Newly Discovered Inspiration

Thin, that’s how Greg would describe it. He felt stretched thin. It seemed like everything in his life had been pulling him in different directions. There were the endless deadlines that his job as an independent author had piled on his shoulders. These were self-imposed milestones for his books, marketing, and publishing. He stared at his computer screen but was unable to form any words. The Spring sunshine streamed through his office window and beckoned him outside. With a sigh of surrender, Greg left his office for the warm sunlight.

He took a walk to the park twenty minutes away. The air was dry with a slight hint of Winter still hiding in the Spring breeze. Greg began his stroll along the concrete walking path inside the park. A couple of families were taking advantage of the pleasant weather to get their young children outside. Laughter and squeals of delight wafted along the wind. Greg took in the pink, white, red, and purple flowers.  Green buds were filling the once gray sticks that made up the trees surrounding the park.

Greg smiled and thought, this isn’t helping me find my story, but it’s helping me be less productive. Greg approached a fork in the path and decided to venture into the new forest pathway to see what additions had been made to the park. He rounded the first right turn and sitting there was a young woman at a picnic bench. She looked up at Greg, and he could see a tear flowing partway down her cheek. She smiled and said hello.

“Hi, are you doing okay?” Greg asked

“I’m alright,” sniffed the young woman.

Her pale blue eyes that seemed to glow and they pulled Greg in. Her thick blond hair fell just below her shoulders. Although her dress appeared dated, it fit her perfectly.

He stuck out his hand, “I’m Greg, may I sit down.”

The woman reached up and shook Greg’s hand. Her cold skin felt nice next to Greg’s warm palm. “I’m Lydia. Yes, please have a seat.”

Greg sat down next to her. He was not sure if it was the flowers or her perfume, but the fragrance had enchanted him. Greg cleared his throat and said, “I don’t normally just sit down to speak with women I don’t know, but you seem upset.”

Lydia reached over and touched Greg’s hand. Her fingers were cool to the touch, and her hand seemed to send electricity up his arm. Her glowing blue eyes stared into his, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for anyone to find me.”

Greg pulled back his hand, “Oh, please don’t be sorry. I walked up on you. I can leave.”

Before Greg could stand up, Lydia grabbed his arm. Her cold hand sent goosebumps up his bicep and down his spine. The sensation thrilled him. Greg hoped she would never let go. Lydia said, “No, please stay. I would love to chat awhile. I’ve been alone for a long time.”

“Me too,” said Greg. “Work has been killing me. It seems like the harder I work the more money I lose.”

Lydia let her hand linger and then slid it slowly away from Greg’s arm as she spoke. “Oh? What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m a writer. Well, I’m a new writer. Lately, it just seems like I’m spending money on everyone else to publish my book instead of people paying me to read the story I spent months on. It’s got me pretty discouraged.”

Lydia took his hand. The electricity returned and the self-pity that was weighing him down seemed to lighten a little. “Don’t be discouraged. We have to have hope. It’s the only thing that has kept me here for so long.”

Greg’s eyebrow lifted slightly. “I’m sorry, but you don’t look old enough to have been anywhere for very long.”

Lydia smiled, and the world seemed to glow around them. “You’re very kind.”

Greg continued, “Well, all the stress has given me writer’s block. It just seems like everyone wants my time or money and now I don’t have anything left to create my stories.”

Lydia dropped her eyes down towards the picnic bench. “I understand. That’s how Julio felt. He was always working on the farm. From dawn until dusk you could always find him in the field. He told me he needed to support us, but he worried me. Julio would be out plowing a field in the heat of late spring behind a team of horses.”

Greg sat in silence for a moment and tried to make sense of what Lydia was sharing. What does she mean by plowing with a team of horses? Greg asked, “What happened?”

Lydia looked up at Greg. Her eyes glistened, and tears began to flow. He was not sure, but her eyes almost seemed to glow brighter. “Julio collapsed in the field late in May. He was dead by the time I reached him.”

“Where did that happen?”

“Here,” said Lydia. “Right here.”

Greg was worried Lydia was mentally ill. “Do you mean here in the park?”

Lydia shook her head. “No. This land was a field before it was a park. It was our farm a long time ago. Julio died right here. So, I keep coming back, hoping he will return to me someday.”

Greg felt a chill cut through his entire body. He wondered if Lydia was dangerous, and how he could get away to notify authorities and get her some help. Greg tried to calm her down. “Perhaps he is in heaven. Maybe he’s waiting for you.”

Lydia’s renewed touch on his hand sent a wave of panic and energy through his body. “You’re sweet,” said Lydia, “but Julio promised me he would never leave this earth without me. So, I’m hoping and waiting.”

Greg nodded, unsure what to say or do. Footsteps to his left caused him to turn away to see who was coming up the pathway. A young couple walked back and nodded their heads hello to Greg. Greg nodded in return and turned to Lydia, but she had vanished. Greg stood and searched the nearby area, but Lydia was gone. He began walking back home. As he walked, he prayed Lydia would find peace because she had helped him find his inspiration once more.


 

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Deadly Beauty

Talia walked into the cocktail party wearing a red sequined dress. Large seawater pearls wrapped around and caressed her smooth olive neck. Her raven black hair shone against the light from the crystal chandeliers of the embassy. Every eye turned, and she froze. Her eyes scanned the audience before her. Older ladies bejeweled with large blue sapphires and diamonds smiled her way. Young women smirked and went back to their gossip. Men of every age could not take their eyes off of her. Talia swallowed hard but continued her search.

To her left stood a man with piercing black eyes. His thin beard formed a dark shadow across his narrow jaw. The man’s wavy black hair was combed back without a part in it. His mouth broke into a broad smile revealing his perfect teeth. Talia smiled and sashayed across the room to the man she had thought about the entire day. Everyone else faded from Talia’s view. The handsome tuxedo-clad man grabbed two champagnes from a waiter walking between them. Talia smirked at his movie-like swagger.

“Talia, you’re a vision.”

Talia smiled, “Frank Coleman, I was almost afraid I wouldn’t find you.”

Frank smiled, “I wouldn’t miss this evening for the world. Do you think I could forget our afternoon on the beach? I’m just happy security accepted the note I gave you.”

Talia took a glass of champagne from Frank’s hand. “It’s a lovely evening. Does this place have a balcony?”

Frank took Talia’s hand and walked her past the throng of people. Talia tried to ignore the stares, but Frank seemed to be enjoying every moment of them. The smirk on his face did not disappear until they walked up a flight of steps and out two French doors. The view of the gardens was breathtaking under the full moon.

Talia and Frank turned and looked into each other’s eyes. Before she knew what was happening, Talia found herself kissing Frank. Electricity seemed to fill her body. He was good, really good. They released, and Talia caught her breath. “Frank, I’m sorry, I’m not normally this forward.”

Frank stroked her cheek with his finger, “I don’t mind.”

Talia turned back towards the stunning view to refocus her mind. “It’s beautiful here. How long have you been in Spain?”

Frank shrugged, “A couple of weeks.”

“Oh, you must have arrived near the time of the explosion.”

Frank gave a slow nod. “Yes, that was horrible. I arrived the day before. If I hadn’t caught an early flight, I hate to think what would have happened.”

“Some people think it was an assassination attempt on some politician. I can’t remember his name.”

Frank turned towards Talia and leaned against the rail with his elbow. “If it was, it was a poor attempt. Ten people were killed, but enough talk about death. I want to talk about your beauty. You look stunning in that red dress here in the moonlight. I believe the gardens are even jealous of your beauty.”

Talia turned towards Frank. Her eyes glistened in the moonlight. She stared straight into Frank’s eyes as she took a long slow sip of her champagne. Talia suddenly winced and spat her drink back into the glass. “Excuse me. There is something wrong with the champagne.”

Frank took a sip of his and then finished it off in one swallow. He reached over and took Talia’s glass. “Allow me, my dear.” With a lustful look in his eye, he swallowed her glass of champagne. His mouth puckered, he shook his head, and then said, “Wow, that was bitter. Where did they find those grapes?”

Talia smiled, lifted her palm in front of her mouth and spit out a broken capsule into her hand. “Oh Frank, did you think we didn’t know you were here? We know your pedigree, your aliases, and we even have you on facial recognition. MI6 has a long reach. The day before the bombing an alert was sent out that you were spotted in Spain. The Spanish wanted to arrest you after the bombing attack, but I wanted to question you first. The British have some interest in you and certain knife attacks in our country.  So, tell me, did ISIS hire you, or are you a true believer.”

Terror filled Frank’s eyes. He grabbed Talia by the shoulders, and she knocked his hands away in one swift motion of her hands. “What did you put in there?” asked Frank.

“Oh Frank, you’re just like all the other men. Always in a hurry, where’s the foreplay? Now tell me, are you a true believer?”

“I don’t follow anyone. It was a job, that’s all. Now tell me what you did.”

“Oh, you’re going to be dead very soon, but I might be able to stop it if you tell me who you were working for.”

Beads of sweat began to form on Frank’s forehead, “I can’t, they’ll kill me.”

“You’re dying anyway.”

“This is nothing compared to what they will do to me.”

Talia stared into Frank’s eyes. He was desperate but honest. She shrugged and reached into the top of her low cut dress. A vial of green liquid appeared between her fingers. Talia shook her head, “Suit yourself.” With a flip of her hand, the vial’s contents disappeared into Talia’s mouth. Frank tried to speak, but his tongue had swollen, and he could no longer form any words.

“Help!” yelled Talia, and she rushed from the balcony. “I think Frank’s having an allergic reaction to his drink. Please, someone help!”

A crowd of men and women rushed upstairs towards the opened French doors of the balcony. Talia slowly glided down the steps. The main floor was mostly empty, and she walked calmly towards the front door. Two men dressed in tuxedos opened both entry doors for her. She winked at them, and they both nodded as she exited the party.


 

Lost Rebel

Charlie’s custom-built chopper vibrated underneath his numb butt. Denim stuck to his legs as they sweated beneath the black leather chaps wrapped around his jeans. Charlie paid no heed to the inconvenience. Here in the loneliness of the Mojave desert, he was king, a loner, happy to be free of society.

It’s not the Charlie disliked people, but he hated their foolishness during the work week. The weak minded office drones would come and beg for his help with their computers and databases. Charlie was just the technical janitor to the people whose IQs were easily thirty points below his own. Somehow, in the vast universe, a decision was made to put the foolish in charge, and that is what Charlie hated.

His only salvation was the weekend. How he loved to hop on his iron horse and ride away from the insanity. Like most desperate and depressed Californians, he would follow the line of RVs, boats, motorcycles, and cars east away from the cities. The mountains, deserts, and casinos a few hours away in Nevada were their drug. They offered a release from the group thinking sameness that permeated their work lives. All of the exiles were rebels that were merely stuck on a hamster wheel to survive.

Charlie never knew where he would end up. A GPS sat on the phone in his pocket, but he never used it until Sunday afternoon rolled around. Charlie’s black and chrome bike gleamed in the noonday sun as it moved into the sleepy desert town. He estimated no more than a dozen people were living there. A faded wooden building sat amid the tumbleweeds and dust. At least twenty Harley-Davidsons were parked around the structure. An old analog gas pump sat off to the side.

Charlie drove up and was glad to see the pumps were still functional. “Pay before you Pump”  was scrawled in black marker across the glass over the counters. He got off his motorcycle and plopped his half helmet on his left mirror. Charlie strolled over to the old building. His sweat-soaked legs were stiff from his two hours in the saddle seat. His black t-shirt soaked up the sun’s heat. Sweat stains circled his t-shirt where shirt and body sweat met.

He walked inside and for a moment was night blinded by the darkness after being in the bright sunlight. Twenty Hell’s Angels and a few women all turned his direction. A gray-bearded man walked up towards Charlie. The man had to be at least six-feet tall and stood almost a half-foot taller than him. His height was exceeded only by his girth. The man was a structure of intimidating muscle and fat. He stopped a scant foot away from Charlie and stared down at him.

“What do you want?” asked the stranger.

“Just some gas.”

The man nodded and started towards the old lever-style register that sat behind the aged paneled counter. “Weekend warrior.” mumbled the biker.

“Excuse me?” asked Charlie.

The man rested his massive hairy arms on top of the register. “You’re a weekend warrior, a wannabe. You dress up like a Steve McQueen movie and think you’re some kind of rebel. You’re a wuss. ”

Charlie began to bristle up inside. Who was this guy to judge him? He put up with enough of that in the office. “You don’t even know me.”

The large stranger laughed, and the rest of the bikers behind Charlie did the same. “You’re just some office drone with money who hates his life, and so you come out here trying to escape, but you don’t want to escape. You need your money and luxuries. So, you play dress-up on your motorcycle to feel like you might be a man.”

Charlie could feel the anger inside him rising. He wasn’t going to be bullied by some fat biker. The desert was open and free and his sanctuary. Nobody was going to take that away from him. “You know nothing about me. Why don’t you just take my money and turn on the pump.”

Charlie heard the sound of scraping chairs and boots hitting the wooden beer-soaked floor behind him. Fear replaced anger and shot down through his spine.

“Why don’t we step outside.”

“I don’t want any trouble, I just want some gas, and I’ll be out of here.”

The large man smiled, and Charlie felt somebody grab his shoulder from behind. His body was shoved hard against the front door. Somebody opened it, and he succumbed to another push. Charlie took two steps trying to keep up with his momentum, but tripped on the third and landed face first in the dust. Steel toed boots began to assault his ribs and legs. Dust stirred all around him and filled his nostrils and mouth.

“Stop!” yelled the familiar voice of the stranger.

The constant barrage of pain suddenly ceased.

“Nice bike,” said Charlie’s adversary.

Through watery eyes Charlie watched the large man walk over to his motorcycle. The man opened the gas cap to check the fuel level and put the lid back on. He turned to the other bikers, “Let’s ride.”

Without a word, the entire group walked over to their bikes. The ground seemed to rumble under the sound of the Harley-Davidsons. Dust once again filled Charlie’s world, and he instinctively twitched and curled to avoid being hit by the passing bikes. As the dust settled, he saw his adversary riding at the front of the pack on his chopper.

Charlie stood up slowly. Pain filled each movement, and he wandered back into the building. Charlie sat down in a creaky chair and reached for his cell phone. He pulled it out of his front pocket to find the front shattered by a lucky boot kick. The sound of shoes walking on the wood startled Charlie, and he looked over towards the bar.

“I’m Frank, the owner. You must have had a nice bike.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You’re still breathing. Feel free to use the phone by the register to get yourself a ride to wherever you came from.”

Charlie sighed and thought to himself; I wish I didn’t have to call Jason. He’s going to tell the whole office about this. I’ll never hear the end of it.


 

Nature’s Justice

Frank stood at the edge of the cliff. A thousand feet below lay a body. It was nothing more than a contorted dot. Frank stared downward for at least a minute to ensure the person at the bottom of the canyon was not moving. When Frank was satisfied, he looked up towards the sky, shook his fist towards the heavens and yelled, “Ha!”

A chipmunk moved tentatively out from a bush. Frank turned, and he and the chipmunk stared at each other. “Don’t worry little guy. I won’t hurt you. I guess I can’t say the same for Jerry.” A chuckle escaped Frank’s lips. The chipmunk grabbed a nearby nut and nibbled on it while he examined Frank.

“Oh, you want to know what just happened? Okay, I’ll tell you.” Frank turned towards the rodent slowly until he was facing the chipmunk and bushes, and his back was to the cliff. “You see, Jerry and I were best friends. In fact, you might even say we were brothers. We had been roommates back in college. Both of us were electrical engineers. We would schedule all of our classes together and study with each other. I guess it wasn’t very long before we started competing on our grades. Jerry always won those contest.”

Frank stopped his story to the chipmunk. He took a step back, leaned backward, and looked over his shoulder. Jerry’s body still lay lifeless.

“Where was I?”

The chipmunk just looked at Frank.

Frank smiled, ” Oh yes. My buddy down there, Jerry. Well, he seemed always to win. We both got hired by the same company, and Jerry became my boss. We both dated the same woman in the office, and Jerry married her. Well, he married her, but I got her.”

The chipmunk finished the nut and seemed to sit. Frank noticed an acorn near his foot and gave it a gentle kick towards the animal. The chipmunk took a quick step and began to feast.

“Anyway, Jerry’s life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. You see, the higher you rise in the ranks, the longer the work hours. So, while I wallowed in middle management, Jerry was on his way to the executive suite. Unfortunately, that left Doris at home alone. Oh, sorry, Doris is his wife’s name. She’s a knockout platinum blond and has a body that won’t quit.”

The chipmunk cocked his head to the left.

“Yeah, you know what I’m talking about, don’t you little buddy. Well, I decided to visit Doris while Jerry was working late. It seemed the right thing to do. After all, I was dating her when Jerry first took her out, so we all know each other. Let me tell you, little buddy; she was one lonely woman. It seems Jerry was so obsessed with making the big leagues he forgot all about Doris sitting alone at home. You know the cruel irony in all of this? Doris didn’t even care about money. She just wanted a roof over her head and a man to keep her company. Old Jerry was tilting windmills, as they used to say.”

The chipmunk finished the nut and began to wave its tiny arms. Frank noticed another acorn and shoved it his way.

“Well, I guess you know what happened. Doris and I finally hooked up. In fact, she was going to tell him about us next week. Jerry really was an idiot. Do you what he did on his first weekend off in two months? He went hiking with me, here, today. How stupid can one man be? Is it any wonder Doris decided I was the better man. Well, we were walking along here when Jerry suddenly stops. I thought we were taking a water break. Oh, that reminds me.”

Frank stopped talking, pulled out his water bottle and took a long drink. He put the bottle back in his waistband and continued.

“As I was saying, I thought we were going to take a drink. The next thing I know Jerry’s yelling at me and accusing me of sleeping with Doris. Of course, I was, but I was still surprised by the ambush. The next thing I know he takes a swing at me. I ducked and shoved him, and he does a swan dive to the bottom. I guess I showed him who the real winner is. He took my grades, he took my positions at work, but he couldn’t take my woman.”

Frank let out a bitter laugh that began to grow. The laughter started to bounce off the canyon walls and seemed to fill the sky. He roared in triumph and let the sound fill the heavens. When he had no breath left, he stepped back and tried to regain his air. His left foot found the edge of the cliff and the loose gravel gave way. With his arms swinging forward Frank tried with all his might to remain on the precarious ledge he had placed himself.

The momentum from his arms began to work in his favor, and the trunk of his body started to lean forward, but his left foot hung out over space and began to surrender to gravity. Frank attempted to fall forward, but the momentum of his left leg carried his right leg over the edge.  Frank’s belly hit the dusty floor, and he felt his body continue to slide over the granite-walled cliff. With his feet trying to find a foothold his hands managed to dig into the dirt until they discovered some small shallow roots to aid in their desperate bid for some friction. His falling stopped.

Frank took slow shallow breaths and tried to figure out how to climb his way back onto solid ground. The chipmunk stood there staring at Frank. Suddenly he darted towards him in tiny leaps and bounds. Frank wondered what his new friend would do to help. The chipmunk ran up, bit Frank on the nose and scurried off. Instinctively Frank grabbed his nose, and gravity pulled him over the cliff to his friend below. Frank’s screams echoed until his body reached the bottom and thudded next to Jerry.

The chipmunk chattered and danced in a circle before retreating to the safety of the bushes.


 

Rapid Succession

Sarah sat in front of her laptop. Sweat began to drip down from her smooth pale forehead. Strands of her black locks stuck to the edges of her face. She had not planned on her secret getting out. It was all part of a well-executed plan. Jerome hurt her, and she struck back. Sarah was sure she hid her tracks well enough, but somehow Jerome found out, and now he was taking his revenge.

Six hours earlier their YouTube channel was demonetized. Sarah lodged a complaint as Denise and claimed the videos contained copyright violations with their background music, and that she had written the scripts used by the actors. Her complaint alleged that payment was under dispute and the content was protected by her copyright until the dispute was settled.  The channel was actually about their relationship, and Sarah knew the disruption was temporary, but that did not matter. He deserved some drama after leaving her for some young woman he met at a cocktail party.

The star-struck twenty-year-old was in awe of Jerome. Any woman would be. After all, there were not too many self-employed thirty-two-year-olds with a seven-figure portfolio and a well-known public persona. Jerome seemed to have forgotten he and Sarah were a team. So, Sarah would teach him a lesson, but it all went horribly wrong in rapid succession.

Sarah had forgotten Jerome had connections with the media giant. He placed a simple phone call and found out the alias she had used to lodge her complaint. It did not take long for Jerome to put the pieces together, and then, he doxed her. Fans who at one time lauded them both turned on Sarah. Social media had exploded with #shutdownsarah. She watched in horror as her once prominent fashion review channel lost subscriptions by the minute. Somehow the revenge she had planned for Jerome had turned about and was taking Sarah down instead. She was no longer the innocent victim, but the bully.

Sarah wiped the wetness from her face and slipped on her headphones. She did not want to take Jerome’s call, but things were now out of control. Maybe she could stop it. Maybe Jerome would forgive her. The familiar Skype ring emitted from her speakers, and she let out a long breath and answered. Jerome’s face filled her screen. Despite her anguish, his black eyes and strong jawline pulled her in for a moment. She felt herself once more desiring to make him happy, but then she saw her. That woman. Valerie was just over Jerome’s shoulder typing furiously on the keyboard.

Jerome gave Sarah a wink. “What’s up girlfriend?”

Sarah tried to keep her rage in check but felt the blood rushing to her face. “I’m not your girlfriend anymore.”

Jerome chuckled and shook his head. “You know that’s right. Look, we had a good thing going, why did you want to ruin it?”

“I wasn’t the one who ruined it. You did. You and Valerie.”

Jerome pushed his chair back slightly and positioned himself between Valerie and the camera. “Look, I don’t want to see you hurt yourself anymore than you already have. I’m willing to call a truce. I’ll even put out a video asking people to forgive you as I have.”

“Why the change of heart? After all, you’re the one who outed me.”

Jerome’s forehead wrinkled slightly. “You are one crazy woman. You shut down our channel. Don’t you realize we both get that money?”

“I wasn’t worried about the money.”

Jerome humphed and said, “Looks like you’re worried about the money now.”

“I don’t care about the money. I cared about you. Getting paid to do stupid stuff for people living in their basements was just an added bonus.”

Jerome leaned forward, “Do you mean you don’t care about our viewers.”

Sarah shook her head and said, “Nope. I just did it to get time with you, but if I can’t have you, then I’ll take the money.”

From behind Jerome Sarah saw Valerie jump up and pump her fist in the air. “What’s going on?” asked Sarah.

Jerome smiled, “Just a little insurance. We’ve been recording our video chat.”

“You what?!” Sarah jumped up, and her headphones flew off and bounced off her chair. Jerome watched her as she paced and then beat on her desk. Sarah reached down and grabbed her headphones off the floor. “Why? Why would you do that?”

Jerome crossed his arms and spoke into the camera. “As I said, insurance. I want you to contact YouTube and withdrawal your complaint. Trust me, babe, it’s a win-win. We both get the revenue, and with all the drama you created, we’re sure to see a rise in viewers. I promise I’ll tell our fans to resubscribe to your channel. After all, hell has no fury like a woman scorned. I think you’ve proven that. It’ll give you cred with your fan base.”

“And if I refuse?” Sarah fumed.

Jerome sat there with a smug look for a moment, and then he finally answered. “If you refuse I release the video of our phone conversation and you lose everything.”

Sarah sat down in her chair. She was defeated, but then an idea popped into her head. Sarah pulled the mike close to her mouth and whispered. “Fine, release your video.” Jerome’s surprised face was the last thing Sarah saw when she quickly shut Skype.

Sarah’s mouth formed into a twisted smile. Once Jerome released his video she would hit him with a bullying charge. He would not be a YouTuber much longer. As for her channel, Sarah no longer cared. Let it all burn to the ground, she thought to herself. I’ll have my revenge.

 

 

A Fight for Survival

Charlie walked out into the old cornfield behind his family’s house. Although the harvest had long since passed crows and other birds walked along the ground looking for forgotten kernels. Along the edges of the field bluebirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, and others visited the various feeders for their easy pickings.

Charlie watched in wonder as yellow finches and tufted titmice flew between the pines and the feeders. A coordinated ballet among birds of all shapes and sizes took place as they shared the bounty his parents provided. Charlie made his way past the edge of the yard and into the cornfield. Before too long he found himself one hundred yards away from the house and close to the side of the property.

On the far side of the field, near the edge of the forest, he heard a twig snap. Charlie froze and began to scan the edge of the woods. A flock of birds escaped from the trees and flew over Charlie and into the field. The young man knew he was not alone. His father once took him hunting for black bear. They tracked their quarry for two days in the woods. Charlie could never forget the experience because it was the first time he had slept on a forest floor. Although their makeshift lean-to provided some shelter, the forest floor kept him awake most of the night. He was sure every sort of insect was climbing under his clothing and chewing on his body. He still remembered the sound of leaves and sticks breaking under the bear’s massive body as they watched it wander through the woods right before his father shot it.

The air shifted, and Charlie caught the whiff of an animal. It was not bear. He remembered that smell too well. The sickly odor of dirty fur was something that never left his memory. The scent this animal was more earthly. It was almost musty. He had never smelled anything like it. He thought he could hear something breathing, but there appeared to be nothing between the trees. The wind shifted again and wafted across the cornfield. The familiar smell of birds struck Charlie’s senses, but the odor was stronger than he smelled before.

He turned and saw the ground covered in black crows and ravens. A half-dozen hawks circled high in the sky. Charlie forgot about the danger in the woods and stepped slowly back towards the house. Crows cawed and clucked as they hopped to the side and let Charlie pass, although none moved far. Some even allowed their beaks and body to brush up against Charlie’s pants. A tide of ravens rose off the ground and landed in lines of three deep and seventy yards wide between Charlie and the woods.  His heart pounded as the carrion fowl completely covered the cornfield in a sea of black.

The edge of the backyard was finally in view, and Charlie’s heart stopped. Draped around every feeder were reds, yellows, blues, and browns.  The most frightening part was that these birds were not attempting to cooperate or demand any food. They all seemed focused on him. Another breeze wafted across the field and Charlie almost gagged. He never realized how overpowering the stench of birds could be.

From behind ravens suddenly cried out in unison. Charlie caught his breath and quickly turned around. A black tide of birds rose into the air. Row after row, like a wave rising in the sea, a black wall went up into the sky. The sizeable barricade of dark fowl split open, and a mountain lion with its teeth bared broke through towards Charlie. He screamed and ran towards the house for his life. The shadows from the bird’s overhead blocked out the sun itself

Charlie knew he could not outrun the animal, but he had to try. “Pa, help!” he screamed as he ran. Charlie prayed somebody would hear him. He was getting closer to the edge of the yard. The den of birds crying, cawing, screeching, and tweeting made it impossible for him to hear, and Charlie soon gave up yelling. Then he felt the first footfall. It was an unmistakable thud on the ground behind him, and Charlie knew his time was short.

Then the black shadows from above moved in like a sweeping wave. The black cloud appeared to freefall in the air. Charlie was sure they were aiming for him but the tide turned at the last moment and swooshed just past his head. He heard the cougar cry out and a chill ran down Charlie’s spine, and he stumbled in fear. The large cat was so close its foul hot breath could be felt on Charlie’s neck, and the odor filled his nostrils.

The back door of the house burst open, and all the birds on the edge of the backyard flew off in an instant.  Charlie could see his father with a shotgun in his hands, and his forty-five revolver strapped to his hip. Charlie tried to yell “Cougar,” but he didn’t have enough breath left. He stumbled another three yards and fell on the ground.

His father leveled his shotgun at the birds. Suddenly a hawk appeared from nowhere and struck the barrel to the right. The pellets sprayed harmlessly into the dirt. The crows and ravens scattered at the noise. As they separated the angry cat could be seen knocking two birds out of the air with its paws while clutching the third one in its mouth. It stopped when it spied Charlie fifteen yards ahead on the ground attempting to get to his feet.

The cannon-like sound of a forty-five magnum resounded across the field. The mountain lion took one step and fell to its side. Charlie’s father quickly walked over and shot the animal once more in the head. Charlie walked to his father as his dad stood over the deadly predator. Charlie wrapped his arms around his father.

“Thank you, Daddy. I thought I was dead.”

His father put his arm around his son. “If those birds hadn’t been making such a racket you might’ve been. I looked outside and saw them diving at you and realized you were in trouble.”

“What are we going to do with the mountain lion?”

Charlie’s father holstered his pistol and then looked around the field. “I think we should leave him where he sits. I believe those birds deserve a proper thank you for saving your life.”

Charlie let go of his father, cupped his hands to his mouth and hollered, “Come get it, boys! Supper’s on!”

The two made their way back to the house. Charlie opened the back door and heard the sound of rustling wings. He and his father looked back to see a sea of all sorts of carrion fowl surrounding the dead cat as they settled in for their feast.


 

The Abrupt Stop

Philip’s head abruptly compressed back into his headrest. The sound of crunching metal and breaking fiberglass echoed in his ears. The world around him slowed down. He could see the driver’s side window slowly shatter, and he closed his eyes as the shards of glass pressed against the left side of his face. An airbag to the right smacked him in the head, and the airbag in the steering wheel exploded before him. His arms flung off the steering wheel and a pillow of air caught his head as his body lurched forward.

Everything was black, and then there was the voice of a woman screaming. Light began to fill Philip’s eyesight, and he started to look around to see what had happened. He looked up into his review mirror to find the grill of a Honda SUV sitting where the back seat of his Ford Fiesta used to be. The words of the screaming woman slowly entered his mind.

“What are you thinking! Look what you made me do! Why would you stop like that!?”

Philip could hear the faint cry of sirens. In front, his car’s bumper rested against the back of a Suburban. An older woman was walking up from its direction. She put her head in between the hysterical driver and Philip.

“Are you okay sir? I was watching in my review mirror and she never even slowed down.”

Philip tried to move his arms. They responded, but pain shot through the trunk of his body. Philip moaned and then attempted to answer, “I think so. I’m really sore.”

“Your face is bleeding.”

Philip reached up to the side of his face and held his palm in front of himself. Blood painted his palm.

“My name is Kim,” said the middle-aged woman.

“I’m Philip,” he responded in short breaths.

The upset woman pushed her shoulder between the two and exclaimed, “What are you two conspiring? It’s all your fault. If you hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t have hit you. Don’t try to blame this on me.”

Philip could hear sirens closing quickly from a distance. He unbuckled his seatbelt and pain through his chest. For a moment he felt as though he could not breathe. Turning his body towards the worst pain allowed the air to return to his system.

“Maybe I’ll just sit here until help arrives,” he said to both women.

A police car pulled into the intersection to block traffic away from the accident. A young police officer got out and walked deliberately towards the three accident victims. Before he could complete the five yards to the cars, a fire truck rolled up. The upset young woman turned and addressed the officer.

“Officer, I want these two arrested. They purposely stopped in the road so that I would hit this car. It’s all a setup.”

“Please step to the side ma’am. I need to examine the driver.”

“Why? He’s faking it.”

“Please move out of the way, or I’ll place you in handcuffs and put you in the back of my car for impeding an officer.”

The woman stopped talking and abruptly walked to the curb.

The policeman asked, “Are you able to get out of the car?”

“Philip shook his head. When I try to move the pain is so bad I can’t breathe.”

A fireman walked up, and the officer addressed him, “I think this guy has some broken ribs. He has a lot of pain and can’t breathe when he tries to move.”

The fireman looked down at Philip, “Folks call me Dan. Don’t worry; we’ll have you out of here and feeling better in no time.”

Dan attempted to get Philip’s door open, but it was stuck. “Get me a crowbar!” yelled Dan to someone out of Philips line of sight. Philip could hear an ambulance arriving on the scene, and then the screaming of sheet metal as the door gave way to the crowbar and the two firemen.

Somewhere nearby Philip could still hear the irate woman yelling. A second voice joined her’s. That of the policeman trying to calm her down. “It’s a scam! I’m telling you that you need to arrest those two.”

There was more mumbling and yelling, but Philip was distracted by the EMTs that had arrived. They took his vital signs, started an I.V. and administered pain medication. Although the pain shot past the medicine, Philip was able to continue breathing as they gently pulled him from the car and on to a backboard. They then lifted him onto a gurney and finished strapping him in.

“You can’t arrest me! I’ve done nothing wrong!” screamed the woman.

Philip turned to his left to see the angry young driver escorted away in handcuffs.

“Ma’am, look at this wreck you caused. Look at that man on the gurney. You rear-ended him. This accident is your fault.”

The woman began to sob and attempted to speak, “But it isn’t, why can’t you see that?”

“Let’s head down to the hospital and get your blood drawn for drugs, and then we can talk more about it.”

The woman sobbed louder as she walked out of Philips sight.

Kim walked up to the gurney and asked the EMT,  “May I speak with Philip alone for a moment?”

“Sure.” The EMT walked over to help his partner finish putting away their gear before they left.

“Are you insane?” Philip asked. “You almost got me killed. Slamming on your brakes at a green light in a fifty-five mile per hour zone in the middle of nowhere. We want the insurance money, not the pearly gates.”

Kim smiled and patted his arm, “Just take it easy. We’re going to have a big payday with this one. We’ll go after her for pain and suffering and anything else we can come up with.”

“We better, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do this anymore.”

Kim smiled, “That’s okay honey. You’ll forget all about it when you get out of the hospital, and we’re down in the Bahamas.”


 

Cheaters Never Prosper

Like a glove, thought Steve. The leather sleeve wrapped snugly around his prize baseball bat.  Steve had paid over one thousand dollars for that bat. The previous owner claimed it had been used by A-Rod during his time with the Mariners. Although Alex Rodriguez had been involved in some controversies over his career, his equipment still fetched an excellent price among collectors, but it was not about the money. Steve was an A-Rod fan and always would be.

Steve laid the sleeve against the right-hand drawers of his mahogany desk. The freshly tooled tan leather stood out against the darkly wooded workspace and cherry paneled walls.  He had no windows to see out of, but nobody had windows to look into either. Steve liked his dark secluded office. Darkness could hide a multitude of sins from prying eyes. After all, a successful nightclub needed to keep its trade secrets.

Steve’s charcoal painted door opened and Dion walked in. His six-foot-four-inch frame filled the opened doorway. Steve nodded his head, and the bouncer continued inside and stepped to his left. Steve noticed he was able to see the bulge of Dion’s weapon under his jacket. He would have to speak to him about that later.

Frank’s slight five-foot-seven-inch body stood in the doorway, hesitant to move. Dion’s twin brother Aiden assisted Frank inside with a shove from behind. Aiden followed, closed the door, and stepped to his right.  Steve pointed to a chair in front of the desk, and Frank quickly sat down.

Steve rested his chin on his palms and looked at the sight in front of him. Frank’s small frame looked even more fragile in the dark wooden chair. Steve noticed Frank’s hands trembled slightly, despite holding them in front of his body.  Aiden and Dion’s well-built bodies framed Frank from behind. Their three-piece suits contrasted sharply with Frank’s blackjack dealer uniform.

Steve leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on his desk. He pulled an already cut cigar from his shirt pocket and lit it up. The smoke escaped from his lips into Frank’s direction. Frank did his best to stifle a cough.

Steve took one more drag, exhaled, and the said, “Frank, I hear some bad rumors about your blackjack table. I wanted to hear your side of things.”

Frank’s voice quivered as he responded, “Anything Mr. Russo. What are people saying?”

Steve took an even more prolonged drag on his thirty dollar cigar, dropped his feet off his desk, leaned in close to Frank, and exhaled into his face. “I’m told you’ve been skimming from my table.”

Frank coughed violently and attempted to shake his head as it nodded back and forth with each time he coughed. “No, Mr. Russo. Why would I ever do that? I’m not that stupid.”

Steve sat silently for a moment and considered his two options. This guy is a thief and a liar, why not just kill him? Of course, he’s scared; anybody would try to save himself if they were sitting where Frank is now.

Steve snapped his fingers, and Dion stepped up and pulled papers from his inside pocket. Steve took them and spun them around so Frank could read what was written.

“You see, Frank, you have a problem. This piece of paper is a copy of your bank balance. Do you see here where you started depositing an extra thousand dollars a week? The problem is, we didn’t give you a raise or nothing. Adrian spent some time checking into your family. It turns out nobody’s died, so you ain’t getting it from a dead relative.”

Frank’s fingers began to shake even more, despite his best efforts.

Steve continued, “Adrian also checked the numbers your table is pulling in. Want to hear something funny?”

Frank didn’t answer. He sat still as a board, and his face was pale with fear.

“Well, when I say funny, it ain’t funny. Your table started coming up a thousand dollars short every week at the same time you started getting this extra thousand in your bank.”

Frank stammered, “Please, Mr. Russo, I can explain.”

Steve held up his hand. “Please, Frank, don’t do that. I have the video from the casino floor cameras. We can see you pocketing the bills.”

Frank buried his face in his hands and began to weep. Steve hated a man who couldn’t take responsibility for screwing up. Frank wiped his face with the palms of his hands, looked up, and pleaded, “Mr. Russo, please, it’s my mother, she’s sick.”

Steve slammed his palm on his desk. Everything on the desk vibrated and Frank nearly tumbled out of his chair. “Enough!”

The room grew quiet. Steve let the atmosphere grow thick with silence. He reached down for the leather sleeve and his newly acquired bat. With his left hand, he signaled Adrian over. “Take this.” He looked over at Dion and pointed,” Take Frank, and you guys go for a drive. Teach him a lesson, but I don’t want him killed or maimed.”

Frank began to cry and tried to speak, “Thank you, Mr. Russo. I promise I’ll never do it again.”

“If you do, it’ll be your last mistake.”

Frank stood up, and Dion took him by the arm. Adrian opened the sleeve and slid the bat out of its protective covering. Frank’s eyes grew large, and his knees gave way. Dion grabbed him by his shoulders and partly carried him to the office’s rear exit. Steve heard Frank whimpering as Dion pushed him outside towards the parked car.

Adrian slid the bat back into the sleeve. “Nice bat.”

Steve nodded. “Yeah, it was a good find. Now, remember, nothing permanent.” Steve put the bat back down to his right and pulled open his bottom left drawer and handed Adrian two short rubber hoses.

Adrian walked out, and Steve heard the car drive off.  A moment later, the exit door swung opened with a breeze. Sunlight and fresh air invaded the room. Annoyed that Adrian had not shut the door properly, Steve mumbled to himself, walked over, and closed the door.  He preferred the darkness.


Written in anger

My dear friend,

With a heavy and bitter heart I write to you. Why have you done this to me, you coward? Why have you messed my marriage this way, shameless fool? Why is your heart so full of evil?

You told her you loved her when you knew you did not. See how dishonest you are. All you wanted was her body but you had no scruples to deceive her. You promised to send away your wife and marry her. See how dishonest you are even to your own wife.

You even promised to take her to the States and out of my reach to live with you in luxury. Now that you have got what you wanted, you have dumped her. Are you not ashamed of your self?

Are you aware of the damage you have caused. You have pulled her out of her marital home. You have ruined her marriage and mine. You have destroyed her life and mine; and all our children are traumatized.

Don’t you have a heart that feels for others? You are living comfortably with your own wife and children. Does it not bother you that you have shattered a whole family that was living in peace and in harmony? What have you gained? The mere satisfaction of your animal instincts?

Let me warn you. If your shadow ever crosses my path, that is when you will taste the fruit of your labor.

Your enemy.

#anger, #enemy, #fiction, #letter, #love