questions. Sometimes there were other men in the room too. They didn’t smile. They didn’t ask the questions. They were the other way things could be done.

None of it seemed to happen at regular intervals. There was once an unimaginably long period where no one came. No guards, no smiling man, no tray of broth and bread. During this time he discovered his cell was one and a half steps longer than it was wide. It’s longest dimension was parallel with the door. Which itself wasn’t quite centered. It was a full third of a step closer to one wall than the other. After a while, when his hunger began to grow unbearable, he feared they had forgotten about him. That he had been left to waste away in the cool dark of this room. Then he hoped that they had. He felt for a time free of the menace of the unanswerable questions of the smiling man and his assistants. That was lost when the door finally opened, and he looked at the lighted hall beyond once again. This time it was a priest that cast his shadow into the room.

The priest entered the cell and sat chair that Michael brought in for him. He looked down at Gabriel lying weakly curled up on the floor and implored him to do the right thing. To look into his heart and see that it for the good of all. That God would forgive him his tresspasses if only he would unburden himself. Gabriel just lay there and wept quietly.

From then on the priest was added to the irregular rotation of events. There were so many days , after unkown hours, of questions and coercions, and of yelling and threats, he thought of just giving them the answers they wanted. Just giving them a name or two. He could, or so they promised, exchange his freedom for that of others. Surely, he thought, he could come forward with a name. Just a name. Someone distasteful, someone who deserved this. There were so many people he knew who had done something wrong, committed some petty offense against the state. He knew he couldn’t do it. There was too much uncertainty about who was working with them, and who, like him, they already had taken. Besides, it would only be a lie. He thought about this every time he walked back from the smiling man’s room.

Each time he made the long walk down the hall of doors, as he passed each one he wondered. Who was behind them. Which ones remained empty waiting for a name to be given. Behind which of these doors was the person who had given them his. Who, in desperation and in the false hope of freedom, betrayed him, or another innocent soul. He knew they had no intention of releasing him. No one who had ever been taken had come back. That was why he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t be part of the broken gearwork of this place, of the system of fear and hatred and lies that created it. Even if he did it. Even if he agreed to give a name. Even if that was the end of it. If they let him go, if they kept their word and released him, how could he go back? How could he look people in the eye knowing that it could have been their name that he had given in that lie, their lives he traded for his. That could hardly be considered freedom. If he gave them what they wanted he would always be their prisoner. He and his family would never be free again.

He wondered about them, all the time.

Every trip through this hall, he always wondered and worried if they were here. If they were behind one of those heavy black doors. Every time that Michael was the one walking him back he would ask. Michael had ceased to respond to the question long ago. So, he paced on in the constant doubt and worry that had been plaguing him for what must have been months.

The heavy door swung open once more. This time they all stood out there in the hallway. The priest, the smiling man and Michael. In seeing all three Gabriel knew that this would be the last time that he would be taken from the cell. The priest was the first to step in, making the final plea that he confess, that there was still time to save himself. When he had been silent for long enough for it to be acknowledged as a refusal They walked him down the hall of doors one last time. Michael and another guard behind him and the two other men leading the way. He counted the doors out of habit, noting to himself when they passed the room where the smiling man would ask his questions. They walked a longer distance than he had in all the time he was imprisoned. They stopped at yet another identical door.

The door opened and the light of the sun poured in. Gabriel’s heart pounded at the sight of it. His eyes were blinded by it for a moment as he was led outside for the first time in ages. He lifted his hand to shield his eyes, but Michael grabbed his arm and brought it behind his back. He felt his wrists being bound together. Gabriel squinted to see. In the brightness he walked past the other guards, each holding a rifle at the ready. He could hear the priest speaking something, words that he hadn’t heard since he was a small boy. His familiarity with the scriptures faded along with his church attendance in adulthood. He was led to the far wall of the courtyard. Gabriel fought against the panic and dread. He knew this was where it was ending, nothing could prevent that now. Still, as the blindfold was tied around his head he couldn’t help thinking of all the names he could of given. All of the people that could have been here in his place. Maybe there was still time. A name welled up in his throat begging to be spoken. Just one name. The name of a foul man, whom he had always suspected beat his wife. He could say his name and then maybe magically he would take his place. The name reached up behind his teeth. As it was about to escape, Michael whispered in his ear.

“There has been news. Your wife and son have made it across the border. They are safe.”

Tears welled up in the darkness of the strip of cloth covering his eyes. He swallowed deeply. He could die with at least an ounce of hope.

This story was written in response to a Flash Fiction Challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at his blog Terrible Minds. You can check out the other entries in the comments there

Hounds

He was running.

That’s all Josh knew. He was running away. Faster, he had to run faster. He had to escape the howls and barks running behind him.

He had been traveling along the highway, trying to make it south before the weather changed. It hadn’t been a good couple of days. Most of them spent getting hassled by small town cops. He managed to hitch a ride with a guy that agreed to take him as far as Clementsville. The dude seemed alright at first talked a lot of religious nonsense, Josh had learned to tune that crap out after a couple of years of hitching. After a couple of hours in the guy started getting creepy. He started asking Josh a bunchof pervy questions about himself. All sorts of bad experience told him it was time to bail.  He told the guy he needed to take a leak, and  got him to pull over. Josh got out and tried to grab his bag from the back of the truck. Pervy guy saw this and jumped out of his seat. Josh just bolted into the woods. The bag was just stuff, it maybe everything he owned but just stuff.  

He wound up trekking pretty deep into the woods just in case the weirdo decided to be persistent about looking for him. He got farther in than he had planned but, through experience, was able to figure out which way was south and started walking. It was getting dark and all of his gear was in the back of some creeps pick-up. He really hadn’t set out planning on doing survival camping today. At least the moon full so he would be able to see where he was going. He figured on traveling through the woods for a while, find a reasonable place to hunker down and head back out to the highway in the morning and try his luck thumbing up a ride. It was a couple hours later when he ran into the asshole with the dogs.

Josh spotted the light from the campfire a little ways off. He didn’t see any people but he could see the dogs lying about near the fire. Huge black dogs, some kind of hounds he was pretty sure. They were noisily chewing on their evening meal. Josh figured it was just some rednecks out hunting hogs and getting drunk. That type of good old boy was usually friendly enough but he figured it was best if he didn’t spook the dogs by sneaking up on them. While he stood there wondering what to do he felt a hand fall on his shoulder. He wheeled around and came face to face with this really tall psycho wearing a ghillie suit.  Josh started to back away cautiously and raised his hands.

“Hey sorry man, didn’t know you were out here. I’ll just be on my way.” Josh peered over his shoulder at the dogs, they didn’t seem to know he was there.

“You should run.” The man said, as if to no one in particular. He was wearing a crown sort of thing made of antlers.

“What?” Josh heard himself questioning what was clearly a sound idea.

The man took his distant, blue eyes off of Josh’s and motioned with his oddly long chin towards the dogs, “You run, they chase. That’s how it works.”

“How what works?” Josh, looked over his shoulder, the dogs weren’t paying any attention.

“The hunt, now run.”

“Hey look,” Josh slowly backed away, “I don’t want any trouble from you, or your hounds.” Maybe, he thought if I just move real slow I’ll get out of this. He’d been on the road long enough to know dogs. They’re way more likely to ignore you if you just don’t run.

“Run.” The hunter said impatiently.

Josh took another cautious step back. Still nothing from the dogs. He breathed heavily.

Run! The thought screamed into his brain and down his spine. His heart slammed blood into his legs. The dogs looked up suddenly and then Josh’s legs took over.

Then he was running.

That’s all he knew. He had to run. Faster. He had to out run the howls and barks that were chasing behind him. Faster. His lungs burned. His legs ached. He knew he couldn’t stop. He had to keep going. He had to get away. He had to… Where was he running to?

After a few years on the road he was no stranger to running. Away, was important. That was always first priority. But, you needed somewhere to run to. You needed a plan. Dogs, what was the dogs plan? He crashed through the brush and low hanging branches as he pushed forward.

People, People was always part of a good plan. Get to where the people are. People out here, in the woods, nearest to town was maybe twenty miles down the highway. Which way was the highway? Could make it to the highway. There might be a passing car, a cop, someone who could help. The highway. He could move faster on flat ground. So could they.

Running.

Running water. Some how through the pounding of blood in his ears, over the howls of his pursuers he could hear it.

Water. There was a stream ahead. The highway, he remembered. The highway ran over a stream. The water might throw the dogs off. It lead to the road. People, get to the road get to where there’s people.

He surged forward, heading for the sound of the water. Legs pumping faster, burning. His foot slid sideways as he planted it on some wet leaves. His other leg buckled. He fell, sliding down an embankment. His head struck against a rock. The world clouded. For a moment felt warm. He was bleeding. He was falling. He was fading.

Stark coldness woke him as he rolled into the stream. His arms flailed. He tried to right himself. His hand caught something. Sharp. He cut himself. He grabbed anyway. He pulled himself up. The thing cutting his hand came loose. He stumbled. Reached out with his other arm. Found his feet. Standing again. Shaking ankle deep in the water. His bleeding hand still clenched around a piece of rebar he’d wrenched from the mud of the stream bank. He panted heavily as he wiped away the blood from his forehead away from his eye. He could hear them coming. He ran plodding through the water, towards what he was sure the highway.

Down the stream. To the road. Get to people.

He kept moving. He was cold. Blood kept running into his eye. HIs legs ached. He couldn’t tell how bad he was hurt. Later, he knew, later he’d feel all of it.

He stepped out of the stream after a time. He couldn’t hear them after a while. Had he lost them? Where was the highway? He should be able to hear cars, even this late. What time was it. His eyes drooped just a bit. His pace slowed. He staggered from side as he jogged along. He was tired. He had to have lost them. He need to rest just for minute.

A twig snapped behind him.

He spun around and lashed out with his blood soaked right hand. The metal bar he still clung to struck the mouth of the hound just as it was lunging. He cut his hand again on its razor teeth.

The beast leapt sideways and let out a long wail of pain as it rubbed its face in the dirt. An acid smell filled the air. The black dog’s cry was answered by it’s brothers off in the distance.

Josh ran.

A stumbling, half-hearted, run.

He was going to die. He was going to be ripped apart by this fucking psycho’s dogs he knew it. His feet kept pulling him forward. Down along the edge of the stream. It was over.

The sounds of branches breaking behind him.

Tears began to stream down his face, washing the trickling blood from his eye. He passed through the edge of the woods.

Excited yowls and growls of eager mouths

Josh stumbled forward, finally collapsing near the deserted highway, next to the old drainage pipe that let the stream run under it.

Hungry black shadows at the edge of the trees.

Sobbing he pulled himself into the drain and curled up. The cold water flowed around him.

The shadows came forward and stopped at the entrance of the pipe. They sniffed cautiously at its edges and whimpered. They circled the highway, to the other side of the pipe. Josh shook in fear and cried. He waited. The dogs barked and lunged at the entrances to the pipe, never quite coming far enough in to reach him. From both sides of the drain they bayed at him. 

Josh screamed out at them, in great sobbing breaths. Why didn’t they just kill him? They just kept at it, growling and barking. Menacing from the outside all night.

The long hours passed, and as the sun began to come up the dogs quieted. Josh peered through his hands. As one turned and walked back into the woods. Just like that, as if he no longer existed.

***

Josh woke up crying. He sat up and grasped the piece of rebar he kept near his bed. It always made him feel better, more grounded. The dreams were getting worse again. Bea said they would around this time every month.

Sometime after the dogs left, he crawled out that pipe. Made his way down the highway. He found pervy guy and his truck a few miles later. He’d had some kind of spear through his chest. But the keys were still in his truck, as was Josh’s bag. He drove it, through various scenes of horror, south til he got to Clementsville, or what was left of it. There were people there. Most of them digging graves. The rest huddled around a pizza shop and listening to the old woman who ran it. She took him in and got him cleaned up. Some young girl named Harper treated his wounds as he told them his story.

She told him that the dogs could smell the iron in the rust of the drain pipe. That like all fey they were loath to touch it. That corrosion was what had saved his life. That if they had caught him and killed him, he would become one of them. Rebirthed as a hound in the huntsman’s pack.

“Not many people manage to get away from a wild huntsman,” she told him when he had finished, “but you outlasted his hounds and survived til sun up. For that insult to him, he’ll chase you for the rest of your days. Even in your dreams. Best you not wander far from The Circle on nights of the full moon.”

Rest Stop

Harper stalked away from the gas station leaving the others to fill the tanks. She just need a moment of calm quiet away from Josh and Erin’s constant nagging. It was obvious they didn’t want her along, and only took her because Aunt Bea insisted. Sometimes she hated that the old woman meddled so much on her behalf, it just made everyone else not want her around. She took the faded red ball cap off her head and let her hair down to feel the warm summer breeze blow through it as she crossed the empty highway. When she reached the median she sat down, placed her pistol beside her, and ran her hand along the carpet of fresh wild flowers. She reached into her bag and retrieved a  sandwich.  Peanut butter, again. She was so tired of peanut butter. She took a bite and chewed it thoughtfully as sat among the flowers, enjoying the cleanness of their scent carried with it.

The air at home was full of the choking smoke of the foundry and the fuel exhaust of the generators. Out here the sky was clear and blue, for once she didn’t feel like she was constantly suppressing a cough.The world out here seemed so beautiful and vibrant. So much more colorful and alive than behind the built up wall of grey cinder blocks and rusted iron scrap that she lived behind. Out here the only thing blocking her view of the world was the tall green of the trees.

There, at the tree line on the other side of the highway,  a deer stood staring at her. It was an enormous buck, antlers crowning it majestically. Sitting on its back was a woman, elegant and tall. She wore a sheer gown, its color just a slight shade away from the sky’s hue. Her legs both draped over the beasts right side as they casually approached Harper.

When she was small she had been raised on all the old fairy tales and as she got older she came to grips with the difference between make believe, and the ugliness and boredom of the real world. Then it all changed, everything. Oberon and his people had returned, and the new reality of things took hold day by day as she grew up in the hot noise and dust of The Circle. Now here was one of them. Beautiful and perfect, and in the flesh. This is as close as she had ever been to one, before this there had only been brief glimpses of them from the top of the wall. It was singing.

The woman sang as she approached. A faint, soft song in a voice that seemed to be part of the wind, and harmonized with the bees as they buzzed among the flowers around where Harper sat. Those beautiful sweet flowers, that used to droop and turn grey here on this strip of lawn as cars belched their filth into the world as they sped their owners up and down the flat dark roadway. Harper felt her hand brush against the pistol beside her. Ugly thing, she thought as she pushed it away, cold and ugly metal thing. Just more crude death that we carry with us, more ways to destroy. More ways to be ugly. Not like them. They are life. They are beauty. They brought back the flowers, and the birds. They didn’t just return to the world, they returned with the world.

The woman rode closer, still singing. Harper could hear it so clearly now, that beautiful song in an unknown language. She heard herself singing along, as if she had known the song all her life. The woman in blue held out her hand invitingly. Harper stood and took the offered hand, and looked up into the enchanting face, its eyes staring at her with pity and forgiveness. Harper could still hear that song of love and sweetness, even though the woman’s lips were not moving. Those pale and pink smiling lips. The other hand came into view holding a long knife. Harper was still singing along with the woman’s thoughts. She tilted her head up waiting for the cool blade against the flesh, waiting for a final and warming stroke of the razor sharpness across her throat.

Then the song ended.

It ended in a sharp crack, like thunder and a fast whisper, like silk. The beautiful whiteness of the woman’s face became marred with a streak of red velvet leaking from her temple. The clean air now smelled of burnt flesh from where the iron slug had pierced it. First the knife fell, and then the woman slid sideways off her mount. The beast shook its head and then bolted back towards the woods as another shot rang out.

Erin came running up, panting, smoke still curling from the barrel of the hunting rifle. She caught her breath for a moment.

“Fuckin’ elves!” She spat, “Be more careful and don’t wander off next time damn it. Bea ‘d have my ass if I let anything happen to you. C’mon now, Josh’s loaded up all the gas we can carry, let’s head back home.

Thursday’s Plans

“What are your plans for Thursday?”, the same phone call every year.

As if  he might not remember what day it was or forgotten their conversation about priorities, he clearly wasn’t one of hers. He had been cast aside. Left in need to satisfy the wants of other people.

Now those wretches surround her.

Each year feeling guilty, alone, and used, she called with the expectation, he would come sit at their table for scraps of feigned affection for the sake of tradition, and her absolution.

Once again he declined the invitation.

The phone would remain silent for another year.

New Kids

Some things are different on the avenue.

Big Tattoo got out a changed man. Eyes sunken and hollow, he’s thinner now too. His skin yellowed from jaundice, just hanging in bags from his frame. I don’t know what happened in there, but he hasn’t fared much better on the streets. The old, white house they operated from got sold. New owners evicted the old man and painted the damned thing sea-foam green. No one’s seen hide nor hair of Mr. Squeaky-voice since. Sounds like he ran off with the product. Someone new set up shop in a house across the street. And everyone’s mad at Big Tattoo, he was supposed to keep them all in line. You can see it in his walk. The exhaustion of an old man still playing a kid’s game, just cause they never thought to get good at anything else. It almost hurts to watch it happen.

And the new kids are learning the ropes. They’ll skip school to  stand in shifts out front of that old abandoned house the corner. The one with the plates missing from it’s jalousies, wild grape vines overrunning the yard and pulling at the fence, peeling red trim around the windows. There’s one boy there now I’ve been watching grow up for the better part of a decade. You can tell he’s there on business cause he’s sporting two phones. The business line’s a flip phone burner. I guess the other line, a low rent smart phone, is for snapchat, and for telling lies to his mother. He’s on lookout, checking for the cops.

It’s not like they don’t know why he’s out there, or who he’s working for. They look him up and down as they cruise on by with slow intimidation. They’re too busy to roust him, he ain’t bleeding in the street. Not yet at any rate. They’re all still busy looking for who that shot the baby girl four months back. She lived, but they were aiming for her dad. He wasn’t so lucky though. Inquiries are ongoing.

Down the block the neighbor’s little girl is learning to ride her bike, while her brother hands out dead leaves  to passersby from the bouquet of them he’s collected from the parking lot of the funeral home.

The autumn air is growing cold and crisp, and I’ve taken to just sleeping in most days.

The Last Drop.

For three days now, he awoke to find an empty coffee pot.

For three days he had been forced to brew a fresh pot before being able to sit on the steps, gather his thoughts and become human again, in the perfect warmth of the morning sun.

This particular morning he watched her pour it.

Not quite all of it. A small sip remained at the bottom, just enough to tease his craving.

He was sure that in some places this was grounds for divorce.

Not here though. Here he was left with only two choices.

Love or a bludgeon.

The Coffee Technician

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I posted that thought as it occurred to me, whilst standing in line at local cafe. I was feeling put out because I was stuck behind a slew of meticulously dressed down tattooed scenesters. I was feeling my beard get longer as they cheerfully order their chai lattes, soy milk mochachinnos, and navigating the sandwich menu trying to remove all the joy from the items that weren’t already vegan. The slacker on duty took each order individually and then listlessly went about the motions of making each drink. All the time I stood impatiently annoyed at the needless complexity involved; angrily certain that the whole process could be sped up if the barista would just put some effort into it.

Finally the herd thinned and I was able to approach their comrade behind the counter and order my simple cup of simple, hot, black coffee. It literally took less than a minute for the counter person to dispense it from the air pot and serve it up with a smirk of boredom, and ring me up with a snotty look. I dropped my change in her tip jar and began to walk away.

That’s when it struck me.

It might be me that’s got it all wrong.

This poor beleaguered barista had been selected from all the other job candidates She has spent months if not years practicing making coffee drinks1. Had to be trained to properly tamp down the espresso. It had to take hours to learn to pour just the right amount of foam on a cappuccino. Constantly wrestling with that damned finicky machine to get just the right concentration of water that makes a ristretto well, a ristretto, not just simply an espresso shot. They ceaselessly have to argue with nitpicky hipsters over the difference between a lungo and an americano. I mean, I sure as hell don’t know the difference between a mocha and a mocha breve2. Do you? Not to mention the all the other day-to-day horseshit involved with customer service jobs. I mean this person has dedicated a considerable amount of their time, energy and brainpower to become competent at their job. And here I come, this unenlightened jerk. this smug dipshit who has the temerity to be so basic as to order a fucking cup of house blend, without so much as adding a god damned shot of espresso to make it a red-eye. I’m essentially wasting her fucking time over here.

Feeling like a bit of an ass for being so impatient, I turned back to the counter to throw a little extra in the tip jar by way of silent apology.

And that damned half-wit was too busy staring gaped mouthed at a ceiling fan, fidgeting with her nose ring to notice.


  1.  To be clear once you add anything to it you’re having a coffee drink and not coffee, and that’s fine but let’s just fess up to that and move on. 
  2. Actually I do but, for the purposes of this rant, let’s just pretend. 

The Woman Downstairs

The woman downstairs was crying again.

He was trying to nap, and she just kept crying.  Great sobbing breaths. all the time saying, “I’m sorry, I’m trying.” He tossed and turned, trying, like always, to ignore the pitiful sounds of her sadness.

Pretending, once again, to not be home as her boyfriend stomped around screaming threats and abuses. Trying not to hear the awful crack; or notice the ammonia smell of gunpowder. To not feel the awful silence that followed for ages afterward.

It had been weeks, and he could still hear her crying every time he shut his eyes.