The Greatest Crime

I wrote this piece of flash fiction about two years ago in answer to a challenge by Thane in Vain to write a 500 word fiction using the phrase “the greatest crime.”  I think an argument can be made that the crime detailed in this story is the greatest crime because it led to so many crimes down the road. I hope you enjoy. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Delighting in the beauty surrounding her, she wondered how she and the husband had gotten such a cushy job. The landlord was generous, allowing them full run of the place as long as they took care of it.

It was joyous to live amidst so many beautiful things, to know she could enjoy them all.

“All? Surely not all…”

Surprised, she turned swiftly. “Who are you? How did you get in here?”

He grinned. “Landlord sent me. I’m taking inventory.”

She stared at him. His beauty was beguiling.

“You like being tenants here?”

“Who wouldn’t?” she replied. “The landlord didn’t mention you were coming…”

“He’s busy – probably slipped his mind. This is just one of his places. He’s got many.” He looked around. “Sure is nice here. You get to handle this stuff?”

“Oh, yes. We make ourselves at home; we can handle anything as long we take care of it.”

“Even that?” he asked, indicating a shining object.

She hesitated. “Well, no… that’s a prized possession.”

An amused chuckle. “Really? Doesn’t he trust you? I thought you were the caretakers…”

“We are!” she said, stung by his words. “It’s just that one object. He says it’s too valuable.”

“So, he doesn’t trust you… He must think you too irresponsible.”

She looked closely at the object. Odd it had never interested her before; it was the loveliest of the landlord’s collection.

“Go ahead, pick it up. The landlord isn’t here. I won’t tell.”

Coming to a decision, she reached for it. Bold visions blossomed in her brain as she caressed its smooth roundness.

When the visions cleared, her world was changed.

“See? You didn’t break it, and no one’s the wiser.” Satisfied, he moved away.

***************

“Wife! What are you doing – you can’t touch that!”

Turning, she faced her husband.

Her new eyes judged him harshly. “Why not? Touch it – it’s nice.”

He paused, remembering the landlord’s instructions. Still, just a touch… How wrong could that be?

His finger grazed the object’s surface.

Myriads of visions…

Then something new: guilt.

The landlord suddenly appeared. “Is this how you repay trust?”

The woman didn’t flinch. “The one you sent to take inventory – he said it was okay. What’s the big deal?”

Looking around, the landlord spotted the intruder. “You again.” He sounded sad. “I loved you and would’ve welcomed you home countless times.”

The intruder’s head whipped toward the man and woman. “To take second place – to that? I prefer darkness.”

“Which is where your jealousy has sentenced you. You’ve corrupted innocence – the greatest crime ever committed by one creature against another. Leave my presence.”

Unabashed, the intruder glided away.

Looking at the couple, the landlord sighed. “I’m sorry; you’ve chosen your course. You must leave.”

“No! Please! We’re sorry!”

“I believe you. But, understand, every choice is fraught with responsibility. Don’t despair. We’ll see one other again.”

Following Adam from the garden, Eve let the apple drop from her hand.

snake-apple-sin

©2017 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton

Posted in Challenges & Contests, Flash Fiction, My Fiction | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Sleeper on the Loose!

I grew up on sci-if books and movies.  I love ’em!  It was great fun, then, for me to take a writing challenge and fashion a sci-if tale from it.  This story was written several years ago.  I hope you enjoy! 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

stock-photo-punk-rock-girl-with-an-assault-rifle-44678320
“What do you mean we’ve got a Sleeper on the loose? Christ, Lowenstein, how the hell did that happen?”

I sighed and ran a hand through my short purple hair. “Look, if I knew the answer to that question, do you think he’d be missing?”

I could see Hrabowski was pissed. His usually placid, pale face was quickly turning red, and his eyes lost their habitual bored-with-the-world look. Right now he looked anything but bored. He looked like he wanted to reach through the monitor and strangle me.

“I knew it was a mistake to send a woman to do a man’s job,” he grunted.

I ignored the remark. “Sir, he’s got to be somewhere on this ‘droid. I’ll find him.”

“Who’s the Sleeper?”

Now I hesitated, knowing this was going to send Hrabowski through the roof.

“It’s Yuri Gorshkov,” I said, waiting for the explosion.

I didn’t have long to wait.

“Gorshkov? Sweet Mother of the Universe… you let Gorshkov wake up?” He looked at me with disbelief. “Of all the Sleepers on Shadow, he’s the one you let wake up… This is very bad, Lowenstein. Very, very bad.”

Tell me about it, I thought, again running a hand through my hair.

Gorshkov’s daring exploits against the State were the things of legend. When captured, tried and convicted of crimes against the State, images of his sentencing to mandatory sleep detention were flashed across the galaxy, and celebrations were ordered when he was remanded to Shadow ‘Droid for sleep processing. Against a backdrop of patriotic music, toads of State propaganda gleefully announced that the threat to The People’s safety, peace and prosperity had been neutralized. Everything was as it should be.

Protocol had been restored.

Long live the Glorious Revolution!

I cleared my throat and looked at Hrabowski’s flickering image. “Don’t worry, sir; I’m going to find him.”

“You better… otherwise, your career is dust.” He took a deep breath. “And so is mine.”

With that, the screen went blank.

I knew I shouldn’t have informed Hrabowski of the situation until I’d apprehended the Sleeper and returned him to his cylinder, but protocol dictated that the Alpha Centurions be alerted whenever there was a situation.

And this was a situation.

***

My tour of duty on Shadow ‘Droid had reached its five year anniversary the previous month. Five long, lonely years on this desolate piece of rock. That’s what happens when you piss off your superiors. You get relegated to some shithole in the sky. And the asteroid named Shadow was a shithole if ever there was one.

I’ve never been the nine-to-five type. My smart mouth, powerful physique and bright purple hair wasn’t suited to an office on the Home World. The truth is I was unfit to be tied to a desk. I liked using my wits and my strength in service to the Home World, and that’s how I ended up working for the Alpha Centurions. The first two years I was with them was great. I had finally found my niche, ensuring order on satellite worlds throughout the galaxy. But one day, I mouthed off to some turkey-neck martinet after one too many Venusian martinis, and ended up here, policing the Sleepers.

The Sleepers. Christ! What a creepy bunch!

Ever since the Glorious Revolution, the Home World had been sentencing political dissidents to sleep detention. The do-gooders considered it a merciful alternative to capital punishment, soon deemed too heinous a sentence for crimes against the State. All very compassionate and good, except there was one problem.

Population.

Or, more precisely, overpopulation.

There wasn’t enough room on the Home World to house all the ungrateful bastards who failed to realize what a boon to mankind the Glorious Revolution was. That’s when President Marcus Aurelius Johnson got the bright idea of imprisoning political dissidents on nearby asteroids. Shadow ‘Droid was one of the smallest prison rocks in the galaxy. There was some consideration to housing prisoners without inducing sleep, but fears of rebellion fomenting among prisoners made the idea impractical.

One of the abiding tenets of the Glorious Revolution is order – at any cost. There would be no more rebellions.

Too many decades of political, social and economic upheaval had worn everyone down. Now, we all march to the same tune, having learned to appreciate the expediency of following the follower. Individuality is dead. No longer are there great heroes, quests, or heroic deeds.

This is the Age of Integration. One mind, one heart, one allegiance. All followers. Even he who leads follows the mandates of the new protocol.

Long live the Glorious Revolution!

It was all a crock of shit, but unless you wanted to join the Sleepers, you learned to ‘talk the talk and walk the walk.’

I’d always been a quick learner, and damned adaptable. It was my mouth that got me in trouble, especially after too much booze.

As I snapped the canister of soporific onto my tranq rifle, I thought about the Sleepers.

Within the Sleep Detention Complex there are hundreds of sleep cylinders, all secured in upright positions against walls of concrete, snaking in and out of dimly lit and solitary corridors. Each cylinder contains a naked and wasting body, festooned with wires and tubes connecting it to the Dream Maker, the giant central computer that regulates the dream sequences of the Sleepers.

Each night I make the rounds, censo-pad in hand, doing my check-off of each of the names on the census, ensuring no one has broken free.

There had never been a breakout on Shadow ‘Droid. The Dream Maker is too good at its job.

The Ministry of Propaganda will tell you that sleep detention is the most enlightened, merciful form of incarceration. I have my doubts. When I walk through silent corridors, I see hundreds of pairs of vacant eyes, wide open but dreaming, always dreaming… never noticing my presence as I pass by. They exist in various stages of accelerated, super atrophy, a condition brought on by enforced inactivity and too much mental stimulation. Their limbs are flaccid, no longer remembering the purpose for which they’d been designed; instead, muscle amnesia has set in. If awakened, Sleepers of longstanding would be as weak as kittens.

Not one of them has ever wakened without some sort of outside assistance.

Until Yuri Gorshkov.

***

Five years into my tour of duty, the Sleepers began to haunt my dreams. I started drinking excessively, hoping to avoid the recurring nightmares of suffering men being fed dreams manufactured by a computer. I drank to escape my doubts about my role in all of this and to ease the terrible loneliness I endured. I functioned adequately during my working hours; but my off hours frightened me. To escape the fear, I began to mimic the Sleepers, spending my off hours anesthetized by liquor. I was consumed by dreams of escaping this small, eerie rock of the living dead.

***

While hunting my prey in the nether regions of the Sleep Detention Complex, I noticed the heat sensors on my tranq rifle blinking with urgent rapidity. A human – nearby. Quietly, with deadly intent, I rounded the corner of the corridor leading to the room that housed the Dream Maker. I heard a muffled noise and swiveled around, tranq rifle ready.

Yuri… Yuri Gorshkov… I saw his body, now clothed in a jumpsuit, crouching behind the Dream Maker, intent on some task, his urgency apparent.

“Stand down, Gorshkov,” I yelled. “Stand down now!”

He froze only a moment, as if startled, then rose to his feet.

Smiling.

“Lori, Lori, put down the gun. What are you doing, my sweet girl? It’s Yuri, remember?”

Remember? I remembered nothing, and continued to watch him, ready to pump him full of soporific.

“Lori, put down the gun. Come help me. Let’s disable this damned machine. It’s what we’ve talked about… why you freed me.” He looked at me, his golden eyes glowing with awareness, eyes so unlike those of the Sleepers who continued to dream, undisturbed, many floors above us.

Feelings of confusion washed over me. Another person. Alive. Aware. Vital.

He walked toward me, still wearing the same tender smile. When he reached me, he gently cupped my face. “Don’t you remember, Lori?”

And then, suddenly, I did!

I remembered the effects of the alcohol, how it freed me from allegiance to the State. I remembered my fascination with the recently imprisoned Yuri, the papers I’d read concerning his daring deeds against the protocol. A hero! A throwback to the time before the Age of Integration.

When he first arrived, I found myself mesmerized by his sleeping form, by his taut, still functioning body. I was so weary of being alone, surrounded only by the living dead. Drunk on loneliness and alcohol, I became haunted by images of Yuri linked against his will to the Dream Maker. In the darkness of the night, I wept tears at the injustice of it.

Alcohol tears and alcohol-soaked dreams.

Yuri was looking at me, gently stroking my cheek. “Do you remember now, sweet girl? You and me, together we are going to take back the Home World!”

Yes, I remembered.

“Do it, Lori, disable the damned machine. It’s time!”

I looked at the Dream Maker, my revulsion for it rising like bile in my throat. The warden of the State. Maintainer of the Glorious Revolution.

I lifted the rifle, pointed, and fired.

Yuri crumpled to the floor. I watched his eyes, once so aware, grow wide with surprise and then begin to flatten as the soporific took hold.

You see, it was true that alcohol freed me from allegiance to the State, but I was sober now. Stone cold sober.

I had a job to do. And I did it.

I pressed the button on my vid watch. Hrabowski’s face appeared.

“Sir,” I said, “The sleeper is apprehended. All things status quo.”

I watched Hrabowski’s face visibly relax.

“Gorshkov…?”

“His re-integration with Dream Maker will occur shortly.”

“Fine, fine. Excellent job, Lowenstein. I don’t think we need to make the Alpha Centurion High Command aware of this little snafu.”

“No, sir, thank you, sir.”

I snapped off the image and looked at the inert body of legendary hero, Yuri Gorshkov.

The human part of me grieved for him, but only briefly. I understood there could be no more sessions with the bottle. Whatever drove me in those alcohol-fevered dreams had run its course. It was finished.

Protocol was stronger. We live by protocol. We die by protocol.

It is the Age of Integration.

©2017 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton, Odyssey of a Novice Writer
__________________
This story was written in response to a challenge to write a tale based on phrases that were a part of ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog BeKindRewrite. The prhases used: follow the follower; unfit to be tied; age integration; super atrophy; and muscle amnesia. 

Posted in Challenges & Contests, My Fiction | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

The Last Yodel

There is nothing I like better than a bit of horror.  In this story, written three years ago, an insomniac gets more than he bargained for when sleep eludes him…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

image
Blame it on the insomnia – that damned inability of mine to sleep through the night. I’ve always been a creature of the hours after midnight. It’s the reason I ended up at The Last Yodel, staring at that damned elf hanging over its doorway.

Insomnia’s been a problem for me ever since I was a kid. While others in the family slept secure in the arms of Morpheus, I’d always awaken two or three times during the night. Finally, I’d throw in the towel and head to the kitchen, make myself a sandwich and then park my butt in front of the TV, watching infomercials until I fell asleep, usually about four a.m.

It’s just how I’m wired, you know?

The only time I ever slept like other people was during my marriage to Susan. There’s something about a warm body next to yours that makes you sleep better.

But Susie died… and the insomnia returned, worse than ever. Lots worse.

Supersomnia.

Once Susie was gone, I returned to my former sleep pattern, which was basically no sleep at all. During the day I was a zombie, living off cigarettes and coffee, trying not to fall asleep at my desk. Damned funny thing: no matter how tired I was during the day, as soon as I reached home and tried to grab a couple of zzzs, I was wide awake.

My shrink blames it on separation anxiety, saying I haven’t come to terms with Susie’s dying, and that’s why I am having trouble sleeping.

No shit.

Like I need to pay big bucks to some fancy witch doctor with a long title I can’t pronounce just to learn that I’m missing my wife.

Seeing Susie’s empty side of the bed didn’t help with my insomnia, that’s for sure. That’s why I knew I had to get out of the house tonight, get away from that empty bed.

I’m not sure how I ended up on Brighton Rowe. It’s not really my scene. It’s a street with a number of glossy bars and yuppie restaurants, all themed and having silly names like the Glass Rocket, the Cliffhanger and – best of all – the Guilty Lawyer.

The Guilty Lawyer – that’s rich. I mean, seriously, is there any other kind?

Sounds of oompah music drifted my way, and that’s when I noticed The Last Yodel.

It’s a goofy-looking place, a faux Teutonic biergarten. Perched above the doorway is that wooden elf I mentioned, dressed in lederhosen and a Bavarian hunting cap, and holding up a beer stein in welcome.

Dumb. Just the kind of place I usually hate. So what am I doing here?

The insomnia. I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I sure as hell didn’t want to go home and stare at Susie’s side of the bed…

The place was packed with young professionals, talking about IPOs and tax havens, and all of them trying to impress one another with their own importance. Beautiful blondes dressed in skimpy skirts and low-cut peasant blouses were serving steins of beer to loud and thirsty customers.

One of those blondes was behind the bar, and she smiled at me, indicating an empty seat in front of her.

“Hello handsome – anything to interest you?” my new friend asked.

I did a quick survey of her attributes, which were considerable, and I had to admit a lot interested me… but a memory of Susie surfaced and I lost heart.

“I don’t know why I came in here. I don’t even drink,” I admitted. “I had trouble sleeping… ah, shit, this is a mistake.”

I started to get up from the bar, but the pretty fraulein put an unnaturally cool hand atop mine. “There are no mistakes,” she said softly. “You’re at the Last Yodel because something called to you. Accept it… enjoy it for what it is. So, no beer for you?”

“Never developed a taste for it.”

“I bet you’d feel differently about a Bloody Mary. Ever had one? I can go light on the alcohol, and heavy on the tomato juice and tabasco – it’s good for what ails you.” She looked at me appraisingly. “You look unwell,” she said, her voice sympathetic.

“Lady, what ails me, you ain’t got a cure for.”

I didn’t want pity, especially from some dame dressed like she should be serving schnapps to goons at a gathering of the SS faithful. “So, what’s your name? Heidi? Gretchen? Brunhilde?”

She grinned. “You’re not even close. The name is Mary – Mary Flannagan.”

“Flannagan? No shit?”

“T’is Irish, I am,” she said, her voice taking on a fake Gaelic lilt.

“You look like a Heidi,” I said, taking in the blond hair and German outfit.

“It’s a shtick… German bar, German clothes. A fake Heidi for a fake German biergarten. Remember this, my friend, nobody is ever what they seem. First rule of survival: expect the unexpected.”

I was starting to like this girl; the blond pigtails and the low-cut top didn’t hurt…

“So, you want to try a Bloody Mary?”

I nodded. “Yeah – and heavy on the tabasco.”

***

An hour later, I was still sitting at the bar, finishing up my third Bloody Mary. I didn’t know where pretty Mary Flannagan had gotten to. I lost track of her halfway through my second drink when she was working some guy at the other end of the bar, smiling prettily, flashing that cleavage – and making some damned fine tips, no doubt.

I signaled one of the other girls that I’d have another drink, then slid off the barstool, my bladder telling me it was time to pay a visit to the john. Once I finished washing my hands, it occurred to me I hadn’t had a smoke in over an hour.

Patting the pocket where I stored my cigarettes, I headed out into the night. There was a full moon riding high in the sky, casting a sickly yellow glow onto the streets.

A couple stumbled out of the Last Yodel, and brushed up against me, almost knocking the cigarette out of my hand. The guy leaned the girl up against the wall and began sticking his tongue down her throat. I didn’t need to see that crap, so I walked around the side the building, determined to have my smoke in peace.

I lit up and the cigarette was halfway to my lips when I heard it: a soft, slurping noise, greedy in its intensity.

Must be a feral cat, I thought, enjoying a dumpster treat. I took a drag from the cigarette, relaxing as the nicotine hit my system. I was about to take another when I heard something new… something odd.

That’s no cat, I thought. I dropped the cigarette, crushing the butt beneath my left foot.

I heard it again, the sound of groaning.

Human groaning.

It was dark behind the Last Yodel, and the moon’s ghastly yellow was all but snuffed out by the building’s high walls.

The groaning was louder now. It gave me the creeps. I thought about running, going back inside the bar, minding my own business. I mean, who knows, maybe it was an amorous couple getting some action behind the building… maybe that’s what I was hearing. I almost had myself convinced when I heard the slurping sound again, the one I’d heard earlier… the one I thought was coming from an old tom eating out of a dumpster.

They say curiosity can kill a cat, and I guess that’s true. It sure didn’t do me any favors.

Pulling the lighter from my pocket, I flicked it open and held it up, trying to figure out where the noise was coming from.

I’d been right about a garbage dumpster. One was not more than three feet from where I was standing.

The cat? Well, you can’t be right about everything….

Unfortunately.

Instead of a feline, I saw a man lying on the ground, his hands twitching. A woman leaned over him, her slender arms holding him in place.

In shock, I dropped the lighter. By the time I retrieved it, she was looking at me. The edges of her bright blond pigtails were tinged with red and there was a smear of scarlet across the top of her pale, perfect breasts.

In less than an instant she was at my side, taking away my breath with her speed. I smelled the scent of copper on her breath. It gagged me, and I started to sink to my knees. Her hand shot out and she grabbed me by the throat, pinning me high against the wall of the Last Yodel. Watching my legs dangle, she began to smile.

Yeah, she smiled, exposing two long incisors stained ruby red. Then she asked the question –

“Want to try a bloody Mary?”

Life sure can be funny. You lose one problem, but gain another.

I guess I won’t be worrying so much about insomnia in the future…

©2017 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton, Odyssey of a Novice Writer

__________________

This story was written in response to a challenge to write a tale based on phrases that were part of ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog, BeKindRewrite. The phrases used are: supersomnia; cliffhanger; the last yodel; guilty lawyer; and glass rocket.

 

Posted in Challenges & Contests, Flash Fiction, My Fiction | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Things That Matter

This is a little story about big things ~ the things in life that seem (to me) most important.  I wrote this story three years ago in answer to a challenge by Keith Channing to write a story based on the photo below.  If you get a chance, you will want to check out Keith’s blog (here) – he has a lot of good stuff there, including some great limericks.  But for now, settle back and let me tell you a little story…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

image

“Life was simpler back then,” said Daddy. “The ‘fifties – they were the good years. The best years…”

His head rested against the several thin pillows the nurse had left. He spoke softly, his voice rising just barely above the muted sounds coming from the room’s TV. Looking at his face, a small lump began to form in my throat. It had been that way off and on ever since we’d gotten word the chemotherapy wasn’t working.

“Tell me more, Daddy,” I said, stroking his hand.

My father’s hands.

I’d always loved those hands. They’d once been strong, forever busy with some task or another. Gentle, too, whether he was caressing one of his babies’ heads or comforting one of our several dogs.

Now those hands were still. One, light as a feather, rested securely in mine. Safe.

I’m here, Daddy, I’m here…

He gave me a tired smile. “Well, Janie, back then, we didn’t need much to entertain ourselves. It ain’t like that today.” To illustrate his point, he nodded in the direction of the TV, its screen flashing images of some reality show.

Daddy had never been much of a one for TV. I guess that’s because his own reality was sweet enough – a sweetness that included me, mama and my three little brothers. He used to say he didn’t have time to sit and stare at some box. He had a farm to run and a family to clothe and feed.

Daddy was the rock of our little family. He spent his prime farming a small patch of land nestled in the hills of Charlottesville, Virginia. Like his Pa before him, he spent most of his waking hours on an old John Deere. In the evening, after putting the machinery away, he’d sit down to a late dinner, too exhausted to do more than eat and then go to bed.

Even so, he always had a moment to kiss us kids, ask how our day was, and remind us to help Mama with the chores.

Sunday was the best day of the week for our family because that was the day Daddy would put aside his farm work. It was the Sabbath, and he and Mama always made sure we were cleaned up and dressed in our best clothes.

Sundays meant mornings spent in the small yellow church not far from Tom Jefferson’s house. We’d listen to Reverend Gibson and get our dose of weekly religion. I suspect Daddy would have rather slept in on those Sunday mornings, considering he was up at the crack of dawn every other day of the week, but Mama was determined. We would go to church on Sundays – and we would go as a family.

There wasn’t much Daddy wouldn’t do for Mama, and the same was true for her. They were a loving pair, and they never seemed to run out of things to say to each other. It stayed that way for nearly half a century, until Mama passed away one wintry morning ten years ago.

I was living in New York when the call came that Daddy’s cancer was back. Clinton, my youngest brother, said things were bad and if I could come, now was the time. The urge to go home, to see Daddy, to view my beloved Blue Ridge mountains and everything they stood for, nearly drove me to my knees.

You see, I have a lot of good memories. Memories of Sunday afternoons spent playing Scrabble on the front porch with my brothers. Daddy and Mama would be holding hands, slowly swaying back and forth on an old porch swing. That was life for us… enjoying each other’s company, our home, and talking about the things that made up our days. And the mountains, those beautiful mountains, they were the peaceful backdrop we lived our lives against.

Guess Daddy was right: we never needed much in the way of entertainment. We had each other.

“You know what your Mama and I used to do for fun when we were dating?” Daddy’s voice cut short my musings, recalling me to the hospital room where the two of us now kept company. It sure was a long way from the old front porch.

“We’d borrow my Pa’s old yellow station wagon and drive out to the small airfield on the outskirts of town.

“That little airfield ain’t there no more; it wasn’t very big, a couple of landing strips was all. We’d park by the side of the road just as dusk was falling, and watch the last of the planes coming in.”

I grinned. “Gee, that sounds exciting.”

“Damned right it was,” he said, a slight smile on his face at my teasing. “Weren’t nobody around but me and your Mama – and those planes. We’d sit there sharing kisses and stories. Lil always was one for telling stories. She’d spin some good ones, too, stuff about people and far-off places.”

He closed his eyes. “You know, if I try real hard, I can still see those planes coming in for a landing… I can hear Lil’s voice, remember those kisses as nighttime approached.

“Such good years…”

Daddy opened his eyes and looked at me. “Guess you got your love for telling stories from Lil.”

“I guess I did, Daddy.”

It’s true. From Mama I got my love of story telling, and I’m glad Mama lived long enough to see my name on the front cover of a book.

But Daddy?

From Daddy I got my heart, and my understanding that reality isn’t something we see on a television screen. Reality, the best kind, is being with the people you love, working for them, working with them. It’s the everyday stuff that makes up our lives.

It’s who we love, whose hand we take the time and trouble to hold. It’s what really matters in this world.

I watched Daddy close his eyes again. “I’m awful tired, Janie. If it’s all the same to you, I think I’m gonna close my eyes for a while.”

I lifted his hand and kissed its palm. “You go ahead and rest. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

And, Daddy… thank you.

©2017 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton, Odyssey of a Novice Writer

Posted in Challenges & Contests, Family, Flash Fiction, Grace, Love, My Fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Client

This quirky little story is a bit of fiendish fun.  There are some clients no public relations firm should take on… .  I hope you get some ghoulish delight from this tale, written three years ago. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Let me get this straight, sir,” I said, setting the teacup aside. “You wish to hire our firm to babysit your daughter?”

Smoothing back a lock of silver hair, the doctor shook his head. “Not precisely, Mr. Tate. My daughter requires a companion, someone who can persuade her to think before she acts. There have been past difficulties… contretemps with both the media and the public… my hope is that you’ll be able to smooth over any possible future awkwardness.”

“Fair enough. If I may ask, how old is your daughter?”

The doctor hesitated. “Her emotional age is seven. There are communication issues… delayed speech. A specialist is working with her.”

“How severe are the issues?”

“She grunts.”

This dismayed me. I hadn’t expected this level of difficulty when I agreed to take Dr. Stein as a client. “Sir, I’m uncertain whether our firm is appropriate for your needs… perhaps a nurse?”

He sought to reassure me. “No, Mr. Tate, your firm is exactly what is needed. Trust me, you’ll quickly attune yourself to her moods and learn to anticipate her behavior.

“I don’t think I need remind you,” he continued in a clipped European accent, “this is a very lucrative opportunity for a neophyte firm…”

I nodded assent. Tate & Cross was only beginning to assert itself amongst a field of public relations giants. We needed the doctor more than he needed us.

I paused, studying his well-appointed office. Its Old World flavor was both claustrophobic and imposing. A painting of a woman in 18th century costume dominated one wall.

“My wife,” said the doctor quietly, noting my interest. “Elisabeth. She died a number of years ago. Strangled. An unfortunate affair. My son was in the house at the time… there was a question of culpability.” His eyes clouded with pain.

“Your son?” I frowned, wondering if the firm would be responsible for him as well.

“He’s dead, Mr. Tate. A fire… he always feared fire…”

“Tragic. Perhaps the trauma led to your daughter’s communication problems.”

“She was not yet… born.”

“But your wife, you said she had died.” I blushed suddenly, realizing my faux pas. “Miss Stein is the child of a second marriage, of course.”

“Not quite.” He pressed the intercom.

A female voice responded. “Yes, Viktor?”

“We’ll see Frankie now.”

Raising the teacup to my lips, I froze when Miss Stein staggered into the room.

The seven-foot creature walked unevenly, as if the action of putting one foot in front of another was foreign to her. This was no child. It was difficult to assess her age. Her mottled complexion was gray; her brown eyes lifeless. I tried not to stare at signs of scarring around her neck and wrists.

“Sit, Frankie,” commanded the doctor. She dropped heavily into a chair.

“Frankie, say hello to your new friend, Mr. Tate.”

Dead eyes turned in my direction.

“You and Mr. Tate shall be very good friends, Frankie,” said the doctor. “Understand?”

Frankie tilted her head. I shivered, glimpsing something of the grave in those inscrutable eyes.

She flexed her fingers and grunted.

images (4)

©2017 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton, Odyssey of a Novice Writer

__________________
Note: This flash fiction was written in response to ThainInVain’s challenge to write a story in which a public relations firm’s newest client is a PR nightmare.

Posted in Challenges & Contests, Flash Fiction, My Fiction | Tagged , | 4 Comments

C is for Cassandra

‘C is for Cassandra’ is part of a series of stories I am writing call ‘The Alphabet Soup Stories.’  Psychics have always intrigued me.  I can’t say I put much faith in them, but I do know that from time to time law enforcement officers make use of them.  Sometimes when I drive by a house with a sign in the window advertising ‘readings,’ I always wonder about the person conducting them.  What kind of life does a psychic  have? And what about his or her family?  Out of those imaginings came this story, written two years ago.  I hope you like it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

image
Cassandra Miller had just settled her two girls in front of the TV, giving each a bowl of dry Cheerios to munch on, when there was a knock at the front door.

She looked through the small peephole and saw a man and woman in uniform. The woman was holding a large manila envelope. Taking a deep breath, Cassandra opened the door.

“Mrs. Miller? Cassandra Miller?” asked the male cop.

Cassandra nodded and stepped outside, closing the door quietly behind her. “Yes. What can I do for you?”

“Ma’am, I’m Lieutenant Laura Ridgely and this is Sergeant Frank Rollins. We were hoping we could ask you a few questions,” said the female police officer. “Do you remember Tommy Boyle?”

Cassandra sighed. “Yes… the detective.”

“That’s right, ma’am. He told us you were instrumental in assisting him with the Dickerson case…”

Cassandra closed her eyes. The Dickerson case. Images of the young woman’s bones being dug up from a basement floor swam before her. She swayed slightly.

“Mrs. Miller? Are you alright?” asked Ridgely, touching her forearm.

Cassandra opened her eyes and stared into the woman’s face. It was a good face. Honest. “I’m fine. Detective Boyle sent you to me?”

Ridgely nodded.

“You do much of a business?” asked Rollins, pointing at the sign in the corner of Cassandra’s front window:

PSYCHIC READINGS
$25.00

“Depends. Some weeks are better than others. Would you like to come in?”

“Please,” said Ridgely. “We’d like to show you a few things, let you handle them… We’re hoping you can help us, Mrs. Miller.”

She herded the pair inside, past the kids watching cartoons and into the kitchen. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“No, thanks, we just want to ask – ”

Ridgely interrupted her partner. “That would be lovely – thank you. Sergeant Rollins likes his black, but I’d like a little milk in mine.”

Cassandra started the coffee and pulled what was left of a blueberry pie out of the refrigerator. “You’ll have to keep your voices down. I don’t want my kids hearing what you have to say.” She sliced the pie and pushed a plateful toward Rollins. “You look like a man who might be fond of pie, Sergeant.”

Ridgely smiled, noticing her partner’s paunch. Rollins eagerly took the pie.

After pouring the coffee, Cassandra sat down. “Well, I suppose you’re here to ask me to look at some photographs. That’s what Detective Boyle asked me to do last year. You know, I still have dreams about the Dickerson girl. I swore after helping Boyle that I’d never get involved in another murder case. I don’t think I want to look at any photographs…”

For a moment, Laura Ridgely concentrated on her coffee. She understood how Miller felt. While it was a part of her job, she’d never gotten used to looking at the photographs that crossed her desk daily – photographs of beaten wives, starved children, sociopaths, rapists. If what Boyle said about Miller was right, it had to be ten times worse for her.

She briefly studied the young mother. Her face was pale, drawn, and her eyes had a haunted expression. Did she already sense something? She was tempted to tell Miller to forget it, that they would find another way to solve the case.

But in those few seconds of weakening resolve, she remembered Jenna Hurst’s mother. Jenna was the latest girl to go missing over the past several months. Her mother’s hysterical pleas that the NYPD find Jenna had spurred Ridgely to consider Boyle’s suggestion to contact Miller.

When Boyle had first told her about Miller’s ‘talents,’ she’d been cynical. Now she was desperate. They needed a break in this case – and if Miller could help them, she’d put aside her skepticism. I can’t believe I’m actually going to do this; I thought Boyle was full of shit – and now I’m about to try to convince this woman to look at photographs of missing girls in hopes she can come up with something useful.

Coming to a decision, she pushed her coffee cup aside and tapped the envelope she’d placed on the table.

“Mrs. Miller, I know this is a lot to ask, but we need your help. Several young women have been reported missing over the past few months. They seem to have several things in common. We’d like you to take a look at their photos. We… um… well, we have a few of their personal items, things supplied by the families… we’d like you to look at those, too. Give us your impressions.”

Cassandra picked at the cuticle of her thumb, a nervous habit she’d never been able to break. “You think those girls are dead, don’t you?”

Rollins placed his fork on his empty plate. “Yes ma’am, I’m afraid we do. But we can’t seem to figure out the where, the who or the why of it.” He frowned. “We weren’t keen on coming to visit you. If you want to know the truth, I’ve never been one for this hocus pocus baloney.”

“Frank, please,” muttered Ridgely. She looked directly into Cassandra’s eyes. “Boyle told us that you were the one who told him to dig up the basement of Mary Dickerson’s next door neighbor. When they did, they found Mary’s remains beneath the dirt floor.

“How did you know that, Mrs. Miller? Boyle told us you held the photograph of Mary Dickerson in your hands… and you just knew. How did you know?”

The worried cuticle of Cassandra’s thumb began to bleed and she quickly brought it to her mouth, sucking away the little bit of blood. When it stopped bleeding, she sighed. “I don’t think I can explain it except to say I have a gift.”

“A gift?” repeated Rollins.

“Yes sir, that’s what my grandmother called it. She had it, too. It sometimes seems more like a curse. I don’t mind telling you that a lot of the stuff I see, I wish I didn’t… like that poor girl’s bones laying beneath that creep’s floor, just crying out for someone to find them. I sure wish I hadn’t had to see that!”

“I wonder,” said Ridgely, her voice thoughtful, “if your grandmother wasn’t right. In some sense, it is a gift. You brought justice to that girl, and closure to her family. If that isn’t a gift, I don’t know what is.”

“Well, Lieutenant, it’s a mighty expensive one.”

“The best gifts often are.” Ridgely pushed the large envelope across the table toward Cassandra. “Inside this envelope are the photos and personal effects we’d like you to look at.”

“Not now. I can’t look at those now. If I do this, I’d rather wait until my girls’ daddy gets home from work and can keep watch over them. If I start looking at those things and get upset, there won’t be anyone to keep track of my children.” Tears suddenly welled up in Cassandra’s eyes and she rubbed a shaky hand across her forehead.

“Dear God, I thought I was done with you people! I promised my husband I wouldn’t get involved in another case. You don’t know… you can’t… how much this sort of thing takes out of me.”

“But the readings,” said Rollins, “you do readings for people. Is that a gimmick or it is for real?”

“It’s not a gimmick, Sergeant. It’s part close observation and part feeling. I watch the people I’m doing readings for, get a feel for them based on their appearance, their body language… but the rest of it is intuition… the gift.”

“Do readings take much out of you?” he asked.

“Not like what you want! Seeing photos of dead girls, touching their stuff! It sends something cold right down into my soul. I feel the horror those girls felt, their fear… Sometimes, if I’m given a photo of a suspect, I see through his eyes what he’s done.

“The Dickerson case was the last straw for me. I still wake up looking through that boy’s eyes at what he did. I still hear that girl’s cries. I don’t know that I can go through that again!”

Ridgely reached across the table for Cassandra’s hand, hating herself for forcing the issue. “I know how difficult this must be for you.”

“No, you don’t! Not really.”

“Okay, you’re right,” conceded Ridgely, pulling her hand back. “There’s no way I can really know what you’re experiencing. But I’ll tell you what I do know: we need your help. Those girls need your help. Their parents need your help. Please, Mrs. Miller, won’t you help us?”

Ridgely watched Cassandra bring her thumb to her mouth, and again bite at the cuticle surrounding the nail.

“Mama, can we have some more cereal?” asked the towheaded, five-year old, standing in the kitchen doorway, dragging a worn teddy bear.

Cassandra looked at the little girl. “Leah, you get on back into the living room. I’ll bring you some juice and cereal in a minute, baby.”

“Cute kid,” observed Rollins, watching the child’s pajama-clad feet scamper back into the living room.

Ridgely then went for the kill. “You’re a lucky woman, Mrs. Miller, to have a sweet little girl like that. I bet you’d do just about anything to keep her safe.”

“Yes, ma’am, I sure would. My girls mean everything to me.”

Ridgely nodded, pointing to the envelope. “There’s a photo of a girl named Jenna Hurst in that envelope. A few days ago, I had to tell her mother that we haven’t been able to find out anything about her daughter’s whereabouts. That was real hard. You see, Jenna meant everything to her…”

Cassandra smiled bitterly. “You don’t play fair, Lieutenant.”

“No, Mrs. Miller, I don’t. And I suspect that if Jenna Hurst was your daughter, you wouldn’t want me to play fair, either. You’d want me to do anything I could, bully anyone I had to, if it helped find your daughter.”

Cassandra said nothing, staring at the bloody mess that was her thumb’s cuticle.

“Am I wrong, Mrs. Miller?” asked Ridgely, her voice hard.

A moment went by, then Cassandra looked up. She sighed heavily and rose to her feet. She picked up the envelope. “No, you’re not wrong. I’ll look at your photos. Damn you…”

©2017 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton, Odyssey of a Novice Writer

__________________
Note: This story was written two years ago in response to a challenge issued by Esther Newton to write a story with the random line I can’t believe I’m actually going to do this, I thought. I changed the punctuation a bit, but it was Esther’s line that gave me the idea for this next chapter in my Alphabet Soup Stories series. Esther’s funny, informative and interesting blog can be found here.

Posted in Challenges & Contests, My Fiction | Tagged | 4 Comments

Second StarTo the Right…

Today’s story is one I wrote several years ago.  I had great fun writing this fanciful tale about the famous boy who never wanted to grow up.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2n1ce9i
No matter what Captain Kirk says, it isn’t space that’s the final frontier.

It’s old age.

I’ve been a resident at the Barrie Retirement Home for fifteen years now. I spend my time reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards, and taking up my position in front of the huge glass window that looks out on the home’s parking lot. There’s a row of rocking chairs lined up in front of that window, and most of us spend our afternoons in front of it, slowly rocking back and forth, gazing out at the driveway and at the woods beyond.

Waiting.

We’re waiting for something… for someone. Usually family. We watch as they drive up to the entrance and park their cars. We watch their body language, their faces closed, their walk to the front door slow, reluctant. It’s plain to see they don’t want to be here, fearful that old age is catching, and they look at their watches even as they approach the automated doors.

Who can blame them?

I don’t want to be here either.

Mrs. Darling’s teenage grandson said it best as he was leaving last week. “Thank God another visit to the window lizards is over.”

His father saw I’d overheard and he turned scarlet. “Shut up, Tommy.”

To the boy’s credit, he had the grace to look embarrassed.

But why should he? It’s the truth. Window lizards. That’s what we are. Time has stolen our vitality. Our sole purpose in life now is to hold onto it. Hold onto it for another day. And for what? So that our wizened, leathered bodies can sit in front of this window, watching life as it comes to visit – and then, too soon, depart?

Some existence.

Shifting in my chair, I sat the book of crossword puzzles down on my lap and glanced over at Peter, who’d fallen asleep in his rocker.

I like Peter.

He must have been a looker in his youth; there are still traces of a once attractive man around his eyes. Those blue eyes, now slightly dulled, still sparkle when he tells a story, and no one tells a story better than Peter. He once showed me a faded photograph – taken on his wedding day – and I was surprised to see he’d been a redhead back in the day. Such beautiful hair. Even the aged photograph couldn’t dim the vivid carrot color.

That was then, though.

Like all of us, Peter had experienced too many visits with Lady Time. She’s a harsh mistress, that one. Shows up without invitation and, in the end, spares none of us. Not even Peter, whose sleeping, slack face bore evidence of time’s stamp.

He must have sensed my study of him; he began to stir and slowly roused himself.

“What time is it?” he asked in a hoarse, old man voice.

“Does it matter? You going somewhere?”

Peter grinned. “Always the comedian, aren’t you?”

Painfully, he adjusted his body in the rocker, and his eyes gazed wistfully out the window. “You never know, though,” he said softly, his words more for himself than me.

“Know what?”

Peter looked at me. “I might be going somewhere. I was never meant for this.”

I snorted. “Who was? You think I booked a room at Hotel Barrie with my travel agent?”

“I’m going to be leaving soon.”

I laughed. “You can’t even get from that chair to the toilet without help. So, Mr. World Traveler, where do you think you’re going?”

He leaned forward in his chair, his eyes searching the woods beyond the parking lot.

“What are you looking for?” I was intrigued, in spite of myself.

“My gang. They should have been here by now.” He frowned. “I used to think that dying would be an awfully great adventure… but it’s not. It’s a tedious endeavor.”

With a palsied hand, he rubbed his forehead. “Why can’t I remember the words? If I could just remember the words, she’d reappear, and once more we’d go off together, and such grand adventures would await us.”

“Who would appear – your wife?”

He shook his head. “No, no… Wendy died years ago. It’s the other… she’s the one who would come back. She deserted me when I married.”

Sighing, I picked up the puzzle book. I was used to Peter’s ramblings about the mysterious creature who turned her back on him when he married his wife. Generally alert, Peter sometimes went off on tangents of fancy that made me worry if dementia was settling in. I’d heard the doctor’s whispered comment to another physician as they passed Peter’s room one night. “Mercury poisoning, I’m afraid… it’s affected his brain.”

Perhaps the doctor was right. Peter’s ramblings about a gang or secret organization waiting for him was the stuff of madmen.

“Evelyn, have you ever flown?”

I glanced up from the book. He was looking at me intently. “Sure… before I became this old, I used to visit my daughter on the coast… flew out there every summer.”

“That’s not what I mean… have you ever flown?” His voice was urgent. “I used to love to fly. I’d soar above the rooftops. It was such an adventure! The cool night air, the feel of it against my skin, the stars so bright, so close…I could almost touch them…

“I loved my wife, Evelyn. I wouldn’t trade those years. I wouldn’t, do you hear me?” He sat up, agitated.

“Peter, calm down. I know you loved your wife. Don’t rile yourself so.”

“But the other… she was so jealous. She stole my ability to fly.” Tears formed in the corners of his eyes. “If I could just remember the words, I know she’d come back… take pity on me. Oh, Evelyn! I so want to fly again… just once more. Just one last grand adventure!”

I didn’t know what to say, and so I reached over, placing my hand atop his, and we rocked in silence for several moments, only the sound of Peter’s weeping disturbing the quiet.

At some point, I must have fallen asleep in the chair because a gentle voice was calling my name. “Miss Evelyn?”

I opened my eyes and the kind, brown face of Louise Hayes was studying mine. I love Louise; she’s my favorite of all the health aides.

“I guess I fell asleep.”

She chuckled. “Yes ma’am, I guess you did. You ready to go back to your room now?”

“I think so. How about you, Peter?” I asked, turning to his chair.

It was empty.

I looked at Louise, and she was gazing at me sadly. “He passed while you were sleeping. I’m sorry. He was a favorite of yours, wasn’t he?”

My throat constricted with pain, and I could only nod. Peter! Gone! I blinked back tears, hoping his journey was one last grand adventure.

Louise bent down to retrieve my puzzle book, which had fallen to the floor.

“Damned housekeeping,” she muttered softly, brushing the cover of the book. “Look at all this dust on the floor.”

She handed the book to me, and I glanced down at it.

A small sprinkling of dust still clung to its cover.

Gold and sparkling.

alegria-glitter-hand-pixie-dust-sunset-favim-com-46123

©2017 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton, Odyssey of a Novice Writer

__________________
Author’s Note: This story was written in response to a challenge to write a tale of indeterminate length based on phrases that are part of ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog, BeKindRewrite. The phrases used are: window lizards; mercury poisoning; secret organization; time stamp; and the final frontier.

Posted in Flash Fiction, My Fiction | Tagged | 15 Comments