Friday, October 15, 2010

#FridayFlash - "Up in Smoke"

Owen lifted the bottle of Michelob to his mouth and took a long pull, the beer mixing with tobacco juice. He swallowed.

He said, “I gotta tell you something, Jack,” and then wiped his mouth with the back of a dusty hand. “These days, I can’t rightly figure out what’s wrong with some people.”

He kept his voice low, but it didn’t matter. Jack could hear well enough. On the porch beside him, Jack glanced up, but then quickly turned his attention toward the field. His muscles were tense, the hair along his spine stiff. His ears were ramrod straight.

To calm the dog down, Owen gently patted him on the head. “Easy there, amigo. We’ll get to it.”

Jack whined. His eyes looked slightly confused in the soft glow of the moon, but he sat down obediently.

“That’s a good boy,” Owen said, and meant it. As far as dogs went, Jack was the best he’d ever seen. In fact, he thought the old boy knew and respected more about this life than most humans ever would, and at times he wished his friend could somehow speak, carry on a conversation; however, all they had were a few simple commands, a wag of the tail, and a scratch behind the ears.

“You know, come to think of it,” Owen said, picking up his earlier thought, “it’s kind of like that boy back in the Valley, Ol’ what’s-his-name.”

Owen paused then as he heard the high pitch of mosquito wings and felt it land on the side of his neck. His eyes narrowed. He pushed the bottle of Michelob down between his legs, the coldness of it turning his jeans cool, and waited only a moment longer before he swatted his neck.

At the sound, Jack jumped up, looked at him. Another whine.

Owen pulled his hand away, feeling the warmth spread across his skin now, and looked at the darkened blob on his palm.

“Darn bugs.”

The ordeal over, Jack finally sat back down, his attention directed toward the field.

“Where was I?” Owen said. A few seconds later, he smiled. “Oh yeah.”

He wiped the smashed bug off on a pants leg.

“You see, there was this dumb farmer, got caught with his tractor plowing up rows in another man’s field, so to speak. Nineteen-eighty-eight, I think it was. Anyway, as it turned out, he and Mrs. McClary -- at least I can remember her name -- they were having themselves a good ol’ time, thinking nobody else was paying them any mind. And for awhile, it worked out just fine. That is, until a little old lady from the church discovered the snake in the grass and then found it in herself to have a talking-to with Mr. McClary. Like did he have any idea what his wife was doing, with who, and under his own roof even?”

Owen peered out into the darkness covering his field and frowned. He leaned forward and spat.

Jack stood up.

“Not yet,” Owen said, leaning back into the chair.

Jack whined again.

“The way I heard it?" Owen continued. "Mr. McClary paid that man a visit, told him to find himself another woman. Otherwise, he’d cut off the man’s business and feed it to the pigs.” Owen chuckled then, the laugh coming out wet and crackly. He cleared his throat, said “Which is kind of funny, you think about it, feeding sausage to a sausage factory.”

He laughed harder then and looked to Jack to see if the dog might give him one of those open-mouth grins. Jack apparently didn’t care one way or the other.

“Ah well,” Owen said, the smile fading. “I guess it’s not for everyone. The point is, I would have never thought to do anything like that. In fact, my dad ever heard I was messing around with another man’s woman? He’d of beat me to death himself. Like what was I thinking? Didn’t he raise me better than that?”

Jack’s ears twitched back and then shot forward. He groaned with anticipation.

“Not now, though. Folks today could care less what everyone else thinks or what they have. In fact, I’m willing to wager there’d be folks today who’d say it was Mr. McClary’s fault his woman ran around. If he couldn’t do right and take care of her, then he deserved it.”

Owen reached down, picked up the Michelob, and took another long draw before he set the bottle on the porch.

“No, Jack, folks today’re too consumed with themselves to stay out of another man’s field.”

He reached to his left and grabbed the rifle leaning against the porch post. Pulled up against his shoulder, Owen squinted and looked through the night scope he’d also bought right after the state gave him the license for his farm. The gun had been a perfectly legal purchase. The silencer on the end of it? Well, that was another matter.

In the scope, he saw green images, people standing at the far edge of his field.

“Like these two right here,” he said and held his breath as he gently squeezed the trigger.

Jack barked now, but Owen didn’t care.

“One down,” Owen said, peering through the scope. “And one more…”

He held his breath and squeezed off another round.

Jack barked furiously. His tail swept with excitement.


At the edge of the field, Owen stared at the two men. The first one had been a head shot, quick and clean. The second one lay there, bullet wound to the chest, crying and screaming, that sucking sound in his throat.

“All we wanted was a little weed to smoke, man.”

“Didn’t you see the signs? Private property. Trespassers will be shot.”

“Ain’t right,” the young man cried. “This is America.”

Owen shook his head. “No son, this is my field. And you’re stealing my crop.”

He raised the gun to his shoulder and held his breath one more time.

Friday, October 8, 2010

#FridayFlash - "A Justifiable Defense"

I’m such a snarxhüset. When it comes to pftzer-oozing juice cases, I can’t seem to turn anything down--even when I know that accepting the assignment will cause me a stinging pain in the lower pusher. I just hope Sensi, the love of my life and bearer of my chingos, will forgive me someday. Otherwise, it’ll be a long cold season this side of the sun; and quite honestly, I’d rather have a sharpie jabbed in my darkies, blinding me forever, than to live through that.

“This is your last chance, Krii!” With the scratches and zizzings pouring through my headsets, I barely made out Reginald’s words.

“Oh gee, I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied.

It wasn’t that I disliked Reginald. Well, okay, it was that I disliked him. In fact, most everyone in my brood felt the universe would spin better without him. Since he was in his own language “family”, though, I felt a small obligation to extend simple courtesies before I pulled the trigger and took him and his ship out of commission. Permanently.

Reggie corkscrewed left. Not bad. Clever even. But still not enough to escape my pursuit.

“My gamma beam will blow your snake heads into oblivion,” he screamed.

Chuckles grumbled up both of my throats. P3 Bi-pods were all the same: they demonized what they failed to understand. No appreciation for differences.

“No reason to be nasty, Reggie.” I pushed into a slight dive. “It’s not my fault your God made you with only half a brain.” I nosed up on the fighter, targeting my guns on the vulnerable heat shield of his underbelly. “Maybe you should have done a better job using what you do have, though.”

A split second before I pulled the trigger, he flanked right and pulled into a sharp downward dive. A typical Zizklak maneuver. If it had been done on his planet, the G-forces would have squeezed him into unconsciousness; out here, half a million miles from the farthest moon of Saturn, the dive most likely just tickled his chest like a small cough.

I twisted my right head and kept my eyes on Reggie as I pulled up through a 135-degree arc and flipped around, trailing right behind him.

“That was a nice trick,” I said, “but you’ve forgotten one thing.”


“I’m a better pilot than you’ll be in two lifetimes. And you’re still in my sights.”

I couldn’t control my laughter when a stream of obscenities cut through my earphones. The Bi-pod design again: big mouth, tiny brain.

“Why are we fighting each other, Krii?” I detected a note of panic in Reggie’s tone now.

“You made someone very angry.”

“I haven’t done anything.”

“Stealing an antimatter bomb and then attempting to sell it to terrorists?”

The radio fell silent a moment. Then: “I’m acting on behalf of my government.”

“It’s your government that paying my contract.”

More profanities.

“Reggie, is that anyway to talk to your cousin’s life mate?”

What Sensi’s uncle ever saw in a Reggie’s mother, I will never know. Listening to Sensi tell it, though, the whole brood took it as a personal affront that a Quertz would try to marry a Bi-bod. We don’t even belong in the same species, a Quertz with four arms, four legs, and two heads, each with four sets of eyes. By design, a Quertz is far superior to the simple creatures from the blue orb. That we can actually crossbreed had always been considered an unnatural act by most in their right minds. However, Sensi’s uncle was never one to stick to the confines of creation. Consequently, their consummation produced a total disaster: a Bi-pod with three eyes, one of which Reggie couldn’t even use. Sad.

Reggie spiraled down and attempted to cut back into me. Surprising.

I snapped left, jettisoned through a tight downward bank, and caught up with him at the bottom of the dive, my guns trained on the back quarter-panels of his spacecraft.

“Don’t act like you’re better than me,” he said. The bitterness returned to his tone. “You’ll probably just use the government’s money to buy more drugs.”

“I don’t use.”

“Tell that to Sensi.”

My fuel gauge told me that time was on short supply. My holographic readout also confirmed a lock on my target. “I’m done talking, Reggie.”

“Wait,” he cried. He pulled up into steep angle.

I jerked back on my controls and re-acquired the laser-lock.

“Do you still have Jules?” he said.

Jules? Two seconds away from termination and Reggie wanted to know about the family pet? How interesting. He gave us the thing, said it was a guinea pig. I told Sensi it looked more like a dust mop, or maybe dinner. She didn’t find the humor in it.

I didn’t answer him. Instead, I sent out an electro-magnetic pulse and scrambled his systems. Then, I flanked right, past his dead ship. I circled around, toggled another lever, and jettisoned a timed explosive device. A moment later, my read-outs confirmed a secure attachment to the floating coffin. In ten minutes, Reggie would be dead, and I would be clear by then, the universe a safer place. The P-3 government would probably be angry to lose their precious bomb. I didn’t care.

Using a communications monitor, I sent a transmission home.

Sensi’s luscious heads filled my screen. “Is he dead?”

“He will be soon.”

She nodded.

“I’m sorry,” I said. "Right or wrong, he was still brood.”

“Yes. But he could have caused a universal war.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “When will you get back?”

“I’m on my way now.” I fired up my after-burners. “It will take a couple hours, though.”

“What do you want for dinner?”

I thought about Reggie’s last question.

“Take Jules to my lab and X-ray him, will you? If he has an explosive device imbedded under his fur, send him to your uncle. If not, put him in the microwave.”

Friday, October 1, 2010

#FridayFlash - "Every Death Means Something"

Megan stared at the obituaries spread out on the basement floor. Her gift. And it was a gift, though not in the way her mother had looked at it. But then, mother was always full of crazy ideas that were usually wrong. She once said the moon held the lost souls of the dead, and Megan knew by the way she said it, the way her eyes flickered like candle light, the woman believed every bit of it.

Megan raked a hand through her oily black hair. She could still hear Mother’s voice after the gift paid its first visit. “You have something special,” Mother said. “Hold it close to your heart. Not everyone is so blessed.”

Megan closed her eyes against the obituaries. Six people. Six lives. At first it didn’t feel like a gift at all. More like a curse. She could have told at least two of them, the first being Mrs. Kowalksi. Number five. It was a Saturday afternoon. She turned the corner on the far aisle of the grocery store and almost crashed into the woman. She had opened her mouth to apologize, but the moment she caught Mrs. Kowalski’s gaze, Megan froze. It was the same look she’d seen a thousand times before, like she was a soiled rag to be avoided. And with that look came the memory: children, hands locked, circling and chanting. Megan Fitch, her mother’s a witch, who flew her broom into a ditch.

In the end, Megan couldn’t tell Mrs. Kowalski. Doing so would have only pegged her as another crazy Fitzgerald. Like mother, like daughter, right? And being called crazy was out of the question, a no-brainer. Besides, how would she have said it? Uh, you may think this a little strange--God knows I do--but tomorrow night… Well, tomorrow night you’re going to die.

She reached down now and picked up all that remained of Mrs. Kowalski: a photo and a synopsis of a life once lived. After a moment, Megan tossed it back to the floor with the others.

She once asked her mother how she could lose the so-called gift.

“What on earth for?” Mother had said.

Megan looked at her mother through the mirror, the woman preparing for another night of reading palms and dried-up bones.

“It bothers me,” Megan said. “I mean, why me? Why them?”

“As long as we can make money at it, I don’t care.”

Megan felt the anger rise up in her throat, a giant ball of it she would rather throw up than to swallow.

“It doesn’t work that way,” she finally said. “I can’t control it.”

The slap came so quick that Megan had no time to react. Mother’s razor-thin eyebrows almost touched. “What good’s a gift if we can’t use it? It wasn’t my idea for your father to abandon us, you know. No place to turn, no money to buy food.” She slipped on her headdress. “Now, get back to your room and find a way to make it work, or so help me I’ll beat you worse than your father ever did.”

It never worked the way mother originally thought it would though. At first, it came and went as it pleased, filling Megan’s mind with images she couldn’t control. It never bargained, never acquiesced. But then, just three days ago--

“Megan?” A voice from the stairwell. “You down there?”

Megan swept the obituaries together. “Yes, Aunt Nora, I’m here.”

“What’re you doing?”

“Just… stuff. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”

“We’re about to leave soon.” When Megan didn’t respond, her aunt asked, “Are you okay?”

Megan looked down at the obituaries. “Yes, I’m fine. I’ll be right there.”

The door at the top of the stairs closed, and Megan quickly tucked the scraps of paper into her backpack. She slipped her arm through the shoulder strap, the pack heavy against her shoulder, and stood up. At the base of the stairs, she stopped and took a deep breath. The curse had visited again a few days ago, only this time everything changed. At first, the image felt as clear as anything else she’d seen: her mother stopped, checking on a car at the side of the road, the passenger dead from a heart attack. Watching the image play out, the anger returned. This time it burned at her neck, her face. Why couldn’t it be mother on the side of the road instead? Only, not from a heart attack; that would be too good. No, wouldn’t it be better for her to face a drunken truck driver, to see the grill of the semi as it bore down? Oh yes, that and more. To hear the pop and screech of metal, to see the explosion of glass as the truck crushed the car and everything else inside, that would be a perfect way for mother to go.

Climbing the stairs now, about to step outside and slide into Aunt Nora’s car to make the six mile trip across town to her new home, her new life, Megan smiled. Three days ago, she finally understood her gift and how anger made it work. And yes, it was a gift after all. Mother--Number Six--proved that.

At the top of the stairs, she snickered, thinking, My-oh-my, what a wonderful way to stop all of those children cold. No longer would she have to hear Megan Fitch, her mother’s a witch.

At least not for long.