Going Postal, V

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” and “Going Postal, IV.”

Stan hated his job at the post office. He told his friends, his coworkers, his mother, and that girl he’d almost made it with last Friday night. For some reason, he didn’t tell his boss.

The problem was the boredom. Stan wanted to be lead guitarist in a band. “I would be The Next Big Thing,” he had told that girl. If she’d stuck around, he could have also told her about his plans: his band name, who would be begging to sing with him, and which girls would sleep with him after each show.

“Look,” Dave said in a somewhat muffled voice, after Stan spent the first part of their shift complaining, “Maybe you should publish some songs online, so people can hear your sound.”

Stan slid a package from the line and squinted at it. He felt sweaty wearing a mask and gloves. “Are you kidding? Then people would steal my ideas.”

Ian, from down the line, yelled out, “Stan -dude- do you have anything posted?”

Stan didn’t answer; just shoved the package harder than it needed to be toward Ian. Dave wiped a sleeve across his forehead and said something Stan couldn’t hear. “What??” Stan demanded.

“Nothin’.” Dave rolled a wad of advertisements and secured them with an elastic.

“I’ll bet I know,” Ian shouted. He’d shouted even before they all wore face masks. “I’ll bet he said you don’t got no songs! ‘Fact, I’ll bet he said you gotta learn guitar first!”

The room echoed in muffled laughter. Stan flushed.

Just then, a happy beeping sounded from beyond the receiving doors. They turned to see an old, white pickup truck pull up. Ron Richardson exited, sipping from a large drink. “Hiya, boys!”

Ian, Dave, and the others didn’t answer. Stan, however, never could resist. “Well, if it isn’t our friendly, neighborhood creeper! How are ya, contractee?”

Ron turned to Stan, his smile fixed. “‘Fraid I can’t really hear ya, Son.” He cleared his throat, then coughed a bit against a hand. “So! Where’s my load for the mornin’? I’m running behind after a meeting at the city.”

Stan pointed at a pile of bins and boxes behind Dave. No one moved to help him as the old man set his drink down and stooped to load a wheeled mail bin. The room remained silent as Ron filled and pushed the squeaking-wheeled bin to his pickup. And again. And again. The squeaking and his occasional cough were the only sounds in the large sorting room. After a half hour of work, he finished.

“See ya, Creeper!” Stan yelled at Ron’s retreating back on his last trip to the truck.

Ron didn’t answer. Maybe he couldn’t really hear. As the pickup chugged to life and pulled away, Stan yanked off his mask and gloves. The air felt cold and sweet. “Phew! That’s better!” Stuffing the safety apparatus into a back pocket, he walked down the line and grabbed at the edge of the wheeled bin to drag it back.

He had to push the bin from all different sides to reorient it, but Stan returned it back against the wall. “Lazy contractor,” he mumbled, looking at Ron’s forgotten Big Gulp and wiping at his mouth with his bare hand.

Continued at “Going Postal, VI.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, IV

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” and “Going Postal, III.”

The residents of Westside City were a mixed bunch, thanks to a dispute among the planners back when a large area of it went from unincorporated to residential. Sort-of. Supposedly, Fred Simons wanted multi-family housing while Martin Gonzales thought single-unit homes were better. Ida Jenkins said she’d abstain if pressed, while Mayor Cliffstone threatened to film the whole thing if the two gentlemen didn’t sit down and discuss things like humans instead of animals.

In the ensuing debates over taxonomy and zoning, no one thought to verify whether the United States Post Office planned to include the new area in its existing route maps. Ron Richardson didn’t mind; he’d been considering an easy employment since retirement and thought a contractual mail carrier fit the bill nicely.

It hadn’t been all butterflies and roses, of course. He was required to use his own vehicle; had to bend, stoop, and lift; and not many residents acknowledged his existence. Still, Ron had done it for ten years and figured he could handle all that for another ten. Then, the current city planning board called him in.

He and the three committee members, spaced at least six feet apart, were the room’s only occupants.

“We’ve been getting some complaints from residents,” Joe Schlepp said. He tried to look stern as he squirted his hands with sanitizer and rubbed them vigorously.

“Oh?” Ron rocked on his feet in an amiable fashion. His toes rested against a scuffed bit of blue tape on the carpet.

“Yes,” Ida Jenkins agreed, her voice muffled behind a paper face mask. She read over a printed page that waved slightly in her gloved hand. “One resident says her package was delivered to the wrong address. Another claimed hers never arrived…. Another says it went to the wrong house, and another, and another…”

In the awkward pause, Ron answered, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Bob Spineless frowned. “Mr. -”

“Ron -”

“Mr. Ron, we cannot have this level of irresponsibility from our mail carrier. If we receive any more complaints, we will need to consider offering your position to another applicant.”

The happy rocking stopped. Ron’s affable smile did not, although it tightened.

“Do you understand, Mr. Ron?” Ida should have known his real name. She had hired him. She had his name printed at the top of her complaints sheet.

“Sure. Sure.” Ron turned and left. The committee didn’t seem to notice. Not only did no one talk to him on his route, no one had really talked to him here. Apparently, they all only noticed problems, problems that were the fault of incorrect address labels and lazy post office sorters.

Each downside of the job came to him with each step he took away from the city government meeting room and toward the city government parking lot.

For an entire decade, he’d delivered everyone’s packages faithfully. Lately, he delivered everyone’s panic-buying supplies. He drove from before sunup to after sundown. He carried everything from canned goods to ammunition.

Ron exited the double-glass doors and descended the double-wide front steps.

Since he was a contractual mail carrier, he had no official vehicle. The post office workers treated him like a civilian. He saw their sideways glances and sneers as he picked up his allotted bins and assigned bundles every day, multiple times a day.

He unlocked his pickup truck and got in.

Contract workers didn’t have health insurance, either.

Reaching for his Big Gulp, Ron realized his throat felt sore. He felt tired, but maybe that was because he felt warmer than usual in the cold, April sun.

Continued at “Going Postal, V.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, III

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” and “Going Postal, II.”

Not many people talked to Art. He liked that. From his steel-toed boots to his copper-lined military cap, Art was practicality and self-made efficiency. He squatted at the dark corner of his covered porch, eyes on the neighborhood. Every fifteen minutes, he raised his binoculars and did a sweep of the area.

Art was waiting for the mailman.

Today, according to the electronic message from Guns, Gurneys, and Steel Blades, his package of ammunition would arrive. He knew what a hot item his purchase was; those who took the coming threat seriously were stockpiling. He’d seen the signs: necessities disappearing from store shelves, people filling extra cans at the gas station, and prices of guns and ammunition rising.

Even his ignorant, soft-shelled neighbors demonstrated mild panic. He’d watched Mrs. Hempsworth looking around as she cradled package after package of toilet paper. The Andersens kept purchasing food supplies. And he, Arthur Jackson Williams, seemed to be the only suspicious one on the street.

There! The mailman’s pickup truck! Art lifted the binoculars and fitted them to his eyes. Amidst the happy-faced brown boxes bursting in the mailman’s cargo space, he spied his package. Setting his shotgun, Bowie knife, binoculars, pistol, and tactical belt to the side, he rose and moved down the stairs at an easy pace.

He arrived just as the mailman exited his truck.

“‘Morning, Ron!” Art’s tan, unshaven face creased into a smile. His eyes remained vigilant.

Ron seemed surprised and turned his whole body to meet Art’s approach. “Oh! Mornin’!”

Art wasn’t fooled for a second. “Nice day, eh? How’s it been so far today?”

Ron considered, frowning. “Oh, not bad. Just -” he paused.

“Yeah?”

“Just-” his sky-colored eyes searched their source for inspiration. “Just a lot more packages lately.” Ron smiled vaguely and shrugged.

I’ll bet, thought Art. Aloud, he said, “Bet that’s a real pain in the -”

“Yep.” Ron laughed, agreeing. “Yep.”

“Sorry for adding to that, Ron. Really.” Art nodded toward the pickup’s hardtop. “I thought they’d use UPS.”

Ron shook his head. His white hair floated against the movement. “Nah; Post’s cheaper. We’re better, too!”

“Ha! You’re right!” Art folded his arms. “Well! Don’t go overloadin’ yourself with too many o’ these Amazon deliv’ries, alright? These softies can shake a leg and try their chances at a store sometime! -Maybe experience the real world!”

Ron’s smile broadened. He laughed again. “That’ll be the day!” He went to the open-space window of his hardtop and removed Art’s package. Cringing at the weight, he slid it free and walked a step. Art unfolded his arms and came forward.

Taking the box from the old mailman’s arms, he said, “Whoa, Ron. Wouldn’t want you hurtin’ something. You’ve got all that toilet paper to deliver still!”

Ron laughed a third time. “Yep!”

“See you next deliv’ry!” Art turned and headed back home.

“See ya!”

Without looking back, Art heard the familiar unlocking of the community mailbox. He heard the familiar whistling of the contented mailman. No one seemed to worry about what Ron delivered; what Ron saw. But Art knew. Art knew.

Continued at “Going Postal, IV.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, II

Continued from “Going Postal, I.”

Little Charli Andersen loved to watch the world from her front window.

On Garbage Day, the garbage truck came. On Not-Preschool Days, her big brother’s carpool pulled up and honked. And, every day, Santa Claus parked his white pickup truck at their street’s mailbox.

At least, she thought he was Santa Claus. He was old and had white hair and sometimes brought presents to the porch. Her mother didn’t show Charli what the present-boxes had inside, but she knew they must be something happy. Almost every box had a smile on the side.

Today was no exception. *Ding* beeped her touchscreen game. *Snip* *snip* went her mother’s scissors. *Oh, I know, Honey* said the lady in the haircut chair.

A blink of white from beyond the window reflected onto Charli’s game. Santa was at the mailbox again! She watched him ease out of his truck and shuffle to the back. Her hand hung poised over the screen as she saw him pull out a large present, heft it to a new position, and stagger toward her house.

Charli saw the usual smile on the package’s side. She had to know what Santa brought this time, before her mother took it. Glancing up to confirm that her mother was busy working, Charli set the tablet down and snuck to the front door. She opened it just as Santa arrived at the top of their porch stairs, huffing.

“Well, hi, little girl!” he said, smiling. He set the box down near the edge and leaned against the railing.

Charli smiled and looked at her feet. She didn’t know what to say, now that she’d finally met him.

Santa scratched his face. He didn’t have a beard. “Didja like the rain we got yesterday?” he asked.

She nodded, still looking down.

“Didja see the rainbow?”

She jerked her head up in surprise. He still smiled kindly at her. She saw his eyes were the color of the sky. “No,” she said.

He gave her a sympathetic frown. “That’s alright. You can see one next time it rains.”

Another nod. She ground a bare toe into the doorstep in a twirl. “What’s in the present?” she managed to ask.

“Hm? Present?” He looked confused, Then, his attention turned to the large box at his feet. “Oh! Well! …This isn’t a present-”

Charlie’s face fell.

“-Not this time!” he added, holding up a reassuring hand.

Her expression lightened, curious.

“Yep,” Santa said, “Looks like this big box is some fancy food storage for your big family.” He gave a soft chuckle.

Her mouth puckered and she scowled.

He laughed outright. “Ha! This’s some high-quality stuff. ‘Time’ll come, some people’ll kill for this stuff! -Now, run on inside and tell your mommy about it so no one takes it. ”

She nodded again, and scuttled back inside. Her mother liked knowing about packages. She didn’t like when Charli opened the door without asking.

Continued at “Going Postal, III.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, I

Ron was just your average sort of guy: tallish, wideish, oldish, kindish. He drove his reliable old pickup with the reliable old hardtop around the neighborhood every day; often, he drove around several times a day.

Some of the residents talked to Ron. Most did not. Most didn’t notice him or his truck, despite its nearly always being full to bursting with their latest Amazon packages and Domino’s pizza coupons.

One day, Mrs. Hempsworth happened on Ron at the exact moment she went to retrieve her mail. Startled, she supposed she ought to make small talk. “Oh. Um. Hello.”

Ron didn’t look up from sorting his elasticized mail bundles into various slots, yet his voice sounded cheery. “Howdy.”

“Lovely day.”

“Oh, yes.”

Mrs. Hempsworth didn’t know what else to comment on, and cast about for a subject. Her eyes fell on his overstuffed vehicle. “Lots of packages.”

Ron stopped his shuffling and turned her direction. His pale blue eyes met her paint-lined browns. His gaze shifted to his truckload. Back to her. He blinked, surprised. “Yes.”

“Erm,” Mrs. Hempsworth fumbled. “Does it take you a while to deliver them all?”

Another blink. “Yes.”

“Oh.” She paused, out of her depth.

Ron helped. “‘Course, it’s been worse lately.”

Now she blinked. “Oh?”

“Yep.” Ron went back to sorting. “Everyone’s been orderin’ toilet paper off Amazon. It takes up too much space.”

She blushed, but the mail carrier’s white whispy hair was bent over a bin. He straightened, proferring a medium-sized package that weighed less than it appeared. Charmin was printed across the top.

“11259, right?”

She nodded and accepted her delivery without her realizing it. The man closed up the community mailbox, locked it with a key, picked up his empty bin, and headed back to his truck. “See ya,” he called, without looking back.

Mrs. Hempsworth watched the battered pickup drive away, the shifting packages within it sliding against the open windows of the hardtop. She clutched her toilet paper to her chest in a paranoid gesture, then relaxed. What did it matter that the mail carrier knew about her orders? It was his job, after all…

Continued at “Going Postal, II.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Many Hands Make Enlightened Work

We walked across the summer courtyard, two t-shirt youth among many, to stand before the spacious building. Stairs upon stairs climbed to the fountain’s zenith and proposed rooftop garden.

Commands came and we moved to assemble ourselves, each teenager on a stair, an arms-width apart. You: a little more. You: a little less.

Then, hand to hand to hand we passed a bucket’s brigade of grass. Smiling volunteers moved sod and flower from truck to tippy top.

Now, years later, our children look up. They marvel at roof-ledge bush and sky-reach trees, and the story that grew them there.

Conference Center

Photograph by Craig Dimond © IRI

Remembered for Carrot Ranch‘s prompt this week.

June 13, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the work of many hands. Is it a cooperative effort or something else? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 18, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

The Cell of Snares

You received a letter from the state explaining you were chosen in a lottery to come and rescue an animal. The shelter is being closed due to the owner’s untimely death and his will instructed for his estate to be divided up randomly. Being the animal lover you are, you decide to follow up on this mystery and pop on down to look at a potential pet or two. The address typed on the back of the letter is unfamiliar to you, but your Saturday is wide open. You fill up your gas tank and head out. Why not?

Once you reach the destination, a prison complex at the literal end of the road, all outside communication is cut off and the ‘animals’ are not quite what they seem

—–

Despite my rising alarm at the lack of guards, cell phone service, working car, existence of a cassette player, gouge marks, shackled creature that shapeshifts –Okay, okay, that’s enough thinking that way. I focus, instead, on the gently swinging ivy above me. I breathe in and out. “All right, Beth,” I whisper to myself. “Think positively. What can you control?” –Not that my therapist ever suggested I’d literally be trapped like this, with potential death a mere inchesBreathe, Beth, breathe! Maybe Dr. Querk should have had me run through a few practical situations, but it’s too late to consider that now.

*Greetings, traveler and welcome to The Prison for Dangerous…* begins playing for the sixth time since I entered the creepy room. Nothing irritates me more than repetition, even a supernatural being that might be able to tear my head off. I turn to the apparition within the first cell and glare daggers at it.

“KNOCK IT OFF!” I bellow.

The being within blinks a thousand rainbow eyes at me, squawks, and disappears. I stand on my toes to see where it’s gone: into a bottom corner, rodent-like, somehow still shackled. The tape has stopped. I give the mouse thing a stern nod, in case it gets any ideas.

I let my breath out and look around again. Now fully within the room, I can see that Freaky’s box isn’t the only one with damage to the interior. Of the ten cells, only one or two seem undamaged. Box Four, near the end on the left side, has scorch marks. Number Six -or One, depending on how one wished to count- to the right is dark and molding. The last cell in the row to the right is not only scraped and dented, but the cause of the damage is clearly visible in the form of a large, glowering minotaur.

“Well, Beth, are any minotaurs not glowering?” I tease. A chittering laugh just beyond the shapeshifter draws me forward. “It’s fine. They can’t get out,” I say as I walk, though I certainly won’t go tap on #10’s glass to test my theory.

As I near the source of the laughing, I note signs attached to the outside of each cell. The first reads:

SHIFTER

Charles is the perfect companion. He not only fits most occasions, he fits any occasion or any species. Ever wanted a rabbit one day, then a pony the next? Charles is right for you!

I laugh a bit; again, echoed by Cell Two. “Are they serious?” I ask the open room. It reads just like the plaques at the animal shelter in town but, surely, I can’t literally walk out with something as incredible as a shapeshifter?

I glance at the affixed plaque of #2:

SPRITE

Honeyblossom is the light of the party or room. Besides a natural effervescent personality, she has a natural effervescence. A bit flighty, Honeyblossom would do well in an open environment without the temptation of mischief.

A tiny pair of eyes peers over the sign through the glass front. They blink and a tiny nose and grinning mouth appear as well. I smile a bit in return but immediately look away. Sprites and mischief are practically synonymous; sorry, Honeyblossom.

Mostly due to the very large, heavily-breathing presence on the end, I examine the other labels from a safe distance. They outline a Mouther, Phoenix, Satori, Boggart, Imp, Baby Dragon, Unicorn, Tokoloshe, Taniwha, and that Minotaur. I catch names like Chatterbox, Imka, and Bob.

I also see that the door of the unicorn’s cell is slightly ajar; her sign askew. Either I am not the first visitor to this strange place, or Rainbow Sparkles, III figured things out on her own… I look around, twitching this way and that. My eyes meet those of a few remaining creatures and no one else, whether that’s a comforting audience or not.

“Oh-kay,” I exhale. Before Charles stopped the recorded message, it’d said all I had to do was activate a cell with my letter. After that, the creature inside was mine. But, do I want to bring one of these home? A Satori was pretty awesome in theory; in practice, not so much. He’d likely run away or hide, knowing precisely when I meant to throw him in the tub or tell him it was time for bed. And no way would I consider bringing home something larger than my car.

Which left at least three animals I’d dreamed about since childhood. Three mythical creatures I’d pored over in storybooks and often said aloud, “Oh, I wish it was real!” Three that would be really awesome to own.

One of those, if J.K. Rowling were correct, that would make the use of an exit vehicle unnecessary.

“What the heck, Beth? The letter and the recording said to choose one.” I pull the crumpled bunch of papers from my back pocket and smooth them out. Before I can change my mind, I walk toward the smoking glass of Cell #4.

phoenix-500469_1920

—–

This was in response to Peregrine Arc’s story prompt. You can join in, too! Just click here to read her amazing introduction.

 

Photo Credit:
Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

 

© 2019 Chelsea Owens

The Gatehouse

transition

“…and this, ladies and gentlemen, is where the family most oft exited the manor if they wished a stroll down the North side of their estate…”

Well-trained and well-rounded tourist faces followed their guide’s directing hand, staring out the open side door. A few, “Oohs” and phone-clicks captured the view but most eyes slid back, puppy-eyed, to the mustachioed leader. Meredith glanced up from examining the iron stove but the subservient herd completely blocked the opening. She’d look once they trundled on.

“Over here,” the guide continued, “In this alcove, one finds a few items the family may have used for such an excursion.”

*Click* *click* captured the made-in-China umbrellas and slickers hanging on IKEA hooks. Meredith rolled her eyes.

“Shall we continue on to the servants’ quarters?” Murmurs of assent answered him. The tour guide turned smartly and ducked up a narrow set of stairs. “Mind the head,” came back to them.

“And the waist,” Meredith mumbled, eyeing the first few tourists and wondering how they’d get through the space. She stopped, her garden view finally unobstructed. Some force, some memory, some power held her; staring out the opening.

I’ve been here before, she thought. She knew.

But how ridiculous. This was her first visit to England. It was her first visit overseas at all, only made possible by an impulsive coworker’s double-booking. Only Karen would be wealthy and ignorant enough to pay for two vacations in the same week. A similar impulse to now had compelled Meredith to take Karen up on her discounted offer…

Meredith stepped nearer the exit, still not quite in control of her mind or self. Was it the worn, polished stone path; the neat, trim, British grass; or the charming stone brickwork of the cottagelike gate house before her? What reminded her, drew her, pulled at her?

Her eyes flitted to the arched, weather-beaten wood door. Her feet sandaled down the path toward it. From so near the building, she could see and appreciate its age but also the original care and detail put into its workmanship. She could not imagine building the walls and windows, peaks and arch, all with a barrow-full of tools and only the hands God gave you.

Simon. Simon had built the gatehouse. He’d made the door. How she knew that, Meredith could only guess. The further she walked away from the tour group and the closer she drew to outside, the more antique memories trickled into her mind.

Father had asked Simon to build it on the East side but Mother had wished it here, atop a slight knoll before the moors began. Meredith’s pace quickened. The afternoon sunlight danced into her eyes just as she pressed her hands against the garden door and pushed.

“Meredith?” she raised a gloved hand to shade against the bright light to her left. There, beneath a tree, leaned a surprised young man in riding gear.

“Edmund,” she breathed. Recalling herself, she corrected with, “Good afternoon, Mr. Manfield.”

He stood away from the tree and strode toward her in haste. Removing his cap and taking her hand in his, he said, “But, your father said you never again desired my company.” His eyes searched her face beneath her hat brim, imploring.

Meredith could scarcely think above her rising excitement and beating heart. Father, father… She met Edmund’s gaze, blushed, looked away.

“What is it, Mere -Miss Howard?”

“Father,” she began. “‘Twas all Father’s doing. He forbade me to speak with you, but-” Here, she drew enough courage to meet his gaze once more. “I know that, if I heed his warnings, I shall be miserable the remainder of my days.”

A smile brushed against Edmund’s lips and lit his eyes more warmly still. It came again, staying this time. She’d always loved his smile.

He kneeled, right there amoungst the heather and the wet grasses. “Meredith Howard, I could never live, knowing I were the cause of a lifetime of misery.” Smiling wider, he said, “I will go and speak with your father -this very moment- with you by my side.”

Rising, he grasped her hand more firmly. She felt his strength and love through both their gloves as, together, they walked back to the arched wood door. Edmund pulled it open and she glanced at it as they passed. Simon had just stained it, and it looked nearly new.

Remembered for Sue Vincent‘s Thursday photo prompt: transition.

 

© 2019 Chelsea Owens

The Choice of Three: Roll Your Initiative

Continued from Peregrine Arc’s writing prompt….

Although a heavy, musty dust chokes the corners and edges of every room in the derelict house; the silver pocket watch, gold candelabra, and string of pearls upon the dresser appear untouched. I read the note again:

You who so boldly enter this realm, lay down your tools and be away from this hell. 

But should you still keep Adam’s vain, stay awhile and forego your shame.

An object of three you see with your mortal eyes. Which one shall be your coveted prize?

My senses feel heightened as my anxiety levels rise. Who left this note? These objects? Most importantly, I wonder at who I chased. What I chased. Where did he go?

Was there a ‘someone’ at all?

Despite my worries, I can’t help but feel intrigued by the message and pristine items before me. I read the words for a third time and wonder what they mean. “Lay down (my) tools?” “This hell?” That sounds serious. What is “Adam’s vain?”

My imagination, though tickled, reverts back to teenage years spent tucked in Johnny Platt’s musty basement. The dim lamp we plugged into about three extension cords shone pewter figurine shadows across our wet-erase marker map.

“Roll your initiative,” Johnny’s friend, Dwight, said with glee. We all knew what that meant: we’d stirred up trouble, and we had to fight it.

After a terrible battle of 3,872 orcs; Paladin, Ranger, Fighter, and Thief emerged victorious. Our Mage, on the other hand, succumbed to a curse inflicted in the last encounter; Mike was busily rolling up another character as Dwight listed our prizes.

“There’re 4 healing potions, 500 gold, a jeweled dagger, and a ring.” The Dungeon Master’s eyes glittered as much as the dagger surely did.

“Are they magic?” Kevin, the thief, always wanted to know.

Dwight shrugged. “Run a check.”

Johnny gave him a look. “We can’t. Mike’s dead.”

“I know!” Kevin said. “I’ll try them out.” Addressing Dwight, he declared, “My character examines the dagger.”

As per usual, Dwight rolled a die behind his book. His face was impassive. “It looks expensive.”

“All right; I’ll keep it.” As I and the others in our group began protesting, Kevin waved a hand. “I’m gonna split the costs once I sell it!” We settled down, ever wary of the dodgy thief. “Now,” he continued, “I’m going to put on the ring.”

Another masked roll from the DM clattered on the table. He cleared his throat and we could hear the excited tone Dwight always had trouble hiding when something unexpected happened in the campaign. Something that was usually the result of a stupid decision. We were doomed. “You begin to feel rather strange… like the world has never made sense and now you see clearly. You eye each of your party members jealously; but, never fear -you’ll get what’s yours once they’re asleep….”

“Crap, man!” I said.

“What?” Kevin asked in a panic.

“Change your alignment on your sheet,” Dwight grinned. He stroked his Machiavellian chin. “You’re now Chaotic Evil…”

A small noise from a corner brings my attention back to the present. I turn but only see shadows. Perhaps a section of flooring gave way there, as well. Who knows how many panels I broke in my mad rush to this strange, spooky nursery?

As my eyes pass over the note and the items it references, my fingers twitch a bit.

Kevin ended up murdering everyone but the Paladin in our group. Johnny only survived by the divine influence of his deity, thus finishing off the little thief and his ring in the ensuing Blessing.

My fingers quiet. No, not worth it. If there’s one thing D&D taught me, it was to never take chances with a strange object.

I cast my gaze around the room as I back out of it, even stealing glances over my shoulders. I’ve seen enough scary movies to know that one ought to never not look a certain direction. That’s how you end up getting stuffed in a bathtub by a dark, long-haired ex-lover of your husband.

My return to the porch is less hasty than my leaving of it, particularly since I’d left random, haphazard holes in the hallways and had to dodge them. I look at one in passing but only see swirling, pitch-dark dust. I wonder how far I might have fallen if I’d broken through.

Not soon enough, I regain the porch and my lunch. The rain is still falling, though not in torrents. I won’t be able to finish mowing with wet grass. “Reschedule, it is,” I tell the vacant property. Stooping, I pack up my lunch and self and rise and head down the creaking porch steps. I pass the ancient lawn mower, still parked near the hawthorn bush. I push it into the bush; perhaps that will stave off some rust.

As I near my car the rain slackens and a waterlogged sun peeks out. I can’t help but look back. I see the old, old house; yellow, peeling paint muted in the recent showers. Just before I get into the driver’s seat, I catch a movement from an upstairs window.

I look back, heart racing a mile a minute, but there’s nothing. It’s only a gold candelabra, glinting in the new light.

rikki-austin-1146007-unsplash.jpg

Photo Credit:
Rikki Austin

Smells Like Reanimated Spirits

You’re at a burial, dressed in shoes you didn’t have time to polish or lace up correctly. It’s a grey sort of day, overcast with rain coming soon. They’re lowering the casket into the ground and all you can do is stare at the stubborn knot in your shoelaces.

Someone lights up a cigarette after the service is over and you move away to avoid the smoke. Your heels slip into the soft ground and you get mud on the hemline of your clothes. You stop to catch your breath after a long day and close your eyes. You smell rain in the air.

There’s a piano you can hear in the nearby chapel playing a soft tune. You think they’re playing “Amazing Grace” and then it changes. A sudden thought strikes you: “I must get back into the car before the last note. Once the last note plays, it’ll start raining.”

You’re heading back to the car when you see a man standing at the fence. He’s dressed in overhauls and a flannel shirt, looking directly at you. You glance away but are drawn back by the man’s intense stare. He’s holding something in his hand. A letter? A book? You can’t tell. You feel you must find out, before the last piano note…

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Dodging headstones and mushy half-buried plots alike, you walk to the fence. And the man. Conveniently, they are both in the same direction. As you walk, you wonder at the prevalence of recently-turned earth. Just how many people have died lately?

The eerie piano playing from the chapel plays background beat to your even tread. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will do that to a person, even if it’s a piano cover version and therefore lacks that awesome bass guitar.

Your attention draws back to the overall man who is fascinated with staring. Some people clearly need a hobby, especially since there are a lot more interesting things to stare at than a muddy-hemmed, sneaker-clad burial-crasher like you. You get closer and closer, noting his lack of blinking; his lack of attention on a bird that poops on his shoulder or on a passing dog that relieves itself on his trouser leg.

Just before you call out to him, his image blips and reloads. He is a clean, staring man again, proferring a flat object that is meant to look like a book. Thunder rumbles nearby, and he finally glances to the grey and heavy clouds. His gaze returns to you, who have stopped just before the projection of him.

“244224,” he says, monotone. “42,” he adds. Then, “2442.” He beeps.

You roll your humanoid eyes, reminded of how your familial assigners could not be happy with a short sequence like all the others. “Yes?”

“Precipitation imminent. Nirvana ending. Accept reanimation.” *Beep*

Your eyebrows raise. “Reanimation??”

“Affirmative.” He pauses, then remembers to *Beep!*

You look back and around at all the mounds of dirt, and swallow. It’s not easy considering the difficulties the body emulators had in transferring your normal shape to a humanoid form, but you manage. The sky growls again. A spot of earth near you seems to as well, but perhaps it’s the simulated imagination you’re equipped with.

Whipping back around to the hologram, you place your right forearm directly over the outstretched object in its hand image. The flat object glares a red light of warning. You realign. Still red. The growling from below ground is definitely not just your imagination now and you grit your teeth in frustration.

“Please align to shape,” the ‘man’ intones.

You try again and get the angry light again.

“Please align to shape,” he repeats.

Just as a very visible hand claws through the mud to your side and just as the final lingering notes of the piano are played, the tablet magically accepts your forearm’s outline and turns blue. “Code accepted.”

Your humanoid form releases a sigh of relief just before dematerializing. Your normal self, meanwhile, has a final, comforting thought. I am so glad that finally activated. Earth’s a real downer during a zombie apocalypse.

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From the story prompt beginning shared by the highly-imaginative, amazing, wonderful, and fantastic Peregrine Arc.

You can play, too! The submission window closes on April 12.

 

Photo Credits:
Daniel Jensen
Wendy Scofield