Fighting Illusions

I looked into the unblinking eyes of my enemy.  My arm swung my weapon into position, seemingly of its own volition.  I retreated further into my mind to let my body continue its program.

I had never wanted to fight.  Well, that’s not really true.  There was a time when I was young and foolish when I romanticized the concept of proving my superiority physically.  Okay, I was young and foolish and on my arse after Mary Kay knocked me there for trying to steal a kiss, but that was not why I was here now fighting for freedom.

Freedom is an illusion that needs belief to exist.  That was my belief since I was twenty and arrested for defying my government’s call to arms for defending a country on the other side of the world, all in the name of preserving peace.  I couldn’t figure out then how war preserves peace.  My freedom was not believed by the people who imprisoned me, and therefore my illusion was shattered.

Illusion is one of the oldest forms of magic.  The ability to focus the audience’s attention on what was not important allows the illusionist to do things that seem impossible.  That’s why I joined up as soon as was released from prison.  Keep them looking the other way, allowing me to create an illusion where I had given up my freedom, but secretly I allowed them to run my body so I could keep the freedom of my mind.

Now here I was, my gun in hand, pointed at my enemy.  I kept waiting for the training to kick in, to make me more of a machine that was primed to kill.  Then I watched my enemy sink to the ground, a red stain blooming from his chest.  I then dropped my gun and decorated it with this morning’s eggs.   My illusion shattered, the thought I had while sinking to my knees was, ‘Is it possible to be unprogrammed?’

Fallen From Mercy chapter 14

Fleetwood Downs was what all horse tracks aspired to if they wanted to be stuck in the seventies with a slicked back bad comb over.  That was also the era of men that were still attracted to the place.  It was a good place for the horses though.  The track was one mile long of the most perfect dirt for racing this side of Kentucky, or from the other side for that matter.  As such it was a great place to break in, be it a trainer, owner, jockey or thoroughbred.  It was also a place where backdoor deals were all too possible by people looking for that extra edge to get them noticed and into the big leagues.

Dan and Gray checked through what can only be loosely called security and headed down past the track to the stables.  The way wasn’t marked, but anybody with a nose and a constitution could find the place.  The horses snorted their hellos to the two as they entered one of the buildings.  Gary looked into a couple of the stalls admiringly.

“People say lions are the kings of the beasts, but give me a horse any day,” Gary said.

Dan was too busy avoided stepping in manure to enjoy the show of horseflesh.  “Well, people don’t need to worry about getting eaten by horses.  That might be one reason to vote for the lions.”

“It isn’t about ferocity, though horses have that in spades,” Gary replied.  “It’s about the poise and power that a horse has.  They even smell of untapped energy that with a twitch of the reigns turns into pure speed.”

Dan grimaced looking for something that wasn’t horse, or speaking about horses.  “Wax poetic when I can’t smell all that untapped energy.  Remember, we’re here for Luigi.”

Gary sighed.  “You just don’t understand.”

“No, I understand.  You’ve got a jones for horses.  Been there, heard about that.  Especially last time Luigi tried his game.”  Dan kept moving through the minefield looking for daylight.

“That’s right,” Gary said.  “I guess Luigi isn’t all bad after all.  At least he appreciates one of the finer points of life.”

Dan didn’t even turn around.  “He appreciates one thing, cash.  That’s all this stuff means to him.”

Gary gave one horse a gentle pet on its nose.  “Cynic.”

Finally Dan saw a guy he recognized from the last time he was here, but after a quick mental check, couldn’t remember his name.  “Hey, you there.  Have you seen Luigi?”

The guy smiled showing his missing front two teeth.  “Who’s Luigi?”

Dan lost it and rushed the guy, grabbing him by his shirt and slamming him against the wall.  “Don’t give me that horse crap!  Where’s Luigi?”

The guy lost his smile.  “I don’t know who you talking about.”

“What’s wrong with you?” asked Gary as he forced Dan to release the guy.  “Sorry Sid.  My partner is having a mid life crisis and has decided to take it out on everyone he meets.”

Sid smiled his toothless grin again.  “That’s okay Mr. Sherman.  People pick on me a lot.”

Gary looked at Dan.  “Well that doesn’t mean Dan shouldn’t apologize.  Right Dan?”

Dan sheepishly bowed his head.  “Sorry about that.”

“That’s okay,” Sid said.  “I have it happen all the time.”

“Anyone out in the paddock?” asked Gary still giving Dan the evil eye.

Sid thought for a second.  “Handyman’s Special is out there.  He’s got a race tomorrow.”

“Let’s go check him out,” Gary said.

Dan looked around.  “You go ahead.  I’m going to poke around the grandstand.”

“Can you behave yourself?” asked Gary.

Dan was still annoyed, but knew he had to swallow his pride on this one.  “Yeah, I think I can keep myself out of trouble.”

Gary stared at him a second, trying to figure out if Dan was pulling his leg, but eventually he gave in.  “Alright.  I’ll meet you up there after talking to a couple of people down here.”

Dan didn’t reply as he walked back through the minefield.  He just knew he needed space to think about things.  Why was he getting so emotional?  This was so unlike him.  Yeah, he was spontaneous, but this was way beyond that.  Was this a symptom of rabies?  Could you get rabies from another human bite?  Would that explain the dreams?

By the time Dan had asked all those questions and answered none he was at the grandstand.  The place was mostly deserted since the first post wouldn’t be for another two hours.  After walking the length and breath of the place he began looking for Gary.  He found Gary at the betting windows.

“Trying to strike it rich?” asked Dan.

Gary placed a twenty into the window.  “Nope, but Handyman’s Special sort of spoke to me.”

Dan couldn’t resist.  “You found the racing equivalent of Mr. Ed?”

“Funny guy,” Gary said.  “You won’t understand, so I won’t even bother trying to explain.  But I do have some good news.”

“Oh yeah, what is that?” asked Dan

Gary pocketed his ticket and moved from the window.  “I was talking to Handyman’s Special’s trainer and he was approached a couple of days ago by our man.  Wanted to see if the trainer was interested in setting up a deal where they throw the next two races.  He was promised that he would then get his turn to be in the spotlight in the next three races.”

Dan smiled.  “That sounds like our Luigi.  Did the guy refuse?”

“Would I bet on a horse that the trainer agreed to throw the race?” Gary asked.

Dan thought for a minute before responding.  Then his eyes lit up.  “You sly dog.”  Dan punched Gary in the arm.

Gary moved out of reach.  “What now?”

“You just bet a race where other horses might have taken Luigi’s offer, cutting down on the competition,” said Dan.  “Where morally do you stand on that?”

“I’ll be fine if we grab Luigi and bust this thing open in the next few hours,” Gary said.  “Besides, I already sent a car to pick up our friend.  The trainer is willing to testify, so that should put the kibosh on any fix.”

“You know you’re no fun ever since you started going to church.” said Dan.

“That’s not what Agatha said,” Gary replied.

Dan looked surprised.  “Agatha said you were fun?”

“Yeah, she did.  Is that so wrong?” Gary asked.

“No, but we need to work on getting you two to the next level.”  Dan started walking to the car.

“You know that won’t happen anytime soon,” Gary said as he fell in beside his partner.

“Don’t squash my hopes man.  At least you’re in the game,” Dan said.  A smile spread on his face.  “We have hope.”

“You of all people should realize she is a till death do I part type,” Gary responded.

“One step at a time,” Dan said.  “Maybe a Mark Twain could be arranged.”

“And who gets to pull the trigger that you greatly exaggerate?” asked Gary.

Dan paused for a second to think then continued walking.  “No one yet.  Just keep up the good guy pose and let me work on the rest.”

“It’s not a pose,” Gary said.

Dan patted Gary on the back.  “Don’t worry, I won’t tell her.”

Gary gave Dan the number one salute.

Dan smiled.  “See what I mean.

Family Problems part 6

The elevator doors opened and there was no one inside.  Maybe my luck was going up as well.  I pressed the four button and the doors closed as elevator began its uplifting hum.  Someone a while back had completely destroyed what had passed for a speaker so the elevator’s motor was the only thing you had to listen to while you crawled up the floors.  I probably could have walked faster up the stairs, but in this heat they would have found my desiccated husk on the third floor.

I got off the elevator and headed to apartment four twenty one.  I was just about to knock when the door opened and Archibald stuck out his head.  “Come on in and have a beer.”  Archibald was a nose that happened to have a head attached.  He is the nicest guy on this planet, but watch out if he’s about to sneeze.  He pulled back his nose and waved me in.  “Hurry up.  Gladys should be done in just a second.”

I entered their tidy apartment and headed for the fridge.  “Who’s she doing now?”  I grab two bottles and head back into the living room.

Archibald closed the door, but didn’t lock it.  He took one of the beers and grinned.  “The Joneses.  She thinks she can convert them to Christianity.”

I almost choked on the beer I had just swigged.  “But you guys are Jewish.”

Archibald shrugged.  “What can I say, she doesn’t like them.  Something about playing their polka music too loud so she can’t sleep.”

I shook my head.  “But they live on the second floor, right?”

Archibald nodded.  “Apartment two forty three to be exact.”  I began to say something but he cut me off.  “I told you, she doesn’t like them.  Besides, if we’re wrong then she’s saving them, which might help us then.  It could be worse.”

“And that would be?” I asked.

“I don’t want to know.  I just know it could be.”  He downed his beer in one swig and handed me the empty.  “Put that away so she doesn’t know I had it.”

“Not a problem.  Mind if I grab something to eat out of the fridge?”   I watched as he goes back to looking out the peephole in the door.  No porch, so Archibald watches his neighborhood throw the small glass fisheye in the door.  It’s his thing, and it makes him happy, so who am I to rain on his parade.

“Do you think she’ll let you leave without stuffing you full of something?” he asked.

I smiled because I knew that would be the answer.  I downed my beer as well and put it in the bag of empties.  I then rummaged through the fridge looking for treasure.

I heard the door open.  A woman’s voice, almost as low as Archibald’s filled the air.  “Larry, deary, I have some brisket in the back on the first shelf, and my homemade horseradish mayo’s in the bottle next to it.  Help yourself.”

I took out the aforementioned food and grabbed a loaf of homemade pumpernickel from the cupboard.  Gladys swept into the kitchen, surveyed her domain, and smiled at what she saw.  She was a demure woman, and even though she was in her late sixties, at least that’s what she claimed, she was still the same weight as the day she married Archibald.  It was something she was very proud of.  “I am having such a wonderful day.”

Archibald followed her, but didn’t look as happy.  “How did you know Larry was here?  I was going to surprise you.”

Gladys rubbed her husband’s tummy like asking for luck from Buddha.  “I could smell the beer on your breath.  The only way you would do that was if someone had come over.  Larry was a logical choice since he would want to check up on his money.”

“I didn’t stop here to see about the money.”  I smothered a good amount of the horseradish mayo on the pumpernickel before loading on the brisket.  I guess I didn’t miss lunch after all.  “I was just in the neighborhood and I thought I would stop in and see how you were doing.”

Gladys takes out the two beer bottles I had stashed in the recycling and brings them to the sink.  “Larry deary, you need to rinse out the bottles before putting them away.  I don’t want my house to smell like a brewery.”  She turned her attention back to Archibald.  “Why don’t you get what I put aside the other day.”

Archibald was not a happy camper about that.  “But that was going to be for the car.”

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head.  Just go get it.”  Archibald left the room and Gladys put the bottles back.  I bit into my sandwich watching her in action.  I almost felt sorry for Archibald, or anyone else including Lance Armstrong to keep up with this woman once she got started.  She was a force of nature unto herself.  “When I borrowed that money from you for Chauncey’s problem I forgot I had stashed this away to get the car fixed.”

Chauncey’s little problem was that he liked the ladies a bit too much, especially women named Sergeant Lucille Cunningham who was testing out her street walker costume way before Halloween.  I saw the sergeant, and Chauncey had good tastes, but really poor instincts.  Especially since he had just scored with his junkie for enough weed to party hard for a while.  Gladys needed help getting a bondsman to put up the bond to get her boy out of jail while waiting his trial.  For some reason Chauncey’s wife didn’t want to help.  Go figure.  Chauncey was probably in a food coma in the other room.  Gladys wanted to spend as much time as she could with her son before he was put away.  She also was protecting her investment, but to her that was the same thing.

“That’s not a problem.  You were under a lot of stress.  It could have happened to anyone.”  What am I saying?  I took out five thousand dollars from my cousin.  It looks like it happened to anyone, but that anyone was me.

“Still, it’s only right for you to get the money.”  Right on cue Archibald came back in the kitchen with a small paper sack.  Gladys opened it up and took out a small stack of cash.  I mean the stack was substantial enough, but when the predominate bill denomination was a dollar I became an atheist real quickly about the whole thing.

“Gladys, what is that, like four hundred?” I asked.  As soon as I said it I knew I had done it now.   I wished I had eaten those words instead of the sandwich.

Gladys sighed and began to cry, left eye first.  Archibald looked at me like I took a baseball bat to his wife.  Archibald pointed at the money.  “That was our fund to fix our car.  Shop said it would be about five hundred.  We have over four sixty here.”

“I’m not going to take your car money.”  I put down the remains of the sandwich and start thinking about how to get out of the door as fast as possible.

Gladys tried to pull herself together.  “I thought you would understand.  If it wasn’t for…”  She left everything unsaid out there, and I couldn’t agree with her more.  I reached out and took the money.

“Don’t worry.  Everything will be okay.”  No less truer words were ever spoken, but right now a few lies between friends were about the best any of us could hope for.

A voice from the wilderness called out.  “Mom, can you bring me a soda?”

This rallied Gladys to action.  She put away the horseradish mayo and brisket and grabbed a can of Coke.  All weakness was gone and Saint Gladys was back.  “A mother’s work is never done.  Goodbye Larry.”   And with that she exited stage left.

I handed Archibald the money and he put it away in his pocket.  “Hide that better than you did that beer.”

Archibald smiled.  “She knew you were going to give it back.  No need to play the game.”

I choked down the rest of my sandwich.  “After all these years you still think that?”

He reached in and grabbed me another bottle of beer, and one for himself.  Archibald wouldn’t want a man to drink alone.  “Of course not.  I’ll make sure to screw up.  It makes us a happy couple.  And don’t worry about that money.  Chauncey ain’t going to go nowhere before trial, and he sure ain’t going anywhere afterwards except to sweat it out for a while.  His lawyer thinks he can get him out on a suspended sentence even with the drug charge.”

I tried to keep my tone light.  “When is he due in court?”

Archibald waved me out of the kitchen and towards the door.  “Two weeks from today.  Will that work out with you?”

With me, yes, with Cousin Antonio, no.  That means my doctor might be making some money on Thursday.  “Not a problem.  I was just curious.”

Archibald opened the door to allow me a graceful way out.  “I understand all about curiosity.”  I looked at the sweat circle around the peephole.  Ain’t that the truth.

I paused before crossing the threshold.  “Where did you get your car looked at?”

“Smithy’s.  Over on South Street.  Left the car with him and told him to wait on repairing it until I get him the money.”    Archibald took a long swig of his beer.

I saluted him with mine.  “Good place.  Thanks for the beers.”

Archibald smiled one last time at me.  “The least I can do.  Don’t worry about Gladys.  She still loves you.  It’s just when it comes to money and family.”

It was my turn to take a long drink.  “You’re preaching to the choir there.”  With that Archibald closed the door and the chain slithered in place.  I was left alone with my thoughts and my beer.  At least the beer was good company.  Oh well, onward and upward.  I headed back to the elevator.

Vehicular Foreplay

Bernadette glanced quickly at Joel and let lose a loud and vicious howl.  Even with such a quick glance she could see he was more than a little freaked out.  It could be because she had just told him she had always wanted to be a werewolf so when girls called her bitch she could say, ‘Yeah, so?’.  Or it could be because she was driving his Mustang at over one hundred ten miles per hour, at night with a full moon, with the lights off.  Of course since they lived in East Bumblefuck, Nebraska, the road went straight until you hit the Kansas border, and maybe even until the Mississippi River for all she knew.  Bernadette had barely been more than a hundred miles from her house.

“Do you think we should be going so fast?” asked Joel.  His voice cracked midway through the sentence as he tried to put a brave front on.

Bernadette loved that crack.  It was one of those things she loved about Joel.  That and this car, and the fact that by wearing her skirt just a bit above the knee allowed her driving privileges.  Pushing the envelope gave her a tingle down her spine.  Bernadette was so happy she punched the Mustang’s acceleration a bit more.  “This car was made to move like this.” she purred in tune with the engine.  She wished they had the windows down, allowing her black hair to race the incoming wind.

The car and Bernadette might have been made for this, but it pushed Joel over his limit.  “At least turn on the lights Bernadette.  I don’t want to have to wait six months to get out of the hospital before we get to make out,” he said.  This time there was no cracking.

“Just a bit more,” Bernadette said.  “I’m getting so turned on.”

Joel tried to reach across Bernadette for the headlight switch.  Bernadette let go of one hand from the steering wheel to push his hand down on her exposed knee.  This caused the car to swerve, but Bernadette smoothly squashed the mistake and brought it back.  “Feel that excitement?” she asked.

Joel didn’t respond.  Another quick glance showed Bernadette that he was focused on his hand on her knee.  She smiled and gave it a bit more gas.

Slowly she felt Joel’s hand drift up higher.    When he was about mid-thigh Bernadette slammed on the breaks, bringing the back end of the car around twice before ending in the opposite lane, pointing back in the direction they had been traveling.  It had the added advantage of flinging Joel’s hand back to himself.  She angrily turned on the headlights

“Jesus Bernadette,” Joel squeaked.  “What the hell did you do that for?”

“I’m not that kind of girl Joel White!” Bernadette said getting out of the car and slamming the door.  She crossed in front of the headlights, slowing to give him a good look of her short skirt, white blouse that was almost translucent in the bright light, giving hints of the lace underneath.  She paused at the passenger side door for Joel to open it.

“What are you doing now?” Joel asked.

Bernadette folded her arms.  “You are going to drive me home this instant.  You think I am some easy girl?  Now you’ll have to go home and stick it in some ice for all I care,” she said.

Joel looked at her dumbfounded.  Bernadette waited him out.  Finally Joel said, “I’m sorry.  It’s just I was getting excited too.”

Bernadette gleamed.  “Really, you mean it?” she asked.

Joel looked down at his hand that had moments ago had been halfway up her skirt.  “Yeah.  I’m sorry.  Really I’m-”

Bernadette kissed him, taking his apology away and thrusting hope back in with her tongue.  As she pulled slowly away Joel was left panting for air.

“So you want to see how long it takes for us to get to Kansas?” she asked.

“With you driving?  About fifteen minutes,” Joel said.

Bernadette clapped her hands and skipped around the car, back to the driver’s side.  She leaned in and smiled at Joel.  “Are you sure?” she asked.

Joel let loose a wolf howl that made the hairs on the back of Bernadette’s neck stand on end.  “Why the hell not?  We’re seventeen.  We’re supposed to make stupid mistakes,” he said.

Bernadette slid into the driver’s seat, not adjusting her skirt, leaving it where it had ridden up.  “Then it’s time for some fun,” she purred.

“Just leave the headlights on,” Joel pleaded.

Bernadette was about to say something, but Joel placed his hand on her bare knee and pushed down a bit.  She went with the motion and put the gas down hard and brought the car around in a one eighty and launched the Mustang onward.  “Anything you want, Joel, anything you want,” she said.

“Really?” he asked as his hand drifted upward once again.

Bernadette let off the gas letting him know he had gone high enough.  Once he stopped she punched it again.  “To a point Joel White, to a point,” she said.  “Kansas here we come.”

100 Word Post #6 Ten Minutes Before Noon

Mandelbrot looked at his watch and saw it was ten minutes before noon.  It was always ten minutes before noon.

A train whistle raised the hairs on the back of Mandelbrot’s neck snapping him awake.  Mandelbrot looked at the trusses beneath his feet.  He was halfway across the rail bridge.  Run back, not enough time.  Jump?  Won’t work, too shallow, so he ran.  Mandelbrot could almost hear the conductor yelling over the screeching whistle.  Ten feet to safety, nine feet to breaking the loop, eight feet till…

Mandelbrot looked at his watch and saw it was ten minutes before noon.

Outer Demons

The airstrikes were coming any minute now, but Francis couldn’t even think about anything but containing the magic building around his team.  His arms moved in lazy figure eights, drawing upon his image of the infinite.  His calculus professor always told him the math would come in handy.  The pressure pushing in on his bubble threatened at any point to burst his protection, unleashing hell knows what on his men.

“Bogey at seven o’clock!” yelled Maurice as he swung his AK47 in that direction, unleashing a tight volley.  Six of the other seven swung that direction, combining their firepower to release another bogey to meet whomever he prayed to.

Francis noted that this bogey had four arms and six legs.  The variety of demons was amazing.  It was like all the rejects from evolution had gone to hell, waiting to be released for a second chance to exact revenge on the human form that had won.

Francis looked at the only other person in his group who didn’t wield a conventional weapon.  Ariel held her sword in a two handed grip, glowing even though it was noon.  She kept her eyes scanning over a one-hundred eighty degree arc, but never moving a muscle other than the slight natural movement of breathing a bit heavily in the heat.  That movement almost bothered Francis more than the bogeys out there, but now was not a time to get metaphysical.  Where the hell was the other mage?

“Sir, we need to fall back.  The cavalry will be here in four minutes,” said Sanchez.

Francis knew he was right, but if Francis didn’t neutralize that enemy mage the jets didn’t stand a chance.  Time for a different tactic.  “Ariel, get ready, I’m going to fold the shield.”  Ariel gave the briefest of nods while her eyes continued to rove farther than seemed possible.

Sanchez purposely didn’t look Ariel’s way.  “What does that mean sir?” asked Sanchez.

“Get the men pointed in the direction of that last bogey.  We are going to have visitors.  Get ready to fall back,” Francis commanded.  He eased his shield, moving it into more of an American football shape.  The pushing he felt intensified and Francis purposely let it flutter for a second.  In that moment Francis’ world lost all color as the mage redoubled their efforts.  Francis fell to his knees, blood pouring out his nose, but he now knew where the bastard was.  He pointed just to the right of the dead bogey.  “There, about two clicks,” he said.

Arial unfurled her wings and launched at near supersonic speeds mere couple of feet above the ground.  Her wake shredded the remains of Francis’ shield.  Bogeys began pouring through the rifts that had been opened.  His troops began opening fire, maintaining their firing arcs while slowly moving back towards friendly lines.  Francis activated some of his magic reserves and boosted his physical stamina.  He rose to his feet and began back pedaling, not wanting to take his eyes off of where Ariel had flown.

“Why are they staying back?” yelled Maurice.  That snapped Francis back to the battle at hand.  None of the bogeys were advancing.  They still came out of the portals, but they just held their ground.  It was as if…

“Press forward!” yelled Francis and he began wielding lightning, mowing through the closest bogeys as he ran, tapping farther into his reserves.  He was going to pay for this later, if there was a later.

The bogeys reacted as one.  They must have been waiting for Francis to figure it out.  He just hoped he wasn’t too late.  More lightning flew from his fingertips and Francis could feel burning as his fingertips darkened.  His flesh might be too weak for this.  Francis felt his will begin to falter, the lightning lessened in intensity.

A grenade arced over Francis’ head and landed in the largest group of bogeys and the explosion sent most of them back to where they had come from.  Francis’ men ran past him, trying to send as many of the bogeys to hell as they could before it was their time to take that final step.

Sanchez got too close to one of the demons and recoiled.  He took a set of quills to his face from a porcupine looking bogey, dropping Sanchez to the ground in agony.  Sanchez’s face began to melt around the spines when Maurice put a bullet in his head to put Sanchez down before spraying the porcupine bogey, splattering it.

Francis dug deep and sent lightning arced over his men and into concentrated knots of bogeys.  Bullets and magic took their toll and finally the bogeys broke, running in any direction except at Francis’ group and the direction Ariel had flown.

Francis pointed a smoking finger where Ariel had flown.  “That way,” he said.  A loud rumble emanated from the sky.

Maurice pumped his fist.  “Here comes the cavalry,” he said.

Francis looked up and realized how wrong Maurice was as a star fell from the sky, crashing to the ground right where Ariel had gone.  “No!” screamed Francis.

“What?” asked Maurice.  Those were his last words as a sword blossomed from his chest.

Ariel slid Maurice’s body off her sword.  The rest of troops were frozen in fear and disbelief.  Francis sank to his knees.

Ariel smiled at Francis.  “I am free,” she said in her sing song voice.  Her voice tore at Francis’ soul like her flight had shredded his shield.

“I know,” Francis said.  “Just please make it quick.”

The rest of his squad finally snapped out of their surprise and started to open fire.  Ariel killed them all in a matter of seconds, looking no worse for wear.  “You shouldn’t have bound me,” she said.

Francis could feel drops of blood crying from his eyes.  “We needed something to help against the demons.  Your kind would have abandoned us to our extinction,” he said.

“So you resorted to slavery of the divine?” Ariel asked.  She slowly walked up to Francis, the sword pointed at his heart.

Francis looked to the sky and sent a flare into the sky with the last bit of his magic, pumping himself dry.  “The divine abandoned us.  You’re no better than the bogeys,” he said.

“I am better than a demon.  For example, you cannot kill me,” she said as she slowly sunk her sword into his chest.

“We’ll see about that,” Francis whispered as the air to ground missile exploded.

Rogue Mental State

Jackson Pettigue straightened his tie and made sure his jacket was unbuttoned.  He wanted to look serious, but not too serious.  Looking in the full length mirror attached to the back of the hotel door he was extremely satisfied with his appearance, dark, handsome and dangerous.  Tonight was his night to shine and put his critics in their place.

There was a polite knock at the door. Jackson was about to answer, but then he saw a stray thread on his sleeve.  He managed to snap the offending cotton at the hem.  This was definitely going to be his night.  He opened the door with the sweep of his hand.  There he saw the Claudia White.

“Hello, Miss White.  Thank you for meeting me here,” Jackson said showing his perfect white teeth.  Some said he was elected because of those teeth.  He always laughed them off, knowing it wasn’t true, but it still felt good.  “I know it was inconvenient, but it is almost impossible for me to get away from here lately.”

Claudia smiled weakly.  “Well, I’m the one who wanted to talk to you, so it was the least I could do.  May I come in?” she asked.

Her smile took a bit of the edge off Jackson’s confidence.  Infuriating woman!  Didn’t she know this was going to make her career?  Still, Jackson knew this was for the greater good.  To that end he put on his billion dollar charm and stepped back, pulling the door wide open.  “But of course Miss White,” he said.  “Please come in and make yourself at home.  It isn’t much, but I enjoy it as a home away from home.”

“Thank you Jackson, and please call me Claudia,” she said entering the room.

Jackson let the door swing closed as he reached for her jacket, but Claudia either didn’t see the gesture, or chose to ignore him.  Why again did he agree to this?  Oh yeah, the cause.  Do anything for the cause.  “Can I get you something to drink?” asked Jackson.  “I don’t have much, but what I have is at your disposal.”

Claudia pulled out the chair that sat at the small table by the closed window.  “No thank you,” she said.”  I would rather we begin.”

Jackson almost let escape an exasperated sigh, but he pressed on.  The sooner his message was out there, and this woman as well, the better.  And to think he was going to offer her a gin and tonic.  “Let’s do so.  Do you want to take pictures first?” he asked.

Claudia shook her head.  “I don’t that that will be necessary,” she said.

She seemed to magically pull a pen and pad from nowhere which caused Jackson to blink.  Why did they have a magician come interview him?  Jackson was getting even more confused.

Claudia seemed to pick up on this and continued.  “So you told my boss you had a new proposal?”

Jackson paused, trying to organize his thoughts, but they seemed scattered across all the planes of existence.  “I, I don’t remember,” he said as he closed his eyes.  Here in his personal dark he could see lights flashing at all around him, following invisible paths that sometimes tied themselves in knots.  He could almost make out a new level of understanding.  It was right there in front of him.

“Jackson, are you okay?” Claudia asked.

Her voice collapsed all those lights into one blob of putrid thought that Jackson purged immediately from his consciousness.  Understanding was for those beneath him anyhow.  Jackson had a higher calling.  That’s right, now he remembered.

“I want to propose legislation banning altered states of reality,” he started.  “These states can be dangerous to the human subconscious.  Especially in the long term.  Especially with respect to incarceration.”

Claudia smiled and placed the pencil down on the table.  Why did she do that?  How was she going to record the interview now?  Jackson balled his hands involuntarily, but managed to calm himself within two heartbeats.

“Jackson, what brings you to that?” Claudia asked.  “That isn’t what you said last week.”

Jackson silently counted to ten before continuing.  Need to keep the anger at bay.  “Said last week?  Woman are you daft?  We did not talk last week.  I was on the Panama Canal handing out quinine to the locals.  Unless you were part of my bikini team we did not talk.”

Claudia pursed her lips.  “Jackson.  I think it is time for us to adjust your medication.”

Jackson closed his eyes and saw those lights again.  “Medication is for those that are looking for an altered state.  I want to eliminate them.  That and the virtual realities the young ones are messing around in.  We need to be grounded in reality less we lose ourselves to the madness.”

Jackson could feel Claudia step up to him.  Her breath smelled of elderberry wine and defeat.  “You are lost already.”

The anger spike and Jackson opened his eyes and reached for Claudia’s throat.  As his fingers brushed against her yielding flesh she disappeared from his grasp, his room, his world.

 

Claudia jacked out and blinked her eyes.  One of her assistants helped her stand.  “Are you okay Miss White?”

Her mind was still working out the real world after the virtual reality dump.  “I’m fine…”  She needed to get them name tags.  She could never remember any of their names.  “How are his vitals?” she asked as she looked at Jackson’s prone body.  The man seemed to be in a dream, his eyes flashing back and forth.  The only thing betraying this illusion was the cord coming out of the base of his neck.

“He seems to be fine, though his CAT scan seems more erratic then before,” said the intern.

What was his name?  I have a PhD.  I should remember the little people’s names.  Claudia put on her best billion dollar smile.  “Keep me posted.  I’m going to go home and get some sleep.”

The intern shook his head.  “You know you can’t leave Miss White.”

Claudia closed her eyes and counted to ten, watching the lights flashing behind her eyes.

The Path Less Written

Three children played Candyland in the center of the living room floor.  They were surrounded by the debris of a day full of play and few adult interactions.

Charlotte pulled a double red card. “Yes,” she cheered.  “My favorite color is red.”

“Mine too,” said Fred.  “But I also like poopy.”  That caused Fred to develop a case of the giggles.

“Ew Fred, that is yucky,” said Bill as he picked the next card.  “I got blue.  I’m now in the lead.”  Spaceship sounds exploded from his lips as he moved his piece dramatically to its new space.

Fred was going to go, but doubt crept in and he looked at the door.

A man walked in through the door with a gun in his hand.

 

Geraldine pulled back from the computer screen and looked at me dumbfounded.  “What the hell?” she asked as she shook her head.  “What the hell were you smoking when you wrote that?”

“I wasn’t smoking anything.  I was just taking advice from Raymond Chandler when it came to being stuck in writing,” I said.

“And that is?” Geraldine asked.

I brought up a different window on my computer screen.  It read:  “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” -Raymond Chandler”

Geraldine executed a perfect face palm.  “I don’t think he meant when children were playing a board game.”

“Really?  Then you better not read anymore,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

“I used this quote as well,” I said as I bring up yet another window.

Geraldine leaned in and read, ““Writing a novel is actually searching for victims. As I write, I keep looking for casualties. The stories uncover the casualties.” -John Irving”  She put her head on the table and said, “Oh brother!”

Fallen From Mercy chapter 13

Gary’s car was a graveyard of coffee containers and fast food wrappers waiting to be recycled when the car was crushed.  The old Caprice Classic looked like she had seen better days, but Gary pampered her and if you looked under the hood you would see a gleaming power plant that would make a Detroit engineer blush.  He drove her with care and respect of an old lover.

Dan tried to avoid looking at the center of the dash.  There in the place of honor was a rabbit’s foot and the chattering teeth.

Gary finished his coffee and tossed the latest archeological treasure on top of its brethren.

“Tell me, why did we take your car?” asked Dan.

Gary ignored the comment.  “Maybe instead of going to your psychic hottie you could ask the chattering teeth.  They might know all and it would be cheaper.”

Dan pointed at the rabbit’s foot.  “You making fun of Zoey’s powers when you have a rabbit’s foot on your mirror?”

“You believe in luck as much as I do,” Gary responded and made the teeth chatter some more.

“I believe in luck, but not rabbit’s feet.  Come on, how lucky was the rabbit that gave that one up?” Dan asked.

Gary slapped the dashboard.  “Duh!  Much luckier afterwards.  See they only work if you have odd numbered lucky objects.  Four legs means no luck.  Everything cancels.”

Dan couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “So you’re telling me that it was better for the rabbit to lose it’s foot.”

“Have you seen a three legged rabbit?” asked Gary.

“No.”

“See, lucky enough to not get caught again.”  Gary started to laugh.

Dan tried once again.  “Why did we take your car.?”

Gary pulled over to the curb and pointed.  “There he is.”

The he was Victor “Pops” Salvatore.  He was in his mid seventies and always dressed in black pin stripe suits and black fedoras with a feather.  Today’s color was red.  That meant either he was on the warpath or it was closest to the top when Victor was heading out.  Age wasn’t his friend and his mind wasn’t as sharp as it had been a few years ago.  Still he was a man to be reckoned with if only for who all still owed him a favor.

Pops walked into Paul’s Barber Shop.  Paul’s was a family place, both with a small f and big F, to find out what was going on.  Currently three generations of Pauls kept up the business.  The patriarch, Paul, the son Pauli, and the grandson Lil Paul held court there every Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment on Monday.  Sunday was a day of rest.

Dan stopped the teeth from chattering.  “Looks like we can get a haircut as well.”

Gary got out of the car and rubbed his hand along his bald head.  “Did mine this morning.”

“Sucks to be you then.”  Dan opened the door to a gentle jingle of bells and held it open for Gary.  “Age before beauty.”

“Wisdom before stupidity,” muttered Gary as he walked past Dan and into the shop.

Pauli and Lil Paul, sporting the same cut as Gary, were sitting in their barber chairs reading the paper.  Paul and Pops were no where to be seen.  Pauli spoke up first.  Pointing to his smooth dome he said,   “Hey man, glad you decided to join the brotherhood.”

Gary laughed.  “I can understand why I do it, but you guys?”

Lil Paul chimed in, “Show the customer the worst case scenario.  Hard to complain about a bad hair cut then.”

“True enough,” Dan said running his hand through his hair, “but I think I don’t think I’ll apply for membership today, thank you very much.”

Pauli got down to business.  “So what can we do you guys for?”

“We were wondering if we can ask Pops a question,” Dan answered.

Lil Paul looked at his dad.  “Did you see Pops come in?”

Pauli shook his head.  “Nope, haven’t seen him today.  So unless you’ve come for a haircut or shave.”  Pauli let the sound die right off.

Dan got tense.  Gary sensed it and placed a hand on his arm.  “Sorry about that,” Gary said.  “My eyes must have been broken because I was sure I saw him come in here.”

Pauli stood up and put on his don’t mess with me pose.  “Happens all the time.  Have a nice day.”  The silence said far more than Pauli ever could, even if Pauli had wrote War and Peace.

Gary started to walk out, partially dragging Dan with him.  After the bell tinkling from opening the door faded back into the silence Gary threw out, “If you do see Pops, tell him that Cunningham and Sherman are going to pick up his nephew Luigi for breaking parole.”

Lil Paul laughed.  “We’re barbers, not answering machines.”

Pauli looked at Lil Paul and let his silence speak for him again.  Lil Paul almost fell as he jumped out of his chair and quickly went into the back room.  Gary let the door close, enjoying the sound of the bells once again.  Dan finally started to calm down.  He looked at Dan, but Dan shook his head, wanting to match the volumes Pauli was saying.

Lil Paul came out of the back room a bit flustered, but he managed to keep his voice neutral.  “I guess Pops must have sneaked in while Dad and I weren’t looking.  He’s waiting for you in the back.”

“Of course,” said Gary.  He turned to Pauli.  “Happens all the time.  Have a nice day.”

Pauli never pulled his gaze off of Gary as Dan and Gary walked into the back.  There were three doors back there, but only one was open and had sounds coming from it.  Dan pulled his arm from Gary’s hold and whispered, “Why did…”

Gary cut him off.  “What’s getting into you?”

“Nothing,” Dan said.

“Better not.”  With that Gary left Dan and entered the back room.

The back room was definitely a notch above the barren front of the shop.  Here there was only one chair and it was occupied by Pops.  Paul had not followed his son and grandson and proudly wore his white hair long and wild, almost Einsteinesque.  He was lathering Pops for what looked and smelled like quite the luxurious shave.

Pops waved at Dan and Gary.  “I would invite you to sit and cut the shit with me boys, but as you see, we don’t have no chairs back here, so let’s make it quick before my lather goes away.”  Paul stepped behind the chair and picked up the straight razor, but held off starting the ritual.

Dan decided to take back control from Gary.  “Sorry about bothering you Pops, but Luigi’s been seen at the track again.”

Pop’s dismissed it with a wave.  “Luigi is always at the track, that’s his problem.  We all have problems.  Why you making it my problem?  I don’t like problems.”

But he’s not supposed to be there,” Dan continued.  “That was part of his plea deal.”

“Look, I’ll talk to him, so go on home and do something important.”  Pops waved impatiently for Paul to begin his shave.

Dan didn’t let up.  “But he’s talking to the jockeys.  Trying to fix races.  We can’t ignore that.”

“Can’t, or won’t?”  Paul seemed to take over for his customer as he expertly attacked the lather.  “There’s a big difference there.”

“Can’t.”  Dan waited for the response.

Paul looked at Pops and nodded.  “Do it.  Just make sure he knows Pops isn’t happy about it, or him.”

Dan nodded.  “That will mean a lot.  Thanks Pops.  See ya Paul.”

“Don’t let the door hit you in ass on the way out.”  After that Paul went back to work, ignoring them completely.

Pauli and Lil Paul glared at Gary and Dan as they left the shop.  “Have a great day.” Gary teased as they left the shop, the only response was the tinkle of the bells from the door closing.

Gary got into the car and slammed the car door.  “I hate asking a civilian, and I do say that in the most loose sense of the word, if I can go arrest a goofup that can’t even follow simple parole directions.  Directions that the loosely called civilian helped write up.”  Gary pealed away from the curb and put on the siren.

“Isn’t that a bit much?” asked Dan.

“No.  Not after that,” said Gary.  Gary weaved in out of traffic on the way to the track.

“You’ve got to admit.  If we hadn’t done that Pops would be pulling every trick in the arcane book of lawyerdom, including favors to make sure Luigi got out, or at the very least made us look bad.  You know what they say, an ounce of prevention…”

Gary grimaced and hit the horn to get a slow car to move out of the way.  “An ounce of prevention feels like a rose bush up my ass.”

Dan shifted in his seat.  “Ouch, that seems a bit harsh.”

That got a laugh out of Gary.  “True enough.  I hope I get my pound of cure though.”

“And that is?” Dan asked.

Gary put on his evil smile.  “Luigi resists arrest.”

Dan smiled too.  “Now that sounds good to me.”

Family Problems part 5

The lobby hasn’t been updated since the place had been built, but considering things from the seventies are approaching antiquehood, everything was in pretty good shape.  The dry heat beat on me wave after wave from the oscillating fan from behind the receptionist desk.  The desk was empty like usual.  I don’t blame the girl.  Her name is Rochelle.  She doesn’t like to be here and see what life has in store for her in another fifty years if she’s lucky.  People like what they see on TV where the elderly are either doting grandparents are few and far between.  Takes a special type of person to look the future straight in the eye.  Not all of us can be that special.

“Hey Larry.  I heard you finally went to the doctors to get rid of that case of syphilis.”  Of course Rochelle could have also been in the bathroom instead of fleeing destiny.

“Hi Rochelle.  I think you have me and you confused.”  I turn to bow in acknowledgement to her presence.  Rochelle was five foot two if she stood on her tippy toes.  To exaggerate her girlishness she liked to dress in school uniforms and wear her red hair in pigtails.  I warn you to try anything tough.  She is an eighth degree black belt in some martial art that I hadn’t heard of, but trust me it’s effective.  I’ve gotten to see the cleanliness of the carpet up close and personal my fair share of times.  If you pull anything else she has a taser somewhere on her uniform.  I dare you to find it.  Hell, she dares you to find it.

Rochelle blew a bubble and headed back behind the desk.  “Ah, that’s right.  So are you here for business or pleasure?”  She pulled out the visitation book and turned it towards me.  I picked up the ancient pen for some company that’s not in business anymore and signed my name, or at least what passes for my signature.  Doctors come to me to learn how to sign like that.

“Both.  I get to talk to you and visit Miss Myer.”  I put my best dead man impression on.

Her eyebrows lift a bit, but that smile that both sucks you in and spits you out showed what she was really thinking.  “So Miss Myer going to give you some sugar?”

I leaned in and got real personal.  “Sweetest thing you ever tasted.”

Rochelle popped a bubble just a frog’s hair away from my nose.  “I’ll have to let Sheryl know about that.”  Damn, now she popped my bubble.  Rochelle reached somewhere under the desk and a buzz could be heard from the secure door.  “You don’t want to keep a hottie like Miss Myer waiting.”

Time for a witty counter.  “Yeah, thanks.”  I said it was time for one, not that I had one.

I walked through the mocking laughter and it taunted me until the door shut behind me, then silence descended and perched on my shoulders.  Here the assault of heat made up for the dearth of sound.  I walked over to elevator and pushed the up button, half expecting the plastic button to come off on my thumb like a plum from a certain pie.  This was one time I was happy I was wrong.