FFF 05: Leadership

“Look, somebody has to make a decision!” one of the women behind me finally exclaimed, the frustration in her voice only echoing the tension in the room at large. All the other chatter stopped, and the leader—well, she wasn’t really a leader so much as a person who spoke the loudest for the longest amount of time, though most of us had come to agree that she had a good head about her and was generally fair in her dealings between women with disputes, and so on—turned in the direction of the voice, who had been quiet up to this point.

“Really?” the leader asked. “Then make one.”

“Ditch ‘im,” the bronzed woman said immediately. “Why are we even fighting over this guy, anyway? He’s just a man, after all.”

There were murmurs of agreement, but the leader frowned. “He’s still a person,” she countered.

“No, he isn’t. Look at ‘im.” She motioned down to the bound man in front of us. He was crying and the gag in his mouth was only partially muffling his cries.

One of the other women groaned. “Gods, stop whining,” she said, kicking him in the thigh. “You brought this on yourself.”

“Just leave him bound and gagged like this?” the leader asked.

“Yeah, why not? Everyone knows the only thing the ancients got right was ‘women and children first’; men just mess everything up.”

“He’ll die if we just leave him.”

“Isn’t that kinda of the point?” another woman asked.

The leader sighed. It was clear she knew she was out-voted. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. “All right, fine. We’ll leave him. But let me talk to him first.”

A cheer went up among the crowd, and several of the women exclaimed things like, “Finally talking sense!” and “It’s the only logical thing to do.”

“You, you, and you,” the leader said, pointing at me and two other women, “you’re with me. Everyone else: back to the ship. We’ll cast off at 1500 hours.”

Everyone else exited the premises, presumably to eventually make their way back to the Mermaid’s Agreement, the ship that had proven to be our saving grace during the hostilities. The leader knelt down in front of the man and pulled his gag from his mouth. Before she could even say anything, he was begging for his life.

“Please, please don’t hurt me. Please; just let me go. I’ll never say a word to anyone about this; I swear.”

“I know,” she said, her voice tired. “I know you won’t.” She looked at him for a moment, then rose again and stepped back.

“Hold him,” she ordered, pulling out her pistol. The three remaining women, myself included, reluctantly stepped forward, not liking the idea of touching a man.

One of the other women asked, “I thought we were going to just leave him…?”

“I can’t just leave him tied up here to die of starvation or have some animal eat him alive,” the leader snapped. “Hold him.

We kneeled on either end of the man’s bonds and held him still while she loaded the pistol with one round. His crying began anew, and his pleas for freedom became more frantic.

“Poor kid,” the leader said. “I’m sorry I have to do this.” She pointed the gun at the man and pulled the trigger.

Immediately, the man went limp, his cries silenced forever.

“Don’t speak of this to anyone,” the leader said, returning her gun to its leather holster and wiping the sweat from her forehead with her dirtied shirt sleeve.

As we left the room and headed back toward the ship, one of the women caught up with the leader’s long strides. “You wasted a bullet on that guy? That man?” she asked, incredulous.

“No, I showed him mercy,” the leader said. “We must be better than men; we must not let them suffer, even when we want to. They are already men, after all. Putting him out of his misery was the kindest thing I could do.”

———
This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

FFF 04: Earthquake

It was as though earth had shaken down around them. No, the earth had shaken down around them. They hadn’t known each other before the earthquake—all standing on the sidewalk minding their own business while waiting for the next bus—but as they shook off the dirt and visually checked each other for injuries, they knew that suddenly the earth had made their business each other’s business.

“You okay?” the Asian man asked in a heavy accent that neither of the other two people could really identify.

“A little shaken up, I admit,” the rich black woman replied, brushing what dirt she could reach from her Prada business pant suit. The Asian man and the high school goth looked at her, trying to decide whether or not she was joking, but neither mentioned her unintended pun. The way the woman held herself, it was clear that though she was affluent now, she hadn’t been born rich, and she knew a hard day’s work when she saw one.

“I’m fine,” the goth said, reaching one pale white hand down to pick up the Coach handbag from the street and give it back to the lady.

“I’m Sandra,” the woman said, offering a hand to the man and high schooler in turn.

“Yun,” the man said.

“Cain,” the goth girl said, adjusting her black backpack over her black peasant shirt and menagerie of silver jewelry.

“Cain?” Yun repeated, obviously skeptical.

“Yes,” she answered, sizing him up as though they were about to fight. “Take it or leave it.”

“Fine,” Sandra said, not really caring what the girl’s name was. “Everything attached that’s supposed to be attached? Nothing broken or hanging weird?”

“Nah,” Cain said, though she stepped gingerly on on foot and then the other as if she wasn’t sure the earth wouldn’t just open up underneath her at any moment.

Yun rolled his shoulders and cracked his knuckles. “Seems fine,” he pronounced.

Standing there on the sidewalk, the three unlikely comrades began to take in the damage the earthquake had created in the world around them. The downed powerline across the street was hanging over several cars parked underneath a large flashing sign which read “CONSTRUCTION AHEAD”. The line sparked and sizzled, but there was no one around at the moment to mark off the area as dangerous and potentially lethal.

Behind them, the door to the dive bar open at 3 PM stood wide open, a huge crack in the concrete running straight through the threshold and into the dimly lit cacophony of overturned chairs and flipped tables. Except for the snapping of the downed powerline, the street was eerily silent. It didn’t look like anyone was in the bar, either, though they could be sure.

Cain headed for the open door and ignored Yun, who tried to stop her by saying, “That’s 21 and up only!”

“Nobody’s doing any drinking right now, anyway,” Sandra said, following Cain into the darkness beyond what the bright day-lit sidewalk really allowed them to see.

Yun looked around the street again, but it didn’t look like there was any movement or obvious signs of life, so he turned and brought up the little procession’s rear.

“Whoa! Grab the doorframe!” Cain ordered just as the earth began to shift under their feet again and Yun was knocked halfway to the ground. When the rumbling stopped, the bar’s hanging lights created an strange swinging effect that made the three of them step just a little closer to one another.

“Doorframes and hallways are the safest places during earthquakes,” Cain said.

“How—?” Sandra began.

“Didn’t you ever have earthquake drills in school?” Cain asked impatiently.

“I grew up in Chicago,” came Sandra’s response. As they moved toward the back of the bar, she ran one hand over the length of the counter.

“Ah!” Yun exclaimed. “Snow days!”

“Yes,” Sandra agreed, giving Cain a pointed look.

The goth flipped a chair upright with one twist of her hand and sat down on it backwards so that she could rest her arms on the top of the backrest. “You guys have a plan?” she asked.

Yun and Sandra looked at each other and then back to Cain.

“Where is everybody?” Sandra asked.

“Good question,” Yun agreed, looking around the bar as though he’d find the answer along the wall in one of the kitschy picture frames that hung haphazardly there.

They could hear the wailing of sirens and car horns outside, and the sound seemed further off than was really likely.

“Call your parents,” Sandra told Cain, pulling a mobile phone from her purse and handing it to the girl, who accepted it reluctantly.

While Cain dialed, Sandra and Yun tried to figure out their next move. “Find out if family’s okay,” Yun said.

Sandra shook her head. “I don’t have any family in the area.”

Yun nodded agreeably. “Me either.”

“Where are you from?” she asked him.

“Chinatown,” he said, pointing the direction to indicate where.

“They said stay here,” Cain interrupted, tossing the phone back to Sandra, who just barely caught it before it landed with a smack on the wooden table beside her.

“We’ll wait with you,” Sandra said, looking at Yun. He nodded.

Cain shrugged. “Whatever.”

———
This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

FFF 03: Together

Ashur headed out the door of the flower shop with a bouquet of relatively inexpensive flowers, the door chime ringing behind him as he exited. He turned the flowers over in his hand, inspecting them one last time before he entered the subway and lost the natural light. No roses, no lilies, no orchids; just daisies, carnations, and baby’s breath. He sighed, but it would have to do. They weren’t eating caviar off golden plates just yet, after all, and though he wanted to spoil his wife Mulli, they weren’t making enough money together (much less making enough separately) to justify his spending absolutely more than he needed to on flowers, a luxury in and of themselves.

On the train, Ashur held the plastic-wrapped bouquet under one arm and juggled the rest of his things with gloved, clumsy hands. He tried to avoid swiping other subway passengers with the blooms when he turned, but it was practically impossible in the lunch rush hour. He hoped to get to Mulli’s work in time to surprise her with flowers and lunch, but every time he looked at his watch it seemed like only a minute or two had passed.

When the train finally pulled into his stop, he pushed through the huddled masses and onto the above-ground platform, taking care not to ruin the bouquet more than it already had been. The icy cold air hit him directly in the face, and he had to stop to catch his breath before continuing down the platform stairs into the din of the city below.

He had crossed three streets, jumping over slush piles and narrowly avoiding stepping in yellow snow, when he finally reached the unassuming office building where his wife worked. It was kind of squatty, he decided, since the building was framed on every side (except the side facing the street) by apartment buildings much taller than its short three stories. He smiled as he walked up the brownstone steps, remembering one time Mulli had half-jokingly complained that her commute was too far and that they should move into one of the apartments adjacent to her work.

Pulling open the first door into the building, Ashur kicked his boots against the rough wall to knock off any lingering snow so that he wouldn’t track it inside. Making sure the first door was closed to avoid a gust of wind, he pulled open the second door and stepped into the warm waiting area where the doctors’ clients sat before they were called for their respective appointments.

The receptionist looked up from her work at the front desk with a retail-flavored smile. “Hello! What can I do for—” Her smile faded into confusion. “Hi, Ashur,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“Here to see Mulli, of course,” he replied. He held up the drooping flowers and makeshift picnic basket full of food he’d lugged with him through the city’s transit system. “I brought lunch. Do you know when she’s having her break today?”

“Mulli?” the receptionist asked. “Why?”

Ashur lowered the food basket to his side again and set the flowers on the front desk’s counter. “I brought her lunch,” he repeated, frowning. “Is she back there with a client?” He leaned over the desk to see into the hallway that led to the private rooms where the doctors and nurses worked.

The receptionist shook her head, still somewhat confused. “I’m sorry, Ashur, but Mulli doesn’t work here anymore. She hasn’t worked here in more than a month.”

“What do you mean?” he asked. “She left this morning like usual. She hasn’t said anything about not working here.”

“She had a fight with one of the doctors about a client’s care, and when the doctor pulled seniority, she stormed out. We haven’t seen her since. Didn’t she tell you?”

Ashur stepped back, even more confused than the woman in front of him. Mulli had been in a fight? Mulli had been in a fight? She was demanding and difficult to please professionally, but she had never once so much as snapped at another coworker—doctor, nurse, or anyone else.

Scratching the back of his head, he swiped up the flowers again and backed into the entryway. “Oops! I just remembered she mentioned it before, and I was just on autopilot getting here.” He was out the door before the receptionist could finish asking him to let them know what had happened, and it was likely he’d pretend he hadn’t heard her request.

Mulli: missing. Ashur stood on the sidewalk at the bottom of the stairs and looked down the street one way and then the other. He thought for a moment and set off purposefully toward the park a few blocks away.

He found her sitting under a pine tree making little mountains in the snow with her booted feet. He sat down next to her, gingerly wiping some of the snow away so that he wouldn’t end up with his pants soaked. “I brought you flowers,” he said.

She didn’t look at him but leaned against his shoulder, the last vestiges of tearful shaking working its way through her body. “Want to tell me what happened?” Ashur prompted after a moment. She shook her head. “Did it have to do with a client?” She nodded against his coat.

He pulled her closer to him and wrapped one arm around her, the flowers and basket of food temporarily forgotten beside him. “Have you been looking for a new job this entire time?” She nodded again, and he could hear the strangled sob even through the coat’s layers where she’d buried her face. “Are you worried about the money?” he asked quietly. She nodded once and refused to lift her head to look at him.

“We’ll make it through, Mullissu,” he said, using her full name to catch her attention and bring her back from the catastrophizing her brain had surely worked itself into. She stilled against his chest, and he wrapped both arms around her more fully. “We’ll figure it out together, okay? I’ve got you; I won’t let you fall.”

———
This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

FFF 02: Sharing

“Oh, good Lord; look who just walked in,” Sandy said, nudging her older brother Julian in the ribs. Turning away from his conversation, he half-glanced in the direction of the doorway, stopped, and looked again.

He whistled appreciatively, low enough in his vocal range that only those in very close proximity could hear him.

“Stop being sexist, asshole,” Sandy grumbled.

“It’s not like you’re not thinking it, jerkwad,” Julian returned easily.

Sandy couldn’t argue with that, she supposed, but at least she kept her hedonistic tendencies inside. Usually.

“In fact,” Julian continued, turning away from his former conversation with a nod of the head, “I know what you are thinking.”

“Oh, do you.”

“Yes. And you know I know.” He leaned in close and rested a hand at the small of her back, causing her to shiver despite the party’s heat.

She kept her eyes on the young woman across the room who’d just arrived, but Sandy caught her breath when Julian’s hand moved lower between her body and the wall where they leaned.

“Cut it out,” she hissed.

“Aww, such a cocktease,” Julian said lightly, but he withdrew his hand and kissed her head as though their relationship was nothing more than familial.

She looked up at him. “Are you going to talk to her, or shall I?” She nodded toward the woman in heels and a low-cut shirt.

Julian pondered for a moment. “Same goal as always?” he asked.

“Of course,” Sandy answered, almost incredulous that he even bother asking.

“Does she look lesbian or bi-curious or straight to you?”

Sandy studied the woman for a moment. “Everyone is bi-curious in the right situation,” she finally replied.

Julian grinned. “I like the way you think.”

“I know you do, asshole.” She paused. “You go ahead. I’ll break in if it looks like you’re losing her.”

“What? Me?” Julian asked in mock innocence.

“Yeah, yeah,” Sandy said, pushing him forward into the throng of party-goers between them and the woman across the room, who was obviously looking for a way out of chatting with a man twice her age.

Julian tipped his imaginary hat to Sandy before slowly making his way over to begin rescuing the damsel in distress.

For her part, Sandy hung back and watched as the woman’s face washed over with relief when Julian cut into the one-sided conversation she and the older man were having. With the creeper out of the way, he began to work his magic, and his sister leaned against the wall nursing her drink, waiting for his signal.

She smiled a half-secret smile. They were ready to bring another person into their ménage.

———
This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

FFF 01: Horror

I leaned back in my chair, unable to continue for the moment. The sound of my own typing was getting to me, I decided, and I pushed back to stretch and grab a glass of water from the kitchen. The glass was cool to the touch, and the water did nothing to change that. I poured straight from the sink tap and sipped a little while leaning against the kitchen counter. Gazing across the island, I could see the many story collections and novels I’d had published, all aligned neatly on the second shelf in order of publication date.

Stepping over the pile of dirty laundry on the floor, I thought again how I should really wash those sometime, but I dismissed the thought shortly after. Moving over to the book case, I ran my hand over the dusty spines of the books I’d filled with page after page of horror, blood, and tragedy. None of my stories ever started out well, and they almost never ended well, either. After each publication, I put a novel or collection on the shelf and rarely looked at it again.

Why was this story giving me so much trouble? It was just as dark as the rest, and I’d justified its imagery and twisted nature by telling myself that at least I wasn’t doing the things I wrote about, but only writing about them. There was something missing, though; I just couldn’t yet put my finger on what.

I set the glass down for a moment when I heard a dull thump from the floor below. Frowning, I absently wiped the dust from the second shelf and moved to the top of the stairs, where the pile of dirty laundry sat mouldering. I leaned over the steps and held tightly to the railing, willing myself not to fall down the stairs. What a disaster that would be.

“Hey!” I called down to the floor below. “Hey! Everything okay down there?”

I heard another thump and some shuffling, and then it was quiet again. I stood still at the top of the steps for a moment, trying to decide if I should go down to investigate or not.

“Jamie!” I called, finally heading down the steps. “That better not be you down there messing around!”

When I reached the first floor, I groaned when I saw Jamie lugging something heavy wrapped in tarp across the concrete floor. “Seriously?” I asked, coming forward despite myself to help him. I heaved the bundle up on one end and he heaved it up on the other, and we carried it through the first floor of the house to the backyard.

When we finally dumped the bundle on the wet ground, Jamie said, “Thanks. I was having trouble getting it over the thresholds.”

I eyed the bundle, nudging it with one foot. “And what’s so special about this one that you had to bring it through the house in the first place?”

Jamie pouted, looking contrite. “I’m not finished with it yet.”

I frowned. “What did I say about bringing your projects home?”

“I know, I know; I just—”

“Telling me about your work isn’t the same thing as bringing your work home with you, you know. I know you love what you do, but honestly—”

“This one’s different!” he sputtered, his voice rising a little.

“Just like all the ‘different’ ones before?” I snapped back. “I have an entire shelf of your work upstairs; do you still really think I need firsthand experience to get the right feel?”

“It’s different when you do the work yourself.”

I rubbed my face with the palm of my hand. We’d had this argument multiple times, and Jamie had always prevailed thus far. He was right; it was a lot easier to write the stories when I did the work myself.

It was Jamie’s passion, of course, and my passion was writing about it, but he had convinced me over the course of several years that I could do similar work, too, and it would be just as compelling for the readers afterward.

I stepped forward over the bundle between us. “I love you, you know?”

His mouth quirked into a half grin. “I know,” he said. He kissed me lightly on the lips, and I moved to one side.

“All right,” I said, glancing around us as though we still lived in an area where neighbors could peek over our fence and see what we were doing. That hadn’t been true for at least a couple years. Out here in the country, there was no one to see anyone else. “Show me what you’ve brought me.”

He kneeled down and began unwrapping the tarp. In my mind, the rest of the story I’d been writing began to come into focus.

———
This post is part of Flash Fiction February.

Happy 2015!

Happy New Year! It’s a new year again. It’s that time of the year that we arbitrarily turn our calendars back to zero and move forward in the cold as if all of last year is completely behind us. I suppose, literally, it is… but so is every day.

This is not one of those posts where I say that we should have the Christmas spirit all year round or something shitty like that. I’m just pointing out that the date we decide to end things and then, in turn, begin things is basically random and completely subjective.

Anyway, I’ve had a lot going on in my life recently, as you may have imagined by my lack of any updates whatsoever since last July. At this point, that’s almost six months. Maybe soon I’ll be able to get back to writing thoughts, reviews, or anything, and I have such a backlog of ideas that it’ll take a while for me to even get them all organized.

Even though it’s arbitrary, I hope your New Year is better than the last. Thanks for hanging in there with me.