Friday, March 10, 2017

Penance


When I woke up, it was hard to imagine what the hell could have happened. The room was a chaotic mess. Dingy, dirty walls and those televisions…when I started to try to remember how I got here, my head felt as if a dagger was being shoved into my brain.

Better stop trying to make sense of it all. I closed my eyes and laid back on the bed. Oh, Christ. How long had it been since these sheets had been washed? How many fuck fests took place? Worse yet, how many murders? I shivered and against my better judgment, I fell into a troubled sleep.

Rain. So much of it pouring down from the sky. Neon signs. Just a flash and then I was once again in the deluge, this time in a small town that felt familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I saw you. It was your silhouette but I would know you anywhere. My heart began to hurt, the old familiar pain. Like I was being torn in two from the inside out.

Sweat drenched, I sat straight up in bed screaming at the top of my lungs. Scared, cold, disoriented, I stared around the room. An old television set from a bygone time was playing some ancient movie. The more I looked at the screen, I could see that it wasn’t a film per se but it was like a memory.  Shaking my head and closing my eyes, I whispered, “I don’t want to see this. Please, don’t make me relive it.”

This moment had the feeling of an 8-mm film scene. The colors were slightly faded like an old Polaroid picture. Smiling, I looked at the gathering of people like extras milling about in a production. Slowly, they parted and I saw you standing by the railing. Our eyes met and from that moment I knew. You excused yourself and made your way toward me. Before you could get there, you were stopped by someone but your eyes never left mine.

Finally, you reached me and held out your hand. The TV screen went black. The pounding in my head won’t go away. What the hell happened? Did I fall out of a building and smash onto a sidewalk?
I laid down and closed my eyes. A wave of nausea slammed into me. I swallowed deeply. Breathing stabilized, I drifted off.  Transported to another dimension or another time? I couldn’t decide but I could see that crystal blue ocean with its frothy waves lapping against the beach. Turning slowly, I heard you call my name.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

I shielded my eyes from the sun’s glare. Smiling that brilliant smile, bathed in its warmth, I felt truly seen in that moment.  Everything faded in an instant until all that was left was that image of you burned into my brain. How, I loved you, that most perfect part of you that only I could see, that only I knew about.  You kept that person under lock and key but you allowed me in.

Those days of sunshine were full of promise and hope. All that ever was and all that would ever be. I would have walked to the ends of the earth for you and with you. Perhaps you knew that and used it to your advantage or used me to your advantage. Damn it! There it comes again. That freight train screaming through my brain. Piercing noise, make it stop!

Tossing and turning, I held my hands over my ears. Trying to wake up but being held under the waves of slumber by unseeing hands. Pulling me even further into nothingness, darkness, this time. At least, it is a break from the unrelenting pain.

No such luck! Another fucking television turns itself on again. It’s cathode rays tumble over me, giving me a slightly blue hue to match my soul or what is left of it. I try to ignore it but I can’t. My eyes fly open and I have no recourse but to watch what is happening.

The moonlight spills over you in the stillness of the desert night. Stars as far as our eyes could see up in the heavens. Your heartbeat and breathing were the only sounds I could hear. You held my very essence in the palm of your hand. Through one act, we exchanged souls forever bound together as one.

I cried. The type of tears that come from deep inside when your world is imploding. Earth shattering sobs. What have I done? Why did you leave me here alone? I can’t do this by myself.
The picture fades to a tiny dot on the screen. Curling into the fetal position, I wished for the sleep of the dead. Even with my eyes closed, all I can see is your face. I know every line, every curve. Please let me rest.

“In dreams, I walk with you,” is what Roy Orbison tells me. For that is all that remains. I stare out the window at the darkened trees. The smell of stale sweat clings to me. How long have I been here? I wonder. Hours, days, weeks, months, years?

Life was perfection, the time spent with you. Every minute of every day was sacred. The passion that bound us together in this life somehow tore us apart. “If I could start again, a million miles away,” blares on my internal radio in Johnny Cash’s voice. Although you left me standing, bleeding, naked at the side of the road, I still loved you. God help me but I did.

Now, the light has been turned on. The white-hot brain pain has subsided and I am remembering. Although I would rather live in ignorance.

Rain again. Streaming down from the sky in torrents. Something happened, maybe it was gradual but I felt you moving away from me. Long stretches of lonely nights and complicated explanations. You could never hide from me. No matter how hard you tried.

One night when you were sleeping, I heard you whisper a name. Softly, like a kiss from the wind. It wasn’t mine. At first, I felt numb. The shock hadn’t hit me. Then without warning, the tears began to fall. My anger began to build. How did this happen? How could I be so stupid?

Master of deceit that you are, forever the consummate actor, you played your part to perfection. So, loving, so dutiful but I knew that you were burning inside. That flame was growing while mine was being extinguished.

When I saw the two of you together, all I felt was betrayal. I could be just like you. I am just like you. I know all of your secrets and all of your tricks. I played along and let you believe that I was oblivious. Waiting in the shadows for you to break off the last piece of my heart.

That night. The rain. My pleading fell on deaf ears. You left me with a fractured soul and nothing to lose.  You didn’t know it but I followed you. Oh yes, I knew where you were going. I wasn’t that foolish.

In that deluge, I stood outside looking in at what was mine, what would always be mine. It was then I knew this life was not worth it if this is where I was meant to be. The rain kept thundering down from the sky and I stood silent and still. Watching. Waiting.

When it grew quiet, I knew what I had to do. See, I knew you had a key. I made a duplicate. You had no idea. This plan of mine was rather brilliant.

I crept inside. Instinctively, I knew where to go. Tracking you was never a problem. Opening the door very carefully, I peered in. Then tentatively, I made my way forward.

Did you feel me watching you, I wondered? We were so intertwined you and I. Your breathing was deep so I knew you had passed the threshold into blissful unawareness. That is when I drew my blade.

Transfixed at its silvery glow, I steadied myself. Creeping toward you, I made sure that I was the last person you would see before you left this mortal coil. Raising the knife, using all the anger, sadness and bitterness inside of me, I found strength I didn’t know I had. Plunging the blade deep within your chest, I pierced your heart. You didn’t even get the chance to scream.

After extracting my weapon, I glided silently toward the sleeping form next to you. This one might prove to be difficult but I was going to make certain that it was felt. Sitting down softly on the bed, I looked at her. Nothing special. I touched her face.

She opened her eyes. Too late, love. I sliced her throat wide open. Blood began gushing out almost like the rain that was pouring down from the heavens. I looked at you one last time. All the memories came rushing by me at once. Every smile, every touch, all of your love and then I felt nothing.

I returned to my home where the final act awaited. What good was anything now? Why would I want to remain in a place devoid of color? Sitting on my bed, I took my knife. Turning it around in my hands, no point in losing momentum. In one quick motion, I stabbed myself in the heart just like I had studied. Proper placement is key.

The pain was fleeting and was replaced by a comforting blackness that began to embrace me.  That is when I woke up in this hellhole. Forever being tormented by my memories and my undying love for you. This is my penance and I cannot escape.  



Monday, January 23, 2017

Attaché to Amour


As Nattie sat in the dining car she looked at the fresh, clean linen table napkins with wonder. All of them had been neatly folded into swans. Who takes the time to do that? A better question would be who has the time to do all that? As she pondered this dilemma, she turned her attention toward the world passing by her. She wondered just how long it would take for her to resume a normal life. Or was that even possible at this point?

After Max met his untimely demise at the hands of Mr. Lucky, it was suggested that Nattie might want to consider a change of scenery or face the same fate. Maybe if she would have asked more questions, she wouldn’t find herself on a train headed for Phoenix.

“Hello, Miss. Would you care to start your evening with a cocktail?”

Her thoughts interrupted, Nattie looked up at the non-descript, doughy faced young man.
“Yes, I would. Tom Collins, please.”

The waiter nodded and disappeared.

“Hello. Is this seat taken?”

Rolling her eyes, Nattie opened her mouth to object but was immediately silenced by the handsome face before her.

“No. It’s not.”

The man sat down directly across from her. His dark eyes glinted with good humor.

“This place seems to be filling up. I hope I’m not intruding.”

“No, not at all.”

“I’m Jack. Jack Brewster.” He offered his hand to Nattie. She immediately took it.

“Natalie Price. Nattie for short.”

“Pleased to me you, Nattie.” He smiled. This was the greatest thing Nattie had seen in weeks. His entire face lit up. She noticed a slight dimple in his left cheek.  Maybe this excursion was going to turn out alright after all, Nattie thought.

Jack was immediately taken with Nattie’s angelic good looks. The fact that she was curvy in all the right places was merely a bonus. There was something very dark hiding behind her baby blues and Jack found himself wanting to get to the bottom of it.

The waiter returned with Nattie’s Tom Collins. Placing it on the coaster in front of her, he turned his attention to Jack. “I didn’t know you had a guest, Miss. Can I get you anything from the bar, Sir?”

“Yes, you can. I would like three fingers of your best 30-year-old Single Malt Scotch.”

“Right away, Sir.”

“I like a man with specific tastes. So, tell me, Jack Brewster. What is it you do for a living?”

“I’m a salesman.”

“Really? You don’t seem like the type.”

“Want to see my card?” Jack reaches into his inner jacket pocket and hands his card to Nattie.

Nattie studies the card for a moment. She slips it into her purse.

“Impressive credentials.”

The waiter returns with Jack’s Scotch and places it on the coaster in front of him.

“Would either of you care for a menu?”

It takes a moment before Jack shifts his focus from Nattie.

“I can’t speak for the lady, but I’m doing fine.”

“So am I.”

Nodding, the waiter leaves their table.

“Where were we?”

“I think we were discussing my impressive credentials.”

“Right. Are you traveling on business, I presume?”

“Yes. I’m heading to Los Angeles. What’s your destination?”

“Phoenix. I’m visiting family.”

Jack takes a sip of his drink.  “There is a Mr. Price. I am assuming.”

“You would be assuming incorrectly.”

“This conversation keeps getting better and better.”

“Maybe. Providing there isn’t a Mrs. Brewster nearby.”

“I left her in Michigan.”

“Oh.” For a slight second, disappointment registers all over Nattie’s face. She tries to mask it by taking a sip of her cocktail.

“My mother hates to travel.”

“Too bad. She doesn’t know what she’s missing.”

All of a sudden, a gentleman carrying an attaché case makes his way down the aisle and almost collides with Jack.

“Hey, Pal. Why don’t you watch where you’re going with that attaché case?”

“My apologies, Sir. Good evening, Miss.”

Jack gazes after the man as he makes his way into the other car.

“Do you know him?”

“Nah. Besides your family, what’s in Phoenix? Do you have a job?”

“No. I just needed a …change, I guess.”

“Are you from Phoenix?”

“No, I’m from Philadelphia.”

“Philadelphia! Lovely city. I go there quite frequently.”

Nattie shivers.

“Cold?”

“A little.”

“I have an idea. Why don’t I freshen our drinks and I will meet you in the observation car? Say ten minutes?”

“Sure.”

Smiling, Jack exited from the table and headed toward the bar. 

Who was this mystery man, Nattie wondered as she pulled her compact from her purse? Powdering her nose quickly, she pursed her lips debating on whether or not to reapply new lipstick. Deciding against it, Nattie put the compact away. She was feeling decidedly giddy and slightly flushed. Something about the way Jack looked at her set her heart on fire. Normally she was usually cool and reserved but this man got under her skin.

Jack found the observation car was sparsely occupied. As luck would have it, he was able to procure two rather luxurious looking chairs in a sequestered section in the back of the car. He sat down and placed the two drinks on the table and proceeded to wait for the lovely Nattie.

She was a looker. Not to mention, she had legs for days. In reality, he loved her eyes. They were as blue as the sky and he found himself having to resist the urge to kiss her soft mouth.  At that precise moment, he looked up and saw Nattie making her way toward him. When she reached the table, he stood up.

“I thought maybe you might have reconsidered my offer.”

“That is a fair enough assessment. I barely know you.”

“That is why I suggested we go someplace a little less …”

“Occupied?”

“Exactly! You took the words right out of my mouth.”

Nattie brought her glass to her lips. Locking eyes with Jack, she took a sip.

“Tell me, Jack Brewster. What is waiting for you in Los Angeles?”

“I am about to close an incredible deal that I have been working on for months. If it goes through, I’ll be on Easy Street for years to come.”

“Sounds exciting.”

“I don’t mean to pry but Phoenix just doesn’t seem like it would suit you.”

“Now, why would you say that? You hardly know me.”

“No, but I can tell when somebody is bluffing. Call it a trick of the trade, so to speak.”

“Really? I am intrigued. What’s my story then?”

Jack shifts in his seat a little and leans forward so that he is as close to Nattie as possible.

“I think you are running from something. Maybe a husband, maybe a boyfriend, I don’t know but I think you got in some kind of trouble along the way.”

Nattie considers what Jack has just said. She takes another sip of her drink.

“That makes two of us because I don’t buy that you are a salesman either. I know you have a card but anyone can get one of those.”

“Touché.” Jack raises his glass to Nattie.

“So now that we have established what we aren’t. I’ll tell if you tell.”

“A beauty with brains what a lethal combination.”

The pair hold each other’s gazes for a moment. Nattie is the first to look away.  She debated on telling Jack the real reason why she left Philadelphia but something in his eyes told her she might be able to trust him.

“This goes against my better judgment but why not? I may never see you again and it isn’t that glamorous. I fell for the wrong guy. He stole some money from the wrong person and wound up missing. Needless to say, I could have suffered the same fate so I chose a one-way ticket to Phoenix. Beggars can’t be choosers.”

“Tough break. I’m sorry.”

Nattie shrugged. “Me too. It’s in the past and like the saying goes, ‘No use crying over spilled milk’.”

“Did you love him?”

“At the time.  Now, it’s your turn.”

“I’m what you might call a middle man.”

“What do you mean?”

“When certain people have things and other people want things, I bridge the gap.”

“So, you’re a thief.”

“In so many words, yes.”

“Are you on a job now?”

Jack smiles. Nattie has to fight the urge to trace his dimple with her finger.

“I am.”

“Sounds exciting.”

“I have a proposition for you.”

Nattie raises her eyebrow.

“Look, I get the feeling you don’t want to end up in Arizona. I could use a little help. Are you interested?”

“What exactly would I be doing?”

“I need you to distract someone while I look for something in their room.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes.”

“What are you looking for?”

“A very special attaché case.”

At this point, Nattie remembers the gentleman from the dining car and Jack’s sudden interest in him.

“Does it happen to belong to the man from the dining car?”

“You catch on really fast.”

“I do. What’s the plan?”

“Well, Mr. Dennison is scheduled to depart the train in St. Louis which is tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. We have to move quick. He usually eats dinner around 8. I was thinking that you could buy him a drink or something and otherwise occupy him.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“I’ll give you half of the fee.”

“Which is?”

“How does 500 sound?”

Nattie considered this for a moment. If she took the 500 she might be able to just skip Phoenix altogether and start fresh in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

“You’ve got a deal.”

Smiling, Nattie offered Jack her hand. He took it and held it while gazing into her eyes.

“I should be getting back to my compartment. It’s almost show time and a girl has to look her very best.”

“Personally, I don’t think you could look much better.”

The color rose in Nattie’s cheeks. Jack reaches across the table and lifts her chin. Moving closer, he gently places his lips on hers. Once they are finished kissing, Jack lingers close to her face.

“I hope you don’t think I was being too forward. I have wanted to do that for quite some time.”
“No, not at all.”  Nattie leans in and kisses Jack again. This time, the kiss is more fervent. Breaking away, Jack stands up and takes Nattie’s hand pulling her up with him. 

“Let’s go someplace a little more private.”

Nattie nods and follows Jack back to his compartment.

Once safely inside, Jack closes the door. He strides purposefully toward Nattie. Embracing her hard, he deftly starts to unbutton her blouse. Nattie does the same thing to him. Their shirts hit the floor, quickly followed by their other garments. Awash in desire, the two tumble on to the bed.

Dennison sits by the window in his compartment watching the scenery. He turns his attention to the attaché case on the table. His fingertips gently caress the burnished leather.

Jack brushes Nattie’s hair from her face as they lie in one another’s arms. He kisses the crown of her head.

“We should probably get ready for our little escapade.”

Nattie sits up. “Yes, after all, I have to look presentable if I am going to play the seductress.”

Jack watches her beautifully sculpted back realizing that he was falling hard for this woman. Part of him understood that they had business to attend to but part of him wanted to wrap her up in his arms and never let her go.

Completely in place once again, a fully dressed Nattie, turns around, leans over and kisses Jack on the lips. “I will see you later.”

As Nattie enters the dining car, she is aware that several of the male patrons are focused on her. With a slight smirk, she locates Dennison who is sitting near the back and sashays her way toward him.

“Hello. Do you mind if I sit down? It’s awfully crowded in here.”

Dennison looks up from his wine to see this impeccably dressed gorgeous creature before him. He stands up nearly knocking the table over. “Please, take a seat.”

Nattie smiles at him. “Thank you so much.” She extends her hand to Dennison.

“I’m Gwen Rogers.”

“Miss Rogers or is it Mrs.?”

“Miss.”

Dennison covers her hand with his.

“I am Richard Dennison.”

“Very pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Likewise. Please, call me Richard.”

“Alright. You may call me Gwen.”

“Are you traveling alone, Gwen?”

“Yes. Are you?”

“Yes.”

“May I ask business or pleasure?”

“Business.”

From a secluded spot, right outside the dining car, Jack observes Nattie. He smiles and heads for Dennison’s compartment. Right before he gets to the door, he notices the conductor walking his way. Smiling as they pass one another, Jack nods and walks right by Dennison’s compartment and turns the corner. He waits and then circles back.

Removing a lock pick from his jacket pocket, Jack proceeds to work the door. All of a sudden, the catch springs to life and Jack slips inside the room.

He takes a cursory look around him. Everything is in place.  Jack mutters under his breath, “Damn it, Dennison!” He walks over to the closet and opens the door. No attaché case.

In the dining car, Nattie is sipping from a martini glass and Dennison is partaking from a snifter of Cognac. They are laughing as if they are old friends.

“You have such fascinating stories, Richard.”

“Thank you. It isn’t often I get to regale a beautiful woman such as yourself with my tales.”

Nattie leans in so that Dennison can get a nice shot of her ample décolletage.

“Tell me, what will you be doing in St. Louis?”

“I will be delivering an item that took me many years to acquire.”

“That sounds intriguing.”

Dennison takes another sip of his brandy.

“It is a decent living. I have no complaints. My employer pays for me to see the world. What about you?”

“Well, my employer isn’t that nice but I hope to see the world someday.”

Dennison reaches across the table and slides his hand over Nattie’s.

“I can be quite a good tour guide.”

Nattie smiled but inwardly she was wondering what was taking Jack so long? She studied her current dinner companion with his ridiculous mustache and pretentious manner trying to determine if she should excuse herself and see what was going on in his compartment.

At that moment, Jack appeared within eye shot of Nattie. Nodding, he motioned for her to follow him. 

“I would like to take you up on that offer sometime.” Nattie glances at her watch. “I didn’t realize it was this late!”

“Nonsense! It is the shank of the evening. At least do me the courtesy of having another cocktail with me.”

“Thank you for the offer but I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow. I have had a wonderful time.”

“At least allow me to escort you back to your room.”

“Certainly.”

Back in Nattie’s compartment, Jack found himself studying the attaché case. He turned it over. There was no key in sight and his lock picking skills seemed to be failing him. At least he had what his boss was looking for and certainly someone would figure out how to open the damn thing. Then again, if they couldn’t, well, he didn’t want to think about the consequences.

Nattie stopped at her door. “Thank you for a lovely time, Richard.”

“The pleasure was all mine, Nattie. If you ever get to St. Louis, do not hesitate to look me up.”

Richard produced his business card and handed it to Nattie.

“Thank you so much, I will.”

Without warning, Richard leans in, grabs Nattie by the waist and pulls her into an awkward embrace. 
Caught off guard, Nattie attempts to struggle but before she can do anything, Richard’s mouth is covering hers. She tries pushing him back but his grip on her only gets tighter.

Inside the room, Jack hears a scuffle outside the door. He can hear Nattie’s muffled cries. Immediately alarmed, he springs into action. At the exact time, he begins to turn the doorknob, Nattie flies into the room accompanied by a startled Richard Dennison. Her blouse is askew and her hair is out of place. Jack assesses the situation.

“Hey Pal. Were you getting a little handsy with my girl?”

Dennison looks at Nattie who immediately looks at Jack.

“Accept my apologies, sir. I didn’t know the lady was otherwise engaged, I thought…”

Jack cuts him off.

“You thought because she was alone that you could take advantage of her.”

“No, I swear….”

“Well, that’s not the way I see it and I am certain that is not how the lady sees it either. Are you okay, sweetheart?”

“I’m fine. Just a little shaken.”

At this point before Dennison can extricate himself from the situation, Jack grabs him and shoves him into the room, locking the door behind him.

“While you’re here, I could use your assistance.”

“What are you talking about? I…”

Jack shoves Dennison forward in the direction of the attaché case which is on the table. When Dennison sees it, his eyes widen almost comically.

“My attaché! Where did you…?”

“Where do you think? There’s a problem with this, Chief and I need you to solve it. The damn thing won’t open so do whatever magic you have to do and fix the situation.”

Dennison narrows his eyes. His nostrils flair with indignation.

“I most certainly will not! This is my property, sir.”

“Okay. So, this is how this is going to work.” 

Jack removes a gun from his inside jacket pocket. With it, he gestures for Dennison to move toward the table. Nattie watches in stunned silence.

“You are going to open that attaché case.”

“I can’t.”

“What do you mean, you can’t?”

“I don’t have the key. I mean…it’s not on me at present. It’s in my room.”

Rolling his eyes, Jack grabs Dennison by the shoulder and propels him to the door.

“Well, then we are going to have to go to your room and get it.”

Once outside the compartment, Jack presses his gun into Dennison’s back. He growls into his ear.
“If you so much as breathe wrong, I will shoot you.”

The two men walk down the narrow hallways. They see a couple coming toward them. Jack pulls Dennison to the side so that the couple can pass them. Nodding politely, the couple goes on their merry way.

Finally, they arrive at Dennison’s compartment. Fumbling with his key, Dennison manages to get his door open. He and Jack step inside.

With a quickness that belies his rather lumbering form, Dennison whips around and thrusts his arm up against Jack’s Adam’s apple pinning him against the door.

“I am going to cut off your air supply. When I was in the Orient, I learned this trick from a master. Very effective.”

Jack attempts to struggle.

“Soon, you will be passing out so you might as well quit struggling. Unfortunately for you, I will not be providing you with the key to my attaché which you so rudely requested.”

Feeling light headed, Jack points his gun square at Dennison’s gut.

Dennison attempts to knock the gun out of Jack’s hand but only succeeds in burying it deeper into his gut muffling the discharge of the weapon. Slowly removing his arm from Jack’s throat, Dennison staggers backwards and realizes that he has been shot. Blood is seeping from his stomach and staining his jacket. He looks at Jack incredulously before sinking to his knees.

“God, damn it, Dennison! Don’t die on me! Jesus Christ! Where is that key?”

Dennison passes out. Jack pats him down, searches his pockets and comes up empty handed. Frantically, he begins to ransack the room.

Back in Nattie’s compartment, she began to wonder what was going on. It wasn’t a good sign that Jack hadn’t returned. Truly unnerved, she began to pace the room. Finally, Jack enters. She immediately notices the worried expression on his face.

“We have a bit of a problem.”

“What happened?”

“Dennison jumped me in his room, I shot him. Accidentally. That key is nowhere to be found.”

“Did you search the room?”

“Of course, I did! I’m not an amateur!”

“Sorry.”

Jack walks over to Nattie and pulls her close to him.

“I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“What are you going to do?”

“For starters, there will be a change of travel plans. I will have to get off in Cincinnati. I don’t want to stick around for them to find the body.”

“Did anybody see you?”

“Yes, and I don’t want to risk it.”

“Without the key, will your employer still want the attaché case?”

“Yes. They are pretty resourceful. Look Nattie, I need you to do something for me.”

“Name it.”

“I can’t stay on this train. You know it and I know it. I need you to take this attaché and deliver it. Since you were with Dennison and someone might recognize you, I suggest you get off at St. Louis and get a connecting train to Los Angeles.”

“Where will you be?”

“I am going to lay low for a while until this blows over. I will meet you in California in a few days. My employer will be waiting for me at the train station. I’ll let them know to expect you instead.”

“I have no idea what I’ll be looking for or….”

“They’ll find you. I know I am asking a lot of you.” Jack searches Nattie’s bright blue eyes. He leans down and kisses her softly on the lips. “When this is over, I promise you, we’ll be together.” This time, Nattie pulls Jack toward her in a tight embrace.

Later that evening, the train slows to a stop at Union Terminal in Cincinnati. Nattie finishes buttoning her blouse while Jack zips up his pants.

“Looks like this is it. Nattie...”

“It’s okay, Jack. Just be careful.”

Jack kisses Nattie on the lips. The train slows to a stop.  After a quick hug, he leaves the compartment. Her eyes filling with tears, Nattie makes her way to the window. She watches Jack’s departing frame wondering if she will ever see him again. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

For I Have Loved You Since the Beginning of Time


As far back as Hannah could remember she had always been different.  While her high school classmates were exploring each other’s bodies in the backseats of cars, Hannah was always looking up, gazing at the stars. Her father who was a well-known architect built her an “observatory” nestled in the bosom of their gigantic oak tree. For her sixteenth birthday when most teenagers wanted a car, she begged her parents for a telescope.  Not just any telescope, mind you. Hannah wanted the brand-new Meade LX200 model. She had done all the research and presented her parents with a cost analysis sheet that would make any accountant proud. It was an investment in her future and she was hoping her parents understood.  They did. Hannah was gifted with her LX200 with a big bow wrapped around it and waiting for her in the observatory. She was beyond ecstatic. With tears of joy streaming down her face, she hugged her parents and proclaimed that this was the best birthday ever.

Fourteen years later, Hannah stood in front of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in her cathedral of inspiration, The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Although she had been there many times it was still thrilling for her to be among the legends. The LM2 was especially meaningful to her because it was the first time we walked among the stars. How she had wished she would have been alive to see Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon!

“Penny for your thoughts.”

Hannah immediately came back to reality. She smiled at her father. “Sorry. I know I have been here tons of times but it so spiritual, you know?”

Ben Davis studied his only daughter’s face. She had grown into a beautiful woman. Although for him, she would forever be that tomboy in jeans with her nose buried in a book. He smiled back at Hannah.

“I knew you would appreciate this on your birthday. How does it feel to be thirty?”

“Weird. I guess I am officially no longer a kid.”

“Hannah, darling, you were an adult from the day you were born.”

Hannah linked her arm with her father as they began to stroll around the museum. “How have you been doing, Dad? Managing okay?”

“Yes. Sometimes I think she is still there and then I remember.” Ben’s voice trailed off. It had been three months since Hannah’s mother had passed away. He scanned his daughter’s face. “How are you?”

“I’m fine. I mean, I’m coping.” It was a shock for both of them. One day, her mom had been healthy and then what they thought was a little cough turned into something decidedly more serious.  Within four months, she was gone.

“I am so glad you could spend the day with me, Dad. It’s just like old times.”

“Yes, it is. Unfortunately, I am going to have to get back to the office sooner than expected.”
They walked a little bit further. “How is the job going?”

“I love it. It’s demanding but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It will pay off once we get to Mars. I’d love to go but I’m afraid I might be too old by then.”

“How are other things?” By other things, her Dad meant Jack.

Jack had been Hannah’s long-suffering boyfriend of five years until last month. Sighing, she decided to break the news. “Jack and I are no longer seeing one another.”

Ben looked shocked. Before he could comment, Hannah waved him off. “I know you two were close but it was over. We both knew it.”

Ben stopped and wrapped his daughter’s hands in his. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to stir anything up.”

“You haven’t. I’m fine. Really.”

Ben looked at his watch. “I have got to go. Happy Birthday, baby.” He tenderly kissed Hannah on the cheek.

“Thank you, Dad.” Hannah watched as her father left the museum.  Turning her attention back to the LEM, she hoped she sounded convincing.

That night Hannah had a hard time getting to sleep. Everything was weighing heavily on her mind. She had thought she was fine with the decision to finally end her relationship with Jack but for some reason, she felt lost. Maybe it was the full moon or maybe she was just lonely. Funny how you could think someone was your soulmate and then wake up one day to discover that the two of you had drifted apart.

Since slumbering was not in the cards, Hannah decided to get up and take a look at the stars. Throwing her robe on, she walked out to her deck and sat down in her favorite chair. It was a clear, crisp night. Fortunately, she lived far enough away from the light pollution that she could actually see the stars in all their splendor. How glorious! Nothing made Hannah happier than being surrounded by the cosmos. It was the only world that she actually understood.

She picked up her phone to check her constellation app when she saw a call come through from a private number. That’s funny. It’s one a.m. Who would be calling at this hour? Tentatively, she answered.

“Hello?” At first, she heard a little static but then a deep male voice came through.

“Hello?”

Puzzled, Hannah stared at her phone. She began to wonder if it was one of her colleagues drunk dialing her from a bar. “Okay, James. Time to go home. We have that presentation tomorrow.”

“This isn’t James.”

“Who is this?”

“It’s me, Hannah.”

The voice sounded so familiar. She couldn’t quite place who it belonged to but she was certain she knew the person on the other end of the line.

“I miss you.”

“Look, whoever you are...” before Hannah could get the next part of her sentence out, she was interrupted by the mystery voice.

“It’s Andrew.”

“Andrew? I don’t know an…” suddenly her phone went dead. Of course, since the call came through on a private line, she had no way of ringing the person back. She had to get some rest. Tomorrow was fast approaching and it was a big day.

The presentation went well, despite her lack of sleep. Which her colleague and best friend James didn’t miss pointing out.

“Someone looks as if she had way too much fun last night.” Hannah rolled her eyes.  

“Not quite. The weirdest thing happened. Did you call me around one in the morning?”

“No. Believe it or not, I was actually sleeping. Why?”

“Some guy named Andrew called me. I can’t remember him. Apparently, he knows me.”

“You’re certain you didn’t go to school with him or maybe he’s a friend of Jack’s?”

“No.”

“Probably a wrong number. Maybe he got you confused with another Hannah. It’s not like it’s an uncommon name.” Hannah agreed with James but inwardly she knew the call was intended for her.

That evening, Hannah planned to relax.  She poured herself a glass of wine and settled down on the couch with her headphones. Nothing was more soothing to her than the music of Chopin. It had been a rough year. As she closed her eyes, she allowed the music to take hold of her. Before she knew it, she was sleeping peacefully.

She didn’t know if she was dreaming when she heard the voice. “Hannah? Wake up. This is important.” Still groggy, Hannah forced herself awake. She found herself staring into the familiar face of a stranger sitting next to her. Before she could react, the stranger calmly reached over and grabbed her hand. Something about him was so compelling. She tried to scream but nothing would come out.

“It’s okay. I’m not here to hurt you.” His voice was soothing and reassuring but Hannah wasn’t about to trust this person. What was he doing here? Who was he? Then he smiled. 

Hannah immediately felt her fears shrinking away. “Who are you? How did you get in here?”

Sighing the stranger shook his head. “If I told you. You would never believe me.”

“Try me. How do I know you aren’t a complete psychopath?”

“You know I’m not.” His face haunted her. Why couldn’t she remember him?

“I know I shouldn’t be here but I had to see you.”

“Andrew?” The name suddenly tumbled off of Hannah’s lips.

“Yes.”

His eyes. They were so warm. “How…….”

“I don’t have much time. I need you to come back.”

“Back? Back to where?”

Andrew touched her hand. Electricity shot through Hannah’s body. She felt as if she was rushing through time and space. When she opened her eyes, Andrew had disappeared.  His touch still lingering on her skin.

The next day Hannah tried to concentrate at work. The complex equations were eluding her and her attention span was null. Every time she tried to manipulate the theorems, Andrew’s face appeared in her head.

“Damn it!”

It was at that moment, James entered the room.  “Are you okay?”

“Oh, uh, yeah. I’m just frustrated I guess. This formula isn’t working.”

James immediately recognized the look on his friend’s face. “What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“You never get distracted.”

“I know. I guess there is always a first time for everything.”

“Maybe you need to walk away for a bit. Want to go grab a bite?”

“No, I’m fine. I appreciate you asking me, James. I just need to fine tune this equation.”

“Okay. Look Hannah, I don’t want to pry but if you need to talk to someone...”

Hannah nodded and turned her attention back to her whiteboard. James lingered for a bit and then left.

That night Hannah found herself pacing around her living room like a caged animal. No matter how hard she tried, she could not get Andrew out of her head.

“This is ridiculous! You are a scientist. Not a 12-year-old schoolgirl with a crush. What is going on?”

The question echoed and reverberated in the room.  He told her she had to come back. That phrase bothered her. She couldn’t let it go. Finally, accepting that she would not be able to solve this particular problem, Hannah gave up and went to bed.

She opened her eyes and tried to focus in the dark. There was a little sliver of moonlight peeking out from the curtain. Yawning, her attention was caught by a figure emerging from the corner. Even though his face was hidden, she knew who was with her.

“I don’t know how you keep doing this, but I’m going to call the police!” Hannah grabbed her cell phone but before she could do anything, the phone flew out of her hands and landed on the floor.

“That won’t be necessary, Hannah.”

Dumbfounded, all she could do was stare.

“I won’t hurt you.” In the blink of an eye, Andrew was standing right in front of her.

What power did this man have over her? Why couldn’t she do anything?

“What do you want from me?”

Sighing, Andrew took her hand. No electricity this time from his touch. His dark eyes scanned her face. “I was hoping you would remember me.”

Hannah had to fight the urge to brush the forlorn lock of wavy brown hair from his forehead.

Andrew smiled sadly. “I probably shouldn’t have come here.”

“Why do you keep doing this?”

“You are going to do something very important, Hannah. You are on the verge of a great discovery. We’re not supposed to interfere but I had to see you again.”

“This is crazy! Why am I even listening to you?” Hannah attempted to walk away but Andrew was too quick for her and before she could do anything, she was in his arms.

“You saw me once. When you were a little girl. That summer by the lake?”

Suddenly Hannah was walking on the beach in front of her parent’s cottage. She was gathering various rocks for her collection. When she looked down, she saw an odd shaped green stone laying in front of her. It was glistening in the sun like a piece of glass. A man handed her the little rock. They stared at one another with smiles on their faces. In the distance, Hannah could hear her mother calling her. She turned around to thank the stranger but he was gone. Opening her eyes, she found herself alone in her bedroom but this time, she had a gift. Inside her hand was the bright green stone.

The next morning, Hannah awoke feeling refreshed. The green stone was still laying on her nightstand where she had left it. She picked it up. Turning it over in her hand, she thought back to last night’s events. Had she dreamed everything? That wasn’t possible because she had physical proof. The memory of the lake and that long-ago summer seemed like it had happened yesterday. Was it possible that she had somehow traveled back in time? Andrew told her she was on the verge of a great discovery. How would he know? What was it?

Hannah stood in front of her whiteboard, staring at the mass of equations. She found herself absentmindedly touching the green stone in her pocket. Sighing, she closed her eyes. The committee meeting was next week. She needed to show them that Mars was only one step, if she could solve this equation, the universe would be an open door.

It was a clear and beautiful night. Hannah was sitting on her deck with her face buried in her laptop. She had been working for over thirteen hours only pausing briefly to gaze up at the stars and take a sip or two of wine. Her thoughts started shifting to Andrew. He was so familiar. She found herself wondering what it would be like to be kissed by him.

“I have really got to stop drinking wine.” Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to her work.

“They aren’t crazy thoughts, you know.”  Andrew emerged from the shadows and into the moonlight. He walked over and sat down in the chair next to Hannah. “There is so much possibility out there. I am still in awe of it.”

“You didn’t read my mind, did you?” Hannah was blushing with embarrassment.

“Yes.”

“Great.”

Andrew laughed.

“I don’t understand any of this and it’s driving me crazy! I feel like I know you but yet I don’t know how we met.” Sensing her turmoil, Andrew’s eyes met hers. “I feel like you are some figment of my imagination like I have lost my mind. I can’t stop thinking about you. I just can’t stop!”

Holding her gaze, Andrew stood up and walked to the railing. His back toward her.

“I have been watching you for a long time, Hannah.”

“Why?”

“Did you ever wonder why you were fascinated with the stars?”

Hannah got up from her chair to join him. “Yes.”

He turned to face her. “That is your home.”
“What are you talking about?”

Andrew moved closer. Leaning into her, he pointed toward Alpha Centauri.  
“You will remember. When the time is right.” He reached out to touch her face but Hannah was nearing her breaking point.

She stepped away from him. All of the anger and frustration of the past week was bubbling beneath the surface. “What you are saying to me is impossible! I was born here on this planet. I can’t even begin to contemplate how you keep showing up! I must be going crazy. That can be the only explanation and you are some sort of hallucination.”

Andrew reflected on this for a moment. “You aren’t hallucinating, Hannah. This is very real.” He moved toward her. Gently, Andrew raised her chin so that they were looking into one another’s eyes. He bent down and kissed her softly on the lips. Too startled to do anything, Hannah kissed him back. Andrew embraced her and pulled her close. Feeling as if every part of her body were set on fire, Hannah stepped away. For a moment, they lingered and then taking his hand, Hannah lead him into the house.

The sleepy strands of morning pushed their way into the bedroom. Andrew woke first. He laid in bed for a moment to collect his thoughts. What had he done? He was told not to interfere. There was no use dwelling on his actions. Hannah stirred against him. Andrew let his lips brush against the top of her head. Pulling her close to him, he began to whisper in her ear.

Hannah awoke several hours later to sunlight streaming through the window. She turned over to find that Andrew was no longer lying beside her. Somehow, she knew that would be the case. Pulling the covers tightly against her body, Hannah sat up in bed. Nothing had changed but yet, everything had changed. She closed her eyes remembering last night. If only she could see his face again. With a heavy heart, Hannah decided to start her day.

Weeks passed and each night, Hannah would sit on her deck staring up at the nighttime sky. Invariably she knew the result would be the same. Longingly, she gazed at the stars and with all her might wished that she could see him again. In her heart, she knew that he wouldn’t return to her.

Those weeks turned into months, the months turned into years and Andrew’s memory remained in a small corner of her mind. His face was etched on her heart.  Work occupied most of her waking hours and she was consumed by it. The equations and calculations soothed her spirit. Then one day, while looking at her whiteboard, she was struck with an idea. Once she started writing, she could not stop. She was merely the instrument.

On July 4, 2026, the United States launched the first manned mission to Mars. As Hannah watched from the control room, she smiled. Her work enabled this to happen. Although she was happy, a sense of melancholy filled her soul.  While everyone was celebrating, Hannah managed to slip out of the festivities.

Wrapped in the warmth of a blanket, she sat in the solitude of the night on her deck staring up at the stars. She felt tears form in her eyes. Through the haze, she saw Andrew stepping out of the shadows and into the moonlight. Was this really happening?  Finally, she found her voice. “I thought I would never see you again.”


Andrew reached out his hand for her. “I have come back for you.” Without saying a word, she immediately placed her hand in his.  He pulled her close.  Brushing away her tears he softly told her, “I love you. I’ve loved you since the beginning of time.” 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Angel in the Snow


I had told myself that returning to the cabin was a good idea. Solitude, fresh air and no distractions was precisely what the doctor had ordered.  It was time for me to heal. I couldn’t carry this burden any longer.

When we first got married, Eve thought it was wonderful to be the wife of a writer. She reveled in it. “Your beautiful mind is what attracted me to you,” she often told me. I wanted to keep pleasing her so I poured my heart and soul into every page that I wrote. The hard work and her belief paid off. It wasn’t easy.  My first two books sold a total of 100 copies.  I couldn’t get arrested. The third time was the charm. After that, there was no looking back. I started to establish myself. It was a good feeling.

Around this time, Eve found out she was pregnant. We couldn’t have been more ecstatic. Both of us had always wanted a family. It didn’t matter if it was a boy or a girl.  On my thirty fifth birthday, Sophie was born. I couldn’t get enough of her. She was a carbon copy of Eve. A little piece of heaven wrapped in a blue blanket. Every time her sparkling green eyes looked at me, I fell in love even harder.

We traveled the world together, all three of us. Sophie had seen more countries before the age of ten then most adults do in their lifetime. Before too long, Sophie had a little sister named Abigail. Abby was a fearless child. She was more like me. Where Sophie was easy, Abby was challenging. She was always full of questions and I was all too willing to answer them.

As the years past, my adoring girls started growing up and I will admit I left most of the child rearing to Eve. Since they were in school, the opportunities to go on the road with me were limited to just summer. It seemed as if we were never in the same place at the same time.

In 2008, I decided to take an extended winter break. The kids were out of school until January. We all decided that spending the holidays at the cabin would be a great idea. This was our special retreat. Every outing was an adventure. So many memories were tied up in that house.

Abby and I would go hiking in the woods while Eve and Sophie preferred to stay behind where it was warm and play board games. It was perfect. Everything was the way it used to be with all of us a tight knit clan again. It started snowing on Christmas Eve. Abby was beyond ecstatic because she wanted to try out the cross-country skis that we had been saving for when she got older.

Before the weather got too bad, I had to make a run into town for Eve so that she could make the girls their favorite Christmas cookies. Ever the faithful navigator, Abby jumped at the chance to go with me.

“Don’t stay out too late you guys! I want to make these cookies before dinner.” Throwing my arms around Eve’s waist, I drew her close and planted a huge kiss on her lips. Sophie rolled her eyes. “Can you guys not do that when I’m around?”

“Someday you are going to meet a guy…” “Ugh, I know. Don’t you have to go to the store?” Laughing, I threw my arm around my eldest daughter’s shoulder. “So cynical at such a tender age.” Without missing a beat, Sophie replied, “I learned from the best, Dad.”

“Okay co-pilot Abigail. Ready for an adventure?” “Yes!”  In my best Shakespearean accent, I intoned, “We shall return with my Lady’s royal cookie ingredients forthwith!”

The snow was steadily falling. Abby immediately laid down on the ground and started flailing her arms up and down to make an angel. Giggling, she jumped up and headed for the car. We piled into the SUV and took off. I turned on the radio just in time to hear Bing Crosby crooning, “White Christmas.”  Glancing at Abby, I smiled as I watched her take in every part of this marshmallow world.

“It’s so beautiful, Daddy!” Even though I agreed with her, the roads were concerning me. I could feel the tires slipping a bit so I threw the car into another gear. We passed by the Wilkinson farm with all the horses that were an endless source of fascination for Abby.

As we turned the corner, out of nowhere, a deer shot in front of us. I swerved and tried to maneuver the car back on track but we hit an icy patch. The car kept skidding, Abby started screaming. I wrestled with the steering wheel as best I could but it was useless. We were heading toward the ravine and the next sound I heard was the roof of our car hitting the frozen ground.

My head bounced hard against the windshield.  The force of the impact threatening to throw me out of my seatbelt. Then as quickly as our descent began, it ended. The world went black.

I heard muffled sounds. What was happening? Abby? I couldn’t see her. It felt like a hot white light was shining on my face. Through a red haze, I saw someone smash the side window in with what looked like a crowbar. I tried to move. “Don’t move, Sam.” I nodded. “Please try and find Abby.”
After that, everything was a blur. I was in and out of consciousness. Even in the darkness I could still hear Abby screaming.

A week later, I watched as they lowered the coffin into the ground. Eve was sobbing next to me. Sophie was doing her best to comfort her. I wanted to reach out but I didn’t have the strength. All I could think was my little girl is gone and there is nothing I can do about it.

The months went by and little by little my memory of that horrible day started returning. I began sleeping in my writer’s cottage because I would wake up screaming in the middle of the night. My dreams were filled with blood on virgin white snow.

I continued going through the motions of writing every day. My deadline looming in front of me like a beacon.  My routine kept me going, kept the demons at bay.  Eve attempted to talk with me. She made overtures but all I wanted was to be left alone. Sophie no longer acknowledged my presence. I was like a phantom, a shadow figure to her.

Finally, my book was finished.  After a particularly long tour, I came home to find an empty house and a note. Eve had found a new love and she had no interest in continuing the “sham” as she called it. There were many nights when full of Jameson courage, I pleaded with her to take me back. The fights became so intense that she ended up getting a restraining order. Suddenly I had turned into one of those horrible men that you find in a Lifetime Channel movie. So, on a bleak day in December Eve and I left the courthouse. All I had were memories and photographs. Twenty-five years, gone, dissolved by a few lawyers in suits.

My agent always concerned for my welfare, suggested I get counseling. It was agreed that I would go into therapy. The book was doing well and I could afford to take some time to get better.  The only way I could do that was to return to the cabin.

Don Davis a family friend bought “supplies” from the local store in town and delivered them prior to my arrival. It was good to have people watching out for me. Lord knows I couldn’t do it myself. I stood looking out the window. I didn’t know what I was expecting to see. I stared down at the forgotten cup of coffee now cold in my hands. 

Turning around, I noticed the clock on the wall. Seven o’clock in the evening. I could already feel the chill in the air. According to the Weather Channel a nor’easter was on its way and by daybreak there would be more than a foot or two of snow on the ground.

The wind started to howl and kick up a fuss. It was soothing in an odd sort of way. I grabbed a book from the coffee table and settled down on the couch to read. After a while, I found my head bobbing and my eyes growing heavy. A nap could be precisely what I needed. After all it was a five-hour trip. Grabbing the bulky afghan from the back of the couch, I closed my eyes and stretched out.

I awoke the next morning to pale, wispy fingers of sunlight caressing my face.  Blinking, I sat up and rubbed my eyes. The clock on the wall told me it was six a.m. I had slept for almost twelve hours. I could see snow falling. Stretching I stood up and went to the window.

When I looked down, something captured my attention. In the middle of the yard, was a perfect shape of a snow angel. I closed my eyes and shook my head. I knew when I opened them, it would be gone. It wasn’t. At that moment, I saw my little girl, giggling and smiling, flailing her arms about on the ground.  “I love you, Daddy.”  “I love you too, Abby.”



Friday, November 18, 2016

When I Sleep, I Dream of Orion


Every morning I wake up in the armpit of this alien world.  For years, all our leaders told us, “Sutaria is the future.” Some future this turned out to be.  Maybe in order to understand it, I would have to go back into the past.

When I was a child in school, I remembered reading about the wars, the depression, the diseases of Old Earth. That is why my ancestors went to Mars. For centuries, there was peace but then the Tharsis conflict occurred. My parents were the first to leave.

Fearing for their lives, they booked passage to the newly formed Orion colony on Gilese. That is where I was born. I remember being happy. There was a time when I was carefree and not so riddled with anxiety. Life was idyllic. Our society was thriving; peace was the norm. It was as if for one moment in time, everything in the universe stood still.  It was glorious!

When I turned 21, it was time for my mandatory service with the Gilesean Faction. I was excited. This was my chance to do something, to make a name for myself. I had been floundering but I felt that I now had a sense of purpose.   My service was uneventful for several months but then a coup occurred. Emissary Davis was overthrown by the power mad Chancellor Warner. This was the beginning of the end.

The government was at war; our once peaceful existence was plagued with demonstrations and violence. Our economy which was booming suddenly went bust. The staples of life became harder and harder to obtain. I had been assigned to patrol the inner quadrants of the Capital where the impact was devastating.  Crime was rampant so a mandatory curfew was imposed. For the most part, the citizens complied with the ruling and enforcement wasn’t necessary.

Chancellor Warner had the people believing that he would lead them to utopia. He claimed that he was the voice of reason in the sea of unrest. His plan was to create a unified federation. The idea was for Emissary Davis to build a colony on the shores of a new planet, Sutaria. Sutaria was several million miles away and the journey would be arduous. This was his vision of greatness that we would expand beyond Gilese and Sutaria was the first step. Manifest destiny in space.

After numerous meetings and negotiations, Warner and Davis emerged looking more like partners in love than bitter rivals. Next came the barrages of Sutaria is the future campaign slogans. With this newly tentative peace forged, it seemed as if we were poised for greatness.  Plans were being made, our finest scientific minds were designing the colony and the ships that would take us there.  

I was assigned to Sutarian detail.  As much as I didn’t want to leave home, it was my duty and I understood the oath that I had taken. My parents were understandably upset to see me go but they supported the government.  My deployment was set. I said my goodbyes and boarded a ship bound for the new frontier.  As Gilease grew smaller and smaller, I could feel my heart breaking. Another life chapter closed, another to be opened. 

Months later, I found myself on Sutarian soil.  As I unpacked in my habitat pod, I glanced out at a bright star in the distance. Tears formed in my eyes.  I didn’t know what the future would hold but I did know the future would be here for now.

It is many years later and I am still here. I have retired from my service in the Faction. It wasn’t easy trying to maintain order. There were some uprisings, some threats from outsiders but we managed to resolve matters with few casualties.


At night, when the world is quiet, I lie awake and think of Gilese. I remember how it felt to be young and full of promise and hope instead of being old and jaded.  Every night I say a silent prayer to whomever might be listening for I know when I sleep, I dream of Orion. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Ever Happened to Mad Rants?

Max sat in the dark typing away on his laptop.  His ever-present cup of coffee by his side and Nine Inch Nails blasting away set the tone for his latest blog. Mad Rants was his heart and soul split open for everyone’s consumption.  When he started this venture over eight years ago, he had no idea it would take off. He assumed that he might get a few followers here or there but never in his wildest imaginings did he ever think he would acquire half a million subscribers.

He knew he wasn’t in the big leagues but this little side project sold to The City Paper resulted in a neat and steady cash flow. Max no longer had to detail cars for a living.  He moved out of the cramped studio apartment and upgraded to a two bedroom. Life was good.  Bills were getting paid.  Food was on the table. Most importantly, his thoughts were out there and people seemed to care.

There was a contingency of those staid conservative types that used to love to engage in sparring matches with him.  He lived for those interactions! Majority of his followers understood what he was saying and enjoyed his sarcastic, dark humor.

After he published the last installment of his posts on the psychology of serial killers, he started receiving some oddly unsettling emails. He just shrugged it off and didn’t allow them to interfere with his day. Then, they started coming to his private email address. He knew no one at the Paper would give out his personal information. His friend Blaine worked in the IT division of a worldwide conglomerate, so he knew his home network and identity were foolproof.

He had showed the strange missives to Blaine who attempted to trace the IP where the emails were originating from with no luck. He had also asked his editor if anyone had been asking how to get in touch with him. David laughed and said, “All the time!” But quickly pointed out that everyone was referred to the work email he kept with the Paper.

After about two weeks of graphic threats to his life, the emails stopped coming. Max didn’t know whether to be concerned or not. That was until he received the manila parcel in his mailbox. Obviously, it had made it through the security machines at the post office so it wasn’t anything to be afraid of he reckoned. He stared at it for a bit before deciding to open it.  Inside the parcel was an unmarked VHS tape. Max cocked his head.  Who even deals with these anymore in this digital world?

Luckily for Max, he still had a video tape player. This was a relic from the 90’s when technologically speaking things were way less complicated. He popped the VHS in the player and sat back in his chair. The image on the tape seemed to be deliberately out of focus.  Max could make out a form, possibly a male sitting in a basement or maybe a garage.  Upon further examination, the male appeared to be bound to a chair and gagged.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Max felt as if he had seen this before.  Sitting forward, he studied the television screen intently.  The male appeared to be waking up.  The worse part about this tape was the lack of audio.  The man in the chair was soaking wet.  He looked beyond the camera with his eyes widening in horror.  He began to move around violently in the chair.

Out of the corner, there was a flash of light and a small line of flames began to quickly move toward the figure in the chair. At that moment, Max understood how truly horrific this video was and what the end result was going to be for this unlucky fellow. Before that outcome could be realized, the video shut off.  Max was left staring at the screen with the images of flames in his eyes.

“Jesus Christ!” He scrambled over to his desk and looked at the parcel. There was no return address, no indication of where it had been before reaching him. What the fuck was this about? Did this have anything to do with the emails that he had been receiving? Max debated on whether or not to take the video to the police. “They will probably think I had something to do with it.”

After all, it could be publicity for one of his reader’s indie films. He had gotten crazier shit in the past from fans. This tape felt like something more and it terrified him.  Sleep was definitely going to be elusive tonight. Max stared at the screensaver on his computer. The proverbial beacon in the night beckoning him to finish his post.  The cheerful deserted island scene with the azure water seemed ominous to him now.

As Max wrestled with his unique dilemma, he could feel his eyes getting heavier and heavier. The rational part of him knew that he needed to take that tape to the authorities. Someone was murdered or at least appeared to be murdered.  The sensational side of Max knew that another tape might show up and it could be a future story for his blog.  With no immediate answer in sight, Max went to sleep.

Detective Trask was in no mood to be trifled with this morning. At least, he thought it was morning. He pulled his car up to the abandoned garage. This side of town was not for the faint of heart. Before he could exit his vehicle, one of the uniforms knocked on his window. “Yeah?”

“Detective Trask, they sent me over to tell you it’s pretty bad in there. You might want to grab a mask or something.” Trask nodded. He exited his car and pulled a worn handkerchief out of his pocket. When the call came through about this 187, he was barely functioning and didn’t know that he would have to grab a kit.

Of course, as with every tragic scene, you had to have your lookie loos.  This wasn’t any different.  Trask made his way past the yellow crime scene tape and into the garage.  Immediately, the smell of burnt flesh crept into his nostrils. He pulled his handkerchief tight over his nose. The smoldering charred mess still bound to the chair assaulted his eyes.

“Do we have any idea who this unfortunate soul is?” One of the numerous crime scene workers milling about handed Trask an evidence bag. He could clearly see the name on the driver’s license. “Max Draper?”  “Yeah. The former Max Draper.” Trask nodded as he proceeded over to a video camera set up in the corner. 

“Whoever the sick fuck was that did this guy in left us a present.”  Trask looked into the videocam viewer just in time to see Max go up in flames. “I guess yesterday was his last blog entry.” “Huh?” asked Trask. “Yeah, he’s Mad Rants. You know, the City Paper?” Trask stared blankly at the young patrolman. “Guess he’s the story now.”