8thdayfiction

…and on the 8th day, micro fiction was published on some dude's blog.

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A Long Night

[Below is the story I sent this year with our family’s Christmas card. If you received a card from us, you’ve already received this story; I didn’t alter or change it from the version which went out with our cards. If you aren’t on our Christmas card list, well then, this is new to you! And new to everyone: A BONUS ILLUSTRATION (attached at the end; 3 images total: 1 full view and 2 details).

And yes, I had every intention of publishing this here on the blog yesterday or the day before, but it just didn’t happen…so consider this your Boxing Day present from me, because Boxing Day doesn’t get the attention it deserves, IMO. Enjoy!]

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Nick tried to sit still, but it was to no avail.

He tapped his feet, drummed his fingers on his knees, and glanced every few seconds at his phone sitting on his desk. He had been tracking the package incessantly since it had been ordered, and it was finally scheduled to arrive today. He couldn’t wait for it to get there. It was going to be the beginning of the two of them making amends after all the contract talk nonsense of the past several months.

Had it been several months? It had felt like several months.

He was mid-fidget when his phone started buzzing; he still jumped even though he’d been waiting for this moment for close to an hour. He picked up the phone, took a deep breath, and answered.

“Hello, Ru—”

“Hello, Nicholas.”

“Hey—oh…hi, Robert. This is Robert?” Why is Robert calling? This can’t be good.

“Nicholas, we need to talk.”

“Well, okay, sure. What’s going on? Why are you calling on Rudy’s phone?”

“Nicholas, I’m calling on Rudolph’s phone because I know you’ve blocked my number…”

(This was true.)

“…and because he is disgusted and—quite frankly—scared by that little stunt you pulled today. He has no desire to speak with you at the moment.”

This guy, with the drama. “Robert, I can assure you that I have no idea what you’re talking about. Although I was expecting a call—from Rudy—because his gift was to arrive today, and the card—”

“Yes, the card asked for him to call. I’ve seen the card. I’m calling in his stead for the reasons I’ve already stated. And, by the way—a gift? That’s what you’re calling what was sent to my client’s home this afternoon?”

‘In his stead.’ Guy thinks he’s friggin’ Jack McCoy, I swear. “Yes, Robert. It was a gift. A gift that was not given to the rest of the staff, mind you. It was a bonus. A peace offering. I know we—”

“A peace offering, Nicholas? Really? Do you think this is funny? Is this a sick joke?”

Ugh. Ask me one more rhetorical question, I dare you. “No, I—”

“It’s bad enough that you insulted my client’s intelligence on internationally syndicated television, but to—”

“Robert, hold on. We’ve been over this.” Like, a million times already. “What I said was a poor choice of words and something I blurted out without thinking it through. I said I was sorry, and—”

“And what, Nicholas? And you decided to follow up that insult with threats to my client?”

“Threats? Robert, I…I can promise you this is a huge misunderstanding. I don’t know what, exactly, you’re considering a threat. I sent your clien—I sent Rudy a meat and cheese tray, for Pete’s sake. That’s what arrived, right? It was the nicest, largest one they sell.” And the most expensive. “It was for his whole family to enjoy! It was a gift, from me, personally, just to say again that I’m sorry!”

“First of all, Nicholas, my client is a vegetarian, so I don’t know—”

“Well, see, that’s where you’re wrong.” Thinks he knows everything. HA! Yeah—his TERRIBLE BOSS knows him better than you do, ya dweeb! “I know for a fact that Rudy eats mostly plants but he eats meat every once in a while, as an indulgence. What better time to indulge than at the holidays! Robert, I promise you I meant no harm, and I still don’t understand what was so upsetting about the gift. I thought it would be a special treat. If he doesn’t like it, he can return it for something else. Or I’ll return it and get something else for him! I’ll do all the work! He won’t even have to hassle with it!”

“Oh, you’ll get him something else, will you? Like what? A gift-wrapped noose? A sightseeing tour of a big game hunting ground?”

“Robert, with all due respect”—which isn’t much, I can assure you that—“you’re being hysterical. And for the life of me, I don’t know why. I know you think I pulled some sick stunt or something but I honestly am not following why you or Rudy feel that way. Like I said, if he doesn’t like the gift, I will get him something else.”

“Well, Nicholas, I am just…flat out appalled at your refusal to acknowledge what’s going on here. If there was a mistake or a misunderstanding on our part, it was a mistake thinking we could negotiate with you in good faith, and a misunderstanding of your true nature.”

Sure, don’t hang up or anything. Keep talking, stringing me along with lecture after lecture WITHOUT ACTUALLY TELLING ME WHAT THE PROBLEM IS. “Robert, you really have to believe me when I tell you I’m pleading ignorance here. Obviously I’ve made some dumb mistake, and apparently I’m so dumb I don’t even know what that mistake is. So please just tell me what it is and I will fix it.”

“Okay, Nicholas, we’re done talking with you. I will just leave you with this: We read the ingredients list of the Havershire Farms Ultimate Party Platter, and: Message received, YOU MONSTER.”

“Robert, I—” Right, you hung up already. Because you always have to get the last word in.

Nick stared dumbly at his phone for a moment. So what was that supposed to mean about the ingredients? Pssh—probably Havershire Farms’ cheese isn’t made with milk from free range cows or something…

He powered up his phone again and Googled “Havershire Farms Ultimate Party Platter ingredients.” A few taps and swipes later, and he was scrolling through the ingredients list.

Okay…some preservatives, nitrates…a bit high in fat and sodium, but what the heck? I mean, it’s not advertised as health food, am I right? I still don’t know what the prob—

And then Nick stopped breathing. His ears felt like they were on fire, and the veins in his neck seemed to be constricting, if that was even a thing that could happen. On the screen right in front of him, straight from the Havershire Farms Web site, one of the ingredients in the Winter Solstice Sausage—the centerpiece of their Ultimate Party Platter—practically leaped from his screen and throttled him:

Contains: Beef, salt, dextrose, venison hearts, natural spices, monosodium glutamate…

Nick phased out after “monosodium glutamate.” When he came to a moment later, he read the first four ingredients again, just to be sure he had read them right.

He had.

If anything, ingredient number four looked even larger in his mind than it had the first time he’d read it.

I thought their sausage was all beef…didn’t I read that somewhere? Or did I just assume…?

Then, he got angry. He reached for his staple remover, to throw it across the room. It was the thing he normally reached for to throw across the room when he got angry…but then he remembered he no longer had a staple remover. He had thrown it into the trash a few weeks before in a previous fit of frustration.

And then, he went into crisis mode—a mode that was unfortunately becoming second nature as of late. He called up his assistant.

“Deb, it’s me. Get me someone from Legal on the line…it’s about Rudy. Look, I can’t tell you everything right now, but long story short—and don’t freak out, but—long story short, it’s bad…Deb? Deb, please, calm down. I shouldn’t have said that, it’s not that bad, just—just get someone from Legal and we’ll work it out. No, Deb, you’re not going to quit, okay? Okay, thank you…it’s going to be fine, Deb. Deb? I promise you, it’ll be fine. Thank you. Thank you.”

Nick hung up and waited for Legal to call him back. He was hoping for someone who could give him some advice on handling a workplace threat of violence that just happened to be completely unintentional.

He tossed the phone onto his desk and sunk into his chair. It was going to be a long night.

 

It’s A Problem

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve mentioned in this space before that there’s a writers’ group based near where I live that sponsors a Halloween-themed flash fiction contest every year. I’ve also posted stories I’ve entered in that contest here in years past.

This is—sort of—one of those entries. Basically, it’s what I would have submitted (or something similar) had I entered the contest this year. I had every intention of actually entering the contest, but did not.

The short, self-serving version of the story is that the contest deadline fell when we were on vacation this summer, and I was busy vacationing and decided not to enter the contest. The longer, full disclosure version of the story is that the contest is opened every year months in advance of the deadline, but I procrastinated thinking I had all the time in the world to write something—it’s not a novel, just some flash fiction, no big deal, right?—and then next thing I knew the deadline was imminent and I didn’t have anything worth submitting and I just told myself that I’d skip the contest this year what with being on vacation and all when the deadline happened as if that was the real reason why I didn’t enter and it had nothing to do with my poor time management skills.

Anywho, every year this writers’ group contest has a theme. This year’s theme was IT. And as it’s a Halloween-themed contest, the stories are probably supposed to be scary, but I went in kind of a different direction than scary…but I still like how it turned out and hope you do, too. Enjoy!]

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“Housemates, crew, fans, members of the media: Thank you for joining me this evening in the Living Room Of Destiny. Or, the L-ROD, as Viktor calls it. Hey, man, I know you and I have had our differences, but credit where it’s due: That’s a funny nickname. Respect.

Anyway, earlier today I was called to a meeting with the producers of AMH, who informed me that I was no longer welcome in this house.

Although I do not agree with this decision—after all, as I had mentioned many times, I was “in it to win it” and was hoping that when I left this house it would be either as the winner of AMH, or voted out fair and square in the End Of Week L-ROD Meeting—I respect this decision and will abide by it.

It was also brought to my attention in today’s meeting that I had largely brought this action on myself. In hindsight, looking back on the way I acted—literally, after viewing a two hour sizzle reel of my best worst moments compiled by the AMH producers specifically for the meeting, as well as for use in any legal action against me that may have been necessary had I not agreed to leave the house by sundown—I realized that this was true.

I realized—pun intended—IT’s a problem.

And yes, I have been informed that this phrase is already currently trending on various social media sites, but I actually thought of this play on words before I was made aware that it was already out there. Parallel thought—it happens.

So, I know that this is too little, too late. But before I leave this house and embark on a new phase, I just wanted to come before all my housemates and publicly apologize for my behavior.

Viktor: I’ve already mentioned you, and it seems right that I should start the apologies with you. It was my actions towards you—and what I said about you and your people—that ultimately led to the decision that I needed to go. I think you’ve been wronged by me the most, so it’s only fitting that you should receive the first apology.

I am so, so sorry for what I said. If I could go back in time and stop myself from saying those things, believe me I would. I really would. And I know saying “sorry” isn’t nearly enough to heal the hurt my words caused you, but I do mean it.

And I also want you to know that, not only am I truly sorry for what I said, but please believe me when I tell you that the things I said were said in a moment of anger and do not truly reflect my views of werewolves—sorry, Lupine Americans. I have such respect for your people. It pains me more than you know that I said things that made it seem otherwise. I wasn’t raised that way, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I don’t expect you to forget—I’m under no delusions that we’ll ever be best friends or anything—but I hope you can forgive me.

I also regret pushing you down the stairs. In hindsight, it was a mistake. It was also something done in a moment of anger that I now regret. Although, in my defense, I didn’t think you’d get injured. I figured you’d probably undergo “the change” in midair and then flop down the steps unharmed like a dog. Have you ever seen videos online of dogs running and tripping down stairs? They’re hilarious.

Also, you were the one who climbed the stairs to confront me, so: Kind of 50/50 responsibility between us for the stairs thing.

Bob and Elizabeth: I am also sorry for some of the things I said to you. You’re a great couple, and an asset to this house. I apologize for calling your relationship an “arranged marriage.” Also, I’m sorry for repeatedly referring to you as “the representation of man’s hubris” and for teasing you about your neck bolts.

Furthermore, I also regret pushing both of you down the stairs. In hindsight, it was a mistake. Although, in my defense, I figured anything that got broken could just be sewed back on or replaced. I’ve since been told that this isn’t the case, but I don’t think it was an unreasonable assumption on my part.

Ewan: I regret spreading rumors about your sexuality. First of all, I’m no homophobe. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re L, G, B, T, Q, A, or otherwise. But I am guilty of indulging in gossip, and for that, I’m sorry. And I’m not sure how you could be gay without a head, anyway. It was a dumb rumor for me to start.

I also regret pushing you down the stairs. In hindsight, it was a mistake. But, in my defense: I thought you were a ghost and that you’d just kind of float down the steps unharmed after I shoved you. However, the sling you’re wearing right now tells me otherwise, and for that, I’m truly sorry.

And speaking of gay rumors: Vlad, I’m so sorry I spread the same rumors about you, most of which also involved Ewan. I know you told me time and time again that you contracted HIV from biting an infected neck and not from sexual contact. My ignorance on this issue was inexcusable, and I have since educated myself on HIV/AIDS. I mean, you’re not exactly an innocent victim, here—from what I’ve heard, you’ve bitten a lot of necks in your day, I’m just saying—but you still don’t deserve to have that terrible disease, and your fight against it is inspiring. I want you to know that I’ve donated a portion of the salary I received for my time in this house to the Elton John AIDS Foundation in your name, with specific instructions to use the money wherever it is needed, even for neck suckers.

I also regret pushing you down the stairs while shouting “Let’s see how your compromised immune system handles THIS!” In hindsight, it was a mistake. Although, you could have turned yourself into a bat before actually hitting the staircase, so that one’s kind of on you, too.

Julie: I’m sorry that you walked in on me “masturbating.” I use the air quotes because I will again remind everyone that that was not what I was doing when Julie walked in on me. I was actually in the process of attempting to asexually reproduce. I’ve always wanted to have a child, and I’ve been struggling to asexually reproduce for the past few years but I’m still trying. I just thought if I could make it happen during my time in this house, not only would the storyline have been a boon for ratings, it also would have been really special to me to share the moment with all of you. I’m sorry for the emotion right now—this isn’t normally something I like to talk about. But I’m talking about it anyway because I want to be totally upfront with all of you and be transparent about what was going on in my bedroom that night.

However, I’ve been told by a few of you that what I was actually doing that night was “way more gross” than what you all thought it was. I regret not being more discreet.

I also regret pushing you down the stairs, Julie. In hindsight, it was a mistake. Although several of your body parts have already fallen off, so it’s not like you were way worse off at the bottom of the steps than you were at the top. I’m just putting that out there. But still, what I did was wrong, and I apologize.

Imhotep: I apologize for painting horizontal black stripes on your bandages while you were asleep, attaching a novelty plastic ball and chain to your ankle, and then subsequently referring to you as “The Fugitive” and blasting “Po’ Lazarus” on a boombox every time you entered the room where I was. I realize now that your bandages are part of your culture’s religious traditions surrounding the handling and interment of dead bodies, and that vandalizing your bandages with Forever Black Tire & Trim Reconditioner was insensitive at best and possibly a hate crime at worst.

I’m also sorry that, once I realized this, I attempted to paint over your black stripes with dozens and dozens of bottles of correction fluid. As we know, that did not work out as planned. I’m so happy for you, though, that you’ve since had your bandages professionally cleaned and you’re looking as good as new. Well, for a reanimated corpse. I will also be donating part of my AMH salary to you to offset those costs.

And I also regret pushing you down the stairs. In hindsight, it was a mistake. In my defense, though, I couldn’t resist the temptation. I had noticed one of your bandages had come loose near your ankle, and I thought if I stepped on it at the top of the steps and then gave you a good push, you’d completely unravel as you fell and you’d look like a human yo-yo and everyone would have a good laugh about it. I realize now that was a bad assumption.

Finally, Stacey: I’m sorry for all of the lame jokes I made at your expense about how good it must feel to “finally be white.” I was trying to be “edgy” and funny, but I realize now my words were not only unfunny and insensitive, they were downright racist. I understand now that—even though you have left your corporeal form and appear to us as a glowing “white” color—that is simply a matter of how our eyes are perceiving light falling on an object or person and does not change your race. You are a strong, beautiful black woman and I appreciate you for who you are.

And speaking of who you are, I also apologize for previously referring to you as “it.” I honestly thought that’s how you were supposed to refer to ghosts, but I see now that using that term—coupled with the insensitive racial humor—came across as offensive. Ignorance is not an excuse, and I won’t pretend that it is. I know now that I am—I was—the only It in this house, and referring to anyone else that way is not cool.

I also regret attempting to push you down the stairs. In hindsight, it was a mistake, even though in your case I wasn’t even trying to hurt you and it wasn’t done in anger. I figured pushing a ghost at the top of a staircase would be the equivalent of pushing someone on a swing set: You’d simply float off into the air and it would be fun. However, I obviously didn’t think it through and fell right through you and down the stairs myself—an appropriate comeuppance. And though I brushed it off at the time as “no big deal” and chastised all of you for being “too sensitive” when I had pushed you down the stairs, it hurt. It hurt A LOT. I was too proud to admit it in that moment, but I realized then how much I had physically hurt you.

And then, earlier today, to be made aware of all the emotional and verbal wounds I’ve inflicted on all of you as well? I was—and am—ashamed. And again, I’m so, so sorry.

I truly regret my behavior towards all of you…almost as much as I regret not taking one of the first floor bedrooms in the house. Chances are, I may not have been so shove-y had I not had to use the stairs as much. But Vik and Stacey and Ewan insisted on taking the first floor rooms, so I guess there was nothing I could have done about that. I think we’re all partly responsible for what happened on the stairs, is what I’m saying. But I was the worst offender when it came to pushing, so my bad.

And now, I take my leave of American Monster House—the house itself, and the show which bears its name. Even though it’ll be nice to take a break, process all that’s happened, and do what I realize now is some much needed soul searching and work on myself, I will really miss this place.

And although this isn’t ending the way I had envisioned it, it’s been an amazing four days. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this show, and I wish you all the best. God bless you all…or, Imhotep—I guess Amun-Ra bless you? I’m not really sure, but bless you too, brother.

Anyway, best of luck to you all, and may the best monster win!”

A Long Flight Home

[The short story which follows is one I wrote recently and mailed with the Christmas cards our family sent this year. So if you’re not on our Christmas card list, this is new to you. If you are on our Christmas card list: It’s the same story. Didn’t change a thing…so feel free to re-read, or not. Either way, enjoy!]

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“An N!”

“No, sorry. No N. And Nick, we’re back to you. Go ahead and give the wheel a spin!”

Nick’s face grew hot as he reached for the wheel. He couldn’t believe it—an actual stroke of good luck. For HIM.

He had started this round in control but had landed on BANKRUPT on his very first spin. Because OF COURSE he had, because that was the kind of game he had been having.

Control had gone to Cassie, who had put an S on the board, followed by a P.

(He had no idea why Cassie had chosen a P—he never would have guessed that—but one was there. Nick had the feeling she knew something he didn’t, a feeling he had become accustomed to in the short time he’d been acquainted with perky little Cassie, a college sophomore who was seemingly incapable of an incorrect guess. This in spite of the fact that she could not have cared less about either the money or the prizes up for grabs. By her own admission during the beginning “meet the contestants” portion of the show, she was there for the sole purpose of having fun. That she had been doing so well with this attitude had infuriated Nick to no end.)

But then—THEN!—on her third spin, Cassie landed on LOSE A TURN and control had moved to Khalil; he had successfully bought a vowel before incorrectly guessing N.

And just like that, Nick was spinning the wheel again. It was late in the game and he had yet to solve a puzzle or even get on the board at all, but he had been gifted another chance.

(Good old Khalil! Nick had felt genuine camaraderie with him over what he assumed was their mutual frustration with Cassie’s dominance of the game thus far. Khalil’s luck had been about as lousy as his, and Nick honestly would’ve been happy for the guy if he’d gone on a run and solved the puzzle. But Nick was also secretly delighted this hadn’t happened. Khalil was nice enough and all, but it felt right to Nick that he was the one spinning again, that he was the one with the chance to solve now. It felt appropriate. Khalil was too affable; Nick WANTED it more.)

The wheel ticked away, finally coming to rest on $2500.

$2500! The audience preemptively applauded Nick’s good fortune.

“T?”

A slightly longer than usual pause from Pat, and then: A ding, a lit tile, Vanna in motion, more applause.

“Yes…one T.”

Nick looked at the board:

S T _ P _ _
_ _ _ O _ _ _
THING

He spent a few seconds weighing the pros and cons of buying a vowel vs. spinning again.

But then—in a moment that was the closest he’d ever come to an actual out-of-body experience—something clicked somewhere in his brain and his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of his own voice saying:

“I’d like to solve the puzzle. STUPID! RUDOLPH!”

A short but deafening silence from Pat, from his fellow contestants, and—most ominously—from the studio audience. Followed by:

“No, Nick. I’m sorry, that is…incorrect. Cassie, you’re up.”

Things moved quickly after that. Cassie spun, guessed R, was given two of them, and promptly solved the puzzle—moments after Nick had solved it himself in his head, cursing himself for not spinning one more time and choosing R when he had the chance.

The show ended and Pat shook his hand and was genuinely super nice, offering his condolences that things hadn’t worked out so great but that it wasn’t too bad because Nick wasn’t going home completely empty-handed, at which point Nick realized he was one of them: One of those Wheel contestants who—through some combination of bad luck and idiotic guesses—would be leaving the show with nothing but the consolation prize to show for it. He watched from offstage as Cassie won $50,000 in the bonus round.

He returned to his hotel room and spent most of a sleepless night mentally preparing.

Preparing for a few weeks from now when the show would air up North and he’d begin his new life as the STUPID RUDOLPH guy, answering questions like “Why didn’t you spin again?,” or “Why didn’t you just buy a vowel?”

Or, “You do know that STUPID RUDOLPH has two Ps, right?”

He started bracing himself for the distinct possibility that he might become an accidental YouTube star, and as such, may never again be taken seriously. By anyone, in any context, ever.

But mostly, Nick began mentally preparing for the fact that—by blurting out on nationally-syndicated (and internationally-viewed) television the phrase he had uttered to himself under his breath dozens of times in the past few weeks since his “top employee” began demanding a contract renegotiation—he had put himself in a position from which he would almost surely have to grant that shiny-nosed ingrate just about everything he wanted.

Oh sure, he would try his best to put a positive spin on what had happened. Or, dismiss it as a joke—not a particularly funny one, maybe an insensitive one which in turn required some measure of contrition from him, but still—just a joke.

But he knew—he just knew—that Rudolph’s weaselly agent would cite Nick’s dumb, heat-of-the-moment, terrible Hail Mary of a guess as “evidence” of a “hostile work environment” for his client (I mean, not only had Nick called Rudolph STUPID, he had classified his employee as a THING—a THING!), “evidence” that he and his client would “graciously” choose not to “dwell on” and would consider “a momentary lapse in judgment” on Nick’s part…for the right price, of course.

It was going to be a long flight home.

And once he arrived back up North he’d have to keep mentally preparing for the Wheel backlash while also tackling his regular work—work which had almost definitely and horrendously piled up during his vacation (a break Nick had taken at his wife’s behest, a break he had very much needed but could ill afford).

But the first thing Nick was going to do once he got back? He was going to go straight to his office, find his staple remover, and throw it in the garbage. He never wanted to see that thing again as long as he lived.

_________________________________________________________________

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU ALL, AND THANKS FOR READING!

A Fixer-Upper

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a short story I entered in a Halloween-themed short story contest back in August. To clarify: The entry deadline was in August, and the winning stories were picked in September to be read at various Halloween season events in October put on by the writers’ group which also sponsored the contest.

And while I’m clarifying: This is actually a much better version of a short story I entered in a Halloween-themed short story contest back in August. Unfortunately, in August I pulled a very amateurish move and let my desire to enter the contest trump the fact that I had procrastinated in writing the actual story and thus had left myself insufficient time to properly edit and revise said story before the deadline. The end result being, of course, the submission of a not-very-good story. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t win anything in the contest with that inferior version of this story.

But now, not only is this story much better than it was a few months ago, it’s something even more notable: BLOGWORTHY. Enjoy.]

 

“So…this is the place…,” Fiona said, entering the foyer.

“So, yeah, as I mentioned on the phone, it’s a fixer-upper. But I sense you two are savvy enough to see the potential here. With a little elbow grease, this could really just be a fantastic place. Not showy, but lots of great details—all hardwood floors, for example.”

Barry and Maria had noticed the floorboards. The ashen color of the wood. Their geriatric creaking with each step. Fiona noticed that they noticed. She soldiered on.

“You know, you go to Lowe’s, rent a buffer and buy a few cans of stain and some brushes and rollers and BOOM! Brand new floors! Those are the things I’m talking about.

But let’s look at the kitchen first. Do you like to cook?”

She didn’t wait for an answer.

“You’re going to love it. Lots of counter space, little breakfast nook, real tile floor—not that linoleum stuff…so. Here we are.”

Barry and Maria looked up, down, around. Both gave the “not bad” face to no one in particular.

“And there’s a laundry room actually right through here. You can be doing the laundry and the cooking at the same time; no running down to the basement to fold clothes while the cake’s in the oven or whatever.

And the laundry room has another door that goes right out to the back yard. So if you’re outside doing some gardening, or yard work, or you’re giving the dog a bath or something, when you come back inside you go in there and throw the dirty clothes into the wash. No trudging mud and debris through the house. Come take a peek and then we can look some more at the kitchen.”

Fiona unlocked the laundry room door. She turned and looked back at the couple; they had decided not to follow her yet. Barry was touching the counters, trying to figure out how they made faux granite. Maria had opened the refrigerator and poked her head inside as if she already lived there and was looking for a snack.

Fiona found the light switch without looking and then turned towards the laundry room, still addressing the couple. “So there’s a little step down into this room, so just watch yourOH NO!” In one loud, fluid motion she killed the light and slammed the door shut again.

This—unlike her sales pitch up to that point—got Barry and Maria’s attention.

“Sorry, there was—I think I, uh, saw a spider in there. Sorry, I know—fraidy cat! Guilty!” she said, raising a hand. “Let me—I’ll get the spider, and then we can—”

“I’ll get the spider. No sense in you doing it if you don’t like them,” Maria offered.

“NO! I mean, that’s very kind, Maria, but not necessary.” Maria shrugged and turned back to the refrigerator.

“Well, be careful. Maybe it’s not a spider in there. Maybe it’s a ghost. Or a monster,” Barry said, chuckling.

“OH. HAHAHA!”

The couple flinched at the inexplicable volume of Fiona’s laughter. She noticed and dialed it back.

“Ha ha, well…okay…so, why don’t you go ahead and just keep exploring the kitchen and I’ll find out what in the dickens is going on in this laundry room! I’ll be right back.”

Fiona entered the laundry room, shut the door behind her, and cursed herself. Smooth—you couldn’t have just said you had to step out to take a call? A freaking spider. Honestly.

She opened the door to the back yard.

“WHAT. Are you doing outside?

“I locked myself out, okay? It’s been quite the day.”

“Oh, it’s been quite the day, huh? For God’s sake, I—”

Doug stepped past Fiona into the laundry room, oblivious to her attempts at shushing him. “You know what, Fiona? Don’t wanna hear it right now. You know what else happened to me today? My jaw became unhooked. Yes. THAT HAPPENED. And it’s not like I can go to the doctor or the dentist or the ER or ANYWHERE about it without causing a public freakout. So I spent the better part of today outside, in the cold, by myself, messing around with my jaw until it went back into place. It took forever to fix it and it’s still killing me and—”

“Oh, ‘killing’ you, is it? You know, that’s an interesting choice of words. I mean, for you, because—”

“You know what I mean!”

Fiona sighed. “Well what’s the plan, then? You were supposed to already be UPSTAIRS. In the bathroom. Hiding. Remember? I lead them there, you’re behind the shower curtain? I lock the door and slip out and you do your thing there where it’s ‘easier to hose down the mess afterwards?’ Those were YOUR WORDS; it was your plan. I can’t let you in while they’re in the kitchen. They could make a break for the front door, and if they made it out, the jig is up! I mean, how would you propose I introduced you, anyway? ‘Hey, you two: This is my pal Doug. He owns the place and I brought you here under the guise that the house was on the market because I owe him some fresh brains, so he’s going to murder you. Sorry—no hard feelings, ’kay?’”

“Well in case you’ve forgotten, you DO owe me some fresh brains. Or should I call in an anonymous tip about John Doe?”

“You know—I don’t even know why I let you hold that over me. You never even saw anything!”

“I saw enough, She-Wolf. It being a full moon that night and all.”

“Well, you’re not coming in right now. You just aren’t, or our deal’s off. You stay in here until we leave, and I still owe you, okay?”

“Fine. Whatever.”

“Okay.”

“And you still owe me.”

“I still owe you.”

Fiona re-entered the kitchen.

“Sooooo…” Barry said, “Get that spider?”

“Oh, yeah. It was…yes. I mean, I think maybe it got away, but…no problem. Yes.”

“It sounded like you were talking to someone.”

“Oh! That, I—it’s a weird thing I do. I talk to houses.”

And then Fiona made the unfortunate decision to dramatize her newly made-up habit.

“No spiders in THIS laundry room! Our houses are pest-free!”

Barry and Maria traded glances.

Fiona regrouped. “Okay…you know what? I’m sorry, you two. I didn’t become a Second Quarter Top Earner this year without being able to read a room. I can tell you’re not feeling this place. I’m not going to keep pushing it on you if it’s not for you.”

“But we haven’t seen the second fl—”

“There’s actually another place just a few blocks from here that I think might be more your style. Let’s go.”

Fiona ushered them back through the hallway and out the front door.

She let the couple go on ahead to their car as she took out her phone and placed a call. It went to voicemail.

“Vlad—it’s me. About that blood I owe you? I can be at your place in about fifteen minutes. If you’re home, just text me and let me know before I get there. Okay, see you soon, maybe.”

Tell Us What Happened, Frank

[Here’s one from the reject pile. A local writer’s group holds a Flash Fiction contest every year around Halloween time. This year’s theme was Cats, Rats, and Bats (or any one of those creatures, or any combination of the three).

This is my entry, which was not selected as an award winner (every year they pick a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winner as well as a few honorable mentions). It’s not a requirement that stories be scary or spooky, but it seems as though it’s encouraged, which might be one of the reasons this piece was not selected a winner. This story is neither scary nor spooky. But it does have a cat in it, so there’s that. Enjoy!]

____________________

“Tell us what happened, Frank.”
 
“Um, OK…but…well, it was really weird. Like, I don’t even know—”
 
“Oh, you’d be surprised at some of the stories we’ve heard. But please, continue.”
 
“OK…well, um, what I remember is that I was in bed, asleep, on my back. Then, I, um, felt something on top of me, like, on my stomach, so I opened my eyes, and there was a, a cat on top of me.
 
And I don’t even own a cat. I mean, it did kind of look like a stray I had seen once or twice around my building, I mean, it could’ve been…I’m pretty good about not leaving my door open, but, I don’t know, it could’ve been that cat that got in somehow.
 
So that was strange, but—and this is going to sound crazy, but you asked me to tell you what happened so this is seriously what I remember happening—well, the cat had a gun.
 
Like, a handgun. And I don’t even own a gun. I mean, I wasn’t even sure it was a gun at first—it was kinda dark in the room, but when I woke up and, and…processed that there was a cat on me, and that it had a gun or, you know, something that looked like a gun, um—I mean, you know, I got startled and I kinda jumped and…well, then I think the gun fired.
 
I mean, I saw a flash and heard this kinda ‘POP!’…and the next thing I remember is being here.
 
But I don’t know, the whole thing happened so fast, I mean, it all happened in, like, three seconds, it was just—”
 
The older of the two women facing Frank raised her hand in a “chill out” gesture.
 
“Frank, it’s OK. We appreciate you sharing your experience.
 
So…you’re probably wondering where you are and how you got here. Well, I have good news and bad news.
 
The bad news: You’re dead. You’re here because you did, in fact, pass away in your apartment earlier this evening.
 
The good news? You’re dead, AND in Heaven. I know this particular room isn’t much to look at, but don’t worry—you aren’t spending eternity here. Trust me: The rest of God’s Kingdom is much nicer.
 
Oh, and what’s more, you were not, as it turns out, murdered by a stray cat. It was your heart; you passed peacefully in your sleep. The cat and the gun? Well, I don’t know where that came from. You must have been having a bizarre dream at the time of your death. What did you eat last night, anyway?”
 
The older woman and the younger one seated to her right chuckled. Frank stared back at them for a moment, then laughed a bit himself.
 
“Just kidding. Anyway, you probably have a lot of thoughts going through your head—well, what used to be your head. You look the same when you’re here but you no longer inhabit a physical body, and…well, it’s best not to get too wrapped up in the details. Suffice it to say, your friends and loved ones will mourn, of course, but the thing is, you’re here for eternity, so relatively speaking, everyone you knew on Earth will be joining you in the blink of an eye, so I hope that gives you some pea—”
 
“Actually—sorry to interrupt—but, um, actually, I already feel at peace. I mean, it’s blowing my mind—or whatever I have now—that I’m dead; it’s very, you know, surreal, I guess. But I really feel OK. I really do.”
 
“Well, fantastic! I guess the whole eternal life thing is already working its mojo on you. It probably helps that it turns out you weren’t shot in the face by a cat, huh?”
 
The women laughed; Frank joined in.
 
“Yeah, guess that’s true, huh?”
 
“OK, Frank. You are free to go and enjoy all the good parts of Heaven! We really appreciate your time. You can exit right through that door behind you. This place is set up to be pretty intuitive. You shouldn’t have any trouble making your way around. Take care, now.”
 
“Um…OK! OK, um…wow. I guess I’ll just check out Heaven, then! OK, bye.”
 
The women remained seated and watched Frank exit.
 
When the door shut behind him, they jotted some final quick notes and straightened their stacks of papers.
 
The younger woman spoke for the first time that evening. “So, you ever think about this? What we do?”
 
“How do you mean?”
 
“Well, how here we are in Heaven, and we’re…well, we’re lying to people.”
 
“No. No, I don’t. I mean, this is Heaven: Why don’t we have white robes and wings, and harps to play? Why aren’t we glowing?” the older woman said as she started to rise from her seat, her voice dropping to a flat tone. “Let me tell you something: You can go crazy around here if you think too much. All I know is, we got the call that it was Frank’s time. And he was healthy; there wasn’t gonna be a way to make it look like natural causes and unfortunately, that is our problem. Bottom line, the job got done and at least sorta kinda looked like a suicide. I mean, it sucks that that’s what his friends and family think happened, but what are ya gonna do?
 
I’ll tell you two things you’re gonna do: One, not tell Frank that he actually was shot by a cat and that’s why he’s in Heaven now, because why? Not to mention how? How do you explain that in a way that makes any kind of sense?”
 
“I don’t kno—”
 
“And two: You’re gonna get in touch with Cupcake and tell that moron tuna-breath fleabag that if he wants to continue working for us, he needs to stop being so freaking sloppy.”
 

The Butterfly Effect

Jose and Carmen sat in their driveway, their backs to the still-steaming time machine.

Jose drew in a sharp breath, producing a loud oink.

“Man,” he said, raising a cloven hoof to his face and scratching his snout, “the butterfly effect, huh?”

Carmen raised a wing to the crown of her head, feeling out the contours of the newly-acquired bump that was there, prying loose a flurry of tiny feathers; they drifted in listless circles to the ground in front of her.

“I know, right?…friggin butterfly effect.”

He Had Hundreds Of Them

Ethan Hunt sat back and reflected on the past year.

It had been awesome.

Then again, every year was awesome when you shared a name with the Tom Cruise character from the Mission: Impossible franchise, but even by those standards, the past year had been off the charts.

For one thing, he’d started eating better and exercising and had lost twenty-two pounds.

And for another thing, the stage musical adaptation of the movie Kazaam he’d written, produced, and directed himself had not only made it to Broadway, but was a bona fide smash.

The show was considered a shoo-in to take home this year’s Tony for Outstanding Musical That Looks Terrible On Paper But In Reality When You See It Onstage It’s Actually Quite Good. And Ethan’s new close personal friend Shaquille O’Neal was already the overwhelming favorite to win Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of–who else?–Police Officer #1 (Taye Diggs was Kazaam; he was…serviceable in the role).

But–awards or no awards–Ethan Hunt was on top of the world: Fit, happy, successful, filthy rich, and powerful–the enormous success of Kazaam: The Musical had afforded him the clout to do pretty much anything he wanted next.

And what he wanted to do more than anything was to tell an original story. He had hundreds of them, which he had written down in a small journal he took with him wherever he went.

He would take the journal out from time to time, even when he wasn’t writing something new in it, to skim through what he’d already written and assess the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ponder which stories had the potential to be expanded, which were probably all they were going to be as is, and which ones maybe shouldn’t have been written in the first place (or at the very least, should have been better thought out).

Ethan honestly didn’t know what direction he’d go in next, but the sky was the limit, and that was extremely gratifying. He loved telling stories, and was overjoyed that he got to do so–especially for an audience as appreciative as the one he had.

He couldn’t wait to keep writing his stories and telling them. His only regret was he couldn’t possibly ever tell them all.

*****

Well…that’s all, folks.

To all of you who read the blog, posted comments, clicked the “like” button, shared any of these stories in the past year via Facebook or Twitter or your own blogs or wherever: THANK YOU.

To those of you who followed the blog, liked it enough to choose to receive updates via email, and did any or all of the above on a regular basis, an EXTRA-LARGE THANK YOU to you. I’d mention you all by name, but I know I’d inadvertently leave someone out and I don’t want to do that, so I’ll just write that I hope you know who you are and you should give yourselves a pat on the back (to the extent you can do that without pulling something–don’t hurt yourselves). I appreciate your dedication even more considering that I never got around to sprucing up this blog space beyond the basic template and you kept coming back anyway even though the space wasn’t much to look at. I’m tempted to make some pretentious remark about how I did that on purpose because I wanted the stories to speak for themselves, but the truth is I just never got around to it; I kept thinking “I should add a header photo or something to give this a fresh look”, but then I’d forget to do it and next thing I knew, it was already November and I was all, “Meh, too late now.”

But anyway, I hope you have enjoyed reading these stories as much as I have enjoyed writing them, and I hope the good ones that were worth your time and the additional message in your inbox outweighed the ones that made you say “Eh, I don’t know about that one.” (I’m going to go ahead and indulge the fantasy that that’s the harshest negative comment or thought anyone had about any of these stories.)

Finally, I will mention again what I mentioned in my very first post on this blog: I am planning on keeping the blog up beyond today, and I will post new stories on here from time to time. But starting tomorrow, the posts will no longer be daily.

And now, once more because I can’t say it (or write it) enough: THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.

Epiphany

Rose and Basil had a baby girl, and they named her Epiphany.

Partly because she was born on January 6th, and partly because their OB/GYN Dr. Oren Coles informed them that there was a good chance the baby would inherit her mother’s deficient short-term memory.

They figured, as it had been for Rose all her life (the pregnancy had been a particularly interesting several months, as every morning since she began showing, Rose would awaken, take one look at her swollen belly, and freak out and then need to be talked down by Basil–after he reminded his wife that he was her husband and not some stranger sleeping next to her), that their girl’s existence would be filled with a neverending series of epiphanies.

But it turned out that the child, on the contrary, not only remembered things well but remembered everything well. When she was old enough that such things could be done with reliable results, she was tested and it was official: Epiphany possessed an eidetic memory (it was apparently a recessive gene on Basil’s side of the family).

For a long time, Rose was not only disappointed her daughter did not share her genes, she was downright resentful of it. She and Epiphany would walk out the front door and Rose would marvel that the sky was blue; Epiphany would respond with “Yes…and those cloud formations look so much like the ones that were in the sky last October 16th. Weird.” Rose would ask her daughter “How do I look?”; Epiphany would respond with “Great–just like you did two days ago, last Thursday, and seventeen days before that, the other times in the past month you wore those exact same clothes and did your hair the exact same way.” Rose found it a bit maddening at times.

That all changed many years later, the day Epiphany graduated from high school–as the valedictorian.

Most of Epiphany’s speech came and went for Rose without her retaining much of it–not retaining much was kind of her thing–but the words Epiphany directed towards her mother stuck:

Mom: Thank you for bringing me into this world. Thank you for raising me. Thank you for being the best Mom you could be.

I know you named me at birth under the assumption that we’d be alike, and I know it hasn’t turned out that way. In fact, I know in some ways we couldn’t be more different.

But I love you just the same, and if I remember correctly–and I’m pretty sure I do–you love me, too.

But barely. As of today, the lifetime tally of Mom moments is 973 good, 971 bad. So, in conclusion, Mom: I hope you and Dad got me a nice graduation cake and gift.

Rose suddenly panicked and squeezed Basil’s hand. Anticipating what his wife was going to ask him, he leaned in and whispered in Rose’s ear “A frozen half-eaten Cookie Puss left over from my graduation, and a six-month trial gift subscription to Cat Fancy. We’re good.”

Rose sat back and smiled. She didn’t even realize until today that there had been a running tally of her Mom performance, but she was relieved that the tally was–and from the sound of it, would continue to be–in her favor.

Bethany’s Kidney

“Well, Bethany, I’m gonna tell it to ya straight: Your kidneys–both of them–are rapidly failing. Dialysis is no longer effective. Basically, you’ll need a transplant and you’ll need it as soon as possible. Otherwise? Well, I hate to tell you this but otherwise, you don’t have much time. A couple weeks, tops. Do you have any family members who may be willing and able to donate a kidney? Since time is of the essence, that would be your best bet. We’d need to get them in here to run the tests to see if they’d be a match ASAP.”

Bethany looked up at her doctor with tears in her eyes.

“My twin brother Jack is a perfect match. We talked about it a long time ago–when I first got sick–and he’s on board and he already got the tests. And he’s in perfect health, but…neither of us have health insurance. We can’t afford it. I’m already thousands and thousands of dollars in debt for the treatment I already got.” She put her head back down and started quietly sobbing.

“Well, in that case, there is another option…that doesn’t involve surgery.”

Bethany looked back up at her doctor. “How would you do a transplant without surgery?”

“Well, this is going to sound strange, but…we can do it by gerrymandering.”

And so they did. At the behest of Dr. Coles, the Board of Directors of St. Vincent Hospital convened an emergency meeting in which they voted unanimously in favor of a resolution redistricting the body of Jack Ogilvie so that his left kidney henceforth would belong to and function as part of the body of Bethany Ogilvie.

Bethany was released from the hospital the next day, her health already vastly improved. Jack was simply instructed via telephone to follow up with his family doctor to see what precautions he should take from now on as he’d be living with only one kidney.

But then, two weeks later, Bethany received a chilling letter in the mail from St. Vincent Hospital, which read:

Dear Bethany Ogilvie,

It has recently come to our attention that a man who went by the name of “Dr. Oren Coles” had infiltrated the hospital grounds posing as a “doctor of kidney stuff”.

“Dr. Coles” is, in fact, a wanted fugitive (real name: Henry Burnsides) who has outstanding warrants in several states for a number of misdemeanors and felonies, including attempted murder, cyberstalking, and check kiting. He has since been apprehended and is being held without bail pending a preliminary hearing.

Mr. Burnsides does not possess any medical expertise and has had no medical training. He is not qualified to give an opinion on any medical issue, much less advise patients in various stages of renal failure.

It has also come to our attention that Mr. Burnsides advised at least one patient–and possibly more–that they could obtain a new kidney without going through transplant surgery by simply “gerrymandering” another’s kidney. In fact, there is no such procedure, and any claims made by Mr. Burnsides to the contrary–including any claims Mr. Burnsides made about meeting with the St. Vincent Hospital Board of Directors to pass any so-called “redistricting resolutions”–are patently false.

If you have recently “received” a “gerrymandered kidney” and have been feeling better since “receiving” it? Well, that’s probably just psychological. Sorry.

We deeply regret this breach of security and strongly urge any patient of ours who had been “treated” by “Dr. Coles” to IMMEDIATELY seek medical attention.

We pride ourselves on the top-notch care our hospital provides to all our patients. We consider this incident a regrettable one, but not one that is representative of the type of care one can expect to receive at St. Vincent, and we hope you will consider us for the medical attention of which you are now desperately in need.

Yours In Good Health,

Frances Dunmire
Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent Hospital

Bethany fainted from shock the moment she finished reading the letter, and she died the next day.

SO, DON’T EVER GO TO ST. VINCENT HOSPITAL! THEY DON’T HAVE ANY SECURITY!

PASS THIS STORY ALONG TO ALL YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS, ESPECIALLY ANYONE WHO NEEDS A KIDNEY TRANSPLANT, DON’T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE BETHANY MADE!!!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Please disregard the above story. I looked it up on snopes.com, and it’s not true. Sorry about that.]

PTGD

Clayton’s grandfather was dying, so he had summoned Clayton to see him one last time before it was too late.

In his room, his grandfather–looking frail and tiny in the large hospital bed–handed Clayton a disc, saying “It’s nearly the end for me, Clay. Take this and watch it. It’s what I want to say to you.”

He went home that night, disc in hand, but couldn’t bring himself to watch it right away.

He finally sat down one evening about a week later to view Grandpap’s message.

His grandfather, looking much less gaunt than he had in the hospital, directly addressed the camera, offering Clayton “life lessons”: Follow the Golden Rule, spend your money wisely, don’t let work get in the way of having a good life, carpe diem…pretty standard stuff. But Clayton watched and absorbed it all, sobbing through the entire thing, realizing that any day he’d get the call that Grandpap had passed.

Then, right before he signed off, his grandfather offered one last tip: “And remember, Clayton my boy–always be prepared for a surprise.”

And at that exact moment, two hands grabbed Clayton by the shoulders from behind the couch.

Clayton leaped out of his seat and spun around.

Grandpap? But–”

“It’s me, in the flesh! Hope you were paying attention to that last bit of the video, son, ’cause I made a full recovery! HOT cha!”

And as Clayton crumpled to the floor in shock, his grandfather ran out from behind the couch and started doing The Ickey Shuffle right in the middle of Clayton’s living room.

*****

“And, babe? It was so traumatic–you don’t even know–that to this day, I have a hard time functioning normally. That’s why it’s so hard for me to keep a job.”

Maura took in all of this new information and considered it.

She had figured all along that Clayton couldn’t stay employed for more than a few months at a time because he was simply a shiftless loser. She had actually sat him down that afternoon to break up with him, but then somehow the conversation had taken a left turn into this weirdo Grandpap story of his, so she decided to give him one more chance.

She just felt too guilty to dump a guy who was obviously suffering from Post Traumatic Grandpap Disorder.

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