“Mr. Spaceship” is Mediocre Except for Context

MrSpaceship

This little known short story by Philip K. Dick, one of the all-time great classic science fiction authors popular from the 50s to 70s, is an interesting read for its historical value, if nothing else. If someone wrote it today, I suspect it would receive little acclaim or attention. It’s actual publication date I don’t know, since its copyright is expired and now in the public domain, but I would guess the 50s. One reviewer on Amazon summed it up beautifully by stating it “reads as if in black and white Rod Serling mode.” The detail is indeed sketchy and in the context of today’s technology, beyond lean, the theme now a worn-out cliche. However, it presents interesting brain fodder at the philosophical level.

The basic premise is that a human brain is used as the control mechanism for a spaceship. Of course the brain goes rogue with its new “body,” i.e. the spacecraft. In a way, this is the antithesis of artificial intelligence, and apparently his pet philosophical question with regard to what actually constitutes consciousness and reality. At what point, if ever, does an augmented human lose its humanity and at what point does artificial intelligence attain status as a living being? Clearly this has a lot of relevance today as both scenarios move toward reality.

What makes this more interesting to me is the fact that Dick is the author of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” from which the 1982 movie, “Blade Runner” came, with a new one, albeit a sequel, just released. He also wrote “Minority Report”, “Total Recall”, and various others, so he did put out some outstanding work.

Reading about him on Wikpedia gives me the impression this guy wasn’t wrapped too tight. He had a drug problem most of his life and various other issues. Perhaps he was a genius, which isn’t an easy cross to bear, and would explain the otherworldly, dystopian essence of his work, which reflected his unique view of life.

This short story is worth reading for its historical value, but certainly not his best work, which didn’t even earn mention in Wikipedia. A novel of his won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, showing he did put out some excellent, thought-provoking work. Clearly this really isn’t one of them. It has value, however, in the context of his other achievements, the Cold War climate during which it was written, and the many questions he posed, which have still not been answered, even as our technology brings us to the threshold of urgently needing to know.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here. It’s free for Kindle and very reasonable for a print copy, if you’re so inclined.

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The “Purrfect” Read for International Feral Cat Day

bittersweet

Malcolm Gatta’s touching backstory transported me to a fantasy world I’ve not visited in a long time. I lean more toward science fiction and thrillers, not being that much of a vampire or zombie fan, which seem to dominate the fantasy genre of late. But as a cat lover and someone who has often envied my housecats’ idyllic existence, the idea of a cat shifter was intriguing, so I couldn’t resist checking it out. It’s the prequel to a trilogy which I have not yet read, but will probably add it to my reading list after experiencing this beautifully written, albeit heartrending tale of loss and renewed hope.

My only criticism is that I felt the sprinkling of expletives was unnecessary. There were probably only three in the entire story, but they were biggies, didn’t add to the story or characters, and such that I would hesitate to gift this story to my grandchildren. It’s not that I’m personally offended by such language myself. After all, my father was in the Navy and I worked at NASA over 20 years around engineers and such, plus have to admit I drop a few myself from time to time. There’s no question that some situations are best expressed through an expletive. Furthermore, sad but true, coarse language is now a part of today’s popular culture like never before, a possible symptom of what the world has become. However, there are still some who wish to avoid it and/or don’t want to condone much less encourage it. There are also creative ways to include such words in a story without actual use.

I feel crossing the PG barrier can cut off readers from an author’s fan list, which most can ill-afford. It’s apparently still enough of an issue that on sites where books are rated such as MyBookCave, inappropriate language is pointed out along with content related to sex and violence. I didn’t mean to go off on a total rant about it because this story really was outstanding, but it would have been even better to me without the bombs which seemed out of place with the smooth, even poetic, narrative as a whole.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

34959857 - two enamored cats

Global Cat Day

 

 

“Watch RWISA Write Showcase Tour” — Day 25

RWISA TOUR (1)

A Gift of Silence

By Joan C. Curtis

The man stood outside the store window, shifting from foot to foot. I’d have probably gone right by him, but as I passed, he looked me straight in the face, sending a chill up my back. Mystified, I found a place in the shadows and watched.

He wore a black golf shirt with a Nike swoosh. His black slacks were neatly pressed, but scuffs covered the toes of his dark shoes. As he paced in front of the store, as if waiting for something or someone, his left foot dragged. Maybe that was where the scuffs came from. A girl passed by him without so much as a glance. She wore flip-flops and short shorts. He turned away from her. Why look me in the face and ignore this young girl with long flowing blond hair?

Joan Curtis

Joan C. Curtis

After an interminable twelve minutes, he entered the store. I crept to the side window to get a closer view. A saleslady approached with a big hopeful smile. He jerked away as if he might flee, but she persisted. Probably learned that in Sales 101.

Peering inside, I could make out the blurry image of the saleslady as she crouched down to retrieve a box. While she bent, the man grabbed an item off the counter. He pocketed it so fast if I’d blinked, I’d have missed it. Gasping in surprise, I nearly collapsed into the window. So neat. So fast.

While I recovered from the shock of having witnessed a theft, the man exited the store. He hurried in the direction of downtown. Hands tucked in his pockets and his head lowered, he wove along the sidewalk, avoiding moms with kids, students with backpacks, and cyclists. I followed. What did he plan to do with his ill-gotten gains?

My friend, Rose, would give me a lecture. Why didn’t you go inside the store and raise the alarm? What were you thinking, watching, witnessing, and doing nothing? No wonder we pay so much money for our trinkets. Thieves get away with it, and it’s all because of people like you. But, I never intended to tell Rose about this. Not if I could help it.

Instead, I hastened to follow the man, avoiding other shoppers and site-seers. My sole purpose was to find out what this strange person was up to. My watch read two-fifteen. I had missed the coffee date with my cousin. She’d forgive me. I’d have to make up an excuse about traffic or something equally lame, but I couldn’t think about her now. I had to see where this man led me. My curious nature would never let me rest otherwise.

Moments later he entered the parking deck. He was going to his car. Darn! Once he got in a car, I’d lose him for sure. My Honda was parked here as well, but on the top level. With my luck, his was probably on the first level. It was impossible to imagine we’d be parked close enough for me to follow him.

He entered the elevator. The light flashed up to level 4. I raced up the stairs like a madwoman. Huffing and puffing, I reached the fourth level just as the elevator doors opened. I caught a glimpse of his black form walking to a red Kia. I made a quick turn and hightailed it up to the fifth floor to retrieve my car. Then I plowed down toward the exit, round and round, hoping, praying. Eureka! The red Kia was just in front of me, waiting to pay. The Universe was on my side.

Mr. Thief drove with caution, obeying all the traffic rules, making it easy for me to keep him in sight. Nonetheless, I stayed one car back, not wanting to risk him seeing me. Maybe he’d remember me from the street! A shiver ran through me. What would he do, this thief? Stop his car, jump out, and murder me? Absurd.

The light changed. We moved down the road. A strange thought filled my head. Had the Universe wanted me to witness this thievery? Everything seemed to be falling into place. “Don’t be stupid.” Rose would say and would add I was being melodramatic.

We turned into the parking lot for the Hermitage Nursing Home. This made no sense. Why not a pawn shop? Didn’t thieves go to shady establishments on busy street corners with flashing neon signs to hock their merchandise? Not to a nursing home. Maybe he worked here? Maybe he was some sort of klepto and couldn’t help himself? Maybe he had no intention of hocking the stolen article? He pulled into a parking place a few steps from the entrance. I chose one farther away. From my rearview mirror, I spied him getting out of the car and entering the building.

Once he disappeared, I made my way inside and approached the information desk where a girl of about twenty had her head buried in a People magazine. When she finally looked my way, her eyes filled with wonder, as if I’d dropped from the sky, “Can I help you?” she said.

“The man who just came in. He dropped a five-dollar bill in the parking lot. I ran after him, but I missed him. Do you know where he might be?”

“Oh, that’s Jerome. He’s visiting his mom. Comes every day at least once. Want me to give it to him?”

I hesitated. She blinked. “Well… I guess it won’t hurt for you to go down to room 212. It’s the last room on the right, down that corridor.” She pointed the direction.

I moseyed away as if I had all the time in the world. Once out of her view, I picked up my pace. Conversation came from room 212. Mr. Thief was talking very loudly. Apparently his mom had hearing issues.

At the door, I peered inside where Mr. Thief perched on the edge of the bed near an attractive woman with cottony white hair.

“You shouldn’t have, Jerome. I know how much this place is costing you,” the woman said.

“But, Mom, it’s your birthday. I wanted to give you a little something.”

“Just having you here is enough. But, I do like bracelets. You know how I like bracelets. Remember when your dad gave me a diamond bracelet—of course, I didn’t know it wasn’t diamonds then. It wasn’t till later. Remember? After he died and left nothing but bills and debts, I tried to sell the bracelet and found out it was worthless. I flushed it down the commode.”

“I remember, Mom. You told me that story. I wanted you to have a real diamond bracelet before… well, you know.”

She hugged him. “This is the best gift ever.”

I backed away from the room, my heart racing.

Back in my car I didn’t wait for Mr. Thief, a.k.a. Mr. Nice Son, to come out of the building. I started the engine and drove home.

***

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“Watch RWISA Write Showcase Tour” — Day 24

RWISA TOUR (1)

One Nice Fall Day

by Bruce A. Borders

©2017 Bruce A. Borders & Borders Publishing

Not having a good Monday at work, I decided to cut my day short and head home. Home, my sanctuary. As a single guy, I often retreat to my sanctuary when things become intolerable, such as today.

Pulling into the drive, I noticed the yard and house really needed attention. I kept the lawn mowed, but the knee-high weeds were another matter. The house too had long been neglected. The loose siding and trim boards couldn’t be ignored much longer.

BRUCE BORDERS

Bruce A. Borders

“Maybe next weekend,” I mused.

But then, I’d said that last week too. I’d only gotten as far as hauling out a garden rake and a tree trimmer before reconsidering and putting them back. Or, maybe I hadn’t put them away, I thought, seeing my rake in the yard.

Taking a minute to replace the rake in the tool shed, I wandered inside, intent on taking it easy for the rest of the afternoon. And I did. The next couple of hours were spent napping. Then, feeling slightly more energetic, I thought I’d give the yard work another try. And that’s when I found the body.

A male, early twenties, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, lay face down in the weeds, not ten feet from where I’d walked earlier. Good citizen that I am, I immediately called 911. Within minutes, my yard was swarming with cops and other emergency personnel.

After examining the body, one of the detectives walked over. “You discovered the body?”

I nodded, as another officer joined us.

“Tell me what led to your discovery.”

I related the gist of my activities of the day, such as they were.

Then began a series of inane questions. “You live alone here? Why’d you leave work early? What took you so long to call 911?”

“You’re acting like this guy was murdered or something.”

“We’re just trying to figure out the timeline and what happened,” one said.

“And to what extent you were involved,” his partner added.

I guess I’ve seen too many TV dramas because the first thing I said was, “So, do I need a lawyer?”

The cop shrugged. “Depends. Is there a reason you may need a lawyer?”

“I don’t know,” I stammered. “Don’t think so. Just don’t want to be blamed for this murder.”

“No one’s blaming you—yet.” The officer paused, whether for dramatic effect or to weigh his words, I wasn’t sure. “Should we be looking at you as a suspect?”

“Of course not.”

The detectives eyed me a moment. “We’ll be in touch,” one said as they turned away.

They’ll be in touch? What’s that supposed to mean? They’d said I wasn’t a suspect; was that just to keep me off-guard until they’d had time to gather enough evidence to build a case?

I shook my head. I must be crazy. There was no evidence. There was no case. I hadn’t done anything except find the body. I certainly hadn’t killed him.

But, they didn’t know that. And here I was acting all weird. Even I had to admit my strange behavior and ramblings appeared suspicious. The police likely thought so too.

And that’s how I ended up seeing a criminal defense attorney for a crime I hadn’t committed.

“Sounds like you’re a bit paranoid,” said the attorney after I’d filled him in.

“Paranoid, huh?” I said, somewhat sheepishly.

He smiled. “A little.”

I couldn’t think of an intelligent response, so I just sat there.

“Tell you what,” he said, breaking my uncomfortable abeyance. “I’ll keep my notes and if you’re arrested, call me.”

“Thanks. Hope I don’t need to.”

“If you didn’t commit the murder, they can’t exactly find any evidence. Although…”

I frowned. “Although what?”

They could always charge you with manslaughter if anything you’ve done, intentionally or unintentionally, contributed to the man’s death.”

“Right. I didn’t even know he was there until I found the body.”

“It’s most likely nothing to worry about. But you never know.”

As I stood to leave, he added, “If you are arrested, don’t say anything until I’m present. You’ve already given your statement. That’s all you’re obligated to do.”

Nodding, I left.

Just talking to the lawyer had helped. The anxiety I’d felt earlier was gone. Feeling better about my prospects, I drove home and was utterly shocked to find two police cars in my driveway, the officers knocking at my door.

As I parked, they came toward me. “Mr. Powell?”

“That’s me.”

“Can we come in and talk?”

I hesitated. The attorney had said to say nothing if I were arrested. He hadn’t mentioned anything about not being arrested. “Depends,” I finally managed. “Am I under arrest?”

“No,” the officer said. “We just want to clarify a few things with you.”

I repeated what the lawyer had told me. “I’ve already given my statement. That’s all I’m obligated to do.”

“You’re not interested in helping solve this murder?”

I certainly was interested in solving the murder, but something told me that “helping” might have an entirely different meaning to them. “I’ve already given my statement,” I said again.

The officers looked perturbed. “Well,” one said, reaching for his handcuffs. “You leave us no choice then. Mr. Powell, you are under arrest in connection with the murder of Vincent Dalhart.”

As the cop handcuffed me, I focused on what he’d said. I wasn’t being arrested for the murder but in connection with the murder. I wasn’t sure what that meant if anything. I hoped it meant they didn’t actually think I’d killed the man.

The next two days were a blur of numerous meetings with the detectives and my attorney. Through these conversations, I finally learned what had happened.

Vincent Dalhart had been stabbed to death. There were four puncture wounds, evenly spaced. Two had pierced a vital organ. The time of death was uncertain although, the medical examiner estimated it to be five hours before I, the only suspect, had stumbled onto the body.

Meanwhile, the police had executed a search warrant for my property, finding my rake, which they believed to be the murder weapon. Lab testing confirmed that blood present on the tines was that of the victim. Murder in the first degree was the charge.

To his credit, my lawyer seemed undaunted by the discovery. I told him about seeing the rake and putting it away. He seemed satisfied. “But the police will want to know how you didn’t notice any blood on the rake.”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “Not sure how I missed that.”

He shrugged. “Easy enough explanation. The blood was only on the tines—probably not a large amount. By the time you picked it up, the blood had likely dried. It would’ve been very difficult to see unless you were specifically looking for it.”

Unfortunately, the police were specifically looking for it, having determined a garden rake to be the likely murder weapon. And as my lawyer had predicted they weren’t exactly sold on my account of the events. Instead, they believed I’d used the rake to murder the man breaking into my house.

With no other options, we prepared to go to trial. My attorney seemed to like my chances. I wasn’t so confident. Here I was, a guy who’d never even been in a fight, charged with murder. It all felt so overwhelming.

Then, the next day, things took a surprising turn.

The guard came to escort me to the briefing room where my attorney waited.

“Good news,” he greeted me. “All charges have been dropped. You’ll be released within the hour.”

I was stunned. “That’s great, but… why? How?” With the direction things had been going, I found it hard to imagine the police had suddenly decided I was innocent.

“Turns out your neighbor saw the whole thing from across the street. Mr. Dalhart arrived at your house on foot, poked around; checking doors and windows, then went to the shed and retrieved the rake. Standing on your porch railing, he attempted to use the rake to pull himself up to an open second-story window. The window ledge gave way, and Mr. Dalhart fell to the ground, impaling himself on the rake.”

“But the rake was a good ten feet from the body.”

The attorney nodded. “Apparently, the would-be thief lived long enough to remove the rake and fling it away.”

I was frowning. “My neighbor watched all this and didn’t even try to help? Or, report it? Not that I care, really. The thief got what he deserved. But how does someone just watch all that and not do anything?”

The lawyer shrugged. “People are strange. Maybe he didn’t want to be involved. Who knows? He’s been arrested and faces legal troubles over his lack of humanity.”

“I would hope so.”

“Just be glad he eventually came forward.”

“I am.” I fell silent then.

The attorney noticed my gaze. “What is it?”

I smiled wryly. “Was just thinking… That window ledge has been loose for quite a while, banging in the wind. Been meaning to fix it for months, just hadn’t gotten around to it.”

Eyeing me a moment, the lawyer said, “You might want to keep that information to yourself.”

***

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Bruce A. Border’s RWISA Author Page

“Watch RWISA Write Showcase Tour” — Day 22

RWISA TOUR (1)

The Fight

by Robert Fear

Es Cana, Ibiza, Spain – August 1977

Jose took an immediate dislike to me.

He worked as a waiter at the Panorama hotel near the seafront. I had been there to see Diane, an English girl I met while at work in Grannies Bar. Petite and with short blond hair, she had a delightful personality. She was also a real head-turner.

robert fear

Robert Fear

Diane came to Ibiza on a two-week holiday with her friend, Elaine. It felt fantastic she wanted to spend time with me, but Jose thought his role was to be her protector. He glared at me every time he saw us together

Towards the end of her holiday, Diane spent a night with me and I didn’t get her back to the hotel until breakfast time. Jose was on duty and spotted us outside as we kissed. That just made things worse.

After Diane left for home, things deteriorated. The next Friday evening, as I walked to work, Jose headed towards me with a group of Spanish lads. Their intentions were obvious as they stared, raised their fists and shouted at me across the street.

Before they could catch me I escaped down the steps and into Grannies Bar. Their taunts still rang in my ears as I headed for safety.

Friday nights were always manic. Eager drinkers packed the outside terrace after a day in the sun. A queue of customers had already formed as I dived behind the bar to help serve them.

Four of us; Mick, Pat, Graham and myself, worked that evening shift. Pat was half cut and spent most of the evening with her friends. Mick’s mood was not good as a result, but the three of us got stuck in and served the eager punters.

After six weeks at Grannies, I knew the routine. We served drinks and collected pesetas in quick succession. Spirits were easier to serve than at home. Two ice cubes got thrown into a glass and the vodka, gin or brandy poured until the ice floated. Then the mixer was added.

We could drink behind the bar, provided we remained sober enough to serve. Pat loved her gin and tonics and often wasn’t! Mick, Graham and I had regular supplies of vodka and orange but remained level headed as we rushed around serving eager customers.

Willing female hands often helped out. They collected glasses and washed them up in the sink at the end of the bar. As a reward, they had drinks bought for them and got the chance to pull Graham, myself or even Mick on occasions.

Work finished at 3 am. We headed to El Cortijo for another drink and a dance. A group of Spanish lads hung around near the entrance, but I thought nothing of it. Only later did I found out they were Jose’s friends.

The disco pulsed and the dance floor heaved. Lights from the ‘disco ball’ flashed around scantily clad bodies as they cavorted to the sounds of Abba, Rod Stewart and Status Quo. We caught John’s attention, and he passed us a bottle of San Miguel each.

Graham and Mick met up with two girls they had chatted up in Grannies earlier. Pat had gone back to their villa with her friends so Mick was free for the night. Propped at the bar I sipped my beer and relaxed after a hard night’s work.

By instinct, I spun round to find Jose stood behind me. He glared at me and mouthed something. The music drowned out his words. Jose beckoned for me to come with him. Even though it was obvious he wanted a fight, I went. By the time I got outside it was too late.

My fighting skills were minimal. I had been the object of bullying at school. One lad taunted me with the repeated chant, ‘Freddy’s got a rudimentary organ’, while in the showers. This hurt me and screwed with my teenage sensibilities. I tried to avoid the shower room when he was there.

Two other lads pushed me around and sometimes thumped me. They wanted money, but I had none to give them. One time I gave in to their pressure and stole books for them from a sales exhibition held in the school hall. I never thought of fighting back. I did not know how!

Now I stood on the dusty wasteland twenty yards away from the front entrance of El Cortijo. Jose faced me, surrounded by his group of friends. The atmosphere was menacing and none of my friends were even aware what had happened.

‘So, you silly man, what you say?’ screamed Jose in broken English as he edged towards me.

‘What did I do wrong?’ I retorted.

I sweated in the heat of the August night and he must have sensed my fear.

‘You took girlfriend, English scum.’

‘No I didn’t. Diane wanted to be with me you arrogant pig.’

I amazed myself with that response. The drink from earlier in the evening gave me a false sense of courage. Things were dire and soon became worse.

Jose swung his right fist toward my head. I ducked and there was a whoosh of air as he missed.

He turned round and aimed another punch at me. This time he connected and his fist crunched into my jaw. I reeled backwards. Maybe I should have just gone to ground and admitted defeat. This time I fought back.

Well, fought might be too strong a word for it! I stumbled forward and made a dive for his midriff. Jose grabbed me by my shoulders and flung me to the ground.

I spat out a mouthful of dust before I tried to get back up. Then I saw the flying feet of Jose and his mates. It became obvious they wanted to give me a severe beating.

In defence I rolled into as tight a ball as possible with my hands wrapped around my head. The kicks and punches continued and my senses faded as protection against the pain.

Then it stopped. Shouts came from the front door of the disco and the Spanish lads scattered. John, Alan and two others screamed at the top of their voices to get them away from me. A German girl on her way to the disco had seen the scuffle and dived into El Cortijo to get help.

Worried faces peered at me as I uncurled myself. Although bruised and battered there were no broken bones. I hauled myself to my feet. With support from my rescuers, I struggled back to the disco for another drink.

An uneasy truce existed between Jose and me for the rest of the summer

***

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH RWISAWRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

Robert Fear’s RWISA Author Page


“Watch RWISA Write Showcase Tour” — Day 20

RWISA TOUR (1)

DIM LIGHT BREAKS

by Jeff Haws

Jolting upright, I squeeze the Jack Daniels bottle between my thighs just before it tips over to the floor. I look down and see the black label staring at me; the little bit of

Jeff

Jeff Haws

whiskey that’s left is tilting toward the lip, ready to fill my shoes if my legs can’t hold onto it. I briefly wonder if this is why they give these bottles flat sides, for better drunken, convulsive thigh catches. It’s saved me on more than one occasion from having shoes full of whiskey. Well, that and my ability to leave the bottle mostly empty.

I grab the top of the bottle and pull it back up, then try to raise my head; the room rotates quickly, lights blur and walls smudge while my head bounces on a neck that refuses to carry the weight. Enough of these nights will teach you the chair is always your better bet than the bed. I’d have already puked into my own lap if I’d been in bed, but keeping your feet on the floor helps ground you against the worst of the drunken spinning head. When I know I’m spending the night with Jack, I’ll always stay downstairs in the recliner with my feet firmly planted on the linoleum.

My head bobs left and settles on my shoulder; in front of me, the window reveals a purple sky with a sliver of dim light peeking over the ground, between the neighbors’ houses across the street. What does that make it? 6:30, maybe? I can’t remember if I ever fell asleep. I’m not confident I’ll ever fall asleep again.

The people across the street, though—I’m sure they’re asleep. Spencer and Mary are in bed right now, dead to the world. Her head’s probably resting on his fucking shoulder. He snores a little bit, but she’s used to it by now. Probably even comforts her, just being reminded he’s there. I fucking hate those people. I really do. Their whole lives are based around creating these perfect little characters so the rest of us feel even shittier about our own lives. But you can’t even get mad at them, or you look like the jackass who’s jealous and screwed up in the head. Not the people who pretend they’re something they’re not. No, it’s the guy who minds his own business and is genuine about who he is who’s the fucked-up one. That’s the way the world works.

I spin the bottle around in my hand, looking at the liquid slosh around in waves. Bubbles cling desperately to the glass walls but can’t hold on, splashing back down into the molasses-colored pool below. I raise the bottle and tilt it toward me; the whiskey burns just a bit as it hits the back of my throat, the sting helping to delay the inevitable throbbing head that’ll come next. I lift the bottle and splash the last few drops into my mouth, shaking it to make sure there’s nothing left, then drape my arm over the side of the chair and let the bottle fall to the floor with a heavy clink.

I have no idea what day it is. Am I supposed to be at work in a couple of hours? When every day’s the same, it’s hard to say. Time is just change, in the end. If the sun didn’t come up and go down, the Earth didn’t rotate, the world never changed, there’d be no way to measure it. Essentially, there’d be no such thing as time. People’s lives can get like that too. When the days start blending together, how do you measure time? And, even more so, what’s the point?

That sun that’s gradually getting closer to showing itself isn’t going to bring anything good with it. The dark is better. You can hide when everybody else is sleeping. You don’t have to look at how your neighbors’ lives reflect your own inadequacies. You don’t have to face yourself. The dark lets you be alone, lets you wallow and embrace whatever misery is there to be embraced. The morning just exposes it all to those smiling faces with white teeth all lined up in a row.

I know they don’t approve of me. I see them at church and they say hi, but you can see it’s forced. There’s no small talk. No more invitations to their lake house. Just hollow greetings if they can’t avoid me. When Adrian would show up with fresh cuts and bruises on her arms, I know they suspected something. I think she purposefully tried to make them just a little visible. A small cry for help, maybe. She’s been gone awhile, though.

Now, God wouldn’t approve of what I’ve become. This withering mass that passes the hours of insomnia with liquor straight from the bottle. He can smell the whiskey on my breath just like the neighbors can. I don’t even know why I go to church anymore, when I can remember it’s Sunday. He can see my heart’s not there, that I wish I could have a handle of some devil’s water with me when I’m kneeling in front of a pew. It’s not that I don’t have faith that there’s someone in control; it’s that whoever that someone is has delivered me into this reality, this life. Whatever this is. Becoming an atheist almost seems redundant. When your belief is this tainted, is it even worth the bother of leaving behind?

I figure I’ve been strapped to this chair long enough, so maybe I’ll wander upstairs. I have blackout curtains in the bedroom; I can shut the world out up there. Pretend I’m somewhere else, somewhere better. Somewhere new. There’s no way I’m stepping foot outside today.

Standing up, I get a feel for just how much I really drank; my legs nearly buckle, and I fall back toward the chair. My hand catches on the chair’s arm and stabilizes me while I try to forget about the merry-go-round in my head. Ten seconds pass, then twenty. Finally, I lift my hand off the chair arm and pause to see if I can stand up. My legs wobble but hold; slowly, I bring my hand further up from the chair and straighten from my hunch. My arms are spread to my sides like I’m on a balance beam, trying to keep my center of gravity above my feet. I take one careful step forward, then another, deliberate, slow, momentum building as I reach the banister for the stairs and grab a hold hard.

Each step is becoming a little easier, now getting help from my left hand, pulling my body up the stairs one foot at a time, finally reaching the hall. I’ll need an aspirin or four before I lie down. If I’m lucky, I’ll sleep. If not, I’ll stare at the ceiling in the dark for awhile.

I open the door to the room and step through; the bed is just a few steps in front of me. I walk quietly to it and stop, bending carefully over the mattress. I pull back the quilt a little bit and bend further, kissing her forehead gently. She’s only six, and she deserves me to be better than this. It’s kind of amazing we’ve made it this far; she believes her mom is someplace better, and I do nothing to dissuade her from that. Hell, I hope she’s right. But if so, I can’t join her there now. There’s more for me to do. If there is a god, this is the one lifeline he’s thrown me, and I’m clutching to it with everything I have. She’ll get me to the other side of this. She’ll be the light breaking through the dark. It’s dim now, but it’ll shine brighter if I can rise with it.

I pull the quilt back up under her chin and fold it back across her shoulder. Then I back out the way I came and shut the door behind me, careful not to let the latch click. My bedroom’s down the hall, and more darkness still awaits.

* * *

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH RWISAWRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

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“Watch RWISA Write Showcase” — Day 19

RWISA TOUR (1)

Live or Die?

by Harmony Kent

Harmony

Harmony Kent

Sometimes, you need to accept help. Sometimes, you need to admit that you need it. Sometimes, you need to take the hand that’s offered. You reached out and took my arm. I let you. I took the assistance I needed. I gripped your hand so that you could pull me to my feet. The last thing I needed was for you to slit my wrists. So much blood. All that carnage. My heart ripped right out of my chest.

I did my best.

Though, what kind of an epitaph is that?

Do I want that immortalised on my headstone?

Does that adequately sum up a life?

What about all the rest?

At the end of the day, what’s left to show for all that struggle, all that pain?

Right now, only one thing remains certain, that things can never be the same. That river? Already crossed. That road? Already travelled. That life? Already lived.

No going back. Not ever.

Going forward, though? Now, there’s the question.

For this gal, only one choice remains. Live or die?


Sometimes, you need to accept help. Once bitten, twice shy and all that, though, ya know? Truth be told, I’ve come to the end. Like I said, no going back. The rub is that I can’t go on either. The wind whips my hair into my face and throws cold pellets of rain at me. I shiver and dig deep for the courage. Never did like heights, yet here I stand. To jump or not to jump? That is the question.

The darkness wraps around me and locks the breath in my lungs and my feet in place—leaves me perched here in a daze. The metal burns cold within my death grip. With pulse racing, I edge my left foot forward a couple of centimetres, and then bring the right one up level. Perforce, I have to let go of the steel girders now. I’ve taken a step too far. Sweat breaks free from every pore and soaks this trembling mass of flesh, muscle, and sinew. With a heart this broken, how does it even continue on?

‘Miss? Are you okay? … Miss?’

At the unexpected voice, I twist and startle. A man reaches for me, indistinct in the arc-sodium lights.

‘Miss? Here, take my hand.’

A sudden gust buffets me from behind, and I stumble forward, a scream frozen in my terrified throat. All of a sudden, it hits me, I don’t want to die. Too late, however, as I’m off balance and too close to the edge. Dimly, as I fall, I see that it’s not about living or dying but about having the choice. It seems the wind has finished your job for you. Limp and spent, I plummet to the waiting river below, which sends up cold plumes of spray and waves like open arms welcoming me in and under to die beneath.


Sometimes, you need to admit that you need it. At the first swallow of brackish water, I swallow my pride, and every molecule of this being cries out for help. I should have grabbed his hand. Should have, but could I have? Would I have if given the chance? More ice-cold water pours into my throat and drowns my lungs. All the philosophising ceases as it becomes a fight for life. The cold pierces and stabs like a knife.

Tired and afraid, and no longer quite so numb, I kick, searching for the surface. Already, my limbs have gone stiff. The pressure in my chest has grown unbearable, and I have to take a breath, even though I know it will mean certain death. I just can’t do it. Can’t hold it all in anymore. Bubbles erupt when the life-giving air breaks free of my now open lips.

They show me the way when they float up, up, and up.

For a second, I hesitate. Do I go for it or not? Here is my chance for total surrender. To not have to fight any further. Do I have the energy? The will? At the end of the day, what’s left to show for all that struggle, all that pain?

I did my best, but I don’t want that on my epitaph.

My legs kick and arms stroke, pushing through the murk and trying for air. With this exhaustion and cold, I doubt I’ll get there. By now, the bubbles have long gone, but I’ve come near enough to discern the orange city glow. Not far now. One more kick. One more. That’s it. Just one more.


Sometimes, you need to take the hand that’s offered. I come to, afloat on my back, and the icy waves provide my waterbed. Way up high, atop the bridge, come the blues-and-twos, as the emergency services rush to the scene of my demise. Don’t they realise that I’ve fallen too far from reach? Beyond any assistance or redemption.

It seems as if hours pass me by while I drift in and out and upon. This time, a deafening roar causes me to rouse. A shadow flies through the sky, trailing a bright beam. The search is on. These arctic temperatures have other ideas—so much so that I’ve begun to feel warm. A bad sign. Sleepy too.

Impossibly white light hits me and burns my eyes. I raise a hand to cover them and, immediately, lose my buoyancy and sink back into the dark. The search light now glows dimly above the water. Too tired, too cold, too done to even try and fight, I let the river have its way.

The universe has other ideas, it seems, and once again, I lose the choice. Strong hands grip my armpits and haul me upward. To the artificially lit night and the cold and the air and the despair. Oh, love, what did you do to me? So much blood. All that carnage. All those lies and abuse. What’s the use?


You reached out and took my arm. It all unfolded in a blur and strobe-like snapshots—the winch into the helicopter, the medi-flight, and them getting me here. Trouble is, I think they left my heart there.

A nurse bustles into the private room and pulls apart the drapes. ‘Time to let in some light,’ she says. Oh, how wrong could she be? The last thing I want to do is see. Right now, only one thing remains certain, that things can never be the same. I want to stay in the dark; hide from my shame.

‘You have a visitor.’ Her voice sounds far too bubbly. It hurts. ‘The police officer who tried to help on the bridge.’ A shadow crosses her face. Then she gets busy tidying the bedding and then me. ‘I’ll just go and show him in.’ Once again, I don’t get a choice. No time to find my voice.

The door opens slowly, and I lay with baited breath. A young man eases in, dark hair and chocolate eyes, with a smile that feels like the most glorious sunrise. ‘May I?’

His question gives me pause. Never before did anyone ask my permission. Dumbstruck, I give a mere nod. My visitor edges to the bed and takes a seat on the hard plastic chair that the nurse placed there. We sit in silence for a while, and then his eyes find my scars. So many. Clouds snuff out that beautiful dawn and darken his face.

Now, he’ll make his excuses and take his leave. He’s done his bit. But no. Instead, he takes my hand. Looks into my eyes. Somewhere from the edges, I register that he doesn’t have on his uniform. ‘It’s okay,’ he tells me, fingers rubbing mine. ‘You’re safe now. We’ll make this right.’

Uninvited, a sob brings the elephant right into the room. ‘No one can,’ I croak.

‘It’s okay. He won’t hurt you again.’

‘You know who I am?’

He nods, gives my hand a squeeze. ‘We know everything.’

All I want to do is shrivel up and crawl within.

With both hands, he reaches out and takes my arms. I let him. He seems an angel in human form, and I feel safe within his embrace. Into my hair, he whispers, ‘It’s okay. I’ve got you. I got you now.’

Can I take the leap of faith?

Now, there’s the question.

Live or die?

* * *

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH RWISAWRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

Harmony Kent’s RWISA Author Page

 

“Watch RWISA Write Showcase” — Day 17

RWISA TOUR (1)

The characters in the following story are from my novel, Shadow of the Drill. After a moderately grueling assignment, they take a day off to enjoy a Sunday barbecue.

A Break in the Battle

by Rhani D’Chae

   Charlene squealed, leaning to the side to avoid an airborne hot dog. She need not have worried, for the meaty missile bounced neatly against the chest of JT, who was seated next to her.

   “Damn it, Rudy!” JT grabbed a napkin from the table and scrubbed at his shirt.

Rhani

Rhani D’Chae

“That wasn’t funny!”

   “Really?” Rudy flashed an innocent grin over the top of barbecue grill. “I thought it was hilarious.”  He flipped a pair of hamburgers, then added a dash of seasoning to each.

   “You got hot dog grease on my shirt,” JT said crossly. “Next time, warn me so I can duck.”

   “Don’t run your mouth, and there won’t be a next time.” Rudy raised his right arm, pointing at the cast that encased it from wrist to elbow. “Even with this, I can hit what I’m aiming at.”

   JT shot a glare in Rudy’s general direction. “Can you believe him?”

   “You shouldn’t have said he was getting old, and you definitely shouldn’t have said he was losing his touch.” Charlene refilled her glass from the pitcher of lemonade on the table. Lemonade, and just the right amount of tequila.

   “Who’s getting old?” Decker stepped from the dining room onto the deck, leaning on a cane with one hand and holding a bowl of potato salad in the other. “You best not be talking about me!”

   “Don’t worry, Peter Pan, we weren’t.” Charlene pulled the chair to her left away from the table so that Decker could sit. “JT said it about Rudy.”

   “Well, that was stupid.” Decker set the bowl onto the table, then dropped into the chair, leaning the cane against the table before reaching for the pitcher.

   JT pointed to the stain on his shirt. “You’re not kidding! Good arm, bad arm, it don’t matter. He’s dead on.”

   He shifted in his chair, muttering a soft curse when his broken ribs objected.

   Decker smiled sympathetically, knowing from firsthand experience how he felt. “Give it a couple of weeks,” he advised. “You’ll feel better before you know it.”

   “I know,” JT replied. “But in the meantime, it really hurts!”

   “Your face looks better.” Decker reached across the table, tilting JT’s head to the right. “At least, the swelling’s gone down. You’ll have the color for a while, yet.”

   Charlene leaned back, tuning out the conversation while she thought back over the last six days.

   It had started as just another job, but it had quickly become so much more. Hired to find and retrieve a stolen Shelby Daytona Coupe, Decker and his team had landed in the middle of an auto theft ring that stretched from Bellevue to Portland. Finding the missing car had been difficult – retrieving it had been damn near impossible.

   The car had been located in Vancouver and liberated in the dark of night with considerable damage to all concerned. By the time the Shelby was safely in a truck headed north, Decker had calculated how much of a wear and tear fee he was going to charge his employer before the car was offloaded at its destination.

   Bruised and broken, Decker’s team had limped back to Tacoma and gone their separate ways. After checking on the Shelby, Decker had contacted the owner and arranged a time to meet.

   Charlene had greeted him at the door when he arrived home, the sight of his battered body bringing tears to her eyes. He had assured her that he was not seriously hurt, so there was no discussion of seeking medical help. He knew his body – and its injuries – better than any doctor, so she did not question his analysis of the situation.

   Injured and exhausted, he had needed rest. A great deal of rest. But, after only a day and a half, he was limping restlessly from room to room, and she knew that something needed to be done.

   The barbecue had been her idea, and he had willingly agreed. Though they often entertained, they had never invited more than two or three people over at once. The fact that it was JT’s first social visit to the house contributed to the uniqueness of the event, as did the presence of Decker’s old friend and occasional teammate, Hunter Grae.

   The side gate rattled, and Charlene jumped up to open it before Davis dropped his armload of Tupperware containers. The investigator gave her a warm smile, thanking her for her assistance.

   Charlene looked over his shoulder. “Where’s Bert?”

   “She’ll be along soon,” Davis told her. “She had to run her mother to the grocery store, so she’s a little behind schedule. But don’t worry, she’s not far behind me.”

   He handed over three of the containers. “Pasta salad, deviled eggs, and some sort of asparagus thing.” He shrugged apologetically. “Personally, I don’t think asparagus has any business being at a barbecue, but you know how Bert is.”

   Charlene laughed, then sobered when she noticed the manila envelope beneath the remaining two containers. “That better not be what I think it is.”

   “It’s everything I could find for the Palmer job. I promised I’d bring it by today.” He waved at Decker and JT, then slid the envelope from beneath the Tupperware to show he’d brought it.

   Charlene put her hand on his wrist, stopping him. “Not today, please. He’ll open it up, they’ll spend the rest of the day plotting and planning, and that’ll be it for the day off. You know it as well as I do. They just can’t help themselves.”

   Davis thought for a moment, then nodded. “You’re right,” he agreed. “Okay, I’ll toss this back in the car and give it to him tomorrow. I can’t stall any longer than that, but at least it won’t ruin today.”

   “Thank you,” Charlene said gratefully, then headed for the kitchen to unpack the Tupperware while Davis returned to his car.

   When she passed Rudy, he handed her a plate loaded with hotdogs and hamburger patties.

   “Here’s a first round. Is everything on the food table?”

   Charlene glanced over the long fold-up table that Decker had set on the grass. It held assorted buns and condiments, as well as paper plates and plastic silverware.

   “Just about. Hunter’s in the kitchen slicing cheese, and I have to put Bert’s stuff on plates, but it won’t take long. So yes, it’s pretty much ready. “

   “That’s a good thing.” Rudy pressed his fingers against the pieces of tape that held a long strip of gauze to the side of his face, checking that they were still secure. “So we’re just waiting on the cheese.”

   As if on cue, Hunter appeared on the deck, carrying a serving tray that had been loaded down with small plates of pickles, slices of cheese, and crisp lettuce leaves. He called out a greeting to Davis and Roberta, who were coming through the gate together, then headed for the picnic table to unload the tray.

   He was clad in shorts and a tank top, and Charlene could clearly see the stitches where the blade of a knife had cut into his calf, and the colorful section of bruising that a heavy object of some sort had left along his collarbone.

   She joined him at the picnic table, calling to the others as she set the plate down. She was able to get her hamburger onto a plate, along with potato salad and baked beans, before the table was surrounded by hungry people.

   Glad that she had escaped the swarm, Charlene returned to her place at the oversized table on the deck. Taking her seat, she enjoyed a moment of silence, knowing that a moment was all she would probably get.

   A light breeze brought the scent of roses, and Charlene closed her eyes, inhaling with pleasure. So far, the day had been wonderful, and she knew that the evening would be just as fine.

   Opening her eyes, she looked around at the people who mattered in her life. It couldn’t be more perfect, she thought with a contented smile. Fun, food, and the very best of friends combined to make a day that she would long remember. Especially since, for a few short hours, it was a fairly safe bet that no one was going to die.

* * *

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Rhani D’Chae’s RWISA Author Page

 

“Watch RWISA Write Showcase Tour” — Day 14

RWISA TOUR (1)

WOMAN

He calls me Woman because that’s the way some men refer to their wives in this part of the world. He calls me Woman! But I have a name.

Ngozi is alone in her house. She sits all alone in her well-furnished parlor, on a love sofa, reading a magazine. Beside her on a side table is a glass of red wine from which she sips. Her feet rests comfortably on a beautifully decorated ottoman. Her toenails are not painted, but are well-manicured, so are her fingernails. In front of her, a wide screen television shows a soap opera. The sound is tuned low so she can hear the dialogue as well as hear what is happening around her.  Calm and peace surround her, but not for long.

She hears a car pulling stealthily into her open garage. She knows who it is. Her moments of peace and reprieve are over. With haste, she quietly puts everything away; her glass of wine, the wine bottle, her magazine, and she wipes and cleans away the telltale signs like the reclining sofa that shows she was resting. She turns off the television and hurries into the inner room of her house.

Joy Lo-Bamijoko

Joy Lo-Bamijoko

Emeka walks stealthily into the house with his briefcase, without making any sound, as if to catch the wife in some mischief. He sniffs around and scans the house with his eyes looking for her. Everything is spick and span clean, and there are no signs of any mischief in his house. Finding nothing to hold against his wife, he tosses his briefcase onto one of the sofas. He walks to the switch board and puts on the fan, picks up the newspaper, flops down on the sofa, and pulls at his tie to loosen it. He crosses his leg and reads his newspaper.

Ngozi returns to the parlor with a tray.

  “You are back!” She smiles and offers Emeka a glass of water. “Your food is ready,” she says, walking away toward the dining area.

You are back, you say.  What do you think, that I won’t be back?” He sucks his teeth and goes to the dining table to eat.

She serves him his food.

He finishes eating and withdraws to his room … mind you, they sleep in separate rooms—he changes into something comfortable; khaki shorts and a white tee.  He returns to the parlor, sits down again, and reads his newspaper.

Ngozi finishes tidying up the dining room and the kitchen and returns to the parlor, sits and picks up her magazine to read.

“Have you nothing to do, Woman?” Emeka frowns at her.

“Is there anything you want me to do for you?” she fires back without looking up from her magazine. Emeka looks at her with a frown on his face.

“What is this new thing about sitting around doing nothing?”

“I have finished my work, and I am resting!”

“Resting from what? Have you mended the button that fell off my shirt this morning? Have you fixed it?”

“Yes.”

“And my socks?”

“Yes.”

Emeka tries to think of something else to say, some job she must have missed, and not coming up with anything, he shrugs. “Well, if you have nothing else to do, find yourself something to do.” He returns to his reading and, at the same time, waits for her to leave.

Ngozi doesn’t move. He wants me to leave?! He doesn’t even think of me as his wife. He calls me Woman. As if calling me his wife will give me the respect he isn’t willing to give me; the respect he has always denied me all through this marriage.

 I know why he calls me Woman. To put me down, way below him, so that he can continue trampling on me.  He knows that as a wife, he will owe me the respect which will allow me to sit here with him, relax and read, if I want. But, as Woman, I will always remain his thing, his toy, his property to be bullied into subjection. I will not leave. Let him do his worse!

She sits tight, but alert.  She doesn’t know what her stubbornness this time will trigger, but she sits nervously, waiting for his next move. She fixes her eyes on the magazine, but lowers it enough for her to see Emeka’s movements. She has been on the receiving end before for less than this, with him throwing objects at her or whipping her with his belt.

Not anymore! This time, I will fight him if he tries to lay a finger on me.

Emeka is also jittery. He is used to being obeyed. He doesn’t understand this new attitude from Woman. After many years and four kids, she should know his likes and dislikes. Why is she being so stubborn? For much less than this, he would have taught her a good lesson. Where is she getting this courage from, enough to challenge him? Our people say that if you come out in the morning and your chicken begins to chase you, you better run because you don’t know whether the chicken grew teeth the night before. Woman has grown more than just teeth, she has grown wings!

“Did you hear me Woman?” he growls at her.

Woman stands up, slaps her magazine on the small center table, and huffs and puffs as she walks away.

 Emeka tenses up with a level voice.  “What do you think you are doing, Woman?”  She doesn’t respond and continues to walk away.

“Stop!” Emeka shouts.  She stops, turns, her expression questioning. 

He fumes. “Can’t you understand that when I come home, I want to rest! I work myself to death from morning till night to provide for you, and when I come home, you will not allow me to rest.”

“What have I done? What did I say?”

 “You are disturbing me. Do you hear that? You are disturbing me!” he shouts.

“What do you want me to do?” Ngozi asks, feigning remorse.

Emeka glares at her and holds her gaze for as long as it suits him; then he shrugs and resumes his reading.

Ngozi returns to her seat, picks up her magazine, and flips noisily through the pages. Emeka looks at her with a twisted upper lip. He realizes that Woman is looking for a show down.

Woman on her part is thinking that after so many years of marriage and four kids, she has earned respect for herself. She deserves, no, she demands to be respected. This house is her house, too. She has every right to enjoy it as much as he does. She works herself too hard cleaning, cooking, and making the house comfortable, for her not to enjoy it, as well.

The days are gone when she squirmed at the sound of his car, his voice, his threats. Now, with her children grown, and in position to defend her from their father, she sure has grown wings. Her kids have warned their father of the repercussions of beating their mother ever again. She smiles to herself.

He cannot touch me anymore. I have arrived. Is he even sure that he can defeat me in a fight? I know I can beat him! After all, I’m bigger than him. Why should I find something to do when I have nothing to do? What is wrong with sitting down and relaxing? Why should he relax and not me? He doesn’t work more than I do.

Emeka stares at Woman some more, and then he gathers his things and walks off. Ngozi does not even raise her head from her magazine.

After casually turning another page in the magazine, she says, “My name is Ngozi.”


Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH RWISAWRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

Joy Lo-Bamijoko’s RWISA Author Page

 

“Watch RWISA Write Showcase Tour” — Day 13

RWISA TOUR (1)

CRAZY CAT LADY

by Amy Reece

CAT SITTER NEEDED

$50 CASH—One Night ONLY

Apply in Person

653 Silverwood Ln Apt B

Rita looked from the folded newspaper to the small adobe duplex in front of her. Well, here goes. My chances of getting murdered or sold into a sex trafficking ring are pretty good, but I need the fifty bucks. Need might be overstating it, but she wanted to go to the concert and she didn’t have the money for the tickets. Her meager paycheck from her work-study job didn’t stretch much farther than covering the bare essentials. If she wanted any fun money, she had to find other ways to acquire it. She’d done it all: research studies, selling her plasma, modeling for art studio classes. Answering a jinky ad in the college newspaper was nothing. She had left a note in her dorm room telling her slumbering roommate where she was, so at the very least maybe they’d be able to recover her body. She shook off the dark thoughts and approached the house.

A tall, thin elderly woman answered the door. “Yes? How can I help you?”

Rita held up the ad. “I’m here about the cat sitting job.”

“Oh, my dear, yes. Well, come in.” She opened the screen door and stood back to allow Rita to enter.

Amy Reece

Amy Reece

The living room smelled musty but looked tidy, with sagging, old-fashioned furniture covered with bright, hand-crocheted afghans and doilies. Several cats raised their heads from where they snoozed on the cushions, then lowered them disinterestedly. A tray with a flowered china teapot and matching cups was set on the coffee table.

“Have a seat and I’ll pour you a cup of nice hot tea. It’s so chilly out this evening, isn’t it?”

Rita sat and accepted the cup of steaming tea while she frowned at the woman. “Were you expecting someone else?”

“Oh, no,” the woman said breezily. “I was expecting you.” She smiled as she sipped her tea. “Or someone like you. I put the ad in the paper and I knew someone would be along presently.” More cats of every color had wandered into the room. There had to be nearly fifteen cats winding their way around her feet, perching on the back of her chair, and leaping into her lap.

“Oh.” Rita nodded dumbly and fumbled with the handle of the delicate cup, spilling tea into the saucer.  “So, when exactly do you need the cat sitter?”

“Well, tonight, of course. I need to go visit my sister in Santa Fe. I’ll be back soon after breakfast tomorrow. Now, let me show you where I keep their food.” She reached forward to set her cup on the table.

“But, but,” sputtered Rita, “don’t you want to know about me? About my qualifications?”

The woman laughed lightly. “It’s only feeding a few cats, dear. It’s not rocket science. Come along.” She stood, shooing the cats from her lap, and led the way into the kitchen. “The dishes are here.” She pointed to a row of small ceramic bowls lining a dish drain. “And the food is in this cabinet. They like to eat around nine and then you can wash up.”

“Okay.” Rita nodded and counted the bowls. There were only six. “Do they take turns eating? Should I refill the bowls after the first group eats?”

“I think you’ll find one round is more than enough. Most of these are ghost cats, of course. Poor dears.”

Rita stared at her blankly. “Ghost cats?”

“Yes. They seem to be drawn to me. They just can’t move on quite yet. They’re not like dogs, you know.”

Rita didn’t know. In fact, the only thing she was sure of was that this woman was obviously insane. Ghost cats? What the hell? But fifty bucks was fifty bucks, and if she had to placate a crazy woman to get it, she was glad to. “Great. No problem.”

“Now, feel free to help yourself to anything if you get a little peckish.” She led the way back to the living room, where she picked up a small, old-fashioned train case Rita hadn’t noticed before. “Be sure to lock up after me. Have a good night and I’ll see you early tomorrow.”

Rita stood in the middle of the living room and watched her leave. “Wait! How do I—” she wrenched the door open to ask her final question, but the woman was gone. She stepped onto the porch and looked upon and down the street, noticing red taillights at the stop sign at the far end. She must have had a cab or an Uber waiting. She shrugged and closed the door, locking it as instructed. Then she turned to address the room. “Well, cats and kittens, I guess it’s just us for the rest of the night. At least she keeps this place clean. With this many of you it could really reek.” She’d eaten an early dinner at the cafeteria so she wasn’t hungry. The remote was on a side table, so she grabbed it up and found a cat-free cushion to sit on. The woman didn’t have cable, but Rita managed to find a rerun of a show she enjoyed and sat back to while away the hours until feeding time. The cats, for the most part, minded their own business and left her alone. A few finally crept close enough to sniff her, but then stalked away. She’d never been much of a cat person, so she took no offense. Feeding time went off without a hitch and the woman had been correct: the six bowls were more than enough. Cats came and nibbled, but none cleaned out their bowls. Many of the cats simply came and stared at the food without touching it. Weird. Maybe they are ghost cats.

She got hungry around midnight, but found nothing but a few stale crackers in the cabinet. She took them with her to the couch, pulled one of the crocheted afghans over her legs, and fell asleep watching an infomercial.

The key in the lock woke her the next morning. She sat, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“Good morning! I’m sorry I woke you. How did everything go last night?” The woman set her train case by the door as she walked in.

“Um, fine. Yeah, everything went great.”

“Oh, good.” She rummaged in her purse for her checkbook and a pen. “Now, I’ll let you fill in your name. Here you go.” She handed her the check.

Rita glanced down at it, noting the spindly handwriting, but satisfied that it was indeed for fifty dollars. Sweet. Easy money. She sat up and folded the afghan and laid it across the back of the sofa. “Thanks. Well, have a nice day.” She waved awkwardly as she let herself out of the apartment. I’ll just swing by the bank and cash this, then stop to buy the concert tickets on my way home.

“Can I help you?” The voice came from the house next door. “What are you doing?”

“Huh?” Rita turned as the woman marched down her front path to confront her.

“Were you in that apartment? How did you get in? That door is supposed to be locked! Oh, I’m going to kill my husband! He never checks!”

“Excuse me?”

“What were you doing in there?”

“No-nothing! I mean, I was watching that lady’s cats for her.” She realized she’d never asked the woman’s name. “She paid me. See?” She held up the check for the other woman.

The woman glanced at the check and frowned. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but you better get out of here before I call the cops!”

“What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything wrong! I answered an ad in the paper to come and watch that lady’s cats for the night. She paid me fifty dollars. See?” She showed the check to the woman again.

The woman snatched the check from her hand. “Nobody lives there! The woman with all the cats died two years ago! We’ve had a heck of a time getting renters to stay because they swear it’s haunted or some nonsense! Now, if you’re not here about renting the place then I’m going to ask you to leave. Now. Before I call the police.” She glanced down at the check, laughed briefly, and handed it back to Rita.

Rita took the check and looked at it to see what could have made the woman laugh. Her eyes widened as she saw it was not a check at all; it was nothing more than a piece of torn newsprint. It fluttered to the ground as she ran, the woman’s laughter echoing behind her.


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