Short Story Sunday: Two Stories – “Maybe” and “The Offer”

A new story for 2020

Maybe

My phone dinged with another text message. I really needed to mute the sound.

Jay: I am so sorry about Ryan.

Me: Thank you.

Jay: I saw your photo. Your still hot.

Me: You still can’t spell.

Another old boyfriend I’d have to block. They came out of the woodwork like rats, only they were middle aged men, all divorced, widowed, never married, and looking for any excuse to get laid.

The messages ranged from sappy memories of times that never meant much to me, dick pics, apologies, propositions, apologies for past bad behavior, and whiney threads of what could have been. I blocked them all.

Mike: If you need anything call me.

Me: Who is this?

Mike: Mike Johnson

Me: What are you doing now?

Mike: Thinking about you.

Me: I mean, are you working? Retired? Married? Single?

Mike: Semi retired. Semi single. Rich. Still have my hair. Still in the area. Still thinking of your hot body next to mine. I never forgot. Never.

Me: OK. Remember, you dumped me.

Mike: I was young and stupid. If you need anything, and I mean anything.

Me: OK.

I blocked him. That made nine. There were more out there and I hoped they’d all keep their thoughts to themselves. I’d dated a lot before I met Ryan.

Them: I think about you all the time.

Me: Stop.

Ryan and I had thirty one years together, two wonderful children, and now I had to figure out what was next. Or maybe not.

It had been five months since Ryan passed. I wasn’t so numb anymore. The kids were grown and handling it ok. I couldn’t sit around feeling sorry for myself for breaking down. I had to be there for them and my grand kids. I didn’t have the luxury of feeling sorry for myself, and Ryan wouldn’t have wanted me to.

Then I received an email from someone I used to know.

Dear Colette,
I was saddened to hear the news of Ryan’s passing. We had worked together on research projects for years and become friends. He spoke often of you and your children.

I didn’t get back to you because I also had Covid-19 and survived it.

It took a while for me to realize that Ryan’s Colette was you. I never told him I knew you.


I sat looking at the computer screen growing numb. The email was from Ian Locke, the one who got away. At least sort of got away. We parted ways because due to the old “wrong time, wrong place” type of situation.

Ian continued with sweet thoughts and good memories of my husband. It was exceptionally touching and weird. I never made the connection when Ryan spoke of Ian. They were never in the same city, and usually they were out in the field or in the lab, so we never met.

Then my phone vibrated and I answered the call. It was Ian.

His voice immediately brought me back to a time forty years ago when we were in college. We were just babies, or at least adults who didn’t know how to be adults yet. It was a time to experiment and flounder.

We talked a bit about Ryan and our children. We both had two. I had two girls. He had two boys. They were all doing great and in college. We spoke of our careers.

Then Ryan said, “I’m getting a divorce. I’ll sign the final papers next week.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“She had been cheating on me for years. When he passed away she wanted to patch things up but it was too late.”

Suddenly I wanted to throw up. I wasn’t so stupid that I didn’t know where this was going. I had no idea, but I wasn’t stupid.

“She gave Ryan Covid-19. She gave it to me. She and I survived it. I’m sorry. I am so angry. I lost my friend. I lost all sense of trust. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t even be telling you this.”

He shouldn’t have been telling me that.

I thought of the research trips. I thought of the times he had to stay a few extra days. I thought of him dying in our spare bedroom where he’d quarantined himself.

Ian continued. “Renee lost it when Ryan died. She was hysterical for weeks, then she finally told me about everything. I didn’t want to believe it but then I saw the texts, the emails, the photos. She said she was going to tell you. I told her no. She said she needed to tell you. What a cunt. I didn’t want you to hear it from her. I am so sorry Colette.”

“Ian,” I said. “I want to talk to you more. I want to see you, but I don’t know… could you call me back in a few weeks? Will you call me in a few weeks.”

“Sure. Colette…”

“I’ll talk to you soon. It’s good to hear your voice. Call me later.”

I hung up.

I haven’t heard from Ian. It has only been a week. I did put my house up for sale. I’m looking for a beach house, closer to my kids.

Nobody knows about my conversation with Ian. I don’t plan on telling anyone.

2020 is almost done. Next year should be better. Maybe. Either way it will be a new beginning for me. I tell myself that. Maybe I’ll convince myself. Maybe.

~ end

For those who want something a little more cheerful read the following story. It is an oldie but a goodie. Have fun. Stay safe. WEAR YOUR MASK.

The Offer (a fairy tale with a wizard, a kitten and a mysterious stranger)

Miles was the official Royal Wizard to the Kingdom of the Moonbeam Mountains. What the fuck kind of name was that for a Kingdom?

“I will NEVER be as good as my dad.” he thought brooding in the dark under the night sky on the roof with a bottle of 80 proof Dragon Blood.

Sitting alone in his castle by the sea he thought of her, the princess who’d more or less left him for another man. Hell, he never had her. She’d always been in love with someone else. They’d been together for ten years. In ten years she’d told him a thousand times that she loved him but at the same time she was running a fantasy in her head about another guy.

For the past 6 years they’d lived with each other almost full-time. Their father’s were best friends. Hers was the King of the Northwestern Kingdom, his father was the Royal Wizard there and their mother’s were girlfriends. Everything was perfect, just like it was supposed to be. Every single year he’d proposed to her. Every single year she’d told him that she wanted to wait. Wait for what? Now he knew. She was waiting for another guy.

He called to have his horse ready and took off to the local pub. At least there he could keep his mind off of things.

Half way to the pub he stopped to pull his gloves out of his saddle bag. He heard a noise on the side of the road. A teeny tiny gray and white kitten ran towards him. It couldn’t have been more than six weeks old.

“Oh sweetie,” he whispered to the kitten, “I can’t leave you out here alone.” He tucked the tiny cat under his coat and continued on.

As he entered the village gate he could hear the band playing at the pub and already see friends lingering around the front door. “Deep breath Miles,” he thought to himself knowing everyone would ask about his princess. They knew he’d left her. They didn’t know why or for how long. He didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe he’d just put a spell on the place to make them all shut up about it, but ethics and his own code of decency stopped him from it. There is no crime in being curious.

After dropping his horse off in safe hands he greeted the people outside then went in. He could feel the small body purring inside of his coat. There was something about a cat that could make one forget everything. Cats were so pure and so decadent and so useless and so calming and so everything that made the universe worth living in. Cats represented all that was. Not good or bad just everything.

He caught his reflection in a window. Blonde hair, board shoulders, blue eyes, dimples on his boy-next-door cheeks and a scar across his neck that would tingle every time she kissed him, no matter what violent memories it brought him.

Everyone greeted him. Big points were scored with the ladies when he cradled the purring kitten in the crook of his arm. Damn that kitty was cute. She looked up at him and mewed a purr dripped sound that was absolutely toxic cute. He could never get enough of that feeling of pure joy and love.

After ordering a brew Miles did a few tricks for the patrons. They always asked and he was glad to give them some shows of blue sparks, wispy smoke dragons and fairies flying over their heads and levitating beer steins. It was all good fun. Fun was always good especially with the way he was feeling.

The fact that he’d been alone for a few months hadn’t gone unnoticed. He could hear the gossip behind his back. He could feel the single women watching him and wanting him. There was no reason for him to be alone at night but he wasn’t ready yet for company in his cold bed.

He heard a voice at his shoulder. “Missing your homeland Wizard?”

Miles turned around to see a tall exceptionally thin man standing at his shoulder. He wore a good suit and a sarcastic smile on his face.

The man continued to speak. “Do you miss a warm princess next to you in your cold bed? Do you wish your magic was more powerful? Do you wish you’d get the same respect and power as your father has? I can give you all of that.”

“It isn’t wise to attempt to provoke a wizard, even a piss poor attempt like yours. I don’t know you sir, but I’m here to enjoy an evening with friends. Now if you’ll excuse me and my cat we’ve got others to talk to,” Miles said to the tall thin man.

“Give me that kitten and I’ll grant you three wishes,” the stranger said in a voice so smooth it made Miles cringe.

“I don’t want your wishes and I’m sure as Hell not giving you my cat.”

At a large table he sat with friends, joking and listening to their stories, but his senses were wide open to any evil that lurked in the building. The tall thin stranger occupied himself with another group, but Miles could feel his presence.

The kitten purred and played with everyone at the table. There was nothing special or magic about her except that she was a cat. “Just a cat,” thought Miles, “nothing more.”

Hours later, after he’d had a successful evening with friends who’d done more than a good job of cheering him up and getting him out of his gloomy mood, Miles arrived home. His staff would be in bed so he put the horse to bed for the night, gathered the kitten back under his coat and headed for the front door. The moonlight made the dark pathway easy. He took a deep breath of the salt air and listened to the waves crashing on the beach below.

“Welcome to my castle by the sea dear kitten,” he told his small purring friend. “You look like a Lizzie to me. How about it? Do you like that name my dear?” The kitten meowed and purred.

Looking up he saw a figure on the cliff. It was the annoying thin stranger from the pub.

“Wizard, give me the cat and I will give you everything you desire. I can make your princess love you. I can make you famous. I can bring you riches.”

“Get off my property or I’ll…” he thought a moment for the bad things he could do then spoke. “What’s so special about the cat?”

“Your princess for the cat Miles. Say the word and you’ll have what your heart desires.”

“I don’t know who you are but I don’t want a woman who loves me because of a spell. I want her to love me for the right reason. I want her to fall for me in a nice long romantic way of her own accord. Love spells are bull shit. Every wizard with any talent knows that. And any man who knows what his heart desires and knows what true love feels like knows that.”

“Give me the cat.”

“Is she yours? Don’t lie to me man. I’ll know if you’re telling me a lie.”

The stranger halted a bit. “Well, no.”

“Then what is it? I don’t want any wishes and I don’t trust you with a helpless kitten. What do you really want? Is this some sort of test? Or are you just a creepy stalker? What is it? Tell me.”

“Do you love your princess?” The man asked him as if he was accusing Miles of cheating.

“Sure I do but, it’s none of your business.” None of anyone’s business that she was in love with someone else. “Get the Hell off of my property.” Miles blasted the ground in front of the man with a bolt of orange lightning. The man jumped back. “Go or the next one will hit you.”

The man was gone. Miles was alone in the kitchen with the kitten. “What was that about? Do you know?”

The kitten just purred.

Three wishes. He laughed out loud a bitter laugh. What would he need with three wishes. He’d worked hard for everything he had. He was proud of what he’d accomplished. Being a wizard, much less one in a foreign country, wasn’t always easy. People depended on him.

He thought of calling her, his princess, but he decided to let it go, at least for tonight. She had left him letters and messages but he couldn’t get past the pain of betrayal.

He wondered who the skinny guy was and why he wanted the cat. Three wishes. It wasn’t worth it. He’d never trade his soul or the tiny stray he’d found on the side of the road. After all, wasn’t it the same thing? He had shown compassion to a small beast. He’d shown his soul.

The kitten didn’t start to talk. He kissed the top of her tiny head but she didn’t turn into a princess.

Taking out a piece of paper and a pen he started to write.

Tonight a strange skinny man offered me three wishes in exchange for a small kitten I found on the side of the road. The man said he could make you love me. I wasn’t tempted by the offer. If you love me I want it to be honest and true for me. No magic. No games. No more lies. 

He wadded up the letter and made it vanish with a flash of blue smoke.  It was no use.  Heading up the stairs with the kitten in his arms he stopped at the sound of someone knocking on the door. “Damn you, I do not want your wishes.”

Jerking open the door Miles yelled, “I’m not giving you my kitten.”

But standing at the door wasn’t the tall skinny man, it was his princess. He brought her in and told her the story of the strange skinny man and the kitten. She listened in wonder and then they both went upstairs.

And did they live happily ever after? Maybe. Only time, or maybe the cat will tell.

~ end

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Short Story Sunday: Cousin Rachael

My cousin Rachael died last week. Her house was burning. She and her dog were found dead in her swimming pool. Her body was wracked with the effects of an advanced case of Covid-19.

The weird thing about is wasn’t the house burning, or the Covid-19, or even the fact that her hands were bound behind her back. The weirdest thing was that her dog was in the pool with her.

The fire wasn’t part of the wild fires that are blazing all over California. It was arson. Someone had poured gasoline all over her garage, lit a match, and left her alone coughing and barely able to function.

Rachael refused to go to a hospital. She’d rather be in her own bed in her own mansion. If she was going to die alone she said she wanted to be with her nasty little dog Chatsworth.

Chatsworth was a beautiful fluffy brown and white spotted animal of unknown heritage. He hated everyone except Rachael. He loved Rachael.

After Rachael died her attorney came to my house with a box. The box had holes in it. Inside of it was a cat with singed fur and whiskers. He was a large gray tabby with a white mask on his face and chest, and white paws. He’d belonged to Rachael’s ex who’d broken both of his legs in a car accident one night after they’d had a huge fight over Rachael’s callus attitudes over his place in her life. He never spoke to her again and moved out of the country.

The cat’s name was Zoomie. As soon as I let him out of the carrier he started to purr. I wondered how that cat could be so mellow and happy considering who he’d lived with.

Rachael wasn’t a nice person. In fact she was a first class raging bitch. The short list of words to describe Rachael were mean spirited, narcissistic, disingenuous, a first class liar, and a control freak. She hadn’t always been like that, well maybe she had, but it just got worse as she grew older, especially the past sixteen years.

Despite her faults (though she saw none) she was incredibly successful. Rachael lived one of those charmed lives where everything seemed to come easy. Fabulous opportunities seemed to come out of the blue. Men went crazy over her no matter how badly she treated them. People were fascinated by her. She rubbed shoulders (and more) with the rich, famous, and powerful. Rachael had done well and was fabulously rich herself. When she died she owned the home she’d died in, plus three vacation homes all free and clear. She was worth millions.

At one time Rachael and I were close. She thought so until the day she died. I’d been done with her for years.

So, back to Zoomie and my household.

I had no reason to ever be jealous of Rachael or her success. I had my own sort of charmed life. Sure it wasn’t perfect by we’d done very well. I was married to a rock star – yes a real rock star. Ben and I had met when I designed his first album cover. His band became a world wide success with hit after hit. My design career took off. After being friends for years, it turned into more than friends, then marriage, then two children.

Now the kids were in college and Ben was making cute “at home” videos with the kids and his band members. I was just hanging out and working on some illustrations projects. We were good. We had work. We had love.

We also had a new cat. Zoomie got along with the two cats and two dogs we already had. He was a wonderful animal.

So far so good, until my brother Jackie called in hysterics. He missed Rachael. He couldn’t get over the fact she was gone. The police had been by to question him to find out if he knew anyone who’d want her dead. He didn’t know anyone. He was freaked out. Completely freaked out.

I thought of a lot of people who would have wanted Rachael dead, starting with my husband.

At one time Rachael had tried to seduce Ben, then when he resisted her charms she moved on to his band members. Eventually the drummer Scotty spent a sex and drug laden weekend with Rachael. When it got too weird he went home. She spread dirt in the media about him and threatened to say she was raped. Then the nude photos started to show up. Yes, Rachael had hidden cameras in her bedroom. Of course she did.

But that was mild compared to her other bad deeds. She had a long trail of carnage she’d caused including broken marriages, ruined careers, public shame, and a list of horrible things that nobody would every want in their lives.

I told my brother that he’d be fine and decided to ignore him next time he called. I had three other siblings and a dozen cousins. All of them agreed with my take on things. She’d hurt all of them over the years in one way or the other. The only good thing about the pandemic is that nobody had to go to a funeral and tell lies about what a wonderful woman she was.

Ben was sitting at his piano working on a song with Zoomie sitting on the bench next to him. Suddenly Ben stopped and called me into the room.

He had such an odd look on his face. Then he said, “Zoomie talks.”

“Of course you do sweet boy,” I said to the cat and rubbed it under the chin.

Then Zoomie looked up and me and said in a high kind of strained whispery voice, “I can talk. If you sit down next to us I’ll tell you what happened to Rachael.”

I had to catch my breath. The cat talked. Zoomie REALLY talked.

“Sit down. I have to tell my story. Talking isn’t that easy for me so I’m not going to say it all twice. I mean, I love you guys and all more than I can say, but talking isn’t my thing. OK, where were we… sit… Rachael. I’m going to tell you about Rachael.

Rachael was doing good. She had a nice life but she wanted more. It was like she was tired of being at base camp forever and wanted to make it to the top. She’d do anything to get there.

When I met her was when her then live-in man Ian adopted me. I liked Ian. He was a great guy. Rachael had him around because he had this great English accent, a great body, and the sex was good. Ian was also successful so he didn’t expect anything material from her. He wasn’t no boy toy if you know what I mean. Anyway, Ian started to ask her to be nicer to him and everyone else. Rachael would have none of it. So one night Ian left. He left without me because he was moving to Brazil. Who the hell moves to Brazil? Anyway he couldn’t bring me with him.

Rachael wasn’t bad to me. I was fed. The staff gave me a lot of attention. I would wander around the house looking for a portrait like in that story about the Dorian Gray guy, you know where he stayed young and beautiful while the picture took on all of his ugly shit. Oscar Wilde wrote it. You know it?”

“You can read?” Ben asked.

“Sure I can read. I’m a smart cat. Anyway I never found the picture, but it was still so weird the way good things kept happening to Rachael. I mean, nothing bad ever happened to her. Then one day I was sitting on the balcony watching that fucking nasty little Chatsworth sitting by the pool licking his balls. Then he got up and stretched. These wings, like a leathery bat came out of his back, then his whole body transformed into some gosh awful humanoid demon form.

I’m not skittish so I jumped down by the way of a near by tree and went to investigate. The ugly little demon dog thing was still sitting by the pool scratching his leathery hide and sticking his feet in the water.

“Hey, Chats, what’s going on?” I said causally, just acting like the typical disinterested cat.

He looked shocked. I’d caught him in his real form.

“Don’t tell anyone what you see or I’ll fucking kill you,” he said.

“I’ve got seven lives left asshole,” I told him, “but I’m not going to waste any on you. What’s your story?”

“Rachael is my story. She sold her soul for success. It shocked me she didn’t go into politics, but she just wanted to be on the edge. She wanted a reality TV star life and she has it. Hey, I’m having fun.”

“She sold her soul to you?”

“No, to the Devil. I’m just here to make sure the contract isn’t broken. I’m her keeper.”

“No shit,” I said trying to sound like this thing happened all the time.

“No shit,” said Chatsworth the nasty little dog.

So when Chatsworth turned seventeen his dog days would be over. The contract for Rachael’s soul lasted as long as the life of a dog. When the dog died she’d die.

The wife of some guy Rachael was having a long term affair with came by and tossed her in the pool. She would have survived but the guy kicked Chatsworth and killed him. Threw the damn dog in the pool. With Chatsworth dead the contract was up along with Rachael’s good luck. Chatsworth was only ten but that didn’t matter. He was dead so the contract was over. That’s the story folks of how Rachael lost her soul.”

“Wow,” Ben and I said in unison.

“Hey,” said Zoomie, “mind getting me a drink of water. This taking stuff kind of makes me thirsty and make my throat hurt. It isn’t like meowing or even cat fight yowl. It takes a lot out of a guy.”

“Are you a demon?” Ben asked.

“No, I’m just a cat.”

“But you can talk,” I said.

Zoomie started to purr and make biscuits on Ben’s leg. “All cats can talk,” he said. “We just don’t like to. It isn’t easy. You know our vocal cords and lips aren’t really made for it.”

Then Zoomie said one last thing about it. “When a person sells their soul something is sent to watch them. It might be a dog, or a cat. It might be another person, but it is always something. You never know. You just never know. The good thing about being a cat is that nobody can buy our souls or steal them. That is the bad part of being a human. We feel sorry for you. We still love you for the most part because most of you are good. Most.”

I got Zoomie some water and cat treats, then looked over to my two other cats who were curled up on the big arm chair at the other end of the room.

After a few weeks Ian announced he was going to write a tell all book about Rachael. A lot of less than wonderful stories came out about her. I tried to ignore it all.

I did wonder about everyone else in the news these days, in politics, in the media, famous and rich for no real reason. How many of them had sold their souls? How many of them had a an animal or a close friend, a spouse, or advisor who was really a demon watching to make sure the contract wasn’t broken.

I guess we’ll never know, and I know now the cats won’t be talking.

~ end

Online Party and Live Short Story Reading

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My friends Jon and Brian are having a Book Launch Party and you’re invited.

I’ve been to their events before and it is well worth the time.

This is a benefit (donate what you want to, if you want to) for Project Open Hand.

Project Open Hand’s mission is to improve health outcomes and quality of life by providing nutritious meals to the sick and vulnerable, caring for and educating our community.

Our vision is for a healthy California for the sick and vulnerable through nutrition.

Founded in 1985, Project Open Hand is a nonprofit organization that provides meals with love to critically ill neighbors and seniors. Our food is like medicine, helping clients recover from illness, get stronger, and lead healthier lives.

Every day, we prepare 2,500 nutritious meals and provide 200 bags of healthy groceries to help sustain our clients as they battle serious illnesses, isolation, or the health challenges of aging. We serve San Francisco and Oakland, engaging more than 125 volunteers daily to nourish our community.

Jon’s readings are always a joy. Brian is always fun. Special guest Maureen Kadish Sherbondy will also join in the festivities. Set aside some time for yourself during the pandemic and get a positive mental charge right from the comfort of your own home. You won’t even need to wear your mask.

Yes, something is happening in August 2020 that isn’t a disaster.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

Short Story Sunday: Writing On The Wall

Writing On The Wall

Every house I’ve ever lived in as an adult has had writing on the wall. It’s usually phone numbers in the garage next to the automatic sprinkler controls, or labels in the pantry closet, or construction notes. I’ve lived in a couple of places that had backs of closets illustrated by children who are now senior citizens.

Earlier this week my husband Steve and I started painting the walls in our family room and breakfast nook. We’re doing a major decorative remodel. Think “Property Brothers” or something along those lines. As he pulled out screws that previous owners used to hang some large pieces of art or maybe a giant fish or something.

Anyway, a large piece of plaster fell off of the wall. Steve swore something under his breath using the words “fuck” and “damn.” He called me over.

“Look at this honey. What do you think?”

On the wall these words were scrawled in black ink: I killed Heather Marie Larkin. She was a bitch and deserved to die. Her body is buried under the house. JKR 1989.

“Do you think it’s true?” I asked Steve.

“I don’t know. It could be a joke. Have you ever heard of Heather Marie Larkin?”

“I don’t know. It sounds sort of familiar. I’ll look it up.”

The Internet was all over Heather Marie Larkin. She’d been twenty-four years old, a recent college graduate, engaged to a brilliant law student named Ted LaRue. From the comments it looked like the Heather wasn’t well liked. Not just because of her spectacular good looks and charmed life, but for the fact she was a horrible person. Heather Marie Larkin was the girl who got away with everything. If anyone was in her way they would fall – and fall hard.

One night in 1989 Heather vanished and was never seen or heard from again. No clues. No suspects. Nothing. JKR was Joanna Katrina Randolph. She married Ted LaRue two years after Heather vanished. Her parents had built the house in 1982.

Steve said, “You know if she is buried under our house we’ll never be able to sell it. The press will be all over the place. This will always be known as a murder house. Those true crime people will be all over the place, looking in our windows and trying to bug us about things, not to mention the ghost hunters.”

“Good point,” I said.

“Glad you agree. Hand me the paint brush sweetie.”

And I did.

~ end.

Tangled Tales

 

Tangled Tales: Ashes

“I want my ashes scattered in San Francisco Bay,” said my sister Roxanne.

“Do you know how many bodies are dumped in San Francisco Bay every year? You’ll be down there with Laci Peterson’s head,” said Phil.

Jeremy looked shocked. “What?” I don’t know why Jeremy looks shocked at anything Phil says anymore.

“You’re disgusting Phil,” I said. “Why do you even say shit like that?”

Phil didn’t answer. He never did when I called him out about his inappropriate comments.

We kept hiking along the winding path towards the beach, a gray haired foursome of two men and two women. My brothers Phil and Jeremy, and my sister Roxanne and I were finally going to scatter our parent’s ashes.

For years Mom had kept Dad’s ashes in a box in the back of her closet, along with the ashes of our two family dogs Weimar and Clyde. Mom had been gone for two years so it was time.

At 62 I was the youngest. Jeremy was the eldest at 70, with Phil and Roxanne being somewhere in between. We’d spent a lifetime hiking with our parents, each other, then spouses, siblings, children, and grandchildren.

Our family wasn’t one for milestones. Nobody was buried in the ground. Ashes were kept closets or scattered bits at a time on vacations over shots of bourbon. Memorial services were casual. Weddings and major holidays were also hit or mis. The only thing nobody missed were graduations. We were big on education. The one thing we did manage to do was our twice a year all-four-siblings trips to the beach house, which now belonged to me.

As a child we’d camped, but then rented the same beach house year after year. It was in a wooded area with a short path to the beach with a mix of pine and cypress trees. My husband and I purchased the house right after we got married. Our children grew up going there, and we let everyone in the family have time on the calendar.

It was down past the estuary, along the dunes, past the tide pools, and a climb down to the isolated beach that was my parent’s favorite spot.

As we saw our parent’s favorite beach from the trail Phil made one of his uncalled for announcements. “This is where Jeremy was conceived. That is why he was always mom’s favorite. When we were kids they’d come here at night to be alone and fuck like rabbits.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Jeremy.

“Jesus isn’t here Jeremy,” said Phil. “I don’t know what the big deal was about this place. It is cold and hard to get to and it smells like seagull shit. It is like Trump hotel. It touts luxury and uniqueness but it is no better than a best western at quadruple the price with room service that taste like generic freezer burned frozen entrees at best.”

“Shut up Phil,” I said.

“I told you we should have never brought him along,” said Roxanna. “Phil always ruins everything.”

“I ruin everything? Oh Roxy, you are so full of shit. Who was having a boob job when our mother died??”

“It was breast reconstruction surgery after my cancer asshole. Don’t twist things around. I didn’t know Mom was going to die. None of us knew. I was in surgery when we got the call.” Roxanna said. She stood looking like a silver haired goddess ready to strike Phil dead with lightning bolts out of her eyes.

Phil stepped closer to our sister. “You’re so vain. Maybe that song was written about you Roxy. Did you ever think about that? Or were you afraid Chet would leave you for someone else if you didn’t have a full rack?”

Roxanna jumped at Phil with her fist balled up going towards his face. He grabbed her by the wrist and forced her onto one knee. She swung around and hit him in the head with her backpack.

Then it happened. Her pack exploded. Dad’s ashes covered Phil. He looked like he’d just crawled out of a volcano.

Jeremy and I stood in shock. Roxanna sat on the sand, face in her hands and started to cry.

Phil gave a whooping war cry and laughed. “I always told you that Dad had me covered,” he yelled. Then he ran into the surf and dove out into the crashing waves.

After about a half an hour I hiked back up to the beach house and called the police for a rescue crew to help find Phil. Jeremy and Roxanna stayed at the beach.

Phil’s body was never found. He was sixty three. His wife Jenny didn’t seem surprised when we told her what had happened. She said she had expected him to die years ago. Jenny was Phil’s 5th wife. He didn’t have any children, thank goodness. A few weeks later Jenny said she was moving back in with there ex-husband and Jeremy took Phil’s old golden retriever Shasta. Despite Phil being such an asshole Shasta was a remarkably sweet and well behaved dog.

The day after Phil presumably drowned we put Mom’s ashes, and the ashes of her dogs into the water. As we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean we sang Amazing Grace together.

Later this summer, when maybe the social distancing isn’t so much of an issue, Jeremy, Roxanna, and I will meet again at the beach house with our spouses and our children who are able to make it. We haven’t decided if we are going to tell our kids what happened on the beach.

We didn’t have a memorial service for Phil, blaming it on social distancing. In a normal year I doubt if we would have done anything for him. Maybe his asshole friends or one of his ex-wives might do something. I’ll skip it.

Despite all of the crap Phil always put us through part of me still loves him. Not much. I didn’t say it was a big part. I just remember when we were kids all running down the path to the beach laughing together. Phil was always saying funny things. Only later I realized that he didn’t always mean to be funny. He just didn’t have any filters. Or maybe he was just born a mean spirited jerk. I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

I decided it was time to remodel the cabin. I took down the old paintings and stuff Mom had picked out. New furniture was due for delivery. The lumpy old mattresses and hard pillows were thrown into a dumpster with the worn out rugs and pitted yellow kitchen cabinets. I wanted everything to be clean and fresh.

On the bookshelf I arranged a display of family photos going back to our parent’s honeymoon on the beach to last year after Roxanne’s daughter Elizabeth had gotten married in the small beach house backyard. I picked up a photo of Phil, taken when he was younger, just out of graduate school. He stood on the beach looking happy with his long brown hair blowing in the wind. I took the image out of the frame, lit a match and burned it in the fireplace. That would be my memorial to Phil, and the final resting place of his ashes.

“So long Phil,” I whispered. “Rest in peace, and may your spirit stay the hell away from here.”

 

~ end

 

Tangled Tales

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

©June 2020 Juliette Kings / Marla Todd

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chernobyl Charlie

old dog

Chernobyl Charlie

Published in Dysfictional 3 by Mandy White

 

The old man placed another log on the campfire.

“You kids ready for a story?”

“Yes!” Kylie and Joel chorused together.

Every summer, his daughter-in-law Laura brought the grandchildren on weekends for a backyard campout. The kids got to sleep in a tent and enjoy fireside stories, just like they’d done with their father. Since loss of her husband, a Marine, Laura tried to maintain a connection with his side of the family. The old man appreciated the effort she made. The kids enjoyed his stories and he enjoyed telling them, and boy, he had a lot of stories.

“Get comfortable, ‘cause tonight I got a great story for ya. This one’s about Chernobyl Charlie.”

“Wait!” Kylie ran to the tent to grab her blanket. She returned and nestled in her lawn chair with the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. “Okay, I’m comfortable now.”

Her brother rolled his eyes. “Ok, are you ready now? I want to hear the story.”

The old man began,

“There once was a boy, we’ll call him Nathan. This boy only wanted one thing for his entire life: a dog. He didn’t want anything else, not ever.

Every year, his parents would ask him what he wanted for Christmas or his birthday, and his answer was always the same:

‘I want a dog!’ he’d say.

And every time, the answer would be the same: ‘No’.

It wasn’t that his parents were mean, or didn’t want him to have a dog. It was just that they lived in an apartment, and weren’t allowed pets in the building, other than fish or birds. Birds gave him the creeps and goldfish just weren’t the same. Fish were boring. They just sat in a bowl. You couldn’t take them for a walk or pet them or play ball with them.

But one year, the year he turned twelve, Nathan’s life changed forever.

His father had started a new job a year ago, and was making more money. Enough money that they could finally buy a house. A whole house! With its own yard and everything! Most importantly, there was a fenced area for a dog! This year, when Nathan’s parents asked what he wanted for his birthday, the answer was yes. He could have a dog.

His mother agreed to the dog on one condition: they would adopt, not shop. No pet stores or fancy breeds; they would find a shelter dog that needed a home. Nathan was fine with that. Any dog would be a great dog, and he would love it with all his heart.

They registered with the SPCA and a bunch of other rescue groups, looking for a dog that would be a good fit for their family. One day, Nathan’s mother called him to look at something.

She was sitting at the kitchen table with her laptop open to some website.

Nathan took a look over his Mom’s shoulder to see what she was looking at. The screen had a picture of a group of dogs on it.

‘What’s this?’ he asked.

‘There are puppies available for adoption, and you’ll never guess from where. Chernobyl!’ she told him.

‘Isn’t that place like, radioactive or something?’ he said.

His mother explained, ‘According to this, hundreds of dogs roam the woods in the exclusion zone near Chernobyl. They are the descendants of pets that were left behind in the evacuation. Some of the puppies are being brought to the U.S. for adoption. The adoptions will be done through the SPCA, and we’re already registered with them. We can ask to be put on a wait list for one of these puppies if you want.’

It sounded pretty cool, but Nathan had some concerns. He asked his mom, ‘Is that even safe? Like are they mutants or anything?’

‘No, not at all,’ she told him, ‘Many of the dogs are perfectly healthy. No radiation sickness, and they are carefully vetted before they are put up for adoption.’

Nathan was sold. ‘Cool! I want a radioactive puppy!’

‘And if we don’t get one, we will find another shelter pup that needs us, agreed?’ his mom said.

‘Okay!’ Nathan said.”

“What happened that they had to evacuate, Grandpa?” Kylie asked.

“It was a meltdown!” Joel said. “We learned about it in school. Some kind of power plant in Russia. It went nuclear. Like, psssh!” He made a sound that mimicked an explosion and motioned with his hands.

“Well, it didn’t actually blow up, but it was really bad. It happened back in the eighties. They used some pretty dangerous stuff to make electricity in the old days. The power plant at Chernobyl had a bad accident. All the land around it became poisoned from radiation, and the people had to evacuate. The place is still deserted today. You can see pictures on the internet of all the empty buildings. There’s even a deserted amusement park. And nobody can go there even now, because it’s still radioactive.”

“But what about all the animals?” Kylie asked.

“A lot of them got left behind to fend for themselves. Some died, and some just went wild. There was still a working power plant there, thirty years later. And the workers started feeding some of the wild dogs that were running around. And, as dogs do, some of them became friendly again. Eventually, some rescue organizations got wind of it and started to capture the dogs. The wilder ones got checked by vets, fixed so they couldn’t have any more puppies, and then set free again. And they started catching the puppies and finding homes for them.”

The old man took a sip of his coffee, which had gotten cold, and continued the story.

“June twenty-fifth was a date Nathan never forgot, because it was the happiest day of his life. School was out for the summer, but most importantly, the time had come to bring home the new puppy. Surprisingly, their application for a Chernobyl pup had been accepted and they were minutes away from meeting their new family member. Nathan and his mother paced the waiting room of the SPCA, too excited to sit down.

They didn’t know much about the puppy, other than it was a male, approximately four months old, and would grow to be a medium to large-sized dog. The breed was anyone’s guess, but it was said that some of the wild dogs had been running in wolf packs, so the puppy might even have had some wolf in it.

A woman came from the back room, holding a wriggling bundle of black-and-white fur in her arms. When the puppy saw the new people, he squirmed away from the woman. He ran to Nathan, slipping and sliding on the floor on huge, clumsy feet. The puppy whined and wagged his tail so hard his whole body wagged. He licked Nathan’s face, covering it with dog slobber, but Nathan didn’t mind.

‘I’m going to call you Charlie, and we’re going to be best friends!’ he told the dog.”

“Oh!” Kylie squealed. “Just like –”

“Will you shut up and stop interrupting!” her brother said.

“That’s ok. She’s just excited. Right sweetie?” The old man gave Kylie a knowing wink.

“Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. Charlie. He named the dog Charlie, and they were the best of friends from that day forward. They were inseparable.

To most people, Charlie seemed like an average puppy; he liked to chew, had boundless energy and loved Nathan more than life itself. As far as Nathan was concerned, Charlie was exceptional. He was bright and obedient, and easy to train.

Charlie loved to fetch, and his favorite toy was the Frisbee. After he had shredded several regular Frisbees, Nathan bought him a special chew-proof one designed for dogs. Every day they walked to the dog park, rain or shine, to play fetch. Charlie didn’t really need a leash, but Nathan put one on him to and from the dog park to keep the neighbors happy.

One particularly blustery autumn day, Nathan threw the Frisbee and a gust of wind caught it, sending it sailing over the fence and onto the busy street next to the park. Charlie was in hot pursuit. Without missing a beat, he leaped over the fence – a six-foot-high chain link fence it was – and dashed into the traffic. Nathan didn’t have time to wow over the amazing feat of fence-jumping he’d just witnessed – he had to get his dog.

He dashed through the gate, shouting, ‘Charlie! Stop!’ but Charlie was on a mission.

Nathan was too late. The driver of the truck couldn’t possibly have stopped in time, even if he had seen Charlie.

It happened in slow motion, to Nathan’s eyes. The big eighteen-wheeler mowed Charlie down and ran over him, first with the front wheel, and then both sets of wheels on the trailer. He watched in horror as Charlie was flung like a rag doll from one set of dual wheels into the path of the second set.”

“No!” Kylie cried. “You didn’t tell us he was going to die! I don’t like this story.” She looked like she was going to cry.

“Shh! Don’t interrupt!” Joel hissed.

“Don’t worry, it gets better,” the old man assured her.

“Anyhow, there Charlie was, lying in the road, just a limp bundle of black-and-white fur. Nathan’s knees felt weak. He wanted to collapse, but he willed himself to stay standing. He wasn’t going to leave Charlie out there in the traffic, even though he knew it was too late to save him. Tears streaming down his face, Nathan ran toward the scene of the worst horror imaginable.

He reached the edge of the road, and then the unthinkable happened.

Charlie stood up, shook himself off, and walked over to pick up the Frisbee from the street. He trotted happily over to Nathan, holding his head high in the air all proud-like. All he cared about was that he’d gotten the Frisbee. He knew he was a good boy.

Nathan checked him over, and he looked fine. Not a scratch on him, just black marks on the white part of his fur from the rubber tires. He rushed home to tell his parents, but they didn’t believe him. They thought he was exaggerating, but they brought Charlie to the vet just in case.

Dr. Michaels found nothing wrong with him. No injuries of any kind. She explained to Nathan in a condescending way that the wheels of the truck had missed Charlie when the truck passed over him.

‘But what about those black marks in his fur?’ Nathan said. ‘That’s rubber from the tires. I saw the tires run over him.’

“That’s probably grease from the underside of the truck,’ Dr Michaels said. ‘See? That reinforces what I was telling you. The truck straddled him. The tires missed him. He’s one lucky dog.’

Nathan didn’t argue further, but he knew what he’d seen. The most important thing was, his best friend was okay.

Fall turned into winter. Charlie loved the snow as much as he loved everything else. He found fun in everything he did. He learned to ride a toboggan and tried to fetch snowballs. He discovered hockey, which Nathan and his friends played on the frozen pond. Charlie was an excellent goalie.

One day in the middle of a game, they heard screams. Nathan and his friends rushed to help, with Charlie racing alongside.

A crowd of kids were gathered around, and it turned out a small child had fallen into an ice fishing hole. Usually they’ll put some kind of barrier or safety cones to let skaters know there’s a hole, you know. But this jerk, whoever the fisherman was, had just left an open hole there.

The little boy had been skating with his mother. She had already called 911, but time was running out. The poor woman was in hysterics.

Nobody could reach the kid; the hole was too small and the kid had sunk too deep. By the time someone got there with something to cut the hole bigger, it would be too late. That little boy was a goner.

Charlie pushed through the crowd and slithered into the hole like an eel. Nathan wouldn’t have believed the dog would fit, but he did. But how was he going to get out? Now they had lost Charlie as well. Nathan peered into the depths of the hole, trying to get a glimpse of Charlie or the little boy, but saw only blackness. Minute after agonizing minute passed.

They heard sirens in the distance, but Nathan knew help wouldn’t get there in time.

There was still no sign of Charlie. More than five minutes had passed since he dove through the hole in the ice. Nathan started to think that this time Charlie wouldn’t be so lucky.

And then, he saw a glow under the water. The light grew brighter, and then Charlie surfaced, holding the collar of the little boy’s jacket in his teeth. The boys pulled the child out of the water and passed him to his mother.

Nathan helped Charlie climb out of the hole. The dog shook the water from his fur nonchalantly, as though he had just taken a fun little swim.

Nathan hugged him tight and told him what a good boy he was.

The paramedics arrived and performed CPR on the little boy and wrapped him in blankets, then carried him to the ambulance.

The boy survived, thanks to Chernobyl Charlie.

And then there was the time when Nathan was sixteen, and he took a camping trip with a few of his friends. And Charlie, of course. Charlie was a great camping buddy because he was also a night light. You see, he glowed with a soft greenish light when he was happy. All it took was a belly rub or a scratch behind the ears to turn the light on. Or telling him he was a good boy; that worked too.

So, on this camping trip, the boys hiked a ways into the wilderness, to a spot beside a nice little lake. They planned stay a couple of days and do some fishing. The first day, they caught a nice bunch of trout. They cooked a few over the fire for dinner, and packed the rest in ice in the cooler.

Well, it turned out, a bear had caught the scent of their fish. Late at night after the campfire had died down, the bear came into the camp to steal the fish. It was a big bear, too. A Grizzly. The boys had hung all their food in a tree, the way you’re supposed to when you’re camping, but this bear was determined. Mr. Grizzly smelled that food and wasn’t leaving until he found it.”

Kylie shivered and pulled the blanket more tightly around her. “This is scary.” She glanced over at the tent, where she and her brother would be sleeping that night.

“Don’t be a fraidy-cat. There aren’t any Grizzlies around here. Right Grandpa?” Joel said.

“Right. Don’t worry, you’re perfectly safe. I promise there are no Grizzlies here. Remember, the boys were high in the mountains, out in the wilderness.”

“What happened next?” Kylie asked.

“Well, the boys woke to the sound of the bear rampaging through the camp. And I’m not gonna lie, they were plenty scared. They had hung up the food, but not all of it. They had snack foods in the tent with them. A bear’s nose is sensitive enough to detect even a small amount of food. They didn’t have anything to use as a weapon. All they had was an axe, and it was beside the fire.

Charlie started growling. Nathan tried to shush him, but he wanted out of that tent something awful. He started tearing at the door of the tent until he found an opening in the zipper and forced his way through. He charged at the bear, barking and snarling like he’d lost his mind.

He chased the bear away from camp, and in the distance the boys could hear the sounds of a horrible fight – snarls, roars, branches breaking. Once again, Nathan thought his dog was done for.

A while later, Charlie returned. He was covered in blood but otherwise just fine. The boys were pretty shook up. They cut their trip short, packed up the camp and left as soon as it got light. On the hike back, they came across a gruesome sight on the trail. The remains of a large Grizzly bear. The bear had been ripped to shreds. Like it had gone through a meat grinder or something. One of the boys commented how lucky they were that the marauding bear had killed another bear instead of them.

Nathan knew that the bear hadn’t been killed by another bear.

Chernobyl Charlie just panted and smiled. He knew he was a good boy.”

“Time for bed, kids! Say goodnight to Grandpa!” Laura had joined them sometime during the part about the bear.

“But Mom! He’s not done the story yet!”

“I’m done for tonight. We’ll tell more stories about Chernobyl Charlie tomorrow.”

“Give Grandpa a hug.”

Kylie and Joel hugged their grandfather.

“Goodnight, Grandpa. Thanks for the story,” Joel said.

“What happened to Charlie? Like, did he live with Nathan forever?” Kylie asked.

“Well, you know, sweetie, dogs don’t live as long as we do, but I’m sure he had a good long life. Charlie was pretty special.”

After the children were tucked into their sleeping bags, Laura returned and sat next to the fire.

“You know, Nate, I wish you wouldn’t tell them scary stories before bed. Grizzly bears? Can’t you make up something a little, I don’t know… nicer?”

“What’s nicer than a dog that saves the day? Besides, it’s all true.”

“I mean, I know you believe it’s true, but seriously. It’s pretty far-fetched.”

“I promise I’ll tell them a ‘nice’ story next time, ok?”

“OK. Thank you.” She stood and gave him a hug. “You’re a good grandfather. I appreciate all you do for them.” With that she went into the house.

“Don’t mind her, Charlie,” Nate said to the old black-and-white dog that lay at his feet. “I know how special you are.”

Charlie thumped his tail on the ground and a soft greenish glow emanated from his body. He knew he was a good boy.

 

Copyright © 2018 Mandy White

 

 

Mandy White photo

Mandy White

Mandy White is a Canadian writer from Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

A recluse by nature and avid fan of the outdoors, Mandy can often be found lurking in the forest, daydreaming dark thoughts that inevitably come to life in print. Her work often features Canadian characters and locations; she delights in twisting her everyday surroundings into weird and disturbing tales.

Caution: if you happen to cross her path, you may find yourself in an upcoming story.

Author of several published books, Mandy is particularly fond of short stories. She is a founding member of WPaD (Writers, Poets and Deviants),a group of writers known for publishing multi-genre charity anthologies.

She has published a series of short story collections calledDysfictional(Dysfunctional Fiction)

You can read many of her short stories on her blog: Dysfictional (Dysfunctional Fiction)

To learn more about Mandy White’s books, visit her website: http://mandywrite.weebly.com/

 

Cat-Writing-1

A note from Juliette

I wouldn’t be blogging today if I hadn’t had the much needed support from Mandy White. Mandy is my writing cohort and friend. We’ve worked on many projects over the years with WPaD (Writers, Poets, and Deviants) and worked together supporting and mentoring fellow writers.

Over the years I’ve featured quite a few of her stories on this blog.

  1. Heart Shaped Box by Mandy White
  2. We’re Not So Different by Mandy White
  3. Beneath the Bed by Mandy White
  4. Just One Kiss by Mandy White

This is how I feel when Mandy White sends me a story to share:

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~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman