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.

Horror-ible

Of all the fiction experiments conducted on this blog, “The Ginger Man” has to be the least satisfying. One of the primary objectives of this experiment was to create an effective piece of horror fiction, and on that count it failed miserably — there was no suspense, no foreboding, no real terror to make the psychological terror seem plausible. The hope was to improve on a rushed draft written almost three decades ago, in the immediate wake of a high school friend’s sudden death; while some things came out better in this version, on the whole this was a step in the wrong direction.

He tries, he fails, he eats some pizza, and tries again.

Epilogue (Ginger Man, Conclusion)

“Tell me a story, Daddy.”

What kind of story, Allison?

“A scary story, Daddy!”

Scary? Well, I’m not sure —

“Like the ones on TV, you know?”

I’m sorry, I don’t like scary stories.

“But you must know at least ONE?”

One? Uh, yeah. I do know — one.

“Really? Can you tell me, oh please oh please oh PLEASE!”

I don’t know —

“PLEASE!”

All right. A scary story. It’s about a monster . . . no, wait. There’s a monster in it, but the story’s not about the monster, it’s about the hero who fights the monster. The hero’s name is Mike. No — Prince Micheal. Yes. The story’s about Prince Michael, the famous monster-fighter. And the time he slew the Ginger Man.

End of “The Ginger Man”

Goodbye at the River (Ginger Man 19C)

Charlie nodded down toward the area in front of him. “This everything?” Between where he was standing and the crescent formed by his friends, on a patch of gray rocky gravel covered partly in snow, lay a series of cardboard cartons, plastic containers, shoe boxes (some covered, others not), and bags of various material, shapes, and sizes.

“Everything we could find.” As Mike’s mother spoke, Penny lay a soft hand on her shoulder.

“You sure we shouldn’t burn this?” It wasn’t the first time Jimbo had made this suggestion, and Charlie responded by shaking his head vigorously, as he had done with each suggestion. Charlie walked over to the largest object on the ground, one of the plastic containers he had searched through that day at the house where Mike lived. When he did, that was.

“I ‘member something Mike said once.” Steam blow out his mouth like a trumpet blast as he spoke, carrying the plastic container away from the crescent, toward the Indian River. There was a large rock at this location of the river, forming an immovable stone pier into the rushing stream, a popular location for fishermen in days warmer than this. Charlie stopped at the edge of the rock, raised his voice over the wind and water. “This stuff, the kinda stuff he liked, he said fire couldn’t really destroy it, fact it made it stronger.” He looked back at the crescent of his friends. “We’s all holdin’ on to Mike, in one way or ‘nuther. Lettin’ his memory haunt us. And this is the only way to get rid of it.”

Charlie turned towards the river and grunted, like an athlete competing in the hammer throw, and flung his arms across his body. Flying free from the burly man’s hands, the plastic container flew across the rushing water, then quickly dropped, splashing with a barely audible sound onto the surface of the black water on which it floated, rolling on top of one wave, a second, until enough water had finally seeped inside to sink one side of it down under the water. Another wave lapped over it, submerging all but a corner, and a moment later, it was gone.

Ten minutes later, after all the boxes and containers and bags had been committed to the black water of the Indian River, Mike’s mother stood alone at the edge of the rock, raised her hands to her mouth, kissed the palms, then raised her arms above the water, mouthing a wordless I love you. She then turned back to the crowd of Mike’s friends.

Later that afternoon, Charlie thanked Mike’s mother for hosting a meal for everyone who’d been to the river that day. He did not say anything at the time, but knew this would be the last time he’d ever be at her house.

A Gathering in the Cold (Ginger Man 19B)

But as he was driving his pickup back to his trailer that evening from his job at the post office, Charlie suddenly realized it wasn’t over. There was one more task that needed to be performed before he could close this little book that had been opened in his life.

He made the calls that evening — Rick, Mike’s mother, Rune, Jimbo, Penny. Charlie was relieved to hear them all agreed with his idea, was happy in his follow-up calls over the next two weeks to hear everyone had collected everything that was required. They met at the date and time he’d suggested; it was a week before Christmas, and everyone was bundled in parkas and hats, the chill of winter having settled in the air like a concrete foundation. But the Indian River (which Mike had always preferred over the East) was still flowing, ice clinging to the banks like a threat.

Charlie turned from the river, saw that the people he’d called had gathered around him in a crescent, exhaling their breath in white wisps of steam. He suddenly felt like a priest, officiating a funeral. He shuffled his boots in the snow, and cleared his throat.

“Thank you, everyone, for coming today, and humoring me in my weird request.”

“It’s not weird.” Maggie stepped forward from the crescent. She hadn’t been close to Mike, so Charlie hadn’t thought to include her in the plan when it first came to him. But she was living him now almost nightly, with a plan to move all her stuff in from her parents’ home in the spring; there was no way to keep the plan secret from her even if he’d tried, and once she was aware of it, there was no stopping her participation. “We all needed to do this, Charlie.”