Friday, February 28, 2014

#FridayFlash - Don't Mess With The Moon Goddess

Cindy crouched with her back against the wall, gun drawn, listening for any sound that her mark might be around the corner. No use in being stupid, no point in cashing out early.

She pulled a small compact from her pocket, opened it, and angled the mirror to peer around the corner. She saw an alley, a dumpster. Her mark was nowhere in sight.

She didn’t know the mark’s name for sure. Somebody told her it was Bartholomew Helschwitz. The Commander called him “…the Angel of Death, a hard core assassin from Yugoslavia.” With a name like Bartholomew Helschwitz? Right.

With twenty-three certified kills, the sound of his name struck fear into everyone’s eyes. She saw how they held their breath, as if it might be their last. Not her though. Not Agent Gooblink. She had kills, too, and if this Angel character had the audacity to come gunning for her, then it was time to give him a royal butt kicking.

She tucked the compact away and stood up. Around the corner, Cindy saw five trouble-spots where the Angel could ambush her. The first was the garbage dumpster—in it or behind it. The next two were around both corners at the far end of the alley. The fourth and fifth were the corners she just left. More than once, she saw a rookie go down because he failed to cover the back door. She reached in her pocket and sprinkled a handful of crackle glass on the ground. Her own special mixture of Christmas light bulbs painted black, it looked like gravel, but snapped like bubble wrap when stepped on.

Her back door secured, Cindy inched down the alley, gun leveled at the ground ahead of her. Her eyes darted to the dumpster, to the far corners and back again. Her arms prickled as the winter air breezed across her skin, every hair buzzing like a frayed, hot wire. Her ears stayed on high alert. In the distance, a tinkling of bells chimed out “Deck the Halls” and Cindy almost laughed at the absurdity of it. Christmas was only a a week away, and she should have been home, enjoying the season. Yet, here she was, searching an alley, a giant bulls-eye painted on her back.

A scraping came from behind and Cindy whirled around, her gun raised. It was only a stiff oak leaf carried along by the swirling air. She took a deep breath, turned and resumed the search.

Come on, Angel. Stick your head out so Gooblink can take it off.

She once asked about the code name. Why not something cool, like Moon Goddess? Ever since she was a girl, she wanted to be a moon goddess. Growing up, watching shows like The Shazam/Isis Hour had its impact. However, only the Commander issued names, and, like it or not, Moon Goddess was not an option. Cindy remembered shaking her head. Such was the cost of being a woman in a little man’s world.

She stopped about ten feet short of the dumpster. The lids were down. To make matters worse, the clouded sky cast no shadows. If the Angel was behind the dumpster, she still couldn’t tell.

Taking out the Angel was not what Cindy had envisioned for her life. She had other plans. Like being a wife. And a mom. And certainly she was both, living as a toilet scrubber and a home-school teacher. Still, her life worked in her favor, didn’t it? Just as she knew the Angel was supposedly a model citizen, he had to know she was a suburban homemaker with two kids. Hopefully, he would overestimate her and make a mistake.

Cindy stepped to the right, pressed against the building, and aimed her weapon at the space between the wall and the back of the dumpster. Nothing. Only the other end of the alley. If the Angel had used the dumpster for cover, then he was smart enough not to expose himself.

She stood and slowly circled around the dumpster, her gun pointed at the blind spot on the other side. Nothing there either, which left her with the possibility that the Angel hid himself inside.

She reached up and touched a grenade on her vest. With only five seconds before detonation, she would have to time it just right. Pull the pin, count to three, and toss it under the lid. Even if the Angel realized his mistake, he couldn’t escape before the device would take him out.

She grabbed the grenade and pulled the pin.

One Mississippi, two—


Crackle-glass popped. Cindy jumped around the side of the dumpster, finding cover as the Angel’s shots exploded off the metal. Realizing she still had the grenade, she hooked it toward the front of the alley. More crackle glass popped as The Angel took cover around the corner. At least, Cindy hoped that to be the case.

She waited for the grenade’s explosion, and then rolled out. Her gun raised, she fired at the first sign of movement. The Angel’s chest exploded with a crimson splatter as he took her round in the center of his vest. He groaned, collapsed, and tumbled into the alley.

Slowly, Cindy stepped over to confirm the kill.

“Let that be a lesson,” she said. “Don’t mess with the Moon Goddess.”

The Angel opened his eyes. “Moon Goddess?”

Another voice came from around the corner. “Yeah!”

A young boy bounded down the alley, pumping his fist in the air. The Commander. Cindy lowered her weapon and walked off. Over her shoulder, she heard The Angel say, “Dude, I thought your mom was Agent Gooblink or something.”

In the parking lot, Cindy’s husband stood by the car. He looked amused.

“You have fun playing paint ball with the kids… Agent Gooblink?”

Cindy unfastened her helmet and vest. “Nothing but a bunch of amateurs.” She tossed everything into the car. “And the name’s Moon Goddess.”

Friday, February 21, 2014

#FridayFlash - The High Temple of Unstuff

The High Temple of Unstuff
Johanna Large, Staff Writer

Billows Height, Iowa.

When you think of Iowa, you think of primaries and presidential caucuses every four years. You think of football and the Iowa State Hawkeyes. You think of rolling hills and the Mississippi River on the east, the Missouri on the west. What you don't think of, however, what you probably wouldn't even imagine in your wildest dreams, is a colony of naturists who pride themselves not in what they have, but in what they don't have.

Jim King, senior editor of The Standard, looked up from the news copy.

"Wait," he said. "They're not South Dakota?"

Sitting across the desk from him, Johanna shook her head. "No, I finally found them in Iowa, about thirty miles across the state line."

Jim nodded, but frowned. "And they're really a bunch of naturists? Not paramilitary?"

Johanna raised her eyebrows and rolled her hand, as if to say, It's all in there, just keep reading.

Jim nodded again and returned to the copy.

"People are always clinging to stuff," says Marcus Sleighton, founder and leader of the group. He uncrosses and crosses his legs, and conspicuously scratches a delicate itch down below. "Out here we like to be different. We have no religions, no god and no heaven." He raises an eyebrow then and adds, "And certainly no hell."

Marcus came to the United States back in the 1980s with only himself and his wife, and smiles when he talks about the commune, about where they've been and how they've grown as a group, starting with only him and his wife and now reaching more than three hundred.

At the commune, there are many things noticeably missing. There are no televisions, radios, or newspapers. As a group, outside of weekly excursions into town for necessary supplies (the only time anyone wears clothing it seems) they are completely isolated from the rest of the world. "Being alone," Marcus adds, "just us and nothing but the surrounding nature to cherish, it helps the group to grow closer together."

One of the members, Lisa Whitlow, talks about how she joined the community. "For years, I could never find my place in the world," she says. "Everywhere I went, I always felt like I didn't fit." She looks out a nearby window, a smile on her face. "Here though, I'm just like everyone else. Here, I don't have to put on anything. They love me for who I am."

Jim stopped reading again.

"So Lisa Whitlow isn't being held against her will?"

"It appears that she's happy right where she's at," Johanna said.

Jim rolled his eyes.

"It takes all kinds to make a world. Her parents will be disappointed, and they'll probably disagree with us."

Johanna shrugged, and Jim kept reading.

In the commune, there is strong evidence of the bonds and community they proclaim. In every building, and even in the bathrooms, one can easily spot pictures of Marcus and his wife with inspirational slogans, like "Believe in Yourself" and "All Things Are Possible." Every morning, before a breakfast of granola and yogurt, the group joins together to recite their mission statement and sing "Imagine."

The group is fighting a lawsuit from the nearby community of Billows Heights. Town Council Chairman, Mark Littleton, tells how he wants the community to relocate. "The town doesn't need this kind of reputation," he says. "If they wan't to live like the day they were born, they can do it somewhere else. We don't need our young boys and girls wandering over there, being exposed to... well, overexposure."

In addition to their lifestyle, the group has seen opposition of a different sort. It has been accused of terrorist activities, burning buildings and shooting out windows, but Marcus refutes it all. "Really? Look around. Show me where the guns are. See if you can find any evidence of hate. I guarantee you, you won't find it."

True to his word, there is nothing in the commune that suggest the group hates anyone. "Love is the answer," one member says. "All we need is love," another adds.

"We're not looking for any trouble," Marcus says. "We just want to be left alone, to live our lives the way we think best."

And what about that? What about living without clothing in Iowa, where each winter it snows.

Marcus just smiles. "With the way things are going, climate change and all, in ten years Iowa will be the new Florida."

Finished with the copy, Jim looked up at Johanna.

"Good stuff," he said.

"Thank you."

"I'll send this over to the copyreaders, and it should make the weekend edition."

Johanna nodded.

"I can't put it on page one, though," Jim added. "It reads more like it belongs in the Lifestyle section."

As Johanna stood to leave, Jim stopped her.

"I'm sorry to hear about your sister. Have the authorities found any leads yet?"

Tears filled Johanna's eyes. "Not yet." She pointed to the copy. "At least the Whitlows know their daughter is safe."

Johanna left.


In the parking garage, Johanna approached a brown Ford pickup with South Dakota plates. The driver rolled down the window.

"Well," Marcus said. "He buy it?"

"Every word. He thinks you're just a bunch of wacky nudists in Iowa." Johanna wiped away more tears. "About my sister..."

Marcus nodded. "As I promised, we'll release her just as soon as the story hits the news stands. When is that going to happen, by the way?"


"Good. Go home and expect to hear from your sister then."

She didn't move, so Marcus showed her the pistol. "Seriously. Go on home."

As she turned to leave, Marcus started up the engine and put the transmission in gear. He shook his head. His group would take care of the loose ends by Sunday, he knew. It was a shame, though. Johanna might have made a nice addition to the resistance. If he'd only had the time to work with her.

Friday, February 14, 2014

#FridayFlash - Hitting the Bottle

Gerald sat at his office desk, one knee bouncing to a steady rhythm. He fingered his bottom lip and stared across the room where, sitting on the bookshelf, the bottle stared back. It called out to him.

C'mon, Gerry-berry. You know you want to.

He couldn't deny it. He was strong, he was weak, sometimes a savior, sometimes in need of saving, but right now he wanted that bottle more than anything. Even with the high demands of the new job, and then the weekends filled with home improvement projects, tonight his thoughts eventually turned away from the cold daytime numbers and the annoying weekend smell of paint to the warmth and peace he always found when it was just him and the bottle, both of them riding the wave. He had never completely lost the desire.

Gerald stood up. He walked around the desk and stepped over to the bookshelf. He reached up, but then pulled his hand back, a part of him pleading not to do it. Really, what good had the bottle ever done for him? Hadn't it only wasted his time? He could do something more productive right now, couldn't he? Maybe even leave the office and put all temptations behind him.

Why? he wondered. How can something so wonderful be so wrong?

He reached up anyway and clutched the bottle, and the anticipation wrapped its warm arms around him. It filled his chest and made the air as sweet and fragrant as roasted almonds.

Maybe just a little bit, he thought.

Yes, Gerry-berry. Just a little bit. That's all we need.

He turned and stopped, the voice of doubt trying to reason with him again. But what about tomorrow? Would he be able to step back into the office and do his job? Or would the stories the numbers told finally surrender to those the bottle always gave him?

Gerald gripped harder and shook his head. No, for the moment he didn't care about tomorrow; let it take care of itself.

He quickly walked back to the desk. He needed to do this now, before anything else crept into his mind. He opened his desk drawer and took out a piece of paper. He also grabbed the fountain pen his wife gave him on their first anniversary. He unscrewed the cap, dipped his pen into the bottle, and...

The sun burned across Janie's shoulders as she stood looking over the edge at the street twenty stories below.

Gerald smiled. After being on the wagon for months, he had finally stepped off and penned a line. A flood of warm joy washed over his body. Yes, he thought. Now, that's more like it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

#FridayFlash - Becker Finishes His Masterpiece

Becker pulled the headphones over his ears and settled down in front of the tablet. Seconds later, the music of AC/DC ("A Long Way to the Top") pounded his ears as Becker shut out the world and clicked away at the keyboard. Tonight, there would be no distractions. His wife had turned in early; their son, Lucas, was down the hall, also asleep; and the dog was curled up on the floor in front of the couch. Becker was going to finish his manifesto. "Rock 'n' Roll Singer" blasted through the phones next, followed by "The Jack," and Becker hit his stride, the words flowing from his fingers to the screen. He glanced up once at the dry-ease board, his notes transferred just this morning to keep him focused for tonight's work, but then pressed on in a fevered pace.

Ten minutes later, as Bon Scott screamed that he was public enemy number one, Becker hit the final period on the keyboard. He leaned back and smiled. This was the big finale, the coup de grâce, the summary to topple all summaries. By the time the reader reached this point in the book, all things would be clear, and his manuscript would rock the world, exposing the administration for the truth they tried to hide.

The only thing he needed now was an audience to applaud his achievement. Becker looked over to the couch, where the dog still lay curled up.

Oh well, he thought. The accolades would come later.


In Washington, Special Agent Clay Anders took a sip of his water and then screwed the cap back on the bottle. The trojan program buried in the app had worked beautifully. Even the camera built into Becker Hayward's tablet had been turned on, giving Clay a ringside seat to watch all the facial expressions. The idiot, Clay could see, actually thought the world of himself. They always did.

Clay grabbed the mouse and clicked on his secure e-mail. A pop-up window filled the screen, and Clay started to type his own work of art. Contrary to Becker in Dallas, however, Clay's work really would change the world.

From: WHSA2797
Sent: Thursday, February 05, 2014 9:16 PM
To: ARES-75219
Subject: Termination Service Request - Acct #153224017

Terminate all services connected with this account at 5601 E. Mockingbird Ln, Dallas, Texas. Secure company assets. Confirm.


From: ARES-75219
Sent: Friday, February 06, 2014 3:22 AM
To: WHSA2797
Subject: FW: Termination Service Request - Acct #153224017

Confirm. Account verified. Assets secured. All related services terminated.