No Treats

[My response to today’s prompt from The Daily Post: Trick or Trick]

Wonder Woman deserves some chocolate, he thought as the fingers on his right hand flitted through the large orange bowl of candy he held in his left.

“Trick.” He looked up at the soft sound of the young girl’s voice.

He smiled, held out the Snickers, and spoke in the manner of a stage hand reading a line to a forgetful actor. “Or treat.”

It was then he noticed Wonder Woman wasn’t carrying a bag or plastic pumpkin.

“Trick.” The girl sounded impatient. “I want you to do a trick.”

He glanced over the girl’s head. The sun had long set, and the city-approved time for candy mongering was ending. Wonder Woman had been the first visitor to his door in almost thirty minutes; when the doorbell rang, he’d quickly chewed a roll of Smarties to mask his beer breath before coming to the door.

He extended the Snickers to the girl again. She wasn’t wearing a mask, a tiara resting on her black hair. “Sorry, Princess Diana. All I gots tonight is treats.”

“That’s unfortunate.”

He didn’t like the tone of her voice. He tossed the Snickers back into the bowl, then reached out to grab her shoulder.

He gasped, wide-eyed, as his hand passed through her.

Wonder Woman glared at him grimly. “You had your chance.” And as she disappeared, he heard the front door of his house slamming behind him, and from the corner of his vision he saw the lights in his house, one after another, going dark.

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In and Out

[My response to today’s prompt from The Daily Post:
Trio No. 3. Each of the three required “ingredients” will appear in boldface.]

The can stood sentry-still on the shelf, to the left of the plastic margarine casket and the right of a leftover pasta dinner from last week. Aside from the sonorous hum of the compressor, the can was surrounded by cold black quiet, like a dark night in the frozen north. Suddenly the refrigerator door opened, splashing the can in white light until it was grasped, taken without protest out into the brilliant sunshine, not resting again until it was placed (still unopened, its carbonated essence agitated but trapped within its confines) on the picnic table. Condensation from the summer heat welled on its exterior, then trickled down its sides like tears.

A Reading for Fornax, 10/14

[My response to today’s prompt from The Daily Post: In Retrospect, a horoscope from the beginning of this month for a new astrological sign]

YOUR SIGN: Fornax, furnace of the gods
DATE: October 2014

The distance between the twin stars of Alpha Fornacis will be visible through a simple telescope this month. You will feel the pull of equally irresistible forces at polar extremes from each other. You’ve been anticipating a major life event for months, but there will be a last minute change that will delay this event until November; this change will cause you to feel greater anxiety and frustration than usual. Beware of Horologium (the Heavenly Clock), who will exacerbate these feelings.

You will also be tempted to procrastinate more than usual, as your typically cautious nature turns into a fault. Keep close to Lupus (the Wolf), who will embolden you.

LUCKY NUMBERS: 2, 9, 12, 13, 24, 56

Bathyscaphe

[My entry for the latest Weekly Writing Challenge on The Daily Post: Find a Muse in the Masters,  the Master inspiration being the painting “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper]

The bright light of the diner cuts into the darkness like an intruder, splashing the sidewalks in prismatic green then fading into the gray of the bituminous road, finally losing its strength against the shop windows on the other side of the street. The diner’s occupants pay no attention to the world outside their glass enclosure, like disinterested scientists in a bathyscaphe, their curiosity crushed after months of staring into the lifeless ocean floor.

His Room

[My response to today’s prompt from The Daily Post: Doppelgänger Alert.]

And it was, all of it, there, all there. The O’Sullivan four-shelf bookcase with the missing strip of laminate torn from the third shelf’s front edge, stocked with dog-eared paperbacks from his student days; clothing tossed with indifference across the unmade bed; the desk, another O’Sullivan particle board masterpiece, computer and monitor and printer and papers arranged in some indiscernible pattern on top; the open closet, a chest of red and white drawers on one side, the other overstuffed with shirts and jackets hanging from a rod and above a bed of laundry. And the trash can, the only item he had brought from his childhood room, an Andru-esque picture of Spider-Man on its side.

“All that was you.” The voice behind him was paternal, reassuring yet stern. “Exactly as it was, when you were whole.”

He laughed. “When I thought I was whole.” He kept looking into this room, as he directed his voice behind him. “See, that was the problem. I thought all this — stuff — was what made me who I was back then. But the reality is, it was all stuff I accumulated to distract me, help me forget about my loneliness, my pain.”

He shook his head. “My room? Yeah, I recognize all the stuff, can tell you how many beeps that computer will make if we turned it on. But mine? No. Not any more. Because it never was mine in the first place.”

Changing the pace

Several things I liked about “Dark Safari,” perhaps the most significant being its brevity. Fallen into a bad habit with my recent blog projects, which have taken several months to complete; there’s value in following tangents, exploring previously unforseen territories, but too much tangential exploration jeopardizes focus and cohesion. My last few projects have been all over the place, and “Dark Safari” was a fairly successful attempt to develop a single theme.

As for what’s next . . . I literally have no idea. Haven’t been participating in flash fiction challenges, and I feel a need to be a better citizen in the blogging community. Probably means smaller projects, until I decide for another change of pace.

Reminders (Dark Safari N)

Cyrus blinked while simultaneously raising his eyebrows. “Your faith in this ‘curiosity’ of your students is . . . admirable.” Dan was convinced he had changed that final word in mid-sentence. “To some people, at least.” That’s more like it. Cyrus raised his hand, catching the waitress’ attention, then requesting after she came over to place his untouched salad in a carry-out container.

Dan knew he had only a minute or so longer with Cyrus. But as he looked across the table at the golden-haired man, the image of his son came to Dan’s mind. Butch smiling, his grin as broad as his belly, the joy he showed when executing a simple parry, the way everyone on the team relaxed when talking to him. “There’s no practice next week.” The words seemed to come out of him reflexively, as if triggered by a silent alarm in his head. “Parent-teacher conferences.” Last year he’d have let Myles or Juan run the fencing club practice, but this was a different year; Myles had graduated, Juan was no longer a regular, and no one had yet stepped up to fill the leadership role. “Next practice is a week from Tuesday.”

“I see.” As the waitress with the mole on her cheek returned, Cyrus rose from his chair, retrieved his jacket from a hook on a nearby wall. And as he put his left arm through his sleeve, he stopped, turned to Dan, and smiled. “Do you know what I saw Butch doing when I came home the other night?”

Dan assumed comic books were not involved. “Tell me, my friend.”

Cyrus leaned forward, a look of incredulity on his face. “Jogging. I was driving and I passed this pudgy shape on the sidewalk, and it took me a moment to realize it was Butch. I waited for him in the driveway — his face was red and he was huffing like he was about to collapse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him exert himself like that. So I asked him what in the world he was doing, and he said — ” he pointed at Dan smiling — “you’d suggested he work on his endurance.” Cyrus looked down, shook his golden head, laughed. “My boy. Running.”

Dan rose to shake Cyrus’ hand, then sat back down on the metal chair, in front of his chicken parmesan sandwich. He knew it would be cold, after his long conversation, but Dan ate none the less enthusiastically.

End of “Dark Safari”

Curiosity (Dark Safari M)

“I won’t.” Dan found his resolve rising in proportion with Cyrus’ invective. “I said earlier that everyone on the fencing club has their strengths, but the one common denominator, the one characteristic everyone has, is curiosity. Each of my students is constantly searching for ways to improve their game, and when they get frustrated with the drilling, working on the same skills again and again, I try to tap into their instinctive curiosity, help them see their work is helping them get where they want to be.”

He pointed in the direction where Cyrus had laid his briefcase on the floor. “Rune, and Butch, are drawn to comic books out of curiosity.” He looked up at the television, saw the images from the school standoff were still being displayed, pointed up at the screen. “Yes, this is a dangerous world. Kids in Bark Bay are smart, they know the world outside their quiet little town isn’t anything like the one they know. The stories, the images they see in comic books, are some of their first glimpses into what that world’s like.”

“Oh please!” Cyrus leaned back, a mocking smile on his face. “You’re saying that reading stories about cannibalism is important for my child’s social development?”

Dan decided now wasn’t the time to discuss symbolism. “Kids aren’t always going to make the right decisions. When I’m coaching at the fencing club, and one of my students starts going in the wrong direction, it’s my job to explain why a different path is a better decision. I’ve worked with them enough to know that a my-way-or-the-highway approach won’t motivate them, because it doesn’t engage their curiosity.”

Dan paused to take a breath before making his final attack. “Banning comic books from practice would be a dismissal of their curiosity. Doing that wouldn’t just hurt them as fencers, it would hurt them as people. If you want to help Butch, don’t just toss tell him that comic books are bad — explain to him why you find the story so objectionable. Ask him why he likes these stories. Take this as an opportunity for a discussion, Cyrus. Trust that engaging his curiosity will go a lot further than stifling it.”

Threats (Dark Safari L)

Cyrus bowed his head, shook it back and forth over his uneaten salad. “I’m disappointed, Mr. Jacobs. Coach. You say that you’re watching out for our children while they’re under your supervision, but you refuse to take action when obvious threat — ”

“What threat?” Dan had to restrain himself from slamming his fists on the table. “The threat that your son will read bad literature? If you’re that considered about aesthetic quality, Reverend Goodman — ”

“You’re a man of science, are you not?” Cyrus was now leaning forward, his right forearm lying on the table. “Surely you know of the psychological studies that have shown a causal relationship between comic books and sociopathic behavior?”

Dan smirked; Cyrus was speaking like a preacher again, a high priest of paranoia. “I have. And I’ve also read about studies which have questioned the conclusions, and the methodologies, of those studies.”

Cyrus sighed heavily, as he leaned back in his metal chair. Dan suddenly felt hungry, but fought the urge to begin eating. He watched as Cyrus looked around the dining area of the Pizza Place, his head stopping as he looked up to his left. Dan glanced in that direction; a mute television displayed a video of police officers surrounding a brick building.

“Look at that, Daniel.” Cyrus’ voice had grown soft again. the words STANDOFF AT STATE UNIVERSITY glared in yellow letters under the video. “Tell me, when you were at college, how many times was your school in lockdown?” Dan didn’t respond. “This world we live in now, the world we’re sending our children into — it’s not the same world we grew up in.”

“The world’s always changing, my friend.”

“Yes, but does that mean we have to accept this?” Cyrus pointed at the television as he glared across the table. “When hatred and evil show up in our neighborhoods, do we just shrug our shoulders until they come knocking on our doors?” He lowered his arm. “If there’s something we can do to prevent society’s sickness from spreading, don’t we have the right, the responsibility, to act?”

Dan shook his head. “Of course. I just don’t — ”

“You’ve admitted that the comic book Butch brought home had no redeeming qualities.” Cyrus was now an archbishop of anxiety. “You’ve also said comic book reading’s been disrupting your fencing practices. And there’s more than enough scientific evidence to suggest comic books could be partly to blame for the breakdown in public order. I see nothing of value in these things — they’re a disease, Daniel — and I simply cannot understand why you won’t do something as simple as telling your students not to bring their comic books to your fencing practices?”

Strengths (Dark Safari K)

Cyrus laughed derisively, and glanced away quickly before leaning back in his chair and staring back. “This isn’t about fear. It’s about helping my son understand the difference between garbage and real works of art. Butch, he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, I’m sure you’ve noticed.”

Dan blinked. “We all have our strengths.”

The chair under Cyrus skrinched over the floor as he leaned forward. “Well, judgment is not one of Butch’s strengths. He’s so trusting, he’ll ready anything one of his friends gives him, even if he knows he shouldn’t. Like these comic books — I’ve talked to him already, he knows how I feel, but I can’t be with him every minute of every day.” He pointed a finger across the table at Dan. “That’s why I need people like you to speak up when you see a problem.”

“Of course!” Dan raised the palm of his hand in Cyrus’ direction. “I take my responsibility as a teacher, as coach of the fencing club, very seriously. If one of my students were to hurt another student, the fault would be entirely mine.”

Cyrus folded his arms across his chest, leaned forward further. “So does that mean Butch won’t be reading any more comic books at your fencing practices?”

Dan paused, not out of uncertainty but rather from a determination to aim his gaze squarely on the face of The Reverend Cyrus Goodman. “No. That’s not what I mean, at all.”