Lighter in the Dark.

There’s an apocryphal story told by John Fogerty,lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival. He tells of playing Woodstock,which most people don’t know about or have forgotten about. They went on about 3 in the morning, he says “right after the Grateful Dead put everyone to sleep”. Fogerty says they played two songs, and got no reaction from the crowd at all. They were debating pulling the plug when John saw a lighter flare in the dark, and a voice call out: “We’re with you,John!”  Fogerty says “We played for the next hour for THAT guy”.

I’m at a bit of a crossroads in my head.I’m coming up on a year with this website, and I’m debating whether to keep it or not. Granted, my track record of posting has been spotty at best. But I resolved to go along with Story a Day May, and see what happens. I managed to put out 15 stories in a month, a personal record. And what happened? Did people notice or  tell me,”Hey,you suck at this”? Nope. I got one comment from my mother-in-law the  first day.After that, nothing, utter silence. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, so I never enabled any sort of web analytics , so I have to go on comments or twitter reposts.

The bottom line is this: I need a lighter in the dark, folks. Someone to let me know that this thing is even fit for birdcage liner.  Ozzy says that”any reaction is a good reaction”, and he’s right. The worst thing is to have your work put out there, and the universe goes: “eh.”  And that’s what I;m getting right now.

I know my site design sucks. It’s about as fun to look at as Don Knotts naked. But if I’m going to re-enlist in this for another year, I have nowhere to go but up.  Maybe with some TLC, and some HTML lessons, I can get this thing looking better. And actually post more than once a week. But I’m so clueless as to how this is supposed to work for authors. I see how it works for some, and they post word counts, and what they’re working on. But half the time when I work on something, I have no idea if it’s going to be something, or if it’s going to die in a mass delete like so much of my stuff  does.

I’ll even make a deal with you all:If I get this lighter, and in 30 days , the site doesn’t look better, I will personally post video of me eating a hat. Probably a stocking, I hear they fry up real well.So here’s hoping folks. I’ve got six Chuck Wendig books on writing to chew on, and it’s time to put some wheels in motion. All I need is a spark.

PS. Yes I know this sounds whiny and pleading. But damn it, I spent the first decades of my life having my happiness be dependent on other’s happiness. This may be a remnant of that,but I’m also  learning, after decades of silence, to ask the universe for what I want and need, and to go after it. Don’t like it? Good. Tell me so.

Story a Day May 14

Yeah, I don’t know what part of my skull this leaked out of,either.

I look just like everyone else in this bar. Except where his brown is dirt, or Joe’s is tar, mine is dried blood. And no one even notices. I sip my cup of decaf, which I tell everyone is because my wife wants my weight down. Like she ever complains about anything anymore.

The coffee has cooled, enough time for my alibi. Not that I really need one. But you do as the Plan tells you, or you don’t do it at all. That’s why it’s the Plan. I tuck my hair under my John Deere hat and wave to Joe. He waves back, smiling.

It will be his last smile. His precious Avril will be on the news tonight, leaving him behind, just vanished. Not worried about them finding Avril,though. Amazing what ten gallons of lye, bleach and a local animal processing plant job will do for your body disposal needs.

My name? I don’t have one. I have masks, people I put on and off like you change clothes. The one guy who suspected me in Topeka called me 8-372, my case file number. They weren’t sure if I was one,two or three people. Not telling you,either.

One of my prey called me the Cuckoo. She said I was like the egg left in place of the regular bird. It was a clever idea, so as a reward, I did her quick. Still raped her, though. A body does have needs.

Why am I talking to you? Boredom. Plus the fact that you’re already dead. That shot I gave you is the best anesthesia money can buy. Keeps your mind going while rendering you as useless as a Cubs bullpen.

Or maybe, because I’m done. I’ve been at this for four decades now. Been all over with work, loved to travel. Got prey on six continents. Would have seven, if not for the damn military changing its mind. I sure changed my commanding officer’s mind. Like it was an air filter.

Sorry bout the dip. Picked it up to disguise myself, now I can’t stop. Becky’s told me I have to stop once I retire. Only thing she’s asked for when I retire.

Getting back to why I’m done. When I started, the thrill was so good. But then I got bored, and careless. Almost got caught. That’s when the Plan became law. And the Plan is simple. Don’t kill the same way twice. Don’t take trophies. Don’t hunt where you eat.

And it’s worked,as you can see. I’ve watched you for about a week now. Like most folks, you don’t pay attention to what’s around you. Thank God for cellphones. It’s made my hunts so much easier. One girl I just took down with a simple nudge of the bumper. Never saw it coming.

So now here we are. You’re fading now. Damn this bra hurts. You never saw that, did you? Especially since I have a wife. And you just thought we were roommates. Hopefully she’s making chicken…

Hey, is that a siren?

 

Story a Day May 13

Looking on track to be about 50 percent on this thing. That sucks.

Traci held her guitar,nervously practicing her chords over and over again. Why did the show have to be today, she wondered? She wondered why she’d even bothered signing up for this thing. Nobody at this school liked her kind of music. Unless you could shake your ass to it, bang your head, or drive a truck to it, her fellow students could care less about it. Lyrics were what ever you could shout along to in the chorus.

Things had been different in Charlotte. At least there, some folks had taste. Her last talent show had been a stew of jazz, classical, and other musical styles. So far, she was up against rappers and comedians.

She looked in the mirror, seeing her mother’s face and red hair in her reflection. It was the last place she’d ever see it. Exactly one year ago today, a drunk had taken her out as she was out getting the mail. Traci had been busy rebelling at the time her mother died, and things were hostile, so her death poleaxed Traci.

As bad as it was for her, for her father, it was worse. He had never quite recovered, and just seemed to be surviving, and nothing else. Traci knew he wasn’t going to make this, despite what he’d said. There wasn’t anyone to care about her performance tonight, least ways herself. But she’d muddle through, that’s one thing her mom had given her. As bad as it gets, once you say you’re going to, do it.

Lorne shuffled through the crowd, taking a seat near the back. His boss hadn’t minded when he asked for the night off. Lorne figured he owed Traci this much at least. The gun felt heavy in his coat pocket. One last night before he went away for good, to join her mother. Lorne had tried, but he was already dead. Nothing felt like anything. Ever since Mari’s death, he’d been going on autopilot.

He’d tried, he really had, to feel something, anything. But he couldn’t even cry. He’d seen a shrink, a priest, even tried talking to an escort. Hell, he’d tried having a domme beat some feeling into him. But nothing was there.

And he was so tired. Every day stretched forward, an unending streak of gray. He’d wondered for weeks if death would be better. He’d find out later, he hoped.

Traci stepped out on the stage, her eyes scanning the crowd. The little girl she’d been before the accident had hoped her daddy would be here. Deflated, she started the song, the words coming from somewhere else:

 

Where’ve you been?

I’ve looked for you forever and a day.

I’m just not myself when I’m away.

 

Lorne stared,open mouthed. He knew the voice coming out of Traci’s mouth, and it wasn’t hers. Mari had sung it to Traci, all that first year. It had been a hard birth, and it was touch and go that first year. But Mari loved that little girl, and had up until that last damned day.

 

Traci sang on, tears in her eyes. She’d found the tape in an envelope her mom had left with their lawyer. She’d wanted to play it for her dad, but anything to do with Mom, and he suddenly had work to do. This was the last piece of her mom she had, and she was going to let her Mom know that she cared that she was gone, even if Dad didn’t. She finished the song,then stopped.

There was no noise form the crowd, not one peep. But above that silence cam a cry of anguish and pain, a howl of loss and sadness.. And there he stood, his face in his hands, her father. She jumped off the stage, words failing, running into his arms, hugging.

 

 

 

Story A Day May 12

Johnny could hear the crowd as he walked to the stage. More importantly, he could feel them. Over the years, he’d gotten very rich off of being able to read a crowd, even from this far away. He stopped just short of the curtain, adjusting and primping. When you’re going to change the world, it was always good to look your best. After one final check in the mirror, he parted the curtain.

It was the air he liked best. Th feel of ten thousand people shouting at once, as he walked out. Flashes went off like shots, women screaming his name. Once again, Wiccan Warrior was headed to the ring.

It hadn’t always been like this. There had been lots of late nights in dingy gyms and freezing legion halls. All part of the price you paid to get to the top. The pian was there as he walked, he noted. After so many years, it was as normal a part of his day as twice getting up at night to piss. Pain was his only constant friend now. He could feel his joints pop as he parted the ropes, the twinge in his back reminding him why he was here, and what he had to do today.

Johnny had been courted to the big leagues after about five years in the ring. He’d gotten a reputation as a man who could put asses in seats, and show up on time. Both were a big plus in a business caring only about the show, and not how you got there, or what shape you left it in. So he’d gotten on a plane to New York, and waited for his life to change.

Wrestling was huge then, and kayfabe was still in effect. Johnny hid his wife and kids the first two years in the majors. He rose through the ranks, going from jobbing to mid-card. He put in his work, and worked on getting better. He expected his success to be rewarded, like all hard workers do.

Except it wasn’t. He got to a certain point, and just stalled. There were a few world title shots, but the big Pay per view money eluded him,as well as the spotlight. He was smaller than the other guys, and wrestling was meant to play large. He couldn’t juice due to a congenital kidney defect, and he watched his career start to fade.

Johnny snapped back to reality, the crowd gone silent now, waiting for him to speak, to say the words they loved to say back to him. His bosses were hoping his return would spur some merchandise sales, and judging by the WW logos in the audience, he’d done so. Good gods, had they put his face on a foam finger now? He bit back the bile as Rodney, the long time ring announcer handed him a mike.

Johnny thought he was looking sharp today. Lincoln green suit, silver pinstripes, with an embroidered pentagram on back. He wondered what his mother would have thought of this. He’d never gotten to say goodbye, her death coming while he was in Europe, after the creation of Reverend Terrorist.

It was supposed to be another TV taping. Another stop on the grind his life had become. They were running eight shows a week, 300 days a year. He had enough airline miles to fly him,Jenny and Maureen anywhere. If he could only go home for longer than two days. He’d already missed so much of their lives,he felt like a stranger. Tonight he was close to home,though. Madison was only 90 minutes from Milwaukee. He was a native, a Packer Backer before he could walk. And he still knew what a bubbler was. He had three days off after tonight, and he intended to not sleep through all of them.

Then the road manager had pulled him aside. His title shot was being canceled, and so was his three days off. The boss’s son , with his nose candy problem, was too sick to do a run through Canada. Johnny had drawn the short straw. And something in Johnny broke.

It was the shot heard round the world, they said. Johnny had walked right out through the crowd into the main event. He’d taken the guy fighting the world champion, Kareem Akbar, and thrown him into the crowd. Kareem,whose real name was Shelton Barber, tried to get back in, and that’s when Johnny had knocked him out cold. He’d then run up on the world champion and in defiance of all of his bosses, kicked him right in the temple and pinned him. Then he left and went home, belt in hand.

For two weeks, he sat at home with the belt, while the press and the federation camped at his door. He spoke to them only on radio, and when he was done, the wrestling world was changed again.

Reverend Terrorist, as Johnny now called himself,ticked everyone off, and yet sold tickets like crazy. He’d fight when and where he wanted, and would put up the belt at a moments notice. Fans flocked to the events, never quite sure what was going to happen. His bosses publicly hated it, until his merch and video sales went through the roof. Others tried to be like him, but ailed. Johnny was riding high on a plane of success, matched only by few others, with names like Hogan and Flair.

As Johnny started to speak, flashes of what killed Reverend Terrorist and his career came back at once. The planes hitting the two towers, ending his characters name once and for all. His wife and daughter on the plane in Pennsylvania, ending Johnny Carnecki for once and for all as well.

He’d thrown himself into a chemical coma, but Johnny was raised better. He announced a rehab stint, then vanished for two years. Stories surfaced, but none were true. What Johnny had been up to was going to come out tonight.

The videos had started virally. Brief shots of Johnny’s profile, then a silver pentagram. By the time he got back in the ring, Wiccan Warrior was already a star. The newsheets lauded Johnny’s in-ring ability after two years away, and his promos were Ultimate Warrior level. A year later,he was given the belt, cleanly. He filled arenas for the next five years, when tragedy entered Johnny’s life again.

This time, it was his parents who were gone. Sitting in a theater, they were among those gathered for the movies, blown away by a PTSD crazed soldier. Johnny had quit again, and here he was today.

“Today, I look upon you, the greatest fans a man could have. I could never ask for anything more from you. You have all given me so much.” Johnny paused, letting their cheers wash over him.

“And yet, I think I will ask more from you. Today, I ask you to become what you need to be: real people” The audience murmured,confused.

“When My wife and child were wiped out thirteen years ago, you were told I drank myself into a stupor, and left to clean myself up. That was a lie.”

“What I did was go looking for answers. Why my wife and kid had to die, who did this. What I found broke my heart, then my mind.” Johnny took off his shades, and got right into the camera.

“It was all a lie, just OT make money. Rich assholes who traded our patriotism and spirit for oil and war. And we fell for it, hook line and sinker. When we were most vulnerable, they sold us like whores.”

“What can I do, Johnny?” He took on a whining tone. “ They’re too rich, too powerful,and you can’t prove anything, you nut job.” Johnny pulled out a flash drive”Except I can.”

“Thanks to a fan at the Pentagon, I have it all. The lost gas station footage showing the missile hitting the Pentagon, and the radio calls between the pilots who flew people like my family to a small airfield in Canada and shot them.” Video started playing on all the arena screens, causing gasps of horror and outrage.

“I expect to be dead by morning, but I died thirteen years ago. Wiccan Warrior is now dead, but..” Johnny dropped the mike, and jumped the referee, who’d know about what was going to happen to his wife and child, and not said anything. Johnny grabbed his head, and snapped his neck in one quick motion.

“REVEREND TERRORIST LIVES!” Johnny roared, jumping the ropes and into the crowd.

He ran right out of the arena, jumping into a waiting cab. As the cab sped away, Johnny had him turn on the radio. Riots had broken out in several cities. Johnny smiled, taking out the last picture of him, his wife and child. And for the first time in thirteen years, Johnny Carnecki slept.

 

 

Story A Day May 11

Today’s dish:epistelary scif horror.

Dearest Ophelia:

 

Sorry I haven’t written in so long. I’ve been down with dropsy, and then this other thing came up. I hope Carl the Third is well, and that he likes the spear gun I sent him. A boy is never too young to learn to defend himself. I miss him and you more every day.

The rains here in New Africa continue unabated. It rains during the day for six or seven hours, then stops, leaving us the humid nights to come out and stare at the two moons. It does make my job as project director a 24 hour position. Add loathsome native food to that stress and you have the dropsy that kept me bedridden for the last week.

I miss you both so much, and I’d like to tell you more, but security is tight, and if I spill the wrong bean, I get a one-way ticket to the brig. Kiss my son for me, and know that when I think of home, I think of you two.

 

Love,

Charles Grayson

Project Manager

Simtex Colony 5

 

 

Dear Ophelia:

 

Once again I must apologize for the delay in writing you. I wish I could tell you more about the goings on here, but they’re watching my every move. Plus, the medicine for the dropsy makes me light headed by nightfall. I’m hoping the ship arriving in two weeks has actual British food. The stuff the natives give us to eat is vile at best, and prison level at the worst. The food at the cantina on New Azatlan in tubes was better than this slop. Give my son my love, and tell him how proud I am of him passing his level tests. He’ll be a manager someday, just like me. The medicine is making me dizzy, and I miss you both so much. More later, when I get a good moment.

 

Charles Grayson

Manager

Simtex Colony 5

 

 

(Transcript of illegal video call from Simtex 5 to New Avalon)

 

A man appears on the screen, clad in Navy dress uniform. It hangs on him,covered in blood and various other stains. He has a bottle in one hand and a gun in the other.

 

My dearest Ophelia, where do I begin? Please understand that my rantings on print were not made by me. Let me explain:

When I took the position as Lead Officer for this colony, I thought I was dealing with a standard Set and Get colony. Set down, get the natives to like us, get them dead, and get home. It had been so easy on Bernia and Tanelorn 9. I signed the contract, assuming it was the usual one.

Then Prince Harry 23 bollixed it up with his New Empire directive. We were to welcome new species to the Empire, not destroy them. I think that pop singer husband of his is the first alien we should have killed. Not because of his sex preference, but because of what’s happened here.

We arrived after a six day warp flight, prefab housing up in 24 hours. Then came the new orders. First thing cook does is throw out all the potatoes and sausages. If it wasn’t for the tea, I think we’d have had a mutiny the first day. But we did as we were told, like good Empire men. I look at those words on the screen and cry now.

The first week we lost fifty men. For a colony load of five hundred, that was ghastly. But it was only the beginning. We lost more men every week, until the Natain showed themselves.

Anthros will tell you the Natain are cute small humanoids, four feet tall, smart as a dog, or a civil servant. That says so much, but leaves so much out. Like the smell. They smell like airlock cleaner and toilets. It’s horrible. But easy to get used to, Ophelia. Especially when you’re hungry.

The food was awful smelling, but we were desperate. It looked and smelled like manure. But then we tasted it.

The troops have taken to calling it Manna, because the taste is so good. Like caramel mixed with good port and the taste of your woman or man’s sex right after a shower. Yes, it’s that good.

So we ate and ate. Then shat and shat. I’ve lost two stone since I’ve been here. Not that it matters now.

 

The man breaks down, crying into his sleeve. His tears are bright green. He stops, looks at something off camera, and fires his gun at whatever he sees He then puts his face into the camera, blocking the view.

 

If I could go back in time. Ophelia, I would not have gotten off the ship. But I did, and now the Empire will pay the cost. Damn the Natain.

So we ate and ate. And then things started to happen. Equipment failures, people missing shifts on the terraformers. Odd data in the computers. It wasn’t until the Bill Consuelos matter that we realized what was going on.

You remember Bill, don’t you? Good man. We came to mess one morning, and there’s Bill, sitting at one of the mess tables, quietly eating the cook. Calm as could be, twining entrails around the fork as he did. We locked him up after that. Figured after ten tours out here, he’d snapped.

Then the screams came from the cell. Unholy in loudness. Bill was squatting on the floor, crapping out his guts. He screamed on and on then as we got into the cell, he died.

But not his crap. We recognized it, appalled. The Natain had been feeding us their fecal matter. That wasn’t the worst part. Ophelia.

The worst part came when it moved and spoke. Your bowel movements should not move but in one way, and certainly not have vocal cords. We threw a thermite grenade in the cell and ran for the office.

Which is where I am now, Ophelia. You’ll have to be strong. I’m doing this back channel because the regular ones are quarantined. Raise our son well, Ophelia. So sorry to leave you alone to it. And if we should ever meet again, Ophelia, you must kill me dead, right then, Ophelia.

 

Because I won’t be me.

Story A Day May 10

Sorry for the absence, but me and my wife celebrated our ten year anniversary by going to Savannah, Georgia. Check my Facebook for my reaction to that place. Anyway, here we go again:

Annie Baker was your average girl. Plain of face and hair, you’d never look twice passing her on the street. She’d grown up in a small Midwestern town, gone to a state college, and now was one of the countless thousands of office drones winding their way out of the Metra station in downtown Chicago. She was statistically average across the board.

The kidnapping took her by surprise. She walked down the same alley five days a week,no break in the routine, except once when she’d caught two men pleasuring each other on a Tuesday morning. She’d just chalked it up to living in a major city and left the men to it. It was this chance encounter that put her where she was now, cuffed and hooded in the back of the van.

The men who took her,their names aren’t important. What’s important is the man they call Willow. Some men have snickered at that name, but they aren’t with us anymore. Willow sat in front, his tight cropped hair and tight cropped face a mask as always.

The van halted inside a warehouse, Annie being politely but forcefully led to a small office. Annie was worried, but more than that, bewildered. This was obviously a mistaken identity problem. She wondered who they thought she was. She was seated in a chair in the office, her hood removed. Annie gaped at the man, recognizing him from the alley. Annie began to shake, feeling real fear since the first day she moved into her Wicker Park flat four years ago.

Willow smiled at her, his face making it into a rictus. It did nothing to set her at ease. Willow handed over a tray with Oreo s and milk, Annie’s favorite snack. Willow gestured for her to eat, then sat down at the desk in front of her. He then began to speak:

“Miss Baker, we’re sorry for the interruption in your life and the rough handling. Frankly, I’m a man who’s running out of time, and you are what I need.” When Annie blanched, Willow smiled again, this one even more hideous.

“Please, do not worry, Annie. No one’s going to harm you. But I would like to ask you a small favor. All it requires is a walk with me.” Willow stood, opened the door, and motioned Annie to walk outside. Willow and his men led Annie down several winding staircases to a small door.

Once inside, the smell made Annie gag. Then she looked down, horror freezing her where she stood. The cavern below was filled with an indescribable mass, all smile, tentacles and mouths. She looked back at Willow, uncomprehending.

“It’s been here for millennium. We keep it in place with symbols and the spells of King Solomon. But those are starting to crack. Have been, ever since my ex-boyfriend L. Ron and his boy toy Parsons went and had sex magic on a ley line in Paloma. We don’t know what it is , but it appears to be a mass of pure Chaos.”

“We racked our brains for years, trying to figure out how to kill it. Nukes, biologicals, chemicals, none of it worked. By the way, don’t touch the walls here.” Willow gestured to a nearby symbol covered surface, which hissed and steamed.

“It took an LSD smoking writer to figure out how to kill this thing. He called it Zero point. A person so statistically average as to defy all means and errors. In other words, you.”

Annie stepped forward, looking over the railing at the thing. The acrid smell forced her back. She looked at Willow. “What do I have to do?”

Willow grabbed her by the collar and threw her over the railing. “Die.”

Annie screamed as she went down, her body begin assaulted in every pore by the sensation of the thing. IT absorbed her and rejected her, their voices raised in a scream, until there was a flash, and she was gone.

Willow looked over the rail, his face unmoving. His men started hosing everything with flame throwers, playing seek and destroy with the bits left over of the creature. Willow almost felt sorry for Annie, but she’d never really lived, so he just put her out of her misery.

Willow thought for a second, checking his messages. His son had just gotten a “C” on his midterm. His reward form Willow would be sever and swift. His team were busy cleaning up average, and his son would never be that, if he could help it. He lit up a cigar, wondering if Rocco, his current flame was home. Killing always made him frisky.

 

Story a Day May Number 9

Ripples in the water were the only way Tom knew he was moving. The men had insisted on blindfolding him before sitting him in the canoe. Some would balk at this treatment, but not Tom Gerber, investigative journalist. He’d been working this story for two years now, and tonight was going to end it, one way or another.

It started, like all of Tom’s ideas of late, in a bottle. He’d been drunk out of his gourd, dreading another day on the White House beat. If he had to attend another press conference, he was going to come home and shove his head in the oven until it was a nice golden brown.

A Pulitzer is great in your twenties, but Tom’s had come late, after years of chasing stories in Chicago. He’d covered it all, moving up to the crime beats, where every day was a fight against shrinking reader numbers and his fellow story hunters, who were getting younger everyday.

Then came Johnny Bash A former shot caller for the El Rukns, he’d branched out on his own after they’d gone down for selling weapons to Libya. Tom had been lucky enough to wander into court on the day Johnny’s old lady had decided she’d had enough. She had a box full of receipts, video tapes and audio. She’d considered handing it to the Feds, but Johnny was sleeping with her sister. She wanted big humiliation.

Tom had spent weeks tearing through the material, not only exposing Johnny, but the four city council members Johnny had been using to launder drug money through their campaigns. Tom’s first inkling he might have ticked the wrong people off came when his car was burned to the tires. The second was when Johnny’s lady was found in nine separate trash bags along the Magnificent Mile. Tom had taken the Washington job, which was safe and cushy, but boring as hell.

There he’d been, cruising, the back alleys of the nets, old message boards filled with the most hateful and vile garbage known to man. He kept hoping he’d find a lead, something, anything, to give him a reason to not go into work tomorrow. A book sized story, one to get him on talk shows, and back into the game.

QuestionableStories.com was full of things like Elvis sightings, Bigfoot erotica, and UFO videos so bad they made Fox News seem rational. He’d been on his third Jack and Coke when he’d spotted a name that made his nose twitch:Gary Bruger.

Gary Bruger had only been famous after he was gone. A suburban father of two, he’d simply vanished from his home. His car was there, along with his wallet. It’d been assumed at first that he’d simply gone walking and was lying in a ditch, until it was revealed the city D.A. Had been prepping to indict him for real estate fraud.

It had been a hot story for a good week, even making the networks. Today, it would have lasted four second on the crawl on the bottom. Search parties were sent out, helicopters enlisted. None of which had any effect. He’d simply vanished, first from his house,then from most memories.

But here was the name again, this time with someone calling themselves Mason33 Michigan. Mason was saying that Greg was in his local Lodge there in Michigan, and was confessing to a bunch of misdeed at meetings. Discussing who he’d paid off and such. Tom was hooked, and had used two minutes to take a leave of absence, book a flight to Midland, Michigan, and try and contact the mysterious Mason add Greg Bruger.

His flight had been terrifying, a puddle jumper older than himself. He’d used some of the scarier moments to think of how he was going to find either of these folks. The hotel was not much better,r but at least it had WI-fi all the way down to the Denny’s on the first floor. He’d left message after message when Mason33 had agreed to a meet.

Tom had parked his rental in a forest preserve picnic area when the men had approached him. They were lodge brothers of Mason33, they said. One was large,built like a lineman while the other scarier one, was wiry and small, full of menace. Against his growing sense of unease, he’d let the men lead him to Mason33.

He’d not objected to the blindfold, but the cuffs made him nervous. And so here he was watching the water rippling while they paddled him deeper into the forest.

After 45 minutes, they’d pulled up to a dock,then pulled Tom out of the boat. He’d been walked blindfolded up a hill,then through a couple of doors. He’d begun to wonder what this was all really about.,when the blindfold was pulled off.

He was in a hunting lodge, all polished wood and rough hewn stone. A group of seven men were sitting in front of the fire, each silently sipping on something from a cup or reading a book. They now looked at him.

They were varied in age, from pot bellied, balding late 30’s to some regal and ancient fellows. All they really seemed to have in common was the look of sheer coldness in their eyes. They all regarded him as an insect, or something on their shoe. Trussed up and tied to a coffee table between he men was Gary Bruger.

One of them came over and sneered at Tom. “The great Tom Gerber. I should have had you killed last year when you cost me money.”

“Shut your hole, fool.” This came from the oldest one, a man in his eighties , thin, almost skeletal. “This is not about your foolishness. You screwed up, trusting that gang banger.”

The old man came over, and shook Tom’s hand. “Hello, Tom. Need a glass of water or something stronger?” His tone was jovial, but Tom could feel eyes upon him from the others.

“No,thank you.” The man led Tom over to couch, gesturing for Tom to sit.

“I’m sure you have questions, but I’m not answering any. Here’s the deal. Your story on Johnny cost us money. Who we are is not important, but know that each of us could buy the city of Chicago, if we wanted to.”

The man coughed, then continued on. “We’d been unaware of your life until your story broke. We looked at it with little concern, until we noticed you were moving up the food chain of the matter. Since we’re the highest on that chain, we needed to act.”

Tom felt a gun muzzle on the back of his neck, then. “My personal vote was to pop you and leave you in Volo Bog, but I got outvoted once the fossil here started in.” Tom turned, unbelieving, seeing his editor from the paper.

Tom started sweating, knowing full well he was facing his last moments on earth. The laugh in front of him snapped him back to reality.

“You have to excuse his manners. Being this requires a lot of aggression, and it shows sometimes in the young ones.”

“So here’s what’s going to happen. Either you come to work for us, back on the beat. Except if we call, you look into who we tell you to, or you lift up who we say to.”

“Or we can kill your entire family and make you watch them suffer. Your sister’s in Tuscon, right?” The old guy was smiling, but it wasn’t even within light years of his eyes.

Tom’s knees shook. He’d been threatened, but never like this. He always trusted his gut on this, and today was not a day to fail him.

“What do I have to do?”

His old editor came around and handed Tom the gun,then pointed to Gary, still on the table.

His eyes were wide as Tom came closer with the pistol. Garry’s eyes were running,hot tears begging him to not do this.

Tom thought a second, about the rippling water he’d seen on the way up here. Every wave had been gone, the water so still. That was how time was going now, then Tom pulled the trigger.

Tom was blindfolded again,the water rippling as they paddled him back to life. He’d have his old job back, and he could fight the good fight, as long as he understood who not to fight. He’d be a farce.

He looked down again at the water rushing by as they headed for shore. All those ripples, made by the boat, bigger than anything else. He was a ripple, he knew then. He’d just been paddled past. With a sob, Tom launched himself at those ripples, the smallness of his life killing him as sure as the old man’s bullet would have.

 

Story a day May 9.

Yup, missed yesterday, life kicked my head in, but in a good way.

Mike ducked down behind the bar, sweat trickling down his face. This entire heist had gone bust. Bad intel, compounded by bad partners, bad timing and now this. He watched the beam of light shine over the bar, and footsteps walking slowly toward him.

It should not have been like this. Mike had been living the good life. Which for Mike, meant two employees at his lock service, someone else taking his weekend emergency calls, and a two story in the Minneapolis suburbs. He’d retired from the game four years before, after his last turn in the joint. That hadn’t been the problem. Doing time was the cost of business. What caused him to quit was the picture sent him inside of a four year old girl, with the eyes he saw in the mirror every day. Her name was Molly, and he got her every other weekend, and two weeks every summer. He was the model of the older single divorcee dad to all his neighbors.

Then the gods had kneed him in the balls, and then kneecapped him for good measure. The first x-rays had been awful enough, showing the spread of the tumors in Molly’s legs, some unpronounceable horror that was proof yet again of there not being a loving God. Then came the bills, followed by a trail of paperwork denying all his coverage, despite having paid faithfully for four years.

Mike had just been recovering from that when a business rival found out about his true identity, and tried to sink his business. Mike was a hard man though, and had discussed the matter with the man, his 9mm Glock on the table the entire time. Mike thought he’d made his point clear, until the man’s business partner showed up, an unfortunately familiar face.

Jose”El Pollo Loco” Jimenez was a local crime boss. Mike had used a couple of his fences before, but they’d never really crossed into each others view. Jose had gotten his name for killing his enemies old school, tarring and feathering. He’d taken the long view of his dispute with Mike, having the sense to recognize Mike as a valuable tool. For men like Jose, Mike was one tool he could always take out, regardless of retirement or not.

Pollo had an enemy, one “Bad Rasta” John Joseph, who ran his crews out of a Mexican restaurant in the Mall of America. This bothered Jose no end, who saw it as an affront to his culture, especially since two of his men were killed after eating there.

Pollo had turned one of John Joseph’s men, who wanted John’s spot. He’d supplied the location of John’s stash spot, where he hid his money. It was a sports bar called “Sportscast”, which distinguished itself from all the other sports bars by doing lutefisk ladies wrestling every summer.

It was this hellhole Mike found himself in right now,, wishing he could strangle both those assholes. Pollo for lying about what he was stealing, and John for keeping it in the first place.

“Twenty thousand to start, fifty thousand at the end” was all Pollo said when Mike asked about money. Part of Mike, the old part needed to get through this, had wondered how much cash was there for the taking. But Mike knew if he did, he’d spend the rest of the life looking over his shoulder for either Jose or his masters in the Sinaloa cartel. He’d seen firsthand inside what the cartels did to those that crossed them. He’d shoot Molly himself first.

Mike sat still,watching the light play out. He’d done as instructed, popped the back door about midnight on Sunday, two hours after the crew had gone home. He’d parked the car behind a strip mall,having popped it from the long term rental at the airport. The pick gun had popped the lock, and tow snips with wire cutters killed the alarm. Mike had gone to the basement, looking for the safe and the cash.

He’d found neither. He’d found a series of kennels, full of kids bound and gagged, some as young as four or five, by the looks. He’d stood there,frozen, wanting to find large rocks to tie John, Pollo, and Pollo’s lying ass snitch to, before drowning them in Lake Minnetonka.

Then he’d heard the back door open. He’d snuck upstairs,s diving behind the bar, wondering who this was. If he got popped by a rent a cop, he’d go back inside, and Molly would die wondering why her father hadn’t saved her. Twenty large wasn’t going to dent her medical bills, but it was more than enough to get them over the border for medical care, new lives, and a stake for Mike to live a normal life again.

The beam passed over his head and the person leaned over the bar. Mike tightened the grip on his brass knuckles, hoping the guy didn’t have his gun pulled. Then a face came into view, and Mike stood up in shock.

“Alison”? Molly’s mom stood there, covered in head to toe black. She was holding a gun, a .38 that seemed gigantic in her hands.

“Hi, Mike, nice to see you’re as predictable as ever.” She pointed the gun at his pocket. “Out with the brass, Mike. Fifteen years of doing this and your way of doing things has never changed. You dumb ass Polock.”
Mike complied, stunned. Sure, Alison had been one of the many girls who found thugs like him hot, but he’d never seen anything to put her as an actual player. His mind was reeling, trying to figure out the play and players.

“What’s the deal, Alison? I’m current on my child support. Even if I wasn’t I don’t think they’d buy that as an excuse to pop me.”

“Fuck you, Mike. You’re not the one trying to live on what I make as a nurse, and still care for a girl who only exists because the condom broke, and I’m a good Catholic.” She spat to the side, gum firmly lodged in her cheek.

Mike put two and two together. “You’re Jose’s mole. You’re fucking us both over. Why? Is John that great a fuck?” Mike tried to sneer, his mind calculating his play here.

“Gosh, Mike, haven’t you heard, fucking three at once is all the rage with the young pussy these days.” She motioned him to a seat, Mike sitting down hard, his knees weak. He hated guns, especially this end of them.

“Going to take a stab in the dark, you get John pills?” Alison worked in the pharmacy as a nurse practitioner, which gave her prescription rights, and lots of access.

“Yeah, I get John pills, and the bastard’s getting greedy. But I got a guy who will make sure that my pills go direct to his dealers, cutting out the unnecessary skin flap that is John Joseph.”

“Did you ever love me?” asked Mike, rubbing his eyes. He hated shit like this. Another cost of doing business.

“Love you? Mike, I hate you. Your spawn cost me the best years of my life, and I was almost tempted to let you run away to Canuck Land together, when this all came together. Trust me, she’ll have a nice foster home after this, and they can pay her bills.” Alison lit a cigarette, blowing the smoke in Mike’s face.

“Best part of this will be collecting the insurance you had to put on yourself to get partial custody. One your body is found in the charred rubble of a crime scene, the insurance will pay extra to see me gone.”

She tied Mike’s legs to his chair with duct tape, then sat back, pointing the hand cannon right to his chest.

“Any last word,s Mike? Alison sneered, her face ice cold.

“Close your eyes, honey.” Mike closed his own.

“Close your eyes? Is that-” The words were cut off by the explosion of Alison’s chest, spraying Mike with a gout of flesh. Alison, tried to turn and see who her assailant was, but collapsed instead as she fell.

Molly stepped over Alison, almost slipping in the blood. All those years of target shooting for fun had paid off, he noted. She ripped the tape off of Mike, hugging him.

“Daddy, I’m so sorry. She was so mean lately.” Mike hugged Molly, then sat her in the booth with his cell. He went into the bar’s office, finding the safe full. At least one hundred large by his estimate. Time to run for the border, he thought. He took Molly’s hand and walked out of the bar, dialing 911 as he did. He wasn’t normal now, but normal was just a five hour drive away.

 

 

Story a Day May 7

Hey, they can’t all go to college.

She walked into the room like she owned it, and did, at least me anyway. Red hair, a mice smile, and curves like the Blue Ridge Highway. It seems so long ago, not just six months.

It was the freshman college mixer. I don’t know why I was there. I wasn’t a freshman, and I sure as hell wasn’t looking. I had a girlfriend. But Dale had bugged me until I came along. It was one of the things I hated about rooming with Dale. The guy couldn’t go anywhere alone. So It had been a evening of awful music, watery beer, and brain dead conversations. I’d had better conversations with porn bots online. I was trying to think of a way to extract myself when she walked in.

Sherry Dubois had transferred in from New Orleans, Why someone would leave that place for a small liberal arts college in northern Wisconsin was beyond me. I know now, sadly. But I didn’t care. Love had hit me like Ali hit Foreman.

I could lie and say it was instantaneous on her end, but it wasn’t. Not even close. She strung me along until I just about gave up, then surprised me by spending the weekend in my dorm room,doing things I ‘d only seen on the net.

We were inseparable, it seemed. Love that hard and fast can sometimes burn for ages. But that’s only in fairy tales. And I wasn’t a prince, and she wasn’t a princess.

What she was came as a shock when the cops showed up at my door. Sherry wasn’t her real name, and her real name I can’t reveal because of the grand jury. But her daddy ran most of Baton Rouge, and Sherry had decided one day to empty daddy’s safe, and flee fast and hard. She was going to run to Canada or Mexico, but that was thinking like a criminal. Nope, Sherry wanted some fun, and a college would be the last place anyone would look for a Dixie mafia princess.

For a guy from a small town in Minnesota, it was a lot to take in. The cops had found her because they, unlike her dad, had never lost her. At least two of the guys at the freshman mixer had been U.S. Marshall’s. Great things are done with our taxes, I tell you.

The reason they’d revealed themselves was that daddy had put a hit on her. A million for her corpse, two million if you got his money back. The police gave Sherry two hours to pack. She’s gone to do just that, then coming back here. I told her we could start our new lives together.

What Sherry don’t know is that I’m not who I say I am,either. My mom runs half the identity theft rings in the world from a house outside Budapest. She’d sent me here to get an education. Something that’s hard to believe in when your mother sits around all day on furniture literally made of the money she’s robbed off thousands.

I need a nut to start this squirrel on the road to fortune. Maybe she’s figured out I’m a fake. But if she hasn’t, I’ve got the safety off, and this will be the last room she ever enters.

 

Story a Day in May 6

Wonder if I should title these.

It was a warm night in Charlotte, humid and still light out, and Tom was sawing his Aunt Sadie’s head off. He was having some trouble getting through the connecting tissue in the spine, but he was pretty sure he would get through it pretty quick with that new hacksaw of his.

Now you can say Tom was being unkind to a relative, but really, she had it coming. You don’t just die five years ago, and then show up at your house. Seeing as she was an abomination before God, Tom and I had no problem with tying her down in the backyard and making sure she stayed dead this time. She;d hollered and hooted about Revelations and God for a while, and said Tom and I were the real abominations, but then I, Melvin Terwilliger Jones, his husband, turned her jaw into a jigsaw puzzle with one good kick. She’d been a self righteous bitch when alive, and death had not improved her temperament.

All the excitement had made me dizzy. I have diabetes,so Tom went and got me my pills. Tom was always good about looking after me. All we had was each other. You settle down as a gay couple in the South during the 60’s, you’d better be ready to kick ass, or surrender yours. Neither was an option for us. But we’d both been in the closet, met in a bar in Spartanburg, and things had just clicked. People say that sometimes you wander the world,and when you find the right one, you just stop where ever you are. So that’s how Tom and I ended up living in Charlotte when the world went to shit.

That’s what we were figuring on what was going to happen, anyway, when the bitchiest of Tom’s dead relatives had shown up on our doorstep. She’d probably figured it was hers anyway still, since it had been in life. We’d settled the estate years ago, and Sadie had never married. Probably looked like two saltines down there when she died. Dry country, I tell you.

So she was still gurgling and spitting and trying to cuss us out when Tom decided that chopping her head off was a good start. He sawed through that last piece of gristle and Sadie stopped hissing. She didn’t turn into ash or anything cool like that. Tom and I were covered in blood and gore. I was trying to decide how to clean up when the screaming started next to us.

Sadie’s house was in an okay part of the city, commonly known as NoDa. It’d had some rough parts, but it was getting really arty and pricey. You’d think an older gay couple would be happy about it, but no. Living through watching lots of our friends die from AIDS, beatings, and general hatred from the world had made us sort of closed off. Besides, we were still from the South, thank you. Church BBQ and Duke football were about as social as we’d get.

Along with gentrification came new neighbors, and the Hendersons had moved in about a year earlier. They were nice enough people,grew pot in their backyard, but not really our kind of people. I mean, they were Yankees. And they were both standing and screaming ,locked in place.

Tom started towards them, but I pulled him back. Anything we would have to say would be lost to them, right now. I still don’t know why we were so calm about it. Maybe it was all those years of horror novels Tom reads, or my job as an EMT. Or maybe we were just in shock as well.

I grabbed the hose from the garage while Tom piled Sadie into a large leaf bag. She’d been a tiny thing, so she fit alright. IF it had been my mom or Tom’s dad, though…

It was suddenly silent, The Hendersons had stopped screaming. Now they were both staring, their fists in their mouth. Glad they didn’t have kids, those two. After a few years of diapers, these two would have needed a psych ward. After a few years of every substance known to man, a dead body is a half hour job, max.

I stopped for minute, thinking about our girl, Mandy. One of Tom’s sisters had passed giving birth to her. We pulled a few strings(my ex-boyfriend was now in the state senate) and were one of the first gay couple allowed to adopt in the South. Yes, there were death threats and flaming shit in bags on our doorstep. But we never looked back.

I figured since this might well be the apocalypse, I should call her. She’d be home from Duke in two weeks, but the dead rising might be worth telling her about.

Tom grabbed my shoulder and pointed. More folks were running in the streets, people chasing after them in funeral clothes. Except the naked folks, who I assume had been cremated. They did seem all ashy. Tom said we should move inside, and I agreed. Tom sat down in front of the computer, looking for news. I just sat in my recliner and clicked on the TV.

There was nothing on the news about this, which I found bizarre. Until I realized that CCN was playing a tape of yesterdays broadcast. All the networks were. I wondered why, then the buzzing started.

Tom and I went back and looked skyward. It was an entire flight of F-16’s flying so low as to make the house rattle. Tom just looked sad, took me by the hand, and kissed me on the cheek. He whispered one word in my ear.

“Northwoods”

I felt tears start streaming down my cheek. We’d met in Spartanburg, but that was not what we were both doing. We were both working for the NSA. We’d left when we’d started dating, but by then,we were both tired of the spook show and wanted out.

Before we left though, we’d seen what the government’s plans were for ELEs, extinction level events. The plans had different names, but they were all the same. Find the problem nuke it till it glows.

We knew then we’d never get out in time. We hoped Mandy would be alright, carrying on with friend’s help. Tom sat down on the couch, me next to him, WE held each other close, and then we were gone.

So that’s why I’m telling you this, as you pin me to the wall, sir. I don’t know where I’ve been, or where Tom is, but can you help me find him?