Authors names will be posted to their stories next Thursday, after the voting is concluded.
Lying Eyes – Eagles – anything from this song.
Silk striped pajamas
An entitled victim
Every Form of Refuge
Bad things have always happened to me. Always.
I’m not entirely sure what I did to the world in order to deserve such terrible treatment from it, but here I am – the victim of one terrible thing after the other. Over and over in a vicious cycle that has ended here.
I used to try to look at the positives, try to come up with some lesson I was meant to learn. But there isn’t one. Even if there was, I suppose it’s too late now.
The view from my window is about as bleak as the one inside my room. The seasons have changed and winter is officially here. Snow drifts are stacked high, the wind is blowing cold and furious. I’ve been wanting to go outside for days but today I feel lucky to be practically bedridden.
I pull the warm blanket up closer to my chin as though the view of snow has been enough to send shivers throughout my body. But it’s not the snow. It’s the cancer. And they aren’t shivers, not really.
“Mary. Are you ready?!” My mother shouts up to me, wondering if I’m ready for her to come help me move from the wheelchair to the bed. I don’t bother answering, she’ll come up when she wants to.
Later, after she’s lifted me out of the chair she begins to help me change my clothes. Out of one pair of pajamas into another. I insist on wearing a particular set of silky, stripped pajamas tonight. They’re my favorite and I want to look and feel my best.
My mother doesn’t understand, of course, but she doesn’t question it, knowing it’s easier to let me have my way than to justify an argument.
Before she leaves she kisses my face, both cheeks and then my forehead, the same way she’s always kissed me since I was a little girl. She’s sweet my mother. I know it breaks her heart to see me this way. I want to ease her pain, I want to tell her my plan but I can’t find the words. So instead I smile, a thin disguise meant to protect us both.
I’ve been thinking about this night for a long time. I’ve been planning and preparing for it for ages, because the sooner I can leave this place the sooner she can start to move on. I’m confident and ready, I’m sure of my choice, but that doesn’t necessarily make things easier.
Eventually, I reach into the nightstand and pull out the razor I’ve hidden. I hold it tight as I scribble a letter on my notepad, words of love meant to comfort my mother in the morning.
I know this will be hard for her at first. I know it will be hard for everyone. But soon they’ll recover and begin to comfort themselves with cliché’s. “She’s in a better place,” they’ll say, as if they have any idea.
The cancer will be gone, but so will I. The pain will be gone, but so will I. I guess every form of refuge has its price.
The Winter of Her Discontent
Misty pulled over to the curb and looked in the rear-view mirror. He was coming. Adjusting her blouse to reveal more cleavage, Misty touched up her lipstick and primped her hair. Rolling down the window, she smiled warmly, “Good evening, Officer. What can I do for you?” And there it was; the trap snapped clean and painless. After a few short minutes of subliminal intercourse the blushing officer let her go with a warning. Starting her engine, she sighed in relief and pulled away.
She hadn’t been home long before Jimmy, the neighborhood single, was at the door. Misty had hoped he wouldn’t show up this evening, but he was useful to have around.
It was late when Misty finally pulled away from Jimmy’s warmth in her bed. Leaving him with a smile, she slipped into her striped silk pajamas, walked to the window, and looked out at the stars. She had everything she needed, but she just couldn’t escape the feeling of being her own victim. She felt trapped playing a role that isolated her from what she desired most; true love. Jimmy didn’t love her; he was in love with some ideal. Misty gazed into the frigid winter night sky.
She was painfully lonely.
The next day, Misty looked up an old high school friend, Jack. Surely he would be obliged to accept her, for old-time’s sake. She picked up the phone. “Hey, Jack. I’ll be in town tonight and thought we might go out and reminisce.” He accepted.
Jack opened his door. “Wow, you’re as stunning as always.” Misty couldn’t help but slip back into her role as a flattering tease. She smiled to show her teeth, raised her eyebrows to intimate the dilation of her pupils, tilted her head toward Jack to imply a desire for closeness, and she was in.
The evening didn’t go quite as planned. They went out, had a nice time, but Jack never succumbed to Misty’s lead. She felt she had encountered a brick wall. Since it was starting to snow, they went back to Jack’s place. Misty assumed she would be invited up, but Jack stopped her at the door. Misty felt disoriented as Jack laid it out in plain English, “Listen, Misty, it was great to see you, but it stops here. Your smile is a thin disguise. You’re still the same old girl you used to be. I’d have thought by now you’d realize that people don’t like to be manipulated. You’re hiding behind your compulsion to control everything, but you’re really depriving yourself of the very thing you need; to be vulnerable and trust someone else. I guess every form of refuge has its price.”
Stunned that Jack could see right through her, it made Misty want him all the more.
She pleaded, “Can’t I stay here tonight? The roads … ”
Jack kissed her on the cheek. “You’d better go home, the snow’s starting to drift. Goodnight, Misty.”
Jack closed the door.
Misty turned slowly toward her car as the icy wind blew snow across the drive.
Her Lying Eyes Told the Truth
I just had to get away from it all so I escaped to my cabin in the mountains. It is peaceful here, away from everyone. Especially her. I cannot completely blame her though. Some of it is my fault. Hell, maybe all of it’s my fault. Why would I think that someone as young and as beautiful as she is could ever love an older man like me? As I sit in my recliner near the fireplace with a cigar in one hand and a lovely single malt Scotch in the other, I remembered when I first saw her. Did I fall in love with her or did I fall in lust? Sometimes the two are hard to separate. It is for me anyway.
It had been a long time since I have been intimate with a woman. The Lord called my wife home five years ago. We were married twenty-seven years when He called her away from me. I was mad at Him for this for a while but I have since made amends. I haven’t been intimate with anyone since she died. That changed a year ago. I first saw her sitting in the front row of chairs as I stood there, reading an excerpt from my latest novel. She was dressed very tastefully in a white dress. Her long legs crossed at the ankles. The dress, low-cut, revealed her ample bosom but tastefully. Her hair was as red as a summer sunset and cascaded down around her shoulders. Freckles dotted the bridge of her nose. It was her eyes though. It was her eyes that truly attracted me. They were as green as jade and as piercing as a sword. Remembering this reminds me of an old song by the Eagles. Her beautiful eyes had become lying eyes and they couldn’t hide the truth.
As I thought about those eyes, those beautiful, lying eyes, I looked out of the window of my cabin and noticed the snow drifts building. I noticed how the light from the cabin played with the shadows of the night, making the snow drifts seem as if they are silk, striped pajamas that the mountainside had decided to wear. Then I remember the first few weeks with her. How they seemed magical and the lovemaking exquisite.
Then she changed. She had a victim mentality of sorts. It seemed as if I owed her for everything done to her. She acted as if she was entitled to much more than she really was and I was the one who had to pay for it. I gave her money, I gave her jewelry, but more importantly, I gave her my heart. That is one thing I should have kept. I knew she was going out at nights to visit a younger man. Her lying eyes told me. I knew she didn’t mean it when she told me that she loved me. Her eyes gave that away too. Yesterday she packed her clothes and her jewelry and this was the only time her eyes didn’t lie to me.
I knew by her eyes that she meant it when she said good-bye.
Stone Me, Have Mercy
“Oh God. Change it, change it, change it. Quick.”
What’s the problem now? My dear husband landed in the hospital after breaking his leg, but you’d have thought evisceration by the way he carried on. His face contorted as though he’d smelled something foul, and he plugged up his ears with his fingers. Then I realized: The Eagles. Of course.
At first I couldn’t place which simpy douche commercial jingle this was. “The Long Run?” “Peaceful Easy Feelin’?” No. “Lyin’ Eyes.” I could tell by the way my own lids started to droop, even before the part where the cheating tramp ever left—
“Please? Please, please change—” “All right, already!” I couldn’t believe the level of drama conjured up by simple elevator music. I clicked over to the next station. Wait a minute…
Eagles again! I stifled a laugh. He writhed in bed, the neat gray stripes of his silk pajamas twisting and distorting. I imagined them getting tighter and tighter, cutting into his flesh like barbed wire. But I clicked the dial again, before he started on his haughty rant about how “Hotel California” would still be playing long after they released him.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t fast enough to avoid sparking his usual diatribe about the general inferiority of the band and how Glenn Frey had always been a scourge on rock music history.
A nurse ducked her head in as his voice rose in volume and pitch. She shot me a look of pure pity and darted down the hall.
It was going to be a long stay.
The pale blue walls of this tiny private room seemed to close in, as though I were being pushed beneath the sea. His cranky whine sounded like a foghorn heralding ships that had no desire to come into harbor. I couldn’t even open the window to alleviate the closeness; snow had drifted up against the glass and froze there, so I had to stand on tiptoes just to see outside. I shivered at the view and the slight draft. He had the blankets pushed all the way down. Wasn’t he chilly? Maybe I should pull them up. Like…all the way up. And yank the edges down under the mattress.
God, he was still going on. His drug-addled head dangled off the pillow. I grabbed the pillow on the chair by the window. Got to make him more comfortable.
The commercial break ended in a familiar, faux Native American riff. Oh no. Not “Witchy Woman.” His voice escalated into a wail. “Sweetieeee…!” I twisted the pillow in my fists. “Just a second honey. I’ll fix it.”
“You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes.
And your smile is a thin disguise”
I know that I’m only tormenting myself and yet, I can’t stop playing the Eagle’s classic song over and over again. The words are torturing me. They evoke memories of Jessica’s smile. That smile that radiated from her entire face. That smile that captured my heart and mind forever.
It was over six months ago that our plane landed in Orly airport. Our marriage had been under strain for several months. Our application to become adoptive parents was refused. We had decided to take a three-week vacation in France. My best friend Billy lived in Val d’Isère and had invited us to stay. The plan was to relax, enjoy some skiing and to work on our problems.
The first few days were fantastic. Hearty breakfasts, followed by fun on the slopes, jumping through snow drifts and high spirited apres ski parties. Jessica was in her element. It was her first ski holiday and she loved it. Her beautiful smile returned and I began to believe that we were back on track with our lives.
It was near the end of the first week that I started to become suspicious. Billy and Jessica had started to find excuses to avoid the morning skiing, preferring instead to meet me for lunch and ski in the afternoon. I dismissed the idea, thinking there was no way my best friend and my wife could ever hurt me like that.
How wrong I was. The following Monday morning a snowboarder lost control and collided with me as I traversed a very steep run. Luckily, I escaped with bruising down my left side and a nasty black eye. I decided to return to the chalet and soak my aches in a hot bath.
As I climbed the stairs I could hear giggles and laughter from behind the bedroom door. Even though I knew what was happening, I was not prepared for the sight of my wife and my best friend sharing my bed. Both women scrambled to cover their nakedness, but it was the look in Jessica’s eyes that really shook me. All of the deceit, all of the lies, all of the treachery shone through her dark pupils. I never spoke a word to either of them. I stormed past the bed, grabbed my bag, stuffed my clothes and toiletries into it, before walking out of the room and out of their lives.
I found a B&B on the far side of the town, changed into my striped silk pyjamas and climbed into bed. The following morning I booked an early flight home, leaving my dreams behind. Streaks of mascara traced the course of the tears down my face as I boarded the plane.
To this day I would give anything to have Jessica back. I’d sacrifice my money, my career, even my title. I used to love being Lady Sandra Byron. I used to love life. But nothing can replace my love with the lying eyes, thinly disguised with her smile.
A chamber pot overflowing with radioactive candy bars from a parallel universe
Dreams of a Parallel Universe
Smoke stacks burning into the night. That was my last memory of a normal life. That was when my father gave me the multi-verse cube.
I didn’t understand it at the time. I was a boy of thirteen, what did I know of traveling through parallel universes? My father talked of it often, but there was never enough time to explain it. Bleeding of a wound from the traveler, he gave me the sequence that unlocked the six faces of the cube.
Earth, Water, Fire, Breath, Life, Time.
“Be free my son…” were his last words. I had no time to grab anything. The traveler was coming for me and for the cube because we were not supposed to be in that world. I whispered the sequence to the cube, and the only world I knew vanished.
I was lost in a maze of blue aura- endlessly. I searched for a pathway of escape until I was utterly exhausted. I wondered if this might be the fate I would suffer. It was only me, the cube and the wild blue aura. I wept. I cursed the cube and threw it as far as I could. It only came back to me and seemed to mock my existence. Then it occurred to me, as if from the very aura I was in, to speak the sequence backwards.
I did, and a new reality came so fast that it took my breath away.
I repeated this process through many new worlds. I don’t know how old I am now. I start from zero with each travel- hungry and tired. I’ve seen nothing of my father or the world that I knew, only shadows and images of who and what I’ve known. Sometimes it’s hard to keep straight who they are, and who they were.
The traveler searches for me constantly, for each world is not mine. I’ve had to leave several worlds without goodbye. They almost seem like home. The last world I was in, they were headed for global nuclear war, but they made good candy bars- Zoobars. I wanted to save something from that world. I wanted other worlds to know that they at least contributed something worthwhile. I grabbed a chamber pot full of Zoobars, and spoke the sequence to the multi-verse cube just as detonation had taken place.
Taking things out of parallel universes proved to be a bad mistake. Radioactive Zoobars overflowed the chamber pot while I was in the wild blue aura. I dropped the cube, and before it could return to my side, radioactive Zoobars filled the aura at a most rapid pace. The traveler easily spotted this disturbance, but he was overwhelmed with Zoobars before he could reach me. Miraculously, the cube returned to my side, and I quickly spoke the sequence. I found my new home with only a couple of Zoobars in hand. I had lost the multi-verse cube in the wild blue aura full of candy bars.
So, this is my home now. Somewhere, worlds leave at more than light speed. I dream of them at night when my thoughts are taken by a parallel universe.
Dani J. Caile
I had broken our laws.
And now I was living my own personal hell. If anyone knew, the consequences for the Congregation would be disastrous, catastrophic. No one, absolutely no one was to cross the border between our world and theirs without permission from the Ministry of Erudition.
But I had. The urge was too strong, a parallel universe with untold treasures waiting for us beyond the Shards? A chance that had to be taken.
So, today, once reaching the chosen age, I used the briefest of opportunities, travelling there and back, grabbing what I could from the places and shops I happened upon and re-entering within the limits laid down by Doctor Everett so many centuries before. But it all went wrong. I was followed. How could I be so naive to think I could get away with it? A man, an assailant, shouting, verbally assaulting me as I ran from one universe to the other, chasing me through the streets, following me back. I could not lose him!
“Stop! Oi! Stop!”
At no point should he ever catch me! For the sake of the Congregation, for the sake of myself. But he was still on me, so I ran towards the safety of the city’s great smokestacks, churning out their pollutants into the night sky. Only there, in the maze of pipes and machines inside the factories of our illustrious leaders, would there be an escape. I looked down to check my haul from the raid, a chamber pot overflowing with radioactive candy bars. On the open market they would sell for peanuts but I knew an avid buyer who would pay a handsome sum.
He was so close, brandishing something in his hand, threatening me! I tried to weave and dodge through the factory floors, around machines, under pipes, up stairways and down ladders, but I couldn’t shake him! With one last effort, I sprinted ahead and for a moment, I was free. But at what cost? I could run no more, my legs were dead after the chase, and the radium seeping from the candy bars was surely the reason for me feeling weak and sick. A welcoming cubbyhole appeared between two pipes and I dived for cover, allowing my legs to rest.
For a moment I relaxed, gazing in wonder at my radioactive candy bar filled chamber pot. And then I heard it. On the gangway above there were steps, turning this way, then that. Someone slid down a ladder and landed nearby. I listened for another sound, anything, but silence filled my ears.
There was a touch on my shoulder! I knew right then it was the end!
I turned to face him, knowing what was to come, the arrest, the holding cell, the trial where I would…
“There you go!”
Something rested in my palm, and with sweat dripping down my neck, I looked into my open hand. A coin?
“You forgot your change.”
As I sat there losing my mind while staring at the copper-coloured metallic money, he walked away.
Clair was in the kitchen rolling Rice Krispy treats into balls before dipping them in chocolate. She checked her watch and called out, “We’ve got to leave in thirty minutes, gang!”
The family had a big night planned; the kids were attending a big school party out by the old smokestacks for Halloween and Clair and her husband Ed had graciously volunteered to help.
Eric, their oldest son, was at the table playing a game on his phone. He was already in costume – all black with a sign reading ‘unknown’ pinned to his shirt.
Ed came down the stairs and looked at him. “What are you supposed to be, bud?”
“I’m an unknown assailant.” He responded without looking up.
“I don’t get it.”
“We’re supposed to dress as characters from books and the unknown assailant is like, a staple in crime fiction. It’s like, literally the most popular character in books.”
“But… you’re just unknown. So now you’ll have to assail. You’ll have to attack people all night in order for that to work.”
Eric shrugged. “Ok I guess I will, then.”
Edward sighed and moved on to assess the kitchen table covered in items they needed to take with them to the party.
“Is that my antique chamber pot?” he asked, a hint of irritation in his voice.
“Ok, first can I just say again how weird it is that you have an antique chamber pot?” Clair responded, turning around with a Rice Krispy ball in one hand and a chocolate covered spoon in the other. “I mean, you do know what those were used for, right?”
“It’s history Clair!”
“And second,” she continued “Yes… it is your fancy antique chamber pot. But the kids needed it. It’s the perfect container for their candy…” Clair stopped and looked at Joey who sighed and rolled his eyes as only a nine-year-old boy can.
“They’re radioactive candy bars, mom! From a parallel universe! Duh.”
Clair smiled and shrugged at her husband. “Radioactive candy bars. Duh.”
“Well my chamber pot better return to this house – in this universe – in one piece, got it?”
“Yes dad.” Joey chimed. He was putting the last-minute touches on his costume, which looked like it was supposed to be some kind of wizard.
“What sort of character from a book has radioactive candy bars, anyway?”
“Literally tons, dad!” Costume building was obviously a stressful endeavor.
“Whatever you say, bud.”
“What are we meant to be doing at this thing anyways, Clair? Just sitting around while the kids play games?” Ed asked as he grabbed a rice Krispy ball and began munching.
“Basically. It’s going to be fun. There’s a corn maze and face painting, all kinds of activities you could help with.”
“You’re also supposed to be in costume, dad.” Eric added. “So, what are you supposed to be?”
Ed looked around, as though searching for an idea. He grabbed a piece of paper and in large block letters wrote ‘VICTIM’. Holding it up in front of himself and said “I’m the unknown assailant’s victim.”
Eric rolled his eyes.
“Eric, it’s like, literally the second most common character in books.”
Willing my legs to pump, while keeping my left hand on the wall, I jog through the maze which magically sprung up around the Corporation’s headquarters. This morning it didn’t exist, like what I’m looking for, but here it is: looming and daunting while keeping me out. I’m not far from my goal. With luck, and as long as I keep my hand on the wall, I should stop Armageddon.
I look at purple fog ripping through night-threatened skies as it seeks to color the grey pillows above. Time slips too fast. Soon the canopy will be consumed by a darkness other than from the settling night: the nebula spewing from the Corporation smokestacks, forever blocking out the sun and moon unless I can find and return that which shouldn’t exist.
The air around me thickens with power. The small hairs of my exposed arms rise rigid. My skin reacts to the new coolness by forming rows of tiny lumps. This is not good. I’ve learnt this means something else which shouldn’t be here, will be. A sharp crack announces its arrival. A loud roar confirms it. A sickening odor of rotting meat and death demands me to run faster or die.
Hot breath warms the back of my neck. My body produces adrenaline which provides a burst of speed. The space I vacated fills up with a loud swish of air being sliced into pieces. A disgruntled growl follows. I can’t risk looking behind.
A few seconds passes and the building looms ahead of me. Finally, I found the exit! But not the object. Feverishly, I scan the landscape. A small dark oval sits to my right. Pausing for a microsecond, fully aware of the thing behind me, I decide to chance losing contact with the wall and go after the item.
Each step defines the object better. Its form sharpens and takes a familiar shape. I’ve seen one of them many times at my great-grandparent’s house in the country. I half-expect to smell excrement, but instead the scent which confronts me is sweet and… chocolate? A glow emits from the top. Radioactive?
I pick up my prize while running, not daring to stop as I can still hear the hunter. I need to get to my lab.
I reach the entrance and pull on my pass card. Swing it over the infrared eye as I push the door open. I run to the stairwell, and go up three flights taking three steps at a time. I race into my lab. Dexter, my assistant, is frantically working at the control center of the machine.
“I dropped my Snickers and it hit the go button.”
I look into the glow from the chamber pot in my arm.
“Crap! Is the machine ready to send this back?”
I place the pot full of what I hoped were radioactive unwrapped Snickers into the machine. Time to send it, and everything it brought, back to its parallel universe.
“You’re a horrible wingman, Nos. The worst!” Sam crossed bare arms and leaned against a wall that may have been cleaned before the war, but not after.
Nostromos shook his head but smiled. “Why, because I pulled you away from that handsy thing?”
“Exactly. She was into me.” Sam stomped a polished boot for emphasis.
“More like on. I’ve seen large ordinance cover less surface.” Behind him the door to the bar closed shut, making a loud click.
“But she was pretty, witty, and that beautiful white hair! Like that candy with the funny name and the silly jingle. You know, the one chock-full of innuendos.” Sam ran a finger through silky hair and eyed him from under a fine brow.
“I know the one. And no. She was a chamber pot overflowing with radioactive candy. Nutty bars. And did you listen to her talk? I mean, really? I think we aren’t the only Reality Jumpers here, and the zone she came from was full of Dr. Seuss characters. You can do better. And, this is the third bar on our pub crawl. I promised you seven for your birthday and you know we can’t take her with us.” He had begun tapping on his smart watch as he spoke.
“You said she was a Jumper.” Sam pursed thin lips into a fine pout.
“I was implying she was el pollo loco from Batcrapcrazyville. Stop with the pout. Your charms are ineffective on me.” He averted his gaze. “As mine are on you.”
Sam laughed. “I think you’re cute.”
“Hush.” He focused on the controls of his watch, letting his hair fall over his cheeks.
“Like a big furry bear with questionable manners. Where are we going next?” Sam looked toward the spiraling portal that opened up. Beyond they could see tall smokestacks billowing green gas into the night sky. “Bleh. Industrial. Pass!”
Nostromos tapped his watch. “I have this thing set on random.” The portal shifted color, and beyond an ominous maze of dark and dirty stone appeared, overshadowed by a cloudy skyline with a single blood moon.
“Oh, definitely a pass!” Sam shouted.
From the shadows a cloaked figure sprinted at them, arms outstretched. It lunged for Nostromos’ watch, but Nostromos sidestepped the attack and pushed the unknown assailant off. The shadowy figure stumbled and fell through the portal, landing with a thud on the stone walkway beyond. Nostromos wasted no time tapping the watch, closing the portal. A loud roar cut off.
“What was that all about?” Sam looked from him to where the portal had been. “And was that a Minotaur? Like a real one?”
“I believe so.” His mouth felt dry. “Maybe we should just go back into this bar. We’ll go around front and pay the cover again.” He slid his shirt over his watch, looking around the alleyway a little more intently this time.
Sam clapped and jumped up and down a few times. “You are the best wingman. Let’s go find my little candy bar!”
Nostromos looked again at where the portal had been and muttered, “I think she may be otherwise engaged.”
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.