Guilty as Sin

Owen felt the leather of the old winged chair press against his bare back. The dry, cracked leather bit against his flesh. He pushed himself harder into the uncomfortable piece of furniture. The dilapidated one bedroom apartment sat almost completely dark in the dusk of the day. The distinct smell of black mold emanated from underneath the threadbare carpet. Smoke stained walls, once white, added to the dirt and darkness that surrounded Owen. An empty bottle of Jack Daniels laid on the floor beside him.

In his left hand, he held a bottle of sleeping pills. Owen had truthfully told the doctor he had not been sleeping, but he did not intend to use the prescription for a good night’s sleep. He was going to take an eternal nap. Own placed the pill bottle in his lap and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket with his other hand.  He scrolled through his contacts and found Daisy’s phone number. She answered on the third ring.

“Owen?”

Owen pulled the pill bottle from between his legs and rolled it against his thigh as he spoke. “I just called to say I’m sorry. I knew I was playing with fire when I went to lunch with Fay. She was vulnerable and lonely. I should have said no that day, but the work hours had been so long, and I just wanted a break. No, that’s an excuse. I’m guilty. I’m guilty of betraying your trust, our vows. I deserve what’s coming to me.”

Daisy’s voice was tense. “Honey, I told you I forgive you. You’ve never been that sort of husband. I just wanted us to spend some time apart. I can forgive you, but the healing takes time. I still love you.”

Tears began to stream down Owen’s face. He could no longer hold back the sadness in his voice. “No, I don’t deserve to be forgiven. I don’t deserve you and the kids. When we were young, we had so many dreams, so many goals. Do you remember? Our kids were going to grow up with one family, just like we did. Now, we’re just another broken family. I blew it.”

Daisy’s voice rose in panic, “Owen, what are you doing?”

“The only thing I can to bring some sense of honor back. I just called to say goodbye.”

“How is giving up honorable?”

“I’m guilty as sin. There’s only one recourse for the kind of pain I’ve caused. No divorce, no custody battles, just a clean break from this world so you can move on.”

Daisy’s voice trembled, “No, no! Don’t you dare. Weren’t you listening? I ‘ve already forgiven you.”

Owen placed the bottle between his thighs again and twisted off the cap. “I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I don’t deserve the kids or any of it. I deserve to die in his hell hole I found to stay in.”

“Don’t you dare. I won’t forgive you if you harm yourself. It was a mistake, everyone makes mistakes, but what you’re about to do isn’t a mistake. It’s giving up. If you do this, you’re abandoning us, and that’s worse than anything you ever did with Fay.”

Owen held the cap between his fingers. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

“If you do this you’re hurting me forever. Is that what you want to do to me? Do you want to hurt me now?”

Owen stopped playing with the lid. “No, but can’t you see? I deserve this.”

Daisy’s voice was firm, “No, you don’t. You need to listen to me. The only person you hurt was me. If you do this, you’ll hurt the kids too.  Don’t give into your shame. We can come back from this together.”

“I don’t know. Maybe you’re just saying this because you think you have to stop me.”

Owen could hear Daisy’s frustrated sigh before she responded. “Don’t be so stupid. You know I love you, and I know you love me. Otherwise, why would you be calling, or think about killing yourself?”

Daisy’s words cut into Owen’s heart. Kill himself. He was no murderer, but then his shame reminded him he was no adulterer until he was. Daisy’s voice cut through his darkness.

“Honey, I want you to come home. I didn’t ask you to leave so you would do this. Just promise me, you won’t hurt yourself. Come home, and we’ll get some counseling. Just somebody to help us work this all out. Please, don’t hurt yourself.”

Owen sighed and put down the bottle cap. “I don’t deserve to come home.”

Daisy’s voice cracked, “Of course you don’t, but that is what forgiveness is all about. It isn’t deserved, it’s given. It’s part of love. I love you, and I forgive you. You made a mistake. You don’t want to make that same mistake again, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then come home. Don’t be a coward. If you love me, you’ll forget whatever you are planning and come home.”

Owen sighed and dropped his head. Daisy was right. Inside he could feel shame begin to darken his mind once more. Fighting against the oppression, he pushed his way out of the old chair before the darkness could press him further into it. The bottle and cap fell to the floor and the pills scattered. Owen took a step towards the wall and turned on the light. A dark shadow appeared to shoot across the room and was gone.

Daisy’s voice was anxious and trembling. “Are you there?”

“Yeah, honey. I’m here. You’re right, as usual. I’m no coward, and I want to fight for you and the kids. I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I want to make this work. Let me get my stuff together, and I’ll be home soon.”

Daisy’s voice calmed, “I love you, honey.”

“I love you too.”


 

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Alone at Last

“Where are we?” asked Lucy as she stared at her phone’s screen.

Jeff quipped, “We’re parked near the edge of a cliff above the ocean,” and continued pressing virtual buttons on his phone’s GPS app.

Lucy sighed. Jeff could be so impulsive sometimes. All she had wanted to do was take a short drive next to the ocean and then find the quaint town of Cambria, but Jeff had other plans. He could not wait until they arrived at their inn to enjoy some intimate contact. When they drove up to the desolate plateau overlooking the Pacific he had other things on his mind than returning to Highway One.

Lucy had to admit, the opportunity to be alone and outside was too much for them to pass up. By the time the two of them had finally finished with one another, the sun was almost below the water. That is when Jeff realized he could not remember how they had arrived at their location.

Jeff lowered his smartphone, “Look; I assumed that the GPS would get us out of here. It never dawned on me that they wouldn’t have this place on a map.”

Lucy’s phone showed only a green blob. No matter how close or how far she zoomed in there were no details. The sun had dropped below the waterline, and the stars had begun to appear. She lowered her phone in defeat.

“I vote we just go for it,” said Jeff. “After all, it isn’t like I don’t have headlights. I know where the cliffs are, I’ll go in the opposite direction.”

Lucy crossed her arms, as much from cold as the annoyance. Her paper-thin white t-shirt could not stop the chilly evening breeze from cutting into her, and Lucy’s bare legs sticking out from her short shorts did nothing to improve her situation.  She stared at Jeff, trying her best to give him the most concerned expression she knew how to make. “Look, I say we spend the night and leave when we have daylight. There are trail snacks in the Jeep, and we can sleep in the vehicle tonight.”

Jeff grunted and then sighed. He lowered his head and shook it.  “I’m cold,” protested Lucy. “You can do what you want. I’m getting in the Jeep.”

Lucy was tired, sore, and did not care for Jeff’s machismo. He might think he was scoring points by pretending to rescue them, but in truth, he had gotten them into their predicament. She reached over the back of the seat and grabbed her jacket and his. Reclining in the passenger seat, she covered herself with the coats and closed her eyes. The world went peacefully dark as she gave into her exhaustion.

A low rumble of thunder woke Lucy. As the world began to flood her mind, she realized the sound was not the weather. She opened her eyes to a blinding light flooding into the front windshield. Lucy held up her hands to spare her eyes. She turned her head to the left to see Jeff in the same position as herself. He must have crawled into the Jeep and fallen asleep at some point after she did. His eyes were now wide open. A look of fear and anxiety filled his face. Above the thunder, she thought she could hear a voice, but the noise was too thunderous to tell what was being said.

All at once, the lights flooding the windshield ceased and the din of the helicopter faded away. The Jeep remained lit up through its glass. A tap on the driver’s and passenger’s glass occurred at the same time. Lucy and Jeff could see the tips of guns pointed towards them through the glass. The doors opened, and they both raised their hands and exited. A man in camouflage spun Lucy around and frisked her. Although, she was sure the extra groping had not been necessary. “Clear,” said the handsy man.

“Clear,” came a voice from the other side of the Jeep.

Lucy turned around and read “McClaskey” sewn into the stranger’s uniform. “Mr. McClaskey, what do you think you’re doing? We were only sleeping.”

“You’re sleeping inside restricted federal lands.”  McClaskey lowered his weapon. Another man brought McClaskey Lucy’s wallet from out of the vehicle. She watched as he pulled out a smartphone and took a photo of her driver’s license. “Would you like to tell me what you were doing here?”

Lucy crossed her arms, “That’s none of your business.”

“Ma’am, this is my business. That’s why I’m here. Now, let’s try again. Why were you here today?”

Lucy tightened her lips and creased her brow. She did not have to talk, but she did not want to push things too far. More than anything, Lucy wanted to find their hotel, and then crawl into bed and go to sleep. Finally, she relaxed and said, “If you must know, we are on our way up to Cambria. We stopped to have a picnic. Time got away from us, and we decided to wait until morning to try to find out way back.”

McClaskey smiled. “A picnic. Is that what it’s called these days?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Lucy, may I call you Lucy?”

She nodded.

“Lucy, you tripped our motion trackers. We’ve had a drone over you since you first parked your car watching everything you did. We’re just trying to figure out what your intentions are.”

Lucy could feel her face flush. “Well, if you watched us you know what our intentions are.”

“Yes, ma’am. We just needed to be sure what we saw is what you had intended.”

“Why else would we do that?”

McClaskey smirked, “Trust me, you two aren’t the first, but next time wait for the hotel.”

“Gladly.”

“Okay, as soon as your boyfriend is freed up you can follow me out. I’ll take you back to Highway One. Just for the record, a half mile south on PCH is a small dirt road that ends in an overlook of the ocean. Only military people use it on the weekends. In case you decide to ever come up here for another picnic.”

Lucy rolled her eyes and let herself back in the vehicle. Jeff joined her back inside. He started up the Jeep and fell in line behind McClaskey’s vehicle.

Jeff glanced over at Lucy, “I guess we got lucky with this one. It was worth it though.”

Lucy looked over at Jeff, and he had a sly smile broadly spread across his face. She sighed and said, “Don’t talk to me.”


 

Alone in the Woods

Billy stood behind an old oak tree relieving himself in the forest. The cool, dry air of the passing cold front had been a welcomed change from the hot, humid day. The campfire was just within Billy’s view. He watched Lauran sit there by the fire. She had bleached blond hair that hung in tight wet curls with droplets of water that fell from their tips. Lauran had gotten caught in the storm that Billy had avoided by hovering in his tent.

After the storm passed over, Billy was able to recover his campfire. Lauran appeared out of the woods thirty minutes later. Her hollow gray eyes penetrated Billy’s heart with sadness when he looked into them.

Billy muttered to himself about lousy timing and attempted to hurry up his business with the tree. He was not sure where Lauran had been, but he knew she needed help and could not stay alone out in the woods. His small two-man tent might feel a bit too personal, but he would have to convince her he would keep her safe. The campsite was only a half a mile from the road. He would take her to authorities in the morning so she could get checked out and call a loved one.

Billy finished and walked back to his campsite. “I’m sorry, ” he said. “I was not expecting company and had a few beers before you arrived.”

“Oh,” responded Lauran. “are you upset about something?”

“What? No, it’s not like that.” Billy pulled up a log he intended to burn later and sat across from Lauran at the fire. “Why would you think that?”

Lauran shrugged, “I don’t know. Jerry used to drink when he was mad. Unfortunately, he’d just get angrier.”

Billy pointed at Lauran with a stick he had just picked up. “Who’s Jerry? ”

“He was my boyfriend.”

“Does he always take you hiking dressed like that?”

“What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?”

“Most people don’t wear a sundress to hike in.” Jerry tossed the stick back on to the muddy ground.

Lauran looked down, picked up a stick and drew an arrow on the ground as she spoke. “Well, I needed to get away from him in a hurry. Jerry doesn’t mean to be angry. He’s had a hard life. Jerry grew up without a father, and his mother’s boyfriends would beat him. She kicked Billy out on his seventeenth birthday. He’s a hard worker, but it’s tough to hold a job when you never even finished high school. I guess all his hardship made him a hard man.”

Billy sat quietly and listened. He was concerned Jerry might be nearby. “Is he looking for you?”

Lauran shook her head. “Not anymore. I was finally able to escape.”

“Then why are you in the woods?”

Lauran shrugged, “I’m just trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go now.”

Billy nodded his head. He noticed her playing with a silver heart-shaped locket. Lauran looked up from her twiddling fingers and said, “Jerry gave me this locket. He worked two months to save up the money. What makes a man love someone so deeply and hold on to so much hate?”

Billy picked up a nearby twig, looked up at Lauran and shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe he couldn’t let go of his pain. You know, forgive his mom or those boyfriends.”

“But he became just like those men.”

Billy nodded, “That’s how hate usually works. It grows inside until it twists you into the very people you despised. I hope Jerry can get some help before he hurts somebody.”

Lauran let go of the locket, and a tear trickled down her cheek. “He already hurt me, but I’ve forgiven him. Besides, I won’t have to worry about him anymore.”

Billy asked, “Does he live nearby?”

Lauran shook her head, “Oh no, he’s at least fifty miles away.”

“How did you end up here then?”

“Jerry brought me up here.” Lauran was about to continue to story, and Billy held up his hand.

“Excuse me. I’m afraid I need to get rid of some more beer.”

Lauran gave a slight smile and looked away. Billy got up and felt a bit awkward as he rushed to the tree. His bladder was not in a joking or social mood. As he finished watering the tree he looked around its trunk to look at his beautiful but sad new friend. To his surprise, she had disappeared.  Billy quickly zipped up and rushed back to the campfire.

He looked down and noticed three equally spaced arrows leading out of his campsite. Billy picked up his flashlight and began to walk where the arrows were pointing, but stopped. What if this is a trap?  Billy considered the fact that Jerry could still be with her, but why would they lead him away from his campsite? He was just as vulnerable by the campfire.

Billy grabbed his taclight and hunting knife and left the camp. There were no footprints on the trail. Billy backtracked and walked the perimeter of his temporary shelter, but the only tracks he could find were his own. Intent on solving this mystery he prepared to follow the arrows once more. Billy checked his right pocket to confirm his cellphone was there. Pulling it out he found the signal a solid four bars, just as it had been earlier in the evening.

The trek through the woods was treacherous even with the flashlight. Ruts, roots, and mud made for slippery walking. Fifty yards from his tent something caught his heel and Billy went sprawling into the mud. He picked the taclight off the ground and wiped the dirt away from it. Looking back, Billy instinctively jerked his leg away from the pale human hand sticking stiffly out of the mud. He backpedaled on his hands and feet ten more feet before stopping to catch his breath. Billy reached in and pulled out his phone. He called authorities for help.

Rangers and the state police arrived thirty minutes later. They found Billy leaning up against a tree. He was muddy and pale, but he did not leave the body. A ranger took a shovel and began to expose the corpse slowly. As the mud started to clear strands of bleach blond hair began to stick up in small places out of the mud. Billy watched as the ranger reached down and pulled up a silver heart-shaped locket.

A nearby state policewoman grabbed Billy as his knees buckled.

“Are you going to make it?” she asked.

Billy forced himself to stand up. “Yeah,” he said in a shaky voice. “I think the guy inside that locket killed her. His name is Jerry.”

The ranger walked over, “How do you know?”

Billy pointed towards the body, “That’s what she told me.”

The ranger looked over his shoulder at the corpse and back at Billy. “I doubt it. She’s been dead at least a couple of weeks.”

The policewoman gently took Billy by the shoulder. “Why don’t we get you out of here. I think you’ve been through enough.”

Billy wiggled free of the officer’s grip. “Just promise me you’ll follow-up on that locket.”

“Don’t worry, we’re going to follow every lead.” the officer responded.

Billy nodded, and the two of them started the half a mile trek to the road.


 

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.


 

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.