Status Update

Ellis Durant entered the suite and walked along the only path not cluttered by the entropy that had taken over in the two weeks since he had last visited. He looked around at the empty take-out boxes, stacks of photographs and reports that he had sent over, the random placement of magazines most of them laying open and face down. There was a pattern here. There was always a pattern

As he walked, he looked. He was observant. It’s what he lived for. To observe, to watch, to see. Sometimes you had to see what wasn’t there. There was always a pattern.

There were no clothes. All this chaos and there were no dirty clothes strewn about. Ellis blinked. The clothes would all be found neatly folded in drawers or hung in the wardrobe, each hanger facing the same way. The laundry stored neatly in a hamper, waiting for the service to come pick them up.

The mess was window dressing. An elaborate prop.

Sometimes the pattern was a lie.

Ellis came to a stop behind his employer, who was standing at a purposely cluttered counter fixing a drink.

“How’s our boy?” The older man dropped a handful of ice cubes into a glass, and poured the amber liquid over them before turning to receive his answer

“Tired,” the gray faced man replied flatly, “and nervous. He does not like it that you do not return his calls”

“Can’t do it, you know that.” He swirled his drink, watching the ice spin for a moment “I can’t have any direct contact with him at this stage.”

“So you have said.”

“You don’t believe me?” The old man took a long sip off his drink. “I’ll have to say I’m a little hurt by that.”

“To be clear Mr. Davis, I do not see my beliefs, or your feelings needing to enter into this.”

Davis smiled broadly and patted his shoulder. “You’re a good man Ellis.” He looked his companion over quickly, shrugged and then added, “Well you know what I mean.”

Ellis stared at him, waiting.

Davis turned and topped off his drink. “What has Jerry been up to lately?”

“As planned he has been meeting with Mr. Maslow and his associates. They are thoroughly satisfied with the credentials you have provided him. We have overheard several of them discussing offering our Mr. Standish a position in their organization.”

“What about her?”

“Jerry still spends most of his later evenings in the company of Ms. Karns,” little else on Ellis face besides his mouth moved as he spoke, “they were at his hotel room when I left.”

The older man pinched the bridge of his nose. “I ain’t askin about Janice. I know what they get up to at night, I order it. I mean Maslow’s boss, you know our actual objective. Any word on her.”

“They are certain she is on her way. They do not know when she will arrive. Some think she is already here. The word on her appears to be Baba. They don’t use her real name.”

“Neither should you. Especially, not in my presence.” Davis briefly fiddled with something around his neck, then dropped it back down his shirt. “We clear on that Mr. Durant? You do not speak her name anywhere near me.”

Ellis nodded, “I assume this measure is for security.”

“Yeah, mine. While we’re talkin security, from here on out if Jerry starts trying to discuss me you get him to change the subject, pronto. What about his language studies?”

“He uses the interactive course some. I have been helping him practice. His usage is crude but passable.”

“You speak Russian Ellis?”

The grey man just blinked at him.

Davis shook his head, “Of course you do.”

This Is the 12th installment in a series of scenes that bears the uninspired name The Untitled Thing. The rest of the serial is indexed HERE.

In the Dark

“Are you sure it’s down here?”

“Yes damn it, now be quiet.”

He walked silently behind them through the cold murk, as they argued in whispers.  Walking in circles for hours. Blinding each other with flashlights. Pointing guns at the shadows as they rounded corners. Following every odd noise, spray of blood’ or smear of slime glistening along the wall. Given their haphazard, second-hand knowledge of these forgotten tunnels, they should feel lucky they made it this far. You had to admire professionals.

“You”re sure it’s down here?”

Yes, he thought as he unfurled his claws. Yes, I am here.

This drabble (which by the may now be one of my new favorite words) was written in response to a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. So you should check that out too.

We never lived here

“Daddy, did we used to live here?”

An innocent question asked some distance between a park and an ice cream shop. Maybe it was the butterfly that drew her attention.

An echo of shame bubbles to the surface. Memories of having to run for refuge during evictions from various homes, or the power being turned off in the Florida summer when the bill money got misspent on inebriation. Excuses made to hide the slinking back here after a night drinking. No rent money, but enough for a buzz.

“No, baby. We never lived here.”

Can’t really call it living anyway. wpid-cam00413.jpg

The Thing In the Tunnels

It had been some weeks since my arrival in Berian, and thus far the majority of my time for this quarter was spent in my classes, quietly contemplating the various possibilities of sneaking out and exploring the wondrous city beyond the walls of the university.

Despite my family’s relative affluence, we apparently had not been wealthy for a sufficient number of generations for the general aristocracy to converse with me. I was shunned by the majority of the students for my decidedly rural upbringing. As a result my closest companions were also from the, by comparison, lower stations of society, conveniently we somehow managed to end up sharing the same dormitory.

Harmon was a tall, strong backed fellow from the northern reach. His father’s rather successful mining venture afforded his tuition and acceptance by the deans of the esteemed foundation which we attended. He was not the sharpest of wits but he was kind enough and had a generous sense of humor. His imposing stature rescued me from more than one assault on my person during our friendship.

Our other roommate, Lethan was the son of a foreign sea trader; who I had been assured, on several occasions, was a completely legitimate businessman. Handsome, slim, and possessing an accent that had the charming and remarkable ability to grow more pronounced around members of the opposite sex. He was always sent the most wonderful packages from home, smelling of exotic spices and containing delightfully strong intoxicants in deceptively labeled bottles.

It was after sampling one such package when a rumor that a long forgotten tunnel had been unearthed by work men clearing debris of a building that collapsed in a recent fire in the southern quarter of the city.  My compatriots and I, armed with lanterns, rope and a misplaced sense of adventure, made the decision to venture out to explore this portal.

***

One by one we lowered ourselves into the hole. Harmon went first and myself taking the rear. As I slid the last few inches down the rope my feet came to rest on finished stone, We found ourselves in a curving hall built of large stone blocks.. We followed that passage, listening to eerie silence, broken only by the sound of our feet shuffling across the dusty floor. We walked, single file, down that abandoned in mild fear until it opened into a rough square chamber. Harmon stumbled across the threshold, his fall extinguishing one of our lanterns. The clatter of the light hitting the ground broke the silence and the tension of  the moment. We let out a short burst of laughter and help the tall man back to his feet. He set about relighting the lantern, while Lethan walked the perimeter of the room. As he walked he waved his own lantern  making a ghostly sounds. Harmon’s match finally struck despite his hands trembling in an attempt to control his giggling. With both lanterns lit we took stock of our surroundings.

The room was of plain finished stone, with and arched passage leading out from the center of each of the walls. I looked down and tracked our footsteps  across the dust ridden floor. The long skid left by Harmon as he tripped. The trail of oil drops left as the lantern tumbled away from him. The long loping stride of Lethan as he acted out his taunting pantomime of a lost spirit. My own steps mingled in with theirs.

Then, there in the interwoven impressions in the dust, I was certain I could see a fourth set.  They were mostly covered over by our tracks, but I was certain they were there.

Short, shambling, barefoot steps.

I cleared my throat to bring my discovery to my companions attention. That was when I heard a long and piercing scream erupt from Lethan’s throat. I quickly raised my head and saw my friend staring gape mouthed, lantern raised high, his eyes wide and distant as if he was staring at something mile away.

I followed his gaze across the room and there in on of the arched portals, it stood.

Hunched, head forward. Grey mottled skin, hanging loose. Large eyes,circular bulbous. Twisted hands, nails overgrown. Distended jaw, teeth like razors.

My horrified friend stood paralyzed by the monstrous visage. It opened its maw as if to scream but only a low hiss emanated from it as it lurched forward towards Lethan. I began to shout, but Harmon was already moving. He threw himself towards the beast.

The thing grabbed the large man as if he was just a child , snapping his arm like a twig and tossed him aside. It turned its head and followed his arc as he landed in the corner near me, screaming in pain. Returning its reptilian eyes back towards Lethan and stalked onward.

I stared in terror, watching helpless as it drew closer towards its prey. Toward my fiend. I barely heard Harmon as he said my name in a hoarse croak.

Something inside of me stirred and I looked down to see Harmon’s lantern, still lit, laying at my feet. As in a dream, I found myself reaching for it. The thing shuffled forward, Lethan stood still frozen under its dread stare. I hoisted the lamp up and back. The thing began to stretch its arm towards my friend. My arm swung forward, and the light sailed forward through the air.

The lantern struck the alien thing and its pallid flesh caught fire in an instant. The thing crumpled to the floor. The jagged mouth opened and shut in silent screams as the monstrous thing’s body rendered in a pillar of fetid smoke, and quickly turned to ash.

The minutes that followed seem so insignificant. After seeing that thing destroyed Lethan recovered from the petrifying fear he suffered when he first met its stare. Through the shock of the encounter we managed to help our injured friend back to his feet and somehow managed to find our way back to where we began our explorations. We used our ropes to pull our companion back up to the street. We returned to the university and placed our friend in the care of the infirmary.

In the weeks that he spent healing we related our story to the authorities. We were told, by the faculty of our school and several representatives of the civil powers, that this was not a tale to be loosely told in taverns and public houses of the city. We were assured that it would be look d into. It was inferred that keeping the existence of such a beast a secret was for the public good. We were reminded that we were also members of the public.

The burned out ruin of the house was cleared and the tunnel was filled in. We were left with the memory of what we saw.

Late Delivery

I turned the letter over in my gloved hands before reading it one last time. It was a damned shame. If he had just waited one more day. He would have checked the mail one last time, everything would have been fine.  One more day and he would have gotten the news. He would know that she was coming back. He would know that she  forgave him, and I wouldn’t have to cut him down from the rafters. I placed the letter in the plastic bag and zipped it shut.

These are the days I really hate being a cop.4461758553_a9ca106e58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: stolica by, Milos Milosevic (CC BY 2.0)

Little Boy’s Loss

It had been such a great day at the fair until now. Why did it have to happen, why him. They had done everything together, walked the midway, visited the livestock pavilion, gotten corn dogs and cotton candy, even the guess your weight booth. Then on the ferris wheel he made his mistake and it all slipped away.

Now his friend was gone and he just stood there red-faced and shaking, with big blubbery tears streaming down his cheeks. His heart ached and he sobbed uncontrollably. Nothing would ever be the same anymore. He missed his friend, like only a small boy could. No matter what his parents said or did he felt bad all over. it was gone now and it was never coming back, and all the ice cream and funnel cakes in the world wouldn’t change that.

Now he was going to be sad forever.

Forever and ever.

He really loved that balloon.699751062_114d1fc712

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: Lost Balloon by Ruth and Dave (CC BY 2.0)

 

 

 

 

A Place in Time

Past the parking meters on the street, there is a large, yet unobtrusive, two-story yellow house. The faded cream tone of the paint contrasted by the white trim of the windows, and the railings of the front stoop and the balcony above it. Out in the front yard just to the right of the paved walkway is a little red sign with white letters giving the only indication that there was anything more than apartments inside. Up the stairs, across the short porch, through the front doors, and just to the right. There it is, The Dragon’s Hearth.

The front room furnished with cheap pegboard shelves hold rows of colorful books and boxes, and several drab folding card tables. Over a disused fireplace is the head of a white dragon named Kryos is mounted; a rubber mask around a wooden frame that gives the store its moniker, it is the look of the thing that matters. If it is early in the afternoon it is always filled with people playing games. Wonderful people of all ages, playing such wonderful games made of paper and imagination. In the back room painted figures of pewter are engaged glorious battles as they are pushed around large green table.

At the very front of the store behind the long, glass display case I often sit on my stool  the ,between fish bowls full of dice, and the cash register. People come in to The Hearth just to chat with me, sometimes I play a quick round or two of whatever trading card game is popular this week. Mostly I just sit and survey things in silence or talk smack about gaming with friends. It gives me an overdeveloped sense of importance, like I’m holding court. I am happy not knowing about the years to come.

Anymore this isn’t a real place, just a moment that was sometime between when my father died, and when my world went to shit.

Now and then, since what I like to call my recovery, I build it in my head, to see if I really miss it. I don’t suppose it even matters if I do. That was there and that was then.

I am here and it is now.

Memory Lane

He pushed down on the pedals, and the cranks turned the gears went round and round. Forward through  the streets of the old neighborhood. Past the old house with the tall chain link fence, where the old man sat on his stoop all day, gospel music floating out through the front door;  where his nephew stood in the street all night, drugs floating out through the front door. Once, in a bad storm, an old friend from school now a cop gave him a ride home his cruiser. As they drove the officer pointed out all the houses that were dealing, weed on this corner, cocaine on that one, crack all over. The police knew about it all, but were too busy “investigating” to make any arrests.

The cranks turned the gears went round and round. Onward still turning left down the road where the old duplex apartment sat, the garden they planted overgrown, the rosebushes turned to briers. The windows still boarded. They had such big plans, a future, a family. Making do in the meantime with what they had. Then the people in the next apartment passed out with the stove on. Every stitch of clothes, every stick of furniture gone; the fire burned through their entire lives. They were out celebrating their anniversary that night. The next morning they had to start all over again.

The gears went round and round. Farther up the playground where the bus dropped off the elementary school kids each afternoon. The slides and jungle gym covered in tags and pseudo gang signs drawn by thugs and wannabes each, depending on the time of day, claiming ownership of this insignificant corner of the world. They all had guns but were all afraid of being shot, so provided they ignored each other there was rarely a problem. In the end they could have it, the whole pile of garish plastic, cigarette buts, shredded rubber, broken crack pipes and sand.

Round and round. The new job afforded a better area of town to live in, but each evening as the sun went down he pedaled his way through the old neighborhood, and it’s ill repaired roads. Past the drunken overly friendly people he came to know over the few years they lived here. The old folks who always had the time of day, whether he did or not. Who always asked about how she was doing, and if her tomatoes had come in. The handful of neighbors that made the place tolerable. He waved to the last of them and turned up the ragged bike path towards home.

This story was written as part of Bicycle Stories Month

Making Connections

The rain was coming down hard as he ran from the cab to the awning over the bar, he tried shielding himself with a folded newspaper. It always seemed so much more effective when he saw it done in the movies. In real life not only did you still ended up with wet hair, only now your newspaper was ruined too. He paused at the door and tried to shake some of the water off his coat. He didn’t feel quite as certain about his plans as he did this morning but, this was his chance. If  he didn’t have this meeting now it might take weeks to set up a new one. He took a deep breath and chucked his sodden newspaper into a trash can, it was time to commit and hope for the best.

The inside of the bar was comfortable and familiar, in a generic tavern for the business man sort of way. Warm earth tones and wood veneer accented with brass surrounded a quiet clientele. He took off his coat and neatly folded it over one arm. Using in the mirror behind the bar he straightened his tie, and smoothed his damp black hair; he hadn’t noticed how long it was getting, or how grey. For a moment he met the gaze of his own reflection and felt as if he were lost.

He shook the cobwebs from his head and walked around the bar and took a seat next to a weary and hollow looking young man. He flagged the barman and ordered a beer. He couldn’t help but notice that the man next to him wore nearly the same suit as he did. The exception being that the younger man’s seemed to have seen more use and had begun to fade from repeated dry cleanings, and his neck tie was loosened and a different pattern.

“Can I help you with something pal?” his neighbor asked, noticing the brief scrutiny.

“Just think I found the only guy that the world’s working over harder than me. You look like you had a rough day.”

“They’re all rough,” the man said lighting a cigarette. “Don’t see why today’d be any different.” He shrugged and returned his gaze to the television.

“You’re a hockey fan I take it.”

The young man shrugged. “It’s what’s on.”

“My dad used to take me to the Devils games back when they played in The Meadowlands. God they sucked back then but, they were ours.” He took a long sip off his beer.

“Jersey huh, you’re a ways from home.”

“Came out here a few years ago for a job, wich never amounted to much more than an ulcer. Now the company’s gone tit’s up. I’m out of a job, supposed to be meeting a buddy of mine with a line on a new one,” He pulled out his phone and checked the screen. “He’s late and not answering my texts, guess I got stood up.” He finished his beer and set the glass on the bar, pushing it forward so the barman would notice it. “Story of my life. How about you?”

“I help manage my family’s business, imports mostly.”

“What kind of imports?”

“Whatever. I just make sure the paperwork gets done. I can’t talk details, client confidentiality stuff.” The younger man blew out a long stream of smoke and put his own glass next to the empty beer mug. He waved to fingers over both glasses to signal for another round.

“Yeah I know how that confidentiality stuff is I work, well worked in financials. Hedge funds and such. Thanks for the drink.”

“No problem, anything for an out of work hockey enthusiast. Name’s Pete Maslow,” the haggard man said smiling slightly. “Pleased to meet you, Mr.?”

“Standish, Jerome Standish,” he replied shaking the offered hand. “Everyone calls me Jerry.”

This it the Scene 11 of an on going serial. The rest of the story is indexed here.

The City of Berian

It was just before dusk as the sky ship swam lazily through the oppressive summer air towards our destination. The amber glow of the setting sun highlighted the needle like spires of the docks that rose even higher than the grand dome of the ancient cathedral, or the highest towers of the palace of Prince Ethaniel. This was the first time I had visited Berian, the capital of our grand province, and though I considered my self to be fairly cosmopolitan I must confess I was awed by its size and majesty. Taggart, my family’s trusted servant who had been charged to ensure my safe arrival at the university, pointed how many of the buildings boasted new construction to raise them up closer to the activity of the sky docks. There were even ladders and walkways built to span the gaps between structures, roadways and avenues were being made among the rooftops of the city. If one were to look closely you could see tents and stalls of merchants littered a midst the gargoyles and crenelations of the newly found elevations of the city.

Once our vessel was securely hooked to a spire we disembarked and took the long basket ride down to the more traditional streets of the metropolis. As we descended I became familiar with the various layers of smells that blanketed the capital. The heavy damp summer air of the afternoon mingled with the odor of coal and wood smoke from the chimneys of the residences and workhouses. Travelling lower down the floral perfumes of the higher classed bordellos and hotels of leisure were added. Finally, once on the ground, the ripe pedestrian smells of food, alcohol and sweat from the taverns and inns that surrounded the sky dock completed the bouquet of the city. I began to marvel at the naivety of my beloved parents for thinking that this wondrous and sinful locale might somehow provide distraction from my own natural curiosity and  reckless behaviors. After all, attending university would hardly be akin to being sequestered in a monastery.

Taggart and his cohort fell in around in an effort to shield me from the dangerous and immoral activities of fruit vendors, street tumblers, jugglers, and tavern goers, as well as the occasional prostitute and potential sneak thief as we traveled through the cobbled streets and alleyways towards the more desirable, wealthier, and better smelling areas of the city. We traveled uptown past the provincial palace it’s wonderfully clean stone facade, behind its stone walls and black iron gates, complimented by the nearby lush gardens of red and yellow flowers, the same hues that occupied the crest of the royal family. Farther away on another hill we could spy the gilt and stained glass dome of the Cathedral of the Patrons that we had seen from the distance as we flew over the city; one of the many marvels of the empire, not just of our humble province.

Just a little further on and we passed through the gates of the University of Berian, its white marble edifice shone in the last of the days dying light. The fabled Ivory Tower of education in the province. Here less than hundred years ago Leumas Nerals created his magnificent device, that gave to the empire the power of flight. Here in the dormitories of this fine institution I would reside for the foreseeable future, far from my family’s home. After being received by the Deans, and explaining the lateness of our arrival, I said my goodbyes to Taggart and the other men that had accompanied me here. I was escorted by one of the schools porters to my room. It was a small space that I was informed I would be sharing with two other young men, who I was quite anxious to meet. As I unpacked my things and tried to settle in I found myself staring out of the singular window of my new bedroom, past the rolling green lawns of the campus below and out into the city that would be my new home.  My mind wandered back to the events at Persley Station some days ago, and the horror, and carnage I found at that old barrow. Though I was still haunted by the images of that night, my mind held an odd fascination of the experience. I began to wonder,perhaps with a touch of hope, if that would just be the first of such adventures for me.

This narrative inspired  by a Weekly Challenge.