Just One Kiss

Just One Kiss

A Story By Mandy White

The day her brother tore his own head off and didn’t die, was the day Johanna first suspected that all was not right with the world.

Charlie seemed to be experiencing some sort of inner struggle: muttering to himself and pacing in circles, stopping from time to time to cover his ears and shake his head vigorously. They were in the kitchen, and Johanna had just finished brewing a pot of coffee. Charlie reached toward the cupboard above, like he was going to take out a mug. Instead of opening the cupboard, he placed his hand on the back of his neck, then turned to face Johanna.“Must feed,” he said. He grabbed his head and pulled, bending his neck forward at an impossible angle. “Must… feeeed!” he grunted, twisting and pulling until Johanna swore his neck had stretched an extra six inches.

“Charlie! Stop that! What are you doing?”

“UNGH!” Charlie replied, and with a mighty tug, he pulled his head from his body. Instead of spurting blood the way a recently decapitated body should, his neck began to heal before her eyes, transforming from torn flesh into some kind of elongated sucking appendage. The ‘lips’ of the sucker smacked together toward Johanna as if blowing her a sloppy kiss, then it gurgled,

“Fleebb.”

The Charlie-thing turned its head upside down. The sucker groped around, lips opening and closing until it found the severed end of the neck. The sucker attached itself to the neck and made a sound like a Shop-Vac cleaning up vomit as it slurped the contents out of the skull. Charlie’s face sagged like a deflated balloon.

Johanna screamed.

The sucker detached from the withered head and reached toward the sound of Johanna’s voice, smacking the empty air in front of it.

“Mup. Grackle. Pleebbb. Fleeg,” the monster said, dropping the head on the floor and taking a step in Johanna’s direction.

She stumbled backward, tripping over a chair. Charlie’s body turned toward the sound, tentacle searching, lips opening and closing. Johanna fled out the front door and ran down the street without looking back.

When she finally stopped to catch her breath, she dared to look over her shoulder and saw with relief that nothing was chasing her. Panting, she leaned against a nearby fence.

Now what? Where to go?

Mom!

She needed to tell her mother what had happened. Salon La Vie, where her mother was a stylist, was about six blocks away. Johanna checked the time on her cell phone. It was 2:00. Mom was on shift for another two hours. There was plenty of time to get there and warn her, and then they could pick up her younger sister Zoe from school together. She had lost one sibling already; she intended to make sure the rest of her family was safe.

Johanna broke into a jog, grateful for the gym membership she had gotten as a Christmas gift. She covered the six blocks easily and before long she dashed through the glass doors of Salon La Vie. The neon lights, gleaming chrome and mirrors and pounding techno music – it was like entering an ammonia-scented nightclub.

Johanna looked down the long line of stylist’s stations and did not see her mother.

“Can I help y’all?” the redhead behind the counter chirped. A nametag pinned to her overstuffed leopard print blouse identified her as Trixie.

“I’m Jillian Sykes’ daughter. Is she here?”

“Oh, hi, honey! You’re Jillie’s girl! So nice to meet y’all.” Trixie flashed Johanna a too-wide grin that made her look like a horse wearing purple lip-gloss. “I’m so sorry, sweetpea, but y’all missed your Mama. She left during her lunch hour.”

“She did? I thought she was working until four.”

“Naw, not today, sugar. She booked a half-day today. Had to pick her daughter up from school early. Somethin’ ‘bout the kid havin’ a karate tournament.” Red looked up at the ceiling and batted her false, mascara-caked eyelashes. Johanna suspected this was the woman’s ‘thoughtful’ look. “Can y’all imagine that?” she mused. “A lil-ol gal like that goin’ all Jackie Chan-like?”

“Sure,” Johanna said. “Zoe enjoys it, and she’s damn good at it.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry sugar! I didn’t mean nothin’ by it! It’s just, y’know, where I come from, little girls are raised to be ladies, and let the men do the ass-kicking.”

Trixie was still muttering something about fine Southern ladies when Johanna dashed out the door.

“Thank you,” she called over her shoulder, but was pretty sure Trixie from Dixie hadn’t heard.

Eleven-year-old Zoe usually took the school bus home, but today was Friday. Zoe had a karate meet at another school. Zoe was excused for the afternoon so they’d have time to make the half-hour drive to Palsson Middle School.

She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and called her mother.

Mom answered her phone on the second ring.

“Mom?”

“Oh, there you are. I was wondering where you’d gotten to.”

“Mom, listen! Stay where you are! Whatever you do, don’t go home! Tell me where you are and I’ll come and meet you.”

“But I’m already home, silly. We just got here.”

“What? Where’s Zoe?”

“She’s right here. Is something wrong?”

“Yes! Listen, Mom, you and Zoe need to get out of there right now. Charlie is… not himself. He’s dangerous.”

“He seemed fine to me a few minutes ago. Did you two have an argument or something? Why don’t you come home and we’ll talk about it?”

Johanna hung up.

Her mother was home, and so was Zoe. What did it mean? She paced back and forth, undecided. Should she go home? Her mother had said Charlie was fine. That couldn’t be true – the horror Johanna had seen in her kitchen was no hallucination. Or was it? No! she knew what she had seen. This was no hallucination… right?

What would she find if she went home? Would Charlie behave like his normal nineteen-year-old self? If she went home, would she see what she saw on any normal day? Her mother would be checking email before making dinner and Zoe would be playing Call of Duty on her Xbox, shouting curses at her friends through her headset. Or would she walk back into the same horror show she had left, with headless Charlie waiting to suck her brains out? Maybe Charlie had already killed Mom and Zoe and then set a trap for her.

But that sounded like Mom! I was talking to Mom! Wasn’t I?

Trap or not, she had to find out for sure. Gritting her teeth, Johanna set off in the direction of home.

* * *

Johanna slipped in through the back door, listening for signs of anything unusual. The kitchen was spotless and filled with the delicious aroma of something – pork chops, or perhaps her mother? – roasting in the oven. Charlie’s head was nowhere in sight, and neither was Charlie. The chair she had knocked over when she tripped sat neatly in its place at the kitchen table. She took a step forward and the floor creaked under her feet.

“Is that you, Jo?” her mom called from the other room.

“Y-yeah, Mom. It’s me. Everything all right?”

Her mother appeared in the doorway.

“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be? Everything’s fine. Where have you been?”

“I just went for a run.”

“In that?” Her mother frowned.

Johanna looked down at herself, remembering for the first time that she was still wearing her waitress uniform. She had just finished her shift at Maddy’s Diner when the Charlie incident occurred and she hadn’t gotten around to changing clothes yet.

“I ran back to work because I forgot my phone there.” She congratulated herself silently for her quick thinking. “That’s why I called you on the way home,” Johanna added.

“Called me?”

Panic coursed through Johanna’s body.

“Yes, I called you.”

“Oh.” Her mother laughed lightly. “Of course you did. How silly of me.”

“Do you remember what we were talking about?”

“Why?” Her mother’s eyes narrowed.

“Um, just… because I wanted to continue the conversation where we left off. Do you recall where that was? There was a lot of traffic nearby, and I’m not sure I heard everything you said.”

Her mother turned her back, reaching toward the oven. “I don’t have time right now. We’ll talk later. I need to feed…”

“W-what?” Johanna began to back away.

“I need to feed you all so I have time to get ready. I have a date tonight. Be a dear and call your brother and sister for dinner.”

Johanna found Zoe in her room, submerged in the world of virtual war games. Her karate gi was tossed in a corner, orange belt crumpled on top. Zoe couldn’t hear Johanna with the headset on, so she tapped her on the shoulder.

“What?” she shouted. Zoe always shouted when she had the headset on because she had no idea how loud she sounded.

Dinnertime.”

“’Kay!”

Heart thumping, she crept down the hall toward Charlie’s bedroom. The door was slightly ajar. The eerie absence of Charlie’s music was unnerving. The family members were so used to his ear-splitting playlist that it had become a natural part of their home environment.

She could hear the sound of Charlie’s TV, which he rarely watched.

She tapped lightly on the door.

“Charlie?” she whispered.

“Yes?”

“Um… it’s time to eat.”

“Eat.” His voice sounded cold and distant, but nothing like the garbling freak-show she had run from earlier.

Johanna pushed the door open slightly, just to have a peek. Charlie was seated on the end of his bed, head intact, back straight and arms at his sides. He was just… sitting. Staring straight ahead at the TV. It looked like he was watching old black-and-white movie with a lot of sappy romantic stuff. So totally un-Charlie, yet he seemed fixated on the screen.

“Charlie?” she asked timidly.

“Yes?”

Johanna couldn’t remember Charlie ever saying, ‘yes’. It was always, ‘yeah’, or ‘yep’, or ‘what’. He was the informal type.

“What are you doing?”

“Doing,” he repeated. He seemed to think for a moment, then said, “Watching TV.”

“Right.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” he said.

“Um… okay,” she said, backing away from the door.

This was not Charlie. It looked like him. It sounded like him, but didn’t act like him. This was some kind of replica. It was as she had feared. Her brother was gone.

What about her mother? And Zoe? They seemed normal, but for how long?

Dinner was unremarkable. Baked pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy from a can. Their mother had hastily served the food before rushing off to get ready for her date. Apparently her mystery man had made dinner reservations at someplace fancy.

Charlie ate in silence, the fork in his hand transferring the food from plate to mouth with a jerky, mechanical motion, like a robot arm in a factory. His eyes never left his plate.

Zoe was her usual boisterous self, chattering about her karate meet, her friends and the afternoon’s most memorable moments in the world of virtual war on Xbox. Charlie fixed his youngest sister with a blank look as she prattled on. Zoe asked him to pass the salt and pepper, then asked a second time and he ignored her request.

“Charlie? Hey, Earth to Charlie! Can you pass me the salt and pepper sometime this century? What’s wrong, you stoned or something?”

Johanna forced a mouthful of potatoes down, heart thudding in her throat, expecting Charlie to rip Zoe’s head off.

Charlie didn’t answer. He just continued to eat.

He must feed, Johanna thought.

“What do you think, Jo?” Zoe asked, reaching across the table to retrieve the salt and pepper herself.

“About what?”

“You think Charlie’s been smoking the wacky tobacky, or what?”

“Oh, you don’t wanna know what I think,” Johanna said truthfully.

Their mother hurried into the kitchen, high heels click-clicking on the tiles. She looked gorgeous – made up like a magazine model, in true beautician form, without a hair out of place. She wore a sexy black cocktail dress with spaghetti straps and a fringed hem that fell at an angle just past her knees.

Zoe whistled. “Whoa, Mom! Looking hot!”

“Who’s your date, Mom?” Johanna asked, relieved for the distraction from Charlie’s creepy silence.

“Mr. Kramer, Ashley’s father, remember him?”

“Yeah, kind of.”

“Well anyway, he asked me out today and I simply couldn’t say no.”

“So, what… you like him?”

“Well, yes, I suppose I do. I mean, I never gave him a second look before. He just wasn’t my type. Plus, he’s divorced with partial custody, so you know what a can of worms that can be. It’s not like he’s super good looking or anything, you know… typical accountant, geek-type. Today at the karate meet he was different. He wasn’t wearing his glasses – must’ve gotten contacts or something, but wow, it was like I never really saw him before. And he’s never said more than two words to me before. But today…” she sighed and clasped her hands over her chest. “Today, he was sitting next to me and the things he said… wow. Romantic doesn’t even begin to describe it.”

“Really?” Johanna was listening now.

“Yes. Honey, he was like one of those old-time actors from those classic romantic movies, like Clark Gable or someone.”

“Old movies?” That was an odd coincidence.

“Yeah, that’s the only way I can describe the way he spoke. Men just don’t talk that way today. I wonder why his wife left him.”

“Maybe he left her.”

“Yeah,” her mother seemed to brighten at the idea. “I’ll bet that was it. It was probably her fault. Her loss for letting such a gem get away.” She peeked out the window at the sound of a vehicle. “Oh, he’s here! Gotta run!” She blew them a kiss. “Behave yourselves!”

As the door closed, Charlie called after her, “We’ll always have Paris!”

Johanna questioned herself yet again. Maybe what she thought she had seen (and was seeing) was nothing but her imagination. Perhaps the stress of working too many 5am shifts in a row with horny truckers grabbing her ass had finally gotten to her. Sleep deprivation did strange things to the mind. Maybe she would benefit from a little wacky tobacky and a nice long nap.

She reconsidered her original plan of grabbing Zoe and running. Maybe she should wait and see before doing anything rash.

* * *

The next morning, Johanna slipped out the door at 4:30 am to work her breakfast shift at Maddy’s. The house was dark and quiet when she left, and she took extra care not to wake the rest of the family. Mom had gotten home late from her date with What’s-His-Name and would no doubt be sleeping in. Zoe would probably be up early to get her fill of cereal and Saturday morning cartoons before joining her friends in another online bloodbath. Charlie… well, who knew what Charlie would do anymore, but typically he never surfaced before noon unless he had to work. Today was Saturday, so normally Charlie would be at work by the time Johanna returned home. With any luck, she wouldn’t see him at all that day.

Customers were already assembling in the parking lot, waiting for the diner to open when Johanna arrived. She brewed two pots of coffee, checked with the cook to make sure he was ready, then opened the doors a few minutes early. Mornings were their busiest time, with truck drivers making up most of the clientele. Opening those few minutes early often resulted in extra tips for Johanna; most of their customers were on tight schedules.

Tables filled and a hint of oil and diesel tickled the nostrils beneath the morning’s warm aromas of bacon and coffee. Johanna flitted from table to table, a stack of menus under one arm, coffee pot in the other and order pad in her apron pocket. She chatted and joked with the customers as she worked, most of whom were middle-aged, barrel-bellied men dressed in plaid. The customers were pleasant and polite, but as the morning wore on, Johanna couldn’t shake a niggling feeling that something wasn’t right. Something was missing.

When Tammy, the other waitress came on shift, Johanna took the opportunity for a short break before the second breakfast rush began. She poured herself a cup of coffee and leaned back against the waitress station to rest. She scanned the room, trying to pinpoint what was missing. All of the regulars were there. Joe Senior and Joe Junior, a father/son trucker team known to the diner community as Joe and Junior. There were Smitty, Billy and Fungus occupying their usual corner booth. A businessman-type Johanna didn’t recognize sat alone, reading the newspaper while he ate. Two of her least favorite customers, Merle and Ed, had positioned themselves at a table in the center of the room, in the optimal location for maximum waitress-groping, but no attempt at groping had been made yet. In fact, Merle had even attempted to recite poetry to her as she refilled his coffee cup.

Bingo!

She hadn’t been grabbed, spanked or propositioned once all morning. The off-color jokes and curse words that normally punctuated the mumble of morning chatter were absent. Johanna found the men’s uncharacteristic good behavior unsettling, to say the least.

Fungus, a.k.a. “The Growth”, vacated the corner booth when his companions left and moved to sit at the counter. His tendency to linger for hours drinking copious amounts of coffee had earned him his nickname, which he happened to like.

He often joked, “They call me Fungus because I’ll grow on you and make you sick.”

Tammy leaned over the counter, smiling and giving Fungus a nice view of the two growths inside her blouse. Tammy normally avoided the small bearded diner fixture, making no effort to hide her distaste. Watching her flirt with him was even more disturbing to Johanna than truck drivers not cussing.

Coffee break over, Johanna picked up a menu and made her way to a new customer seated in her section. He was overweight, balding and sweating profusely. He declined her offer of coffee and stared down at the table in front of him, dripping beads of sweat on the unopened menu she had placed in front of him. She wondered if he was on the verge of a heart attack or something.

“Can I get you something to drink?” she offered.

He shook his head. “No. Hungry.”

“I’ll give you a few minutes to decide, then. Our special is a three-cheese omelette.”

“Must… feed.” He groaned and held his head in his hands as if experiencing a migraine.

Johanna backed slowly away. “No. No. Not this again,” she whimpered.

She ducked behind the counter and grabbed Tammy’s arm, yanking her away from Fungus, who was spouting some bullshit about a woman like her needing to be kissed by someone who knew how.

“Sorry to interrupt your – whatever that was – but Tammy, look! Have you ever seen anything like this before?” She pointed at the sweaty guy.

“Sure. Seen it lots of times. Guy with a hangover.” She snapped her chewing gum. “What’s the big deal?”

“Just watch for a second. I think he’s going to do something… crazy.”

Tammy sighed and stood with her arms crossed, waiting for something spectacular to happen.

“He looks like he’s gonna barf,” she observed. “If he does, it’s your mess. Not my section.

Oh great! Johanna thought. That was just what she needed – a puker. Tammy was right; they saw a lot of hung over people on the morning shift. Pukers weren’t uncommon.

“FEED!” the man shouted suddenly.

To Johanna’s surprise, none of the male customers so much as blinked at the outburst.

Tammy laughed. “I’d say that’s your cue. Sounds like he’s ready to order.”

“No!” Johanna grabbed her co-worker’s arm. “Watch!”

Seeing a man remove his own head and suck out the skull was no less shocking the second time, though for Tammy it was a first. She ran and locked herself in the restroom, where she screamed and screamed.

Johanna ducked down and hid behind the counter where only Fungus could see her. He seemed unaffected by her behavior.

“Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven?” he asked her. “’Cause you’re an angel.”

“Fungus, what the hell?

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine,” Fungus said.

“Are you seeing this?” Johanna pointed toward the man, who was busy draining the contents of his skull with his alien appendage.

Fungus glanced at the skull-sucker. “Oh, him?” he laughed, with a wave of dismissal. “He’s just lost his head a little. Don’t worry, he’ll pull himself together.”

“Have I gone insane?” Johanna wondered aloud. She surveyed the room. “Have you all gone insane?” she shouted. “What the fuck is going on here?”

The skull-sucker paused for a moment and reached its sucker in Johanna’s direction, probing the air with its lips and making kissing noises at her.

“Fleebie. Fleeble. Mup,” it said.

“See, Jo?” Fungus said. “He just needs a little kiss and he’ll be good as new. Better, even.” He leaned forward over the counter, eyes magnified behind his Coke-bottle glasses. “For that matter,” he added, “why don’t you lay a little sugar on me, sweetheart? Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.”

“Fuck off, Fungus!” Johanna backed away from the counter, distancing herself from the creepy little man, to whom she felt inexplicably drawn all of a sudden.

The skull-sucker resumed sucking. Its loud slurping noises could be heard even over Tammy’s continued screaming.

Johanna ducked into the kitchen, where she found Maddy, the diner’s owner and namesake, making out with Kevin the cook. Maddy’s uniform was unbuttoned and her large belly protruded from the front of her dress.

“Oh! You guys! That is all kinds of wrong!” she blurted. Maddy was in her sixties; literally old enough to be twenty-year-old Kevin’s grandmother!

Johanna grabbed her purse and jacket. “Maddy, I’m leaving. Something important just came up. You might want to find Tammy a Valium or something. She may have lost a nut or two.”

“Mmmnn,” Maddy replied, not taking her lips from Kevin’s acne-pocked face.

Normally the entire scene would have made Johanna vomit in her mouth a little, but as of late, she’d seen things a lot worse. Still, something looked a bit off, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Maddy, already a plump woman, seemed… plumper than usual, as if she had suddenly gained a lot of weight. She shrugged it off as her own lack of attention to such details. After all, she had never seen Maddy nude before.

Ick. She shook her head, unable to unsee what she’d just seen.

When Johanna returned to the dining room, the skull-sucker was wearing his head once again. The tentacle-thing hung from his mouth. She watched, horrified, as the appendage retracted into his now sweat-free head, bearing an absurd resemblance to a softening penis. Johanna dashed out the door without waiting for the tentacle to finish shrinking. She had a hunch what might be causing these men to behave oddly, and wondered what happened to women who were duped into kissing them.

Maddy! Wait – never mind Maddy. What about Mom? Did she kiss that guy last night?

Johanna raced home to find out.

* * *

Dr Renee Garcia sat in her office, poring over a stack of patients’ files, searching for a commonality between all of them. Besides the obvious one, that was. All of the patients were female, and all of them were pregnant. That in itself wasn’t unusual, given that Dr. Garcia was a gynecologist. Nor was the fact that the pregnancies were unexpected; those things happened all the time. It was the fact that all of the patients in the files on her desk should not, could not possibly be pregnant. This went beyond the failure of birth control methods; these women were physically incapable of conceiving, and yet they had. Some were far too old; others lacked the physical means, having had hysterectomies. Some of those surgeries Dr. Garcia had performed herself, so there was no doubt in her mind that the procedures had indeed been performed.

Some were married; some were not. A couple of them were lesbians who had never been intimate with a man.

So, how?

Something her last patient had said stuck in her mind. She hadn’t dated anyone in more than a year, then a man had asked her out, sweeping her off her feet with romantic talk.

Dr. Garcia had heard similar things from other patients. Husbands transformed overnight from drunken sports nuts to sweet-talking Casanovas. Shy men who had never so much as spoken to a woman were suddenly wooing and charming the female sex like Hollywood movie stars.

This case was just like the others. A woman, pregnant, with no logical explanation as to why. Her 46-year-old patient and long time friend had undergone a hysterectomy nine years earlier, after experiencing complications following the birth of her third child. She swore that she hadn’t been intimate with a man in more than a year. As a doctor, Renee had heard that line many times, from pregnant teens still in denial, from married women unwilling to admit that their due dates did not fall within a credible range.

But this patient was different. She had known Jillian since high school and delivered all three of her children. Jill had no reason to lie to her.

Renee studied the ultrasound images she had received that day. Some were from patients in those same files. In all cases, the technicians had been baffled at what they found. The woman looked visibly pregnant – belly distended as if in the second or third trimester, but the ultrasound produced no image. Just an opaque black mass where the uterus should have been. But in many of the cases, no uterus had been present to begin with.

She picked up the phone and pressed the button to connect to her partner’s extension. Maybe Dr. Gupta was still in her office. She was curious as to whether she had noticed anything unusual in her patients.

While she waited for her to pick up, someone knocked on her office door.

“You in there, Renee?”

“Yes. Come in Lila.”

“I was wondering if you’d like to grab some lunch,” Lila said.

“I was just trying to call you, actually.”

“Great minds think alike.”

“No, it wasn’t about that. I wanted to ask you about something.

“And?” Lila queried, sidling up to Renee’s desk to see what she was looking at.

“I was wondering if you’d come across anything unusual lately. With your patients.”

“Like what?”

“Umm. Pregnancies. Where there shouldn’t be any. Unusual ultrasound results.”

“Nothing comes to mind.” She paused to think for a moment, then shook her head. “Everything ok?”

“Sure. Just thinking out loud. Thanks. As a matter of fact, I could use a bite to eat.”

The bell jingled in the reception area.

“That’s odd,” Lila said. “I could’ve sworn Doris locked the front doors.”

The clinic was closed from eleven to twelve for lunch, and their receptionist, Doris, had already left.

“I’ll check it out,” Lila said. She left the room and returned moments later escorted by two burly men in black suits. They held her at gunpoint.

Renee held up her hands. “We don’t have much cash on the premises, but it’s all yours. Please don’t hurt us. We don’t have any drugs here.”

“Dr. Garcia, Dr. Gupta, you’ll need to come with us. Please do not discuss with anyone anything you may have seen, or we’ll be forced to kill you.”

“What?” Renee quavered. “Who are you people?”

“Homeland Security.”

“Renee, I think we’d better go with them.”

“You don’t have a choice, Dr. Gupta.”

Renee and Lila led the way out of the clinic. A long, glossy black vehicle resembling an armored truck was parked at the curb.

“Can I lock up?” Renee asked.

“That won’t be necessary. Get in. And remember. No talking to anyone.”

A door swung open on the side of the vehicle and one of the black-suited goons helped them inside while the other made his way to the driver’s side and took a seat behind the wheel.

Large tinted windows covered the sides and back of the vehicle. Renee realized they were one-way glass; she could see out, but hadn’t been able to see inside the bus. They were on a bus. Rows of seats held other men and women, most of whom they recognized. Doctors, lab technicians, nurses, all of them medical staff to some degree. Even Doris, their receptionist, sat alone in a seat, wide-eyed and terrified.

Goon #2 spoke into his headset. “All sealed up back here. Move out and detonate.”

A loud boom shook the vehicle as it drove away. Renee knew even before she saw the flames and cloud of debris hurtling skyward that her clinic was no more.

* * *

Johanna arrived home to find the house empty. Her mother had to work that day, but not until noon. Johanna’s breakfast shift ended at eleven on weekends – plenty of time for her to take over care of Zoe while her mother worked. It was only 9am, so where were Mom and Zoe? Charlie was presumably at work by now, but Johanna really had no desire to see her brother now that he had transformed into one of those skull-sucking freaks, whatever they were.

On the kitchen table, she found a note from her mother:

Jo,

I had to go to the doctor, and this was the only time Renee could see me. Zoe is at Arlene’s. If you get home before I do, could you please pick her up?

A doctor appointment? On a Saturday morning? Johanna knew the clinic was open Saturdays, but her mother usually made appointments on her days off. She worked afternoons at the salon to coordinate her schedule with Johanna’s.

Was her mother sick? A cold chill gripped Johanna’s guts. Was Mom hiding something from her?

She went next door and rang Arlene’s doorbell. Zoe answered.

“’Bout frickin’ time! Spring me outta this hellhole. It’s boring as shit in here. No Xbox, no internet. She just watches those stupid reality shows all day.

“Zoe! Language!” Johanna scolded.

“Pfft. Like you care. I learned it from you.”

“Thanks Arlene!” Johanna called.

“Anytime, sweetie,” Arlene rasped, a cloud of cigarette smoke billowing around her head. She remained glued to her usual spot on the couch, the cushion of which had probably formed a permanent impression of her ample butt.

“I don’t know why Mom made me stay with her. I can take care of myself just fine. Doesn’t she know cigarette smoke is bad for kids?”

“I guess she had no other choice. Her appointment was before I got home.”

“So? I coulda’ stayed home with Charlie.”

Johanna grabbed Zoe’s arm just before she reached the front door of their house. “What? Charlie’s home?”

“Yeah.”

“But I thought he had to work today. He always works on Saturday.”

“Well, he ain’t working today. Look, his car’s still there.”

Charlie’s green Honda Accord sat in the driveway. Johanna had parked in the alley and gone in the back door, so she hadn’t seen it until now.

“Zoe, have you noticed anything… strange about Charlie lately?”

“Not really. I mean, he’s always been kind of a weirdo, right?”

“I’m not talking about Goth music or facial piercings. I mean, he’s been acting weirder than usual. Like, quiet and polite or something.”

Zoe shrugged. “I dunno, maybe. What’s the big deal?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Whatevs. Can I go play Black Ops now?”

“Sure.”

Zoe ran inside and made a beeline for her bedroom. Johanna cringed when Zoe’s door whammed shut, shaking the entire house.

Johanna tiptoed down the hall to Charlie’s room. The door was ajar. She peeked in. The room was empty.

She searched the rest of the house, room by room. She even checked the basement, attic and closets, but Charlie was nowhere to be found. It appeared Charlie had gone out, presumably to work, and left his car at home. Maybe it had broken down and he’d gotten a ride from someone.

Now that Charlie was part of the tentacle brigade, Johanna half hoped he’d never return. At least not until this mess, whatever it was, was sorted out.

She poured a glass of orange juice and sat down at the kitchen table. She needed to have a long talk with her mother – about Charlie, the men at work, her mother’s date – and she wanted to know the reason for the impromptu doctor appointment.

Johanna’s cell phone buzzed. She picked it up. It was a text message from her mom:

I’m going 2 b late. Renee sent me to the hosp for an ultrasound.

Mom, are u ok?

Yes I’m fine. Just a routine checkup. I’m going to work right after.

You sure?

Yes!

I’m home and got Zoe with me.

Off work early?

Yep.

Problem?

Yes and no. I’ll xplain l8er.

Ok.

Johanna contemplated how she was going to explain to her mother the things she had seen. Men did inexplicable things all the time, but tearing their own heads off and making kissy faces with tentacle-lips was definitely a new one.

A piercing scream from Zoe’s room jolted her out of her reverie.

Johanna jumped up and bolted toward Zoe’s closed door.

“Get off me you fucking freak! What the hell’s wrong with you?” Zoe yelled. A thud followed, then Zoe’s door opened and she burst out of the room, crashing into Johanna.

“What’s wrong?”

Zoe pointed back toward her room. “That fucktard was hiding in my closet! And then he tried to kiss me! Ewwwww!”

Charlie lay sprawled on the floor of Zoe’s room.

“What happened to him?”

“I kicked his ass, that’s what. And he deserved it, that creep!”

“Thank god for karate,” Johanna said, grabbing Zoe’s hand. “Come on, we’re getting out of here.” She pulled her sister out the back door and together they ran to Johanna’s car.

“Where we goin’?”

“I don’t know. I think we need to find Mom.”

“Where’s she?”

“She said she was going to the hospital for some tests. She has to go to work after that, so let’s meet her there. We can hang out in the mall until the salon opens.”

“Can I go to the arcade?”

“Sure. Just don’t kiss any strange men.”

“Don’t be a sicko!” Zoe made a gagging noise.

* * *

Jill drove down the winding road, looking at the sleepy little town below. Like many hospitals, theirs was situated on high ground, atop what in this case, was the only hill in an otherwise flat landscape. Over the years it had become known as ‘Hospital Hill’. Her brow furrowed as she replayed in her mind what the ultrasound technician had told her.

“Your last period was when?”

“2005. Sorry, but I can’t remember the exact month, not that it matters.”

“Yes. Hysterectomy. That’s what it says here.”

The technician turned away to rattle some notes into her keyboard, then continued with the scan, muttering, “Same as before. Strange.” She laid the scanner on her instrument tray and handed Jill a box of tissues to clean the gel from her abdomen.

“Am I done?”

“Yes. You can get dressed now.”

“Is everything okay?”

“I’m not allowed to discuss it with you. You’ll have to see your doctor, but what I can tell you is that she may send you back for another scan. Our equipment has been malfunctioning lately, and I wasn’t able to get the images she wanted.”

Jill was pretty sure it was her own equipment that was malfunctioning, not the hospital’s. It was impossible, yet she had all the symptoms of pregnancy. Judging from the size of her belly, which had literally grown overnight, she appeared six to seven months along.

Having no uterus to support the pregnancy theory, there had to be another explanation, and all of the possibilities terrified Jill. Visions of tumors, massive blood clots, liver disease, kidney failure and other horrors swam in her mind. She needed to talk to Renee, and wondered if her friend and physician was still at the clinic.

A bright flash lit up the sky over the town. The unmistakable mushroom cloud of a large explosion rose directly above the area in which Renee’s clinic was located.

Jill slammed on the brakes. No. It couldn’t be. It had to be a different street. She found the white spire of the church, then counted the streets from there to the explosion site. One. Two. Three. Magnolia Street, where the clinic was located, was three blocks from the church in the direction of the main road leading out of town.

She fished her phone out of her purse and called the clinic. No answer. She tried Renee’s cell phone and got no answer there either. She had to know. She put the car in gear and made her way down the slope toward the cloud of smoke. As she drew nearer the clinic, bits of debris littered the street and she stopped the car to avoid losing a tire to broken glass and twisted metal. She walked the final block feeling as though the shards of glass crunching beneath her shoes were actually eggshells that needed to be delicately tread upon to maintain the illusion that everything was all right. When she reached the site of the explosion, her worst fears were confirmed. Where Renee’s clinic had been not more than an hour ago was a smoking black hole, with dirty red flames licking around the edges.

“No! No, no, no,” she whispered, shaking her head.

Maybe Renee wasn’t there… maybe she had gone to lunch early. Then Jill saw her friend’s car, still parked in her reserved space in front of the clinic. What had been a shiny silver Lexus an hour ago was now a blackened hulk sitting on four flaming tires.

A sob caught in her throat at the realization that her friend was gone. “Renee…”

She needed to go home.

She needed to collect her children and make sure all were accounted for, then gather them close until they found out what was going on. Was it a terrorist attack? An act of war?

She texted Johanna:

I’m coming home. R u there yet?

NO! Whatever you do, don’t go home!

Why?

Zoe and I are at the mall waiting for you. Just get over here and I’ll explain. Do NOT go home!

What about Charlie?

Fuck Charlie. Just get here ASAP!

Jill took a last tearful look at the burning clinic before rushing to her car. Sirens rose around her as she sped away toward the mall, passing the first of the fire trucks to reach the scene.

* * *

Johanna had never been so relieved to see her mother. She gave her a huge hug.

“You didn’t go home, did you?”

“No, I came straight here, like you said. Where’s Zoe?”

Johanna nodded toward the arcade. “About halfway through a roll of quarters, I’d guess.” Her mother looked shaken up. “Are you ok? What’s with the hospital stuff?”

“I-I don’t know. I just don’t know what’s going on.” Jill burst into tears. She opened her jacket to reveal her swollen belly.

Johanna gaped. “Mom, are you… pregnant?”

“Of course not!”

“Then what did the doctor say? Surely Renee has some explanation for… whatever this is.”

“No, that’s what I’m afraid of. Not that I’m sick, or… something. Jo, Renee is dead. Her clinic just blew up. I saw it from Hospital Hill.”

“What? Who blows up a clinic?” Johanna asked, although she knew. Anti-abortionists blew up clinics all the time. Overzealous drug addicts, looking to loot the place, but underestimating the power of a fertilizer bomb was another likely possibility, given the clinic’s rural setting.

Johanna pulled Jill into her arms and let her sob into her shoulder. Mascara smeared all over the shoulder of her pink waitress uniform, but Jo didn’t care. She was about 90% certain she would not be going back to work at Maddy’s again after what she’d witnessed that morning. She led her mother to a bench and sat down with her, wondering how in the blue hell she was going to tell her about Charlie, and the other men.

An explosion rocked the building, accompanied by the sound of shattering glass and the screech of metal on metal.

Terrorist attack! Was the first thought to flash through Johanna’s mind and from the look of alarm on her mother’s face, she could tell that she was thinking the same thing.

“Zoe!” Jill shouted, bolting for the arcade to protect her youngest daughter.

Johanna moved tentatively in the direction of the blast. When she rounded the corner, she saw with relief that it hadn’t been an explosion at all, just an automobile crash. A large shiny black vehicle was wedged into a secondary mall entrance, near the food court. It was stuck tight, like the driver had tried to drive into the mall, then only managed to fit the cab of the vehicle through the opening.

The passenger door opened and a soldier jumped out. Her fatigues were splattered with blood.

Johanna ran to her. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” she said, “but he’s had better days.” She nodded toward the truck. Through the open door Johanna could see the silhouette of the driver, slumped against the steering wheel.

“What happened?”

“Sonofabitch tried to kiss me, so I blew his brains out.”

“What the fuck?”

“I’ll explain later. Right now I need to get these passengers out.”

The woman slid underneath the vehicle and unlocked something. “Help me with this, will you?”

Johanna crawled on her hands and knees, then flipped onto her back and scooted over to where the soldier was struggling to open a sliding panel.

“Wedge your feet here and push, on three.”

Johanna did as she was told and together they managed to force the panel open. The soldier drew her sidearm and aimed it into the opening.

“Stand down, Agent Stone. It’s Sergeant Wells. I’m entering the rear of the bus now. Everyone okay in there?”

Several voices murmured the affirmative.

“Sergeant Josie Wells, U.S. Army. Please move away from the emergency door. I’m coming in now.”

The soldier stood, then crawled up into the back of what appeared to be a large bus, from Johanna’s point of view.

“Any injuries?” Josie inquired. More murmurs. “Ok, we are going to exit through this panel in an orderly fashion. We have had to make an emergency stop, but you are safe and have nothing to fear. Who’s going first?”

Johanna slid out from under the bus to make way for the passengers. She heard a ripping sound and felt her uniform tear away from one shoulder.

“Shitballs!” she muttered. Maddy made her waitresses pay a deposit for their uniforms, which was as good as gone now that this one was damaged. Then she remembered that she probably wouldn’t be working at the diner anymore, so it didn’t matter.

The men and women emerged from beneath the bus. Johanna offered a hand to help any who looked like they needed it. Most were familiar faces; in a small town like Esther, Oklahoma it was next to impossible not to have seen each resident at least once.

Her mother arrived, dragging Zoe, who looked none too pleased at having been kidnapped from the arcade. When she saw the bus, her eyes widened and she stopped resisting.

“Wow! Cool! How many casualties? Are there like dead bodies and guts everywhere in there?”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but no. Just one. The driver.”

“Oh my! Should we get help for him?” Jill asked.

Johanna shook her head. “He’s beyond help. He came down with a bad case of bullet through the head.”

“Whoa…” Zoe stared in awe, leaning toward the bus in hopes of getting a glimpse of the driver.

A scuffle could be heard inside the bus, then Sergeant Wells spoke again, in a sharp, commanding tone.

“Agent Stone, I need you to stand down now! Step away from the woman! Sir! Stop!”

Three shots rang out in rapid succession, followed by screams from inside the bus and more from the group gathered outside.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Calm down! Please exit the bus one at a time. Do not panic. Move in an orderly fashion!”

The rest of the passengers emerged more quickly than the first group. Sergeant Wells brought up the rear. Johanna noticed more blood on her uniform than before. Some of the passengers had blood on them as well.

Jill let out a small scream, dropping Zoe’s hand to run into the final group of passengers. She threw her arms around a blood-splattered woman.

“Oh my God, Renee! Are you all right? Are you hurt? Jill sobbed, dabbing at her face with the sleeve of her blouse.

Johanna hadn’t even recognized Dr. Garcia underneath the red mess covering her face.

“I’m fine,” Renee said, hugging Jill back. “I’m not injured. It’s not my blood, it’s…” she choked back a sob, unable to finish the sentence.

“I thought you were dead. I thought I saw your clinic blow up.”

“It did.”

“But how?”

Renee shook her head, glancing over at Sergeant Wells. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

Johanna marched over to the fountain, where Wells was washing the blood from her face.

“What’s going on? What is all this?”

“It’s top secret.”

“Really.” Johanna crossed her arms defiantly. “Does your secret have anything to do with men eating their own heads?”

Wells sighed. “I guess it doesn’t matter at this point. The mission has been compromised and I’ve just killed two superiors.”

“Let me guess. They tried to get kissy-face?”

“Affirmative.”

“Don’t these people deserve an explanation?”

“And how do you suppose we do that without creating panic?”

“I think we’re long past panic, Sergeant.”

“I guess so.”

A small crowd had begun to form and questions rose around them like the humming of insects. Wells held her hand up, silencing the crowd.

“I’ll tell you what I know, but you must agree to remain calm regardless of what you may hear or see in the next few hours.”

People slumped on benches, leaned against mall furnishings or slid to the floor as Josie began to speak.

* * *

Nobody knew exactly when or where it began, and its origin was still unclear. It was believed to be an alien pathogen, although biological terrorism hadn’t been ruled out yet. Only men were affected, and the method of transmission was also unclear. The only thing certain was what happened afterward.

An estimated 72 hours after coming in contact with the pathogen, the victim would begin to exhibit strange behavior, namely removing his own head and consuming the contents. A tentacle-like appendage grew in place of the head. After the head was empty it was worn as a helmet of sorts, concealing the alien’s identity and allowing it to blend into the population.

The thing was, the aliens didn’t know enough about human civilization to assimilate effectively. To gain information about their enemy, they resorted to humankind’s foremost source of entertainment: movies.

Their mission: To invade Earth.

Their means of invasion: Eliminate the men, who they saw as the primary threat, then take their places and impregnate the females with their own kind. Impregnation was accomplished by implanting an egg in the female’s abdomen, via the tentacle.

A single kiss was all it took.

The aliens mimicked what they saw in movies, quoting Bogart and Gable and other classic leading men in a cheesy attempt to woo the women into relinquishing a kiss and sealing the fate of humankind.

* * *

The small crowd was silent for several minutes after Josie finished speaking.

Finally, Renee spoke.

“Am I to understand that only men are vulnerable to… whatever this is, and women are immune?”

“Provided they don’t kiss any of the men, yes.”

“And so those pregnancies I’ve seen… the unexplained ones. They are a result of that?”

Jill covered her mouth and stifled a sob, tears spilling out of her eyes. Johanna put an arm around her.

“Yes, Doctor.”

Renee waved an arm toward the wrecked bus. “And what is the purpose of this?”

“Homeland Security’s feeble attempt to keep the situation secret. Too many doctors were seeing strange pregnancies and starting to ask questions. They’ve sent out teams to round up medical personnel and destroy medical records.”

“By blowing up clinics? That’s insane!”

“That’s America.” The soldier shrugged. “Other teams are out there right now, collecting all women who are visibly pregnant.” She glanced at Jill. “Once impregnated, the egg, or whatever it is, grows rapidly, becoming visible overnight.”

“What happens when it… hatches?” Jill asked.

Josie looked down at her boots and shook her head.

“No!” Johanna shouted.

“I’m sorry. They have been trying to study it, to find some kind of antidote, but so far none of the female subjects have survived.”

“What about the men?” Johanna asked.

“We are under orders to eliminate any men who exhibit romantic behavior.”

A nervous laugh rippled through the males in the group.

“So guys, what that means is, be sure to act like men and don’t try to get romantic with any women or you might get shot. Sorry.”

* * *

SIX MONTHS LATER

Sentry duty was long and tedious, much like her previous job at Maddy’s Diner. Johanna paced to stave off the numbness creeping into her toes. It wasn’t easy finding footwear that fit anymore, since all the stores had been looted long ago. She’d had to resort to a pair of mismatched high-heeled boots from a display window because they were the only ones left in her size. On the run from a particularly tenacious Fleeb doing a poor imitation of Pepe Le Pew at the time, she’d had no time to shop around. The irony of a shoe shortage in a world ruled by women never escaped her for a moment.

A lot had changed in the past few months, though it seemed like years had passed since the day she witnessed her brother’s self-decapitation in the kitchen. She was still working at Maddy’s, but her job description these days was different, as was the diner itself.

Maddy was long gone, having exploded giving birth to an alien embryo after being impregnated by Kevin the fry cook. On the day Johanna lost her mother in likewise fashion, she swore revenge on the invaders.

Armed with assault rifles, Johanna and Zoe went on a grief-stricken rampage, shooting every man in sight, infected or not. Johanna had to admit, the kid was a good shot. All those hours spent playing Call of Duty had paid off. Zoe was well-equipped to survive in the world in which she would grow up.

A surge of female warriors rose, following Johanna’s lead. An unlikely army of women from all walks of life – bank tellers, beauticians, school teachers and more – history’s most fashionably dressed infantry waged war on mankind. At first they were met with considerable resistance from the real military, but as more women took up arms and more men morphed into kiss-crazy babbling Fleebs, a global shift of power took place.

Maddy’s diner was now an outpost, due to its location on the interstate at the edge of town. The sign inviting travelers to come in and eat lay in a heap of rubble after being blown up with a grenade launched at a fuel truck driven by a Fleeb. ‘Fleeb’ was what they called the infected men, after the sound they made through their proboscis.

Pockets of resistance still remained. The men had gone underground, and for good reason, because males were shot on sight, Fleeb or not. The object was, blast all men, take no prisoners. However, some women were still suckers for… suckers, and pregnancies still occurred from time to time. Some of the men tried cross-dressing as a disguise, but most did a lousy job of it and were easy to pick out. Nonetheless, all who entered Estrogenesis, Oklahoma had to check in at one of the outposts, where they would be transported to the hospital for blood work and a doctor’s examination to confirm their gender.

What would become of the human species once all men were eliminated? That was the question on many minds. Sperm banks held a possible solution. Once the threat was contained, women could become pregnant again in hopes of repopulating the species.

Would male children born into the new world be immune to the Fleeb pathogen, or would they, too become infected? Nobody knew. If the Fleeb was there to stay, the only solution was to eliminate the male offspring and keep the females. As an Amazonian society, humankind’s time on Earth was destined to expire once the last sperm was gone.

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

This story is featured in the WPaD Anthology Goin’ Extinct. 

Coming Soon...

Who can come up with a dozen different ways to end the world? We can!
This apocalyptic collection of short stories explores numerous ways in which life as we know it could end. From the traditional nuclear apocalypse to cosmic events, zombies, mysterious alien substances, evil corporations and even… coffee. These stories will shock, entertain and tug at your heart strings. For your post-apocalyptic reading list, ‘Goin’ Extinct’ is a must-have.

Including stories and poetry from: Mandy White (Author), David W. Stone (Author), Diana Garcia (Author), Marla Todd (Author), Nathan Tackett (Author), J. Harrison Kemp (Author), David Hunter (Author), Michael Haberfelner (Author), Jade M. Phillips (Author), Gina McKnight (Author), Mike Cooley (Author), , Chris Da Cruz (Author), S.E. Springle (Author)

Table of Contents

  • Existence is No Longer Profitable ~ David Hunter
  • Zoila’s Zombie ~ Jade M. Phillips
  • Battle of the Bean ~ Mandy White
  • ~ His Beating Heart ~ Poetry by Marla Todd
  • Zombie Days ~ Marla Todd
  • Skeet Beecham’s Confessions from the End of the World ~ J. Harrison Kemp
  • ~ The Quell ~ Poetry by Diana Garcia
  • Quietus ~ Diana Garcia
  • Purple ~ David W. Stone
  • It’s All Over on Elm Street ~ David Hunter
  • Dead Matter ~ Mike Cooley
  • ~ Electrical Chaos ~ Poetry by Sara Jane
  • Survival of the Fittest ~ Michael Haberfelner
  • The Last Summer Storm ~ Val Fox
  • Captain Sandy and the Airship at the End of the World ~ Marla Todd
  • Insectisorium ~ David W. Stone
  • ~ Untitled poetry by S.E. Springle
  • Finding Tennesee ~ Gina McKnight
  • Never Mind the Humans, Here’s the Rodents ~ Michael Haberfelner
  • Lullaby ~ Nathan Tackett
  • ~ The Great Flood ~ Poetry by Chris Da Cruz
  • Just One Kiss ~ Mandy White

Enough of the official description…

The first time I read this book I laughed out loud – not because it was funny but because it is SO GOOD.

WPaD is the acronym for Writers, Poets and Deviants. We are a diverse group of writers who came together on the Internet to support and encourage each other.Our collaborative works are charity fundraisers, with a percentage of royalties being donated to Multiple Sclerosis in support of members of our group who live with MS.

WPaD books are available worldwide in paperback and ebook editions.

Find WPaD Publications on Facebook for updates on our upcoming projects Or follow us on Twitter: @wpadpublication

Cover art by Jason Kemp.

To purchase on Amazon CLICK HERE.

To purchase on B&N CLICK HERE.

 

Memories, Parenting, Shared Stories, and Growing Up

My daughter turned nineteen yesterday. That now means I’m officially a parent of those who are exclusively adults.

With the kids in my life getting older it beings back a flood of memories from the time I was a little bit older than two years, to my childhood, and somewhat embarrassing and adventure filled young adulthood.

I hope that all adults, especially those with children, and I mean children of any age, can remember way back when. I don’t mean like those memes you see on Facebook that say “When I was a kid we jumped off of cliffs, played with guns and live hand grenades, went swimming in snake infested rivers, stayed out until dark, exclusively dined on fried food and sugar, and put our hands into garbage disposals, used chain saws unattended, and we’re still alive. Kids these days are spoiled assholes.”

Having children brings up random memories. Sometimes these are fearful. Sometimes they bring a sigh of relief because your child is not doing the same thing as you did. Sometimes they are happy, or bittersweet because of a time you loved that will never be again.

Yesterday I thought about how I waited on the front porch of our house with my mother and my brother Valentine as we watched my three older brothers walking off to school. They were fourteen, thirteen, and nine. Val was almost five. I was almost four. I remember telling my mother that I wanted to go to school. Val was silent on the issue. He’d already started to read on his own and had no plans on going to school. Not ever. He never told my parents so he missed his opportunity to be an exclusive self learner. I didn’t learn to read until I was six and didn’t master it until I was about eight.

I thought about how much I like my daughter’s boyfriend, and my son’s girlfriend.

And the most random memory came into my head. I dated a guy named Orin once who was nice. He had a dog who was nice and a nice sense of humor. His home was nice. What wasn’t so nice was the fact that his sister lived with him. Gertrude seemed nice at first despite the fact that she was loud and exceptionally out spoken. But then it got weird.

Wherever I went with Orin Gertrude would be there. When Gertrude would talk Orin would stop whatever he was doing and give her a dreamy look. Gertrude was the expert in everything and he would defer to her on everything. She monopolized every conversation. Eventually everything we did was what Orin and Gertrude wanted to do. In fact that only reason I think I was around was because Orin didn’t want to have sex with his sister. She already had dibs on all of the other girlfriend functions. It was like dating married man who brought his wife along, only weirder. So the last time I saw him I invited him for cocktails. I said we could do something afterwords. A few nights before I told him that I was bothered that Gertrude, or Gertrude and her boyfriend were always along. I wanted some time with just him. He brought Gertrude along. As we sipped our drinks Gertrude talked and Owen gave her dreamy looks and said nothing out of his goofy love stuck smile. I left after I was finished with my drink and never saw him again.

I’ve told that story to my kids. They think it is exceptionally creepy. Siblings are great. Just not like Owen and Gertrude.

This morning my daughter Clara and her boyfriend left for a camping trip on the north coast. I thought of a camping trip long ago with my friend Amelia.

I was living in Sacramento. Amelia was living in Las Vegas. So we met half way in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, where the highest mountains in the lower 48 are. We were at Devil’s Post Pile, an amazing geological formation. As we set up our tents I heard seals. This was great. Last time I went camping on the beach we heard seals too.

I said to Amelia, “Do you hear the seals?”

She said, “Those are mules.”

Then I remembered we were three hundred miles from the ocean, and in the mountains.

I’ll attribute my memory fade to a four-hour drive in my sports car with the top down. Brain bake. Or maybe it was just me, because sometimes I’m like that.

Amelia is still in Las Vegas being fabulous. I’m still living near Sacramento.

Amelia and I are still having adventures. I heard the seals, aka mules, years before I ever had children. Now Amelia and I have grown daughters. I think our hearing is a lot better now. Parenthood will do that to you.

By the way, I haven’t heard seals in the mountains since then.

I was also with Amelia on my 19th birthday one hundred and forty years ago, but I won’t tell that story today.

In both storytelling and parenting use what you know. Use the truths from you experiences to teach your children. Entertain them with your stupid stories so maybe their stupid stories won’t be so stupid.

We all connect through our stories. Our stories make us who we are. They are something we can share at no cost, except maybe a little embarrassment.

I love to listen to stories and memories others have to share. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting around a campfire, strolling through a museum, or hanging out at home. What matters is that we listen with open minds, open hearts, and a sense of humor. And add in some love.

Yes, even Vampires, despite the misinformation out there about us, know about love. We know a lot about love – and stories. So be like a Vampire and tell your story and collect stories from others. You’ll thank me for it later.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

vm darling girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short Story Sunday: Tell Tail Heart

Tell Tail Heart – A Literary Tale

He woke with a start.

THUMP THUMP THUMP

THUMP THUMP THUMP

Immediately he thought of The Tell Tale Heart, that story of horror written by Poe.

Bolting up in bed and now awake he realized it was just the thumping tails of his brother’s wolfhounds. Why had he agreed to take care of the beasts for the week?

These huge beasts were no Baskerville Hounds. They were sweet and goofy. Sure they could kill, he supposed they could kill, but they were just happy dogs. Large dogs with large hearts. Large dogs who needed to go out and leave large piles in his yard. And they needed to do that RIGHT NOW.

All week long he’d been obsessed with trying to find the story that matched his life. No Jane Austin. No Thomas Wolf. Maybe a touch of Charlotte Bronte or Donna Tartt. A little Dave Stone or Nathan Tackett. Maybe Mandy White? J. Harrison Kemp? Gabriel García Márquez? The poetry of Daniel Tanzo? Jade M. Phillips? David X. Hunter or Michael Haberfelner? Lucy Lastic? Stephen King? More like it the beautiful haunting romantic historic stories of Diana Garcia or Marie Frankson. What about John Sanford or John Steinbeck. He liked the idea of Steinbeck. He liked the idea of all of them… except maybe White or King. That pair of horror writers were brilliant but far too scary to base a life on their works. Rob Betz , Angie Parisi or Gina McKnight came to mind. He thought about it for a while longer while the dogs played and ran in the yard as the sun vanished and night took over the sky.

He returned inside and fed the large gray beasts. If dogs could write what would they write about? His mind was on finding a story. The dogs curled up on the floor next to a wall of bookshelves. He looked at the hundreds of titles. All had inspired him but none were his life.

Then he pulled a small volume out and fingered the pages. In pencil were sketches and stories a friend had written years ago. Since then he’d followed her tales. Stories of fantasy, then stories of real life.

He picked up his phone and called. She picked up. “Marla, this is Andrew. I just wanted to tell you… What have you been up to?”

They talked for hours about life and the past 18 years, since her wedding. She’d lived life not like one of her stories but almost as exciting.

“You were never afraid of me. I mean, because I’m a Vampire,” Andrew told her.

“You were never afraid of me because I’m a writer,” she told him.

He laughed. They made plans. She’d keep writing her stories. And as for Andrew, he’d keep living his own story.

 

~ End

~ Juliette aka Vampire Manan

 

WPaD Publications

WPaD Publications – Add these to your fall reading list.

 

 

Vampire House Warming

A Toast of Thanksviging... and other stuff

 

We all have those turning points in our life. Some we choose and some we don’t. Some we’re nudged in the right or more often wrong direction.

And there are those times when we try to read between the lines too much about the lives of others. It is usually far more complicated or else far less complicated than we think it is.

My brother Andrew (second of 5 siblings) recently moved back to California after several years in London and other parts of the globe and purchased a home in San Francisco. I hear he paid a million and a half for the place in St. Francis Wood, but he could afford it. I hold my breath to think what my brother Max’s home or my parent’s homes with views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge would go for. Anyway…this isn’t about real estate.

It is about a lovely housewarming party my brother Andrew hosted. The place was packed with both Vampires and Regular Humans. There were of course musicians (Andy is a singer) and dancers. There were artists and college professors and writers and high tech geeks and all sorts of interesting people with every profession and opinion imaginable. What made this remarkable, as parties and gatherings go, was that Andy’s Regular Human friends know about Vampire. They’re friends with us and don’t have a problem with it.

OK there was one exception. Andy invited his “girlfriend.” Shawna had come up from Southern California where she is a university professor. She is not a Vampire. She is still in that state of wonder and a little bit of disbelief about Vampires and our world (which isn’t all that different than hers, usually.)

Andy is head over heels in love with this divorced mother of two college kids. The story is that she came home from a research trip to find her husband had put her things in storage and moved a new trophy wife into their home. Their youngest child had just gone off to college so it was his opportunity to also make a change. Shocked, she found a small house on a quiet tree lined street and made a new life with her cats and dogs (she wouldn’t leave them behind.)

Shawna was strong and smart and I had no idea what she was doing with my scatter-brained brother. But it was ok. They were cute together and, well, you know all that sort of early romance cute stuff.

I looked out the window to the backyard to see my brother Max kissing his “friend.” This was more than just a friend. I’d heard rumors but this was proof that there was something more than he’d admit to. Funny that she backed out of his arms and went inside alone leaving him to pace a bit then follow her back inside.

In the kitchen I found Shawna. She was cutting up limes.

“I told Andy to have this catered.” I said this trying to be friendly. I could sense a tiny bit of discomfort behind her warm friendly fang-less smile.

“I’m happy to help. This will just take a second.” She cut into a lime then her hand slipped, of course, in a house full of Vampires, and cut a deep gash in her thumb.

I grabbed her hand and put it in my mouth to stop the bleeding and sealed the wound. I could have left it but it would have required stitches, not to mention drawn a lot of unwanted attention.

I let go and she pulled away with a little bit of horror and disbelief.

“It’s OK Shawna. I sealed the cut. It will heal now without stitches. You’re A positive.” I smiled. “Don’t worry.  I’m not going to drink your blood or bite you or anything. Just basic first aid. We don’t want anyone else smelling blood.”

I suddenly realized that Andy had never bitten her or exposed her to his natural Vampire ways. He was such a gentleman.  He was also a dick when it came to women. He was always falling for anything that wasn’t a Vampire and when it was a Vampire it was usually always someone who was totally wrong for him. He always had to have everything in life more complicated than it had to be.

“Isn’t this sweet,” I heard a smooth male voice say behind me. I turned to see James, one of Andy’s best friends. James who had always watched out for Andrew but who was also one of the most absolutely annoying Vampires in the known universe.

“You know,” said James,  “Juliette and her brother Valentine are two of the best when it comes to Human to Vampire conversions. Almost a 100% success rate, mot to mention a great follow up and support system.”

“Shut up James,” I snapped. Poor Shawna looked horrified. Why was it that everything James said sounded vulgar? Oh right, I know, because he is a fucking pig.

Shawna looked horrified. I was about say something else nasty to James when a very angry Vampire (showing her fangs no less) suddenly slammed him into the wall. “You’re making me sick James. Get out of here before I rip your throat out.”

He held up his hands and backed off. With a smile he said, “Later ladies, I’ll leave you to your tea party.”

Max’s friend Mehitabel  (the one he kissed in the backyard) stood there in a sleek black dress and some great sky high patent leather Mary Janes. She washed her hands saying something under her breath about getting the stink left by James off of them.

Mehitabel was the pretty woman who could either stand out in a crowd, or more likely not be noticed by anyone. That worked well in her professional life. She could stand unnoticed and watch and wait. As for her personal life, I have no idea. I don’t know her that well.

I found her entertaining and funny. Sure she was a little distant as well, an odd combination.

Earlier I’d asked her what she did for the holidays. She said she had spent it with close friends. They always spent holidays together.  Why did I assume she wouldn’t have anyplace to go? Gossip and rumors can build into false biographies that paint a harsh sad picture of someone who is anything but harsh or sad.

She didn’t ask questions about my brother Max, the object of her affections – not like most women do.  She wasn’t talking to anyone about Max. She’d come to the party because they had mutual friends, and Andy adores her – nothing more. She was staying at Max’s house but no details of fluttery “wink wink” was forthcoming.

She had known Max for a long long time.  Over the years they’d been in and out of dangerous situations together, even saved each other’s lives. They were considered Vampire elite, thought she didn’t act like it.

So, anyway, I’m standing in the kitchen with two women who for better or worse were involved with two of my brothers. At this point I doubted if anyone was going to come in and rescue me.

“Don’t bother with James,” I said to Shawna.  “I think he was snorting too much dragon dust or something.”

“More likely out feeding on meth heads and heroine junkies,” said Mehitabel in disgust. The she softened her look and approached Shawna.

“I’m sorry you had to see that.  We’re not like that. Andy isn’t like that. He is one of the most gentle souls I’ve ever met, Regular Human or Vampire, and he adores you. He’d never ever let anyone harm you. The same goes for Juliette and me, and everyone here. Even James, even thought he is an asshole.”

I knew there were those would harm Shawna, but then again, I suppose nobody could have hurt her more than her ex-husband, the one who traded her in for a younger model.

After a few minutes and a few cocktails, we forgot about the party and my brothers. We talked of other things, things we all could relate to. We talked about movies and books and shoes and our work.

I suppose there is no point or moral to this story. No usual twist. It is always just odd and I’m glad my kids were in another part of the house, I’m sure being exposed to all sorts of other weirdness.

Just random thoughts about last weekend…

But all in all, I like both of these women my brothers have brought around. Now if my brothers could just behave… And if they don’t behave, I might still just keep these two around.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

_____________________________

and before i could argue him

out of his philosophy

he went and immolated himself

on a patent cigar lighter

i do not agree with him

myself i would rather have

half the happiness and twice

the longevity

 

but at the same time i wish

there was something i wanted

as badly as he wanted to fry himself”

Don Marquis, archy and mehitabel

____________________________________

More on Shawna and Andy (click here.)

More on Max and Mehitabel (click here)

vm_party time

First published in 2013. Andy was talking to me the other day about having a party and I thought I’d share this again.

~ Juliette

Unlikely Friendships

My brother Val and I were telling my kids about the time we didn’t spend Thanksgiving with our family.

In 1966 we were driving up the coast from Southern California to our parent’s house in San Francisco.

We turned off to take a back road, Val wanted to talk to a guy who built furniture. It would take maybe and hour he said. About ten miles off of the main highway a black sedan came up to our bumper. Another black car passed us, and before we could say “Change the radio station,” they had us blocked in and off of the road in a ditch.

It was cold and foggy out. I was in a great geometric design Mary Quant dress but had the good sense to be wearing flats. Val was in a suit. I mean, it was a holiday and we wanted to be respectable young Vampires and look good for our parents. I’d just turned 107 in October and Val was 108. We were still their babies.

Five men came out of the cars. “Don’t look into their eyes,” yelled one of the men.

Val swore under his breath. The men were Vampire Hunters. Just our luck. It was the day before Thanksgiving and we were, as usual, already late, and now this. It was always this.

And to add insult to injury one of the assholes torched my car. I’d had it for about six months. My beautiful green Austin Healey 3000 up in flames. Thank goodness my purse was still on my shoulder.

We stood in the light of the fire, surrounded. Our fangs were out.

“Gentlemen, why don’t we make a deal. If you let us go we’ll grant you a favor just like a genie in a lamp. We can do that. We can make sure nobody ever hurts you or your family. How about it? We can make sure your son’s draft number never comes up. We can make sure your daughters don’t fall in love with a dirty hippy. Think about it,” I said.

It was true, I could do all that and more. I could, but I’m no genie which means I can also lie about it. I can guarantee you that I wasn’t telling the truth, but they didn’t have to know.

To make a long story short, they started to come in closer with knives, guns and fire. Then shots. LOUD shots and the sound of a revving engine.

“Get the Hell out of here,” someone shouted, then shouted in the direction of Val and me and shouted, “GET IN.”

So we got into the truck. Two Vampires in the dark surrounded by angry Vampire Hunters often don’t have other options.

I slid in the middle seat between Val and the man driving. A large happy black dog was jammed in there with up.

The man didn’t look at us but talked as he drove. “God damn Vampire Hunters. You ok?”

“Yes, thank you. We’re ok,” said Val. “What do you mean by Vampire Hunters?”

“I know what you are. Fuckers. Not you, the damn Vampire Hunters. I swear one of these days I’m going to blow their heads off.”

I glanced over at Val trying to recalculate our situation.

Our driver continued, “I know you’re wondering how I know. My sister Debbie, the bitch, is dating one of those guys. My other sister Lydia is a Vampire. You know who I’m going to side with. Debbie is bat shit crazy, not to mention has bad taste in men. I’ll drop you off at the Greyhound station and wait until you get on your bus. It will take you as far as San Francisco. If you’re going anywhere else you’ll need to make a transfer.”

I looked over and saw his face. He was younger than he sounded. We talked more as we drove another hour to the bus station. His name was Bill. He’d just served a tour in Viet Nam and was home for a while before he had to go back. War was an ugly thing he said. He had no tolerance for violence at home.

“So you don’t care if we’re Vampires?” I had to ask.

“Why should I? The world is a strange and violent place. But the world if full of all sorts of creatures and I don’t see your kind, or most other creatures creating the problems. It is the assholes I’m concerned with. You know who I’m talking about. Hell, I think you’re interesting. After I get out of the Army I plan on spending more time with Lydia and her friends. They’re the only people I know right now who make any sense.”

“Some people believe we’re dead,” said Val.

Our driver laughed. “A lot of people are dead. Why should that bother me?”

We took the bus up to San Francisco and were picked up by our parents at the station.

That was such a long time ago and until today I’d almost forgotten about it.

Thanksgiving was great. My husband Teddy brought home and old bugle that we all made a lot of noise with and laughed so hard our sides hurt. The kids had fun being home from school. All was well.

And everyone made it here, with no adventures, no hold ups, no Vampire Hunters. Everyone was safe. It was all we could ask for.

After a sampling of Bourbon and dark chocolate I called my old friend with the truck. He is now living in Monterey in a house with a view of the Pacific Ocean. He is 73 years old now and retired from a career as a politician and environment lawyer. His grandkids and his sister Lydia were all there.

You never know where you’ll meet life long friends but it is always a blessing.

Wishing you all a blessed season of joy, and love, and all good things.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

 

 

Short Story Sunday: A Ray of Hope (A Thanksgiving Story)

Thanksgiving is in Tahoe this year. My husband Justin’s family has a large beach front cabin. It is a 5,000 square foot cabin and two other smaller A frames within walking distance. Yes, they’re insanely rich, at least to me. They’re also incredible loving and giving and have taken me into their family as one of their own.

My mom left when I was five, taking my twin baby brother and sister with her. Dad said she said she was bored with her life. Bored with my dad and bored with me. I only saw her once after that. She’d poisoned the minds of my siblings by telling them that my dad was abusive. Her new husband gladly went along and encouraged it. My brother is now a successful motivational speaker. My sister is a teacher. I don’t talk to them. They don’t want to talk to me, but they like to talk about me, or somebody they say is me. I don’t care anymore.

When I was growing up Thanksgiving were small, like my grandparent’s two bedroom house – Just my dad, Grandpa and Grammy, and Uncle Ray. We’d gather around the kitchen table in Grammy’s kitchen and have a feast on old chairs covered with yellow vinyl. The table would be covered with turkey, green bean casserole, jellied cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes with little marshmallows browned on top. Everything except the turkey came out of a can except the wine. The wine was from a box with ice cubes. It was great.

Uncle Ray lived with Grandpa and Grammy. He believed that at the age of 15 he was abducted by aliens and taken for a blinding fast tour of the universe and Planet X. Ray believed that Jesus was protecting bigfoot, unicorns and other rarely seen creatures so that when mankind finally killed itself off that those were the creatures who would rule the earth. A great gray wolf would lead dwarves and elves out from their underground kingdoms to live in peace. Aliens from space would set up trade routes to earth and help the new found order prosper.

Despite his weirdness Uncle Ray was accepted into UC Berkley and managed to obtain a degree in Political Science. With his knowledge of politics he began working on his plan for a new world order he’d build along with Jesus and the Bigfoots and elves.

Yes, Uncle Ray was nuts but I adored him. My dad protected him. My grandparents accepted him. The university where he occasionally taught a course tolerated him. He never married so I was the only child there for the holidays.

At night a few hours after pie and watching “Meet Me in St. Louis”, Ray and I would go outside. He’d grab a turkey leg and I’d take a wing. We’d munch on our turkey while Ray pointed out constellations and tell me about his time with the aliens and his love for Jesus.

Ray would always take my hand and solemnly tell me, “Jenna, what I’m telling you is real. I’m not crazy.” Then we’d go inside and have turkey races with some funky wind-up toys my Grandpa got for us. We’d laugh until our sides hurt.

My grandparents and Ray are gone now. Grandpa died in his sleep the year I graduated from college. Grammy had a stroke a few months later while at a prayer group. Three years years ago Ray went hiking in Death Valley one spring and vanished. The rangers found his backpack, hiking boots and an empty water bottle. There was a note that said, “Tell Jenna that I love her.”

I still have the note.

Thanksgiving with my family was never fancy or exciting but I knew I was loved.

Right after I graduated away from college my dad remarried. I met my husband Justin and Thanksgiving dishes no longer involved food from cans or vinyl chairs.

This year dad and his wife Gracie went to Montana to visit friends for Thanksgiving. I knew I’d miss them but wished them a good time.

As Justin and I drove up into the mountains I thought about Ray as I looked out the car at the forests. Over the river and through the woods… When I was 16 Ray and I would drive up to the mountains to see the stars. I’d drive. He never learned how. In the cool summer nights we’d stand in a clearing at 8,000 feet and watch the endless show of zillions of stars and watch for shooting stars and satellites. Ray would tell me about the aliens who’d be back to get him. He’d tell me about how the ancient Greeks would navigate ships and come to America to visit. He’d tell me about planets that were inhabited by people so beautiful that our eyes would explode if we looked at them. He’d tell me that he’d been in love with a girl once and kissed her under the stars but she killed herself. He said he’d see her again. The aliens said they had taken her just before her soul was lost. Uncle Ray said to never be sad. He also told me over and over that he wasn’t crazy.

“What are the thinking about?” Justin startled me out of my reverie.

“My Uncle Ray. I miss him.”

Justin put his hand on mine. “I know honey, I know.”

Thanksgiving was spectacular. The food was amazing, the company was wonderful, the day was perfect. I’m blessed to be married into such a great family.

A few hours after dinner, after football and a lot of other fun, I took Justin by the hand and led him to the kitchen. I got myself a smoked turkey wing and gave Justin a leg, then poured two glasses of wine, minus the ice cubes and took him outside to watch the stars.

We talked about what fun we’d had that day. Then we talked about starting our own family, maybe trying to start that week.

A fireball sailed across the sky. I couldn’t figure out what it was. Maybe a meteorite?

Justin held my hand and said, “It’s your Uncle Ray.”

I think it was.