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Exercise #118 Prep

Exercise #118: Prep
Posted 07/22/05 - 07/28/05

Here are the story beginnings submitted by The Desk Drawer listmembers from 07/22/05 through 07/28/05.

Submitted by Bob Burdick:

The Whole Banana, 366 words

Revenge is sweet; it's also profitable---at least for the greater part of the year.  Usher in the holidays, however, say from Thanksgiving until the week after New Year's, and business sucks, as even diehard assholes tend to mellow. Crap. If this aura of "Joy to the World" became epidemic, I'd be out of business.  Hell, maybe I already was. Without another client, SOON, I'd lose my office-apartment above Bernie's Pawn & Bond and have to move back into Ol' Blue, my vintage, short-bed pickup.

Luckily, my solo client, Claire, had deep pockets, and I'd managed to keep her happy for months.  This chore wasn't difficult, as keeping her happy involved no more than keeping her ex-husband, Jonathon, unhappy. Her goal?  A healthy increase in alimony. Delightful job, this business of spite, malice, and revenge.

When she first pushed through the door clutching my business card, I outlined fees up front.  "For the minimum, I guarantee to aggravate the shit out of him."



She gave my card another look. "Hmm.  Spike Whammer; Their Pain---Your Gain." She toyed with the hem of her miniskirt and raised an eyebrow. Her tone downshifted to schoolgirl flirtatious. "And what does the whole banana get me, Spike?"

A vision of miniskirts and bananas flashed to mind.  I flushed it. After all, my Hip National was in the throes of death. Sweeping wheat toast crumbs from the blacktop card table that served as my office desk, I said, "No way to tell, actually.  Elmo, I think it was, renounced citizenship and joined the Foreign Legion. Merle and Willard are still wards of the state.  You know, that funny farm out on I20. Then there was Randy.  Actually, Randy's now Rhonda."

"You mean---"

"Exactly.  Swapped his putter for a sand trap and entered a convent."

Claire recrossed her legs. "Oh, my!"

"Yeah, but it's a hell of a conversation piece, a nun with hairy cleavage."

Claire opted for the whole banana. Holding her thumb and first finger about an inch apart, she said, "Well, Jonathon's this much from being Joanne anyway, so don't push too hard. Just make him see things my way."

"I'll get to work on it."


Submitted by Joan Kilgannon:

Night Shade, 493 words

The house looked like something out of a Dracula movie, all it needed was the bats, and she expected them to appear any minute. The storm that had been threatening all day finally hit, and the trees attempted to knock her off her feet

Charlie climbed the steps and pounded on the door, she only hoped the outside noise hadn't muffled her knock.  She was about to knock a third time when the door swung open. "Yes". The man who stood there was about six foot and although not drop-dead-gorgeous, wouldn't frighten anyone in the dark. His brown hair looked like he had not long come in from the rain. The green eyes and sun browned face was not very friendly.

"I'm Charlotte Lambe, here to see Doctor Morgan", Charlie felt like running back the way she came; but she needed the job desperately. At least she was far away from Terry, and she didn't have to face any of her friends on what should have been her wedding day

"Of course Miss Lambe, I'll tell the doctor you are here, please come in out of the storm". He did not attempt to introduce himself as she followed him into a cosy modern lounge room. A fire beckoned invitingly from the other side of the room. Two comfortable T.V. chairs stood either side of the hearth.

Charlie sat in one of the chairs and stretched her hands and feet towards the flames. She had been sitting there in a warm sleepy haze for around fifteen minutes when a middle-aged woman came in carrying a tray with tea and sandwiches. The woman placed the tray on the table beside her, "There you are Miss, George said he had left you in here." George, her guide earlier, whoever he was, certainly hadn't welcomed her with open arms.

"Oh thank you, it is so cold out and it's been a long day".

"That's alright dear; I'm Mary Gray, the housekeeper".

Charlie warmed to the older woman; it had been days since she had seen a friendly face. She was beginning to wonder if this idea of taking the nurse/secretary job to old Doctor Morgan was such a good one. Now she was here, in this spooky house, and she still did not know what her patient/employer or whatever he is was like.

Doctor David Morgan was an enigma; he had left general practice several years ago. There were many unanswered questions thrown about, and until recently, he appeared to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Charlie saw the advertisement for a nurse/secretary in the local paper. David Morgan was writing his autobiography and needed a typist; because of his health, he occasionally needed a nurse. An interview with Jane Adams, the doctor's sister gave Charlie the position.

Ms Adams didn't have a lot to say about her brother. "David has diabetes and he never takes any care of himself so I need someone to keep an eye on him."

"That sounds easy, what other duties will I have?"

"That is all you will have to do, although don't think working for and with David is going to be easy. The catch is David works at strange hours and you will be expected to fall in with his timetable?"

"Of course that is understood."

"You will be employed by me, and report any problems or changes in David's health directly to me."


(and number two:)


The Chest, 463 words

The old cottage was well hidden. Built underneath the lip of the cliff face made it impossible to see it from the track above. Jenna had found it by accident. The shadows on the bush as it grew down to the sea, showed a break in the undergrowth. Someone or something had used it many years ago as a path to the ocean. The path twisted and turned its way below the cliff face, and then it opened out onto a rock ledge, completely hidden from the top. Another path, more overgrown headed in an almost straight line to the water.

Looking out to sea from the front of the cottage was the proverbial "million dollar view". The ocean was still about a hundred feet below; the jagged rocks made it impossible to walk on the beach, in fact there didn't seem to be any beach. Just grey-green crashing waves. Their foam passengers laughing and frolicking about on the rocks.

Jenna pushed open the door of the hut and walked inside. The only thing in the cottage besides an old chest and a huge spider, was a broken chair near the fireplace. The chest was hidden in the corner, where the spider webs had created an almost impenetrable barrier. She couldn't help wondering if the cobwebs and the king-size spider running around in them was the reason the trunk had remained untouched over heaven knows how many decades. She started to cough and splutter because her waving arms had already caused enough breezes to send an indoor dust storm dancing around the room.

Jenna knew the rusty lock was going to present a problem.  The shaft was as thick as her little finger, and completely rusted over. It went without saying she had no idea where to find the key.  As the dust began to clear, she started to examine the chest more closely.  It was about 6ftx3ftx3ft, and rusted all over, its weight convinced her there was no chance of dragging it outside. She started exploring the tiny house for some clues of its history, and perhaps some type of tool to help her prise the lid off the trunk. There was nothing of use inside but outside the back door lay an old crowbar, as old and rusty as the chest.

The crowbar made short work of the lock; Jenna lifted the struggling lid and peered inside. She sat back and stared at the contents, clothes, beautiful clothes even if a little old fashioned. Jenna started to pull them out, on the bottom was shoebox size bundle wrapped in calico. She had no idea why she felt she was trespassing, maybe because there was something fragile and sad about the bundle.


Submitted by Michelle Hakala:

Walt, 230 words

Walt turned off the motor but didn't get out of his car. The absence of other vehicles scared him. This was the right day for Sue's party, wasn't it? He checked his watch for the time and date. Yes, it was. He looked around the dark street. Two. There were two cars he didn't recognize. Maybe it was a small party. Maybe... his hopes skyrocketed as he thought Sue might feel about him the way he felt about her. Could it be?

He got out of the car and ducked to check his hair in the side-view mirror. The rich brown of his youth was just starting to show a hint of silver. One of his co-workers had told him he looked distinguished. That wasn't the word he'd wanted, and had considered coloring his hair, but decided against it. Maybe that had been a mistake. He frowned and straightened his tie. The blue suit felt awkward but looked great. A glance at the house showed it was lit up like people were expected. Maybe Sue wouldn't care about a touch of gray...

Walt strode to the front door, exuding confidence he didn't really feel. A last-minute check of the flowers he'd brought, then he rang the doorbell and waited.

Mark opened the door, as if he owned it.

Walt's hopes faltered. "Is the party here tonight?"

(and number two:)

Cruxt, 263 words

Laughter surrounded the little dragon. A common occurrence, still he cringed.

"You want to do what?" roared a blue older brother. "Wait until your older -- or at least bigger!" More laughter, and Cruxt crept out of the cave.

Nobody understood. It wasn't his fault he was so small. It didn't mean he couldn't do the things other dragons could do. Why, he was a better flier than any of them! His lesser weight gave him added buoyancy, and his small size gave him more agility. If the competitions had shorter races, he'd win, easily. As it was, Cruxt's endurance couldn't hold up for the five leagues that was the shortest race.

Cruxt sat on the ledge outside the cave and examined the talons on one iridescent green foot. He was built right, just small. The growth spurt that usually happened around a dragon's fiftieth year hadn't happened for Cruxt. Nose to tail, he was barely six feet long. A runt.

Cruxt sighed. Would he ever grow up?

A memory flitted across Cruxt's mind. His oldest brother, looking down from what seemed an impossible height. "That's not a little brother. That's a light snack." Even from his baby bed, Cruxt could feel the disapproval and the ridicule that was to rule his life.

Anger burned in Cruxt's breast. 'I'll show them,' the little dragon thought. 'I'll find a virgin to eat and then they'll see I can do anything they can do!' He launched himself from the ledge into the freedom of the sky.


Submitted by Alana Clarke:

The Conundrum of the Invisible Man, 364 words

This sort of thing wasn't supposed to happen to superheros. Admittedly, I wasn't that super -- just an average guy that inadvertently grabbed the 1M instead of the .001M AuPbClOH for a perfectly typical college chemistry experiment because Terese Williams, aka Ready-'n'-Willin' Williams, was bending over while wearing a c-level miniskirt. The hero part was true enough, albeit after I'd scored enough cash to pay rent, groceries, and stock up on booze and cigs. And it was the good deeds that screwed me.

Sweet little old lady -- that should've warned me right quick -- was turning to go down a dark side street where a couplathree rough types were waiting. I could've taken the thugs, I guess, but I'd tried that before, and discovered that random punches hurt just as much as the deliberate kind. So I went with discretion being almost like valour: whispered in her ear "Don't go there," and added a ghostly touch.

Well -- she screeched like twenty-five banshees on PMS, which scared the hell outta me. Pulls a can of mace out of that big ol' granny purse, and she nails me right in the eyes. I guess she ran away, though I really wish she'd gone down that dark side street and got good and mugged.

But that leaves me. I found a wall, at least, but I'm not sure whether it's the side street or the main. I'm hunkered up against it for all I'm worth, tears pouring down my cheeks and blinking furiously. I know enough not to rub my eyes, but can't remember how long the blindness lasts. Minutes? Hours? I'm blocks from my apartment, across two busy streets and I'm not even sure what direction I'm facing.

It's terribly ironic. Heck, I'd kill myself laughing if it weren't me. All I have is the rough concrete under my clutching fingers and a crazy rhyme in my head, like a child's aimless song:
If the invisible man were blind, who would find him?
If the invisible man were blind, who would know?
If the invisible man were blind, who would take him by the hand,
And lead him home?


Submitted by Cathy Furlani:

(No Title), 301 words

Curlilocks often wondered what happened to Goldilocks and Baldilocks after their split.

She knew Baldilocks had angered a large amount of people after she spoke about the Pope on public television, and it was only now that her career was growing around her again. Her hair was not. She was always jealous of the other two because of their hair, as they were jealous of her career and so their friendship was in balance.

Goldilocks married a bear. After the incident with the three bears she was never quite right, and though married for years now, she found no happiness with her man/bear. He was large, and when he spoke he growled. He had promised her happiness and family, yet he never delivered either. Goldilocks was disagreeable and a perfectionist. Curlilocks was sure that Goldilocks' husband had tried to please her but as there was no pleasing Goldilocks, and so he stopped trying. He heard the same complaints over and over from her. Too hard, too soft. Too long, too short. Too poor, too rich.

Curlilocks missed them though. Her own life had been quite an adventure. Not always good, not always happy, but an adventure nonetheless. She had married and divorced, she had a son with hair as curly as her own and for the first time in her entire life, she felt she had control. Of her life that is. Not the hair. Never the hair. The older she got, the tighter the curls. She thought maybe the more stress in her life, the more her hair curled.

Maybe it was just getting older. Maybe it was the invisible force field she swore was around here that kept her curls in place. Maybe it was this same force field that gave her her strength as well as her curl.

(and number two:)

(No Title), 399 words

It had turned into the same conversation they always had on the way to these interviews.

"I bet she won't even ask about what's written in the book" she told the man seated next to her in the back seat of the car the studio sent.

"You know, you always say that on the way to one of these things, they always do . . . eventually."

"No. They ask about why, not what. That's all."

"Well, I bet you this will be different. We are a Kelly Ripa Book of the month, and that Regie," he laughed, "he could talk the ears off a brass monkey."

"A buck says he won't ask," she dared him. "And neither will Kelly, and she's supposed to be the literate one."

"You're on. Kelly included." He slid over and sealed the bet, like he did all their bets - a kiss on the lips and a slap on her butt.

Andy and Maddie were on their way to do yet another interview to promote their book. They hit the big time appearing on Live with Regis and Kelly. Once Kelly Ripa slapped that "Kelly Approved" sticker on your book you were famous.

It was a dreary, rainy workday in New York City, and as the car rode through the slow moving traffic and endless red lights, the couple was drawn to the faces of the people they saw. The faces were stressed, strung out and tired. The people looked like a colorless flock of sheep with their black raincoats, umbrellas and shoes, all marching to the orders of some barking dog handing out the orders of his own master.

Andy and Maddie looked at each other and sighed loudly. This is what they were supposed to be getting away from. This is the very thing that brought about that damn book in the first place. Each knew what the other was thinking and scooted closer to each other.

After makeup, light and sound checks and an audience warmup, they were finally invited from the green room to the stage.

"I hear your book was brought about due very interesting circumstances," Regis bellowed, as he does most of his conversations. "Tell us about that." Maddie winked at Andy, whispered to him that he owed her a buck and began the story. She really liked telling the story of how they met so that is where she began.


Submitted by kitsune:

The Saga of the Hot Dog Man, 256 words

Yes, I see them. The Furniture clearance people, the new home arrow holders dancing along their own intersections of town. I never tried and compete with them. We merely glance each other's way and nod knowingly. But now there is a new foe fighting for his piece of my street corner.

The $5 pizza man. Oh how I loathe his bright yellow jersey and fake broad shoulders. While I stand here in my hokey Hot dog suit, my ketchup fading, my mustard no match for his sunshine hues. I'm sure the 100 degree plus weather doesn't make him sweat like a pig. He can cheerily dance along in his shorts while I constantly have to be pulling up my brown tights.

I wander my stretch of pavement waving my hands to the children passing by in hopes they will scream until their parents pull over and buy them lunch. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to have my own sign declaring it "49 cent Chili Dog Day" or "2 corn dogs for 2 dollars", but most of the time I'm empty handed, aimlessly dancing as much as my foam gloved hands will let me.

So far he's been good about staying on his side of the street. We occasionally pass each other on the walk home, but we have never spoken. The location thing is an unspoken rule among my peers. You stay on your corner, you only dance in front of your restaurant. It was a rule.

Till that day....

Submitted by Jo Best:

Cause for Alarm, 497 words

Midnight, January 14th

Nothing stirred outside the modest clapboard house at the edge of the Green Mountain forest. The snow on the ground was sparse for January, but the air was frigid. Inside, it was also quiet except for the master bedroom upstairs. Rustling and murmuring could be heard by anyone ascending the stairway. The closer one got, the better to hear the low feminine voice.

"Midnight at the Oasis! Yeah, right, like Vermont in winter is an oasis. Not if it's supposed to be the saving spot in the middle of a desert!" The woman gave a huge sigh and stretched her legs spastically. "The camper is packed, all we have to do is eat breakfast and take off. We will be in Florida in a few days. Why can't I relax now!" Cissy knew it was silly to talk to herself at this late hour but anything was better than tossing and tangling up the covers. She noted the soft snoring of her husband and said louder, "You lucky so and so, why can't I sleep like you?" She grinned, as she thought how Sam wouldn't wake up if she yelled those words. He slept unaware as an ostrich with its head in the sand.

The moon lit the room enabling Cissy to make out Sam's serene countenance. Asleep he looked as young as when she first met him. She cuddled closer, buried her face in his neck and drifted off to join him in the land of sleep.

A New Day: 5:30 AM January 15th

The alarm blared into Cissy's mind. She sat up abruptly, shook her head and stretched. It was still dark out. She turned to wake Sam but found his side empty. He was already up. Cissy knew he was eager to get going but usually he waited for the alarm. Funny, the clothes laid out for him to wear today were as she'd folded them on his chair. A glance at the open closet revealed that his robe still hung on it's hook. If he were in the bathroom or downstairs she would have heard. The house was very open, and any sound was easily heard. "Sam?" No answer. Cissy called louder. "Sam, where are you? Come out, come out, wherever you are!"

Cissy slipped on her bathrobe and ran downstairs; after a quick search, she expected to see Sam seated at the table. No sign of him or breakfast fixings -- strange -- this wasn't like Sam, to play games the morning they planned to leave. A cold draft around Cissy's toes caused an ominous shiver. She crossed the room to the back door and found it slightly ajar.


Submitted by Mamie Hanscom:

House of Secrets, 416 words
Cirrus clouds moved rapidly across the sky. Cone-covered tips of tall pines swayed in unison, leaves of birch and maple danced to the rhythm of the wind. The magenta sunset rays still lingered on the horizon, but deep in the forest night came early. A smoky mist had already invaded the secret recesses beneath the trees, and spread across the mossy areas littered with pine needles. The birds of twilight sent their musical messages from one tree-top to another. Their songs touched Ben's heart and for a short space of time, drowned out all unwelcome thoughts.

When Christa left, she took everything dear to him, because without her, he had nothing of value in his life. The sharp sound of a slammed door rang in his ears. He saw again the disappointment on her tear-stained face and the way her skirt whirled around her long tanned legs as she ran from the room. The sounds and sights played over and over in his mind.

"You told me I would love this house--and I do, but you never told me everything! I love you, Ben, but if you can't trust me to share your life--I mean all of it, not just the pleasant things----"

"And I love you Christa--you must know I'd do anything for you."

"Except share the secret that's always been there between us----"  Her voice dissolved into sobs. Suddenly she was gone and he was alone with a dread of things to come.

The secret was a heavy burden to carry. When it became too much to bear in the real world, Ben fled to the forest, his sanctuary since childhood, where the nightmares of his life could not follow. The night came fast, and covered him with its shield of darkness. He leaned back against the trunk of an ancient pine. From his vantage point on a slight rise, he could watch the house through constant shifting shadows, wait and hope for Christa's return. But the windows remained black chasms in the huge gray shape.

Ben sat silent, and stared at the mansion until a faint glow appeared. It flickered like candles in a draft. He had watched this light many times as a child, and one night he had discovered its source. He stood and brushed the dry leaves from his clothing. It was time to go.

(and number two:)

Nellie Jane, 497 words

It was certainly a beautiful chest. Nellie Jane sat in the same chair where her mother had rocked her as a baby, and stretched out her toes. Each time the chair rocked forward, she pushed ever so gently against the chest,never enough to harm the rich cedar surface. The chair swung backward, and the movement was repeated over and over. She began to hum softly and a mysterious smile lit her face.
Nellie Jane loved the chest. It was hers alone, and so were the precious possessions that rested inside.  No-one would see when she took out the china doll and sang the lullaby to the blue glass eyes that opened and closed, the rosy cheeks and cupid's bow mouth.
Oh dear, sighed Nellie Jane, she's losing her golden curls.  Oh yes, see, there's a spot as big around as the end of my finger on the back of her head where it's not growing at all. She clasped the doll to her breast and patted its back. So sad, she thought. Things don't stay new and young forever. But the chest was an exception.  It was still bright and shiny, the silver and wood was rubbed and polished every day. That was her labor of love. But it was becoming more difficult as time passed.  In exactly one week and three days, Nellie Jane would be ninety years old.
"Ma! Ma!" A loud voice shouted from the hall. Nellie Jane feigned sleep as the door opened and a large man, with an unshaven face and unkempt hair burst into the room.
"Ma, wake up!  I've seen that antique dealer in Brockton. You know, I told you about him. He wants the chest. He'll pay more than I dared hope. It means we can get out of this place. It's a chance."
He was standing in front of her, bending down closely. He knew her hearing had deteriorated, and he wanted to make her understand. Nellie Jane's eyes flew open.
"You wouldn't sell it. You couldn't! My beautiful chest-- John!"  Her eyes were wild in her tiny wrinkled face and sparked with fierce defiance. The man knelt beside his mother and took her thin bony shoulders in his work-roughened hands. For all his faults, John loved his mother and he tried to be gentle.
"I know it means a lot to you. But it's only a chest--a piece of furniture!  Think, Ma, think! It would mean we could leave this dump. I could start fresh. I'm  fifty-three years old, Ma--there won't be any more chances. Can't you understand?"
Even as he spoke, he knew it was hopeless. He could see that in her horrified stare of disbelief. The chest was her blind spot. But he knew he had no choice.
"Of course, I wasn't thinking. We'll keep the trunk, Ma. It'll be okay", he lied.
Nellie Jane's rigid muscles relaxed in his grasp. Her gnarled hands that had gripped the chair arms fell limp in her lap. She began to stroke the doll and resumed her soft crooning.
Before the door closed behind her son, Nellie Jane had made her decision.


Submitted by François Auerbach:

Italians, 249 words

I'm sitting in the back of the taxi next to my sister when suddenly the driver pulls the brakes. My sister squeezes my hand really hard as we look at each other. She can hardly contain the rage in her eyes. The car has reached the end of the road, blocked by an enormous granite boulder.

I am 8 years old. We were coming back from the beach, like every other day, when the police told us to get into the taxi and that we couldn't talk to our mother.

The man behind the wheel turns around; he's Italian, he's my cousin but this is the first time I meet him. "Your mother! In my country women like your mother, we break their skull! With stones like that," he shouts at us and points at the boulder. "You understand? She has to pay for what she done."

"You shut up, you stupid man, and let us out," my sister shouts back from the top of her young voice. "You shut up and you don't say anything about our mum because you know nothing! You big fat stupid man!" Her eyes bulge out of their sockets, her princess face is disfigured by the rolling tears.

We are frightened, our hands shake like leaves but you couldn't tell from looking at us. We give as good as we get and we defend our mother. "Leave our mum alone and leave us alone! We want nothing to do with you!" I shout.


Submitted by Sharon Poppen:

There's the Law and There's the Law, 424 words

"What the hell are you whistling about?" Billy jabbed at a candy wrapper.

"What? You're not having fun?"  Dean grinned at his partner in crime.

"Let's see, I got up at dawn to drive to the police station, to board that rattle-trap jail bus, to be dropped off along a major highway where big rigs create wind drafts strong enough to suck you under their 18 wheels." He stabbed a fast food wrapper wrapped around a large dog turd. Billy had to push it off the pick into the bright orange trash sack.  "Shit yeah, I'm having a hell of time.  It's just great!"

Dean laughed.  "Ya do the crime, ya do the time and driving under the influence is a crime, my man."  He picked up some beer bottles.

"Crime?  Hell, I was drunk.  I don't think something should be considered a crime, if you don't remember it."

"Ya got a point there."  Dean laughed, then got serious. "Really, we're lucky this work detail is all we got."  Dean started whistling again.

"You're right. Guess we could have hurt somebody."  Billy wiped his brow, then looked at his friend.  "Still, what's with the whistling?" He lowered his voice.  "I know that look.  What's going on?"

Dean nodded for Billy to move further along the highway to distance them from the pot-bellied deputy monitoring their community service efforts. The old boy had spent the morning in a lawn chair next to the bus drinking colas while reading sports and girlie magazines.

"What?" Billy's tone was cautious.

"Want to have some fun?" Dean teased. They poked at trash trying to look busy, even though Pot-belly looked engrossed in his magazine.

Billy shook his head.  "Depends. I just want to get this over with."

"Look."  Dean pulled a foot long snake out of his jacket pocket.

Billy jumped back. "Damn!"

"Cool it." A quick glance back showed Pot-belly hadn't noticed. "It's a bull snake. It won't bite."

"What the hell are you going to do with it?"

"Give it to Pot-belly."


"See that girl with the big ..."

"Yeah, yeah. I noticed her."

Dean grinned.  "I was going to say with the big brown eyes." Billy laughed as Dean continued.  "See, when we first started working, Pot-belly said he'd give her some tips on how to make road clean-up easier for her. He wedged his jewels right up against her bottom and circled her with his arms to demonstrate the use of the pick."


"Yep.  So, I thought maybe we'd help her get even."


Submitted by Shawna Koder:

Fat Candy, 493 words

The summer of 1993, like my nerves, stretched tighter than a drum skin as it approached the zenith of a five year drought in the Mohawk Valley in Upstate New York.  The sky had forgotten the emotion of rain, but I hadn't.  The heat and humidity pressed down upon the earth and the sun slid across the leaden days like a cataract on the blue eye of God. Things went from ordinary to horrid that summer.  I really started to unravel under that menacing saffron sun.  Fevered prayers for cool rain and tantalizing bargains to entice Death to take Fat Candy, my mother-in-law, off of my hands fell useless upon the stone ears of a God who had turned his face from me these long fifteen years.

"JOOZZ ! I need Jaoosey- Juice! Pweeze Tulla, Joozz," shouted Fat Candy from her permanent spot on the living room sofa in front of the television. It seemed to me sometimes that she had grown straight out of the earth, through the foundation of the house and up through the brown plaid sofa and flourished there as God's half-hearted attempt of a stunned bloom of a human being. Even at sixty two, her hair was startling fiery red that flumed without effort into a mad scientist do. She was as wide as she was tall, all five feet of her, and a human ball of needy flesh, of which I had pledged to be eternal caretaker of.  I had cared round the clock the last two years of our brief but breathtaking five year marriage for my sweet husband, Dutch, as he lay dying of a brain tumor.  I had promised him that I would care for his mother for as long as she would live. Oy Vey! Beware of deathbed promises, they can be killers.

"Okay, okay, I'm coming Candy, hold on, keep your shirt on," I screamed at her.  I bought Candy her juice in a box with a "tippy traw" already inserted. Fat Candy was waving "bye-bye!" to some little skating star on the television. Her hearing aid whistled away on the coffee table that was obliterated with empty candy wrappers, bags of chips, Chinese take-out, dirty tissues, soda cans, and gnawed stumps of beef jerky, evidence my next door neighbor Gene had gone on a mercy run to the all night 24/7 for Candy while I was at work last night. The air around her was a fugue of the moist smells of an under washed human body. The odor of her waste that lay in the port-o-potty next to the sofa thrust like a putrid meat hook up my nose. Jesus, I knew I had my work cut out for me cleaning up her mess before I even went in for another double tonight. And the hits just keep on coming. When will someone ever take care of me? I wondered as I started in on Candy-cleanup.


Submitted by Deborah K-Moed:

(No Title), 345 words

Quietly she slipped into the room, unnoticed.  It was noisy and brightly lit.  'I hate conferences', she thought. 'I hate meeting people and pretending to care about them.  But this does not have to be a total loss.' She changed her mind set.  Looking around, she noticed most people were talking in large clusters towards the center of the room.  'This is going to be hard,' she thought to herself. Scanning the perimeter she noticed singles and pairs. 'They will be easier to approach.'

Edging her way in, she found a lone man against the side wall. He was very tall, and squishy with a five o'clock shadow and weary eyes. He was stirring his drink with the ridiculous red straw the bartenders always toss in. 'He's perfect,' she thought. Gathering her courage, she approached.

"Hello," she said hopefully.

Startled at being addressed, the look of shock flashed across his face before he quickly recovered. "Hello."

"I hate these functions, don't you?" she asked as she surveyed the room. She knew his answer before he said it, but she had to soften him up.

"Yeah," was all he said.

'He's not very talkative', she thought.  'Do I try again or should I just find someone else?' There was something about the sadness in his eyes that compelled her.  Shifting tack she tried a new approach.  "I come to these things because of my work," she said. "That's what pays the bills. But my true passion is in story collecting."

"Story collecting?"

"Yes.  You see, I've found that everyone has a story."

"Not me," he said, turning his attention back to the straw. Three turns clockwise, two counterclockwise and repeat.

"Oh, I'm sure you have a story."

He paused in his mixing. "Well," he admitted reluctantly. "There is this one thing.but no, I'm not sure it's very interesting."

"Oh," she said, a slow smile coming to her face. "It may surprise you.  Why not give it a go, and I'll be the judge."

He stopped stirring and looked into her eager face.  "Well, it all started."


Submitted by Sue Levy:

(No Title), 387 words

I don't know what possessed me to do it.

Phil and I were visiting friends one evening, and the conversation took a sudden turn. "Did you know that Les and Joanne have split up?' Ron was saying. Stunned silence.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Les went to Sydney for a conference, and met up with an old girlfriend. When he came home he kept in touch with her. She kept calling him at work, and he finally left Joanne and went to live with her." Naturally all the sympathy was for Joanne, a bright, attractive woman with everything to lose.

We talked about it on the way home, and wondered what would prompt a man to
take such a risk? There were no guarantees that his life would be happier. Most of us, who had been married twenty years and more, had settled gradually into a comfortable, predictable routine. Phil, the dear man, was the last person who would ever want to change something as fundamental as his marriage. Every change, however small, was weighed and measured before he would consider undertaking it. On the other hand, I am more adaptable to change, having never been in the same job for more than four years. With that kind of career, it's just as well I am flexible.

I was still thinking about Les and Joanne the next day as I skimmed the local paper. Towards the back there is a section called Introductions. It just shows there is more than one way to make or break a marriage. I sometimes read it for a laugh.

'Handsome Italian, 43, seeks petite lady any age, for discreet fun and intimate times. No kids.' Reading between the lines, he's probably 50, very average looking, bored with his heavy Italian wife and wants to cheat on her.

How's this for an ego? - 'One in a million, tall, brown eyes, early 60s, enjoys romantic dinners and moonlight walks. Get in early, this offer won't last.'  Why are men so conceited?

The women sound much more honest. Like this one who writes:  'Attractive, cuddly, single mother of one, seeks guy 30-35 for dinners, theatre, good times.' Okay, so she's overweight and lonely. I hope she finds someone who will treat her and the child well and give her some fun.

I could write one of those ads. Let me see .

'Escape with me to the tropical island of my dreams. Let's walk on the beach in the rain, dine under the stars, swim naked at midnight and listen to opera. Let's go horse riding, pick summer fruit and paint abstract pictures.'

Like I said, I don't know what possessed me to do it. I put my ad in an envelope and mailed it.

Two weeks went by and I forgot about it. Then an envelope arrived from the paper. Inside was an answer to my advertisement. A wave of guilt rushed over me. What had I done? Was I mad?

The answer read:
"To the lovely lady who dreams of a tropical island - let me take you there. We'll pick exotic fruits in the rain and eat them by candlelight to the sound of Verdi. We'll ride naked along the beach and cover ourselves with paint."

The letter was signed,

(and number two:)

(No Title), 415 words

John let himself quietly out through the back door, and sat on the step a moment to pull his boots on. It was a fresh, cold morning, and his breath hung in the air like a soft mist. Fascinated, he blew rings of breath into the cold morning, watching them slowly waft away to nothing.

He planned to travel light, carrying only his small pack holding a few necessities for the day. A couple of apples, a bottle of water, some chocolate and trail mix and a piece of beef jerky. He also carried his pocket-knife, a short piece of rope, a plastic bag and a small notebook and pencil. He never knew when he might need those things. Softly he stepped down off the porch, noticing a trail of small footprints on the dewy grass; some small animal had come up close to the house in the night, but there was no sign of it now.

Swinging easily along the path, his boots made a small crunching sound on the weedy paving stones. The sun was already well risen, but on this crisp, still morning, very little was moving. He heard the chirp of crickets here and there, and saw the flash of a bird out of a bush as he passed. The day promised to be fine, and not too hot. A perfect April day. In the distance he heard a dog bark and the sound of a car door closing.

John wondered if and where he would find Hack today. He hadn't seen him for two days, and there was still that unfinished business to settle. He knew Hack was avoiding him, but it couldn't last much longer. Sooner or later it would have to be dealt with, and better to John's advantage that Hack's.

Of course, if Hack's sister hadn't interfered, this problem would not have arisen in the first place. Trust a female to poke her nose in and make trouble. John wasn't sure what to do about her, but felt that something would come to mind if their paths were to cross sometime soon.

The quarry might be a good place to start looking for Hack. Turning right at the end of the path, John set a course for the top of the hill. There was no track, but the grass and scrub were very low and made easy walking. There was just the occasional patch of loose stones that made him watch his step carefully as he climbed.

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