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.
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.
‘And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made.’
The setting is you are at a last place where you were hurt, for the first time since you were hurt.
A homeless child
“You need to come now.” His voice cracks. It never cracks.
“Am I coming to say goodbye?” I already know the answer.
“I think you might be.” He starts to sob. He never cries.
The first time he had said that, it hadn’t been true. The second time, the same words, had been pure gospel. The too few months that existed between those two held a nightmare of heartache and wretched waiting. Of doctor’s visits and house calls. Of hospice and homecomings. More ups than down than a rollercoaster, with one final inevitable drop. Cancer starts with silence, and so too must it end.
Standing underneath the halo of a streetlamp I take in the stark difference between the rolling green hills before me and the tattered rundown buildings behind me. I am not lost on the irony that the dead live in a better place than the living here. Once again I wished I had gathered enough money to have her buried in that place up north. I should have sold my car. Something. At least then it had been running.
I steel myself against the cold and damp, pulling up my collar as I step across the broken cobblestone street into the Pastures of Eternal Paradise. My memory flows back to the last time I was here. We buried her that day. We buried a piece of me with her. The walk to her stone is short, as her eternal resting place is nearer to the road than I like. The grass is unblemished. Coming back here hurts just as much as that day, maybe more. At least then I was not alone. Tonight, my only friend is the darkness. My only solace is the silence.
Up on the nearby hill the church sits in all it grandeur. Marvelous in its splendor, the bright neon blue glow of their cross blinking as a beacon for the lost. The way the gravestones rest on the hill, makes me feel like I stand among hundreds of bowed bodies, praying to the glowing cross. Standing while they kneel, I am reminded of how much of an outsider I am. An only child to an only parent, we had been a team. Us against the world. Only, the world had defeated one of us. Perhaps both of us. Cancer kills more than its host.
I kneel down to place the flowers that I brought, already wilting. Money is sparse and these were on sale. She won’t care. She never liked me wasting money on flowers anyways. Thrifty my mother had been. We existed on less than I manage now, and she had at least kept a roof over our head. I will never live up to her standard. I am not sure I want to try.
They say that home is where the heart is. What if your heart is buried in the fragile dirt, six lonely feet down?
Is the graveyard to be my home then? Or am I truly homeless?
The Sound of Silence Elaine Johnson
She took a deep breath and walked into the bar, refusing to glance at the side table at the end, the one in the corner that was so private, where people could talk. Their space.
It was empty. He was undoubtedly out, perhaps with another person. Probably. It was none of her business, was it? Of course not.
It was like riding a bicycle. You just get back on again. And that was why she was here, waiting for the bartender to finish whatever he was doing so she could order a drink she didn’t really want.
She pulled out her cell phone, so it didn’t look like she had nothing to do and no one to talk to, and flipped through CNN.com. Homeless children. A bomb in a slum. Refugees. War. She clicked it off, picked up the menu and flipped through the plethora of food choices. And desert choices. And beverages. She’d steeled herself for this for days. Here it was. Just do it.
Some guy with a guitar in the other corner was playing that old song. What were the words? She hummed along to the second stanza, “And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made.”
She idly swiped through the phone one last time, until the bartender came over. She smiled and ordered white wine. Chablis, then settled in her seat, crossed her legs, and flicked the stiletto heel. Once she’d have pulled out a cigarette, but she’d quit and couldn’t smoke in the bar anyway.
She kept reminding herself that she was an adult, a lady, and this all-consuming rage was beneath her. She was an educated, cultured person in control of her emotions. Fury did not belong. Let the vindictive spirit pass. Let the urge to ruin him forever slide off. The slime ball.
Two guys walked past her. She evaluated both and dismissed them, then flicked a strand of hair back. Twelve years in a relationship. She felt a wave of panic.
Instead of drinking her wine as a beautiful mystery woman, she gulped it and signaled for another. Men. They drive you crazy and take over your heart and mind and then they tell you they never meant it to happen.
She lifted her chin. You just have to keep getting out there, be available. You never know. Look at her cousin. She nodded to thank the bartender and this time really did sip the drink. She steeled her soul and studied the shimmer on the glass. He never was coming back, was he?
Another Victim of the Street
I knew I shouldn’t have come back here, but now my body is no longer under my control. It feels as if my feet are being pulled down the road by the devil himself, each step echoing against the crumbling buildings that surround me on either side. Even in the dim glow of the shattered street lamps, I can see long shreds of peeled paint and chipped bricks falling away into the darkness, threatening to pull the whole block into oblivion. Good. If I ever see this slum again, it will be too soon.
My fingers trace a path along the metal fence, one that they had travelled hundreds of times before. Finally, my feet fall still, and I am allowed to take a look around me, not that I want to. From the second the burnt stench of ash hit my nose, my heart had begged me to flee, yet some part of me asks to stay. It is time, that tiny part of me whispers softly, to face it once and for all.
Tears run down my face as I wrap my hands around the metal fence, surveying the charred skeleton of a house that lays just beyond. I can almost still feel the heat of the blaze, hear the screams. My hands clench around the cold metal, but can only feel the chill against my fingertips. Not only had the fire stolen my family from me, but it had also cruelly taken the feeling in my palms, scorched away like the rest of my life.
A sob escapes me, and I fall to my knees on the ashy pavement. Everything and everyone I loved now lay in the ashes that tickle my nose as I gasp for breath. I am alone.
Lights flicker farther down the street, melding from one color to another in an almost alien way. I wipe my eyes, getting to my feet. It seems to be coming from an open garage door a few houses down. Desperate to wipe the blaze from my mind, I go investigate.
Inside I find a drug induced wonderland illuminated by a criss cross of battered neon lights. And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made, or at least their slumped bodies looked that way. I weave my way through comatose bodies, some with needles still in hand. Something moves, a child. I crouch as I near her, so that my eyes are level with hers.
“Hey, it’s going to be ok. Let’s get you out of here.” I offer a hand, but she doesn’t move, regarding me with scared eyes.
“Are you hungry?” I try again, but to no avail. “Are these people your family?” She shakes her head.
“Do you have family?” Again she shakes her head. I sigh, looking down at the ground.
When I look back up at her, she has pulled the blanket from her face. “I’m hungry.” Her voice is barely louder than a whisper.
I reach for her hand again, and this time she takes it. I’m not letting this street ruin another life.
The unyielding, deafening, sounds of silence that slumber in this once sacred space hold no visible hint of the debauchery, hedonism and chaos that had thrived in defiance within her walls.
He had but only thought of this place for the last twenty years. Now, finally returning, Malcolm stands alone within this once teaming skeleton, long since abandoned and left to decay among the surrounding slums.
Turning slowly, he absorbs as much as he can while reflecting on his surroundings, searching for remnants of himself, certain that they must be imprinted upon her walls. Even now, as in his memory, as in her prime, she’s a seductive siren. He had always loved this floor, without the roof they had rhythmically writhed, exposed, as the sun, and sometimes the rain, beat down on them in tandem with the hypnotic beat.
Still she has managed to stand, a silent witness to the mischief and mayhem that were the psychedelic tapestry of a misguided youth. It was here upon her floor that Love had flowed, without boundaries, uninhibited, often induced; this place had encouraged mass elation and ecstasy.
This is where his heart had been broken for the first and last time. He has returned to face this place, to face her, to face himself. Closing his eyes, Malcolm succumbs, allowing the unedited memory to envelop him; reality unfolds around him, dissipating with each deep, slowed, deafening breath; venturing back to when he was an enslaved, entranced, water drinking wraith, ululating in time to the emanating energy and cacophony of sweat, bodies, smoke, alcohol and altered minds.
Their generation was one which had undertaken the meaning of life though ironic antonymy, Malcolm had been one of its most fervent followers, forcing music into submission and invoking unity through the sharing of consecrated chemical experience. But not even the most fervent follower was prepared for the realities of that day.
It had been a scorching summer, the blazing sunlight bore down upon the pulsating party, primed to create nostalgia. They prepared for the festivities with the ritualistic meticulousness which accompanied the style of the scene. Top to toe perfection, a mass of stories to be told, and all in attendance, players there to play.
The day had been full of promise, the people had bowed and prayed to the neon god they had made, as torrents of enchantment emanated from the speakers and connected directly with their souls. But betrayal was brewing in the air, a love too long harboured, and a friend named traitor forever after, were about to destroy the sanctity of this spiritual home. It had hurt. Fort twenty years, through the tears and pain a promise was made and kept with the words, Never Again.
He has never returned to this place until today, a child without a home, having never faced his circumstance or actions, dead inside, never allowing himself joy, happiness, love. A single moment, a lifetime of pain, a symphony of monotony. With his eyes closed, locked in memory, his hand fastened tightly around the handle of the gun, Malcolm says “I love you and I want closure…”
“I can’t believe I am back here again.”
“Is this where it happened?” the journalist asked as he scribbled something down in his notebook.
“Yes… it is,” he replied with a sigh.
“Tell me about it.”
“Look at this place. I can’t believe how much it changed. This place used to be a slum. I-I-It was the heart of the ghetto. Now it is luxury apartments. Unbelievable.”
“How old were you when it happened?” the journalist asked, getting somewhat impatient.
“Look at these people around here. All dressed in suits and nice clothes. People like this used to get mugged and robbed here and now they own it,” he responded, interrupting the journalist.
“Is this the first time you been here since it happened?”
“Yes. It will be the last too.”
“Tell me about it, Jim. What exactly happened that caused you so much hurt?” the journalist pleaded. “This is an important story for your memoir.”
Jim looked at the building and remembered the hurt. He vividly remembered the night his father came home drunk and when his mother got mad, they fought. His father beat his mother like she was a bad habit. This wasn’t the first time either. Finally she had had enough. She pulled a large knife from a drawer and began stabbing him furiously. The floor where he lay was covered in blood. Her face and hands were covered in the crimson liquid as well.
“I ran from the apartment and banged on my neighbor’s door. When she saw me crying and pointing at my apartment, she walked to it and was horrified when she saw my mother still stabbing the dead body. She ran back to the apartment and called the police. They came and took her away. I guess she went to some hospital because she had lost her mind.”
“Jim, that’s awful. I am so sorry.”
“I still can’t listen to the song the “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. It was on the radio when my neighbor answered her door. I remember staring at her radio when the line ‘The people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made’ and wished there was a god to come and help me.”
“That is when you became homeless?”
“Yes, sir. The police tried to take me but I ran from them and hid for several days. I was twelve years old and was homeless for the first and last time in my life.”
“You eventually were found, right?”
“Yeah, the police found me sleeping behind some garbage cans one night. They brought me to child services and was soon put in a foster home. I prospered there and went to school and then college, determined to make a better life for myself. I did. I became a famous author and now here we are.”
“This is going to be quite a memoir. You will have to tell me about your life in foster care too.”
“I will but that’s another chapter for another day. I am whipped right now.”
“After reliving that part of your childhood, I completely understand. We will pick this up tomorrow, my friend.”
Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood
Los Angeles, CA – November, 2061
A line of tarp and plywood huts lined the concrete river bank next to a set of rusted train tracks.
I run messages for a living. Not the best job for a thirteen-year-old, but it keeps a roof over my head. Not that the orphanage has much of a roof. There is one major downside of the job though. I’m usually getting shot at.
A boy climbed down from the second story of a caved in building on the other side of the tracks. He crept towards the hovels and a few small animals scattered.
This was home for a while, but I haven’t been here since my parents and I were caught in the soldier’s crossfire. My parents didn’t make it. Damn war.
The boy walked into the hut and sat down amongst the rubble. He glanced around the small room.
I’m surprised it’s still standing. There was a lot of explosions. Wait, is that my music player? These are easy to come by, but it’s hard to get one with music on it. Mine had all the best songs. I wonder…
“And the people bowed and prayed, to the neon god they made!” came a voice from the device.
“What was that?” said a voice outside.
Son of a-
“It came from over there!”
Multiple sets of heavy boot steps drew close to the shelter. The boy bolted through a small hole in the back, but was grabbed by his shirt and pulled up.
“I’ve got him. Looks like a runner!” yelled the man who had grabbed him. The guy was wearing a bulky vest and carrying a rifle in his other hand.
Great. Alliance troops.
Another soldier came around from the front of the shack.
“Well look at this. So what kinda message you carrying?”
A message for Nun’ya. Nun’ya Business.
The boy kicked the shack, which fell over in a cloud of dust. Then he pulled a knife out of his belt and buried it in the soldier’s arm. He was promptly dropped as the soldier howled. Without hesitation, the boy sprinted across the train tracks and into the building.
He turned a corner inside and ran down the hall. Hearing the other soldier closing in behind him, he jumped, put one foot on the wall, and bounced off the wall towards a hole in the ceiling. He grabbed onto the ledge and pulled himself up in one fluid motion. He continued running and heard several bursts from the floor below, followed by holes exploding in the floor around him.
They always resort to bullets. Can’t ever have an honest race with these guys.
The boy sprinted to the end of the hall and dived through the broken window into the next building over. He then proceeded to the top of the building and made his way over several rooftops before he stopped, ducked down, and looked back. He saw the soldier exit the first building and go back to help the one with the knife in his arm. Shortly, a medical vehicle picked them up.