Friday, April 25, 2014

#FridayFlash - Home

So, she was cheating on him after all. Jack had always suspected Madison's infidelity, but he could never prove it. Work kept him away too long and too often. She had done it, though, violated their marriage bed during those long stretches while he was gone. Her distant eyes told him so. She couldn't even look at him when he finally came home. He even resorted to using a private investigator to uncover the adultery, spending more than a grand in fees and expenses. The P.I. was either an incompetent boob, a drunk, or a flat-out fraud because he never found anything to substantiate the accusation—or so the man said—but now there it was, in plain sight for God and everyone to see. All it took was him dying.

He was dead, he knew that. Good Lord, most of them knew it right away. A few still held onto their hope and faith that somehow they had made it through, but that was just full-on denial. Anyone in their right mind could look at the wreckage, at the charred things scattered along the Indonesian mountainside, and see that nobody survived.

How long he'd been gone, Jack didn't know. Time seemed to take on a whole different dimension on this side of the dirt. In fact, time wasn't the only irregular sensation. The sun didn't burn. The wind whistled but he felt nothing. Since the crash, everything changed, almost as if the world he knew ceased to exist and was replaced by something entirely new.

There were other things that began anew, as well. It took him a while just to figure out how to move. For a full week, he was planted as hard and stiff as a cedar elm. What a miserable time that had been, stuck in one place listening to the investigators yammer on and on, each of them looking at a piece of wreckage and throwing out wild theories like Mardi Gras beads. Then, there was the wailing of family members who somehow made it to the crash scene, mothers mourning their lost children, husbands and wives grieving their lost spouses, children crying over a mommy or daddy who never came home. Madison and his daughter, Lindsey, never made it, of course.

He finally did move, though, and it was strange how it worked, almost like learning to walk all over again. You're born into one body as a baby, you have to discover how to use it; you die and lose that body, you have to learn how to use your new, spiritual form. Weird.

By the time he finally made it home, Madison had clearly moved on. And like everything else on this side of eternity, she had change as well. She colored her hair. She wore shorter skirts, too—totally on the market. Looking at her, arm in arm with another man, Jack wondered how long it had taken her. A month? Maybe two? Probably not that long, he guessed.

He followed them home, walked up the front porch steps with them, and watched as she invited the man in. Jack didn't want to follow, not sure that he could watch what might happen next, but felt compelled, pulled by a sense that he had to see for himself what he always suspected.

They walked into the living room, which, oddly enough, still looked the same. At least Madison kept some things in place.

She asked the man if he wanted a drink.

He shrugged a shoulder and said, "Sure."

"I have bourbon and beer."

"Bourbon's fine."

"Ice or no?"

"Ice, please."

She left the room to fix their drinks, and Jack stayed behind to watch the man, who now stood at the fireplace mantle. He was staring at a picture of Madison and Jack, a photo taken back when it was just the two of them, a year or so before Lindsey came along.

Jack looked at the man. "So, were you sleeping with her before I left?"

The words came out, but the man didn't hear them. Instead, he scratched at goosebumps that formed on his arm. He rubbed at the back of his neck, too. Jack wanted to scream the question again, but knew it wouldn't do any good. At best, all he would do is make the man's skin tingle. He balled up a fist, ready to see what a ghost punch would do, when her voice stopped him.

"What're you doing?" she said.

Jack turned, thinking that maybe she had spoken to him.

The man answered her.

"I was looking at your pictures. Who're you with in this one?"

She shook her head. "That's my mother—my dad, too—back before I was born."

Jack took a step back. Her mother and father? This was Lindsey? How had he lost so much time?

She stepped forward, handed the man a glass of whiskey, and then stared at the photo.

"They seemed so happy back then. Something happened, though. My mother never knew what, but something had changed between her and my father. I think it was the long separations before he died, the times when he left to go overseas and she didn't know where he was exactly, or who he was with. She died about two years after he did. Went to bed and never woke up. I think her broken heart finally gave out."

Jack closed his eyes, trying to maintain his balance. Everything seemed so out of kilter. Then another voice called out to him.


He turned toward the entryway, amazed by the similarities he now saw.

"Jack," Madison said. She smiled. "You finally made it home."

Friday, April 18, 2014

#FridayFlash - Hangar 23 (Conclusion)

Bobby felt a sudden longing to be home, back in the arms of Lana, his wife, just the two of them the way it was before the war. Lana begged him not to go, even said it in multiple ways the night before he shipped out, each time just a little different, the aching tone in her voice trying to convince him to see it through her eyes. But he had to. As soon as Roosevelt's speech rang out across the radio, that day of infamy burned into the hearts and minds of every man on Bobby's street. The impact of those words hit like a meteor explosion. They shook the foundational security of each house, and every man had a strong urge to stand up and fight, to protect what was ultimately their existence, their way of life. That's how the President put it, so it had to be true.

Lana cried as he stepped aboard the bus. She walked along the concrete, matching him step for step as he made his way back and took his seat. He opened the window then and called out to her. "I'll be back before you know it. You'll see."

Now those words came back to him as he heard the old man tell it again, only saying it slower in mocking sort of way. At least, that how it came across.

"You say it's Hangar Twenty-three," Bobby said. "The sign says so, too, but there's only one hangar here."

Stanley shrugged a shoulder. "I didn't name it, son. I just work it."

Before Bobby could respond, Amelia spoke up.

"Stanley, you got any coffee?"

Hearing the woman's voice, Bobby almost looked at her. He fought against it, though. He wanted to see her, in a way some part of him needed to, but the thought of staring at a woman who went down in the Pacific years before Honolulu burned struck fear in his heart. It was as if seeing her would only make the dread more real. The longing fire for home that now burned in his heart would suddenly explode and reduce him to an ash heap of regret.

"Coffee's just inside the door," Stanley said. "Pipin' hot as always."

Amelia stepped around the two of them and headed toward the hangar. She called over her shoulder as she walked. "Oh, and my bird needs some fuel, too. Can you take care of it?"

"Sure thing, Miss E." Stanley turned back to Bobby and smiled. "She's a peach, that one."

"I'm sure she is," Bobby said and knew his tone belied his feelings, "but that's not... I mean that's not the real Amelia..."

Beside him, Mickey Carswell snickered, and Bobby suddenly remembered that he wasn't the only one who landed in the Dauntless.

Stanley frowned.

"Oh, I assure you both, she is."

"But how is that possible?" Bobby asked.

"I think you'll find on this journey quite a many things are possible."

"Journey? What're you talking about?"

Stanley's smile returned.

"It's why you're here. Why you're both here. Miss E, she's gonna take you on."

Bobby looked at the twin-engine Lockheed, at the passenger door, a mouth opened and ready to devour. His heart raced. His chest tightened up.

This can't be happening, he thought. Not now. Not when I made a promise to Lana.

Carswell spoke up, and Bobby saw his gunner's face had turned pale with the realization of what the old man said.

"But where is she taking us?"

"Where she takes everyone, I suspect." Stanley nodded his head toward the sky. "Even him."

Bobby turned and looked down the runway. As he stared at the approaching plane, a silver body shaped like a lit cigar, the dread he felt vanished. It was replaced by a rage that compelled every muscle in his body to move. He wanted to run to the Dauntless, strap himself in, and take her up. But there was no time. The tarmac coughed up a cloud of smoke as the Zero touched down and approached the hangar.

"I know what you're thinking," Stanley said. "You want to kill him."

Bobby turned around and glared at the old man.

"Of course. He's the enemy."

"Him?" Stanley shook his head. "Nah, I don't think so."

"What're you saying? They attacked us."

"You don't really think he woke up and decided that, do you?" Stanley's face softened. "He's as much a victim as you are, only you can't see it yet."

The old man walked out and greeted the pilot, bowing and speaking in Japanese. The words rolled off his tongue as smooth as water. As Bobby watched, Stanley pointed the Japanese pilot toward the twin-engine Lockheed. The pilot nodded and walked to the other plane.

"Wait a minute," Bobby said as Stanley returned. "Amelia's taking him, too?"

"Of course. That's how it works."

"How what works?"

Stanley smiled. "You'll figure it out."

Amelia returned then. Steam rose up from her cup.

"We all ready then?"

"Fueled up and ready to go," Stanley said.

"Stanley, how do you do it?"

The old man smiled.

Bobby's head swirled in confusion. Nobody fueled up Amelia's plane, but somehow he knew the tank had been topped off just like the old man said. It was just as amazing as the landing strip that had appeared out of nowhere and wind that bent the grass but he couldn't feel.

"What if I don't go?" he asked.

Stanley pointed to the sky.

"Them clouds are comin' in. Just like always. And I don't think you'll want to be here when they do. It'll be a hell of a storm."

Bobby stared at the clouds, at the dark layers and flashes of lightning, and he knew the old man's warning spoke the truth. He wouldn't want to be here. He nodded, thanked Stanley, and then walked toward the Lockheed. He just wished that Lana could be here to go with him.

Friday, April 11, 2014

#FridayFlash - Hangar 23

The tarmac stretched out like a black cross, broken and angled against a backdrop of gold and blue, as Lieutenant Bobby McCutcheon eased off the throttle, letting nature and science have its way. The Dauntless floated down like a wounded bird, the wings tipping from side to side, and Bobby fought the stick with all he had. The main thing was to keep the nose up.

Seated behind him, Mickey Carswell cried out.

"Keep it steady, Lieutenant. Please, God, keep it steady."

Bobby gritted his teeth. "I am Gunner. Just... shut up, and let me handle it."

In the engine compartment, the Cyclone sputtered and coughed, spraying the windshield with oil and other fluids. Then something popped, and the plane shuddered as smoke billowed out from both sides of the cowling. It wrapped itself around the canopy like a blanket, so dark and thick that for a few seconds Bobby lost sight of the airport. Then, it cleared up and the broken cross came back into view, now only five miles out.

Carswell started in again. "Our Father... Who art in heaven..."

Oh for the love of God, Bobby thought. Can't the boy just shut up? Can't he see I'm trying to save us both?

He released the landing gear but heard nothing and for a moment the thought of scrapping the plane's belly against the asphalt flittered through his mind. Then, he heard the landing gear doors open, felt the instant drag as the wheels locked down into place, and hope took on new life. It was only fleeting, though. They hit a pocket of nothing, and the Dauntless dropped a hundred feet in a split second. Bobby's stomach felt like it dropped even further, completely leaving his body and the plane as well. He almost threw up. No, he thought and swallowed the bile back down. Not now. Not in front of the kid.

In the back, Carswell's voice took on a fevered pitch as he switched prayers. "Hail Mary, full of grace..."

A few feet off the runway, Bobby powered down and yanked hard on the stick. The tires squawked in pain. The plane bounced once, twice, and then finally resolved to stay on the ground. Bobby guided it down the tarmac toward a hangar. It was a lonely building, standing all by itself amid a crop of wild grass. Half of the paneled-glass hanger doors had been pushed open, and dark shadows shrouded the interior. Through the oil-splattered windshield, Bobby saw large letters and a number painted across the half-moon face of the building: Hangar 23.

Just outside the hangar, Bobby powered down and the plane rolled to a stop. Both he and Carswell slid open the canopy and climbed out. Carswell hit the ground first, falling prostrate on the tarmac, crying and kissing the oily asphalt. He then stood up, looked at the Dauntless, and scratched his head.

"The dorsal and starboard tail are shot to pieces," Carswell said. "And that's above and beyond. The fuselage looks like a ham and swiss on rye, you ask me." He looked at Bobby and shook his head. "It's a flat-out miracle you were able to land this thing, Lieutenant."

Bobby nodded.

"And look at that storm," Carswell said, pointing. About ten miles out, a massive and dark formation billowed and roiled, stretching from the ocean to the heavens. Bursts of lightning sparked throughout its body. "How on earth did you ever fly it through that thing?"

Bobby shook his head.

"Like you said, it was a miracle."

Behind him a voice called out. "That was some kind of landin'."

Bobby and Carswell both turned to face what looked like a mechanic. He was an old man, with curly white hair, and he was dressed in grease-stained coveralls. The name tag stitched to the breast pocket identified him as Stanley.

"Don't see to much good flyin' like that these days," the man said. "And—whooee!—will ya look at that plane. What is that, an Avenger?"

Bobby looked around at the plane and then back. "It's a Dauntless," he said.

The man nodded. "Ah, yes, I see it now. A Dauntless."

Bobby looked at the hangar, a frown furrowing on his brow. Beyond the name, there were no other identifying marks.

"What is this place?"

Stanley turned around. "It's like it says, Hangar Twenty-Three."

"But I don't remember this place on any of my maps."

Carswell turned to look at the old man, too.

Stanley shrugged. "I don't know nuthin' about you're maps, but we here, aren't we? You can see it plain as day, right?"

Bobby looked around. The sandy-brown grass twisted in the wind, but he felt nothing. No breeze against his skin. No heat from the sun. It must be the hangar blocking everything, he thought.

"Who else is here?" Bobby asked.

"Ain't nobody but me," Stanley said. "I don't get too much comp'ny here. We'll, except for Miss E, and she'll be along shortly, I imagine." Just then, a big smile split the old man's lips. "Well kiss my foot, there she is now."

Bobby and Carswell turned to watch a twin-engine Lockheed Electra glide down out of the sky. Puffs of white smoke jetted from the tires as the plane made a soft landing and rolled down the runway. It approached the hangar, rolled to a stop and the propellers made their last, but failing effort to stay alive. The passenger door opened and a tall, lanky woman stepped down. Even from this distance, Bobby was struck by her wavy hair, her beautiful face.

The old man waved. "Say there, Miss E. Right on time, as always."

"Stanley," the woman said. "How many times do I have to say it? Call me Amelia."

"Nah, you'll always be Miss E to me."

Bobby turned and looked at Stanley. A deep frown pressed between his eyes.

"Where are we again?"


Okay, I know this is supposed to be #FridayFlash, and I didn't mean to do this to you, but once I started rolling with this one there was no way to shut it down in a thousand words or less. So, this will have to be a two-piece story. I have more thoughts to bring on this one, and I'm sure you're already guessing where it's headed. At least part of it. I hope you'll tune in next week to wrap it up with me.

Friday, April 4, 2014

#FridayFlash - Ties That Bind

Sharon checked the rearview mirror as she pulled the car to the curb and stopped. There was nobody behind them. Good, she thought, reaching for the radio knob. They'd been listening to music so loud that it pulsed through her head and made her eardrums throb, but now it was time to turn the thing off. With a push of her thumb, she was able to shut up the latest female artist of teenage angst, something that few other people could do lately.

In the passenger seat beside her, Sharon's fifteen-year-old daughter, Missy, grabbed her backpack. A blast of cold air rushed in as Missy grabbed the latch and shouldered the door open.

"Hey..." Sharon said.

Monica turned her head, and hard eyes outlined with thick lines of mascara stared back at Sharon. Her daughter said nothing.

"I know we've had some fights lately," Sharon said. It had been more than just some, she knew. On those days when, by chance, it hadn't been an all-out war, they had each launched a few sarcastic missiles just to keep the other on edge, to keep the DMZ in tact. Sharon hated that the relationship had fallen to this level of hostility, but she didn't know what else to do. Missy wanted to push the edge, and Sharon had long since resolved to never budge. Her own father and mother never did, and somehow now, being a parent herself with all of the sleepless nights and endless worries, it all made more sense. Just look around, she often told herself. See all the troubled kids and detached mothers? And it wasn't like Scott would lend a hand. Outside of the monthly checks, they hadn't seen or heard from him in almost a year. So why should she give in? Give them an inch, her father used to say, and they'll take you all the way to Paris, Texas. Sharon had never been there, but imagined it wasn't a place she would be stranded in.

Monica continued to stare bullets.

"I just want you to know..." Sharon took a breath. "I love you." As Monica narrowed her eyes, Sharon added, "I mean it. I really do love you."

Monica raised a skeptical eyebrow. She bobbed her head once as if to acknowledge that she at least heard the words. She turned to step out of the car, and Sharon stopped her.

"You know," she said, "If there's anything you want to talk about—anything that's bothering you—just say the word."

Monica frowned. "What could possibly be bothering me?"

Sharon shrugged. "I just thought I would put it out there."

A confused look spread across Monica's face. She then turned, stepped out of the car, and closed the door.

As Sharon watched her daughter walk toward the school, she thought about the messages she'd intercepted last night. Yesterday Monica's boyfriend of two months told her they were through, and Monica had texted her friend about the whole ordeal. If there was anything she could do, Sharon knew she would have done it. Some heartaches, though, can't be avoided.

A horn blared. Sharon looked up at the rearview to see the impatient driver staring back her. She stepped on the gas and pulled away, taking one last look at her daughter as she drove away.