Vance Rowe, Elaine Johnson, Emma Crowley and Bethany Totten, Bertram Allan Mullin
(Authors names will be posted to their stories next Thursday, after the voting is concluded.)
Gov’t processed cheese.
She dipped into her banana split, tapped the spoon so the hot fudge wouldn’t drip, flicked the tiniest bit of dazzling white whipped cream over the nuts, and paused with the spoon mid-air. “Did you know that the government issued cheese for those in need?”
He sniffed the coffee beans, nodded, set the machine to fine, and started the noise. After a moment, he dumped the grounds into the coffee maker and got the thing started. “You mean now or back in the day?”
“I’m sure they do it now, but in 1954,” she was quoting her cell phone, “government cheese was issued in a brown wrapper.”
He sat back from the granite counter in their new McMansion and studied the pool reflecting just inside their backyard, right next to the cabana and hot tub. “Cheese is cheese, if you get hungry enough.”
She finished the last of the delicacy and settled the glass container in the sink. The party would start in an hour or so, so she added some Brie and Gouda and Provolone to the groaning platter of fruits and muffins, and stuck in back in the cooler. “Hard to argue with that. It stinks to be poor.“
The coffee maker was just about done. He pulled his favorite mug, the one that said, “Wealth Starts Here”, added just the right amount of hazelnut flavoring, and moved back to his office. She hardly saw him anymore, and after this contract was signed, he had two more clients waiting. She stared at the pristine granite counter, at the caterer scurrying around, and strolled through the place one more time to check that the decor matched the image she’d tried so hard to cultivate.
They went to that conference last year, the one that permeated all their plans. It was why they were in this house in this part of town. “You have to imagine your goals if you want to achieve them.” That was one motto from the first speaker. “If you think it, you can have it” was another. They needed to cultivate the Right Mindset, so the last speaker insisted. So here they were, in a magnificent house with vaulted ceilings, far from their friends and family, but in the right side of town, with just the right decor. Their first party would be a magnificent celebration of what they were; of where they were going. She’d eaten a minimal breakfast and lunch to splurge on that banana split so she’d be happy and sated during the party. She wasn’t sure who half the people were, but they certainly expected to eat well. She studied the groaning covered plates on the serving table. That website kept haunting her. Imagine eating government issued cheese. Imagine being that poor. She shook her head. What you think might come true. She needed to think prosperity and wealth. She studied the pristine golf course and smiled. Just think it to make it happen. Wealth was coming. She knew.
WARNING: THIS STORY HAS RACIAL SLURS AND OTHER “COLORFUL” LANGUAGE!
Monopoly in the Hood
“You ‘bout to be bankrupt Tariq,” Big T said to his friend with a laugh.
“She-e-e-e-t nigga, you talkin’ crazy. I’m gettin’ mines. I got dem houses on the BW, man.”
“Yeah but you fittin’ to lose that shit too though.”
“Big T, man, you smokin’ that rock? I’m ‘bout to get my wealth on. As soon as you niggas start landing on that shit, you all done. It will be back to eating dat gov’ment cheese for alla y’all. Yo Luke, roll the damn dice man. It’s your turn, nigga.”
Luke rolled. Landing on a Chance card spot, he picked it up and read it, “Advance token to…shit.”
“Yeah, bitch. I tol’ you. Put that shit right on thereon Boardwalk and gimme my fo’teen hunnit dollars.”
Luke counted out the money and handed it to Tariq and Tariq said, “Now Imma put a hotel on that bitch and alla y’all goin’ to pay me.”
“Tariq, dat’s about all da money you gots. You better not be blowing that cheddar so soon.”
“Yo Cheezy, tell your moms that and mind yo’ bidness. You goin’ to be turnin’ dat corner up there on your next roll and will be comin’ down here to pay me too. Only you will forking over 2 G’s when you do,” Tariq laughed and picked up the dice. He landed on the “Go to Jail” spot.
“Here are some words you will be getting’ used to, Tariq. Go to jail, bitch,” Big T said with a laugh.
“Yo T, you want me to say hi to your pops while I’m there?” Tariq laughed in reply.
The three boys laughed at Big T’s expense and he said, “Dat’s okay. You all goin’ to be bankrupt soon and will have to use dem old coffee grounds over and over.”
Big T’s grandmother called out to him and asked, “Tulane? Do you and your friends want some ice cream?”
The three other boys looked at each other and in unison asked, “Tulane?”
They laughed and T pointed at them with an angry look on his face. Then he shouted, “No Gramma. Nobody wants ice cream.”
“I want some ice cream,” Tariq said with a smile.
“Nigga shut up. We ain’t got no ice cream. Gramma’s a little crazy in her old age. And alla y’all keep on calling me T. If I hear my name being mentioned by any y’all, I will bust a cap in yo’ asses. You feel me? Now, someone roll the damn dice.”
“It’s your turn Tul…er…T,” Tariq said with a chuckle.
T growled a bit, picked up the dice and rolled them.
“Boardwalk, bitch. Pay me.” Tariq said with a laugh.
Angered by being picked on a little too much, Big T said, “Know what? Alla y’all niggas need to get up from my crib. Take ya narra asses home.”
T flipped the game board and stormed out of his room.
“Geez, what’s eatin’ him?” Luke asked.
“He’s mad because he lost his money and has to wait for the truck to deliver his gov’ment cheese now,” Tariq said.
The three boys laughed and left Big T’s house.
No one wanted to approach the barrel now. Instead they leave it alone in the center of the darkened bunker, watching with bated breath as a cloudy white liquid began to creep across the ground. My heart still pounds as I kneel next to Meecah. In the crowded room, he was the only one not watching the barrel; instead he stared down at his shaking fingers.
He had been the only person brave enough to approach the barrel after the search team had brought it underground. We had been waiting eagerly; every so often they’d return with arms full of food, but today, they dragged in a metal barrel, something that they had proudly stolen from a rebel convoy. The rest of the underground colony did not see the barrel as a sign of wealth as the search team did; to us it was nothing more than another three days of eating only government processed cheese. Nothing more than a disappointment
Until they opened it, that is.
Few brave souls dared to approach it after the lid was removed; Meecah one of them. He traded his swagger for cautions steps as he neared the barrel, hand pressed over his mouth and nose.
“It’s filled with white stuff,” his shout echoed around the packed bunker. Slowly he reaches a hand out over the open barrel, drawing a collective gasp from the room.
“Don’t touch it Meecah! It’s not worth it!”
Voices filled the air as Meecah’s hand begins to shake over the barrel. I pushed my way to the front of the crowd, getting a glimpse of the fear in his face. He lowered his hand into the barrel.
He let out a blood curdling scream as soon as his skin touched the white substance inside. Meecah dropped to the ground before me, letting out a wail as he curled his body around his hand. Screams echoed in my ears as the room erupts into chaos.
I force Meecah’s hand open and squint down at his shaking fingers.
“It burned me,” he whimpers, “I just brushed against it, and it burned me!”
I turn his hand over. His fingers are pristine. There’s no sign of a bruise, a burn, anything–
“What is going on here?” The whole room turns as Janice, the bunker’s oldest survivor, wanders into the room.
“Nothing, Janice, just a strange find from the search team,” I reach up to grab the sleeve of her nightdress, but somehow she slips away, leaving only the bitter scent of coffee grounds behind her.
Twist around, I stare into the crowd. Why is nobody stopping her?
A shout startles me, but it’s not full of pain–
Janice is laughing.
“It’s ice cream! I haven’t felt anything this cold in decades!” She scoops it from the barrel onto her shaking fingers. “Hurry, before it melts!”
Soon it’s my turn to scoop from the barrel, the feeling is incredible. The strange liquid fills my body with the most delightful chills.
Janice laughs as she watches us eat..
“One would think you have never been cold before!”
I glance at Meecah; as children of the apocalypse, we hadn’t.
Two Differences from Japan and America
Bertram Allan Mullin
Before moving to Japan, I noticed a problem with wealth in America. Not to say everyone’s rich. There were poor snobs. This created a big problem in the service industry: employees believed because they got paid little they could say whatever they wanted and get away with their behavior because rich owners were afraid to fire and get sued.
I had lived with my dad, who was sick with diabetes. He needed someone around. I’d spend several hours at night working on my novels and helping him. Sometimes I spent days without sleep. Often this would take me to Starbucks.
Better than sugary ice cream.
Obviously sleep wasn’t an option during the daytime because I had good ideas to be written and deleted during edits. Plus, there was no point in sleeping throughout the day.
An afternoon like any other, I walked into Starbucks nearby. The smell of the coffee grounds alone were enough to give me a slight jolt. Yet, I was pretty much a zombie to the world.
The girl at the counter asked for my order outright, not very welcoming.
No big deal.
Figured she was living off government processed cheese and whatnot. Decided to be nice and feigned my best smile to cheer her up, which was actually an exhausted line.
She grimaced. “What would you like to order, sir?”
“Caramel macchiato. Large.”
“Um, did you mean venti?” she asked with a judgmental undertone. I understood. Grande meant large and the former equaled twenty ounces in Italian. She likely assumed I didn’t see that movie too.
She sighed to imply I did something wrong. “Anything else, sir?”
“That’s all.” I could have said, “Thank you.”
People should earn such words. I still felt bad for her. She had to deal with tired assholes such as myself all day and I’d bet worked a double-shift tonight. So I tossed my change in the tip jar.
While I walked out, she yelled, “Good luck with that attitude—” in Texas, the equivalent of: “Go fuck yourself.”
I almost turned, said something.
My decision was to leave with my beverage in hand, pretend to not hear. What bothered me most was I tipped.
The situation could have ended there. Instead, the thought of whether to call her boss and district manager juggled in my mind for the day. My concern was the stuck up employee would speak this way to another customer. “Do you realize baristas like her hurt your business?” Had to be said.
To my reluctance the district manager convinced me to have them send two free drinks my way. I received a formal apology from the company. Gave the freebies to my dad before moving to Japan.
When I walked into a Starbucks there tired out of my mind, the cashier’s joyful smile makes me forget any of my troubles each time. Moreover, there’s usually a happy face, and “Thank you,” with a cute cartoon drawn on my cup. I love the customer service where I live now. Another difference is Japan uses real cheese, not government processed junk.
The house had certainly seen better days. The paint was chipping and starting to peel, the shingles were starting to fall off the roof, and the plants were over grown and dying.
Of course the inside was far worse. Piles of old newspapers and unwashed clothes were piled ceiling-high in nearly every room of the small three bedroom house, leaving only enough room for a tiny walkway throughout. Old food wrappers, some several years old, take out containers, unopened mail, and various books and magazines dotted the area as well. To be blunt, it looked like a landfill. No sane person would ever dare go inside let alone live there.
Yet, it was someone’s home, least it had been. The former inhabitant was now sadly deceased; years of smoking coupled with undiagnosed cancer had taken their toll and unfortunately caused their end. While the death was expected, the details weren’t as easy to deal with. The bulk of it was finished yet the worse remained, cleaning out the house. The one thing the family was dreading.
“I can’t believe she lived like this,” Margo commented as she walked through the house followed by her husband Craig and her nephew, Daniel.
Craig grimly nodded in agreement.
The trio made their way into the kitchen. Suddenly, the smell of rotting food hit them. Margo and Craig covered their noses while Daniel hurried out of the house. He sat down on the front steps and rested his head in his hands. He was beside himself that his mother lived like that. Hells, he was beside himself anyone could live like that.
He had hoped that his mother would have tried to get her hoard somewhat under control years ago when Daniel went to live with his aunt and uncle but she seemed to get worse, especially mentally. She had started to get paranoid and was convinced she was being spied on by the government, first by them going through her garbage then with her food.
“I don’t want that darn government food,” Janet, Daniel’s mother, used to say. “They spy on you with that processed cheese. That’s how they know what you’re thinking.” Daniel had been beside himself with what to do with her the last years of her life. He had tried to get her house cleaned up somewhat before he went off to college but she fought him every step of the way. He eventually gave up, secretly hoping she would do it on her own but she got sick before that happened and now, well, she was gone.
Margo came out and sat next to Daniel, placing her hand on his shoulder. “You want to come back tomorrow and try again?” she asked.
Daniel shook his head. “No, let’s just get it over with.”
He stood up and went back inside. Before long, they had managed to get one room somewhat cleaned, throwing out a pile of trash. Including some darn government processed cheese.
Beer and Cheese
Bud Hankins sat down at the bar with a heavy sigh and ordered a beer. “Hey, Dave! Lager!”
Dave smiled and replied, “Bud, you already owe me. I told you you don’t get served here until you pay your tab!”
Bud’s shoulders dropped as a frown spread across his face. “Aw, come on, Dave, you know I’m good for it.”
Dave rolled his eyes, “Yeah, right. I know your game. Now pay up, or shut up. You can sit here as long as you like. I ain’t gonna throw you out, but all you’re gonna get to drink is water; all you want.”
Bud looked down at the floor to avoid eye contact and seemed to retreat into a little pity party. Without looking up he moaned, “Dang it! I wish I were rich. Dave, how come I ain’t rich? I meet all kinds of rich people. I know there’s plenty of money out there. How come I ain’t got any of it?”
Dave smiled as he wiped the counter with a damp cloth. “Bud, you ain’t got any money ‘cuz you come in here and drink it all. You ain’t looking far enough down the road.”
Bud looked confused. “What?”
Dave went on, “Besides, you don’t wanna be rich, Bud. You wanna be wealthy.”
Bud looked puzzled.
Dave continued, “ See, rich people have money, but they have expenses, too. They can’t stop working because all that money they have will get used up too soon, and they’ll be broke. But if you were wealthy, you could live a long time on the money that comes in without you working.”
Bud squinted in confusion.
“Let’s say you owned a $1000 of ice cream. Would you think you were wealthy?” “Yeah, I could sell it all and make a lot of money.”
“But could you sell it all before it melted?”
“Okay, then you’d have to go right back to work, so that’s not wealth. What if you owned $1000 of Coffee grounds? That stuff is useful to a lot of people.”
Bud smiled, “And it doesn’t go bad nearly as fast as ice cream.”
“Yes, Bud, but you’d still have to keep going out to collect more, and the supply could become short.”
“So … that’s not wealth either?”
“No, you’re still having to work in order to keep up your standard of living. But what if you owned all the surplus government processed cheese in the world? That stuff lasts forever.”
“I’d get old and die before I sold all of it.”
“And you’d get someone else to sell it for you, so you don’t have to work. Now that’s wealth.”
“But, Dave, I still wouldn’t have piles of cash sitting around, just piles of cheese.”
“Probably not. You wouldn’t be rich, but you’d be wealthy; you could live pretty well and not have to work.”
Danielle Lee Zwissler, Richard Russell, Keith Badowski, Malissa Greenwood,
Dani J. Caile, Michael Cottle, Tina Biscuit, Vance Rowe, E. Chris Garrison,
Josh Flores, David Jobe, Steven L. Bergeron, Amy Kasim, Bethany Totten,
Geoff Gore, Maureen Larter, Emma Crowley, Mamie Pound, Matt Henderson
Note: This year, the tournament submissions will be blind, hence the author’s name will not be shown until after a champion has been chosen.
A Lady in a clothes dryer
A Hairbrush without bristles
A Wooden Hanger
Put Out to Dry
Maria stood in front of her wardrobe and gazed at the contents. Lifting her arm limply she moved the wooden hangers from one side to the other, looking at each dress as she did so.
She stopped again and stared into space. How could she have ever imagined she would have ended up in this weird situation?
She silently shook her head.
She had been arrested, then freed on bail and now she needed to ready herself for the trial. It was all surreal – beyond belief.
To make matters worse, she couldn’t remember that night. Found unconscious, covered in blood and stuffed into the local laundry’s clothes drier was bad enough, but the body of her husband, stabbed to death on the floor of the same laundry was worse.
She sighed as she once more tried to make a decision on her appearance. As she reached for the little black dress that everyone said was always a correct fashion statement, she felt the cramp. She rubbed her stomach as she realized, once more, she would get her monthlies. Not pregnant! She had so hoped to be, but now Ed was dead, there would be no hope of a reminder of her marriage to him.
She picked out the dress and turned to place it on the bed, catching a glimpse of her appearance in the dressing-table mirror.
Her eyes were sad and red, her face deep with wrinkles from the worry, and her hair looked like she’d brushed it with a hairbrush with no bristles. She sank down on the rumpled bedspread and put her head in her hands. How was she going to get through today – the next month – in fact, the rest of her life?
The horror of the crime overwhelmed her.
The shame she felt was daunting.
After several minutes, she stood and took a deep breath. She ran her fingers through her spiky hair, wiped away the tears that had slipped down her cheeks without her realizing it, and picked up the dress to get ready.
She had to face the trial whatever the outcome, but she knew her brother would be in prison for a very long time.
Laundry and Lattes
Dani pulled into a parking spot along Elm and quickly checked her reflection. She dug through the glovebox, her hand finally grasping the paddle of her brush. She pulled it out and found there were no bristles left on the old piece of plastic.
“Piece of shit.” She muttered and threw it on the floor, opting instead to pull her messy hair into a clip.
She rubbed on some chap stick, sighed at the new reflection and lifted the visor before exiting her unmarked sedan.
It had been a long, interesting morning. Dani had been called in to investigate a murder scene at a south side laundromat. A woman had been found stuffed into a dryer, brutally beaten beforehand.
The scene was gruesome. Signs of an obvious struggle. Wooden hangers scattered around a pool of blood and black stilettos.
Dani shook the images out of her head as she stopped on her way up the steps and bent down, briefly struck by the usual, uncomfortable pangs of PMS. She didn’t want coffee – she wanted to be home, laying down with an ice pack on her abdomen and a double scoop of Ben and Jerry’s.
But instead she was walking up the steps towards the small coffee shop to meet her on-again off-again boyfriend, Rick. He’d texted her with an urgent request to meet him and when she tried to brush him off he only became more insistent.
She knew what this would be about and she was certain it could have been handled over the phone. They’d been trying to be ‘on-again’ for a while now, but they both knew it wasn’t working. And they both knew it was her fault.
He was sitting by the far window looking at his phone, but he put it away when he saw her approach.
“Hey.” It was more of a sigh than a greeting. “I got you a latte.”
“Thanks.” She flashed him an exhausted smile, and took the warm cup.
“So… How are you? I haven’t been able to catch you alone for a while.”
“Yeah, I know. Just a string of rough cases. We got a new one this morning, too. Jane Doe…” she trailed off – she could tell he was tired of her excuses.
“Listen Dani… There’s someone else.”
“Cutting right to the chase, huh? Well I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“I’m sorry. I really wanted things to work this time. But I’m just not cut out for your lifestyle. It’s too much. I’m not…”
“Yeah.” She cut him off; He wasn’t the only one tired of excuses. “Who is she?”
He hesitated, then said “Her name is Kim. You don’t know her. She’s not a cop. She’s… boring. And normal. And… I just think that’s what I need right now.”
“Yeah… I get it, Rick.” She did get it. Sometimes she wished her life was a little more boring.
He pulled out his phone and frowned. “Look I gotta go. I’m sorry.”
“Off to meet Kim, now that you’re a free man?” she tried smiling, hoping it came off more friendly than bitchy.
He nodded. “Yeah. We’re gonna go do laundry.”
“Push out now Judith!”
Judy found herself again in this awkward situation. Her curse of small stature and slight build gave her no end to troubles. Her eighty pound, four foot four inch body fit nice and comfy in the industrial-size, front-loaded, dual-rotation, three-speed, apartment-complex laundromat clothes-dryer. A woman of routine, she’d do her washing and drying on Sunday after midnight. It helped relieve some of the embarrassment of having to wrestle with the big machines. This way, it wasn’t in front of her neighbors.
She swore the dryer was out to get her. It never failed to keep one of her intimate articles way in the back of its drum, forcing her to climb in to retrieve it. No doubt about it, the machine had some reason for doing this regularly. Getting in was easy enough: pull a chair over, stand on it, and crawl inside the gaping mouth waiting to swallow her. Steamy, moist air would greet her, envelope her in welcomed warmth. Her body would curl up as she fought to control the spin of the cylinder her every move created.
The churning brought to mind menstrual cramps. How her womb use to churn to and fro, twist and spin, causing huge pains. She hadn’t had the experience in the few months since conceiving. “Guess that’s one good thing about it.” Judy groped in the dusk, until her hand found the panty and bra victims. In her blouse they went for safe-keeping. Now came the hard part: getting out.
After weeks of struggling, Judy thought long and came up with a plan. She came prepared this time with a pouch tied to her waist. Judith opened the pouch and pulled out a wooden clothes hanger with a wire neck and a wooden brush with its bristles removed. She returned the brush – that was for the final phase of escape. She looked up to find the air holes in the drum. Judy worked with practiced ease as she slipped the wire neck of the hanger through one hole and out the one directly behind it. With small hands made strong by years of compensating for her lack of build, Judy grabbed the hanger turned herself around slowly. She then removed the hanger, found another pair of holes a few inches away and repeated the anchoring. Using the hanger as support she inched herself towards the opening.
Reaching the doorway, Judith pulled out the bristleless brush. She rammed the handle in between the drum and right side of the opening to stabilize and to create another hand grip. With one hand gripping the wood of the hanger and the other on the brush she gathered her strength. “Push out now Judith!” With one mighty pull of her arms she swung her legs out the door and let herself dangle for a moment – then she released her grip, letting herself land on the chair.
Judy turned to close the dryer. The hushed rush of air escaping, to her mind’s ear, sounded like a resigned sigh.
PMS (Potential Murder Suspect)
Detective O’Malley wearily pushed open the door to the laundromat. Between the Midtown homicide and the divorce with his ex, he hadn’t slept much the past three days. Both had been messy. As for the murder, it must’ve been one hell of a frenzied attack, the victim a male in his mid-forties, was almost unrecognisable. There was blood all over the apartment, but not a shred of evidence of the attacker. No prints, no stray hair, no sign of forced entry. Nothing. It was as if whoever’d done this had been through that apartment with a fine tooth comb, painstakingly scrubbing away any trace they’d been there. And yet, so much blood everywhere. Now on top of it all his ex-wife was threatening to bleed him dry. Hence here he was, at the end of the fourth day of a homicide enquiry, reduced to doing his own laundry at a cheap laundromat on the lower side of town.
He sat in front of one of the big machines and saw he wasn’t alone. A woman leaned into one of the oversized dryers retrieving her laundry. A copy of the morning’s newspaper lay on the seat next to her. The front page headline screamed MURDER! The article critical that Police had no leads in a case O’Malley was all too familiar with.
The woman emerged from the dryer. She looked up, and jumped, startled when she saw O’Malley standing there in his uniform.
“Sorry Ma’am. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“You should be more careful,” she snapped, “creeping up on people like that.”
“Sorry Ma’am, I’m just here for my laundry.”
“Sorry,” she replied, “I didn’t mean to snap, “It’s just…” she placed a hand lightly on her abdomen. “You know…some months the cramps that make me a little…tetchy.”
“Tetchy?” He glanced at the open newspaper on the seat between them. “I understand. You reading about the case?” “No.” She said curtly. She retrieved the newspaper, folded it and tucked it on top of her basket of clothes. “Though the no good sonofabitch probably deserved it.” She turned, leaning all the way into the dryer to retrieve something else.
“Let me help.”
“I can manage.” She emerged holding a white men’s shirt.
He grabbed a wooden hangar from the rack. “At least let me help you hang it up.”
“I said, I’m FINE!” She barked.
“Okay,” he held up his hands.
As she hung the shirt over the hangar he couldn’t help noticing a small red blemish which hadn’t quite washed out from the fabric and the faint stain beneath her fingernails.
She blushed and hurried to pack the remainder of her things into the basket. On top she placed an old hair brush, so worn that all the bristles had fallen out, and headed for the door.
“Not so fast, Ma’am,” said a voice behind her.
She stopped and turned.
Detective O’Malley held out a lonely sock that had fallen to the floor. “There’s always one,” he said.
Down in Little India, Southall, London
Dani J. Caile
“Mrs Hatherwaite! What in hell’s name are you doing?” said Darshit, walking into his laundromat to see legs dangling from his largest clothes dryer. He knew they were hers from the bulging blue varicose veins. And no one else did their laundry at this time of night, either.
“I’m keeping warm, it’s lovely and cosy in here,” giggled Mrs Hatherwaite.
“Get out of there this insta… oh my!” The sight froze his blood. Thankfully, not much light could penetrate into the contraption, but from what he saw in the second before he closed his eyes, he could only describe her as completely naked. “Mrs Hatherwaite, why are you not wearing anything?”
“Well, the sign does say ‘When finished washing, please remove all clothes’,” laughed Mrs Hatherwaite.
With some brief glimpses, he saw she was drinking from a wine bottle.
“Mrs Hatherwaite! Not only are you naked in one of my clothes dryers, but you are also drinking!”
“Oh, this? Drinking? It’s only my third! Fancy some?” She offered the bottle but Darshit refused.
“Mrs Hatherwaite, you can’t get… ‘drunk naked’ in one of my clothes dryers!” What was he to do?
“I’ve got my menstrual cramps, red wine always helps… hey, ‘Darshit’! Come on in, I’ll take you for a spin,” laughed Mrs Hatherwaite. She reached out and took his collar, pulling him closer.
“Mrs Hatherwaite! Please!” Fighting back, his right hand found something on the top of the machine and he brought it down to use against the insane woman. It was a hairbrush… without bristles. He made a mental note to take some time out of his busy schedule to clean the place up a little. An unexpected kick made him drop the useless item and he blindly searched for something else as he struggled on. His hand found a wooden hanger.
“Come on, ‘Darshit’, take a spin with me!” She was strong for her age and Darshit couldn’t resist for much longer. In a momentary flash of inspiration, he put the wooden hanger into the back of his coat, thus stopping her from taking his shoulders in. She persisted for a few more minutes, but he’d won the battle and she let go. “Oh, you’re no fun!”
At that moment, Darshit’s wife walked in. As usual, her phone was clasped to her ear while she rabbited on with her sister, so she didn’t notice him pushing Mrs Hatherwaite’s blue veined legs into the dryer and closing the door.
“Hello dear,” said Darshit, trying to look ‘normal’. His wife put her phone down for a second. Before she spoke, a noise came from the dryer.
“You spin me right round, baby right round…”
“What is that?” asked Darshit’s wife.
“Err, nothing, dear. Just the radio… in the back room,” said Darshit, resting his elbow on the dryer’s door.
“Oh. Well, don’t hang around here all night, I want you back home in ten minutes,” she ordered, leaving the way she came, with her phone to her ear.
Darshit knew it would be one crazy ten minutes.
“It’s obvious. Isn’t it? Double homicide involving a vampire.”
“Hold on. What?” Officer Jimmy Timms stopped tapping a wooden hanger that he had been playing with. “Vampire?”
“What do you see sticking out of the man’s chest, Jimmy?”
Jimmy knelt down beside the corpse. “All I see is a hair brush that someone has plucked out all the bristles.”
Officer Monty Lanton chuckled. “Way to see the forest for the trees, Jimmy. It’s a stake. You know, wooden spike through the heart? Hand-made. Obviously. Look at his pants. Tweed. Sooo last century.”
“Vampire? You get that a lot around here.” Jimmy crossed his arms across his chest. He glanced around at the rest of the team.
They looked back at him with silent and serious faces.
Lanton shrugged. “It doesn’t happen that often, no. I think I’ve seen maybe two, three, times since I started the late shift.” He looked to the coroner, Carrie-Anne who held up three fingers. “Three. Now, sure. Could be this is just a case of mistaken identity? Maybe. But with things like these, you have to be careful.”
Jimmy shook his head. “Not buying it. You’re messing with me.”
Lanton frowned. “Are you suggesting we staged a murder scene?”
Jimmy looked to each, eyes narrowing. “Fine. I’ll play along. What do we do next? Call Van Helsing?”
“That kind of stuff will get you killed, Jimmy. You can’t believe all the stuff you see on television, man. The first step is to have Carrie-Anne get the deceased male into the van and down to the morgue. Best to just burn him tonight to be safe. It will mean we spend all night tomorrow filing paperwork for the screw-up, but we can’t just risk him coming back. Plus, there is the woman to contend with. Could be she might turn soon. Problem is she probably has family. Can’t just burn her.”
“Wait. Wait! This is crazy! Why would you think she’d turn? She not even bitten.”
“Not on the neck, Jimmy. Again. Television. Do you see the inside of her thigh? The leg not hanging out of the dryer?”
Jimmy leaned in to expect the body of the woman stuffed in an industrial clothes dryer. “I thought. Well, you know.” He looked at Carrie-Anne and blushed.
“That it’s her time of the month? She died of cramps? You’ve never had a live-in girlfriend, have you, Jimmy? That’s way too much blood for that. Go with Carrie-Anne to get the gurney.”
After Jimmy had moved out of earshot, Lanton leaned down near the opening of the dryer. “You ready?”
Elanor Millie opened her eyes and offered a smile that revealed fake fangs. “You swap out his gun?”
“Isn’t my first time, Elanor.” Lanton cast a glance over his shoulder. “It’s a prop. Tasers drained and the night-stick is gorilla glued in its holster. Don’t trip over Grimm. He’s sensitive.”
On the ground, the staked man muttered profanities.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” she said. “Next time, just dinner and a movie.”
“Your fault for asking what I do for fun.”
Two Loads Washin’
I’ve lived a long time- almost 84 years now. I’ve seen many things in those years. I’ve seen beautiful things. I’ve seen sad things. And, I’ve seen folks do downright crazy things. But never anything like I did in 94’.
It was Saturday, the 19th of February, and I was headed to the laundromat. I could’ve just bought a washer, but truth is I liked the company. You see, my wife passed in the fall of 93’, and sometimes I needed to get out of the house.
Now most folks at the laundromat weren’t there to do no socializing. I understood this, but while their clothes were a washing, most of ‘em didn’t mind passing the time with an old fool like me.
This Saturday morning was not good visiting for I hadn’t seen a soul all morning. My two loads were almost dry and I had my wooden hangers out on the folding table just about ready to go. That’s when Miss Mary showed up.
You might think it odd, but this ain’t who I felt like socializing with. That woman hated me since the time she first laid eyes on me. Now I hadn’t done a thing in the world to the crazy ole bitty.
Anyways, she was slinging clothes and washing powders around like she was too good to wash clothes or something. I think she was born with the menstrual cramps, but Lord knows I didn’t do nothing to her I tell you. Now listen awhile and I might tell you again.
She messed around and got a fancy looking blouse hung in the coin slot of the washing machine. I heard the biggest ruckus that you could imagine as she started saying things that would make an oil field worker blush!
The next thing I know, she gave that blouse a snatch and buttons went flying. She fell backwards over a hamper of her own dirty clothes and straight into the dryer basket behind her! There was nothing but high heels sticking out of that machine.
Being a gentleman and all, there was nothing for me to do, but go help the crazy lady out of that thing. I asked her if she wanted permanent press or high cotton as I gave her my hand. I thought I was fixing to get eaten alive! First look, there was a bit of anger, and then she started laughing a little. But before it was over and by the time she was out, she started to cry. My heart just melted. You see, like me, she had just lost her husband too. In no time at all, we were in that laundromat laughing like kids. Turns out, she wasn’t near crazy as I thought she was.
You see, I’ve seen some downright crazy things in my time. But I’ll never forget how I met my second and last wife. We got our own washer and dryer these days. I don’t know how much more time we got left, but I’ll tell you one thing. If I hadn’t met Miss Mary, I’d be a hairbrush without the bristles.
Claustrophobic Cloud Nine
The bristles of the brush tinkled against the steel lining of the clothes dryer as she brushed them off of her stomach, the distorted handle of the now toothless brush clutched tightly in her fist. She sighs as she turns the brush over between her fingers, watching the sharp edges of the plastic draw thin white lines against her skin. The ridges of the machines tumbler shove back against her spine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the deep throbbing in her abdomen, so she ignores it.
“Did you get it yet?” A voice floats into the laundry room, tossed back and forth by the noise of the vibrations of the washing machine hard at work to the right of the dryer in which the girl had found refuge. She twists her neck painfully to look down at the wooden hanger wedged between the rotating tumbler and the metal at the back of the machine, speckled with soapy residue. If she were to actually try, she would be able to free the hanger in a minute or so, but that would mean that she would have to leave the dryer.
“Not yet,” she calls back, wincing slightly as the volume of her shout echoes loudly around the interior of the dryer. “It really seems to be stuck in there.”
She had no way of explaining it, but somehow contorting her body into the claustrophobic tumbler of the dryer calmed the persistent pain in her abdomen. It worked, that’s all that mattered.
“Well hurry up,” the voice replies, exasperated. The girl rolls her eyes, pressing the palms of both hands against her lower stomach. Something about the dryer, knees scrunched up to her chest, made her feel safe, almost like returning to the womb. Ironic, she chuckles into the darkness of the machine, when her own womb was the reason for her cramming herself into such a tiny space.
Maybe her uterus had fallen asleep in the relaxing calm of the dryer, postponing its scheduled torture for a quick nap. That was something the girl could understand, her own eyes struggled to stay open. Maybe for a moment, she and her body could work as one to reach the dimensions of rest.
“What are you even doing?” The girl’s eyes snap open as a figure storms into the laundry room, a basket of dirty clothes tucked under one arm. The figure wears a scowl across her face as she glares down at the figure curled in the machine. “Didn’t you hear me say I had laundry to do? Go lounge in your own bed.”
Almost. The girl had almost found a moment of peace. She lets out a disappointed sigh as she yanks the wooden hanger roughly out of it’s trap, tossing it out onto the laundry room floor. The sound of wood against tile almost sounded like the shattering of paradise as the girl wanders from the room, footsteps in sync with the painful throbbing now jumping back to life in her abdomen.Now, when the machine turns on, now filled with wet jeans, it seems to call to her. Next time…next time.
The room seemed frozen in time. The bed was neatly made; the various trinkets were still on the dresser. Even the house coat elegantly draped over the chair was untouched by time.
Although the room was empty, a young woman glided in, looking around the room in sadness. It seemed like only yesterday that the blonde haired female was in the room preparing to meet her secret lover. They had planned to run away and elope but, well, things hadn’t quite worked out.
She couldn’t recall very much from that night. She had been applying her makeup when she suddenly had a nasty coughing spell. The maid had heard her and the last thing the young women remembered was fainting. She heard voices but could never see who was talking. It was an experience unlike any she had ever had before. She had then awoken in her room, alone and unaware of the time or day. She had been walking around the house for what seemed like days, but no one seemed to be home. It was very odd. A dress hung from the hanger on the door like a ghost, the fabric swaying in the gentle breeze from the open window. The young maiden walked over and ran her fingers over the fabric. It was as soft as she remembered.
She suddenly heard the familiar sound of her father’s Sun Touring pulling up to the front of the house. She eagerly ran down the stairs to the front to greet her family, descending the marble stairs to the foyer. Her family entered.
“Mother!” the young lady exclaimed. “Father! Where on earth did you go? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Her parents silently walked past her. The young woman was confused.
“The house seems so quiet with her gone,” her mother mused to seemingly no one.
The elderly woman’s husband hugged her. “I know, my dear,” he replied. “At least she didn’t suffer.”
“But Father, I’m right here!” the lady replied. She reached out to touch her mother’s arm. The matron shuddered.
“Oh, Walt, it still feels like my beloved Margot’s still here!” she wailed. “Why did that damn tuberculosis have to take her? Why?”
Margot’s mother broke down as she stared at her parents in confusion. Tuberculosis? What was she talking about? She didn’t have that. And she most certainly wasn’t dead.
She followed her parents to their room, calling after them, begging them to answer her.
In anger, she grabbed a wooden hanger from the back of the door and threw it against the wall. “I’m right here!” she exclaimed,
Her parents screamed as the hanger splintered against the wall.
“Dear God! It’s a poltergeist!” her mother exclaimed and fainted.
Margot stood in shock. It was true. They really couldn’t see her. She sank to her knees, her worst fears realized. She was a ghost. And she was trapped here, never to see her true love again.
A Fish Out of Water
We pulled up to the laundromat and sat in the car for a few moments while my wife, Melissa, went over the instructions again. “… And don’t put anything red in the wash with anything white. Keep colors separate.”
Nodding, I smiled, took the three page instructions, unloaded six baskets of laundry onto the sidewalk, and kissed Melissa goodbye.
She smiled, “I’ll be back as soon as the dentist is through, Love!”
“Bye, Sweetie. Have a nice … dental … visit.”
Melissa drove away; I picked up a basket and went inside.
The place was deserted. Feeling like a fish out of water — an interloper in someone else’s world — I picked a washer and dryer set near the coffee machine, I intended to fully avail myself of that amenity before doing anything else.
After getting a load of whites into the washer and setting the first wash cycle in motion, I sipped my coffee and remembered that five more baskets of laundry sat out on the sidewalk. With some sense of urgency, I headed for the door. About to go out, I noticed a pair of female legs hanging out of a dryer.
Being the good Samaritan, I approached gingerly to see if I could help in any way. “Um, are you all right?” I queried.
“Do I look all right?” she snapped, and went back to moaning.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked sheepishly.
Desperately, the woman asserted, “Yes! Yes! Press your hand into the small of my back and push hard!”
Overcoming my conservative upbringing, I attempted to comply, but it proved difficult to apply enough pressure to her specifications with her in the dryer and me outside. I moved halfway inside the dryer, and before I knew it, I was lying in the dryer with her, pressing my palm into the small of her back with considerable pressure.
She moaned in satisfaction and relief as she explained normally she would apply a heating pad to relieve her menstrual cramps, but the best she could come up with here was climbing into the hot dryer.
Just then, Melissa’s face showed up outside the dryer. “Howard!?”
“Melissa!? I’m … uh … this is … uh …”
“Jenny! She’s … uh … and …”
Melissa frowned. “Howard … would you bring in the rest of the laundry, please … now.”
With great difficulty, I slithered obediently out of the dryer.
Shaking her head, Melissa just starred at me in disbelief as I wandered off.”
Then she turned her attention to the woman in the dryer. Handing her some extra-strength ibuprofen, the two were soon commiserating about mysterious women’s things … and men … in general.
“…And I told him, ‘Throw that dang hairbrush away; it hasn’t any bristles left anyway!’”
and “ …I’ve told him at least a dozen times, ‘Don’t hang that coat on a wire hanger. Use the wooden one!’”
“Yeah, from a whole different planet.”
I sipped my warm coffee and kept quiet over by the washer.
Time Won’t Always Heal
“Ooh Esi you need to see this! It would blow you up!” Macbeth rushed into his sister’s room with the Native Heirloom, their town’s local newspaper, in his hand.
“What is it this time?” Esi snapped at her sister, rushing past him to her wardrobe whiles smoothening her hair with a hairbrush without bristles. “I hope it is not one of those funny stories you bring to me every morning to read about menstrual cramps or women in clothe dryers? I am not in the mood for any of that today.”
Macbeth rolled her eyes at his sister. “What has gotten into your pants this morning to make you all grumpy?”
“I am not grumpy. It is just that I can’t seem to find my yellow dress.”
“The flowery one?” Macbeth asked, looking around the room
“Yes; that very one! I need it for my presentation this morning and I am already running late!”
“Esi Appiah, do you ever take your time to look for things? The dress is hanging right behind you”
“Where?” Esi turned quickly to look in her brother’s direction. Macbeth held the dress in one hand and a wooden hanger in the other with a smug look on his face.
Esi ignored his looks and snatched the dress. “So, what were you saying about the Heirloom? She asked, whiles checking out herself in the mirror.
“Oh that; it is just an article by your enemy journalist, Kofi Quayson about…”
“Let me see it!” Esi snatched the newspaper and sat to read; her eyebrows creasing as she read line after line, muttering to herself. Macbeth stood still, watching his sister in awe. With the way Esi disliked the guy, it was obvious they had a bone to pick.
“Bloody hell!” she yelled.
“No curse words allowed in this house” Macbeth chided his sister
“Who cares about curse words when that chauvinist with absolutely no brains is here spewing rubbish? A woman leaves her abusive marriage because she cannot take it anymore and he says it’s her fault? She was being abused because she refused to be submissive? Unbelievable! Ooh so is it because no one has exposed his evil deeds that he has the guts to say this kind of nonsense?”
“Chauvinist with no brains? Why are you like this Esi? Unless there is more to this outburst than you are letting on, which is obvious, I think this is just an article.”
“Just an article you say? Why are people always quick to come to the aid of the abuser and never the abused? Why have we allowed our culture render us ignorant? I will be damned to let this issue die.”
Esi snatched her car keys from the table
“Don’t you have a presentation to get to? Where are you going Esi?” Macbeth asked, stunned at his sister’s behaviour.
“To do something I should have done a long time ago.”
Plight of the Homeless
A reporter was doing an exposé on the homeless people. While interviewing some of the indigent camped under a highway overpass, he noticed an older woman sitting in a clothes dryer. He made a beeline over to her and asked, “What are you doing in there, ma’am?”
“Mind your own beeswax,” she replied angrily.
“Can I talk with you for a few minutes please?”
“Go away, Copper. I ain’t see’d nothin’.’”
“Copper? I am a reporter writing an article about homeless people.”
“So, what’s that got to do with me? I ain’t homeless, Copper.”
“You aren’t? Then where do you live?”
“Right here, Dummy.”
“Oh, this one is priceless,” he thought to himself.
He turned on his little recorder and held it close to the dryer door.
She noticed it and suddenly got frightened and asked, “What is that?”
“It is a recording device so I can write about our conversation in the newspaper.”
“Since when do coppers write newspaper stories?”
Ma’am, I am not a policeman. Will you please come out of there so I can talk with you? I will pay you ten dollars for your time.”
“All right Copper but you will have to wait until they go away.”
“They? They who?”
“My menstrual cramps?”
“Excuse me?” the surprised reporter asked.
“Why? Did you just fart or something?”
“No, Ma’am. What about menstrual cramps?”
“The dryer is the only thing that helps them.”
“Right. Silly me,” the reporter said, slowly shaking his head. He figured the woman to be well into her sixties and she shouldn’t be having menstrual cramps.
A couple of minutes later she climbed out of the dryer and sat down on the ground. Her salt and pepper colored hair was dirty and matted. She had two different color wool socks on her feet. A torn dress covered by a threadbare housecoat. Her B.O. tested his gag reflexes.
“Can we talk for a couple of minutes?”
“We been talking, Copper,” she replied.
He handed the woman a ten dollar bill. She licked it and stuck it on her forehead.
“Hand me my mirror there, will ya?” she asked as she pointed to a wooden hangar on the ground. She held it up by the hook and peered through it as if it really is a mirror. She then picked up a hair brush that had no bristles and combed her hair with it.
“Why are you doing that?”
“I’m gettin’ all gussied up for my picture. Ain’t you holding a camera?”
“No, ma’am. It’s a record…oh never mind.”
Suddenly she covered her abdomen and said, “Oh no.”
Then she got up and climbed back into the dryer.
“Of course. Why else would I be in a dryer, Copper?”
“That’s the only reason I can think of. I will see you later,” he said, as he stood up shaking his head.
As he walked around, the reporter spotted a man climbing into a refrigerator. Someone yelled and asked where he was going this time. The man in the refrigerator yelled, “General Washington needs me. I’ll be back.”
The reporter made a beeline over to him.
Steven L. Bergeron
“Car 22. A 469 has been reported at 228 Jarvis street. Acknowledge you ETA?”
“Our ETA is ten minutes over and out.” I glanced over to my partner, who was scanning through the code book.
“No need for that son, you are about to get your first dose of what goes on around here when the sun goes down.”
Passing through the downtown area, at this time of the night, can be scary. Rule number one, not making any eye contact with the ladies of the night.
WE arrived at our destination with ten minutes to spare. My new partner simply looked at me with a dumb fond look on his face.
“ I can believe it, we are simply going to walk in here, and do nothing about what we just seen?”
“My dear partner, it is what we call survival . Sure what they are doing is illegal, but until we can get solid evidence our hands are pretty well tied.”
Entering my thirty second scan of Pete’s Laundromat proved to be unproductive. No evidence of any foul play to be spotted. A few machines were running, along with a few wooden hangers set up drying what appeared to be a few dresses. One surely not worn, by our ladies of the night. Once we paraded around to the second row of dryers our call had some merit. A pair of unwaxed legs, hanging out of the far dryer.
There she was Andrea Spagnoli our assistant DA in a predicament she never planned for. As far as it goes she looked better than any lingerie model on the red carpet.
“Isn’t it a shame, a body so young as who could have done quite a thing? To think she never got the enjoyment to help her daughter thru her menstrual cramps, on her road to womanhood.”
“That is a very good question. For instinct see these bruises all over her left thigh, the question to ask for here would be what could have cause theses egg shaped form.”
“Hum they look like the same kind of bruises I endured in my younger days. Living with three sisters you are bound to get a few brush slaps every now and then.”
“True ,but there would also see marks inside the bruises, from the bristles now would there be?”
“Well unless it was done with the unbristled backside. I seen a purse on my way in, should I go check it for a brush?”
“There you go my partner good synopsis of the situation.”
“Sorry inspector no brushes here, which is odd. Growing up with females you get to learn no woman leaves there home without one.”
A search of the outside area proved successful. One block down, in a alley dumpster a wooden hand brush we did find. To our surprise the backside had evidence of blood soaked trauma.
I could see you inside my womb since conception, but only this morning I’m sure. You were either Bruce or Diana, and I had hoped against hope for Bruce. Not for any traditional reasons, little Diana, but because the women in our family are physically stronger than any man who has ever walked the earth, and that isn’t easy. We’re invulnerable too, which causes all sorts of inconveniences. Our “hair of steel” racks up bristleless brushes galore. Thankfully atomic power holds promise for shaving legs.
Other abilities, like my own x-ray vision, may be inherited. I can see through clothes, skin, walls, automobiles, and even buildings. What I wish I could see, but can’t, is the future. If I did, I might have prevented you, but I shouldn’t imagine my remorseful past as your future, even though that’s all I have to go on, and all I have to tell.
For years I’ve worked with Henry, investigative reporter for the Daily Bullhorn and “genius” at stumbling into peril. It’s been my mission to be there in the guise of his pretty cub photographer. The trick is how to rescue him without divulging my secret. I’ve tripped power breakers, blinded Henry with cigarette ashes, and made humiliating, bladder-related excuses to disappear just as situations reached a crisis.
The difference that fateful day was we weren’t a duo. Henry brought along his fiancée Janie. He’d gotten a tip that a ring was meeting late one night, posing as bachelors doing wash, to divvy up their recent booty. Henry proposed a charade of our own—a laundromat photoshoot with Janie as the model.
Henry boosted Janie inside the top porthole of a stacked dryer unit, and from there she dangled her attractive legs for my camera. While I snapped shots Henry would likely treasure for years, I scanned for our suspects. Two known crooks were headed our way—Johnny “Iron Knuckles” Wilson on foot with a holstered gun under his coat and Lex “The Brains” Thorndike in a chauffeured hearse, his well-manicured hand gripping a laundry sack stuffed with diamonds.
Henry, flustered by my excuse of menstrual cramps, took possession of my camera. I dashed behind the laundromat and changed into my suit, complete with rubber skullcap and oversized goggles. Once the diamonds came inside, I sabotaged the power and broke in the back door.
In his ineptly valiant way, Henry picked up a wooden coat hanger to defend Janie. He never got the chance to use it. Wilson sensed my silhouette enter the laundromat and started firing. The first bullet splintered Henry’s coat hanger. The second bullet ricocheted off me and into Janie, ripping through her womb and her lower spine.
The rest happened in slow motion. I shoved Henry to floor, crushed Wilson’s hand around his gun, and then with one strong tug toppled a bank of dryers onto Thorndike, the diamonds, and two accomplices. I called for an ambulance, but Janie bled out before they arrived.
In the following months, Henry turned to his photographer pal for a shoulder to cry on. And you, Diana, are the result of one of those nights of comforting.
‘First impressions of the crime scene, Watson.’
‘Coin-operated laundrette, Holmes: six industrial dryers, one with a shoe protruding from the drum; twelve washing machines, two dented; linoleum flooring, worn at centre; six tubular steel chairs, with plastic seats; one toughened-glass door, slightly ajar.’
‘ADT, Watson – attention to detail.’
‘OK, Holmes: one hairbrush, worn; one coat hanger, wooden; one sock, discarded; one newspaper, crumpled; one shoe, black.’
‘A black, leather shoe, Watson; a hairbrush, without bristles, Watson’, he picked up the hanger, and sniffed, ‘beech’. Holmes withdrew a dark fibre, flicked his lighter, and burnt it.
‘Synthetic fibre, Watson.’
He used the hanger to lift the sock, and raised the lighter to repeat the test. It smoked, but did not light. Watson covered his nose. The pungent fumes filled the air. Holmes placed the smouldering items on a seat, and turned to inspect the newspaper.
‘It’s yesterday’s’, he announced.
‘If it was tomorrow’s, I could guess the headline’, said Watson.
‘Go on’, said Holmes.
‘Famous detective burns down laundrette.’
‘Very droll, Watson.’
A curl of smoke rose to the ceiling, and the smoke detector triggered the alarm. Watson fanned the newspaper. Holmes went to open the door, just as a policewoman was entering.
‘Ah, Mr. Holmes’, she brushed past him, ‘and you must be the famous Dr. Watson.’ She removed a glove, and shook hands with Watson. Holmes looked on, and raised a finger to his temple.
‘Jill Fletcher’, said Holmes, ‘we worked on the Temple Road case, together.’
She opened a panel in the wall, and flicked a switch: the alarm stopped.
‘It’s DC Fletcher, now, Holmes, and I think you mean you walked on that case, trampling evidence as you went. Please tell me you haven’t contaminated our murder scene this time.’
‘Murder seems hyperbolic at this stage, Jill, sorry, DC Fletcher. We don’t have a body, yet.’
‘So what gems of deduction can you share, before you leave us, Holmes?’
Holmes picked up the brush, and took a deep breath.
‘Your victim is a bald man, late thirties, black synthetic coat, missing a sock, a fetish for stiletto heels, a penchant for old newspapers, and was probably blackmailing his nemesis.’
She raised an eyebrow, and almost smiled, before her mouth contorted in pain: her hands clenched at her stomach, and she bent forward as if about to fall. Watson caught her, and guided her on to one of the plastic seats, where she remained hunched over.
Watson turned to Holmes.
‘Appendicitis’, he whispered.
‘It’s poisoning, Watson. It occurred just after she removed her glove. The alarm control box must have been coated with a fast-acting poison.’
DC Jill Fletcher stood up, stifling a groan, ‘It’s what women call menstrual cramps: half the world’s population suffers them, and the other half doesn’t seem to notice.’ She raised an arm, and pointed across the room.
‘Talking of noticing…’
‘Ah, I forgot to mention the shoe, said Holmes, ‘ADT’.
‘You also neglected to mention the woman’s body, curled up in the clothes dryer, but I’m sure you were getting around to that detail, Mr. Holmes.’
‘A. T. D. Sherlock, ATD.’
Clothes Dryer One, Hanger Zero
Danielle Lee Zwissler
Jack looked at the facts and tried to piece together a reason for a killer to throw the woman in the clothes dryer, but he couldn’t find one logical answer.
“The woman was only 34,” Jack muttered, shaking his head.
“Yeah, but 34 and hot,” the other detective, Lassiter, said, looking at the same stack of evidence. “Look at picture 2. All that hair…and picture 7, did you see it?”
“Yeah, I saw it,” Jack said and sighed.
“Her hair was a tangled mess. Looks as if the brush on the table was taken out by the hair. Not one bristle.”
There was a wooden hanger, too. Nothing about this case made a lick of sense. “Do you suppose it was an accident?”
Lassiter laughed. “Yeah, sure… What, did the woman just climb into the dryer to fetch a sock or something, and somehow will the thing to turn on on its own?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “As strange as this all seems, she could have been just a little off and climbed in to see if she could fit. Some dryers turn on after the door is shut.”
Lassiter shook his head. “Some, but how the hell did she close the door on her own? It’s not like they have a handle from the inside.”
“What does the autopsy report say? Have we gotten it back yet?” Jack questioned.
“Should have it this afternoon. Marjorie said she’d get it to us before lunch.”
Jack leaned back in his chair. “Did you check up on that guy that she was seeing?”
“Yeah, he’s clear. He was at work all night. And, she called him that evening, too.”
“Could have been him using her phone,” Jack said, and Lassiter picked up a sheet of paper.
“Nope, one of the boyfriend’s friends at work witnessed the phone call.”
Jack huffed. “All we’ve done is move in circles.”
The phone rang just then, and it was Marjorie.
“What did you find out?” Lassiter asked.
“Nothing much. Death by heat, oh and she was on her period.”
“You know that thing that happens once a month; it’s a bitch,” Marjorie joked.
“Yeah, I know what it is, I just don’t know why that’s important.”
“I’m not the detective, you are,” Marjorie commented. “See you tonight?”
Lassiter laughed. “Yep.”
Lassiter looked at Jack. “So, the dryer was the cause. There’s no other information, other than the lady must have been having some pretty bad menstrual cramps.”
“Marjorie thinks it may be important,” Lassiter commented.
“You and Marjorie going out yet?”
Lassiter smiled. “Yep.”
“So, you think she’s on to something with the cramps?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“Think like the murderer on this one, Lassiter. Would you throw a woman in a clothes dryer?”
“Well, I sure as hell wooden’ hanger,” Lassiter said with a wink and a grin.
“Get it, wooden’ hanger?”
Jack shook his head. “I think we both need to get some sleep and come back to this case fresh in the morning.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Lassiter said and grabbed his coat.
A Tale of Two Laundries
E. Chris Garrison
The life of a mad scientist is often glamorized. But believe me, it’s not all bringing patchwork corpses to life, or building the ultimate death ray. Especially for those of us on a budget, there are simply days when you’ve got to do mundane things. Like my laundry. Which is how I found myself alone at the Laundromat one Saturday night.
Mad science pays a lot less than you’d think it would.
There are laundries closer to my apartment, but I like Ike’s Laundry and Tan’s 1950s atmosphere. Wooden clothes hangers, copper embossed ceiling tiles, and all chrome décor. Cell reception was terrible, since it formed a Faraday cage of sorts, but that suited me fine.
That is, until she happened.
As I watched my laundry tumble in the massive quarter-driven dryer, I had a thought: what better way to clean clothes than to swap them with their as-yet-unused counterparts in alternate dimensions? It’d work through entanglement, and could remove any stain by way of literally never having happened. Of course, some alternate me would have unexplained stains appearing on his clothes. But that’s not my problem. Heck, the same principal could restore the bristles on an old favorite hairbrush, or instantly fix a flat tire…
A flash of light and a booming noise startled me from my daydreaming. It came from my dryer. A jump-suited woman peered out of the machine at me, grinning. She slapped at the glass door with the palm of her hand, and I helped her out.
She stood a little shorter than me, with auburn hair like mine, only longer. Her eyes could have been mine, except for the merry twinkle in them.
“I did it!” she cried, hugging me. Toasty warm, she smelled of my dryer sheets.
“So, you admit it!” I said, shoving her away from me.
A frown clouded her freckled face. “And why shouldn’t I?”
“It’s criminal,” I said. “And dangerous. You are me, aren’t you?”
She nodded. Her smile restored, “Looks like I’m a man in this universe?”
I shrugged. “What’s that got to do with it? You’re just like the others. All evil. Like that me from Atlantis, who stole my marine biologist girlfriend! Or the other me who fried my equipment with an EMP burst to stop my death ray experiments. Or—”
She grinned. “See? It’s meant to be, we’re dimension hoppers! All of us discover quantum tunneling!”
“And you stole my idea. And my laundry! It’s criminal!”
Time for my secret weapon.
In a fury, I pulled out an electronic patch made of pink flexible metal, its surface etched with a crossed-out Venus symbol. I slapped it onto her bare forearm. “Ha! I stole that from the last me – feel the Femmeliminator! Ah ha ha!”
She closed her eyes and her face went slack, followed by a blissful smile. “Dude, we’re about to become filthy stinking rich! That doodad just cured my cramps!”
Sales of Femmeliminators have funded our joint mad science ventures quite nicely.
The Magpies’ Song
The clouds drifted farther and farther away, until only a half-moon and bits of stars shone against the blue-velvet sky.
The entire world slept, except the noisy magpies, huddled and waiting in the trees along the water. Their garbled sing-song quickened her heartbeat.
The wooden sash creaked a little as she pushed up the window, then tiptoed along the roof, to the River Birch at the corner of the house.
She threw down her flip flops first and descended, limb by limb, until the soft, wet zoysia met her bare feet. A perfume of roses’ blooms was caught in the wind.
The dirt trail to the river twisted through waist-high reeds in an empty lot and crossed a two-lane highway before she was close enough to hear the lapping water.
He waited on makeshift raft, timber held together with nylon rope, floating on empty plastic barrels.
She took a deep breath.
“Ready?” he said.
“Yeah,” she said and he helped her step onto the rocking floor.
“I have to be back before daybreak,” she said, balancing each step before sinking down, indian-style.
They caught the swift current and at once, were out in the middle, sailing under the stars.
“I always thought it’d be fun, to raft all the way to Apalachicola,” she said. “Catch a freighter to Mexico.”
He dug the post down into the water and guided them along. “Or even South America.”
“Yeah,” she agreed.
She lay on her back on the raft, face up to the stars.
“You know any of the constellations?’ she asked. Warm June air rustled the leaves overhanging the bank, were a counterpoint to the Magpie wings, fluttering overhead.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Let’s see,” he began, and she knew it was going to turn to a long, winding story that would probably last until morning.
“There once was a couple, Vega and Altair,” he began.
She laughed, dipped her hand into the river and sprayed him with water.
“Alright, then. I bet you’ve never heard of the Coat Hanger Constellation?”
“Of course I have,” she said, stretching out until both her hands trailed behind her in the wake of the raft. “But tell me again.”
“It’s not as bright as it will be in July, but imagine a line from “Altair” toward the even brighter star, “Vega”. Coathanger is in the darkest part of the sky, about a third of the way between them…” he watched as her eyes searched the sky, then met his own.
“You can’t see it without a telescope, can you?” she smiled.
“Of course you can,” he said. “But not with your eyes.” He lay down beside her, and looked up at the stars.
“That one is Cassiopeia and there’s Orion,” he said.
The moon rose higher still. The dominoed birds swooped alongside their vessel, skittering owls from the trees. And they floated along, all the way down the Chattahoochee, until finally, the craft beached itself on a sand bar just north of Eufaula.
The waves were perfect and dark, one after the other.
Richard Russell, Elaine Johnson, Josh Flores, Emma Crowley
Any verse from the song Nightmoves, by Bob Seger, or scene in the video.
The Moon King
A pair of well-worn cowboy boots
A friendship that breaks up
Outside, the autumn wind flowed through the trees with the force of a mighty river.Caught in its relentless momentum, brittle leaves relinquished their hold and were hauled away as gleanings after the harvest.Inside, Ben Chalmers lay on his bed at home and watched nature proceed through a cycle long since set in motion. The bright, warm colors of fall had faded to gray-blues of winter; the once-lush abundance of summer had dwindled to a stark simplicity of hibernation.
Ben averted his eyes from the scene unfolding outside.His room was bare and simple, yet tidy. On the dresser sat his old brown wallet, key ring, and a small ceramic dish of loose change.Hanging on a wooden peg behind the door, his faded winter coat with patched elbows and mended rips from snagged briers waited patiently. Atop the coat, a sun-scalded baseball cap stained with the sweat of his brow held the dirt from his hand on the visor’s right side.On the floor sat a pair of worn cowboy boots; shiny, pristine shafts at the top, scuffed and dull uppers separating stiffly from cracked, tread-less outsoles at the bottom.
Turning his head to the nightstand, his alarm clock with worn buttons sat faithfully beneath a dusty reading lamp. Ben looked at the photo of his late wife, Clara, and sighed.
Hours passed; Ben lay still as the sun sank slowly on the horizon, the light in his bedroom slowly dimming. Several more hours passed; gradually the moon encroached upon the darkness and took command of the scene outside. Higher and higher it rose until his bedroom was flooded with a cold, bluish glow.He felt a presence in the room – it was the emissary of the Moon King; she had been expected.
“Well, here we are at last, old friend,” she smirked.
“You are not my friend,” Ben replied.
“You thought it would go on forever, didn’t you?” she teased as she circled the room hungrily.
Ben fixed his gaze straight ahead.
She proceeded to harangue, “It’s all for nothing.All your hopes and dreams …It all comes down to nothing.All the work you did, the choices you made, all the happiness and sorrow, joy, sadness, anger, andlove … all for nothing!”
Ben stared ahead as his mind reeled under doubts that assaulted him, then asserted, “That’s not true!”
Leaning in close to his ear, she whispered menacingly, “He’s coming!”
A chill ran through Ben’s worn-out body; she leaned back and smiled triumphantly.
In seconds, another presence was in the room. Its desperate, bony fingers crept over Ben and clasped him firmly.Just as the hard, cold fingers were about to rip Ben from his bed and whisk him away to a darker, place, a brilliant light flooded the room; a mighty voice calmly claimed, “He’s Mine!”
In terror, the bony fingers released their grasp and fled away.
The warm, powerful voice called out, “Ben Chalmers.”
At that, Ben rose from his bed and the two entered eternity together as friends.
Never Forget, Never Forgive
The lyrics were just a little too loud in the half-empty room as I leaned against the bar and surveyed the crowd.He wasn’t there, not that I expected to see his well-worn cowboy boots across the wooden floor, but still. This is where he came every night after pulling his shift.
We might have been friends since grade school, but no more. Not after this. The volume on the jukebox seemed to increase:
“We weren’t searching for some pie in the sky summit
We were just young and restless and bored”
That about summed it up.Friends don’t do friends the way he did me. A friendship that spanned decades could wilt on the vine with two short words. There are some things you never come back from. I thought I’d known this guy.I thought he’d had my back, starting from the days when the other kids stole my milk money.The truth cut like a knife.
I shrugged. I just wanted to drink a few beers, play some pool, listen to the band, and support my sister, the lead singer. This was her lucky break, or so she insisted.
Sis touched me on the shoulder. “Now don’t go making any trouble tonight. Promise?”
I couldn’t believe my bum luck when the door opened; he saw me, started, then grinned and came over.
“I didn’t think we’d see you here anymore.”
Why punch him out?You argue to resolve differences.You fight it out if you’re trying to keep a friendship.I nodded, my eyes flickering between him and the boxing match on Channel 6, high on the wall. He waited, then waved to a friend and left just as the surround sound cut off mid-note.
Sis was adjusting the mike, making it screech a little as she scanned the crowd.She noted him and brightened, then picked up her guitar with a nod to him.
How was she to guess? From Little League on, we’d played together, cared together. Nobody would suspect it of him. No one. Not her, not me, none in our family, no one in our community, not a singleof the old men with trembling hands and just one hope.I pulled a long swallow.It would destroy folks if they knew, sure as if he’d pulled a trigger.I‘d never reveal his treachery.I’d carry the bitter truth to my grave.
His words burned in my brain. Two words that, even if he took them back, would always be there, like a snake whose venom burns deep.Two words that nobody who lives by the river that winds through Georgia could say – not in good times, not in bad times, not when the home team faced the New England Patriots.It didn’t matter that he was drunk and mad at his girlfriend, second cousin to the starting quarterback’s high school sweetheart.There’s no way to forget, no way to forgive.You just can’t make this state your home and ever yell, especially on Super Bowl Sunday:
My Moon King
Six months ago I might have thrown an arm across the passenger seat as my car jerked to a stop, but today it doesn’t phase me when the boots clatter to the floor, thrown by their own momentum. I can feel a smile tugging at the corners of my lips as I reach over to pull the parking brake, gazing down at the well-worn leather now speckled with dust and grime from the floor of the car. The stiff leather now creases as the cowboy boots lay in a messy heap. Crumpled, broken, abandoned; if I could turn the mess of emotions inside of me into an object, the result would look a lot like the scene in front of me.
I grab the boots by the tops, so that the spurs knock together as I lift them. I can’t help how the jingle of metal against metal makes my heart lift, the perfect accompaniment to any song. Even during their very first ride on my inexperienced feet, somehow the jingle of spurs made my jerky steps sound as graceful as a ballet dance. Perhaps that was why he let me wear them, he didn’t need any tool other than his own two feet to show off his grace and talent.
My fingers trace over the letters stitched into the worn leather, something they had done hundreds of times before. ‘The Moon King’. The boots had belonged to his father, the one who had founded the square dancing club where our hands first met; he had been the original master, the original Moon King. I remember how he had smiled at me when he first saw the boots on my feet instead of his son’s; the same kind expression will fall on the boots’ next wearer, whoever that may be.
I hope it isn’t her.
I finally drag myself from the car, being none too gentle with the shoes as I carry them up to his front porch. I reach up to brush my hair back behind an ear, but my fingers freeze as I see him through the front window, one arm draped over her shoulders. Her blonde hair showers over her shoulders, something mine could never do. Not that it was a competition, it never was. I think our favorite song, Night Moves, said it best, we weren’t in love, oh no, far from it. We were just young and restless and bored. She is his girlfriend, I am his best friend.
Was his best friend.
He stopped coming to dance practice when he took her hand. The music left his eyes, and all I can see in them now is her. His body has lost its grace, he trips and tumbles over his own two feet to impress her. He didn’t even ask for his shoes back.
I drop the cowboy boots on the step and wander back to the car with my hands shoved deep in my pockets. As I back out of the driveway, I pause for one last glance at the boots.
Even if nothing changes, I hope they remind him of who he once was. My Moon King.
Nothing like good time-worn leather to keep a person safe and warm. Especially handy in the chilly summer-to-autumn nights of Chicago. The wind doesn’tbother me much on such evenings, but the near-frozen ground does. As I walk to my car from the drive-in concession bathroom, the crunch of gravel and dirt shoots up shards of vibrations. If it wasn’t for these leather boots, my feet would be freezing and legs would be shivering.
All of the drive-in movie theaters have gone out of business. The one I am in is no different. There is no movie playing, me and my car are its only occupants. Only one reason to be here: Memory.
This drive-in is my go to . I would drive myself, alone, in my van, to spend a few hours, but only to see the movies of one actor, even if he only played a minor role .He was my first love. My only love. He will never know .
Images of Popeye, Garp, Genie, and the Moon King flash across the grey-white concave wall lit by the full moon. He always made me laugh, even when we were kids in school. We were best of friends until his family moved to Detroit in 1963, when we were twelve.
We used to sneak into this theater late Friday or Saturday nights to catch a movie. We would sit on the grass. He would sometimes break into imitation of a character in the movie. Laughter was second nature to him. Making it come out from me made him happy. I loved him for it. I wish I could have told him.
“I think, therefore you is.”Oh, how I wish this was so. My favorite line from his Baron Munchausen role as King of the Moon. He is in front of me. He is smiling in that way of his, just before he is about to go crazy.I think. Therefore you…no… he isn’t. At least not physically.
The big screen, chipped and graffitied but majestic, stands watch over the lot, over me standing next to my van The speaker posts stand in neat rows, sentinel guardians of imaginations and millions of secret rendezvous in back seats.
I started humming a song from 1962 as I climbed into my van. Funny, I know the tune, no lyrics, no title, and no artist, still it is catchy.
The engine purrs as it seeks to warm me up. The stars and moon perform a slow waltz which somehow my mind can see.Strange how the night moves, with autumn closing in.
Moving to the back seat, a brown web of crocheted yarn envelops me. The warmth it brings, like the touch of another’s skin, my body welcomes. The dvd player comes to life.I imagine the small screen projecting onto the big screen outside.The movie comes on. I let myself go into the world which the movie tells me is true. I wait for what dreams may come.