Weekend Quickie #228
Saturday, April 29, 2017
One Image, One Prompt, One Emotion
“From which stars have we fallen, to meet each other here?” Friedrich Nietzsche
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
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.
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.
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.
“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.
(Authors will be revealed next Thursday.)
Smokestacks at night
An unknown assailant
A chamber pot overflowing with radioactive candy bars from 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.”