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“It’s very rude, you know, to try to evict someone without notice.”

She can’t hear me. I know she can’t. She’s never really heard me. And I know that the flaw is mine.

I lean back into the couch, resting my old bones. The couch is large and red and soft. It is the kind of couch you sink into and then end up needing to have someone help you up, holding your hands and pulling hard, until you rocket up into them, knocking into them like a poorly-thought out Three Stooges bit.

There is no one to help me up. She certainly won’t help me, fussing around the dining room table as she is. I know that she would not help me even if she could and, I have to admit, that hurts me a little bit. Kids these days have no respect for their elders.

Not that I’m her elder, exactly. But I’m somebody’s. And that should count for something, shouldn’t it?

She brought the couch with her when she moved in, and it must be said that for all its largeness and its obtrusive redness, the thing is certainly comfortable. It’s the kind of thing you’d want to lay around on for hours watching movies.

Not at all like the stiff brown plaid one I used to have. That thing was hideous. You’d sit on it just so you could avoid having to look at it for a little while, until one of the broken springs started poking at your tush. Maybe that’s why this generation watches so much television – you couldn’t have a Netflix marathon with springs and wires poking at your hiney, that’s for sure.

Uncomfortable furniture. That’s why my generation got things done, I suppose.

I glare at her as she fusses with the matches. It would be funny, if it weren’t so utterly rude.

Now she wants me out.

Sigh.

Of course she does.

I suppose, in her situation, I’d want me out too.

That’s one thing I do understand about this generation. Some people say they’re selfish. That might be true, but I understand. It’s a basic need, you know. The need to feel that something you own is truly yours. Possessive, maybe. But that doesn’t make it wrong, does it?

This place used to be mine. I would like to think that it still is. You can still smell my perfume, drifting around corners, mingled with the scent of the ointment I used to use when my joints ached.

Now it’s hers, mostly, anyway. She fills the rooms with silly pop music. The radio blasts at all hours. The scent of baking muffins and the acrid odor of nail polish override the stale scents of perfume and ointment, enough that you wouldn’t even notice it, if you didn’t know it was there.

I don’t see why we can’t share this place. She didn’t even know I was here until yesterday. Until someone was foolish enough to tell her.

I can imagine how the conversation went. The not-so-subtle coaxing to the grand realization.

“Have you ever felt like you were being watched?” they might’ve asked.

“Do parts of the space feel colder than others, without any particular reason?”

That’d be the kitchen, dear. I’ve always been partial to the kitchen.

“Do you sometimes hear dishes clinking at night?”

I just like my dishes in a certain order – it’s certainly not my fault that she’s so disorganized.

I can imagine understanding blossoming across her face, eyes wide, mouth open, struck slightly stupid-looking as she realizes.

And since, then, of course, she’s been taking action.

I smile at her as she shuffles her bundle of sage and her matches with shaking fingers.

She’s scared. I can see it.

Scared of what? Me?

Where’s the justice in that?

I mean, this place is mine as much as it is hers. I may not pay the mortgage or wash the windows or scrub the toilets. But I am here. I have been here for longer that it is possible for her to recall.

I am in the bones of this place.

I was standing in the bedroom the very first time she walked into it. I have listened to her sing off-key as she washes dishes. I have watched her dwindle away hours of her time in front of that idiot-box.

I have been here.

I was here before she came.

And I intend to stay.

We’ve been sharing the space quite peaceably, her and I. Or so I thought. She’d never voiced any complaints, certainly.

Although she’d never actually known I was here.

What you don’t know can’t hurt you, can it?

She fumbles with the matches. Can’t seem to strike them right. These silly young people with their modern conveniences. Can’t even light a simple match.

I laugh to myself, watching her.

Not that she can hear me.

Finally, with an exasperated sigh, she drops the matches, giving up the ghost, so to speak. She walks into the kitchen and I hear her digging around in the drawers. Somewhere at the bottom of the junk drawer, she finds the old candle lighter she bought ages ago.

She dips the long neck of the lighter into the bowl where she placed the little packet of dried leaves.

I know what she means to do. No doubt she’s seen it in one of those silly movies she loves so much. She’ll walk around casting the smoke in front of her, trying to cast me out.

I watch with a gleeful grin as the sage leaves catch fire, the orange light blooming against her pale face. She tries to blow them out, huffing and puffing like a desperate impression of the big bad wolf.

The flames almost leap out of the bowl, growing higher as she leans in, desperately trying to control them, ashes leap out, scalding the dining room table.

I can’t help an unladylike giggle as the flames singe her bangs.

All that time with the flat iron wasted, I suppose.

With a loud yelp, she darts into the kitchen, trailing ash, and I hear the rush of water and the hiss of doused flame.

Silly girl.

It is with a freckling of burn marks on her forehead, singed bangs and a bowl of wet sage that she walks around the apartment.

I feel a tug as she calls my name, beckoning me, summoning me, telling me to leave this place. Telling me to go home.

The pull is not a strong one. It’s a bit like a child tugging insistently at your hand, begging for your attention.

She has my attention, if not my sympathy.

Because what she doesn’t realize is that I am home.

This is my place.

This was my place before she was born.

This is the place where I raised my children, where I lived my life. Where I grew old.

She stands in the room where I lay in bed, so many years ago and breathed my last breath.

This place is mine.

It was long before she came along. And it will be long after she is gone.

This is my home.

And I will fight for it.

I cuddle deeper into the couch, listening to the echoes of her voice from the bedroom.

Oh, yes.

This is my place.

And she has no idea what she’s started.

July 9, 2015

Continued from previous post. If you haven’t read the last one and wish to catch up, it is located here:

https://litforlunch.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/july-7-2015/

******

She was prepared to walk further down the beach, leaving this strange stranger to her own solitude, when the girl turned and smiled at her.

“Hey you,” she called. “Come here!”

Who could resist an invitation like that?

Hell, it was friendlier than most people had been to her on this trip so far. She made her way down to the water, stepping a few feet in, just next to the blonde stranger, so that the tide lapped at her calves.

“Ummm… hi.”

The girl smirked up at her.

“Hi? That’s the best you got?” she asked. “And they say tourists are friendly.”

“Sorry,” she shrugged and plopped down into the water. “Didn’t mean to besmirch the good name of tourists everywhere.”

She glanced over at the girl, still sitting placidly in the water.

“How’d you know I’m a tourist, anyway?”

The girl gave her a critical look, lifting one blonde eyebrow.

“Well, you’re not 75, so….”

“Ah, gotcha.”

The silence was peaceable for a few moments, with the crashing of the waves between them, before she decided to speak again.

“So, what are you doing out here?” she asked.

Another critical look, like you’d give to a two-year-old trying to climb into the dishwasher.

“I live here.”

“Ohh. You mean…. You’re homeless?”

The girl gave a snort of laughter, fluffing bangs across her forehead.

“No…. I have a home. I live here.”

“You….. you’re a ….. oh shit.”

Her voice petered out as her gaze drifted downward and saw a long pair of fins rippling under the water, scales bright in the moonlight.

“Not exactly the response I was hoping for.”

“You’re a MERMAID!”

“Could you not shout it?”

Her voice was disinterested and flat.

“But YOU’RE A MERMAID!”

She managed to whisper-shout it this time – not quite as bad.

“Yes. That fact has been established. Can you not dwell?”

“But you’re a mermaid.”

“Pssh.” This was accompanied by an eye roll. “You say that like you didn’t know we were real.”

“I didn’t.”

“Ah. Well… good for you then.”

The mermaid looked over her shoulder behind them, at the empty beach.

“Also, if you could not tell anybody,” she said. “I’d really appreciate it.”

“Not tell anybody? Why wouldn’t I tell someone? You’re a freakin’ mermaid. I’m talking to a freakin’ mermaid.”

The mermaid glared at her.

“So much for tourists being nice,” she muttered. “It’s no skin off my nose, anyway.”

“No skin off your nose? What would you do if I took a picture of you on my cell phone?”

The mermaid looked her up and down and shrugged.

“I’d probably chuck your phone in the water,” she answered. “But even if you got a photo, no one would believe you. They’ve been snapping pictures of Nessie for years.”

“Nessie is REAL?”

“Are we going to have to go through the whole shouting thing again?”

She took a deep breath and calmed herself down.

“No… no more yelling,” she said. “I promise.”

They sat peaceably for a few minutes, with nothing between them but the rush of the water.

“So…. Are you nocturnal?”

This earned her another scathing look. And nobody gives scathing looks like teenage mermaids do – believe me. She narrowed her eyes and her lips somehow managed to flatten into one annoyed pink line.

“Are you nocturnal?”

“N-no… I’m human.”

“Dumbest answer ever.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course I’m not nocturnal.”

She casually flipped her long tail in the water, making small splashes and, of course, showing off the brilliant scales to perfect effect, all in shimmering shades, ranging from pure emerald, to teal, to bright cerulean.

“Then why are you out here in the middle of the night?”

This received another eye-roll.

“Hello?” she said. “Have you heard of sunburn? Or skin cancer? No thank you. Plus, it’s quieter at night. Fewer annoying humans to deal with.”

“Mermaids can get skin cancer?”

“Honey, we can get whatever you can get,” she said, with some small attempt to look jaded. “Don’t even ask about the syphilis.”

The mermaid shrugged dismissively.

“Arthritis isn’t so bad underwater, though,” she admitted.

“I see.”

Preparing for ridicule, she took a long look at her neighbor. Fins and bikini top aside, she looked like she could be one of those old-fashioned porcelain dolls – all pale skin and big blue eyes. Or she might’ve looked like a doll, had it not been for the attitude pouring off of her.

This girl, she thought, if she were human, would be one of the girls who smoke cigarettes behind the gym during lunch, just because she can. She didn’t suppose you could smoke underwater. This girl would have thick stripes of eyeliner ringing her bright blue eyes at all times – and it would always look fantastic, even if she’d slept on it. Anyone else would look like a drunken raccoon. On her, it would still look cool. She would be the kind of girl who never got lipstick on her teeth, if she even wore lipstick.

In short, she was the kind of girl who would never talk to her in real life.

Except this was real life. And it was pretty frickin’ awesome.

The apartment building behind them had been completely dark. Now a light from an open window struck the sand behind them… And she would’ve been lying to herself if she didn’t know which window it was coming from.

“Pffft.”

She let out the air in one big rush. Moments later, she heard her mother’s voice drifting through the open window, calling her name. The increasing panic was painfully evident as the voice rose in pitch.

It was only a matter of seconds before her mother figured out she wasn’t in the apartment. And then only a minute longer before she ran down the hallways of the apartment building, screaming her name like her hair was on fire.

“Jeez,” the mermaid said. “Overprotective much?”

“Yeah,” she answered. “I guess I have to go.”

“Yeah,” the mermaid answered, looking at her coolly. “I guess you do.”

“It’s been nice talking to you,” she offered.

“Yeah…. Whatever.”

She made her way slowly up the stand, climbed the few steps to the sidewalk and slipped her flip-flops back on. No one had stolen them.

She looked back at the mermaid, still sitting in the waves. She resisted the urge to pull out her cell phone and take a picture – things were better as they were.

Releasing a heavy sigh, she made her way back into the building, heading back towards uncomfortable air mattresses, stuffy apartments and cranky old people.

She smiled at her reflection in the elevator on the way up.

“Best. Vacation. Ever.”

Writing Prompt:

It was just for one night

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/firstlinegenerator.php

Image Courtesy of:

http://www.morguefile.com/

July 7, 2015

It was just for one night. This torture was temporary.

She reminded herself of that, over and over, trying to lull herself to sleep.

It wasn’t working.

Who the hell could sleep comfortably on an air mattress anyway?

“Like sleeping on a cloud” the box had boasted.

More like sleeping on a deflated balloon.

She tried to roll over, and instead ended up doing an ungraceful flop onto the center of the thing.

Some vacation, right?

There are dangers to optimism.

There are dangers inherent in the word ‘yes.’

And when her mother had suggested it a few weeks ago, the words “It’ll be so relaxing” should’ve been a warning. Things that sound good on the surface, reader, are rarely what they seem. And ‘fun’ weekends in Florida with your Mom are rarely as advertised.

‘Fun’ weekends in Florida translate to being stuck in a tiny apartment with a pair of cranky old people who go to bed at nine o’clock, leaving you to bobble around on an air mattress like a cork in a puddle.

Fun. Right.

She grabbed her cell phone off the rocking chair by her makeshift bed. It was just after midnight, the bright white glow of the phone informed her. She’d been tossing around for damn near two hours.

What’s that they say about insanity? Trying the same thing over and over again, hoping for the same result?

With some significant effort, she hauled herself off of the quicksand pit of an air mattress, managing somehow not to fall on her face.

She glanced over at the big screen tv. Tempting, but not an option. She could hear the snores coming through the wall, sounding like the worst opera ever, but she wasn’t about to risk anything.

In a sudden moment of courage, she grabbed the keys off of the counter, slipped her cell phone into the liner of her bra and stepped into her flip-flops. Her mother, brave advocate of ‘fun’ though she was, wasn’t crazy about leaving the house at night, and would’ve been even less crazy about her doing it alone, but the loud snores attested to her lack of objection.

Down the elevator, out the metal gates and onto the beach. Slipping her feet out of the flip-flops, she abandoned them on the concrete lip of the stairs that led down to the sand. Her mother was always on the lookout for thieves, but as far as she was concerned, if anyone wanted her two-dollar old navy flip flops, they were welcome to them.

It would be nice to be alone for a while, actually, she thought, wriggling her toes in the cool sand.

The cousin they were staying with kept finding different ways to phrase the question ‘why don’t you have a boyfriend yet?’ – as though if it were spoken a different way, she might startle an answer out of her. It wasn’t working. And it was getting pretty grating.

Except she wasn’t alone, she realized. Some small distance off, a girl about her own age sat in the water. The waves concealed her from the waist down, but her unusual blonde hair was un-missable. So light it was almost white and long enough to trail all the way down her back and into the water, it gleamed silvery in the moonlight, the ends drifting on the waves behind her.

She was prepared to walk further down the beach, leaving this strange stranger to her own solitude, when the girl turned and smiled at her.

“Hey you,” she called. “Come here!”

Who could resist an invitation like that?

Hell, it was friendlier than most people had been to her on this trip so far. She made her way down to the water, stepping a few feet in, just next to the blonde stranger, so that the tide lapped at her calves.

Will provide the rest tomorrow….

Writing Prompt:

It was just for one night

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/firstlinegenerator.php

Image Courtesy of:

Me

June 24, 2015

Sorry guys… took me a couple of days to finish this one….

“Jolene!!”

No response. He tried again.

“Get back here, Jolene!”

Nothing. Just the quiet of the clearing and the passive bleating of the other sheep. Jolene was always trouble. He should’ve known better.

Sigh.

He couldn’t say he hadn’t been warned. Jolene did have a tendency to wander off. So-named for her rather unusual affection towards bucks, Jolene was a troublemaker. In a field full of docile, fluffy white things, Jolene was nowhere to be found.

He’d already rounded up and counted all of the others and they were ready to go home for the night. The sun was still high, but not for long. And, independent of spirit though she may be, Jolene needed to be penned with the rest of the fluffballs for the night.

The herd, most of them fairly well-behaved, would stay together.

In a gesture of determination, he hiked up his jeans a little farther and set off to find her. How far could she have gotten, after all? The pasture wasn’t that big. The way back to the farm lay one way and a small copse of woods hedged the other. The sheep usually had enough sense to stay away from the trees, but he didn’t trust Jolene to have the common sense God gave a flea… so to the woods he went.

Carefully picking his way through the undergrowth, he listened.

There. There it was. Soft bleating. Not very far away, but strangely echoey.

At least she hadn’t gotten too far… although, he thought, he should be able to see her by now.

“Meh-eh-eh-eh.”

There it was again.

He could hear her… why couldn’t he see her?

Jolene was trouble, but she didn’t have the ability to turn invisible. As far as he knew, it wasn’t a feature sheep generally came with. Maybe, he thought, with a grim smile, it’s something they throw in at extra cost, like a sunroof on a car. New sheep, now with the annoying ability to disappear right when you’re looking for them.

“Meh-eh-eh-eh.”

“Dammit, Jolene,” he muttered under his breath, clambering further into the woods.

Was he imagining it? He hadn’t been working on the farm for very long… Was the bleating only in his head?

Maybe he’d come back only to find that Jolene had found her way back to the rest of the flock?

He doubted it.

And he doubted it even more when bleating got louder.

“Dammit, Jolene.”

He wasn’t sure how she’d managed to fit in there, let alone how he would.

The bleating was coming from a hole in the ground. Not a hole, exactly. More like a hollowed-out dip in the earth, tucked under the gnarled roots of one of the old trees. The small gap was completely black, with the kind of terrifying absence of light he imagined you’d only find in the bowels of the earth.

Ok, so it wasn’t the bowels of the earth. It was just a cave. He repeated the words to himself. It’s just a cave. It’s just a cave.

It didn’t help.

The hole was big enough for a sheep to get through… and unfortunately it looked just big enough for him to get through.

“Stay calm, Josh,” he told himself. “You can do this.”

You know things are bad, reader, when you begin calling yourself by name.

Gulping down air, he sat himself in front of the gap and began to scoot in, legs first. He figured if something bit him, he could always pull himself back out. Only…. If something bites your legs off, that makes it pretty hard to run away. He tried not to think about that scenario. He tried not to imagine something large and hungry waiting for him in the darkness, with sharp, blood-smeared teeth. He told himself that he was being ridiculous.

Luckily, nothing bit him.

And after a few more moments of scrabbling across dirt, he found himself on his hands and knees inside the entrance of a small cave. To his overwhelming joy, he discovered it also wasn’t completely dark – on this side of the cave entrance some light filtered through. It was grayish and dull, like light filtering through water, but he was grateful for whatever light he could get.

And he was even more grateful when the space broadened out a few feet ahead of him, allowing him to stand full height.

On further examination, this place was huge. The narrow path he was on emptied out into a large cavern. He could swear he heard running water ahead, along the with Jolene’s familiar bleating.

The rushing of water got louder and he swiftly came to realize that it wasn’t just some tiny underground creek. The noise swept up around him as the water began to soak through his sneakers. He’d stepped up the edge of some vast, underground river. In the dim light, he looked out over the water… and realized he couldn’t see the other side. Nor, he realized, could he find the edges of the cavern. The space seemed to fade into a blurry, yellow-gray at the edges of his vision.

“Meh-eh-eh-eh.”

Back to the reason he was down here. The sound drew his eyes up… and up… and up. Some short way into the river, incongruous in this muddy place, was a yacht. He supposed anywhere else it would be a ‘small’ yacht, but in the cavern it loomed large above him, cheerfully striped in royal blue and white.

And Jolene sat placidly on deck, happily baa-ing her little heart out, under the firm grasp of what looked to be a very old man.

Josh said the first thing he could think of, which was, admittedly, not altogether polite.

“What are you doing here?”

The old man grinned at him, a rictus grin in a hollow-looking face. Deep-set eyes watched him. The old man ran fingers through his long, matted, gray beard. His nails, Josh noted, were long and dirty, almost like claws, and he fought back a shiver.

Incongruously, he wore electric blue-and-green board shorts, revealing skinny white legs and a pair of shovel-sized feet stuffed into a pair of black converse. A black t-shirt featured a bright green tongue emerging from cherry-red lips, emblazoned with the name of a band he’d never heard of.

“I could ask you the same thing,” the man said. “Not many use this entrance anymore. It’s hardly worth my time to patrol it.”

“I… uh…. Well… I…”

Really articulate. Good job, there, Josh. Just ask for your damn sheep back and go home. Unfortunately, he seemed to have a bit of trouble making words come out of his mouth.

“I came down here to find Jolene,” he finally managed.

“This little lady?” the old man stroked her back affectionately. “I see. Well, that’s all right then.”

“It is?”

He didn’t know why he sounded surprised.

“I had been going to ask about her,” the man said casually. “Whether you intended to use her to pay for your passage.”

The man cleared his throat before continuing.

“It’s a relatively recent policy change, you see,” he said. “We no longer accept livestock as payment. Things get messy when transportation of live animals is involved. Particularly in this industry. I think you’d understand the … umm… inconvenience. But we now accept Visa and Discover. And, if you’re approved based on your credit score, we have a variety of amenities to make your journey easier.”

“My – my journey?” he asked. “Journey where? Is this some kind of cruise?”

“Your journey to the other side, of course.”

The man’s expression returned to seriousness as he went into what appeared to be a pre-written corporate spiel.

“We here at Charon Cruises take your afterlife experience very seriously,” he explained. “We understand that this is a difficult journey and provide comfortable, all-encompassing service in your transition from this life to the next one.”

For a price, thought Josh, although he didn’t say it.

“Wait a minute….”

Charon.

Afterlife.

River.

A fleeting vision of his eighth grade classroom bloomed before his eyes, including what little he remembered from Greek mythology.

“Wait…. Charon?”

The rictus smile bloomed across the old man’s face.

“One and the very same,” he said. “Owner and proprietor.”

“The…. The ferryman from Greek mythology?” he asked, vaguely disbelieving the words coming out of his own mouth.

“Glad to be of some renown,” the old man said. “Although I would like you to know, young man, that we here are Charon Cruises do not discriminate based on ethnicity, race or religion. All are welcome aboard our luxurious river-cruise. No longer a service provided exclusively to Greeks, we now provide global access.”

“I see,” he said, the wheels in his head cranking overtime to adjust to this bizarre reality. “But what happened to the whole…. Ferry thing? The cloak and the coins and all that?”

“Eh,” the old man responded with a shrug of his shoulders. “Coins. They get so clanky and loud, you know? And it’s hard to keep organized. Credit is much easier to handle.”

“And the rest?”

The old man looked down at his tropical-getaway outfit and shrugged again.

“We decided to rebrand,” he said. “The whole wooden-ferry and black cloak thing really wasn’t working. Nobody wants to get into a boat with a creepy old man, you know? Especially not kids. Apparently, I was ‘scary.’”

The man lifted his hands in the ‘quotes’ gesture.

“Profit margins were falling and the customer surveys reflected an overall poor consumer experience, so I decided to change everything,” he explained. “You know, get hip with the younger generation. Provide the luxury experience that the modern world demands. For a reasonable fee.”

“I see,” he said. “Good job?”

He hadn’t meant it as a question. But apparently it was enough for the old man to keep going.

“Between you and me,” he said. “The rebranding has made my life a whole lot better. I mean, rowing people in a boat all day isn’t exactly fun, you know? It was murder on my back. And I’m not exactly young anymore.”

“Ah, well. Good for you.”

“It’s more than good,” the old man said. “It’s awesome. Rowing people in a boat all day is boring. Now? I have cable. And Netflix. Have you heard of Netflix? It’s a Godsend. I mean, I just started watching Orange is the New Black. I don’t know how I’ve lived without it all these years. Well, not lived, exactly, but you know.”

“Ah. Good for you.”

He wasn’t sure. That sounded like a reasonable thing to say. What were you supposed to say when talking to the ferryman of the dead?

“So how about it, kid?” the old man asked. “You in? I can have the paperwork filled out in a jiffy.”

“I… umm…. Here’s the thing,” he said. “Is that I really only came down here to get my sheep… And I’m not dead. At least I don’t think I’m dead?”

He really hadn’t meant that one as a question either.

The old man gave him a hard look up and down, frowning slightly. He gave a small sigh and a shrug of the shoulders.

“You’re right,” the old man agreed. “You’re not dead. But that’s really just a formality. I mean, I’m totally willing to looking the other way on that, if you’d like to see what the land of the dead looks like. And, for a nominal fee, I’ll even look the other way on the sheep.”

Silence hung between them for a moment.

“How you get back, of course…. Is your concern.”

This last was stated quietly, almost a whisper.

“Thanks for the offer,” he said. “But really…. I gotta go. I just came down here to get my sheep and I … it’s really time I should be leaving.”

He made a show of looking down at his wrist, which was pretty unnecessary, he realized, as he wasn’t actually wearing a watch.

“You sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure,” he answered. “Now… if you could just….”

He nodded meaningfully at Jolene, still sitting patiently on deck, ready to go on the trip of no return.

“Fine,” the old man said, giving her one last stroke.

Lazily, he lowered a gangplank and guided the sheep onto it.

“It’s really your loss, you know,” he added, watching the fluffball scoot slowly back towards Josh. “We have HBO and Showtime. And when they were installing the cable, they made a mistake, so we get the pay-per-view stuff for free.”

The old man shook his head, slightly disappointed.

“You’re totally missing out,” he finished.

“Thanks,” Josh said. “But no thanks.”

He began shoving Jolene back up the way she came, hurrying her up to the entrance of the cave, as much as a sheep can be hurried, which is, after all, not very much. Which is why he heard the ferryman’s last words loud and clear.

“Thanks for stopping by,” he said. “See you soon.”

Josh turned around to glare at him, only to find nothing there… Just black water lapping at a dirty brown shore in the gray gloom. A shiver crawled down his spine, in spite of the warmth of the day. He shook his head, fighting off the dull grayness of the space, trying to shake off the gloom and the fog filling his mind.

Finally, he pushed the stupid sheep out of the cave and into the woods, following her out into the real world.

Writing Prompt:

Hell Yacht Sheep

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

Image Courtesy of:

Me. I took this one.

June 18, 2015

The shadow that loomed across his desk was definitely unwelcome, if not unexpected, exactly.

“What now?” he muttered to himself.

The fifth interruption in less than thirty minutes did not bode well for his deadline.

“What was that?”

His boss was not a tall man, but you don’t have to be particularly tall to cast a shadow on the crappy particleboard desk.

“Nothing.” Reluctantly, he spun the wheeled chair around to face his interrupter. “What’s up?”

The slightly wrinkled khakis and white button-down shirt were familiar, as were the glasses and the admittedly admirable mustache … the bouquet of flowers and card, however, were unexpected.

“Those for me?”

The mustache quirked down in frowning disapproval.

“Of course not,” he said. “They’re for Sarah in accounting. Sign the card and pass it on.”

The man unceremoniously dumped the card and flowers on the desk, a good deal less gently than flowers deserve and fled back to his cave of an office.

Oh. Sarah. That’s right, he realized. An office-wide email had mentioned she’d had a death in her family last week, hadn’t it? Had it been Sarah? He couldn’t quite remember.

He shook his head, as if physically joggling his brain would make the necessary details float to the surface. Not bothering to read the other notes, he opened the card and scribbled on some available white space.

People always wrote the same thing on these cards anyway… why bother reading it?

My deepest condolences. So sorry for your loss.

Jim

It wasn’t poetry, but it would do, he supposed, sliding the card back into the envelope and shunting it onto the next desk over.

The colorful envelope and card were long forgotten by the time five o’clock rolled around. Deadlines have a tendency to turn brains into mush, and this one was no exception. By the time a head popped up over the partition between cubicles, he was almost ready to face-plant onto the desk.

“You coming, man?”

Steve had a tendency to begin conversations as if they were already in the middle of one.

“Coming to what?”

“The bar.”

“What?”

Getting answers out of this guy was damn near impossible.

“A bunch of us are getting together for a few drinks for Sarah’s birthday,” he shrugged, as if this information was already common knowledge. “See you there, maybe?”

The head disappeared over the cubicle as quickly as it had appeared. How did that guy have so much energy at the end of the day? He was like a rabbit on steroids.

Then he felt the blood drain from his face.

Sarah.

Birthday.

Shit.

The note he’d left came back to him.

Double shit.

He found himself on his feet before he remembered making the decision to get up. The traitorous feet were taking him down the hallway to Sarah’s cubicle. He didn’t know what he was going to say… but he had to say something, right?

Somehow, miracle of miracles, he rounded the corner without crashing into her, as she stood there, gathering her things and getting ready to go.

“Sarah?”

He sounded out of breath. How had he possibly gotten out of breath from walking down the hall? He hadn’t meant her name to come out as a question, but it had.

“Yes?”

He should’ve thought this out better. Actually, he should’ve thought this out, period. It’s a lot harder to tell someone you’ve messed up when they’re looking directly at you. And it’s especially harder when that someone has long dark hair and bright blue eyes and is smiling at you.

“I just….. Happy Birthday,” he said, lamely.

“Thank you.”

“I just wanted to…. Umm…. Talk to you about your card.”

“My birthday card? Thanks for that, by the way. It was really sweet of you guys.”

Ok. Now the hard part.

“I … just wanted to say I’m sorry, for what I wrote.”

She quirked an eyebrow.

“So… you don’t wish me a happy birthday, after all?”

He felt himself turning bright red.

“No, of course I do… It’s just that I … didn’t mean what I wrote.”

“I see,” she said.

“I actually haven’t read the card yet,” she admitted with a small shrug. “So I haven’t read the horrible, terribly mean thing you wrote.”

Now he was in the odd position of having to defend himself.

“It wasn’t terribly, horribly mean….”

“It wasn’t?

“It wasn’t,” he confirmed. “And I didn’t mean to write it so…”

“You didn’t mean to write it?” she asked. “Were you signing my birthday card under duress? Someone was forcing you to write it?”

“I …” he felt himself turning a deeper shade of red, but forced himself to mumble the words anyway. “I had thought it was a condolence card.”

This got a laugh.

“I see,” she said.

She cast him a fake-somber look.

“So you offered me your deepest condolences on turning 30?”

“Yes,” he said, managing a smile back. “I suppose I did.”

“Well,” she said. “I accept your condolences.”

“Thank you?”

He hadn’t meant that to come out as a question either.

“There is a way you can make it up to me.”

“Yeah?”

“Come have a drink with us,” she said. “The place isn’t far. You can buy me a condolence martini.”

He was prepared to mutter something about being busy, or having an urgent deadline. Instead, he just said yes.

Sometimes, deadlines can wait. And sometimes life is all the better for having missed them.

Writing Prompt:

(write for) 10 minutes * miscommunication * bouquet of flowers

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

http://panthermoon.com/generators/generator2.php

Image Courtesy of:

http://www.morguefile.com/

June 16, 2015

Things can always get worse.

This is what she told herself as she slowly opened the car door and stepped onto the wet pavement, trying to balance on wobbly feet. Damn, those heels hurt.

She leaned against the car door, standing on one foot and circling first one ankle and then the other. It didn’t help. Her feet still screamed for relief after the long day. She’d worn them with parent-teacher conferences in mind. She’d hoped to look a little more authoritative – more put-together – as she faced a steady stream of parents, each convinced that their child was a genius who could do no wrong.

The fact that little Johnnie consistently shoves all of the other kids when they get ‘in his way’ – well, that must be the other kids fault. Sigh.

And now her feet throbbed.

The parking lot looked dark and forbidding, broken glass scattered across the pavement, shimmering weakly under the dim light of a single streetlamp.

This was not her ideal hangout spot. The bar itself was dim. It looked dirty. Not the kind of place she’d ever go into, especially given the rather intimidating row of Harleys parked out front and the unfamiliar, pounding rock music blaring out from its dingy depths.

But it wasn’t as though she’d had a choice.

After several exhausting hours of parent-teacher meetings, she’d hauled her tired bones into her car… which had gone a few miles before smoke started billowing out from under the hood. She was guessing the acrid smell that filled the cabin wasn’t a good sign either.

And this place, luckily or not, was the only thing still open. She’d barely swiveled her smoking vehicle into the parking lot…. Only to discover that her cell phone, fully charged that morning, was now dead, and only really useful as a tiny doorstop.

Things can always get worse, she repeated to herself again, as she wobbled her way through the door. The sour smell of stale beer and sweat hit her in the face as she moved to the bar, resting her hands gingerly against the sticky leatherette edging. She supposed it was once burgundy. Now it was so cracked and discolored it was hard to tell.

She fought the urge to take her hands off of it and tried to remember if she had hand sanitizer in her purse. Carefully, she clambered onto a barstool and looked around for the bartender.

She supposed she should be grateful it wasn’t a busy night. The place was half empty, with a few guys hanging around the booths in the back, and another handful playing pool. The bartender, young-looking and not nearly as intimidating as half of his patrons, stood polishing glasses at the other end of the bar. Not that the polishing would do them much good, necessarily. But it was something to do.

Focusing her gaze on the worn, scratched counter, she gathered her courage to speak.

“I’m sorry… Can I…?”

The first two words had barely left her mouth as she looked up to find a bottle barreling down the counter at her. Automatically, she reached out and stopped it with the flat of her palm. The glass was cool against her hand.

She looked up at the bartender, now ambling towards her. There was no other way to put it. Some guys just amble.

“What’s this?” she asked, feeling a little stupid for having asked it.

“It’s a beer,” he said, with a calm grin. “You’ve never had a beer before?”

“I know it’s a beer,” she said, meeting his calm, blue-eyed gaze. “But …. Why?”

“Because you look like someone who needs a drink.”

Writing Prompt: 250-300 words * A Teacher * a run-down bar at the edge of town

Writing Prompt Courtesy of: http://panthermoon.com/generators/generator5.php

Image Courtesy of: http://www.morguefile.com/

May 28, 2015

Another continuation of the pieces from the past few days. If you missed it, yesterday’s portion is located here:

https://litforlunch.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/may-27-2015/

I’ve already made sure that my front door is locked, but my hand hesitates as I close my bedroom door. Shaking my head at my own foolishness, I go ahead and lock it. I’m sure the flimsy lock on my bedroom door won’t stop anybody – hell, I could probably pick it, given a hairpin and a few minutes, but it makes me feel a little better as I tuck myself under the covers and try to fall asleep, assisted, more than a little bit, by those friendly blue pills.

******

There’s a certain feeling that you get, even in the middle of a fever dream, when your mother sits down on the bed beside you. Her hands might not actually reduce your fever or relieve your cough, but there’s still a comfort that comes when she lays cool fingers against your forehead.

I feel my forehead burning up in my dream, but there’s still a relief. I don’t see her face but I feel her, a slight weight pressing the mattress down beside me, fingers stroking my hair away from my heated face, tucking it gently behind my ear.

Until I open my eyes and realize that it isn’t a dream.

The weight depressing the bed beside me isn’t my mother and the hand isn’t stroking hair away from my face.

That hand is planted solidly across my mouth, although I’m so terrified, I couldn’t scream if I wanted to.

The features on the black figure’s face are indistinguishable in the darkness of my bedroom, but even seated, it towers over me.

“Did calling the police make you feel better?”

I can’t see the face, but I can hear the smile in his voice.

The voice is pitched slightly above a whisper, gravelly and androgynous… Not that it matters if it’s a man or a woman. Either could kill me with equal ease in this prone position.

Gender equality becomes less of my concern as the person reaches their other hand towards my throat. This is when my lungs seem to activate of their own accord – out of self-preservation, I suppose – I started kicking and squealing with all my might, shoving as hard as I can. I’d bite the hand covering my mouth if I could.

But none of it does any good. The figure simply leans back, pressing me to the bed with his body weight, hand pressing against my nose and mouth until I start grow lightheaded from lack of air.

With almost casual ease, he reaches a hand toward my neck and I feel a sharp, digging pull and a painful, pinching snap as the clasp of my necklace breaks.

The pressure on my nose and mouth hasn’t eased and the world is growing dim around the edges. In the near-darkness, I see the sparkle of my odd little charm dangling against the black palm of a glove. And then the darkness curls in around me.

My brain gasps for air and I can’t see anything at all, falling into a space far blacker than the night around me.

May 27, 2015

Continued from yesterday. For those who wish to see the first part, it is located here:

https://litforlunch.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/may-26-2015/

Suddenly, I can’t breathe.

And it isn’t because of my cold.

I fumble a bit, pulling my cell phone out of my pocket. My hands are shaking but I manage to dial 9-1-1.

“911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“My – my house is being broken into.”

“Ma’am, are you currently in the residence?”

“No – I’m standing outside.”

“Do not enter the residence, Ma’am. Remain in a safe place. We’re dispatching a vehicle to your location.”

*****

I pace outside the lobby of my apartment building. Whoever it is… there’s no way they’d go out through the lobby, right? No way someone would just go waltzing out of my building carrying my stuff, right?

It only takes the cops a few minutes to get there and I’m grateful.

Apparently, two cops are the standard for a run-of-the-mill home invasion.

Hey, I should at least be grateful that they came in a car and I didn’t get stuck with the pony patrol, right?

The older one looks to be somewhere north of forty. It’s hard to tell just how far and he’s intimidating enough that I don’t want to ask. Tall, with dark hair over heavyset brows, just starting to go gray. The younger one is about my age…. When did I get old enough that there are cops my age?

I digress.

His hair is a bit longer, sandy-blonde, with a paler complexion than his partner. They look so completely different from each other; I would never have put them together as anything. If it weren’t for the serious looks on their faces, I could almost pretend that they were neighbors, stuck together at some uncomfortable potluck and forced to make conversation.

I fill them in on what happened – walk, shadow, you know the drill – on our ride up to the fifth floor. I wonder, to myself, lest the police think I’m a psycho, if the robber took the elevator or the stairs. If he took the stairs, I suppose he must be one fit burglar – probably one who does a lot of cardio. But then, I figure, there probably aren’t a lot of fat burglars, are there?

I wipe my sweaty palms across my sweatpants, hoping to calm my nerves.

Someone’s been in my apartment.

Someone might still be in there.

We walk down the hallway and I point out my door. The door, I notice, hasn’t been broken into. It’s not hanging slack, like a broken limb. Like the doors always are on CSI. The door is still closed.

That makes sense, I guess.

Why announce “I’M ROBBING THE PLACE!!” with a broken down door if you don’t have to?

The older officer motions for me to stay back, while the younger one quietly tries the door.

And… it’s locked.

Why would it be locked?

What the hell kind of burglar locks the door after himself?

I see the two officers exchange glances as the younger one motions for me to unlock the door.

As quietly and efficiently as I can, I unlock it and push it open.

They rush in, moving through the door quickly, and more quietly than I would’ve thought, given that my entryway has a wooden floor.

I wait, holding my breath, outside my own door, as the officers move from room to room, I imagine, with guns at the ready. I hear nothing.

Finally, I let my breath out in one big whoosh, as the older officer sticks his head out of my front door and gives me the nod.

I walk back into my own living room just in time to see the younger guy holster his gun.

“The premises are secured,” the older officer tells me. “There’s no one in your home.”

“They really did a number on this place, huh?” the younger guy says, eyes roaming around the room.

This is the part where I blush bright red. My hand goes automatically to my neck, fingers turning the charm of my necklace round and round, in a tacit admission of shame. It’s what I do when I’m nervous or uncomfortable…. Somehow the edges of that charm against my skin bring me comfort.

“Actually… This is what it normally looks like,” I admit.

He’s looking around – at all of the fast food containers strewn across the couch, the Kleenex polka-dotting the carpet, the clothes and books tossed casually over furniture and stacked on tables.

“This is what it normally looks like?” he asks.

“Well, not normally, you know, but I’ve been sick and I haven’t had a chance to clean and…”

Why am I justifying my housekeeping habits to a pair of cops?

Oh, yeah… because I called them and told them my house had been broken into.

Because it has been…. Hasn’t it?

That shadow is just as clear in my mind’s eye as it was the moment I saw it. I swear I saw it…. But that doesn’t take the skeptical looks off of the cops’ faces.

Maybe, they suggest, using the reasonable tone one might use with a toddler trying to take a ride in the dishwasher, there was no break-in at all?

Maybe, they say, it was a little too much cold medicine? An over-active imagination?

Is anything missing?

No, I have to admit. I don’t see anything missing.

And given the fact that the door was locked, the way I left it, that nothing is rearranged and nothing is missing and there’s no sign of forced entry…. That maybe there was no break-in to begin with.

I should just admit it… There’s nothing in my house to steal. Nothing worth any money, anyway – unless someone’s super-desperate to get their hands on an old tv and a beat-up microwave. There’s no reason someone would break into my apartment in particular. I’m sure my neighbors have much nicer stuff, come to think of it.

I’m forced to give an ingratiating smile as I thank the officers. I offer them water or tea, along with half a pack of slightly stale cookies. They politely decline.

I know they’re laughing to each other about it as they leave the building. I suppose I should be grateful that they’re not mad at me for wasting their time or charging me for a false 9-1-1 call or something.

But here’s the thing: I know what I saw.

I know it wasn’t the effect of too much fresh air after being cooped up for so long. Or too much cold medicine. Or an overactive imagination.

I know someone was in my apartment. I don’t know why. I don’t know how they got in or what they wanted, but I know someone was here. I can see it clearly – that shadow crossing the lit window, stopping almost as if to look back at me, almost as if it knew I was watching and there was nothing I could do about it.

But there’s no way I can prove it. And there’s no one to prove it to, in any case… no one who would listen.

So I do my best to convince myself that I imagined it. I brew myself a strong cup of tea and take a shower before bed.

Toweling off my hair, I look in the mirror. I focus on my own eyes, deep brown with a few flecks of amber.

Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Did I imagine it? I don’t know.

I only look at my eyes for a few moments before a stray bit of sparkle draws my gaze downward. My necklace glimmers silver under the garish fluorescent bathroom lights.

It’s an odd little thing, but I find it comforting. I frequently find myself absentmindedly touching it, turning the charm around between my fingertips.

It’s an odd non-shape, really. Just some strange combination of metal and glass that someone thought was pretty at some point and strung on a chain. Maybe some sort of industrial byproduct? Some cogs someone fused together? I don’t know.

I say someone must’ve thought it was pretty because hardly anyone does. No one ever compliments me on it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even pay for it – whoever made it didn’t think highly enough of it to charge for it.

I got it in Israel last summer. I was buying a bunch of necklaces from a street vendor in Jerusalem – a handful of Stars of David and Hands of Miriam, mostly as souvenirs for my family and friends. I remember the moment, which is strange, since most of my trip is a blur – the man looked at me.

He really looked at me.

Mostly people, you’ll find, look at you but they really don’t see you. The cashier at the Starbucks looks at you, but only to give you change for your five. Your boss looks at you, but only to ensure that you understand what he’s saying. No one ever just looks at you and sees you for who you are in that moment. This guy did. He looked at me. And I watched as he reached under the counter and pulled out a little metal-and-glass charm on a little silver chain and gently tossed it into the bag with the rest of the necklaces.

“Free gift,” he said. “For you. I think you like.”

He didn’t speak a lot of English and I wasn’t about to refuse. I didn’t actually look at the necklace until later that day.

The chain turned out to be too short, so I’ve put the charm on a chain I already owned, but outside from that small change, I’ve worn it every day since then.

I like to think it brings me luck.

I very much doubt it will protect me from a home invasion, but I’m glad I have it anyway.

I bundle up in my pajamas and pop some Nyquil… I know I won’t get any sleep otherwise. I’ll be coughing all night, rolling over every ten minutes to destroy another tissue, not to mention worrying about strange men breaking into my apartment …. So the Nyquil seems like pretty solid choice. I gulp them down with what’s left of my tea.

I’ve already made sure that my front door is locked, but my hand hesitates as I close my bedroom door. Shaking my head at my own foolishness, I go ahead and lock it. I’m sure the flimsy lock on my bedroom door won’t stop anybody – hell, I could probably pick it, given a hairpin and a few minutes, but it makes me feel a little better as I tuck myself under the covers and try to fall asleep, assisted, more than a little bit, by those friendly blue pills.

Image Courtesy of:

http://www.morguefile.com/

May 26, 2015

Sorry for the long break, guys… This isn’t from a prompt. Just because, I guess:

“Aaachoo.”

It’s a big one. The sneeze is strong enough to knock my head forward, so strong that I can practically feel my teeth rattling in my skull. The tissue isn’t quite strong enough to absorb the impact – I wipe blobs of snot off the wall by the couch.

I have had enough of this cold. Enough of the sneezing and the coughing and achiness. Enough of the various colors of mucus that seem to have taken up residence in my body.

“I don’t feel that bad.”

Maybe saying it out loud will make it true?

Not quite, since those words are followed by a hacking cough.

I gaze longingly out the window. The night is relatively warm – almost sixty. And the breeze blowing through the trees makes it look almost tropical.

I’ve been holed up in my apartment for two days now, chugging gallons of tea and soup. I’ve been popping Dayquil like M & Ms and I still don’t feel better.

My nose is sore, my eyes are bleary and I’m sick of being sick.

Maybe one little walk wouldn’t hurt?

I pull on a pair of sweatpants and my favorite hoody, packing the pockets with Kleenex and chap stick, before I venture out into the outside world. Or at least the outside world that comprises the little lake outside of my house.

My headphones are in, and somehow the music on my cell phone manages to penetrate the stuffiness in my ears…. And it’s nice. It’s nice to stretch my legs, for the first time in two days, to breathe a little fresh air – well, as much breathing as I can manage, anyhow.

The lake is peaceful and quiet. I’m the only one walking, which is preferable, really. I don’t need to get anyone else sick, do I?

Around the lake once. Twice. The third time, I gaze up at my apartment from the opposite side of the lake. I left the lights on and I’m glad I did.

There’s always something comforting, when you’re out walking at night, about looking in windows. You can see into people’s lives – warm living rooms, with comfortable couches and families sprawled out on them, watching TV or eating dinner. There’s nothing like that warm, golden light coming out of a home.

I think I’ll cry when those cold, blue energy efficient bulbs replace the old yellow ones – it’ll never be the same. But looking up into your own living room is somehow special – there’s something particularly comforting in knowing that golden glow is your own – your comfy sofa you’ll be coming home to, with a cup of tea waiting.

Of course, there’s no cup of tea waiting for me – there’s a pile of dishes and laundry waiting, but the glowing light doesn’t know that.

So I take a few moments to catch my breath and to look up at my apartment which, from a distance, looks cozy and warm, instead of messy. And it manages to look cozy and warm…. Until a shadow crosses in front of my living room window. A man-shaped shadow.

The dark blot moves across the golden glow purposefully, swiftly. This is someone on a mission. This is someone with a purpose.

This is someone in my home.

Suddenly, I can’t breathe.

And it isn’t because of my cold.

To be continued….

Image courtesy of:

http://www.morguefile.com/