Archive for: August, 2014

Fish Dreams By Tara Campbell

Aug 31 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Hey, Ma, you ever dream about fish?

I know, I’m sorry I ain’t called in a while.  But I gotta ask you a question: You know what they say about fish in dreams?  I’m tryin to figure out what my shrink—my therapist—is tryin to tell me.

Not that I believe in all that psychological stuff.  My company just started sendin me to this guy ‘cause of the stress.  It’s a good job, I like the work fine, and the benefits are decent—I mean, hell, anymore just havin a job is good, right?  Benefits are gravy.  But you know, it can get pretty stressful havin to deal with customers who don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, plus be polite about it even when you feel like tellin ‘em to hang up and call back when they’ve grown a brain.

Anyhow, my boss started pushin all these employee wellness programs; said he’s sick and tired of payin for all these benefits no one’s usin.  “Deb,” he says to me, “I want you to start goin to ‘see somebody,’” you know, with that look like he don’t want to say what “see somebody” actually means, even though we both know what it means.  I ask why, he says he heard me on the phone with a customer—a “client” he calls ‘em—and almost had a heart attack.  Says I was one step away from losin it and tellin the lady what I really think of her.  Well, seein as how I couldn’t really say he was wrong, I couldn’t really say no.  So I been goin to “see somebody,” but I don’t know how well it’s workin, ‘cause it seems like every time I come out of one of those sessions I’m more irritated than I was when I went in.  Like last time, when we talked about the fish…

So a few a weeks ago I head to Dr. Ober’s office—yeah, Dr. Ober, Herr Doktor Ober, straight outta central casting.  Old guy, thick German accent, has probably been doin psychoanalysis since it was invented.  He’s got this little bitty office over on the east side; low overhead I guess, but not bad once you get inside.  It looks just like I imagined a therapist’s office would: wood paneling, soft lighting, diplomas all over the walls—he’s even got a bust of Freud in his bookshelf.  No couch, though, which is fine by me.  I like to look people in the eye when I talk to ‘em, know what I mean?  I talk to people on the phone all day at work, can’t look at any one of ‘em in the eye.

Anyway, I walk into his office a couple a weeks ago and he asks me all the usual questions:  how was your week, you sleepin okay, anything unusual happen at work?  Then out of the blue he asks me what did I dream about the night before.  He never asked me that before.  I usually don’t remember my dreams, but it just so happened that I did remember what I dreamed about that time.

“Well,” I say, “I dreamed I was sixteen years old again, and I was home with Ma.”

That’s right, Ma, back in you and Pop’s house.

Then he goes “A-ha!” and scribbles somethin into that little notebook he always has on his desk.  It always bugs me when he does that.

Anyway, I start tellin him about the dream.  “I’m sittin in the kitchen readin the paper, lookin at the movie ads.  I remember feelin really antsy, like I just had to get out of the house.”

Then he goes, “A-ha!” and writes some more.

I go on.  “Well, I really wanna go see a movie, but Ma won’t let me ‘cause she wants me to stay home and help her and some guy I don’t even know move a bunch of boxes of old clothes up into the attic.”  Well, soon as this comes outta my mouth, I know what he’s gonna ask.

“Could zis man be your Fazzer?” he asks, and he sits back and looks at me, and his leather chair makes that creak you always hear when professors or rich people sit back in their leather chairs and look at you.

“No, it’s not Pop,” I tell him.  “I just said I didn’t know the guy.  Anyway, I remember bein really angry at Ma for makin me stay, ‘cause I didn’t wanna help her at all.”

Ma, it ain’t dirty laundry, it’s therapy.  Anyway…

“A-ha!” he says again.  “Aggression against ze Mozzer schtemming from ze Electra Complex!”  And then he scribbles into the little notebook again.  Someday I wanna get ahold of that thing and find out everything he’s sayin about me.  See, that wasn’t the first time he said Electra Complex, so I looked it up and frankly I don’t buy it.  No, Ma, I ain’t even gonna to get into it, ‘cause I know it would just upset you, and it ain’t even true.

Anyway, here’s Herr Doktor Ober, writin away and I’m thinkin he’s thinkin I’m a total creep; but really I’m thinkin he’s the total creep.  And I’m also thinkin this is gonna be my last visit to him.

“So are you sure you don’t know who zis man is helping your Mozzer?”

“No!” I say, startin to lose my patience.  “Do you want me to go on or not?”

“Pleass continue,” he says.  He puts his pen down and leans back in his leather chair.  Creak.

So I continue.  “Well, like I said, I was real mad at Ma—but only in the dream, got it?  So just to spite her, I start to go downstairs to call a friend, ‘cause I always went downstairs to call my friends so she couldn’t hear what I was sayin.”

“In ze rreal life or ze drream only?”

“Oh,” I say, “both, I guess.  So I’m barely down two steps when I hear her say ‘Dammit, they’re out!’  Now Ma, she don’t usually use that kinda language—”  Yes, of course I told him that.  “—so I come back up to see what’s wrong, and then I see this fish.  It was this big, fat green fish, about a foot and a half long, and it’s just swimmin through the air like it’s water.  Swimmin nice and slow, big lazy circles like it don’t got a care in the world.  Then two more fish come out of the box and start swimmin around just like the first one.  They’re all kinda fat and sparkly, just kinda circlin around, nice and slow.  Ma and this guy are goin crazy, runnin around, ducking, tryin to catch these fish again but they can’t.  And the fish just keep swimmin around like they don’t care.”

Then Ober asks, “Und how did you feel toward zzese fisch?”

I hate it when he asks questions like that, ‘cause you always feel like you’re gonna say somethin wrong and he’ll think you’re nuts.  But because I decided this was gonna be my last visit, I wanna at least get somethin out of it, so I answer:  “I dunno, they were interesting all right, but they were kinda disgusting too.  I wanted to look at ‘em and I didn’t, you know?  I wanted to touch one to see what it felt like, but I was too scared to.”

“A-ha!” he says, and he looks real happy.  “Ya, zzis is goot.  Go on!”

So I go on.  “Well, like I said, I was too grossed out to get any closer.  Then all of a sudden, one of ‘em starts swimmin right at me.  I’m standin there, frozen, and I don’t know what to do.  I decide to duck and let it swim over me, but at the last minute I have this urge to smack it, you know?  Just give it a good smack and see what it’s made of.  So I reach up and grab it, really grab ahold of its skin, and then it starts to rip open.  I’m so grossed out and scared by now, I just throw the thing to the ground.  And when it hits, it explodes, like when they show a star explodin on TV, you know, with all those little white sparks comin out.  It was so weird!”

“Und zzen?”

“Well, then nothin,” I say.  “Nothin happened after that.  I just woke up.”

Now I’m startin to feel real weird ‘cause he’s scribblin in that little book like there’s no tomorrow.  He’s sittin there writing, goin “Mm-hmm” and “A-ha” and I’m just sittin there feelin funny.  Then he goes, “Zis man helpink your Mozzer, are you sure he iss not your Fazzer?”

By this time I’m really startin to lose it.  I mean, whose dream was it, his or mine?  So I tell him no, it wasn’t my father, and who had the dream anyway, and why was it so important to him that this guy should be Pop.  So of course then he apologizes and tries to get me to calm down.  People know not to mess with me when I’m riled up, which is I guess why they sent me over here in the first place, to keep me from gettin riled up.  But like I said, it don’t seem to be workin.

So I keep gripin and askin what he means by this and by that, and he just sits there real quiet.  And I say I want to see what he’s writin in his little book about me, that I ain’t gonna stand for it no more.  Well, he flinches like I hit him, kinda jerks back like I’m stickin a pitchfork in his face or somethin.  I guess that little sign of fear just kinda eggs me on, ‘cause then I stand up and lean over his desk, and that old leather chair is creakin like crazy ‘cause he’s tryin to sink right through it into the ground.  I was breathin hard, I realize now.  I mean, I didn’t think about it at the time, but I was breathin kinda hard and I prob’ly had my hands in fists, now that I think of it.  I got my hands in fists and I’m standin over him and he’s tryin to creep back into his seat.  And I’m just a woman, but a pissed-off woman, and he’s just an old man.

Then his lip does this—quiver.  I just keep lookin at him, and his lips start shakin, and then he takes in this trembly breath and his whole face kinda falls in on itself and he starts cryin.  Like not even a man-cry, more like a sniffly kid-cry, like he ain’t even sure what he’s cryin about, and what else can I do but get him a tissue?

So I grab the box of Kleenex next to the Freud bust and kneel down next to him and he takes one and dabs at his eyes and the tip of his nose, and I realize I could never hurt this man.  And I’m too embarrassed for the both of us to look him in the eye, you know, so I stare at his hands, which are sittin in his lap holdin the soggy Kleenex.  His hands look kinda dainty, with long, tapered fingers, and they look soft, but I don’t reach out and touch ‘em, cause they—I don’t know why, but the way I felt toward his hands is kinda like the way I felt toward the fish in my dream.

And I can’t even look at his hands no more, so I stand up and get my stuff to go.

“Wait,” he says, and I screw up the courage to look at him.  He’s quiet now, looks a little more composed.  He even tries out a smile, but it’s kinda shaky.  “So, you know who I am?” he asks.

I just shake my head.  I should be out the door by now, but I don’t move an inch.

“I ssink you know who I am,” he says.  And now he’s real calm, at peace.  He leans back in his chair, creak, like he’s real tired, but satisfied.  And I’m like a tree in that office; I can’t move.  I stand there, coat and bag in hand, lookin at him; and he closes his eyes and just sits there.

I don’t know how long I stood there, a minute, five, ten?  An hour?  Finally he opens his eyes and sees me still standin there, and acts surprised even though we both know he isn’t.  And he says, “You are not comink back, are you?”

And finally I can move again.  I shake my head and turn my back on him.  I head for the door, and I got my hand on the doorknob, and I hear:

creak

splash

Splash, like water.

I turn back around; no one’s there.  He’s gone.

I call out:  “Dr. Ober?”

I try again:  “Herr Doktor Ober?”

I start feelin that tingly kind of scared, you know, ‘cause he was just there and now he’s gone.  I head toward his desk and my heart’s beatin like crazy.  If he’d a had a receptionist or somethin, I woulda called ‘em in, but it was just me there, inchin toward his desk by myself.

First thing I notice as I get closer is, that book he’s always writin in is gone.  It always sat on top a that desk, him scribblin away in it, but it wasn’t there no more.  Well, I start lookin around for another door, thinkin maybe he just took his book and went home; but I don’t see no other obvious ways out, and the thought of a psychiatrist with hidden doors in his office scares the crap outta me, so I don’t look around for no secret panels.

So I come around the side of his desk—‘cause somehow the idea of a shrink hidin under his desk don’t scare me as much as the thought of a shrink with hidden doors in his office.  But before I can look under the desk, I see a puddle in his chair; a puddle of water in that little divot where he used to sit and ask me all those questions.  And I just stared at that puddle and watched his balled-up Kleenex soakin up the water, meltin like sugar.

Well, I just went home after that.  What else was I supposed to do?  I never went back after that, and no one ever called me.

My boss asked me yesterday how things are goin with the doctor.  I said fine.  He said good, he could tell.

But now, almost every night, I dream about fish.  I can’t stop dreamin about fish, only now it’s always just the one, and he’s still got that goddamn little book, and I can never figure out for sure what he’s tryin to say.

So, Ma, I was kinda hopin you could tell me.

 

END

 

Author’s Bio:

Tara Campbell [www.taracampbell.com] is a Washington, D.C.-based writer of crossover sci-fi.  With a BA in English and an MA in German Language and Literature, she has a demonstrated aversion to money and power.

Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Tara has also lived in Oregon, Ohio, New York, Germany and Austria.  Her work has appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books, Potomac Review Blog, Hogglepot Journal, Lorelei Signal, Punchnel’s, GlassFire Magazine, the WiFiles, Silverthought Online, Toasted Cake Podcast, Litro Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly, Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers and T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog.

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Gathering for Death by Henry P. Gravelle

Aug 17 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

“Where are we?” Annie Pike asked herself over and over. She sat quietly and patiently beside her husband as he piloted their SUV along an unpaved road through the darkest forest she could imagine. Again she asked, this time out loud. “Where are we?”

Joe’s mind was nearing a hypnotic trance watching their neighbor’s pickup taillights bouncing along the rut filled road ahead. The increasing density and changing forestation caught within the vehicles headlights defined and edged every object creating a surreal third dimensional scene from a viewfinders of yesteryear. It held his attention, until Annie’s question.

“No need to worry,” he smiled. “It’s not far, maybe a mile or so.”

“I still don’t understand why we couldn’t have done this at the Casey’s house like we first planned?” she responded. He sighed and changed hands on the steering wheel, the free hand went to her knee, lightly squeezing then caressing through her jeans.

“I told you Moe and I wanted to put Lenore to the test. Come on, you know these people are charlatans. Everything is rigged, the spooky sights and sounds, all wires and tape recorders.”

“How was she going to rig the house for the séance if Carol was there?” Annie glanced at her husband unable to believe he actually thought their neighbor’s new friend, Lenore, was anything but a true Spiritualist.

It was Carol’s husband, Moe, who brought this on and convinced Joe that Lenore was a hoax. Moe believed Lenore befriended his wife only to sell her some hocus pocus and steal what she could from their home. Moe called her a gypsy, tramp and thief.

“So all of a sudden Carol has this new friend, this… Lenore,” Joe pronounced the name eloquently with a wave of the hand, as if announcing the arrival of royalty, “who meets Carol in the market parking lot; just appears outta nowhere, like magic. Did you know she convinced Carol her life is in danger, future bleak and the only way to resolve the matter is through a séance.”

Annie rocked in her seat as the SUV rocked through the grooved earthen road. “No, I didn’t know that she —”

“Can you believe the balls on these people?” Joe interrupted, “preying on Carol’s emotions while sizing up the house and planting sound devices and crap. Okay, we’ll have this séance but at a place she’s never seen and had no chance to rig. We’ll see how good she tells the future.”

Joe’s attempt to discredit Lenore went ignored. Annie asked again. “Where are we?”

Ahead, the bright illumination of the full moon outlined a cabin nestled amongst a backdrop of dark pines, standing like silent sentinels over a sacred sanctuary. “We’re here.”

“Finally,” Annie muttered as they pulled next to Moe’s pickup. Joe rushed inside and flicked on the outside light, allowing the women to view the hunting cabin for the first time since it was a joint investment between the two men. A home away from home where they could fish and hunt, their castle in the forest, private abode, sanctuary and lair. For the first time the wives got to see it.

The outside bulb had already attracted a handful of night insects, fluttering about in its warmth, although it was still humid after a scorching summer’s day. The light illuminated the porches warped flooring stretching the length of the cabin’s front. A screen door centered the front of the structure with one window on each side. A stone chimney peered over the roof’s crest like a cold and empty well.

“Lovely ride in the country,” Carol exclaimed as she left the truck with Lenore at her side. They joined Annie on the porch.

“That was a cow path,” Annie commented. “I thought we’d never get here.”

Carol’s facial expression showed astonishment and disgust of the cabin and the roadway. Lenore silently whisked past them and went in, sitting at a table placed in the middle of the cabin where she sat with hands on the tabletop. She closed her strangely dull black eyes and said, no demanded, “Join me.”

Perhaps it was the dimly lit room, or her dark clothing with bandana wrapped around her raven hair, but Joe whispered, “like the gypsy woman in the werewolf movie.”

Moe giggled until Carol shot an angry glance his way. The women sat at the table with Lenore, each holding a hand with the other opened for their husbands to join them. Joe and Moe looked to each other with amusement then sat, completing the circle. Lenore lowered her head softly murmuring. Annie looked to Carol and shrugged.

“She’s putting herself into a trance,” Carol whispered. The two husbands smiled at each other.

***

Below the cabin, at the foot of a shrub laced incline, a lake stretched across the scenery illuminated by the full moon. The forest greeted the shoreline with tall pine and birch connected by a maze of vegetation, thick and thorny. A rowboat drifted aimlessly on the still water; its oars locked in the up position.

A young man sat on the floor of the boat, resting against the stern, his arm draped over the shoulder of his high school sweetheart nestled in front of him. He thought of taking her to the deserted hunting cabin atop the hill and having sex, like they had on several occasions. But for now, he was content to gaze at the clear night sky and the many pinpoints of lights, so far away.

“It’s so peaceful, just right for dreaming,” the girl said taking hold of his hand.

“And what would those dreams be?” he asked, although he heard the answer before and hoped she would say something else, anything.

“Dreamt I worked at the Bird Cage and …”

“Are you kidding?” he shook his head disagreeing with her. “No girlfriend of mine is going to work at a strip club. I don’t care if you get a million dollars a night.”

She giggled, “I’m only kidding, I knew you wanted to hear something besides ‘save and start a family.’”

“How’d you know that?”

“I met someone yesterday, a woman, a strange woman, but after we spoke for a few minutes I felt she really had her finger on the pulse of my future.”

“Pulse of your future?” he asked. “What made you discuss the future with a stranger?”

The girl wondered. “I don’t know? It just came out, something about her made me want to talk. I thought she was a kook at first, but she told me things only I knew, and then she said you did not want to get married. I guess she was right.”

He leaned back and looked to the stars, hoping maybe the conversation would change. A lucky guess he thought about the woman’s analysis.

“So?” she asked.

“So what?”

“Your dream.”

“I don’t want to talk about that stuff,” he said.

“Maybe I should wish upon a star?” she said gazing into the heavens. Suddenly a flash of light crossed overhead, disappearing as fast as it materialized.

“There goes one! Did you make your wish?” he asked.

“Didn’t see it; too fast.”

“You have to begin wishing as soon as you see it, even though it goes away, its okay, as long as you begin when it’s visible,” he explained.

“Who told you that?” she asked.

“My grandpa, when I was a kid.”

“Did you get your wish?”

“Naw, he died anyway; heart trouble. I wanted him to get better. Aww, what does a kid know about those things anyway?” he said, his voice quivering slightly recalling the wish made for his grandfather’s life. She was about to reply to his heartfelt emotion when she spotted a light in the sky.

“There!” her voice echoed across the lakes surface. He looked up expecting to see the tail end of a burning meteor but instead witnessed a pinpoint of light growing in brilliance and size. It wobbled and flickered, as though dangling on a string in space.

“I thought they went away?” she asked.

“I thought so.” He said watching the light brighten and grow from a pinhead to golf ball size and still growing and moving closer fast.

***

Lenore’s head rose showing her big, black pupils, like marbles set against a bone background. Everyone tightened their grasp of hands. Lenore spoke. “Carol… Carol Manning.”

Moe grinned thinking she could have learned Carol’s maiden name during their discussions. Joe thought the same, and rolled his eyes.

“Yes?” Carol answered. Lenore’s voice became hollow, like a bullfrog in a cave. Everyone sat upright, alert, curious.

“Carmen… seek me… lust …” Lenore slowly blurted out in deep resonance. Carols face turned ashen, her eyes wide in shock.

“Oh my God, Oh Christ no, I don’t believe it …”

“Desire … lust …” Lenore continued.

“What the hell is that?” Moe asked. Carol sobbed. Annie’s mouth was wide open. Joe laughed.

“I’m no expert, ole buddy, but I think a ghost named Carmen got the hots for your wife.”

Moe turned to his wife, “Suppose now your gonna agree this is all baloney.”

Annie was in awe. Carol confided in her about the affair six years ago with a man named Carmen. Her mouth was opened in awe.

Lenore continued. “Roscoe …”

Annie inhaled sharply hearing her long deceased dog’s name. She removed the memory of the puppy’s tragic death from her thoughts, until now.

“Killed … Beau,” Lenore muttered.

Joe looked astonished at Lenore then back to Annie. “You gonna believe her?”

“I had a dog when I first met Joe,” Annie explained without removing a glare from Joe, “it died from a fall down a flight of stairs, a supposed accident. And I used to call Joe, my Beau.”

“I never touched that dog,” Joe denied.

“You son-of-a-bitch, you never liked him because I loved him. You were jealous of a damn puppy?” Annie shouted.

Joe released his grip and threw his hands into the air. “How did this bitch think up stuff like that?”

Lenore’s deep voice boomed again before anyone could think, “Gathering …”

“Yeah, we’re gathered, and all we hear is crap! You just had to have this damn séance!” Moe yelled to Carol, now in tears.

“…for death,” Lenore finished the sentence.

Everyone stopped arguing, yelling, sniffling and looked to each other for an explanation of what they just heard.

“What, what do you mean?” Carol looked to Lenore.

“Yeah, what gives?” asked Moe, releasing his wife’s hand.

Suddenly the cabin light flickered. Lenore lowered her face then raised it again with open eyes. The trance was over. She smiled and stood. “Perhaps you will now believe of those able to speak from the other side.”

Moe still held a negative believe and said accusingly, “That was all lies made up from the past. I thought you could tell the future?”

Lenore walked to the fireplace hearth and stood by the cold ashes of last winter’s fires. “I am a teller of events.”

She waved her hand to the light that went dark instantly. The room remained illuminated by a glow flooding in through the windows, a brightness with growing intensity.

“I told you of past events and of a future event, this gathering of death, and it shall be.”

The approaching roar sounded like a hundred freight trains, shaking the cabin violently. Carol and Annie screamed as Lenore dissolve and drifted up the chimney in a wisp of black smoke.

***

“My God, it’s headed right for us!” the boy shouted. The girl opened her mouth to scream but went unheard as the thunderous roar past. The boy toppled on top of her, covering against the searing ball of fire catapulting over their heads.

A loud boom followed the explosion. Earth and trees cascaded into the lake by the massive impact, rocking the rowboat side to side, almost tossing the couple into the water. When it finally stopped, they raise their heads to peer at the hill. They gasped in unison at the furrow gouged into the hillside and crater of smoldering earth atop the reshaped hill where the cabin once stood.

“That woman I met told me not to go there with you tonight. It was a place for unbelievers, a place where death would be,” the girl whispered. They held each other tightly, glaring at the impact, never noticing the swirl of black smoke circling the boat until it drifted away, toward town.

Bio: Henry P. Gravelle is the author of several short stories, novellas and novels found in print, Ebook, Kindle and Nook publications. He has also written several screenplays and short plays. Please visit his web site at: www.henrygravelle.com

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The Invitation by Milo James Fowler

Aug 10 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Keeping up with the Joneses was never an issue for Lana Jenkins. The Joneses were slobs. They parked rusted old clunkers on their lawn—an atrocity itself with more weeds than grass—and she was almost certain there were no discontinued use stickers anywhere on them. She had pled her case repeatedly before the board of the home owners’ association, but they seemed to have a higher tolerance for bylaw infractions than she ever would.

For Lana Jenkins, there was only one perfect house on the street, one she knew would always set the bar high for the entire neighborhood. She’d be the first to admit that, despite how well she and her husband kept up their own two-story brownstone (from its lush, well-groomed grass to the beaming sunflowers along their white picket fence—a cliché she kept in pristine condition with weekly touchup paint and an annual fresh coat whether it was necessary or not; she told her husband the paint should “shine”), it would never hold a candle to Henderson Manor.

On Landis Lane, Henderson Manor was the only bona fide mansion in a ten mile radius, complete with hedgerows eight feet tall, wrought iron fencing, an automatic gate, a four-car garage, and more square footage than Lana had ever seen in her life. Not that she had ever been inside—but she swore she would someday, and she told everyone on the street that sooner or later, the day would come.

Old Man Henderson was an old scrooge who kept to himself, and none of the neighbors had seen him in years. Everything came by special delivery, from groceries to doctors to, finally, a fancy new hearse from the local funeral home. Perhaps Lana Jenkins should have spent at least a moment or two mourning the loss of one of the neighborhood’s oldest residents, but instead she saw it as a golden opportunity.

The house would be put up for sale. And she would—at long last—have a chance to take a good look around inside, posing as a prospective buyer, of course.

Only she never got the chance. There was no FOR SALE sign, no open house, no realty company providing guided tours. Just a few days after the hearse took away Old Man Henderson’s remains, moving vans arrived en masse from local charities to take all of the old codger’s possessions. He must not have had any family; or perhaps he did, and he had been estranged from them for years. Regardless, it seemed that he had bequeathed everything he’d ever owned to the Salvation Army, the Goodwill, and AMVETS. In two days, they managed to cart all of it away.

Lana Jenkins watched from her kitchen window, busying herself washing the same dishes by hand the dishwasher had already pronounced sparkly clean only hours before.

If Mr. Jenkins noticed her peculiar behavior, he never mentioned it.

“Well, that’s the last of it,” she announced one evening.

“Oh?” He sat in his favorite armchair with the evening paper unfolded before him, blocking his wife’s compulsive obsessiveness from view.

“The place is just an empty shell now.” She choked back tears.

#

By the end of the week, moving vans had returned. But this time, they came bearing all-new furniture, and Lana Jenkins once again found a reason to hold her post at the kitchen window, oohing and aahing at virtually everything she saw. Whoever was moving in, they had great taste in furniture—and plenty of it.

“Oh Henry, it’s colonial! I simply adore it!”

“Oh?” Henry Jenkins manned his armchair, as per usual.

Lana Jenkins watched with growing anticipation as the days passed and fewer movers made deliveries. To date, she had yet to catch even a glimpse of the new owners, but she knew it had to be just a matter of time. Perhaps they came in under cloak of darkness, once the Jenkins’ had turned in for the night. Or perhaps they themselves hadn’t even physically moved in yet.

“Where are you going, Dear?” Mr. Jenkins glanced up from his paper early one evening.

Lana held up a pink, flowery envelope. “I’m going to invite them to dinner.”

“Who?”

“The new neighbors, silly. Who else?”

“The old Henderson place?”

“Of course!” She gave him a peck on his bald dome. “Be right back.”

She shut the front door behind her and nearly skipped down the driveway, but immediately she collected her composure as Mrs. McDonnell passed by, walking her prim poodle and spying on the neighbors (an evening ritual).

“Mrs. Jenkins,” the elderly woman greeted with a frown firmly ensconced for no apparent reason.

“Mrs. McDonnell.” Lana hoped the conversation would end there. The old busybody habitually had no concept of other people’s time.

“Have you spotted them yet?”

Lana forced herself to smile. “How’s that?”

“Our new additions. Word is they come from money. Have you seen how many moving trucks? They must own a museum! But have you seen them? Because nobody has, from what I can tell. Word is they’re both lawyers who work all day in the city. You’ve got yourself a good view from across the street. So tell me, have you met—?”

“Not yet.” Lana nonchalantly slipped the invitation into a skirt pocket. “But I plan to.”

“Still hoping to see the place, eh?”

Lana knew her aspirations regarding Henderson Manor were a secret to no one. “Well, perhaps one of these days.” She forced a cheery titter. “You never know!”

Mrs. McDonnell’s frown remained intact. “You have such a beautiful home yourself. Be thankful for what God has given you. Every breath! I tell you, when you get to be my age—”

“Oh yes, we must always count our blessings!” Lana made a pretense of checking the empty mailbox and flipping the little flag up and down. “Well, good evening, Mrs. McDonnell!” She returned to her own house.

“Good evening.” The old woman plodded on, but the poodle looked back at Lana, seeming somehow to divine her intentions.

Lana waited until Mrs. McDonnell was halfway down the street before she emerged from the shadowed corner of her front porch and hustled to the end of the driveway, retrieving the envelope from her pocket as she crossed the silent street.

It was nothing fancy, just a friendly invitation to have dinner with Mr. Jenkins and herself, just a thoughtful gesture, the kind she was known for. But it was also a hopeful gesture. Usually, when one has company over for dinner, the event is reciprocated at a later date. Old Man Henderson would never have replied to such an invitation. But these people, whoever they were, had to recognize hospitality when they saw it, and they would appreciate the chance to meet the fine, upstanding citizens who lived across the street from them. Honestly, everybody in the neighborhood simply adored Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins!

#

But as the days passed, turning into a long week, Lana started to believe the new additions to Landis Lane were more like Old Man Henderson than she ever would have thought. Surely people with such fine taste in furniture could not be rude enough to ignore four dinner invitations?

“I’m sorry to have to say this, but it must be said.” Lana threw down her dish rag, and it thumped into the bottom of her empty kitchen sink. “They’re as bad as that awful old man!”

“Oh?” Mr. Jenkins said from his armchair.

“I’ll never see inside that beautiful home!” There would be no stopping the tears this time.

Then, as if on cue, the doorbell rang.

“Who on earth could that be?” Mr. Jenkins folded his paper and glanced at his wristwatch. “Eight-thirty on a weeknight?”

“I’ll get it, Darling.” Lana brushed past him, dabbing at her eyes quickly with a silk pocket handkerchief. Composing herself, she came to the front door and glanced through the side window, drawing back the pink floral curtains for just a moment—

A pair of the most beautiful people she’d ever seen in her life stood outside. They looked like movie stars or fashion models or gods—Aryan beauties chiseled from marble—Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich’s doppelgängers, right there on her very doorstep!

“Dear?” Henry’s footsteps approached her from behind.

Lana realized she hadn’t replaced the curtain and was staring at the couple who smiled stiffly in return.

“Oh my…” Lana pulled open the door. “Welcome—”

“Good evening,” said the man with a thick European accent. “Are you the Jenkins?”

“Yes!” Lana nearly squeaked with delight. The goddess outside seemed to find her reception amusing. “I’m Lana and this—” She pulled her husband to her side. “This is Henry.”

“A pleasure to meet you both.” The suave god bowed slightly at the waist. “We must apologize. We did not intend to be rude, you see, but we have just moved in across the street and only checked our mail minutes ago. We found your invitations—”

“Dear?” Henry turned a quizzical frown upon his wife.

“Yes?” Lana leaned out the door expectantly.

“It was so kind and generous of you to ask,” the man continued.

“But we will be leaving on business tomorrow, and we could not think to impose on you with this short notice,” the woman spoke up, her voice as sweet as a Strauss composition.

“No imposition, none at all! We haven’t even eaten dinner ourselves yet!” Lana knew she sounded overeager, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Uh…” Henry began—probably about to spill the beans that they’d had meatloaf two hours ago.

“Come inside, won’t you?” Lana elbowed her beloved husband of thirty years out of the way.

“We couldn’t possibly—” began the goddess.

“Oh, I insist!” Lana beamed.

Yet the gorgeous couple remained outside, immoveable. “We had hoped you would join us,” the man said, “for drinks, perhaps?”

Lana blinked. “Join you…at your house?”

“Much remains to be unpacked and such, but if you do not mind a bit of clutter…” the woman said.

Without a word to Henry, Lana replied, “We’ll get our coats.”

#

Henderson Manor was even more amazing inside than Lana had ever imagined—and this she knew after just seeing the entryway: marble tiled floors, alabaster pillars, a vaulted ceiling with windows to the stars. She had to remind herself to breathe.

The Schmidts, as the very attractive Austrian couple were called—Mr. and Mrs. Rolf and Greta Schmidt—escorted them to the lounge where Rolf acted as their bartender, mixing cocktails to order with all the pizzazz of a Las Vegas nightclub attendant. Henry, who seldom warmed up to people right off, seemed almost as taken with the couple as Lana had been at first sight, and she had to pinch herself to stay in the moment. She was here, finally; this was really happening, every moment of it.

The Jenkins made the Schmidts roar with laughter and the Schmidts returned the favor without pause. After three or four drinks, it became a bit unclear as to who had invited whom in the first place. They all got along together so nicely—like old friends who had some serious catching up to do. Henry regaled them with stories of snafu’s from his years in the navy, and Rolf shared hilarious tales about eccentric clients with no grasp on reality—one of them being Old Man Henderson himself.

“He gave it to you?” Lana inquired wide-eyed.

Rolf shrugged up one shoulder as he explained. “His children, a son and a daughter, took every cent he ever had over the years, but he gave it to them gladly. When it came to this house, however, he knew there would be no way to split it evenly between them.”

“So he left it to us,” Greta said with a broad smile. “In return for our years of service.”

Lana could not believe they had served the old man for very long. The couple appeared to be no older than twenty-five, if even that. But also ageless, in a way she couldn’t put her finger on.

“And besides, he could not let them know about his basement.” Rolf winked at Henry. “Children never forgive their parents for such things, no matter how much they spoil them.”

“Oh?” He had Henry’s attention.

“How much did you know about the old fellow?”

Henry deferred to his wife. “We seldom saw hide nor hair,” she said.

Greta appeared confused by the idiom, but Rolf replied, “Suffice it to say that Mr. Henderson had certain rare . . . appetites. And he used the basement to satisfy them with great gratuitousness.”

Lana could not help cringing. Just the thought of the old scrooge being a sexual deviant almost caused her to toss up her martini. But she would never have done such a thing on the gorgeous crimson upholstery.

#

An hour or so later, though no one appeared to be keeping track of the time, Lana and Greta were discussing the finer points of colonial style home decorating when Rolf announced all of a sudden, “I know you Americans prefer to eat your dinner well before midnight, but for us Europeans, we can only begin to digest a meal properly once the moon is high.” He gestured to the vaulted glass ceiling where the lunar sphere had risen to its peak.

Greta leaned forward to touch Lana’s hand. “His way of asking you to stay for dinner.”

“Dinner?” Henry scoffed loudly. He’d had more to drink than was good for him.

“Oh, we couldn’t possibly impose,” Lana began.

“We insist!” Rolf bellowed with a hearty laugh.

Henry shrugged, glancing at his wife. “I’ve got nowhere to be tomorrow. How about you?”

One of the many benefits to their retired stage of life: a flexible schedule. Lana shook her head with a bright smile. Her cheeks were beginning to grow sore from all the gaiety over the past few hours.

“We would be honored.”

Rolf clapped his hands together as loud as a sudden gunshot. “Then it’s settled.”

Greta touched Lana’s hand again and Lana blinked, fought to stay in the moment, struggled to see Greta clearly, found her eyes clouding, her vision unfocused. Then the vaulted ceiling capsized, and a martini glass shattered.

#

Lana Jenkins awoke in a cold, dark, unfinished basement. She sat in a slat-backed chair bound hand and foot with unyielding duct tape. Beside her with his head lolling onto his chest, Henry sat in the same condition.

“Good morning, Mrs. Jenkins.” Rolf bent low to grin at her. The glow of a single light bulb dangling from above glanced off his stark white teeth. They appeared to have grown sharp—

“Morning?” Her voice came thickly.

“A few minutes past midnight already,” Greta said from shadows in a corner of the room.

“What—why are we—?” Lana couldn’t put her thoughts together. What were they doing? How had they gotten here? What was this place?

“It has been a pleasure getting to know you,” said Rolf, stepping out of her line of sight. “Mr. Henderson always taught us to be respectful to guests. But now we must say goodbye.”

Good…bye!” Greta mimicked a scene from the Sound of Music, her sing-song echoing off cold, rust-stained concrete.

“What do you mean?” Lana licked her sour lips.

“It is time for dinner now,” Rolf said, reappearing with what looked to be a hacksaw.

“Already ate,” Henry mumbled, nearly incoherent. “Meatloaf…”

“Henry, wake up!” Lana stared at the saw in Rolf’s grip. “Wake up now Dear, you must wake up.”

“Oh let him be.” Rolf came alongside Mr. Jenkins and laid the jagged blade flat against his neck.

Lana screamed, fully alert as everything about this moment came into crystal clarity. “You can’t do this! People will find out! We know all of our neighbors very well and they’ll notice if we’re missing—!”

“And who did you tell you would be coming here?” Rolf raised an eyebrow.

Lana swallowed. “You—you came unannounced…”

“Death often does,” Greta said with a laugh as Rolf started in with the saw.

 

 

 

Bio:  Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. When he’s not grading papers, he’s imagining what the world might be like in a few dozen alternate realities. He is an active SFWA member, and his work has appeared in more than 70 publications, including AE SciFi, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, Nature, and Shimmer. His novel Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum is forthcoming from Every Day Publishing. www.milojamesfowler.com

 

 

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The Wind by Michael Shirzadian

Aug 03 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Calo didn’t notice his apartment door left slightly ajar when he skipped energetically down the stairs and past the smiling marble statuettes leading to his residence on an especially cold October evening belonging to the Wind. Prairie Wind, Calo thought; fitful and unforgiving. Calo hadn’t seen his roommate Candorous for an indeterminate number of days, so noticing the door left ajar might have shocked him at first, had he noticed it, until the carefully constructed algorithms of his obsessive Superego would have rationalized the occurrence thusly: the Wind in these parts can do anything. It was a rationale with which Calo had grown quite familiar, one used by him often to deflate those nagging ambivalences which, he concluded, must accompany modern life for all the twenty-somethings of South Charleston; growing up, the Wind seemed always more fierce on those sordid farms. On his seventh birthday, his father had told him the Wind had carried their money away and so, ergo, Calo couldn’t have a birthday cake. An indeterminate number of years after his seventh birthday, per Calo’s tenuous memory, his mother had used the Wind to explain the unexpected disappearance of his father. He remembered his first girlfriend had said she was leaving him for the Wind and that his first wife had said the same. It had seemed to Calo that only Candorous was immune to the great kinetic power of this Wind, but upon Candorous’ sudden and unexpected departure, some unclear number of days (or was it weeks?) prior, Calo returned to his windswept rationale, that the Wind in these parts can do anything, a maxim whose status after so many years of exhausted use and reuse had passed in Calo’s mind from rationale to obvious truth about the human condition imparted by time. There is no escaping the Wind, Calo knew. So he could only be afraid.

Not having noticed the door left ajar, it would have been impossible for Calo to have noticed the glass of ice water which had been placed meticulously and intentionally on the top of the door, leaning at a slight angle against the white panels above the frame so that at the slightest irritation the glass would fall on and soak the unsuspecting door-enterer below. Drenched and shivering, standing in his foyer, hearing the Wind howling around the rough contours of his ears—his ears now red with cold—Calo wondered how he, and not the Wind, had been first to trigger this simple and goodhearted prank. Calo wondered too: who do I know in this small town well enough that he might feel comfortable to engage me in such a lighthearted and juvenile way?

Later in the evening, while pondering these questions and trying to remember what Candorous had looked like, before Candorous left unexpectedly, Calo peered up at the large brown clock sitting above his fireplace on the mantle, sitting tame like a lion’s head, stuffed. The only light in the room emanated from a derisory fire burning stupidly in the fireplace; Calo was drinking wine. The Wind was tapping at the windows with dead leaves and Calo’s mind was a gray and torpid haze. He noticed the minute-hand on the clock turning not forward, as he remembered minute-hands to turn (?), but backwards, slowly (re)winding the hour-hand backwards too, click after loud click, and click. The Wind! Calo thought suddenly, quickly placing his glass of wine on the coffee table and rushing to the clock on the mantle as if swiftness in this matter might prevent whatever damage a rogue minute-hand presents to an otherwise good clock. When he lifted the clock to his face to examine it more closely he noticed no irregularity—that time was moving forward once more, and loudly, at its regular (?) speed. He sighed with relief. He finished his wine and ran to bed, laughing loudly like the clock.

The next morning before rushing out the door for work Calo cut a pepperjack cheese sandwich and left it on a ceramic plate on his dining room table. He opened and closed his apartment door behind him and only the smiling statuettes saw him wink back at the building before he skipped around the corner brightly to work, whistling a tune whose name eluded him but whose sounds were old and familiar and maternal.

At work Calo stared at his computer screen and wondered about Candorous and the pepperjack cheese sandwich. He trapped a spider in a glass used typically for water (the glass Candorous had left on the doortop!) and throughout the day he played with the spider, cutting off bits of its long legs slowly, between long intervals of time, until the spider constituted only a black fuzzy ball the size of a pencil’s eraser. Calo watched the ball tremble. Perhaps a reasonable thinker could attribute the mysterious opening of the door to the Wind; perhaps a reasonable thinker could attribute the glass of ice water to the Wind; the Wind in these parts can do anything! Calo located the spider’s black eyes. He held his pencil’s eraser above the spider and very slowly he began to push down on the trembling ball of fuzz, its eyes pleading up at him for relief, bursting with black fluid and fear. Stranger things have happened. When the spider popped and spilled out the yellow content of its abdomen Calo laughed childishly and reached for his glass—Candorous’ glass!—then placed it gently in his backpack. He fled home through the violent Wind.

He couldn’t stop laughing. He was right! He was right about Candorous—it was a game! He was there. Candorous was there. He was around. He was home somewhere, unseen. The pepperjack cheese sandwich had been eaten while he was at work and in its place a large ‘C’ carved into the ceramic plate. C is for Candorous, Calo thought, laughing, prouder than death, sitting in the wooden chair at the table and tracing the cool C with his forefinger; he could not contain his smile. He could hear the clock on the mantle ticking loudly, clicking loudly. This time the clock ticked faster than he thought he remembered clocks ought to tick (?), accelerating at an exponential rate so that Calo had to lean through a vague dizziness onto the table, and, steadying himself there momentarily, he noticed one of the chair’s four wooden legs had been filed down to its flimsy core, noticing this only seconds (?) before the chair snapped below him with a tick much louder than the now-slowing ticks of the mantle clock. Calo fell stupidly to the floor. He was there, on the floor, for an indeterminate amount of time. He examined the ceiling from the floor, admired its stucco, remembered Candorous had decided on the stucco but had regretted it later.

Or was it somebody else who had regretted it?

The next day before he left for work Calo draped random corridors of his apartments in a transparent plastic wrap, on which he had deposited a sticky residue like glue. Candorous would appreciate the prank when he walked unknowingly into the traps! Would be impressed at Calo’s dedication to their game.

When Calo returned home through the Wind later that evening he noticed the plastic wrap had been torn down and on those corridors on which Calo had placed the plastic wrap originally there were now small footprints walking up and down the walls, resembling the small prints of cats or rabbits; Calo smiled at the assurance of such ingenuity and helped himself to a glass of wine.

Though he sensed its presence, through a gray and torpid haze, tonight he could not hear the clock. Tonight he would focus on outperforming Candorous, whose paw-print prank had quite outshined the exorbitant simplicity of Calo’s plastic wrap prank. Calo’s focus was so great, his attention so devoted and distended to the task of out-pranking callous Candorous—who was not dead!—that he neither saw nor heard the modest bits of pebble, mica, which the Wind’s tremendous momentum had blown into the glass windows of the apartment while Calo resolved that the best prank would be one which instills in Candorous not lightheartedness or joy but fear; Calo remembered the spider and its eyes drowning against the weight of the eraser. He laughed.

At the dawn of the next morning Calo rose early and set to work hunting the cats of his neighborhood. He disdained the Wind (it had taken so much from him!) but he endured it to hunt the cats. When he had strangled enough cats Calo returned home with their carcasses and strung them up in his apartment from the stucco ceiling; Calo had always liked the stucco. He remembered Candorous had decided on the stucco but had later regretted it.

Or was it somebody else who had regretted it?

When he returned home from work later that evening Calo saw in horror that alongside the cats there were now other dead animals: mostly dogs, Calo noted, but exceptions abounded and were first to catch the eye: two pigs, a heifer, large carrion birds with dead tongues rolling lazily from dead mouths. Calo found a white pony strung up by its frail hooves to the ceiling fan in his bedroom. When he flipped the switch to the ceiling fan the pony swung wildly like a dark and malfunctioning merry-go-round car; its eyes were dead and white. He had again been outdone. He retrieved his last bottle of wine from the kitchen and fell onto his bed, below the pony still spinning wildly; he drank from the bottle until he fell into that spinning place of slow-ticking clocks and Wind.

In the early morning when he rose Calo’s actions were quick and intentional. He sewed a large, durable cloth sack in which he placed heavy rocks of disparate shape and color; bits of mica clung to his sweaty palms. Above his apartment door—the same door above which Candorous (it must have been Candorous!) had placed the glass of ice water—Calo screwed in a large hook and threaded through it and to the doorknob a durable cord of twine which connected finally to a small contraption controlling the gravitational inclination of the sack of rocks; a separate cord of twine connected the sack of rocks, inversely, to a hook which Calo screwed into the ceiling a few feet in front of the door; at the bottom of the second hook, in the very center of the foyer, in front of the door, a noose hung still, eager for the prank. Calo envisioned it thusly: Candorous, assuming Calo had left for work, would enter through the door to set up his next prank and his entrance would cause the sack of rocks to fall swiftly to the ground; the falling rocks would pull the rope hanging in the center of the room upward and Calo, standing on a wooden chair, waiting for Candorous, would be hoisted upward by the neck. He would try to smile so that Candorous would be afraid.

The perfect prank! Why hadn’t he thought of it sooner? What a mockery! All those foolish and lighthearted pranks! Candorous would surely understand Calo was mocking him. He would understand. There was no question in this matter. The best prank is one which is paralyzing and to which the target of the prank cannot respond.

What is more paralyzing than death?

He could not say how long he would have to wait. This is the great compromise of life. It was fitting, somehow, to him—that he would be hanged unexpectedly, without warning, as quickly and unexpectedly as Candorous’ recent (?) ascent, or his father’s departure an indeterminate number of years prior. The mockery, he thought. One must not forget the mockery. Again he could hear the clock ceremoniously slowing the pace of its ticks. Standing on the wooden chair (he had checked and double-checked the four legs for weaknesses), Calo could see the entire room: all the cats of South Charleston hanging upside-down by their tails, stale blood dripping from their eyes; large carrion birds with dead tongues rolling lazily from dead mouths; the clock had almost stopped ticking entirely and Calo’s mind was a gray and torpid haze; he had forgotten to switch off the ceiling fan in his room. He heard strange music from outside his apartment, a tune whose name eluded him but whose sounds were old and familiar and maternal. The Wind, he thought. The Wind in these parts can do anything. He looked out past the window to the left of his door and saw the statuettes eyeing him curiously, containing their dumb smiles a little, and Calo smiled back at them, just a little, his small heart pulsing inside his small chest like warriors whose philosophy is anticipation and anxiety and whose weapon is the steady drum of war. Calo was a cold warrior. The noose around his neck was cold. Where’s Candorous? Calo remembered the fuzzy ball of spider and imagined its long legs detached and flung far from its dry and punctured corpse; he saw those thin legs shaking like eager bones; sticks that beat the drums; the Wind as loud as the drums; it was soon. He had been outpranked and so, ergo, the limbs of his dry and punctured corpse would shake like eager bones. The Wind in these parts can do anything. The doorknob rattled a little when the clock stopped its slow tick; Calo was still and focused, waiting; he eyed the sack of rocks like a warrior whose philosophy is anticipation (one always returns to one’s burden). The doorknob rattled again, as if Candorous was struggling with the lock. Stranger things have happened. Calo looked outside the window the statuettes smiling at him broadly winking their gray and wistful eyes confirming the presence of callous Candorous who would trigger the rocks, Calo’s burdens gathered together in a sack more tenuous than memory; One must not forget the mockery Calo looked into their eyes the small eyes of the statuettes eyes fitful and unforgiving and he began to imitate their smiles the sack slams to the floor The Wind! The damned Wind! a pressure on my (?) neck the door left slightly ajar this strange pain deep, I say: smile, you fool! Smile if you remember how to smile, Calo! my small eyes fill suddenly with black fluid and fear, pleading for relief, and I am lifted——I am lifted up, straight up, and away from this spinning place in South Charleston of maternal music and eager war drums, of slow-ticking clocks and the Wind.

Bio: Michael Shirzadian is a writer and HS English Language Arts teacher living in New Mexico. He writes fiction and creative nonfiction when he’s not grading student work or brainstorming/assembling lesson preps. He received his M.F.A. (fiction) from the University of Colorado in 2013, and will begin doctoral work at The Ohio State University this fall.

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