27 February 2013

Superhero Story

Hey all, sorry for missing the last two posts, I got really caught up in some paid editing work.  So today (for the last February short story), my wife requested a Superhero story which is something I've never written before.  I hope you all enjoy it.


Super Heroine (with an e, so it’s legal)

            Murder – yes that was it!  “One key death,” wasn’t that what he’d always said?  Maurice looked at the body at his feet, its cooling blood staining the white shag carpet.  The letter opener was still sticky in his trembling grasp.  Had he done it?  Had he really done it?  Maurice stepped around the body, giving it a wide berth.  Certainly, he’d imagined – but that was where he stopped: in his mind.  When he tried to spool through his memories, the last thing he remembered doing was locking the door to his house.  The analytic side of his brain noted how interesting it was that he’d blocked the entire event from his mind, but the rest of his mind screamed to turn tail and run.  The rest won.  He dropped the letter opener and walked as calmly as possible through the reception area, turn right and called for an elevator. 
            In his panic, he didn’t notice that he never heard the letter opener hit the ground. 
            Angela Marks knelt over the body of Carl Grant, feeling the shag carpet squish like mud beneath her shoes.  Five holes punctured Grant’s shirt and chest, one of the stabs obviously hit the sod in the heart.  Yep, there it was, just below the solar plexus.  If Marks had to guess it was a lucky shot, rather than a trained strike.  The wounds were semi-circular, smooth.  She wanted to say he’d been done it with a pen, but the holes were too big – besides, Grant only had fountain pens in his square steel pen trough.  With a red-nailed finger, she prodded the wounds, sending a short dribble of crimson down across Grant’s white shirt.  Blood was nothing new to Marks.  She’d been doing this job for ten years, more or less – mostly more.  Of course, no one else knew she was doing the job – that was the real problem of being dead, no appreciation. 
            Contrary to popular belief, “crossing over” doesn’t grant any sort of extra sensory perception, besides the ability to see other ghosts, but people saw them all the time in real life.  They just didn’t know how to contextualize the sightings.  Americans discounted the sightings as floaters in their eyes, or a sudden shift in the light, or just a reflection off a mirror or window.  Now, according to one of Marks’s friends, in South America, certain groups revered ghosts as signs from their gods, or a blessing from a favored saint.  That was enough of a kick for some that they stayed around.  Those ghosts rarely got noticed in life, so earning a sort of spooky celebrity brought them joy.  Marks just thought it sounded deadly dull.  No, she needed satisfaction, the satisfaction only work could bring.  Besides, the perks of being a god didn’t do much for a ghost: watching sacrificed food rot wasn’t her idea of a good time. 
            Marks shook her head and focused on the task at hand.  Shaking her head didn’t give her the same satisfactory sloshing of the brain that it did in life, but it was an ingrained habit, why bother to change now?  Carl Grant was still warm to the touch, which meant very little to Marks, since her average temperature was around 32*F, but the blood on the floor was still fairly fluid, not too sticky, sort of like warmed honey.  Grant must have died only an hour or two before she got pulled there.  She rifled through his wallet and pockets again.  California ID, even though he’d been in New York for several years, judging by the general state of “settled-inness” of his office.  The chair had been sat in enough to show a perfect mold of his bony ass.  A silver ring stained the teak desk, presumably where Grant habitually kept his coffee mug.  His pockets held three door keys, one presumably for a loft, the other two for the office.  A separate keyring held a key with “Ferrari” etched into the guitar pick-shaped head.  That was a crime in its own right, but Marks doubted anyone would kill a man for having a racing car in a city where the top speed it would likely ever see was thirty miles per hour.  She checked the wallet a third time.  Something was missing, she was sure of it, but how she’d figure out what was beyond her.  Four credit cards, probably all near their limit, judging by Grant’s lifestyle; no cash; no receipts, which didn’t concern Marks, since he likely paid for all his business expenses with plastic and tracked the receipts online; no photos;  four sticky-notes where normal people kept cash, each with a PIN disguised as a receipt MCdonald’s: $44.12, AMerican Dental: $32.55, V-charge: $17.17, Discovery Channel.com: $77.90, all of which would be more convincing if Grant actually carried any other receipts.  Marks was always impressed when only marginally clever people ended up making as much money as Grant did,  and judging by the crystal clock next to the stainless steel pen trough, Grant had incredibly expensive taste to go with his money and probably went to the cinema too often.  His silver Omega watch matched the one from the latest Bond film, his shoes were tailored white and black wingtips like Denzel Washington’s shoes in American Gangster.  Marks smiled ruefully.  Clearly, she spent too much time at the cinema.  Although, there were a surprising number of murders in cinemas around the country, so at least she could write off some of that as work-related. 
            The clock said it was about twenty past three, so Marks had maybe another two hours to figure out who killed Grant.  She sat in the chair and steepled her fingers.  Her job would be a lot easier if she could just leave the room, but if she did that she might randomly teleport to a different crime scene.  Even after ten or eleven years (time was pretty relative to ghosts) of working this job, she wasn’t quite clear on the rules.  If the door had been open, she could leave, but since it was closed, she was limited to this immediate area.  Something about the space being closed, limited her mobility.  Marks shrugged and rifled through the desk drawers.  Notebooks and files sat at right angles, perfectly centered in the drawers.  Grants was organized, she had to admit that.  She looked at the pen trough again.  It was slightly askew, but the clock beside it formed a perfect right angle with the edges of the desk.  Something had been taken out of the pen trough – and not by Grant. 
            In the bottom left-hand drawer, a square laptop lay under a tightly wrapped charger.  Marks pulled both out and ran the plug to the cleverly hidden socket under the desk – she couldn’t use it, but the local PD certainly could.  She’d tried using a computer once after she died, but all that did was scare the bejeebas out of the next person to use it in the public library, since the only thing the machine would do afterwards was play the movie Whitenoise on repeat, which would have been bad enough, but the movie hadn’t even been filmed yet.  That public library closed a year later. 
            Marks looked over the rest of the room.  A small camera lens glinted just above the potted plant in the corner near the window.  It was a good place to hide a camera, with the sun always off to the side, glare from the lens would be minimal. 
            Just then a portly man with a weak mustache opened the door.  He stared at Marks, then at the laptop.  A bloody letter opener was caught in the cuff of his khaki pants.  The wild look in his eye, said that he didn’t know where his murder weapon was.  He gaze shifted from Marks to the laptop, then to the body.  A feminine shriek escaped his lips.  He made a mad dash to the video camera by the potted and pulled on the lens with both hands.  The only thing he succeeded at was upsetting the plant and himself.  The letter opener slid from his cuff, bounced once on the shag carpet, then stopped.  The man looked around to make sure no one noticed. 
            Marks smirked and walked over to the door.  The man still hadn’t noticed another presence in the room with him apparently, or he was too worried to consider that he wouldn’t feel a camera watching him.  Marks toed the door shut and took a step nearer the man. 
            He yelped, scrambled to his feet, and ran at the door.  Gingerly as she could, Marks set her foot in front of the running man and shoved him in the back.  He landed head first with a crash, moaned, then was still. 
            All in all, it wasn’t Marks’s finest work, but she’d set everything up that the PD would need; if they wanted more, then they should find a way to get her a more permanent body.  

20 February 2013

The Morning After

20. February 2013

            Today’s story

The Morning After
            The morning broke like a borrowed china plate – or at least that’s what Nick’s head felt like.  Cold pavement stretched and slithered in to his left; the sky throbbed to his right, but he couldn’t see any skittering pieces of his head.  Slowly, he righted the world.  The pavement fell away, the set itself under his bare feet.  Sirens wailed in the distance – his feet leapt forward to run, but he stumbled and crashed into a green garbage bin.  Glass chimed as the bin rolled forward.  Nick gripped it to steady himself, then blinked hard.  The wails passed by the end of the alley like black and white banshees.  The pavement twitched once more then died and lay flat. 
            Nick held a hand against his head.  His eyes traced down the sleeves – but… there were no sleeves.  In fact, his feet weren’t just bare, all of him was.  One thought crawled across his brain, which he was sure would leak out his ears at any moment, and the thought was this: “What the hell happened last night?” 
            Nick turned around, and he saw someone else lying in the alley, but they were fully clothed in a red hoodie – wait.  That was his hoodie!  He walked over and poked the guy with his toe.  “Hey!” Poke.  “Hey, chum, that’s my hoodie.” His next poke was arrested by a sudden realization:  those were his jeans, too, or at least his belt.  When he leaned forward to rummage through the pockets, his hand brushed against the man’s face.  The skin was cold, and come to think of it, the lips had a blue tinge to them. 
            Nick shouted, “Hey, hey somebody!   This guy’s dead back here!  He’s dead, and he’s wearing…”  Nick stopped.  He was going to say, “wearing my clothes,” but he considered that might be suspicious.  “I mean, here I am, naked as the day I was born –”
“–and this… this stiff is wearing my clothes.  What will the police make of that?”  Nick was sure what the psychiatrist would make of it: something Freudian no doubt about that.  It was then he decided that he needed to get out of there – and fast.  Without pausing to consider the odds of a naked white boy getting across town without being noticed, Nick charged out of the alley – and spilled into a black horse drawn carriage.  The door closed behind him, and the carriage lumbered forward.  Nick pounded on the upholstered door, causing the lantern to swing wildly.  Each time his fist hit the door, a bell sounded in the distance, reverberating like a hammer hitting a nail. 
            Nick planted his feet on the other door and slammed his shoulder against the upholstery.  The door flew open, leaving Nick half-hanging out of the carriage – by virtue of his flailing hand catching the door rail – Chicago falling away beneath him, further and further.  His arm groaned, his fingers ached.  Sweat slicked his grip on the brass rail.  The carriage turned, Nick spilled out the door.  He was going to fall! 
            Suddenly, something grabbed him by the back of the neck.  The fingers felt rough, like fine sand paper. 
            Nick turned to look at what grabbed him, but he just saw a flash of black cloak, then he was shoved back into the lantern-lit carriage and the door slammed shut.  On his back, panting, two words caught his attention.  There were etched into the dark wooden roof with some silvery metal.  “Death Express.”  

19 February 2013


19. February 2013

Hey again, sorry for the late update.  I don’t actually have an excuse handy (unless fighting off a swarm of dragons and reading a lot count as excuses).  But the good news for you all is this: a story today AND tomorrow.  Whoa, it’s like Christmas early… or something.  Right, so here’s the story.  It’s set in a world I’m currently building for my latest Manuscript.  Enjoy!  And don’t forget, if you want a story about something specific, feel free to leave a comment to say so. 
Spoiler/warning: this has to do with an abusive relationship, so if that’s something that you’d rather not read or deal with, then please skip over this story. 

by Heydon Hensley

Aleyah woke before the dawn spread its sacred crimson fingers over the clay and lime houses of Ba’atzelone.  Her husband, Daveen, had been out late – again.  Ostensibly he did business with the dentists after nightfall, but she never saw any more money come from this business – nor did it explain why he wore his best djellaba, or why he always came back smelling like rose water.  Dentists weren’t dirty enough to demand a ceremonial cleaning before resting, and she doubted that the dentists gave Daveen free use of their baths.  The public baths were closed by that time of night.  Whoever this “dentist” was, she must have been wealthy.  Aleyah bit her lip as she stared at him spread across the cushions in the main room.  It was a discredit to think so of her husband, but what other conclusions could she draw?  Especially considering that Daveen never came to their bed anymore.  No, Daveen was in the market for a second wife. 
            Aleyah checked a sigh and set in to the morning’s work.  She measured out the flour and kneaded it with water and oil.  Then she mixed in her yeast lump and kneaded again, rolling out symmetrical loaves of dough.  From the last loaf, she pinched off a chunk of dough and set it in a jar.  Next she produced a small hoop of wire and carved in Alhazar’s holy star in each loaf: eight points, two each towards the four Winds, symmetrical about both the horizontal and the vertical.  The scooped out dough, she placed with the rest of the yeast lump.  She carefully transferred the loafs onto her clay tray.  Daveen was a good provider.  They never went hungry, nor did the mint run too low to invite a traveler in for tea.  What did it matter really if Daveen was out late in his best djellaba? 
            The call for As-Salaat rang out from the mosques over Ba’atzelone.  The minarets hummed in reply.  The call rang out again: “Alhazar Ak-bar.  Alhazar Ak-bar.”  Daveen shook awake, ignored Aleyah and stepped out to their door mat for prayers.  Dawn cupped the city walls then slid over the city like the warm hand of a lover – like Daveen’s hand over the woman last night, Aleyah thought.  She pinched her lips closed and performed her prayers.  That done, she hefted the clay tray and stepped around Daveen on her way to the neighborhood bakery.  
            The fires were hot, and the coals were raked.  That meant that Ibn’Shan tended the bakery today.  Her husband had lost himself to the demon of drink, but no one said that openly.  In retaliation, Ibn’Shan volunteered twice as often as any other neighborhood wife in the bakery.  If she was visible in public, then he couldn’t hit her.  Aleyah swallowed hard, imagining herself in Ibn’Shan’s position soon, if Daveen really was searching for another wife.  Ibn’Shan nodded at Aleyah.  Aleyah set down her tray and performed the Irka’at, kissing her fist before touching her forehead and heart.  Ibn’Shan returned the Irka’at then went back to tending the duties of the bakery.  Aleyah took up the wooden bread spade with a firm hand and shoveled her loaves into the oven.  The handle twisted in her grasp, pinching her lifeline smartly, but Aleyah kept shoving in loaf after loaf.  She should have suspected it really.  Daveen had been doing well with his business – and… and she had not been doing well bearing children.  She latched the oven door with a finality she didn’t feel. 
            Heat shimmered over the packed turmeric roads like a charmed cobra, as she counted out the cook time for her loaves.  Aleyah should be grateful.  Daveen wasn’t given to anything illegal – he didn’t drink or chase hashish.  But he did have a temper, and that was what her meetings at the Women’s National League warned about more even than drink.  Perhaps soon Aleyah would be at the bakery as often as Ibn’Shan.  Pop. She opened the oven and scooped her loaves onto her tray.  All the WNL meetings in the world couldn’t convince her that she had not driven her husband away – not just away but into the arms of another.  When the last loaf was out of the oven, she stood aside so someone else could use oven.  She dripped lemon and oil into a bowl and painted over her loaves with a horsehair brush.  The brush caught in a groove of Alhazar’s star and tore off a chunk of crust.  Aleyah’s nostrils flared.  She set the loaf aside for the Beggar’s Pile, then forced her hand to steady and relax.  The last few loaves slid under her brush smoothly. 
Daveen stared moodily at the brown bread, like a guilty schoolboy who just hasn’t been caught yet, or so Aleyah thought as she mixed the cinnamon and honey into the morning couscous. 
            Daveen’s fingers drummed on the table. Tick-da-da-tum, tick-da-da-tum.  “Light a fire under yourself already.  I had a late night earning money for your lazy bones.” 
            The five fingered words tore at her heart.  Pain pressed against her eyes.  Pain and fear.  If she didn’t have to be in public, he’d hit her.  She knew he would.  With a second wife, he wouldn’t stop at words.  He’d keep her caged in this house, cooking his food, cleaning his clothes, and he’d hide her blackened face in the darkness of their home.  Even if someone did see, what would that change?  It would be expected.  The WNL couldn’t stop it.  Aleyah set the pot of couscous in front of him with a warm loaf of bread.  “I beg forgiveness, husband.” 
            He ignored her and wolfed down the meal, as if he had not eaten in many days.  When he was finished, he burped his appreciation then said, “Get to the baths, woman.  Your grime insults Alhazar.” 
            Aleyah felt the words rise from her throat before she could reel them back down.  “At least my grime is not on my soul.”  Silence swept between them like a jinn.  The air crackled with energy, his black eyes on her brown.  The color fled from her face, her lips. 
            His hand, curved like a knife, trembled for a moment beside her pale face, before whipping across her cheek knuckles first.  “Is this gratitude?”  Daveen spoke low, his words an even growl in his throat.  “Is this what I deserve for feeding you, for clothing you?”  He shoved the table away and stomped through their blue door into the day’s heat. 
            Aleyah touched her cheek and stared.  Blood dribbled from where his ring caught her.  For a long time she stared vacantly after him, unaware of the pain, of the blood, aware only that she had slashed at him with her tongue, and she was aware – acutely aware – that she’d liked it.  She could feel better about his late nights, his absence from their bed, because she had the truth now.  He wasn’t some competent suitor – he was just another philanderer, and that truth protected her. 

15 February 2013


So today's short story is a story about an incredibly ballsy writer: Lajos Egri, as a fairy tale.

Once upon a time, there lived a confused tyrant, who made demands one way, but actually wanted something else altogether - like ordering ice cream, but really wanting pizza.  The problem was, this tyrant didn't know he was confused.  He just thought people were stupid when it came to hearing his orders.  This Tyrant was named Aristotle, and he sat upon his throne named Poetics for more than two millenia, with hundreds of thousands of loyal subjects.  A sniveling lot that didn't dare countermand ol' Aristotle's orders, because how could someone be wrong for two thousand years?  That's a ridiculous notion.  These subjects were called writers.  Sure there were a few rebels that made an impact in how other writers viewed Aristotle's tyranny, but they were the exception - not the rule: Shakespeare, Cervantes, Chekhov.  But even some of these rebels did not know they were rebelling.  Accidental freedom fighters, as it were.  You see, Aristotle demanded that ACTION was more important than CHARACTER, which of course is similar to saying that a sword or a gun is more important than the soldier carrying it, or the crucifix is more important than the person hanging from it.  Because, you see, action can only be driven BY character, and in the early twentieth century, one man dared stand up against two thousand years of traditional tyranny, and say, "Hey, now this is patently ridiculous - shouldn't the characters matter at all?  After all, aren't they in fact what the play (you see, this hero was a playwright) about?"  That man, that titan of the craft was Lajos Egri.  He dared question why the common consensus was that a play couldn't be judged to be good or bad without actually performing the play.  The brave Lajos took up his pen and struck again and again at Aristotle the tyrant, but Aristotle would not easily die, and in fact the tyrant still lurks in the dark corners of classrooms, preying on the traditionalists and enslaving new subjects, while Lajos harries the edges of the tyrant empire, whittling it down, shedding light on error.

And just what epic weapon did Lajos Egri create to combat the empire of Poetics? Why, The Art of Dramatic Writing of course.

Seriously, though, this book will change how you view Poetics. And maybe even writing itself.  Although, Lajos Egri does set up another tyrant: Premise.
"The Premise is a tyrant that permits only one way - the way of absolute proof" (Egri 109).

Thanks for reading.

13 February 2013

Pope Trejo

So the Pope has resigned (first time in 600 years).  Because of this, today is a special edition of February short stories.  Thanks to reader Zach for the idea on this.

Vatican City
"Time to get down with the Brown."  The rightfully chosen Pope Danny Trejo (as himself) has been ousted by a vengeful old order.  Now it's time for payback.  Danny Trejo joins forces with outraged Catholics and lays siege to the Vatican.  

11 February 2013

Thirty-Seven Hours

11. February 2013

            Today’s story is because of a request for something a bit more… uplifting than implied suicide or broken-hearted teenagers.  So here’s a short thriller with a happy ending(?) or so I claim.  Anyway, hopefully you get some chills out of it at the very least. 
            This is partly inspired by the Gothic tradition of ETA Hoffman.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Gothic tradition, it doesn't mean that his stories only wore black or painted their faces with make-up.  Around the turn of the twentieth century, science had explained enough of the world to sort of debunk fairy tales, so a few writers decided to re-instill the fear of fairy tales.  ETA Hoffman was one of the foremost, setting stories in Germanic regions that tended to be heavily wooded and have long histories of mysticism and barbarism (werewolves and shamans).  Edgar Allan Poe was credited with transposing this new form to the New World (American Gothic). Cheers and thanks for reading. 

Thirty-Seven Hours
by Heydon Hensley

That was what they said: thirty-seven hours and ten tons of rock.  But it was longer – it must have been.  Or time doesn’t exist in Hell.  Trapped beneath an entire mountain, the smell of coal climbing into his nostrils and burrowing into his skin.  Occasionally, another miner would moan somewhere – out there – away from him, away from his wall of stone, or they’d claw towards him, nails scratching, scratching against the stone like skeletal fingers.  Then the rubble would shift, and everyone would scream, and the coal would carry the cry halfway to hell, before the cry was too exhausted to continue and just stopped – before he got too exhausted. 
            It wasn’t so bad, not really.  Just the scratching, the scratching like some servant of the Metal Queen, clawing up from the deeps to pull him down, to drag him into the deep, broken leg dangling behind.  He wasn’t sure his leg would come with him.  It burned like a coal fire, slow and hot enough to melt steel.  The pain was good, he told himself, it meant he’d keep the leg.  If he didn’t move then no one would be able to find him, he’d be safe – and closed his eyes so the darkness couldn’t crawl in, take him over, spread out over his skin like the coal –
            He screamed.  Monitors and nurses sang a chorus of expletives like a refrain.  The white room, sterile light, white sheets sank beneath a cloud of smoke – then he was back. 

            Back, with the scratching, always scratching further down the tunnel, clawing its way closer in the pitch, like a dragging pick or hungry fingers.  He couldn’t scream – had to stay still – had to hide, the slightest whisper of noise, and it would find him – drag him away to forget the sun.  Sweat slid down his nose, dripped off and hit his belt buckle.  Plop. It echoed down the long throat, he could almost see it.  The walls coruscating to force him down into the stomach – into the deep, to the cold, to forget – to forget the warmth of his wife, the sun –

            A warm hand touched his cheek.  Warm and soft.  The sweat seemed to disappear.  For a moment his fears eased, the scratching paused, held back by this soft hand.  Murmurs drifted through the coal smoke.  “He’s going to… not uncommon… post-traumatic stress… keep him sedated…”
            “His leg?” A voice touched with sunlight. 
            His leg felt light, it almost didn’t hurt – almost.  So it was there, it had to be there.  This warm hand and sunlit voice kept his leg attached, kept the scratching at bay.  He just needed to hear that voice, to let it crawl into him and chase out the black, the scratching deep.  

08 February 2013

Immortal Roses

8. February 2013

I’ve been reading Four Quartets by T.S. Elliot, which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with an interest or knowledge in Quantum Theory, or temporal philosophy, or just straight out beautiful, compressed prose.   It was recommended to me by a Physics professor friend of mine.  If you haven’t read poetry before, then just remember to take it slow.  Just like a question on a test, you won’t get the whole answer without going back over the problem to verify your accuracy.  Unlike a test, the answer you get will change depending on where you are in your life when you read the poem. 

Anyway, here’s the story for today.  It’s the shortest one so far.  Hopefully it’s also the best. 

Immortal Roses
by Heydon Hensley
            In the rose garden, sun streaming between the knit blanket of clouds, T.S. Elliot came to him.  “That which is only living/ can only die. Words, after speech, reach/ into the silence.”  Somehow these words comforted him, as he cupped a scarlet rose in one hand and snipped the stem, just below the throat.  Like this rose, he was only living, could only die, but see how beautiful the rose was in death: head full of crimson, youthful, green arms still frolicking, still reaching for the sun.  Surely this was better than growing – blooming too much – into a flatness, only to drop beauty petal by petal until, naked, freezing in the winter and dying, withered, ugly, detested.  But see how, chopped from the rest, it stands out – vibrant always in the mind.  No one would remember it drooping, being thrown out.  The vigor, the vibrance – these would be remembered and in the remembrance, achieve immortality. 
            If a rose could achieve immortality in death, then how much more so himself?  Yes, certainly.  If that which lives, dies, then that which dies while life still burns brightly… These wrist – his stem… what a trifle to pay for immortal youth, vigor. 
            He reached down and snipped another rose.  

06 February 2013

The Diary

6. Feb 2013

So this piece of flash fiction was inspired by a fabulous piece by Elizabeth Talent called, “No One’s a Mystery.”  If you haven’t read it, then do yourself a favor and fix that.  The whole piece is around 300 words long (maybe less).  The compression and tight prose really blur the lines between fiction and poetry. 

The rest of this month, I'll be working with Flash Fiction for a few reasons, 1) it will eat up less of your time, 2) it will eat up less of my time, and 3) flash fiction teaches a great deal about the economy of words, and the importance of subtext which allows the story to unfold off the page.  

Perhaps the most concise piece of flash fiction comes from Hemingway (allegedly, anyway).  

"For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn."  

Enough history.  Here's the story.  I hope you enjoy it. 

The Diary
by Heydon Hensley
            The diary he had given her felt heavy as a dime in her palm.  She turned it over, remembering the truck, his hand forcing her down while his wife’s Cadillac sped by. 
            How does one address a diary?  It had no feelings, not empty as it was. 
            “Dear Self,” she wrote, but she mumbled, “I guess.” 
            I have to do it today.  For three weeks, I’ve told myself that I would do it, but today – today I’m so in love that I’m sick.  Kirk won’t leave his wife for me.  Who was I ever to hope that such a great man would want me?  Over our three years together, I’d hoped, but – I still feel all tingly every time I remember our first time together.  Every sixteen year old deserves such a great man her first time.  Kirk makes me so happy, I just want to burst.  That’s the hardest thing.  I can’t tell anybody about how happy I am.  I suggested it to Kirk once, and he cuffed me.  Not hard, you know, not mean, just stern. 
            But that’s why I have to do it – to end things with him.  I just love him too much to risk hurting him.  He says people wouldn’t understand if they knew.  What’s not to understand?  Love doesn’t discriminate over ages, and my love for him would make me ten times the wife he’s currently got.  I can cook and clean as good as anybody!  That’s just me hoping, reaching for what can’t be mine, what I don’t deserve.  I’ll sneak out tonight to be with him one last time.  His truck’s always so warm at night.  Maybe I’ll show him what I wrote.  He’ll be glad I’m using his present.
            Love Always.

01 February 2013

February Short Story series

Hey readers, so this is the first upload of a short story for the new series I'll be doing this month that will run Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout February.  Reader Nic (from Germany!) submitted a couple of  ideas for what to include in a short story.  They are not in this story, BECAUSE I liked them and spent 6 hours writing a short story with those elements, but the story needs to be typed up (I write all first drafts longhand) then edited a bit.  Most of the pieces put up this month will be rough in form, because getting a short story to a place where it is publishable is non-trivial, and I can't do that 12 times this month and still stay on track for my current MS.  This first piece is one that I wrote a few years back and then took to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference in Utah 2011.  It's always interesting to go back and read what one has written several years back.  At least I can guarantee to be at least on par with this the rest of the month. Enjoy! 

And Nic, the story about the snow-laden writing desk will be up Monday morning.  

The light came on, illuminating a circle of concrete.  Directly beneath the light stood a four-legged, sturdy, stainless steel chair.  Rust colored stains streaked the floor around the chair; a small drain lay directly beneath the chair, surrounded by more rusty streaks.  A dull scraping sound approached the small pool of light.  Two men stepped into the light and rudely deposited an unconscious man in khakis wet with blood and a grime-streaked and stained white dress shirt into the metal chair.  The larger of the men produced a coil of rope with which he bound the unconscious man's hands behind the chair.  He checked to make sure the black bag was securely over the prisoner's head.  They left, leaving the bagged body against rough bonds.
A tall auburn-haired woman sashayed into the light wearing black flat-bottomed shoes.  In one long fingered hand she carried a bucket of water, in the other a notebook and pen.  She transferred the notebook up under her armpit and clenched the pen between her teeth.  Quietly, she lifted the bucket in both hands then sloshed it on the comatose figure. 
A scream. 
The chair teetered dangerously on its shiny legs as he struggled to free himself.  The black bag shook vigorously.  The ropes around his wrists creaked; the ropes around his khakied legs bit deep into his bony shins.  He bit his lip.  His meager frame shivered beneath soaked clothes.
"Where am I?"  Nowhere did a sound issue save the ragged breath from his mouth.  "Who are you?"  No one answered.  "What's going on?"  Nothing.  He roared in fear again.  When he had no more breath, he sat shaking and panting.  The black bag trapped his breath.  It pressed against his mouth, suffocating him.  Tiny pricks of light filled his vision.  He knew he was about to pass out.  Just as his head tipped forward, he felt the bag brush past his face.  Light flooded his eyes.
            “Martin.”  It was not a question.  Martin looked up to see his soft voiced oppressor, but his dark-accustomed eyes rendered him nearly blind.  The light stung his eyes.  He could only make out a smudged outline of his assailant.  He or she was thin and wore flat, black shoes.  Martin guessed his captor was a woman.
            “Who are you?”  He whimpered.
She struck him.  Red nails streaked across his slightly wrinkled cheek leaving ribbons of crimson.  “You will address me as Inquisitor Patricia.”  She grabbed his stubbly chin with soft hands and forced his green eyes to look into her violet ones.  She smiled warmly, turned and walked out of the pool of light of which his world was now encircled. 
The Inquisitor walked back into the light carrying a book that read “Beginners’ Piano, vol. 2.”  She slowly rolled it up and walked towards Martin.  “It’s my understanding that you intend to publish a certain document stating that God has been killed.”  She patted Martin on the cheek with her piano book.  “I know you don’t really mean that.”  She said sweetly. 
"I didn't say God has been killed.  I said we killed him."  Martin said.  
She struck him with the rolled up piano book.  “We are a Christian nation, Mr. Martin.” 
“How do you know what I wrote?  That book hasn’t even been published yet!”  Martin
“There is little the Inquisition doesn’t know, Mr. Martin.”  Patricia said.  She played with the silver ring with gold-inlay attached to her silver necklace as she spoke. 
“The Inquisition?”  Martin paused.  “I must have misheard you.” 
“Oh yes, the Inquisition.  We know an awful lot about you – almost everything in fact.  We’ve been following you since you started meeting with Father O’Neil about your concerns over the Christian state of affairs in America.”  Patricia absentmindedly tapped the rolled piano book on Martin’s left shoulder. 
“But… the Inquisition has been disbanded for hundreds of years!” 
“A common misconception.  We’ve been officially disbanded since 1834, but the Papal office found us to be an useful executor of the Pope’s will.  Thus, we’ve unofficially been on the payroll this whole time.  We’ve expanded considerably of course.  Justice is a growth industry, after all.  We’re everywhere, now.”  Patricia said. 
“Impossible.”  He said.
“Let me give you an example.  You obviously don’t recognize me.  Understandable, since you missed your daughter’s piano recital this year.” 
“I was on business trips!  I tried to make it, but the clients wouldn’t reschedule.”  Martin said. 
“Oh, Mr. Martin, you don’t need to justify yourself to me.  Just imagine, your little Lily will never know that these stains on her piano book belonged to her father.”  She paused.  “In a way, you’ll never miss her recitals again.  Until she moves on to more worthwhile material and throws you out like so much rubbish.”  Patricia smiled and pulled Martin’s gaze to her with her violet eyes. 
Martin trembled with rage.  He lunged in his chair, toppling it.  The metal frame bit deep into Martin’s meager left bicep as it was mashed against the stained concrete.  Martin howled in pain and impotent rage. 
“Calm yourself, Mr. Martin.  Really, I’m only doing what I must.”  She said as she pulled a ring attached to a chain from her conservative purple blouse. 
“What you must?  You aren’t required to do this!  People will be looking for me right now.” 
“I’m not a moron, Mr. Martin.  You would do well to believe me, no one’s going to find you down here.  Please don’t try to convince me that what I’m doing is wrong or foolish.”  She shook her head, sending brown curls dancing around her face.  She tucked the necklace back in its place and stepped out of the light, leaving Martin gazing at the world askew.  Her shoes slapped against the concrete.  A door opened ahead of him, silhouetting the short girl and a larger man.  They whispered something.  The man handed Patricia a bundle of some sort.  The door closed.  Shoes slapped against the hard floor.  Patricia stepped into the rust-splotched circle of light.  She held a blue bundle in her hands.  “Hold on a second, Mr. Martin.  I’ll be right back with you.”  Patricia unrolled the bundle, revealing a syringe and a cotton ball.  Patricia took the blue wrapping, which turned out to be a pair of gloves, and put them on. 
Martin felt his pulse quicken.  “Please, don’t kill me.  I mean, I know needles are a much cleaner way to go than being beaten to death with a piano book, but…” 
Patricia held up her hand to silence Martin.  “Keep your peace, Mr. Martin.  I’m not going to kill you.  This will simply make you more… amiable.”  She smiled at him again.  He noticed the wicked gleam in her purple eyes.  Martin strained against his bonds desperately.  The rough rope tore at his wrists, blood stained his khakis.  Patricia forewent the alcohol rubdown and jabbed the needle directly into Martin’s heavenward arm.  “Sweet dreams, Mr. Martin.”  Martin felt his pulse slow.  His vision blurred.  Fragrant hair brushed past his face. 

Martin rolled over in his warm bed.  His pillow still smelled like laundry detergent.  He was vaguely aware of Rose walking softly out of the bedroom.  The sun was just beginning to peek through the yellow floral patterned curtains that he hated, but Rose had wanted them, so here they were.  Dishes clinked in the kitchen.  Normally, that was his queue to get up, even though he didn’t need to get up for another thirty minutes after his wife.  He never could sleep through her coffee ritual.  But today was Saturday, he could make a concerted effort to go back to sleep.  Martin yawned and rolled over, pulling the matching yellow floral comforter with him.  The heavy comforter pressed down on his thin frame.  He sighed and went back to sleep. 
The smell of coffee slowly roused Martin.  He opened his eyes as Rose set the coffee on his bedside table.  Her fragrant hair touched his cheek as she bent down to kiss him.  He tried to reach up to push her hair behind her ear. 
The comforter had his hand caught.  He tried to free it.  His hand wouldn’t budge.  A warm sticky liquid ran down his wrist.  He pulled harder.

Rose’s face changed.  Blonde hair became brown.  Laughing hazel eyes became mocking violet ones.  “So,” a silky voice purred, “are you going to recant?”
Martin stared hard at her with one eye, the other having swollen shut during his absence from the waking world.  “Hergrrr?”  was all Martin could manage through his drugged mind.
Delicate nails tapped gently on his shoulders.  Red lips framed by auburn hair bent down to Martin’s left ear.  “The others have already tendered their apologies and recanted.  No one even knows you’re missing yet.”  Martin noticed that he was upright.  The chair felt different – colder.  “We trundled them up with their friends and dropped them outside different casinos and bars.”  Patricia continued.  “They won’t wake up for at least another couple hours.”  She whispered.  “And just think: I can do anything I want to you while you’re tied up here.”  White teeth nibbled his ear ever so slightly.
“Only my wife nibbles on that ear.”  Martin flinched away from the lascivious lips.  To his surprise, his hands came up with him.  The sudden movement stunned Martin’s battered wits. 
Delicate fingers stole under his jaw, holding his head firm.  “It seems that you have a concussion, Martin.  I wouldn’t suggest jerking your head so violently.  You might do some horrible damage to that brain of yours.”  She released his jaw and walked around to the front of his chair.  Martin left his head lolling on his new collar.  His hands stole to the steel circle.  “You’ve noticed your new accessory, I see.” 
Slowly, Martin gathered the fragments of his wits as Patricia stood surveying him from a few feet away.  Martin leaned forward and noticed that his legs were no longer bound either.  He raised his head and focused intently through his unswollen eye.  He mustered his strength as he talked.  “I’m the only one with my name on the blasted book as an author.  And I won’t alter a single word.  Here I stand.”  Martin stood.   
“Right to business, I see.”  The Inquisitor said.  “I like that in a man.  The pope is the same way: always focused on the immediate task at hand.  Very efficient.”  She played with the ring that hung on her blouse.  “Honestly, I don’t much care if you change the book.”  She said, staring at the plain silver loop.  “As long as you officially recant and don’t publish the cursed thing.” 
Martin stood stock still, staring at her with his good eye.  “Or what?” 
“We were talking about efficiency, were we not?”  Patricia said, taking a step just beyond the edge of the light.  “I’m a firm believer in efficiency, and it seems that what would be efficient now is to threaten your family.  Perhaps your daughter.”  She paused, watching Martin’s face grow redder.  “You’d be surprised how many little nuns aren’t there by choice.” 
Martin lunged at Patricia.  The few feet between them closed in an instant.  He was almost there, his fingers eager for the attack.
Then the collar activated. 
Painful jolts of electricity surged through his body.  Martin’s legs gave way beneath him, his arms spasmed painfully.  “Bad, Martin!  Bad!  Get back in your chair.”  Patricia said.  Martin looked at her with hatred, but slowly obeyed.  His spasmodic movements hindered his retreat.  Once he got within two feet of the chair the shocks stopped.  Martin clutched to the chill metal chair for comfort before the world went black. 

Frigid water coldly ripped Martin from unconsciousness.  “You were out for over two hours that time, Mr. Martin.  I don’t believe you’ll last much longer under these circumstances.”  The silky voice purred from somewhere beyond the pool of light.  Martin sat shivering, his soaked shirt clinging to his bruised body.
“You’re lying it can’t have been that long.” He said.   
“Why would I tell a lie; when the truth better serves my purpose?”  She paused.  The squeak of wheels echoed through the room.  A cart appeared from the darkness, laden with spools of intravenous tubing, a series of clear plastic bags, and a large assortment of scalpels and needles.  “I assume you mean that you’d need to use the restroom by now?  You do have a weak bladder after all.”  Martin nodded.  “I believe the electric shock took care of that problem.  ‘The knots of your loins were unloosed’ so to speak.”  
Martin looked at the floor around him and noticed a yellow trail extending from him to where he must have landed during his ill-planned attack. 
The cart continued to approach, propelled by blue-gloved hands. “Now,” she said happily, “let’s deal with your attitude.”
“What did you have in mind?”  He said. 
“You’re a clever fellow.  You can figure it out.”  Patricia chose a wicked looking scalpel from the cart.  Martin stood up. 
“Wh-what do you want?”  Martin said. 
“I want you to recant your treatise.”  Patricia gestured towards him with the blade absentmindedly.  “It’s not that hard, boy.”  Martin stood, transfixed by the shining scalpel.  “All you have to do is recant.  I’ll be happy.  The Pope will be happy.  Your family will be happy.”  Patricia paused.  “Think about your family.  Little Lily would be much happier not,” Patricia enunciated each word with a slight swish of the scalpel, “losing a few fingers at her next piano lesson.”    
Patricia held out the blade towards Martin.  He shivered as she took one of her blue gloved hands and lifted his chin so that his eyes would meet her violet ones.  “You look terrible.” She announced.  “Very little color left in your cheeks, pale as death in fact.”  She smiled as she pinched his wasted, bloodied cheek, menacing him with the shining scalpel in her other hand.  She sliced the side of his cheek.  Martin felt like someone applied an ice cube to his cheek.  “There.  That adds a bit of color.”   
“Yeah.” He mumbled as he sat in the chilly chair. 
She dropped Martin's chin which plopped heavily against his thin chest and lolled off to one side.  She walked back to the cart.  A pen scratched against paper.  “Subject exhibits advanced signs of physical break down.  Inquisitor Patricia expects the mind to break in less than twelve hours under proper inducement.  Shock collar highly effective as a control technique, suggest continued funding.” She spoke as she wrote, presumably for Martin's benefit. 
“Listen, I’m a manager.  I know some basic negotiation skills.  You’ve shown me what I lose by not going along with y-.”  
“But you want to know what you gain.”  Patricia interrupted. 
“No.”  Martin said.  “I want to know what you gain.” 
Patricia stared at Martin.  She raised one eyebrow then shrugged.  “We get to keep a complacent church, Mr. Martin.  Marx was right about religion being the opiate for the masses.  However, he missed a certain subtlety with such a blunt statement.  You see, other people can manipulate this opiate to their own purposes.  People like you, Mr. Martin.”  Patricia looked up from the notebook on the cart. 
  Rage bubbled up to the surface in a flash.  Martin lost control.  He stood and threw metal chair at his captor.  Martin’s wrist hit the edge of the light, his prison.  Shocks jolted his body.  The ground did not politely cushion his fall.  White spots flashed before his concussed eyes.  Patricia stood over him, holding the metal chair. 
“That wasn’t very polite, Martin.”  She gently set the chair behind him and turned to leave.  “I’m going to give you one more chance.  You have four hours to consider which you love more your family or your writing.” 
“That’s not the choice you offer me.”  Martin said, choking back his bitter rage.  “I must choose either to live a lie or die in truth.” 
“Die in truth?”  Patricia laughed.  “Oh, my dear Martin, how heroic.  I’m not going to kill you.  Why create a martyr when I could make you live knowing the pain you caused your family.”  She sneered.  “If we maim your bride, perhaps you’ll understand a bit of the pain your writing causes the church, the church who is the bride of Christ.”  She turned on her heel and walked out the phantom door. 
Fatigue stole over Martin’s senses.  Impotently, he tried to fight it.  Sleep forced itself upon him. 

The sun warmed Martin’s skin.  The grass felt soft and cool beneath his back.  A bird in the cottonwood a few yards away piped out a glorious song for a fine spring day.  Martin started to drift off.  Two tiny hands pressed on his chest. 
“Daddy, daddy!  Wake up!”  Martin opened his eyes to smile at his daughter.  Today was her sixth birthday.  She wore her white and yellow Easter dress.  Lily, of course, had grass stains all over her dress.  Rose wouldn’t be thrilled, but on a girl’s birthday she ought to be a bit wild. 
“What do I need to wake up for?”  Martin rolled over onto one arm and used his free one to tousle Lily’s brown hair. 
“Daddy!”  Lily pushed his hand off her head with both little arms. 
“Okay, okay.  What did you want to show me?” 
“Look!  I picked flowers for you.”  Lily turned around and grabbed a bundle of lavenders, probably taken from the neighbor’s yard.  Martin smiled.  “Look, Daddy!  Aren’t they pretty?  Don’t the smell nice?” 

Martin gently took the flowers and breathed deep.  The acrid, metallic scents of urine and dried blood filled his nostrils.  He gagged. 
“Wake up, Mr. Martin.  I don’t have time for any of this nonsense.”  A familiar voice cooed from the darkness.  “I do hope you’ve made your decision.” 
“God will provide a way even when there seems to be no way.” 
“It’s a bit late for divine intervention, I’m afraid.”  She paused, tapping a pen against her chin.  “But He has provided a way out: the recant.”    Patricia said. 
“I’m convicted by my conscience.  I wrote only the truth of the modern church.”
Patricia shook her head and pointed into the darkness.  The overhead light blinked out.  A projector flashed to life.  A green park opened up on the screen.  A blonde walked hand in hand with her brown haired daughter.  Rose and Lily, Martin recognized them at once.  They were both laughing and smiling.  Martin began to smile a bit himself, in spite of his bruised and cut cheeks.  The camera then zoomed out, revealing the black interior of a car.  The camera panned over to show the passenger’s seat.  A man wearing a ski mask sat there, gazing lovingly at the knife he was polishing.  Martin’s smile vanished.  The film cut out, plunging the room in darkness.  “You see, Martin, you don’t have more time to make your decision.” 
Martin trembled at the image still burned into his brain.  “If I recant, you’ll leave my family alone?” 
“As long as once you leave, you never discuss this encounter to anyone, yes.  They’ll be unharmed.”  Patricia said. 
“I’ll be lying to them the rest of my life.”  Martin mumbled to the darkness. 
“That will happen either way.  Remember?  I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of martyrdom for your misguided cause.”  Patricia said as the light came back on.  “This way they won’t suffer any harm.  Or do you want a bride who is as damaged as you threatened to make the church?” 
“Give me the papers.”  A single sheet of paper passed through Martin’s invisible prison wall.  Martin signed the dotted line with a trembling hand.  “I’ll never forgive myself.”   
Inquisitor Patricia softly spoke, “Ah, but the Church will.”

Martin woke up, bruised and putrid behind O’Neill’s Pub.