November 10 – November 30, 2022 Writing Prompt “A Secret Identity”
Theme: A Secret Identity
Your protagonist has to assume a secret identity. Does she/he do it to protect themselves, or others? What is their secret identity? How far will she/he go to maintain it?
- an object crucial to their success is lost
Word Count: 1200
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137 thoughts on “November 10 – November 30, 2022 Writing Prompt “A Secret Identity””
Read the stories here:
He finds a corner table and sits sipping his mineral water, eyes alert. He’s wearing his blue ‘Armani’ suit and ‘TAG Heuer’ watch – both knock-offs, but in the dimly-lit bar he’s sure no one will notice the difference. A couple of women approach him, but after a cursory glance he waves them away. Then he sees her.
She’s blonde, petite, looks to be in her late teens or early twenties. He focusses on his drink but senses that she’s close and looks up just as she arrives at his table.
“Well, hello there. Haven’t seen you here before,” she says, leaning over to let him get a good look at what she has to offer.
“That’s because I’ve never been here before,” he says.
“May I?” she asks, indicating the chair next to him.
“Be my guest,” he says, half standing to show what a gentleman he is.
She settles and looks around the bar. He takes her in out of the corner of his eye.
“It sure is hot in here,” she says, smacking her lips.
“Would you like a drink?” he asks.
“I thought you were never going to ask,” she laughs. “I’ll have a bourbon. On the rocks.”
He snaps his fingers at a passing waiter and orders her drink and another water for himself.
“Ain’t you drinking?” she asks him, shifting her chair closer to him.
“Driving,” he says.
“Ooh, you’re very good!” She prods him in the side with a finger – much too familiar, he thinks, but says nothing.
“Good family,” he says, smiling.
“So, are you from hereabouts?” she wants to know.
“More or less,” he says, maintaining the smile.
“So, what’s your line of work?”
“I’m a businessman. You know, buying and selling.”
“Buying and selling what?”
“Oh, this and that.”
“You don’t let on much, do you?” She prods him again. “And what might your name be?”
“It might be Alan,” he says, winking at her. “But tell me all about you.”
It’s an invitation for her to open the floodgates, and open them she does, talking non-stop for the next half hour, oiled by two more bourbons. He nods, smiles and laughs in all the right places and asks pertinent follow-up questions to get her to open up even more. At a certain point, she stops, as if drying up. If the truth be told she’d love to carry on, but she’s aware that perhaps she’s talking too much.
She moves even closer to him. He can smell her cheap perfume and the whiskey on her breath.
“You know, you’re nice,” she whispers, touching his hair. He looks at her with kind eyes – the ones he practised in the mirror that afternoon. “How about you get me another drink?”
“Or …” he says, whispering back, “how about we get you another drink at my place?”
She doesn’t spend more than a second thinking about it.
“Sure! I’ll just go and … powder my nose,” she says, getting up. He wonders what kind of powder.
As he watches her walk unsteadily to the restroom, he pictures her tied to the work-bench in his outhouse and muses on what he’s going to do to her – which part of her to use the scalpel on first, which part to apply the blow-torch to. He imagines her screams and feels the first stirrings in his crotch.
When she comes back, he realises that his mouth is twisted and hopes she didn’t notice. He pays the bill and they leave.
In the parking lot, she stops dead in her tracks.
“What kind of car do you call that?!” she slurs, pointing at the Volkswagen Beetle they’re heading for, parked on its own at the far end of the lot.
“Ah … it’s … er … my neighbour’s – my Tesla’s with the mechanic. But it’s comfortable enough, and I don’t live so far away.”
“I don’t know,” she says, suddenly suspicious.
“It’ll be fine,” he says, taking her firmly by the arm. “You do want that drink, don’t you?”
“Ah, I think, you know …” she stammers.
They’re approaching the car and the man puts his hand in his pocket for his keys.
They’re not there.
He releases his grip on the woman and pats all his pockets. Nothing.
“Damn!” he says under his breath.
The woman begins wandering away from the car.
“Oh, no, no,” the man says, guiding her back. They reach the car and he presses her against it.
“Now, you just wait here. I must have dropped my keys in the bar. I won’t be a moment.”
He grips her by the shoulders and stares into her eyes.
“You will wait here, won’t you?”
“Course,” she splutters. “Course I will.”
He leaves her and jogs back to the bar. He looks under the table, next to the bar, then retraces their steps to the parking lot. No keys.
He weighs up the risk of taking a cab and decides it will be worth it – and he can get the driver to drop them a couple of blocks from his house. He’ll come back tomorrow with a spare key to pick up the car; he has spare house-keys under a flowerpot next to his back door.
His spirits rise as he makes for the car, searching the ground all the while, just in case. But when he looks up, the woman has gone.
He runs to the exit and checks up and down the street; there’s no sign of her.
The scream is silent, but not the kicked trash can.
He stands for a few moments collecting his thoughts, then sighs heavily and hails a cab.
Ignoring the inane conversation the driver throws over his shoulder, the man relaxes now and breaks into a smile.
After all, he thinks to himself, there’s always tomorrow.
Love it. I have been plotting a similar story plot, great minds as they say. i will have to rethink my story now, damn. Mine was nowhere as polished as this one.
Another riveting story from your creative brain.
The story reads well and, as ever, there’s nothing to see in the errors department. It is, sadly, not an uncommon theme; man lies in wait for a female victim, female victim only too keen to go along with the easy chat up line, the free drinks and the offer of more to come. Sadly, there seems to be an endless line of sadistic men and hedonistic victims in today’s world.
This story paints a very poor picture of the human race.
That line, “After all, there’s always tomorrow” made me wonder if he had also been active the day before. Does he need a daily fix? Anyone with a much loved female relative or friend shudders to think.
Yes, of course, how did I miss it? As Liz points out, I think, the would-be victim has turned out to be the predator, leaving the man without his keys and a lot poorer if his wallet has gone too. I’m cheering for her now!
I’ll be honest, I was waiting for the girl to be something other than she seemed. Like an avenging angel, or even an undercover cop!
A pleasing twist on your typical horror story, done with your usual dedication to precision. A good, fast read.
Scary it is.
Who is the bad guy here? She or he?
It’s a mystery and its undercover anyway.
So you’re in the clear. 🙂
It also doubles as an allegory, or maybe a parable … or some kind of poorly-veiled and symbolic message from a pseudo-extroverted hermit who has internet access and Asperger’s Syndrome.
Y’all take care now!
“Documents!” barked the skinny guard with a pinched, hungry-looking face.
Bolek promptly handed over his papers, and puffed on a cheap cigarette while the guard examined them. Be calm. Be patient. Everything was fine.
The guard finally handed back the papers, looking disappointed at not nabbing a wrongdoer. He didn’t have a chance, Bolek thought smugly. The fake papers had been made by a master. Worth every zloty.
“Morning, officer,” a shapely blue-eyed blonde presented her papers with a smile. “Sanitary inspection.”
Bolek knew her in passing from other delivery runs.
“Wanda,” he grinned. “Come home with me afterwards, sweetheart. Keep a man warm at night.”
The woman batted her eyelashes at the rat-faced guard, pretending not to hear Bolek’s remark. Was this the big chance she was after? Wanda sure looked like the Aryan ideal of beauty … but to the Germans, she was only a Pole. They would never see her as anything more than a whore, or a domestic.
The German sneered at Bolek. Wanda, in her elegant dress and coat and high heels, looked way out of some country boor’s league. Well, you couldn’t blame a man for trying …
In truth, Bolek seethed inside. He knew women like her. His mind pictured the beautiful Wanda in a frenzied mob, faces ugly with animal fury, all running, yelling, beating their Jewish neighbours to death, handing them over to the Germans, looting the deserted houses … And he was supposed to lust after this scum?!
No. Stay calm. Don’t attract attention. Bolek forced his face to relax. He might pass for a respectable Christian; yet the Germans had little time for angry Poles. He gave a sigh that he hoped conveyed mild disappointment, tugged at his cap, and drove his cart into the ghetto.
He scanned faces in the streets, especially children, looking for Marek. There was little chance he’d find his son here. Why would Marek come back? His best chance of survival was outside … but even if Marek made it out, who would look after him? Most likely, his boy was dead, either inside or outside the ghetto’s walls. Still, Bolek couldn’t stop looking.
He spotted Wanda again in the middle of the black market. Emaciated people traded their last possessions in the street for scraps of food, a coat, a sheet. From a corner of his eye, Bolek saw a tin of something leave Wanda’s handbag and disappear under a thin-faced woman’s coat. He didn’t see what Wanda got in exchange; most likely gold or jewellery. This was her true purpose here: to take advantage of desperate, starving people ready to give up their valuables in exchange for a little food. Smugglers made a fortune here. Perhaps Wanda gave a bribe to get the job, for a chance to get rich. He just knew she couldn’t care less about sanitation. … Never mind. Nothing to do with him. Keep moving.
Bolek pulled up at the back of the soup kitchen, next door to the Judenrat.
“Potato delivery,” he shouted into the kitchen’s window.
A group of men, mostly older, came out to unload sacks of the lowest quality potatoes, the sort a good farmer wouldn’t feed to his pigs. Bolek helped the men unload the cart, then watched impassively as they carried the sacks inside.
“Don’t forget to return the sacks,” he yelled at the retreating backs.
He had finished piling up the empty sacks on the cart when two younger men with scraggly beards and wispy sidelocks, glancing furtively, shepherded six small shapes towards him. The shortest, a curly-haired boy, regarded him curiously. None of them was Marek.
“Quickly, hide under the sacks!” one of the men whispered hurriedly to the children, “and be quiet, remember?”
“Be quiet as the grave,” Bolek added in a hard voice, “until I say it’s safe.”
Preparing to drive off, he spied a curious dark eye peeking out between the empty sacks.
“Take this one back,” he said curtly to the men, jerking his thumb at the peeping child. “He’ll give us all away.”
“No, please! He’ll behave,” the taller man pleaded, staring at Bolek with feverish eyes. “Please, Itzy!” he implored the boy in the same pleading tone.
The eye blinked and vanished under the sacks.
The guard at the gate had changed while Bolek was inside. The new one was a middle-aged, ruddy-faced man.
“Documents!” he barked, stretching out a pudgy hand.
Bolek reached into the inside pocket of his coat. The papers weren’t there.
“Sorry, officer,” he muttered, searching the pockets in his coat, trousers … No papers.
The guard’s round face slowly grew more suspicious. Bolek tried to look calm, to suppress rising panic. The guard was going to detain him, search the cart … What to do? Try to speed through the gate, hoping he wouldn’t get shot? Turn back to the ghetto and pretend to search for his papers? …
“Is there a problem, officer?” Wanda’s voice inquired in heavily accented German.
“No documents,” the guard jerked his thumb in Bolek’s direction.
“Ah, it’s Zbigniew,” said Wanda airily. “Our families pray in the same church. I can vouch for him.”
If he found the papers now, both he and Wanda were in trouble. The papers were for a Jozef.
The guard grunted skeptically.
“Yes, he’s a pig,” Wanda nodded in apparent agreement with the guard’s disbelief. “But he came to church for his confirmation. Our grandparents came from the same village.”
The guard looked dubious for a moment, then grumbled and waved Bolek through.
Bolek’s body drove the cart outside. For some reason, it occurred to him that he’d never actually seen Wanda accept something in exchange for the food she traded on the ghetto’s black market.
“Hey, drop me off at the City Hall?” her casual question startled him out of his thoughts.
Bolek remembered to breathe.
“Sure thing. Hop on,” he answered gruffly.
Bolek studied Wanda out of the corner of his eye as they drove away from the ghetto’s walls. Some time later, he uttered a single word.
“I know what you do,” Wanda’s voice was barely audible, though the few passersby paid them no mind. “You got my daughter out. … She’s safe now.”
“Why do you keep coming back?” Bolek blurted out.
“Why do you?” Wanda countered, looking him straight in the eye.
Bolek didn’t tell her about Marek. About getting separated on the night of their escape. About the ever dwindling hope … Best not to talk too much. They rode on in silence.
The streets became livelier. People scurried hither and thither, chattering and laughing. Shopfronts glittered. If you ignored German uniforms everywhere … and knew when to look away … you could pretend that there was no war. That there was no ghetto, no summary executions, no …
They should blend in; act like they belonged here, on the Aryan side. Bolek gave Wanda – or whatever her real name was – a salacious smirk and a wink. Or tried to. It must have looked pathetic.
Surprisingly, Wanda’s face lit up with mischief.
“Even if our grandparents ever prayed in the same synagogue,” she muttered under her breath, then added in a louder voice, “you’re still a pig.”
Rather enjoyable Vicki, great twist at the end.
Never heard of Mila 18. Will have to look it up.
I do enjoy these historical stories, which you write so well that it could even be a true account of an incident. You write with such fun, despite the plot-line being so awful, you can make it seem so ‘ordinary’ and real. I did enjoy the character development and the mixed dialogue between them. Great contender as always.
Another excellent piece of creative writing.
You take real or certainly plausible, historical events and weave your own details into the mix. We all know something of the times you are describing, possibly the worst of times, the lowest ebb in human behaviour. Then, you inject hope, humour and a sense that some good deeds are being done even in the midst of the awful situation in which the characters find themselves.
It was about two o’clock in the morning, the place was deserted except for one guy, sitting at the counter, staring at the wall behind the coffee machine.
You see a lot of things on the nightshift in an all-night donut shop. Some things you don’t want to see, but can’t help it. This guy was a breath of fresh air: Clean-cut, middle-aged, white uniform shirt, black pants, polished shoes. He was polite to the waitress; didn’t ogle her derrière as she walked away: A security guard.
This was back in the 70’s, I worked behind a big plate-glass window, so everyone could see what I was doing and how fresh the donuts were. Despite the window, most people never noticed me. A curious minority watched my hands shape the dough into the various pastries that they liked to eat, they were the type that looked up at me and acknowledged me with a smile or a wave.
It was skillful work, with a lot of repetition. I spent a good portion of my shift watching customers as I worked. They’d shuffle in the front door, look at the donuts, select a seat at the counter, talk to the waitress, go to the bathroom, return to the wrong seat, spill their coffee on the floor, or their dress, and eventually meander towards the door and leave, completely unaware of my presence.
We had our share of drunks and drifters. I practically paid drifters to leave, but encouraged drunks to sleep in their cars for a few hours rather than drive. Over the years, I let scores of people doze at the counter for most of the night, drunks, homeless people, whatever, I didn’t make ‘em fill out a form, I just pretended not to notice them, especially when it was cold out. I let a precious few sleep in my car. It wasn’t always pleasant, or easy. We were open every night of the year except Christmas eve.
This was one of the quietest evenings I’d seen in a while, the waitress was in the kitchen, putting frosting on donuts. I was low on coffee and I usually made it myself, I don’t remember which gal I was working with at the time, but I remember the security guard.
He looked to be about fifty, twice my age at least, with a serious dead-pan expression on his face. Despite his demeanor, I said, “Are you trying to blend in? ‘Cause you got ‘security guard’ written all over you.”
He didn’t even blink. No reaction. I filled my cup, offered him a warm up, he declined, and I went back into the kitchen.
He became a regular, always in uniform. I went out front for some milk one time, he asked for a refill, I poured him one, and we got to talking. I don’t remember what about, but he was a nice guy, funny. We got along well.
I chatted with him a few times after that, but I was too busy to stand around for more than five minutes. All my conversations were brief, unless you came into the kitchen. Some people did, ‘Security Guard’ didn’t.
One time, out of idle curiosity, I asked him where he worked, and he said, “I can’t tell you that.”
I frowned, “Why’s that?”
He refused to say another word, so I shrugged and went back into the kitchen.
A few weeks went by and he came in and sheepishly apologized.
“For what?” I said, warming my coffee, adding sugar.
“For being rude the last time I saw you. I just can’t tell you where I work, that’s all.”
Young and dumb as I was, I didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t tell me where he worked, or why this information was important.
When he realized I wasn’t joking, he said, “If you know where I work, you’ll know when I’m not there.”
“Ah, so that’s it. And then what? Do I jump on my motorbike, drive over there and rob the place while you sit here and have a donut?”
“You might pick up the phone. Call some friends.”
He said it with a perfectly straight face.
“You think I might call my ‘friends’?” I was dumbfounded, speechless. I looked around, the bright lights, the darkened windows, I had left the door to the kitchen open. There was a payphone on the wall just inside the door. It was hardly possible for me to call anyone without him knowing. Plus, none of my friends were criminals. They had regular jobs, just like me and the security guard. But unlike the two of us, they were all sound asleep in their beds.
To suggest that I might be the ‘lookout’ for a bunch of friendly felons was more ludicrous than insulting.
From then on, our interactions were more like verbal jousting. He was still fun to talk to, but whenever he came in, I would ask him where he worked. It became a ritual. Sometimes I would make inappropriate guesses. ‘You work for Star Fleet Command, don’t ya?’ One time I held a pen in one hand, and pretended to be ready to write the info on the palm of my other hand. “What specific area of Area 51 did you say?” He laughed, grunted or scowled, but never told me where he worked.
I only wanted to know where he worked when I saw him, at no other time did I think about it.
And then one night, just like the first night, the place was deserted, the waitress had already delivered his coffee, she was in the kitchen smothering crullers in huge bins of sugar. I was running late, too whipped to engage in my usual banter. As I trudged over to the coffee pot he said, “Hey, you want to know where I work?”
I turned around, not sure why I should care. Then I remembered. “You—you’re really gonna tell me?” Perhaps we’d made a breakthrough.
And he did. It was a local new car dealership. No big surprise, they were all over the place. I don’t remember exactly which one because I didn’t care, never did. It was just a game to me. My simple-minded goal was to demonstrate that even after he told me his big, stupid ‘security guard’ secret, no one was going to get robbed. He would see that in a few days and weeks, and eventually he might trust me.
He stood up, casually fishing into his pocket for keys and money. “Are you happy now?” I couldn’t think of anything to say. I felt stupid. “Are you happy now?” He said again. “I don’t tell anyone where I work because I have a wife, a kid, a mortgage, and I can’t afford to lose my job, under any circumstances. You understand?”
I didn’t. Not till that moment did I realize that it wasn’t a joke to him. Other people depended on him. I said, “I’m not gonna tell anyone.” And I could see from his expression, that he knew I would say that.
He dropped a few dollars on the counter and left. And he never came back.
I really enjoyed the simplicity of the story. I liked how you made the seemingly ordinary so real and exciting. The mystery man and all. I know that great stories can come from past events and I often use that as a base for some of mine. The secret identity of the security guard was perfect for the prompt. Enough mystery to make me want to know more, then when I did know, it did not seem that important at all.
The banter between the two characters was perfect, I can picture it being played out on the screen. The development of the characters was enough without really giving much away at all. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Your feedback is very positive and you’re the second person to use the word simplicity, which, is, an interesting observation that I would not have perceived on my own. I have a few additional comments about pulling the story in my response to Liz a few replies down, if you’re interested.
Be that as it may, the story is probably 95 percent true, and I did my best to keep it 100 percent accurate.
Thanks for the feedback. I have not read your story yet, but intend to read all the stories and comment before voting this week.
A fine story, beautiful in its simplicity. It’s a bit like hearing a commotion nearby and strolling over to see what all the fuss is about, only to be told, “nothing to see here.” When I was a student in the 70s, there was a great joke (we thought so anyway) whereby a couple of us would stop in the high street and point excitedly at the sky. As other people stopped to look up we would walk away, leaving them with nothing to see. We thought it was funny. Thus, as we get deeper into this story the only secret is the place the security guard worked, although we knew very little else about him ,or you, come to that. Perhaps that is secret too. Perhaps Area 51 was too close to the truth.
In relation to why he wanted to keep his place of work secret, he worked in a new car dealership and new cars are very expensive, that’s why the dealership employed security guards. If there was a break-in or a robbery, he would be the first and prime suspect, hence his concern over losing his job. That’s why he wanted to keep it a secret. Of course, he could also have worn a jacket to cover his uniform or simply lied about his work and preempted the whole “where do you work?” conversation.
Anyway, Ken, it’s an interesting take on the prompt. I don’t know if Carrie will keep it in as it does stretch the “secret identity” a bit and it misses out the missing object, unless that is something I missed. How can I miss something that is missing?
Off to buy a few donuts now,
Hindsight is so, 20-20. I believe the security guard was unprepared for the narrator’s gregariousness and curiosity, and was inherently opposed to lying. When the narrator blurted out questions he didn’t want to answer, he just clammed up.
I think being honest or having integrity can make you look weird. In this story, the security guard is the protagonist, the narrator is the antagonist, but doesn’t realize it until their final meeting. Then he realizes what an ass he’s been. I don’t think this is clear enough. He HAS been antagonizing the guy.
The missing object is the truth.
It’s metaphysical, man. Where’s that other Ken? If he were here, he would explain it to both of us. And if he gets a story published before me, I will drive to Iceland and slash his moped tires. Metaphorically.
In Iceland you could have a murder by icicle, you stab the victim through the heart, the sun comes out, there’s no fingerprints, no murder weapon. I wonder if it’s been done? Well, it’s past my bedtime, Gotta go.
I’m going to colorado tomorrow. By jet. Jets are just busses with wings. and giant flying petri dishes. Would you want to ride in a bus with wings at 30,000 feet? I can see the cabin bending and flexing. I don’t like it, I think planes should be made of lead. (jk)
This would be a good setup for an anthology type situation where different people tell their stories to the narrator as he works all night through the weeks, starting with the guard and progressing to increasingly intense characters, like some of the unfortunate folks from the streets and some newcomers here and there.
I actually worked in a donut shop, the night shift, making donuts, surrounded by the smell of the donuts cooking and the sickly-sweet smells of the sugar, jellies, and icings. I also had to run the counter and take orders. Nighttime is slow time, and you would do anything to make it pass. I would talk to the cops who came in for their free donuts and coffee (Yes, real cops do eat donuts – it’s not just cliche’). I remember one night a couple cops came in, started on their donuts and coffee and had to run out on a call. When they returned a while later, I gave them fresh donuts and coffee and listened to them talk about the call they’d just been to – a man had been found lying on the train tracks and had been beheaded by a train. It didn’t seem to affect them (based on their appetite), but I was sick for the rest of the shift. Adi
Well I’ll be a son-of-a-gun. You lived in or near Miami, too, didn’t you? As I recall, we used to call the gals who filled and frosted the donuts, ‘finishers.’ I remember that smell too. Some nights it damned near made me nauseous when I arrived to work. After a half-hour or so, I’d kind of get used to it and forget about it. I rarely ate the donuts either, (even though, I assure you, I made excellent donuts.)
This, is actually a true story. (Lame as it may be.) I didn’t think it really fit the prompt that well, but I couldn’t think of anything better to invent, and the prompt seemed close enough. At first, I used my experience as a backdrop for a fictional story, then, after some thought, I realized that the truth was kind of strange too, a mystery with no solution, but I had to search my memory for certain important details. Like the fact that his logic made no sense to me, either. And the fact that I actually liked the guy, he was a decent, dependable, reliable guy. (But so was I. Christ, I worked six nights a week for years. But he didn’t know that. Or anything else about me.) I think, the guy didn’t like my looks, (I had long hair) made certain presumptions based on that, and nothing I could do or say would ever change his mind.
He was the canary in the coal mine. Seems like a lot of Americans these days can’t stand one another for the stupidest reasons. It’s a shame, really, And, it’s been pretty one-sided. But I wasn’t trying to make a political statement. I’m sure Carrie will be happy to leave this out of the voting for me. I was just–writing, something.
Word count: 787
James 38, single professional.
James stared blindly at the blinking screen, the multiple profiles scrolling by, as he flicked them to the left or the right. His eyes were sore from the constant bombarding of light and words that flashed up in front of him. His fingers were becoming unaware of what seemed such an automatic action, the yes / no sliding.
He had narrowed the search boundaries, but still produced over two-hundred possible matches. He was so sure amongst them he would find his next match. He placed parameters on the location, which had to be near to him, or at the very least the same town or any of the surrounding towns. He did not wish to limit the chance of finding any suitable matches. He wanted a match who was plus or minus five years to his true age, not just the age on his profile.
A job, some work history might be nice but not essential. Any emotional baggage to be ‘checked-in’ beforehand, and not allowed to be loaded as onboard luggage on the flight with him. He did not mind that his match was a parent but did not care so much to be a ‘father’ to any school-aged children. An empty-nester would be ideal. Sporty or active was not essential, as he detested exercise himself. He had the sedentary loner life. He wanted someone who would find him as he wanted to appear, and not the way he really was in life.
He was loveable, and he was attractive, he had been told this so many times by his dates and by strangers he met. He didn’t always think so, but the superficially of these sites worked in his favour. He had a steady job, one that he hated with a passion though. The pandemic had allowed him to work from home so that now he did not have to leave home at all. There was nothing in his profile that would seem undesirable if read by a potential ‘date’. He wondered if lying by omission was an even worse ‘crime’ than an outright lie.
James took a break from the screen to rest his eyes, he had been scrolling for almost three hours, on and off. He needed a break. He was also thirsty, and a cup of tea would be nice, he would see what else he could rustle up as a snack to go along with it. A slight pang of hunger struck him.
As he rose to his feet he pushed the swivel chair from behind him, it slid off into the centre of the room. His legs almost giving way with the numbness from sitting for so long in the one sedentary position. He walked to the kitchen across the bare-wood floors without his shoes, only in his socks, which made him slide a little and almost topple over. His audible footfalls echoing in the almost empty room. He managed to steady himself.
He crossed from the study through to the lounge and into the kitchen. It was a silent journey except for his foot-falls on the wood. He walked diagonally, because that was how the doorways fell on his floor plan, and the most direct route, to save time and energy. He heard the muffled but familiar noises emanating from downstairs.
He ignored them, as he always did, he was being quiet after all, being no trouble to anyone, keeping to himself. As an afterthought and running on automatic he grabbed the broom resting in the corner near the doorway and stomped it on the floor in heavy protest. He then returned it to its place in the corner.
Moments later after this, he was sitting at his screen with his milky, sugary tea and a couple of biscuits. New messages blinked to his inbox, several possible ‘hits’. He had changed his profile content recently and these changes always presented new hits, it would appear like he was ‘fresh meat’ on the site. He reread his profile before he would open the messages, to see if he had attracted responses due to the recent changes. He was always adjusting his profile because of trolls or negative comments on his life, he struggled to be like everyone else.
He didn’t have any skeletons in his closet, his life being an open book, at least online. His life was that of the ordinary, every-day average man, on this app or any of its kind. In fact, the only thing that would be a surprise to the next one, when they came home with him would be the shock of finding his last date reclined and restrained, gagged and semi-conscious in his basement below.
Well written and eery.
I know very little from first hand experience about dating sites. This story makes me glad about that. However, to my children and their friends in their late thirties and early forties, they are completely normal, everyday parts of modern society. They are not necessarily the haunts of the lonely, the dangerous and the predatory, although these people will certainly be there and would-be daters, if sensible, take reasonable precautions to protect themselves. Apparently, most people lie on their profile but come clean if they meet someone and hit it off.
Having said all this, there is an element of the creepy in your story that taps you on the shoulder, giving a gentle warning until you reveal all in the last lines.
Not sure why James needed to knock on the floor as the noises were “muffled but familiar.” Also, one small point, wasn’t his previous victim in the basement below?
What is the missing element of this prompt?
Nice writing, Ozjohn.
Thank for the feedback. I am working on simplicity but maybe I went too far… LOL.
The knock on the floor was two-fold:
To give the reader the idea that James may have nosey neighbours, and that he was trying to keep his life private and simple. Secondly to acknowledge the familiar noise of his ‘victim’ without letting the reader know at that time.
The second point of the missing element of the prompt:
The secret identity is that James is someone else online than in life, as most of us are. I did not give the real ‘James’ a name as that was my intent to keep it hidden. Maybe his real name is James.
By keeping the previous victim when searching for the next, is all part of his MO, he gets pleasure in letting the next see the previous, to scare them into realising they have a similar fate ahead.
Maybe I needed to reread it before submitting, but I always try to get in early so that it can be read before the deadline. I try to do the same with all of you too. I read as they are posted and reread closer to the deadline of voting. Therefore some get a second read, but the later posts may only get one read through. makes it hard to vote sometimes.
Gruesome story. Nice job of underplaying the venality of the character until the end. There are clues, of course. There is a misspelling at a key point where you used ‘superficially’ when I think you meant ‘superficiality.’ It’s in a section that seems a little wordy, where you used the term ‘foot-falls’ twice and spelled it differently each time. However, as others have mentioned, the bang of the broom on the floor is a nice bit of misdirection. (If that’s the right word.) Other than these two things, this is a great story. Creepy as hell ending.
by Robt. Emmett ©2022
The government research lab which employed me discovered the data was missing. I was the last to access it. I could elude the Clean-up Crew for a few hours. Or, with a bit of luck, a few days to get the data to the underground rebels. In the end, I would die. It will not be a pleasant experience. Death by Polonium is slow and painful as it breaks down the body’s organs, turning them into sludge. A death, not unlike one from Ebola, comes within days. I was a fool to think I could outwit them. But Phil insisted.
Dr. Philas J. McAllister, a newly minted graduate of the University of Wisconsin class of 2037, had a degree in applied nanophysics. I need to remember what the J stood for. He had a gadget he said would make me invisible. It resembled a cheap Timex wristwatch, only much more prominent. To prove it worked, he insisted I try it. I did as he said. I pulled out the stem and looked in his hall mirror. I could see my reflection. He insisted he could not see me. I believed him and hoped for the best.
The lab needed the stolen data recovered as fast as possible. It was too critical. The public must not learn of the report’s contents. My ex-girlfriend, Breanna, the Clean-Up Crew’s senior member, would be the leader hunting for me. She had never failed. In truth, no member of the present Crew had ever failed. Failure was an executable offense. No trial. No appeal… Instant termination. As in on the spot!
Breanna fashioned herself a retro-type of woman. She liked the Gestapo look and dressed accordingly in black leather. Under her knee-length trench coat, she wore a military-style short wool jacket, reminiscent of the World War 2 Eisenhower jackets. And her micro-skirt bordered on the obscene. In contrast, she wore a white silk blouse with the three top buttons left undone.
The location of my arrest needed to be as public as possible. My hope was the public might learn of how the government managed dissidents. What could be more public than my favorite watering hole, Chucks Tavern? They knew me there, and I liked how Tommy made my drink, a Southern Old Fashion. Not that the other customers would remember my attempted arrest, but I would because I wanted to see the expressions on their faces.
He wanted to know why arrests went unreported on the semi-controlled government- media. I had described to Phil how the Clean-Up Crew made public arrests. One Crew member had a gadget that made a popping sound to erase the last few minutes of everyone’s memory. It is an electro bio-mechanical neural transmitting zero synapse audio repositioner. Or, as they called it, an Audio Neurolyser. AN for short.
He gave me a set of ear-bud-looking things. He guaranteed the POP would not affect my memory. I believed him and hoped for the best.
The anti-toxin I had injected to counteract the poison released when I dug the chip from my thigh was causing me a severe headache. I knew it would, but the tremors in my left arm were unexpected.
This afternoon I gave the data to the rebels. They were immediately arrested and executed. I was the last one with knowledge of the consequences the data had foretold. It moved me to the top of the most wanted list.
I seated myself in the dark corner on the return leg of the bar farthest from the front door of Chuck’s Tavern to wait for Breanna and the Clean-up Crew. It was a safe place. Chuck always rechecked the back door’s double paddle locks when he came on duty. He knew it was a total disregard of the city fire ordinances. But he has not had a robbery since he started checking three years ago.
Sitting an Anchor Beer fiber coaster on the mahogany bar top, I said, “Tommy, when a certain woman enters, please make me a Southern Old Fashion and place it on this?”
“A certain woman?” Tilting his head. “Doctor, could you be a bit more specific?”
“Trust me, you will know.”
Looking at the wall clock, I realized it was just the shank of the evening.
Time slowed. The room’s population developed and changed. A raucous group settled in at three tables near the front windows. They took off their coats, loosened their ties, and shouted orders coupled with snide remarks at the waitresses.
An hour passed, and the room cleared a little. A new, well-dressed, less boisterous group replaced the stock exchange crowd.
The bankers had their one for the road and headed out to hearth, home and supper as the Pub-Grub eaters arrived to sup on the yummy greasy offal offered at outrageous prices this watering hole charged.
The burping bunch finished. The long-haul drinkers, settled in until closing time, took their place.
From the far end of the bar, Chuck called out. “Last call. Closing time in fifteen. Drink’m fast!” The front door opened.
At last, “She arrived.” I sighed. The agonizing wait was over. She had her usual two-man escort squad. She spotted me as one of them closed the door. The statuesque, titian-haired woman sauntered toward me. The room went quiet as everyone stopped what they were doing and stared in her direction. I waited for her to look to the left and right. Her usual routine when entering a new place. Halfway to me, she glanced to either side. I pulled out the watch stem. Looking back at where I sat, she stutter-stepped and stopped dead in her tracks—blinking and shaking her shoulder-length tresses. I had suddenly vanished into thin air in the twinkling of an eye. Nearly fainting as she realized she had failed. She started to run, but one of her escorts stopped her dead in her tracks.
I panicked—the earbud thingies. In seconds, I patted every pocket—twice. “Shit, I must have lost them in the taxi.”
I watched one of the Clean-up Crew lift his arm….
The room lights brightened for some reason. I noticed the stem of my watch was pulled out. I depressed it.
Tommy turned, “You want just the Cinnamon stick as usual?”
“No. Tonight, I will have all the garnish. For some reason, I sort of feel like celebrating.”
— Ԙ —
I like the plot. Set in the future (after 20237), but kind of ‘now’ too. All the ‘made up’ ideas, theories and such science were believable. A good contender this time, nice to see you back writing.
I like this story, it has that plausible, futuristic feel to it and yet it is only 2037. That’s merely a blink of the eye in sci-fi terms and yet it really feels futuristic. The theme though, a worker in a secure facility who is involved in a plot to leak data to the public, well, that is so very current and believable.
Good descriptions of the characters and Breanna shows the timeless notion of ( female) sexuality, a potent weapon deployed since the beginning of time, with Eve.
The invisibility watch is a great notion, especially when first used and Phil says he can’t see Dr. Gilliam? even though Gilliam can see his reflection. That sets the reader thinking, does it work or not?
The waiting in the bar for the killing set up some nice tension and it was interesting to learn how the clientele changed over the course of the evening.
There aren’t many other comments yet. I hope there will be more to see what they think about this story as I think it deserves more plaudits than just the one from me. Great stuff, Robert.
It all started in my teens. I met my girlfriend and a friend of hers after an early supper. I was thinking MOVIE. They were thinking SHOPPING. I told them they could do the haberdashery and I’d meet them in a coupla hours. (I’d gone this route before.)
I retired to a nearby watering hole and found it interesting how the clientele changed over just two hours.
Really enjoyed this one. It had a Men in Black vibe to it, with the neurolyser and other gadgets employed to escape death. I have never been to a bar, and I felt like I was there in the back observing and I found your descriptions of the various groups of people/drinkers who came in and out of the place intriguing. I guess I had never thought of the clientele changing with the hours or time of day/night. I love how different variables come into play in different situations. Just as your character managed to pull off the greatest fake out of all time and survive the Clean-up crew. Brilliant work. Adi
During the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I was employed by my father. His business installed tile on floors, walls, and ceilings. With prior arrangements, Dad would seek out a union tradesman to do a small job, i.e., pull a stool (loo) or disable an electric outlet, before going on to their regular job and replacing it on their way home in the evening.
The local tradesmen hung out in different bars for the “one before supper.” While waiting on Dad, the bartender asked If I would as if I wanted I wanted anything. I off-handedly replied, “Yeah. A Fitger’s tap.” Dad was as surprised as I was. By the first of July, I was drinking a few places in town and one out in the Township.
Why this long-winded thing? While nursing the single drink, I had to do something. Watching people was about all I could afford.
Occasionally, Dad would get in a long-winded conversion, and he’d stay on for a second drink.
Reading your reply, I remembered that I had been in a bar before. I work with people with disabilities, and this was years ago in St. Augustine, Fla. in the historic district. A young man I was job coaching worked in the kitchen of a bar. There was no room in the kitchen for me to observe him, so I had to sit in the bar area. He worked during the lunch hour so there weren’t many patrons. I was a very large 7 months pregnant with my youngest son. I sat near the bar with my paperwork trying to “blend in” (LOL). The bartender asked if I wanted a drink, and I told him I don’t drink. He laughed and offered me juice. He gave me this delicious blend of juices. Every time I came in after that, he would ask if I wanted “the usual”. I would laugh and say, “Yes, give me the usual.” I’d always wanted to say that line.
Thanks for the trip.
A fantastic and entertaining tale, until the ending. A lot of names. I love all the nifty scientific gizmos, and the wild cast of characters. You used this phrase twice. ‘I believed him and hoped for the best.’ It’s a wonderful, catchy line and could easily have become a theme. (Tricky though that might be.)
I like the way you inform us of the date of the tale.
But I thought a few lines or phrases were overdone. Like: As in on the spot. An Anchor Beer fiber coaster…
The entire bit about the kinds of people who frequent Chuck’s Tavern was interesting in and of itself but was not that critical to the plot. Sometimes you got to jettison the ‘cute’ stuff and just glaze the pottery.
It took me three focused reads to figure out what probably really happened at the end of that story. That’s a shame, because when you figure out what has happened, the story should have really popped.
A fantastic and entertaining tale, until the ending.
I love the nifty scientific gizmos, and the wild cast of characters. You used this phrase twice. ‘I believed him and hoped for the best.’ It’s a wonderful line and could easily have become a theme. (Tricky though that might be.)
I like the way you inform us of the date of the tale.
But I thought a few lines or phrases were overdone. Like: As in on the spot. An Anchor Beer fiber coaster…
The entire bit about the kinds of people who frequent Chuck’s Tavern was interesting in and of itself but was not that critical to the plot. Sometimes you got to jettison the ‘cute’ stuff and just glaze the pottery.
It took me three focused reads to figure out what probably really happened at the end of that story. That’s a shame, because when you figure out what has happened, the story should have really popped, but instead lost clarity at the very end..
Sometimes you got to jettison the ‘cute’ stuff and just glaze the pottery. Or build the word count.
Now the big sticker for you and a few others. An experience shortly after learning to read has stuck with me down thru the decades. Cousin Marlene, a dozen years older than me, and her bratty little sister, my age, dropped in for a visit with Mom’s sister. We three were shooed off to my room. The brat colored. Marlene read from a teen romance magazine. I read over her shoulder, finished the two pages, and waited and waited for her to finish. Finally, I had to ask, “You really that slow a reader?”
Lovingly she replied, “Shut up, twerp, I’m reading between the lines.”
She lied! There was nothing printed there. Years later, I learned there was.
The action happened between “I watched one of the Clean-up Crew lift his arm…. And
The room lights brightened for some reason. It wasn’t included because Dr. Gilliam Tailor had lost the earbuds given to him by Dr. Philas J. McAllister.
So, thanks, ken
Dr. Gilliam had lost the earbuds, and therefore, his memory of events.
I recommended the exclusion of a couple of phrases. You said: (You) Used them intentionally. (I assumed that to begin with. So what?
Why did the room lights brighten suddenly? I don’t know. I’ll have to read this story yet agan.
The end wasn’t that clear but nevertheless i got the gist. At least some of it.
If in the future one does get invisible, it’s just sad.
“You have to assume a secret identity to protect yourself and Irma. Don’t reveal your identity to anyone, especially Irma. This is all you will need.”
Jerusha stood, still holding the envelope in her hand, staring at the half sheet of paper with the cryptic message. Frantic thoughts raced through her mind… “is this real? How do they know…what do they know?… The fact the date was her real birthday was frightening.
Not sure what to do Jerusha recalled recent unusual events trying to determine if there were linking factors. Ralph and Irma Limbeck had already raised her concern as they hadn’t checked in for the normal contact briefing.
Although the normal sequence was to initiate communication if the process wasn’t followed, things had been so quiet for a couple of months and everything seemed normal…like a normal life and so Jerusha hadn’t followed her own directive by letting the time lapse occur forgetting nothing had been normal for quite some time.
“Calm down and take a breath”, she said out loud and went to the fridge for some milk. She once again questioned herself, “why do i always think milk is the answer?” Specifically one percent low fat Organic, It seems as though a higher fat content would be more soothing but Jerusha was determined not to break 147 lbs at 5’7” an acceptable body fat and one percent works.
Jerusha decided to break protocol. The circumstances suggested a not so normal act was justified and she made the code call to Irma, two rings and hang up. Redial then three rings hang up and Irma should call immediately. She sat in a chair and waited, Irma should call within the 45 second window.
Fifty-three seconds later the phone rang once, Jerusha answered it and there was just a dial tone.
That’s weird, she thought, hung up the phone and sat staring at it. It rang again and she grabbed the receiver and held it to her ear.
“What the hell are you doing?” shouted Ralph, “I’m sick of your silly games, so knock it off,” he slammed down the phone.
Jerusha took a minute and dialed again she listened and after four rings Ralph’s voice snarled “What?”
“Ralph, I’m sorry.. I was just trying to reach Irma, I didn’t realize you were back from Bolivia.” said Jerusha.
“Bolivia…now what are you babbling about, why would I be in Bolivia? asked Ralph.
“Um…I thought Irma said you were in Bolivia,” responded Jerusha, “may I speak to Irma, it’s somewhat important?”
“She’s not here, and she doesn’t want anyone to know where she is, including you and I say – especially you,” Ralph was practically shouting on the you.
The phone went dead, Jerusha stared at it until the off the hook buzz began and she set it in the receiver. She slowly sank into her chair wondering what she should do and what would happen if she did nothing.
There was a sharp rap on the door, “stay calm,”Jerusha muttered to herself not wanting to appear panicked no matter who was there or what the next crisis would be.
The door opened and it was Pauline, “ Good evening Miss Brown will you be having dinner in your room?”
Jerusha responded, “It’s dinner already?” How did the day go by so quickly she wondered. She continued, “I believe I will have room service I have some important calls to make.”
“I’ll arrange dinner is brought up,”said Pauline, “also it’s now 5:15 pm and you must remember you have an order in to have your phone service cut off at 7:00 pm. “
“Yes, I have to think about getting that changed it’s not always convenient and there are some issues I can’t control.” said Jerusha.
She remembered one issue “Oh, by the way Pauline, do you know who left the message for me earlier?”
“A message, I’m not aware of any message being delivered, may I see it?” asked Pauline.
“Yes of course,” Jerusha replied,”I’ll get it.”
Jerusha walked over to the chair where the envelope lay on the arm of the Lazy Girl Recliner. Once again she smiled looking at the Lazy Girl tag.. the name amused her so much she never took the sales tag off the chair. She picked up the envelope and walked back to Pauline. Reaching for the note she realized it wasn’t in the envelope. Why does everything have to be so complicated she wondered, such a simple thing… a note in an envelope you take it out read it and put it back. But where is it, she wondered, a critical piece of evidence shouldn’t just disappear.
“Miss Brown, are you all right? What’s wrong?” Pauline took Jerusha by the arm and gently led the trembling woman to the chair.” As Jerusha sank into the chair she looked up at Pauline and said “I’ve lost the message…I don’t know what to do… this could mean everything is lost.”
“Well don’t you worry,” said Pauline, “I’ll fix you a warm cup of milk in the microwave.”
Pauline went to the room fridge amazed as to how many quarts of milk Pauline fit in the fridge, always one percent organic, She took the warm milk to Jerusha and gently said “Now you just sit tight and I’ll go check at desk, if they have a copy of the message.”
Jerusha waited for Pauline to return while thinking where the message could be, she hadn’t left the room, no one else except Pauline had been inside, the note had been slipped under the door. She looked at the phone and it rang, That can’t be a coincidence she thought, it’s happened before, how do they know I’m looking at the phone.
She decided she should do something so picked up the phone but didn’t say anything.
Miss Brown are you there,” asked Pauline, “Dr. Morris just arrived and asked to see you, he’s on his way up, I told him he could just go in as you’re resting in the Lazy Girl, so don’t worry.”
Jerusha didn’t respond and just put the phone down. There was a short knock on the door and Dr, Morris entered, although she hadn’t recognized the name his face seemed very familiar.
“I knew you at the Agency I believe,”said Jerusha.
“Yes, you’ve mentioned this in previous meetings.” replied Morris.
“So, what’s the plan now? asked Jerusha.
“Not much different, this medication is effective for 3 months, you’ll operate as usual, locate the message and I’ll check in,” said Morris, he watched as Jerusha swallowed the pill with some warm milk then walked to the door continuing, “Pauline will be up with your dinner, you should really go down to the dining room with the others.”
“Others? What others?” wondered Jerusha.
A well written story, with good dialogue and a touch of mystery thrown in plus a twist at the end.
What more can we ask for?
A bit of a reveal in that last paragraph that is really well done.
So everything was normal for a couple of months, and just when things started getting a little weird, a doctor with a familiar face shows up and delivers a three month supply of medicine.
I hope that’s accurate, because that’s what I got out of it. There’s more of course.
Your dialogue is excellent. Really. You missed one question mark, as far as I could tell. But yeah, natural sounding dialogue is a real effort, but you’ve nailed it in this story.
Names are important too. There’s far too little discussion about them on this or any other site. I never really thought about the number of syllables, as you did, just whether or not the name was reasonable, pronounceable. Or spellable. You know? Sometimes a character name just pops into my head, then, after writing the bulk of the story, the name conflicts with something else, or doesn’t fit somehow. Your character’s name is not too long, it’s just weird. Jerusha. I never heard that name before. It immediately made me stop and wonder if the story had some exotic setting or backstory. Likewise, when you used the phrase; ‘by letting the time lapse occur’. Between the name and the ‘time lapse’ I thought I was on another planet, but it was earth, and the character was just in her own little world.
It’s funny how a couple of little things, in an otherwise great story, can tend to throw a reader out of a story. But I threw myself back into it and enjoyed it, nonetheless.
So, what is the history behind the name ‘Jerusha.’
You stole a name from a Michener novel? You must be a fan of Michener then. Wasn’t he the author who started all his stories 100 million years in the past?
It seems as though asking you about your character names has opened up a whole new can of words.
I tapped the long steel blade and watched as it retracted back into my wrist in one smooth familiar move. The skin closed over the tip as it slid into the receptacle in my forearm that had been created for it by a devilishly clever surgeon.
Licking my lips, I looked down at the man lying still at my feet. His body still twitched. His mouth open in a silent scream, blood bubbling from his pale lips.
Another kill. Another payday. It was all in a day’s work.
My ear bud beeped.
“Rose, you ready for home?” Ryan’s warm deep tones caressed me.
“Yes. I’ll be at the portal in five.” My voice clipped and professional, I strode towards the end of the alleyway and stepped out onto the busy street. It had been easy to lure my victim down into the dark secluded ally of Melbourne’s busy CBD. I had stepped back in time to the 1970’s.
Ryan and I were a team. Part of a clean up organisation. It was our job to go back in time to eliminate certain individuals who were the ancestors of those master criminals and scum of society. Rather than use law enforcement to pursue them with dubious results, we researched their ancestry and eliminated the individuals who would be responsible for their existence. It was a remarkably effective method of law enforcement.
Yes, we were along with many other teams changing the course of history. For the better, we thought, and government funded. It did mean a few others who could have benefited society would also never be born. But again, what’s a little sacrifice in the interests of law and order?
I stepped through the portal as it appeared – a wavey distortion of space and time just in front of the door of a Chinese restaurant so it looked as though I entered the establishment and didn’t just disappear into thin air.
Unfortunately, as I stepped into our stark office space in the year 2045 someone came with me.
“Shit! Who the fuck are you?” Ryan leapt from his chair.
“OH, have I changed that much?” I adlibbed, but he was looking beyond me to a man with dreadlocks and in multi-coloured harlequin attire standing behind me looking totally confused. Obviously, he was expecting the Chinese restaurant interior.
Ryan froze him.
“Let’s find out who he is. We may have to eliminate him.”
I marched to the computer bank after taking a cheek swab from him and putting it into the machine for analysis. Ryan emptied his pockets to see what ID he would have on him. The machine would give his DNA matches in twenty to thirty minutes.
“According to his licence he’s Gary Thomas of 219 Inkerman Road, Caulfield North, and he’s twenty-nine years old. Born on 5th March 1948.”
“Oh, a Pisces. They are a confused lot.”
“You don’t still believe in that crap? Do you?”
“You’d be surprised at how accurate some of these star signs are.” I smirked and went to make a coffee while I waited for the machine to read out its findings.
Just to amuse myself, I typed in his birthdate to my device. It came back with a Scorpio moon. Humm, interesting, I thought. Was it an accident, him following me.
Ryan came up behind me and nuzzled my neck.
“Later hone, later! When this is sorted.” I never felt cosy and sexual when it looked like I had to dispose of yet another being. I am an assassin with a heart, it seems.
We sat on the couch to drink our coffee and wait for the machine to give its findings.
“You know there is something odd about his clothing. Can’t figure it out.”
“Oh, why? What’s strange.”
“It seems odd that his clothes seem so, well, modern.”
“Well, the cloth seems odd too.”
“There is a wrong feel to all this. Do you think he intended to follow you?”
“Not a chance. You know how careful I am.”
We both turned to examine Gary who was standing frozen, a confused and sad look on his face.
“I think he’s just some dumb hippy who wanted a bellyful of Chinese at the same time as you entered the portal. He followed you into what he thought was a Chinese restaurant door.”
The machine spat out a forty-page read out – a booklet titled Gary Thomas. I grabbed it and we both perused it avidly. Gary Thomas’s real name was Avi Cohen. He was married to Rachel Cohen, and they had three children. He was not twenty-nine, but thirty-five. He had been born in 2010.
Shocked we both turned to the frozen figure who was no longer frozen but raising his hands towards us with a sad smile. Before I could react, both Ryan and I were encased in some sort of clear gel substance that held us imprisoned.
Gary aka Avi walked over to us. His dreadlocks disappeared and he had this clean-cut appearance. I realised too late, it was all a part of his disguise.
“I’m really sorry.” He spoke softly. “But I’m commanded to terminate your operation.”
My eyes must have given me away. “But, why?”
He bent over both of us on the couch.
“Your methods are barbaric. Too many innocents are dying. Never born. So…” he paused, “you are to be frozen. Deep hibernation. Yes, no killing. You will be stored deep underground.” He chuckled at that last comment. “Still undercover agents, both of you. You will be given new identities in maybe fifty or one hundred years’ time. Reprogrammed so to speak. You will lose your identity from this time.”
Now afraid and angry all at once. I grappled with the concept of losing who I was. Ryan had tears falling down his cheeks. I realise he felt betrayed by the government that he and I had served so faithfully. Betrayed and hung out to dry by the people we had believed in.
Avi turned as a team of four – three men and a woman burst through the double doors to our lab room. Dressed in black with a red lightening symbol on the shoulder of their close-fitting suits, they surrounded us.
“Well, well.” Said one of the men. “What have we got here?”
Avi snapped to attention before the woman. Older with a greying bob-cut and a deeply lined face, she asked him, “No problems?”
“No, Ma’am. I followed the modified operative, as asked. She was easy to track. She completed her mission and returned. I returned with her.” He paused. “On arrival, I pretended to be disabled until I saw both operatives distracted and at ease. Then I secured them.”
“Good work agent.”
The substance surrounding Ryan and I began to harden. Through a dimming consciousness, I saw one of the men raise his hands and Avi also was encased in a similar substance. I smiled. Also he was betrayed, I wondered if he really was Avi Cohen. Probably not.
Then, there was a blackness and I begun to dream dreadful dreams that lasted an eon and more…
I enjoyed the story. I like the sci-fi aspects and I am jealous that you can write futuristic themes. I struggle. The characters were real and believable and i could see the confusion in their minds. Great job.
That’s a pretty good story, you know. Your setting is futuristic sci fi-ish but without being totally so.
I think we almost have all the technology mentioned or it is being secretly developed in a government lab somewhere.
I like the way the story goes and, of course, how ever far into the future we travel ( or back into the past) there will always broken trust and betrayal.
Good use of dialogue too.
A real contender.
This is an excellent story. It has a complex but well-rendered sense of place. The character’s purpose and affairs are described succinctly but clearly. Time-travel is the only fantastic aspect of the story. What they use it for seems predictable and likely. Everything else is good-old human nature.
All the technical aspects of the story sound 100 percent authentic.
My only gripe was the composition of the reveal. ‘Also he was betrayed…’ Oy vey. That second ‘also’ needs to go. (Not the first one, the second one.) The last line is killer good. It’s hard to see how ‘I begun to dream dreadful dreams…’ could be a winner, but maybe because it’s coupled with that final, ‘that lasted an eon and more…’
Definitely a gripping read. Very enjoyable. Top notch sci-fi. I think I would name it ‘Dreadful Dreams.’
Gosh you are quite a vivid storyteller. Going those distances that yours truly would never set foot on.
Eliminating the scum of society by going back in time! Then turning into sustainable souffle!
Who thinks up such ideas? Genius, I say.
(Except I can’t stand gruesomeness)
I need to edit a line in the first paragraph.
The skin closed over the tip as it slid into the receptacle in my forearm that had been created for it by a devilishly clever surgeon.
Marien Oommen (1198)
They call me Lita. Bombalita.
I don’t tell the world who I am but I am always there for it.
To make us safe again.
My starwalk to fame is not anything like that good looking, double-oh bloke with a gun. I don’t need one and will never carry one to get my way.
That’s my oath, by troth, I solemnly declare.
When double-oh cups his palms and entwines his two forefingers with the music going… ta dang, ta dumm…he becomes the peerless spy, the notorious womanizer, who knows all the intricate details of the enemy. Not just who he is, but how he thinks, what he desires, what he fears and how he can be exploited, even snuffed away.
That’s how Double-Oh enters his battlefield.
But what do I do? I’ll tell you. But not right yet.
Folks around me usually never get my gist. Now that’s alright because sometimes they do. So I survive. At least I have, these many years. Now as age catches on, I notice hoary wisecrackers around me get nuttier than the fruitcake I’m soaking for next month.
That’s one reason I had to don this new covering which is…my smile!
My fortune that launched a 1000 ships. Okay, that’s an exaggeration.
I learnt to exaggerate totally from the double-oh guy.
Life is all about mini successes while laughing away your sorrows. Believe me, if I were to build nests in my head thinking of how life happened, I would be a capital bore. So not going down that path ever. There are ways out of desperation where we can find peace. And standing on my head, while mumbling incoherently, is not necessarily a remedy.
I’d vouch for reading the Good Book as number one.
And almonds come second. A must as you age. Or else you bust.
So one day while happily chomping on those almonds, lo and behold, something white and sparkly slipped out of my bouche. It wasn’t a diamond ring. He wasn’t declaring his undying love or any of that moosh through my bouche. For he’s well past that diamond dispensing age and has got an undying hold over me.
“O no, it’s my precious number 9. What am I going to do? This is going to cost me the price of two diamonds,” I tell him and he’s not exactly thrilled.
“I’ll book you in,” he says.
Early Tuesday sees all of me at the office of C.Ruella. Not the name you would want to see by no means… even if it’s the last resort.
C.Ruella takes a good look into my inner recesses and declares the only way out is to replace a superior structural implant in the gap. Like building a teeny weeny Burj Al Arab in that vacant space.
A consent sign was requested under ensuing anesthesia fog. Then before I could hum a song of joy, two nasty titanium rods were screwed in criss-cross on the hard palate above and soft palate below and more screws, screwed on under anesthesia. I remind myself though the pounding drill, it’s human flesh, not a wall. All those screws are screwed in proper in less than an hour.
O the joy of anesthesia!
One never knows what happens under the scalpel.
In a week, tortuous pain sets in.
“Mamz, can I go out this evening?” the girl asked.
“Sure! Where to?” I reply, with my face that’s taken on a permanent scowl.
“What’s cooking today?” Asks the man.
My response is another jarring scowl. Believe me when I say it was the screw hitting the tender jaw with World Cup precision.
Not the Bombalita face for sure. The girl feels her mama doesn’t approve.
The dad hides behind his paper. He has little to say these days. Bomba’s face, he reflects, looks forever like a hippo opening its jaws for greens.
Not the face that he mooed a willing ‘I do’ to.
Four months of torturous pain continued for which I got little sympathy.The ulcer still hurt. Mouthwash antiseptic became mother’s milk to me at night before sinking into bed.
Then one sunshiny day, D.Cruella removed them all.
The sutures, the structures, the cement, the screws, the wires with pliers.
Finally a new crown is screwed into Space Gum. I was free at last and thrilled to go back home. The ulcer healed in a week. My face starts looking more giraffe and less hippo.
Now for the BIG day.
Nobody knows it yet. But with a full set of teeth, I planned to smile without ceasing and to run for President-Secret Service. It’s a secret. Nobody in my family is with me in this. They have their reasons.
But I know I can run by the strength of my crowns and my million dollar smile.
The greatest weapon being my hands folded together, skywards.
Full of hope and no gun.
It’s an undercover job and so it has to be undercover.
The day arrives, the votes have to be cast. I am super excited to go to the main voting hall to stand there and give everybody my awesome smile, with my hands raised in a wave.
That’s when the next tragedy struck. As if four months of suffering weren’t enough penitence.
It was a gusty day as Pooh would say.
A strong wind was blowing outside and the trees were shaking in a silent fury. A big blast of breeze blew straight into the hallway toppling a tall shelf which tipped, in slow motion, right over me.
What are the chances really now?
It was as though something was conspiring either for me or against me. Exactly as it happens to that double-oh guy.
But the champion I always was, I, Lita held triangularly onto the shelf, using my raw power, all my determination, hoping everybody would notice my sterling deed.
But surprise! The loose drawer of the truant shelf fell blunt on my face.
In surprised anguish, my eyes got huge, as round as an eagle’s, and I force swallow my spit, the frightened foam in my mouth.
By now, I’m breathing hard.
Alas, the wind had blown my crown, now loose, right into my oesophagus where it disappears. I am left clueless about its meanderings within.
The shelf settled back into its place. I heaved a sigh of relief and turned around to walk away, feeling a cool blast of air in my mouth.
My tongue espied outward as if to check what’s happening.
There, in the large mirror in front, I saw a huge gap in that woman’s mouth where once a tooth had boldly stood.
How could I run for president without my tooth?
It’s the Secret Service after all.
Unheard of. Unspoken of.
They’d say in the history books twenzy years hence- all for a tooth, a presidency was lost.
A toothless president is not someone a country would hearken to.
Like when I speak from the podium, ‘Sisten to me, all you lazies and zenzlemen…’
Nobody could undeztzand me.
Who would want an edentulous eddentleloose prezidenz, pweszident?
All Said 'n Done.
Is my new banner for 2024.
Another good read. The realness and the humour was evident. Thank you.
Thanks for reading 🙂
This is one crazy story although as you wrote it you might not think it is crazy.
I understood about the double o person with a gun, that you would never use but after that I was struggling a tad. Yes, I understand the words but I don’t get the point of the story. I understand that the protagonist decides to stand for a secret president – secret service and that links with the double o references but has to get a winning smile sorted out first and then a shelf hits him/her in the mouth and he/she swallows the crown.
By the way, I had to look up edentulous so you have educated me.
What a hoot of a story… which contains some terrible truths about tooths. Dental maintenance and repair get about as much sympathy as having to drain and re-seal the indoor pool in your penthouse apartment. No one ‘feels your pain.’ Even when you’re swollen and miserable. Doesn’t matter.
Some things I didn’t get.
But I love the doctor’s name Dr. C. Ruella. (As in De Ville.) Also the melodic and lyrical elements of your story. I may not always love them, but they really work in this story. Phrases like: Early Tuesday sees all of me at the office of…
Not the face that he mooed a willing ‘I do’ to.
The sutures, the structures, the cement, the screws, the wires with pliers.
It’s a writing style that facilitates mirth and merriment. Even in the face of unbearable anguish. Not sure about the candidate’s slogan. (Have tooth, did shatter, why new crowns matter.)
Then a transition to T.S Eliot and Shakespeare at 18.
Yes, I did go crazy writing and when it got to be one organic whole and I read it many times, it actually sounded funny. And I dared to post it!
I can’t write gory stuff.
There were lots of your usual poetical proses and playing with phrases, but they felt even stronger and cooler this time, like you were really in “the zone”! That stuff about mini-success and mumbling while standing on your head? That felt like the most philosophical thing that I have read or watched in six months, even though it was just a paragraph right before the tooth came out and not really momentous, at first glance (but it was)!
I don’t know, the way you played with James Bond (and not really worshipping him like most people), the deepness underneath the comedy and mundane stuff, the references and descriptions (you said “triangularly”, which felt unique and such a good way to describe the action, and you mentioned a specific building that I had to look up, and the word “troth” instead of “truth”) … it was just really cool and my kind of strange … but mainly just cool.
I think maybe it is like you take stuff seriously in the real world, but then you poke fun at it all in a singsong way, like a carefree little girl making fun poetry, but then you never really stop taking it seriously, and you always have the story revolve around a happy home (or mostly happy home), and there are powerful virtues that you clearly believe in. I think you are one of the “Shiny Happy People” that REM was talking about.
I’m glad that I came back to read this one!
What an uplifter to my spirit!
Thank you for reading, writing your lovely comment. I know I can’t write like the rest of you and am always on a differing tangent. Sometimes I feel I don’t belong here! But few comments get me coming back.
Congratulations to the winners- my choice too kinda.
That carefree spirit remains in this grown woman because I believe there’s no point cribbing about circumstances but overcome them with the Joy of the Lord every day. It’s a new life… 🙂
My comments come late coz I travelled half away across this planet earth once more.
By Adrienne “Adi” Riggs (1,194w)
Dust filled the air and excitement ran through the people as the pick-up trucks and trailers full of horses and cowboys began rumbling through the small-town streets near Osceola the 2nd of July. The fairgrounds came to life, as it did every summer, with the advent of the annual rodeo. The town folk lived for this time of year. Not much else happened in this little po-dunk place in South Florida they called home.
The town consisted of one stop-light, one grocery store, a little convenience store, an elementary school, a couple of small churches, the fairgrounds, and a wide scattering of homes among the ever-abundant orange groves. There were a couple of bars outside of town. During the school year, the older children were bused to the next city for school. The little ones attended the elementary school close to home.
It may not have seemed like much of a town, but it was idyllic to the kids who grew up here. They ran bare foot through the grass and sand all summer. When the orange blossoms bloomed, it smelled like heaven. The kids climbed the trees and ate all the oranges and grapefruit they could pick. They played hide-and-seek until late at night. They played with the children of the migrant workers who came to pick the ripe fruit and lived on the outskirts of the town. It was always safe and quiet.
The rodeo was the big event every year. The local men and boys practiced all year to compete in the roping and riding events. Even the girls practiced barrel racing and breakaway roping. Bull riding was the main event and took courage and muscle to ride the tough bulls. The young women looked forward to seeing the handsome cowboys in their tight jeans and cowboy hats showing off their hard muscles as they worked the horses and bulls. This was also when the celebrity cowboys came to show off, flirt with the girls, and blow off some steam. Actor Burt Reynolds lived nearby and when he wasn’t busy filming, he was known to come over for a visit.
Tuff Hedeman, one of the best-known bull riders, was rumored to be at the rodeo with some of the other known greats, such as Don Gay and Ty Murray. The teenage girls flocked to the fairgrounds to watch the cowboys and ranch hands unload their horses and straighten out their gear while their Mamas arranged tables for baked goods and other food stuffs to sell during the shows.
Dusty, Red, and Bill eyed the girls as they unloaded their saddles and dropped them on the wooden fences next to their trailer.
“Dusty” Dan Fielder, a tall man in his twenties with dark hair, deep blue eyes, and square jaw, knew he was a favorite with the ladies of all ages. He gave a low whistle.
‘Mmm- mmm, look at those Honeybees buzzing over there.”
“Down boy,” Red elbowed him. “Save some of them for us.”
He took off his black ten-gallon hat and brushed back his ginger hair, hence the nickname “Red”. He smiled at the young ladies giving them a flash of white teeth in his tanned face and a wink. They giggled in response.
Bill started backing his chestnut stallion out of the trailer and gave the girls another look.
“Best be careful boys. Some of those bees might have Daddies that sting.”
“I know what I’m doing” Dusty said, winking at the girls as he walked over to help get the horses off the trailer. “This will be one Fourth of July to remember.”
The rodeo lasted 3 days of hard working, hard riding, good-natured fun. The rodeo clowns did their part to keep the crowds entertained between events and to keep the bulls distracted if a rider fell off. It was a dangerous sport, but they had their routines down to an art. They never forgot that tragedy could be mere seconds away.
The cowboys rode hard during the day and evening shows and partied hard afterward at the bars. Red and Bill sat with a couple of girls listening to country music and drinking beers while watching Dusty clowning around at a pool table. He had a group of girls gathered around him. He was the firecracker of the show. When the girls went to the ladies’ room, Bill leaned back in his chair.
“How much trouble do you think Dusty will get into this time?”
“Hopefully, none” Red scoffed, “but I won’t hold my breath. He’s as onery as a three-legged bull.”
Bill nearly choked. “Really Red? When’s the last time you saw a three-legged bull?”
“Up in Tulsa. They had one up as a ‘warning’ to all cowboys to ‘follow the rules in bull-riding’ so the animals don’t get hurt.” Red took a swig of his beer. “Did you know there are 60 of them rules?”
Bill shook his head. “I don’t trust Dusty. He seems to get into some shady stuff.”
“Hell man! If he gets in trouble, let him pay I say. I ain’t bailing him out.”
“I don’t want him making us or the rodeo look bad.”
The girls returned and the conversation stopped.
On the 3rd of July, Dusty nearly missed one of his events. He showed up late, covered in dust but wearing a smile.
“Where have you been?” Red was angry. “We are up next for the team roping and we almost missed it because of you!”
‘Hey! Mellow out, will you?” Dusty grinned, “Just had a flat on the truck.”
“Where were you?”
“Just riding around with a little Honeybee.”
“Are you crazy? We aren’t here to play!”
“Yes, we are! There are our names! Yee Haw!”
Dusty ran toward the chute and jumped astride his horse, waving his hat at the crowd. Red ran to an opposite chute and did the same. When the cow was released, they took off in unison and roped it in record time. Dusty took the hooves; Red took the horns. The arena erupted in cheers.
The Fourth of July dawned clear and sunny. Sunday morning was quiet while church services were held but the arena burst into life afterward for the final events of the rodeo. The raucous shouts and cheers could be heard all throughout town, but all was not as it seemed.
By Monday morning, the rodeo folk were gone with their horses, saddles, riders, trailers, and trucks. The fairgrounds were empty except for a few leftover banners and trash to be swept up. A few flyers from the show blew in the stirred-up dust and manure of the ring.
It seemed that all had returned to normal. But life in the small town would never be the same again for the Crawford family.
Their daughter’s body was found in a drainage ditch at the edge of an orange grove on the 6th of July. She had disappeared on the 3rd walking to the grocery store for her mother. She was only 13 years old, and they never found her killer.
The rodeo never returned to the small Florida town near Osceola.
This is a good story that describes the town and the rodeo really vividly. The main event of the year when everyone tuned out for some fun and entertainment and looked forward to it all year.
Well drawn characters and the action is good too with a hint of menace. The other cowboys are concerned that Dusty’s behaviour will be too much and he’ll get into or cause trouble.
The death of the Maxwell girl is tragic. This might point to Dusty but I’m sure the police would have rounded him up if he was a suspect and released him if there was no proof of his guilt.
I’m guessing the rodeo never returned because it brought back such terrible memories.
Great writing and a good story although I am not sure exactly how it meets the prompt in terms of what was missing from the prompt.
It was my first experience with death, and I was devastated as were the rest of our school friends. She was a year behind me. Her brother was in my class at school. This was the defining moment when we all knew that monsters were real and we were not safe, not even in our own sleepy, small towns. We never knew why the rodeo never returned but we suspected it had to do with Theresa’s death.
I was trying to portray the secret identity as cowboy by trade and killer on the side. His friends knowing that something was “off” about him but never dreaming what it was. Being late back to the rodeo and nearly missing the team roping event brought attention too close to call to him but he played it off.
It was hard to get all of that in in 1200 words. Even if it doesn’t meet the prompt, I’m happy for the comments!!
Osceola. What a fabulous name for this story.
This is an excellent story. You’ve conjured up an amazingly detailed setting of rural innocence, with musky undertones. The descriptions of small-town southern life are charming and accurate. Authentic. The story delivers a tremendous amount of information about the rodeo circuit and how intrinsic it was to the rural culture. It sounds, in places a little like a news article, it’s informative as hell without going in too much detail about anything. While this may be a true story in the broader sense, (much like my Devastator story) the actual dialogue and interplay of characters at these events is pretty suppositional.
I thought it was obvious that Dusty was the two-faced character required by the prompt, perhaps his charm or good looks is the object that doesn’t work in this instance.
After a second read-through, it occurred to me that you provided no real evidence that the culprit of the murder was, in fact, Dusty, either in the story, or your comments. Since you say this is a true story, I assume you’re privy to more factual data than you have presented in the story.
Did the police ever charge anyone? Were any other murders connected to that rodeo, or Dusty?
Not casting doubt on anything, I’m just trying to find out how you learned the real truth of these events.
I want answers.
Thanks for reading the story. I don’t have any facts after Theresa was found and her funeral held. Her case is still cold after all these years. Her family is still seeking answers. They have tried for years to get her cold case reopened. She died in 1976 in a small rural town. The rodeo was held at the Burt Reynold’s Rodeo Bowl. I really don’t think the Sheriff’s department put much effort into the case. The rodeo was gone before she was found so no one with the rodeo was really looked at as far as I know. We always suspected it was someone with the rodeo, but we never had proof. I’m sure the cops never pursued it. They were long gone and no longer in their jurisdiction. But it was suspicious when they never came back. The town’s people unofficially blamed Theresa’s father when there was no one else to blame, but there was no proof and he was never charged, and he went to his grave under this shadow.
A rodeo returned to the area about a year or so ago. I called my contacts in the area to get info on the rodeo, but we don’t know if it was even the same outfit. After 46 years, I doubt it. I even called the Sheriff’s department a few years back to ask if they had ever reopened the case or found any new evidence and instead, they interrogated me over the phone and wanted to know if I had any information! I told them I was only 14 at the time and I was only interested in justice for my friend. They wanted my name, address, etc. I gave it to them. Let them investigate me – I was a kid. They want someone to do their job for them. Small town life has its perks and advantages. A competent law and justice system was not always one of the best “back in the day.” Especially in the small, small town that this event happened in.
This is the other Ken (Frape) replying to your comment.
I have just read The Judge’s’ List by John Grisham and it says a lot about cold cases and how, it seems, different police teams don’t employ joined up thinking.
Great story but sadly true.
A secret no gooder.
The town has come alive with your writing. You’ve captured the feel of the town well.
Yes, there are typos and run on lines.
But you did get a good story in real quick.
Well done, Adi!
Sorry about that but with the holidays and 1/2 my team being off I’m putting in 16 hour days this week.
That’s a relief as I wasn’t sure how I was going to get my votes in on time. I have read and commented upon all the stories so far but haven’t written one myself yet.
by Ken Miles
“I don’t exist. And this conversation’s never happened.”
He held a sharp razor motionlessly against my neck as he said that, then slid it up gently to continue shaving my stubble. But not before my eyes had signaled that I was in agreement.
“You happy with the cut-and-shave?” he asked, then adding in quick succession (and before I could even reply) that he used to be a barber back in the navy. Which country’s I’d no idea.
I glance at the mirror in front of me. This clearly wasn’t a real hairdresser’s salon, just a makeshift one for the occasion. But the haircut was excellent.
“Not bad at all”, I say.
He grinned at that. The first time he did since I entered that room. He must’ve been younger than me, his face as smooth as a woman’s. Slender too, I thought, though the loose barber’s garb made him look larger. He had a hint of foreign accent. Slavonic would be my guess. And a feminine manner with the way he moved, like most male hairdressers these days, but his voice was as masculine as a hoarse grandpa’s.
The haircut was a cover-up, of course. I knew that much. But I’d no idea it would be this harrowing. And now that I was in on it I either complied, or I was dead.
“It’s about saving the Free World.” That’s how he put it. “Civilization itself.”
That a most wretched act of barbarism should save civilization… But I saw his point. Starvation, the ensuing food riots, revolution and God knows what would follow if nothing was done to alleviate us from the coming cold and castigating winter. We were at the brink of famine, or in the President’s words ‘the end of the age of abundance.’
There was no turning back now. The first consignments, the barber said, will arrive shortly. They’ll be labeled ‘horse’, ‘beef’ or ‘veal’ according to their intended processing. Horse was the closest to human flesh, in taste and texture, so it was the least trouble.
I didn’t want to do this. But it was now do or die. For me, and maybe for everyone else. As it turned out to be, the plentitude of meat – and the dire scarcity of everything else – by January turned even the most hardened vegan back to carnivorousness. And saved us all for another spring.
As I juggled the horrendous thoughts and admired the haircut, he passed me another bourbon, never asking me if I wanted another one. It was the fifth or sixth.
“I’ll fetch my assistant over to drive you to wherever you need to go next,” he said as I sipped on, the drink now drilling my head.
“Assistant?” I wasn’t aware of anyone else’s presence.
“She’ll be here in a minute.”
It took longer than a minute. Then a woman appeared at the door he’d disappeared into. She looked like him. Most surely a sister or a cousin. Most strikingly her hair was long and blue. It was either a wig or another hairdressing job well done.
She didn’t say anything until she took something out of her mouth. I thought it was chewing gum, but she dropped it in her handbag, not even wrapping it first. She then asked me where I wanted to go.
I gave her the coordinates of the nearest of my meat-processing plants. I didn’t wish to bring any of these people anywhere near my home. It’s bad enough they somehow got my private phone-number, hacked it or something. I never gave that number to anyone. Only my mom, to call me if something happened to her. I had no-one else in my life.
When we got to the factory, she insisted she’d take me home. I and the whiskey were obviously in no state to do any work, she said. Not with all those many sharp blades I must have behind those walls.
Truth be told, there was no such risk. Mine was a desk job running this massive company’s daily business. In this plant alone I had a thousand people cutting, treating and pack the meat. In the rest of the world about two million more. But another truth be told: my head was indeed spinning, and home was a more desired destination. It didn’t take much pushing from my blue-haired bombshell driver to end up heading there. Cut long story short, she took me home, came inside too and I don’t think this Court will care to know what happened next.
“No,” proclaimed the Judge, reverently, “but this Court would like to know if you ever met that man – let’s call him ‘the barber’ shall we? – ever again.”
“No, Your Honour. Only that one time. For the haircut.”
“That’s when you learnt that the meat you were about to sell was human not animal, freshly killed Russian soldiers, is that right?”
“Yes, Your Honour. Soldiers killed in action.” I stopped mid-sentence to digest the horror of my own utterings. “But, the barber said, millions more would’ve starved to death if we didn’t do this. It was their idea all the way, the Russians – to kill us by famine.”
My lawyers had told me to own up to everything, and leave the rest to them. They pushed the saving-our-civilisation point hard enough for the Judge to buy into it. By the time the hammer fell, I was too wiped out to understand the full wording of the verdict, but I knew that I somehow walked out of that courtroom a free man.
As I was led out, I caught a quick glimpse of her, the chameleon lady, the woman who’d driven me home, now sporting a layered pixie cut dyed gray, instead of the long blue. Just a glimpse and I lost her.
I spoke my address into my Tesla’s dashboard, and the car pulled out gracefully. Some ten minutes into the freeway, a female voice from the backseat scared the hell out of me.
I didn’t care ask how she got in my car. Who she and her brother (or whoever he was) were – those were the more pertinent questions.
“My brother? I’ve no brother.” She took out of her handbag a rubbery, slightly balding male head wig that went all the way down to the eyebrows and donned it momentarily instead of saying anything.
I asked the car to take the nearest exit and pull to the side.
“The man who spoke to you never existed. That’s what we agreed,” she said almost teasingly.
“And the voice?” I asked, sounding stupid.
“That was just a little gadget, from the time I was with the FSB. A ‘voicealtermeter’ they call it. I lost it. But I don’t need it anymore.”
“You know… the thing… he… you made me do… I risked spending the rest of my days behind bars…” I slapped upon her.
“Not at all. We had you covered. The Judge’s one of ours. No press-releases were ever sent. The court typist forgot to save the records. Oops. No-one will need to know. That’s not our biggest problem.”
“They’re keeping the war going on purpose! Human meat’s Russia’s new oil and gas. They’ve got human farms now in the Far East! My understanding was freshly killed soldiers only. I don’t want to have anything to do with this anymore…”
I gulped, said nothing.
“They first extended it to dissidents, then unwanted minorities. Now they’re raising youths specifically for fresh cuts. Please stop the machine…! You can do it. You’re the demand side… stop everything.”
“But you once said I’d be dead if I backed down…”
“Don’t’ back down. Just slash your employees’ wages. Blame it on the hard times. They’ll all come out on strike. With no hands, the machines will have to stop. The farms will have no clients.”
I thought I saw a tear running down her cheek. So even this woman had feelings. There was still hope for this hopeless world. That’s the only thing that cheered me up.
“So even this woman had feelings. There was still hope for this hopeless world.”
I thought I saw a tear slide silently down her cheek. That’s the only thing that cheered me up.
It’s not Frankie
LIVE IN CONCERT
22nd June 2027’
This would’ve sounded like science fiction, or a lame joke, just a short time ago. But it’s now as ordinary as peanut butter.
Bringing back the dead has become mainstream. Since Kanye West, early on into his Presidency, made that infamous ‘ghosts on my mind’ speech, the taboos surrounding mediums and séances have all so suddenly vanished away. With government funding going into mediumship research, the whole thing is now firm science. As firmly certain as the fact that one plus one usually make two.
Down at the Literary Circle we had Oscar Wilde, no less, the other day, giving us a speech. Not in flesh-and-blood, that would be improper to say, but in person enough. And gosh, did he rock the boat!
They even had Cicero, from ancient Rome at the Senate in DC a couple of months ago or so, as you most surely must’ve heard. And what a masterclass! He showed the occupants of our poor excuse for a senate how it’s done!
So, when I saw the poster for the Frank Sinatra concert, I couldn’t help not thinking of Grandma Jackie and resolved to take her over to see her idol.
The tickets were prohibitive at $1.2K per person. Eight-hundred (only!) for the elderly. But I’d do it for her, I told myself. She was SUCH a megafan of Sinatra’s. And I didn’t get to see her often at all. I kinda owed her this one. Since Grandpa Raymond died, some five years before, she lived all alone, almost abandoned, out there in Brightonside. Not that she seemed depressed, but appearances might deceive.
I’d never been in Vegas before, so I was a little overwhelmed the moment we set foot there. Not Grandma. She knew her way around. The concert hall was spectacular. We got a good place near the front. The crowd was an ocean of gray hair. I may’ve been the youngest person in there! Frank Sinatra’s not exactly my taste at all, but I wasn’t there for myself.
The medium-showman-presenter did his part quickly. Most of the spirit-calling process is now done electronically. Sinatra appeared on stage, slightly larger-than-life (I think they can adjust those things by computer too). He went through his greatest pieces, “My Way”, “New York, New York” (at which the Vegas faction of the crowd actually booed) and all the rest I’d never heard before, and would immediately switch channels if they somehow came up on my radiostream.
“It’s not him!” Grandma said dryly.
“What d’you mean not him?”
“I mean it’s not him. That’s not my Frankie.”
“I know Frankie when I see him. This is an imposter. I’ve seen a thousand acts trying to do a Frankie, no-one ever got close.”
“But this is not an act, Grandma. This is his real spirit.”
Grandma wasn’t stupid in such matters. She herself dabbled in spirit fare back in her hippie days, my dad says. Some people said she was a witch. A good witch. She’d light candles and mumble strange things. I remember some of that stuff from my own distant childhood.
“I’m telling you, Lara, this is not Frankie.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Frankie, he had that little smirk, there, where his lips met. The sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in a man. That beam! Looks like I was the only one who noticed it. This man has nothing of it.”
“Maybe he lost it. Years in purgatory, all the demons he must’ve come across…” I tried to justify the unjustifiable. I felt Grandma was right – they took us for a ride. But I wouldn’t admit I was such a fool to spend 2K and take Grandma out here for a mere imposter
“I appreciate your bringing me here, Lara. I really, do. It’s great being together. But that man is NOT Frankie. I’m a hundred per cent. I know Frankie when I see him.”
With that she pulled down her blouse to expose the top of her breasts, and then a bit further down. I glanced around in embarrassment, but nobody was looking. Frankie or whoever he was had the whole old mad house in a frenzy.
“See this, Lara?”
Straddling between her Botox-leavened breasts was a tattooed signature. Still legible: “Frank Sinatra” in a very fancy cursive handwriting.
“Wait…” she said, as she let her blouse go back up and rummaged wildly inside her handbag, “I always have these with me.”
‘These’ was a couple of photographs.
“This is when he did it for me. The signature. Madison Square Garden, ’twas a hot, humid evening in the summer of 1967. I had it tattooed over, in time before it washed away.”
The photo showed Grandma – she was what, some twenty-one, twenty-two? – her little summer-of-love dress allowing a good peek of her mighty cleavage. The original Frankie was bent over her, pen in hand, signing his name across her valley of love. She was gorgeous, Grandma Jackie, that’s where I must’ve got my good looks from.
“And here. 1971, at The Bowl. Backstage.”
This picture showed Grandma and Frank Sinatra smooching like there was no tomorrow. My eyes followed his arm. It tapered down her body, but I couldn’t see till exactly where, and what the hand was doing. The image was too dark down there.
“And what did you do after that? That night?” I asked, recklessly.
“Shut up, Lara! It’s none of your business!”
On the train back home from Brightonside, still jet-lagged, something nagged me. Perhaps it WAS very much my business. People sometimes said dad looked like Frank Sinatra. I then dozed off, but on getting home I resolved to not kick this can down the road, get back on that train the soonest, and grill Grandma.
About to ring her door-bell, I remembered Grandma hid a key behind the geranium pot. I crept inside and an intense smell of candles immediately overwhelmed me. She was doing it again! The spooky witchy-watchy (as I called it) medium stuff, the good old-fashioned way. Without computers. Maybe I’ll get to see Grandpa Raymond again after all this time, haha! I only used to like him for the Twizzlers. He never seemed to run out of those. In spirit form he’d be of no use in that department.
“Grandma Jackie! Me! Lara! I thought we’d have tea together! Where are you?”
“Lara!?” she screeched back, “Wait…I’m changing.”
Her bedroom door slammed shut.
“No rush. I’ll meanwhile boil the water.”
Instead, I tip-toed toward the bedroom, planted my ear on the door. She was talking to someone. Now, either because her own hearing wasn’t awesome, or because she thought I really was by the kettle, she spoke louder than she meant to.
“Yes, I get it… you had to miss something important for this…for me… but shoo, shoo, I can’t let her see you… you’ve eternity at your disposal… but I don’t… no it’s not always your way, Mister… off you go… I’ll bring you back ’s soon ’s I can… sure I will… now let me see what she came for this tea for… Love you Frankie…”
So I eventually learned all the sordid details about his death, but people would argue with me that Elvis never took any drugs and that his evil doctor was to blame. But I still liked Elvis, because overdosing on drugs doesn’t make you a worse musician or person, not really, and I wasn’t on my little moral high horse of judgement yet.
Then I realized how old those two were when they met and married, and thought it was messed up, but people just blame it on the times or point out Jerry Lee Lewis. Still, he could have run off with so many adult women that were throwing themselves at him, but he chose a child. And then I remembered how I felt as a little boy when I saw that actresses fake tears. It ruined him for me.
Then I heard the original version of Hound Dog and realized that what they said about Elvis and cultural appropriation is so true. There is a lot to unpack there, and I shouldn’t, but I will just say that a lot of the coolness of Elvis is stripped away when you unravel how he got his songs, his style, his fame, his wife, and his death. And when you stop to weigh the good of his contributions against the bad stuff, which I do all the time now, it is just messy and gross.
I ruin stuff for myself and everyone else, but that is just me being part of the “Cancel Culture Woke Mob.” It ain’t fun, and I wish I could just go back to enjoying Elvis (and others: H.P. Lovecraft, Rudyard Kipling, a lot of Disney stuff, tons of others that I won’t mention, and Harrison Ford, yeah, Harrison Ford. My old hero. It has to do with how he treated Carrie Fisher and how he hated Star Wars. Or Bill Freaking Murray! Even Spielberg and Lucas made some really messed up choices when they were planning the development of the Indiana Jones movies). Never peek to see what the magicians are really doing.
But if you DID resurrect Elvis, wouldn’t someone besides me ask him about some of the stuff that I just mentioned? They are not secrets, and I really ain’t being too judgmental, just pointing out uncomfortable truths, like my smoker’s teeth … or my scrawniness.
But Frank Sinatra I can get on board with: I (thankfully) don’t know any of his “secrets”, save for Ronan Farrow (who is a badass and super cool), and he was an excellent actor to boot.
What really bothers me is a loud and proud antisemite actually being elected to power in America.
Here is the voting link, good luck!!
I am still away and won’t be able to vote.
Good round of stories. Well done everyone.
I finally got another story published! I just found out yesterday. It is that spider one from the Sibling Rivalry prompt a year ago. Crazy world, right? I owe you guys, again.
Y’all take care now!
Fantastic opening, except for ‘conversation’s’. It’s technically correct, but unlikely that the ‘s’ would be pronounced in conversation. (Ironically.) But the first twelve or thirteen lines of this story are dynamite.
The story gets a bit more complicated as it unfolds, but it’s not difficult to follow. It just left me wondering if it needed to be that complex. Either way, it’s a fun, fast, strange, gruesome read.
Where can I get one of those voice alteration balls? That, I think, is the fulcrum of the story, without that, you’d have to significantly alter the plot. Yes? I’m not complaining, this is science fiction, after all. Just wondered, more or less idly, how this story could work without it?
This is an excellent story, that also starts with a great couple of lines. The notion that Kanye West would be the President is no longer as funny as it might have been a few years ago. If it ever was funny. (I don’t really know that much about him.) The dialogue and the writing is as smooth and seamless as any accomplished writer could make it—with two notable exceptions. One of which is: “No rush. I’ll meanwhile boil the water.” (No rush. I’ll put the kettle on to boil.) Or some such thing. It’s just the word ‘meanwhile.’
The other was a typo. ‘Grandma Jackie. Me! Lara!’ (Obviously you meant, ‘It’s me—Lara!’
It’s a wonderful, easy to read, mystical, upbeat story. In my insignificant opinion.
Here are your winners!
1st Place: A Simple Delivery Run by Vicki Chvatal
2nd Place: The Key of Life by Phil Town
3rd Place: Swipe left or swipe right by ozjohn66
4th Place: Osceola by Adrienne Riggs
5th Place: So I don’t exist by ilyaleed
6th Place: Other Secrets by Liz Fisher
7th Place: Meat by Ken Miles
8th Place: It’s not Frankie by Lara Crave
9th Place: Dr. Gilliam Tailor Hides in Plain Sight by Robt Emmett
10th Place: Edentulous SuperWoman by Marien Oommen
Favorite character: the Grandmother in Lara’s “It’s not Frankie”
Story with the favorite dialogue: Phil’s “The Key of Life”
Congrats to all!!
On to Uncle Joe’s Cabin!
(Chuffed with 2nd and dialogue!)
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