Perfection

I’ve always been a dancer. Movement is the only way I’ve found to feel truly free. Countless hours I’ve spent twirling in front of the mirror while the music plays. All that exists in those moments are focus and precision.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the whole production of it, too. The pointy satin shoes, layers of soft tulle floating over my hips, each golden strand swept up into a tidy bun. I never tire of it.

And, of course, nothing feeds the soul so much as starry-eyed little girls watching intently as they imagine themselves being just like me someday. The only advice I can give them is to just believe in yourself. Nobody can take your dreams from you, you can only give them up willingly. Oh, and practice! That’s especially important.

There can be some long stretches between performances, but I don’t waste a single minute. Even when I’m not moving, I’m still dancing in my head. I gaze at nothing and allow the first memorized notes of Tchaikovshy to wash over me. In my imagination I rehearse my entire act, one graceful pirouette following another, just as though I were performing it physically. I do it again and again until the dance is burned into my brain, body, and soul. I can’t allow complacency or I run the risk of being unprepared for my adoring audience.

I shudder to think of how humiliating it would be to hear the key wind, (click, click, click) and not be prepared to spring into action when lid pops open, the light turns on, and the music fills the air. That would never do. I would die of shame right there on the stage.

This is why I practice all the time. I must stay on my toes.

Author’s Note:

This was written for a contest entry using the prompt words: wind, believe, act. I noticed immediately that the first word has three very different meanings. I decided to take the path less traveled. Sure enough, all of the other contestants used the weather related meaning. Yes, I read my competition. You should, too.

The Right Thing to Do

This has to be the place, Kathy thought, staring at the wisp of light escaping into the dark near the front door. Nothing else out here except the highway.

The dome light became a beacon in the darkness as she opened the driver’s door and got out. Reaching into the backseat for her bag and the casserole dish, a chill crept up her spine.

She was arms-length away from the front door when it swung open, revealing the warm glow of candlelight and Greg’s smiling face.

“Kathy, what a surprise! Please come in. What brings you all the way out here?”

Kathy followed him into the cozily furnished old farmhouse,”Well, it isn’t like you to miss church. We were worried. I know you don’t get cell service out here so dad sent me to visit and make sure you were okay. And mom sent a casserole, of course. Where shall I put it?”

“Here, let me take that,” he said as Kathy handed him the heavy dish. “Your mom’s so thoughtful. You guys didn’t need to go to all this trouble for me,” he said, moving into the kitchen and sliding it into the mostly empty fridge.

“Would you like some coffee? Tea?” Greg offered, turning on the electric kettle without waiting for an answer.

“I can’t stay long,” she said, “but a cup of tea would be nice.” Greg seemed uncomfortable and Kathy chalked it up to the unexpected visit. He probably didn’t get much chance to entertain way out here. Then again, maybe it was something else. He hadn’t explained his absence yet.

“We missed you at church,” she prompted.

“I wish I could have been there.” Tendrils of steam gently wafted from the mugs Greg set on the table as he slid into a chair. ”I was feeling under the weather and I didn’t want to spread my germs around. I’m doing better now.”

“Good to hear,” said Kathy. They sipped their tea in silence. She knew Greg shared her values, since he was a longstanding member of her dad’s flock. Other than that, she didn’t really know anything about him. Kathy was glad when her cup was empty and she could leave.

“Thank your mom for the casserole for me and thanks again for checking on me,” Greg called from the doorway as she returned to her car.

“No problem. It was the right thing to do.”

Pulling back onto the highway, Kathy thought, Greg’s a decent guy, but he seemed off somehow. She couldn’t put her finger on exactly what was wrong, it was just a feeling. It will be nice to get back to the city. This country air smells an awful lot like B.O. If this is what cows smell like, then you can keep them! The odor seemed to be getting worse, not better, as she drove.

There was no traffic on this stretch of highway, but she checked her mirrors out of habit. Nothing to note except her bag in the back seat. Her eyes returned to the road. Her peripheral vision picked up her bag on the seat next to her. Kathy did a double take, then checked the mirror again. If that wasn’t her bag, then what was it?

She couldn’t keep staring at it or she would drive herself into one of the deep ditches bordering the highway. She would have to pull over. But where? At the next driveway, she told herself, I’ll slam on the brakes, jump from the car, and pull open the back door. A high school track star, she thought she had a decent chance of out-pacing whatever was back there.

Spotting a turnout ahead, Kathy put her plan into action.

In a flash, she had the back door open. The dome light converted her fear into curiosity. Staring up at her from the floorboard was a filthy, terrified man. His wrists were bound with stained twine and he offered them to her in supplication.

“Please, help me.” The words came out as though speaking was a new skill for him. Immediately, he dissolved into tears, head on the floor, bony spine shaking as sobs racked his body.

Kathy stepped back, taking in the situation. The man wasn’t well, that was obvious. She couldn’t leave him on the side of this little used highway, in the dark. If nothing else, the coyotes would kill him. She couldn’t trust him either, though. She didn’t know anything about him. She gave him a minute to collect himself as she tried to come up with a plan.

“I have some bottled water in the trunk. If you can sit up, why don’t you have a seat instead of crouching on the floorboards and I’ll be right back.” She patted her pocket to make sure she hadn’t left the keys in the car, then went around back.

She returned a minute later with a bottle of water and a tie down strap. They looked at each other, then she explained. “I want to hear your story, but until that happens I need to know that you won’t attack me while I’m driving. Have your drink and then we’ll use this to bind your arms under the seat belt. It’s the best I can do. If you don’t like it you can get out here.”

He guzzled the water, then said, ”I understand,” and turned his back to Kathy so she could tie his arms down. She felt more than a little uncomfortable leaning in to fasten the seat belt around him, but he didn’t resist.

Returning to the road, she said, ”So, Hi. I’m Kathy. Who are you and what are you doing in my car?”

“I’m Daniel,” he began, hesitantly. Daniel found his voice quickly and spent the rest of the drive into town telling his wild and crazy tale. His car had broken down several days ago, in the middle of nowhere. He had come across Greg’s house and knocked on the door to see if he could use a phone. Greg invited him in, but explained that he didn’t have a landline and, as Daniel already knew, there was no cell service out there.

Greg offered Daniel a cup of coffee, a bed for the night, and a ride into town in the morning. At that point Daniel didn’t have any other options. Over coffee, he had shared that he was on his way to the coast to see the ocean and make a fresh start. He had no family left, so he could go wherever he wanted. Greg seemed friendly and interested, asking questions.

Daniel woke up on a mattress in the basement, tied up, with no idea how he had gotten there. Each day, he had been given a peanut butter sandwich and a plastic cup of water. No explanation, no conversation, nothing. It made no sense. He immediately began planning his escape.

He discovered that one of the tiny window frames near the ceiling had rotted through, but he was afraid of making too much noise taking it out and plus he had nowhere to go. When Daniel heard Kathy arrive he knew it might be his only hope, so he took the chance at being heard. He pried out the window and squeezed through the gap. Then he sneaked over to her car, overjoyed to find it unlocked.

“That’s a lot to take in,” Kathy said when he had finished. “I imagine you’ll want to go to the police with this, but I think you should clean up first. Maybe have a hot meal and a good night’s sleep. Besides, the station will be closed at this hour. Are you hurt?”

Daniel sobbed again, speechless. He shook his head no. “I’m just so grateful you came along. Who knows what might have happened to me.”

Kathy pulled to a stop in front of a small church. “You’ll be safe with us,” Kathy said, unbuckling Daniel and helping him out of the car. She led him toward the parsonage next door as she explained, “My father, Ken, leads the congregation here.”

She led Daniel into a small room just inside the doorway and asked him to give her a minute to explain the situation to her parents. Daniel was still in shock. He was exhausted and hungry. He was so overwhelmed with relief, he couldn’t think. He just sat on the edge of the small bed and thought about how grateful he was to Kathy, his rescuer. When this was all over, he would take her out to the nicest restaurant in town. Daniel fell asleep dreaming of the menu, having never even noticed that there was no doorknob.

I knew Greg must be up to something, thought Kathy. She told her parents what Daniel had told her. “I put him in the guest room. He’s still tied up. He’s a wreck.”

“We’re just glad you’re not hurt. You did the right thing in bringing him here, Kathy. Your mom will see that he’s well taken care of. Meanwhile, you and I have some matters to discuss with Greg,” said Ken, grabbing his jacket and car keys.

Father and daughter listened to the oldies channel on the way back to Greg’s place. It was a reminder of simpler times.

“Dad, I’m sure Greg will have discovered that Daniel is missing by the time we get there.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions, honey. You listened to Daniel with an open mind, now it’s Greg’s opportunity to explain. Once we have all the information, then we can make the right decision.” Said Ken. “If Daniel’s tale is true, Greg will be held accountable. He’s a trusted member of the flock and I will allow him to explain before passing judgment.”

It was quite late when they arrived, but Greg seemed to be waiting for them. They filed into the living room and took seats on worn, but well cared for, sofas.

“Greg, Kathy found a man in her car tonight who said you had been holding him prisoner,” began Ken.

Greg looked at the floor, wringing his hands. “I had no intention of putting Kathy in danger. You know my devotion to the church. I would never do anything to harm that,” He pleaded. “I was going to bring him to the church, I swear! I never intended to keep him for myself. The flock is like family. What is mine is ours. You know this.”

Kathy looked skeptical, “I was here for half an hour tonight and you never mentioned a guest. I could have helped make arrangements for more suitable transport than a surprise in my backseat.”

“Regardless,” said Kathy’s dad, ”What’s done is done and he’s where he belongs now. The only question that remains is what to do about you.”

“I didn’t handle it well, I’ll admit. I was caught off guard, though. Try to understand, when your prey walks right into your den of its own accord,” he paused, “well, the temptation is great. Perhaps I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“I understand,” said Ken. “Thank you for speaking with us tonight. I think we have all the information we need to proceed.”

Kathy hummed along to The Mamas and The Papas while Ken drove them home. Greg tried to keep the beat with his drumming, but he wasn’t doing very well. Kathy couldn’t hold it against him. He probably couldn’t hear very well way back in the trunk. Greg had been a bad, bad, boy, and he would be held accountable for his actions. Nobody holds out on the church.

Suitable human sacrifices were very rare to come by. Kathy had only participated in a few such ceremonies in her whole life. Now they would offer up two. This had turned into a very exciting evening.

Author’s Note:

This was a contest entry for Sinister Short Stories. The prompt was “you are driving along a country road and discover a man you don’t know hiding in the back seat.”

It isn’t a very Thanksgiving themed story, sorry about that. I’m busy working on NaNoWriMo all month and didn’t write a new one for you. I though you might enjoy this holdover from my October horror experiment.

12/5/17 Update: It won first place in the contest!

The Ties That Bind Us

Zoe felt responsible, and this time it wasn’t just her ingrained catholic guilt. William had been the most straight laced person she knew until she corrupted him. He never would have done it that first time if it hadn’t been for her goading. Now she longed to take it all back.

When William had said he’d do anything for her, she should have told him to stop and think about that first. Instead, she had him prove it with the edgiest taboo she could imagine.

What’s done is done, though, and you can only continue to trudge through the messes you’ve made for yourself.

Now here they were, William and Zoe, in this filthy alley, approaching a seedy, nameless shop. How did William even know about this place?

Stepping through the doorway, Zoe filled with dread, William with anticipation, they were greeted with the smell of marijuana. William wasted no time in tracing it to its source, a greasy, shirtless, long haired dude smoking a joint on a tattered couch. Muscles rippled under densely packed tattoos.

Zoe found a stool in the corner and worked on being invisible while William negotiated the trade of cold hard cash for his new obsession.

She watched his face as the needle entered William’s scarred arm, the initial sting quickly resolving into an expression of pleasure. She couldn’t watch, but she couldn’t not watch. It was both gruesome and fascinating all at once.

Later, she led him glassy eyed from the shop. If only there were some way to make him stop this craziness. It was all because of her. Zoe’s shoulders slumped under the burden she carried. She had ruined William and she would look after him until the bitter end.

Meanwhile, William admired his newest tattoo, the largest one yet of Zoe.

Author’s Note:

This flash piece was written for a contest and it won first place! The prompt was to use the words sting, trade, and stop.

Haunted

Marty knew they were testing him. He was the new kid. He’d lived in town his whole life, but he had gone to Mountain Heights Elementary while most of the other kids had attended Lincoln Elementary. Now they were all together at Montgomery Middle School.

Brian and Nate had let Marty hang out with them at lunch right from the beginning, but the relationship was still new and he didn’t want to jeopardize it over something so stupid.

When Nate and Brian started talking about the haunted house, Marty was silent.

“You’re not scared of a haunted house, are you Marty?” taunted Brian.

“No, guys. We’re just a little too old for ghost stories. It’s just an old house.” His reserved tone told them otherwise.

“Just an old haunted house,” Nate added.

“It’s not haunted.” Marty didn’t sound like he believed it.

“No?” said Brian, ”I dare you to go in there.”

Marty knew he was screwed.

That’s how they ended up in front of the house at sundown on the Tuesday before Halloween. They stood on the corner of 13th and Switch and proclaimed it creepy as ever. Ancient trees loomed over the derelict structure, set back from the road just enough to leave most of it to the imagination.

“You guys coming?” Marty asked, heading for the front door.

Brian and Nate exchanged a look of surprise, then followed Marty as he strode up the porch steps and pushed open the door.

Nate and Brian hesitated at the threshold, watching Marty fade into the darkness of the living room. Their bladders shrunk when a specter glided toward Marty and a wavering voice called out, “Mmmaaaaarrrty.”

The last thing both boys heard as they ran screaming from the porch was Marty’s cheerful voice.

“Hi, Grandma. I brought some friends.”

College Girls

Disembodied voices carried through the dense fog. The campus was deserted.

“This seems really risky,” said Tammy, “I could lose my scholarship if we’re caught.”

“We won’t be caught,” Amber assured her. “Besides, college life is more than just studying and that’s all we’ve been doing. Tonight I want to feel alive.”

When Bryce had approached Amber and asked if she wanted to bring a little something to a private party, her heart went into overdrive. A chance at Bryce would be a dream come true. His family name was on the botany lab where she spent her days.

Their forms gradually materialized as the fog thinned near the old maintenance shack. Tammy reached for the door handle.

Just then, a deep voice called, “STOP! Consider this your warning.”

Muffled laughter seeped through the thin door.

“Bryce, don’t be a dick,” said Colin, opening the door.

“Come on in, Ladies. Have a seat. Could I interest you in a fine beverage?” he asked, detaching the last two cans from a six pack as they entered.

Tammy accepted for both of them while Amber rummaged in her bag.

Amber lit the first joint and passed it to Bryce.

“I knew you’d come though. Is this your special blend?” He asked, taking a hit.

“You know it,” said Amber, before lighting another and passing it to Tammy. “Time to get this party started.”

As Colin took the joint from Bryce, the young men lustily appraised their guests, imagining the pleasures to come.

Amber met Tammy’s eyes, seeing nervous anticipation reflected back. Nobody knew they were here.

Bryce fell heavily onto the rotting floorboards, followed immediately by Colin. The fear in their eyes was apparent, despite the paralysis.

Setting down their barely touched beers, Tammy and Amber approached their victims. Then they feasted.

The Accident

Light filtering through her eyelids appeared red to Darcy. She couldn’t make sense of it. She could feel her arms and legs, but she couldn’t make them move. She could feel motion, though. And there was noise. She slowly moved her head from left to right and back again, plastic pillow crinkling underneath.

Darcy’s eyes fluttered open as the fog began to lift. She watched ceiling tiles scroll slowly above her as the noise separated into voices. One sounded very close.

“It looks like she’s waking up. Darcy? You’re in the hospital now. You’re okay.”

Hospital? Something must have happened. Was she in an accident? Why couldn’t she move? She closed her eyes again and sifted through her hazy memories. A collection of silent snapshots floated up to her awareness.

Three friends perched on barstools, laughing, drinking. A rare ladies night out.

Cab ride home, late, she’d get her car tomorrow.

Master bathroom, toothbrush, Ambien, did she take it already? Better be safe.

Dark bedroom, one sleeping body, hers. David comes home tomorrow. Her gun rests, unseen, in the nightstand.

The voice intrudes on her reverie. “Here we are, Darcy. Exam room two. You can rest on the gurney for now, just until the doctor sees you.”

Thick cobwebs stretched between her tongue and the roof of her mouth as she forced the words out, “I can’t move.”

“It’s for your own safety. Just rest now and the doctor will see you soon.” The door failed to latch as he exited.

Voices drifted through the opening as she closed her eyes and tried to remember.

“Poor bastard caught an earlier flight and surprised her. When the cops got there she was incoherent from the meds and booze. It was too late.”

Another snapshot appeared. Shadowy intruder, gunshot, screams.

Darcy screamed.

Author’s Note:
I wrote this for a contest using the prompt: light, noise, fog.
Since it’s October now, I’m trying out a few creepier ideas. If that’s your thing, stay tuned for more.

Viral

My name is Mark. You probably think that’s boring. That I’m boring.

Just because I’m not popular or athletic people think there must be something wrong with me. Even my mom thinks I’m strange, not that she’d ever come out and say it. But I can tell that’s what she thinks.

I bet you thought you knew all there was to know about me, if you knew me at all, but by the time you read this I will have shown you all how wrong you were.

Don’t think I’m doing this for the money. It’s not because I don’t know how, either. If I wanted to, which I don’t, I could figure that part out.

I’m doing it so everyone will know who I am and what I can do. I’m done with being the last one picked for teams and spending lunch break by myself. I’m just as smart and cool as the rest of them and they would know that if they could see me instead of looking past me or through me or over me.

As of right now I’m not invisible anymore.

As soon as you saw this message pop up on your screen I owned your computer and there’s nothing you can do about it. I guess you should’ve thought twice before clicking on that video some jerk posted of me scratching my nose. I know what it looks like, but I was just scratching, not picking.

Now instead of you laughing at me – I’m laughing at you!

Good luck ever unlocking your computer again now that I’ve left my Mark on it!

Get it? Mark?

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

 

Dog Days

If only she were a little bit taller all her problems would be solved. Lisa made one last attempt to touch the ground, straightening her leg and pointing her toes as much as she could without falling off. It was no use. She was too little to get the swing going by herself.

She was suffering through another long, boring, summer day with nothing to do. She sat under the big oak tree on the rope swing that wasn’t swinging and sulked.

She couldn’t play with the neighbors because they were on vacation. Mom wouldn’t let her ride her bike because of the road work. Her big brother was away at summer camp. Her mom was busy. Even her dog Rascal wouldn’t play with her. All he wanted to do was lay in the shade. Nobody cared about Lisa. Her life couldn’t get any worse.

Suddenly she let out a yelp as she reflexively bent to slap at her calf. Gravity took over and the next thing Lisa knew, she was on the ground with an itchy mosquito bite. Her face grew hot as she struggled against tears. Summer is stupid!

Just then the screen door creaked and Lisa looked up to see her mom holding a plate of snickerdoodle cookies in one hand and in the other a pitcher of lemonade.

“Lisa!” She called. “Come in and wash up. I’ve made us a snack.”

Tears forgotten, they sat on the shady porch enjoying the treats and sharing stories about American Girl dolls.

“Let’s clean up these dishes and then I’ll push you on the swing.”

“You’re the best, mom!” Lisa was done feeling sorry for herself. How could she have thought nobody cared?

She guessed summer wasn’t so awful after all.

Author’s Note:

This little story was created for a flash fiction contest using the words tree, road, and bite. I immediately pictured a wooden swing under a big oak tree. The story developed from there. This is a new perspective for me, writing about a frustrated small child. I did default to a happily ever after ending, though. It’s hard not to when writing about kids.

Washed Up

Cool tendrils of water found their way inside Eddie’s borrowed wetsuit as he eased farther from the shore. He was surrounded by fit, athletic, people who had exercised everyday for the privilege of competing in this triathlon. Not Eddie. Eddie was here because he exercised his mouth.

He didn’t lie, exactly, but when he told his son Rob he had been on a swim team he somehow forgot to mention he was a child at the time. Eddie had not set foot in a pool for twenty years. He couldn’t remember ever swimming in a river like this one.

He had no idea little Rob had been talking him up until this past Friday. When Eddie picked him up at school, like usual, Rob waved him over to talk to his classmate and the kid’s dad. As Eddie approached, he heard Rob telling his audience, “Of course my dad can do it! I told you he was on a swim team.”

Eddie knew he was in trouble. When the kid’s dad explained that they needed a swimmer for their relay team, Eddie was put on the spot. He would sooner drown than embarrass Rob in front of his friend; there was no option but to swim.

The gun went off and the swimmers churned the water. Eddie gasped for breath, searching between windmilling arms for the nearest safety boat. Too far away! He turned toward the bank and saw it drifting slowly by. Eddie realized that he was still alive and floating downstream. He saw little Rob cheering from the bank. Eddie decided the least he could do was try. He kicked and paddled as best he could, reaching the swim exit exhausted. He tagged his teammate, then collapsed.

“How was it, dad?”

Eddie smiled wide,“I had a ball!”

Author’s Note:

This was written for a Flash Fiction contest. We had twenty four hours to write up to three hundred words in a story using the words: Ball, Boat, Cool. I actually wrote two stories for the same prompt and I submitted the other one. Stay tuned, I’ll share that one next week. They’re so different you won’t even recognize that they had the same prompt!

Party

“Ow! Watch it!” Whispered Kurt as he struggled to keep his right shoe on.

“Sorry. I can’t see anything.” Jake apologized, after stepping on Kurt’s heel. Thirty seconds earlier he had nearly gone face first after stubbing his fat skater shoes on a root. They had been wandering in the woods for an hour, having lost the trail immediately after sunset.

“You said you knew where it was,” accused Jake.

“I did! I do. I just didn’t expect it to be so dark. My brother said it was just off the fire road. We need to get back to that.”

“Shhh… listen! Is that music?”

“I hear it! We’re close now. Follow me and keep quiet!” Thank God, Kurt thought. He was getting worried they’d never find the party. The moment he overheard his older brother talking about it with his friends, he started scheming. He and Jake were the only two kids in the whole sixth grade that had never been to real party. His plan was to sneak in through the woods and quietly blend in with the crowd. He saw lights up ahead and knew this was about to be the best night of his young life.

Twenty paces later, Kurt came to an abrupt stop as the woods ended at the edge of a stream. On the other side, in a small clearing, he saw a campfire with two dozen high-schoolers milling around, holding beers. His brother was standing really close to a pretty girl. It looked like they were about to kiss. Gross.

Jake stared at the trail, trying not to trip. He ran into Kurt, and they both tumbled into the stream with a big splash.

Fifteen minutes later, driving the wet boys home, Kurt’s brother thought “This is the worst party ever!”

Author’s Note:

This is a flash piece I wrote for the prompt: This is the worst party ever!

I’ve yet to win, but I’m having a lot of fun with these flash pieces so expect to see more in the future.