Seventh Girl in Seven Days

She had been pulled onto the shore by a fisherman. He used a thick hemp rope that he had managed to loop around her torso before pulling her through the dark water.  She was laying on her side when Ben arrived.  He could see her hands bound behind her back, tied at the wrists and elbows.  Her dark hair was matted against the nape of her neck.  She wore a blue tank top and faded blue jeans.

Ben walked through the tall sea grass towards two men that stood sentry over her. A week ago he could have said that he had seen exactly two dead bodies in his lifetime.  One had been an elderly woman who had died in her sleep, the other a drunk who had wrapped his Chevy around the town’s oldest oak tree.  Today’s girl would be the seventh in as many days.  He braced himself for the pungent odor. 

The men watched him as he approached, and he immediately felt silly. He wore the only suit that he had in his closet – a black one.  He had tried to add a splash of color by wearing a red tie, but he found that it only made him look like he was running for office.  In the end he opted for a plain gray tie.

“The funeral probably won’t be for another week,” one of the men joked. Ben glared at him from the corner of his eye and crouched next to the girl.

“You’ll want to take your tie off before you do that,” said the older man.  Ben took him to be the fisherman.  He looked down at his tie brushing against the girls arm.  He nodded a response, loosened his tie, pulled it over his head, and handed it to the fisherman.

“Thanks,” said Ben.  “You found her?”

“That’s right,” the fisherman replied.  “Saw her about twenty yards off the shore.  I was just coming in through the harbor when I saw her.  Just floating there, head down.  She was moving pretty good with the swells.  I thought she might turn over on her own but she didn’t.”

Ben pulled on latex gloves and touched the girl’s hands.  They had been tied with metal wire – same as the others.  The skin on her arms and back had begun peeling off, leaving pale, pink patches.  He checked her pockets for a wallet or a driver’s license and found nothing.  Ben stepped over her to see her face.  As he did his breath caught in his chest and he fell backwards onto the grass. 

He whispered one word that only he could hear.  “Sarah.”

Pete’s Chaos

“You want chaos,” his father said.  His voice was rising in volume and vitriol as he paced the room, arms flailing, wild eyes vacantly dancing across the room.  “You want chaos.  You wanna see what it’s like when your life is a tumblin’ swirl of shit?  You wanna be at the bottom of those stairs so that the shitswirl lands on top of you and you ain’t got the strength to stand?  The grit to fight your hardest, to beat the shit out of life when it wants to kick your ass?”

Pete felt his cheeks burning and the rising tears that blurred his gentle eyes.  He managed to stay standing in the same room as his dad but he kept one foot in the hallway.   Pete had seen him like this before, whenever some slight – big or small – had flipped that switch in his dad’s head that turned on the war again.  Pete knew it might be like this, but he had to tell him.  He needed to tell someone that knew him and cared about him.  Maybe not now, maybe not all the time like he used to, like his mom used to take care of him.  But Dad was all he had left, and he needed him.  He wanted his dad to need him.

“I don’t think you can do that, Pete,” his father said.  “You ain’t built like that.  You ain’t built for battle.”

“I don’t want a battle, Dad,” said Pete.  “I want a life.  A real fucking life-”  His dad reeled his giant body around on a heel and was towering over Pete in two giant steps from across the room.  Pete held his ground.

“You don’t fucking curse at me, goddamnit!  I’m you’re fucking father-”

A tear escaped Pete’s eye and he felt the warm water fall from his chin.  He silently scolded himself for letting his dad see that.  His father stopped mid-sentence.  He held his hand in the air, pointing an accusing finger at Pete, but the life had drained from his face as the madness faded.  His gaze fell to the floor and his shoulders fell.

“I didn’t mean that – that you’re not built for battle.”  His father turned and slumped onto the couch, that old green couch with the built-in matching recliners that they had bought after the funeral.  “You’re my son and you’re built the same way that God built me.  I just – I just don’t want you to be that way.”

“What way, dad?”  It was Pete’s turn to be mad.  “What way do you not want me to be, because I’m the same fuck- I’m the same way that I’ve always been.”

Pete’s father held his head in his hands and ran his fingers through the black hair that was still as short as it was when he had come home.  He picked up the beer from the coffee table and took a sip.

“You say that it’s going to be some chaotic shitswirl,” Pete said.  “But what in my life – our lives – has not already been a huge fucking swirl of shit?”  Pete quietly laughed as he immediately knew it to be true when he said it.  “If anything, the last seventeen years has prepared me for battle.  Whatever battle that’s in front of me.  I can fight it.”

“You want a life for yourself,” his father said as he stood.  “You want this life, this battle, this chaos.  Well, you got it.  And I ain’t in it.  Get the fuck out.”

Pete clenched his jaw and waited for the tears that didn’t come.  He had known it was going to end this way.  He just wasn’t prepared for how suddenly the end would come.  His father sat back down on the couch.

Pete crossed the room and opened the front door.  He took one step outside before turning around.  He watched his father empty his beer and reach for another.  Pete turned away, faced the world, and stepped out.

Lightning Frozen in Time

Thunder rolled over her bedroom as Cassy hid beneath her covers.  She was too old to be frightened by a thunder and lightning storm.  Her father had told her it was just heat lightning.  But Cassy knew better than that.  The relentless rumbles bellowed from the low clouds, deep and low.  Lightning crackled and sparked like a newly struck match every time it lit up the windows.  Cassy thought she could hear the lightning as it struck the dirt of the fields around their house.  Under her blanket she held her flashlight and tried to concentrate on the new book she had borrowed from the library.

She began a chapter about sharks.  She had never been to the beach and never seen the ocean.  She had only learned about it in science class at school, but she knew that one day she would see the golden sand and the deep blue ocean.  The thunder and lightning storm came to an end, but Cassy didn’t know it.  She had fallen asleep dreaming of the ocean.

The next morning Cassy awoke to the morning light gently pushing its way into her eyes.  she lifted her head and remembered the storm from the night before.  Pulling a bathrobe over her shoulders and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Cassy walked out of her room and looked for her parents.  They weren’t in the living room.  The pull-out couch in the corner that her parents slept on was folded up and the sheets were piled neatly in the corner.  Cassy noticed the backdoor had been left open.  She stepped outside and found her parents.

They stood just outside the doorway and stared out at the fields.  They didn’t say a word to her.  Cassy wasn’t sure they even noticed her.  She also wasn’t sure what was holding their attention raptly, until she followed their eyes out and she saw them.

They looked like lightning that had been frozen in time, like each time lightning struck someone had hit the pause button and left it there, waiting.  Great bolts connected the sky to the fields.  They emitted a muted light that pulsed, each one in sync with the others.  Cassy tried to see how high they went, and found that she could not see the tops of any of them.  They just seemed to keep going until they faded away into obscurity.  There  were hundreds of them racing up into the sky.

The telephone rang inside.  Her father walked inside and Cassy started to walk around the house.  They were everywhere, giant streaks of lightning frozen in time.  Every direction she looked, as far as she could see, they were there.  In the fields and forests.  It even looked like a few could have landed in the road.  Cassy gazed into the distance as she walked she was so mesmerized she nearly walked right into one!

It didn’t make a sound.  It just pulsed a pure white light.  On, then off again.  When the light was off, it looked like the black ice of a frozen pond in winter.  When it was on, it shone like the reflection of a fresh snowfall.

Mr. Buttons

“You don’t have enough points,” the receptionist said, waiting a beat before adding, “sir.”  She glared at me then glanced past me to the door.  I could only guess that the beefy security guard standing sentry at the entrance was now striding silently towards me, readying to place one of his paws on my shoulder.

“How many goddamn points do I need?  That guy had less points than me!”  I pointed behind her desk to the closed door.  It had just sealed shut behind Kwade.  He had stepped into the darkness and looked back at me with a sneering sideways grin.    She watched me with pursed lips, clearly out of patience as I kept my arm up, trying to make my point.  Just then I felt a flash pain at the base of my neck and in an instant I was down, supporting myself like an injured football player on a hand and knee, staring at the black wingtips of the security guard.

“Alright, alright!  You don’t need to do that – I’ll leave.”  I stayed there on the cracked tile floor until his grip loosened and his other hand curled under my armpit, lifting me up.  Still struggling to get my feet underneath me,  I was propelled to the front door that slid open with a hiss as I crossed the sensor and onto the sidewalk.  Another hiss as the door closed.  A speaker over the door crackled at me in an authoritative female voice, “Good day, Mr. Buttons.”  I had exactly three seconds to step away from the door before it dumped a torrent of icy water on me.  I stepped away towards the gutter.  I turned around and looked up at the monster that held my fate and the fate of so many others.

It was tall enough to break through the blanket of dark clouds, ancient stonework architecture covered in green moss, broken only by black windows that started thirty feet up.  Retrofitted with modern security doors and military grade glass after the revolution, it had once been a lifeless municipal building; presently it contained the secret to all of our lives.  It loomed over a dying city.

“Good day, Mr. Buttons,” the speaker repeated.  I was not foolhardy enough to stay any longer.  I quickly shuffled away, pulling a thin corduroy jacket tightly around me.  Cool air pushed its way through the building unceasingly, pulling along a cloak of cold, soaking mist.  I tucked my chin to my chest and wondered what to do next.

Jumping Between Comets

Lance wandered out into the meadow.  His large black eyes followed the terrain of the rolling hill in front of him.  His ears were an exercise of motion, flipping backward and forward as they detected a sudden rustle of branches, or an unexpected disturbance nearby.  The mist had settled itself onto the pavement, deciding as it sometimes does in the early spring to hang around until the morning sun became strong enough to burn through it.

The first flyers came winding around the bend of the blacktop that bordered the meadow.  They came in a parallel pair, as they always do, all bright and dazzling white, as bright and sure of themselves as two tiny suns, whizzing right towards the meadow before following the turn of the lane and retreating into the distance, the brilliant white transformed to a smoldering red in an instant.

The flyers came and went like this every so often, and Lance would raise his head each time.  Lance would let his mind wander as he bowed his head to the ground, his nose and lips searching for the grass that was most tender.  The watering hole in the western woods was especially busy today; all the animals were hopping with excitement over the early spring; the dough he had run into on his walk back to the den was shy and avoided his eye, but he hoped that she might turn up at the meadow tonight.

As they flyers whizzed by the meadow, Lance noticed that each time he raised his head to watch their meteoric approach, he found himself a little bit closer to the mist-covered pavement.  He knew the black curve that separated this side of the meadow from that side of the meadow could be dangerous.  Too many of his friends had met their fate at the hands of the flyers.

But Lance found the flyers hypnotizing to watch, like the ripples from a stone thrown into a quiet pond.  The flyers careened into the bend like comets, and as close as Lance was, they seemed to be coming straight for him.  Lance stood tall and stoic, his black eyes locked on the fiery flyers, and as they sped towards him, a thought flashed through his mind – a revelation, really.  It seemed impossible yet simultaneously unavoidable.  Lance wanted something at that moment, more than anything in the world, to be the first of his kind – maybe the first of any kind.  He wanted to stand in between the flyers as they flew by.  He wanted to feel the air moving on his ears, to see the exact moment they changed from blinding white to red, to know that at that moment he could be not only in between the two meadows he had known his whole life, but also in between the lights of fear and wonder he had beheld his entire existence.

So he jumped.

Edgar and the Maple

Edgar sat on the white porcelain ring, a familiar seat that had grown warm underneath his ass.  The pins and needles in his legs had given way to blissful numbness.

He hadn’t turned on the light – he never did.  He had lifted a paper shade over the window just a few inches and he could crane his head over the sill and peek out like a sentry armed with bow and arrow.  He watched life pass.

Low clouds – endlessly gray – pressed down on him and a lone crow taunted Edgar hiding behind his shade.  A maple leaned and shushed in a sharp breeze that ripped red leaves from their stems and deposited them on the sidewalk below.

The sidewalk was a narrow row of unassuming concrete squares running parallel with his window; it was littered with broken twigs and decaying dogshit.  The street beyond was black with rain.  A small circle beneath the maple retained its grayish concrete hue.

A man wearing a pressed black suit and a bowler hat hurried past on the sidewalk.  He carried a large black umbrella.  Edgar watched as the man lingered underneath the maple and adjusted the chain of the watch in his pocket.  The man in the bowler looked up and rested his eyes on Edgar’s window

Edgar ducked his head below the level of the sill, cursing at himself.  He clenched his hands into balls in his lap and chewed on his lips as he rocked forward and back.   He listened for a sound – the soft pressure of a palm against the glass placed there to shield a reflection, or the click of the paint breaking as the window is lifted from its frame from the outside.  Edgar was too terrified to look.  He imagined the man in his black suit and bowler hat would be leaning over him, at once demanding and expecting an explanation from Edgar.

His fingernails cut into his palms and his back was aching.  He lifted his head.  His eyes slowly climbed the white tiles on the wall.  The man in the bowler is not standing there.  Edgar closed his eyes and released his breath.  He stretched his fingers, opening and closing his hands, feeling the sweat that had accumulated on his palms.

Edgar peered out at his maple tree from beneath the paper shade, and watched the red leaves fall.