Halloween, crackers, dirty money, heirs and spares, folklore, robots, the looking glass, over the rainbow, and many other themes!
Need more submissions? Check these out.
Halloween, crackers, dirty money, heirs and spares, folklore, robots, the looking glass, over the rainbow, and many other themes!
Need more submissions? Check these out.
This is one of my first flash fiction pieces, and it’s still one of my favorite.
I identified seven individual forms. They used my uterus for a playground; my own miniature rugby team kicking the shit out of my insides, jockeying for position. They were the size of ping-pongs when I first noticed them, when they first became active. Within a week I had plums. I wondered how thin my skin would stretch before it popped open like an overblown balloon.
I don’t know where they came from or how they got inside of me. Maybe I ate something, or maybe aliens visited and erased every sparkle of memory about my abduction.
I should have gone to the doctor when I first detected movement, but maternal instincts kicked in. My babies terrified me, but they contained my DNA, at least I thought they did. I guess I shouldn’t have assumed. If I went to the hospital they would have been taken out of me, killed, and sliced into sections to examine. I should have let the doctors do their job. I had visions of a melon baller removing scoops of bloody, squirming flesh from my belly. The revulsive thought gagged me and caused me to lay a hand on my massive belly and caress a churning bulge. I had to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe in their innocence.
One of them was bigger than the others and more aggressive, already asserting his dominance. I called him Alpha, my big, baby boy. Twice, his kicks knocked me to my knees and sent the air out my mouth like a blowhole.
My passengers got as big as softballs, which doesn’t sound that bad until you consider seven of them together in my womb. No wonder they fought for living space. They shifted continuously and reminded me of tadpoles worming around in its translucent cocoon. I wondered if they looked like tadpoles or something similar, but mostly I tried not to think about it.
My labor started this morning. Crushing pain screamed across my abdomen and ripped along my spine. I was crazy to think I could do this by myself. There was so much blood. A red streak across the linoleum and carpet marked the path where I dragged myself to the couch.
The first six popped out without much fanfare, slimy with my blood. As soon as they exited, they scampered to the corner, huddled together in a tiny, angry mob. They looked like premature babies, except the teeth, and the fact that they could run as soon as they departed my body. They bunched together staring at me with overlarge black eyes and rows of gnashing razor-sharp teeth.
Alpha came out last. Relief from the contractions flooded me, but my respite was momentary. With a guttural growl from Alpha, they descended upon me, attacked my bloody wound and soft gut, ravenous and insatiable. My babies devoured me; their first meal. I patted Alpha’s warty head lovingly, and he bit off my finger.
What else could I do? After all, kids come first.
It’s a creaky, old house; low ceilings, uneven floors, not a speck of insulation, but I call it home. I will be here for many years, not because I have to, but because I want to. Not because I don’t have a choice, but because I do have a choice. It’s my place. I’m at peace with it.
The house, like me, is aging and hopefully, with grace. We’ve deteriorated with time. We sag and need a new coat of paint. Each summer it’s harder to trim the hedges and the lawn doesn’t get mowed. Upkeep is a struggle, and we’re not willing participants.
Every winter I huddle in front of the Dearborn furnace, probably original with the house, which cooks my skin while it’s on and requires a sweater when it’s off.
It’s hard growing old and yet so easy at the same time. It’s not until I look in the mirror that I notice the changes. I go for months at a time without looking, without noticing the tiny cracks in the ceiling and the chinks in the plaster that need filling, then all of a sudden I realize the porch needs fixing, and the siding is weathered and gray.
When did we grow old? It certainly wasn’t yesterday or the day before or even last month. The last time I looked everything was fine, yet somewhere along the way, things began to crumble.
But you know what?
It’s still my home, it will always be my home, and I’m all right with that.
Nepotism is nothing new in the White House. In fact, prior to legislation in 1967 (passed in response to John F. Kennedy appointing his brother attorney general) the practice of favoritism was far more widespread. The only reason that Trump is not in violation of the 1967 law is a 1978 law that exempts advisory roles from nepotism laws. Here are some other examples of presidential nepotism throughout American history.
Nepotism was common in our countries early history: Zachary Taylor, James Monroe, John Tyler, and James Buchanan all hired family members, generally in secretarial roles. Not only did Andrew Jackson hire family members, but he is remembered for the “spoils system,” which made an art out of granting positions to supporters and their family members.
Robert F. Kennedy is probably the most famous case of nepotism. Appointed by his brother, the president, he became the attorney general and is remembered as a champion of civil rights. RFK had a liberal influence on JFK on a number of issues, especially civil rights and fighting organized crime. It is easy to forget that Robert had little legal experience, and lacked the resume of a typical attorney general resume. Journalist Anthony Lewis recalled,
“His experience was zero. He’d been a lawyer for Senate committees, a zealot with no understanding of the terrible responsibilities of an attorney general. I was appalled. I thought it was a simply awful idea.” Luckily, Robert Kennedy proved him wrong.
Our third president was one of the most nepotistic in American political history. He appointed his son as a Prussian diplomat in a move that would start Quincy on the track to become president. While the appointment was met with resistance, it was nothing compared to his attempt to land a government job for his son-in-law William Stephens Smith, a known land speculator. After trying and failing to land Smith several government positions, Adams got him a job as a customs agent. Adams also secured cushy gigs for his brother-in-law as a postmaster and for Quincy’s father-in-law as the “superintendent of stamps.”
Numerous scandals engulfed this president’s administration, and nepotism is high on the list. Grant appointed his cousin minister to Guatemala. His brother-in-law to the consulate in Leipzig. His brother-in-law as customs job in New Orleans. Another brother-in-law as White House usher. All told, 40 relatives benefited from Grant’s presidency.
When William Gibbs McAdoo was appointed as secretary of the treasury and chairman of the fed, he was not a part of Wilson’s family. However, after marrying Wilson’s daughter he declined to step down. Wilson later appointed McAdoo chairman of the War Finance Board after the outbreak of World War I.
Both Roosevelt and Eisenhower appointed their sons to administrative positions. FDR placed his son James in a secretarial position while Eisenhower gave his son John an assistant staff secretary position. Roosevelt later expanded James’ responsibilities to include coordinating eighteen different White House agencies, making him an integral part of the day to day Oval Office operations. Though John held no other positions in his father’s administration beyond his secretarial post, this first job proved to be a stepping stone. He would go on to work in both the Nixon and Ford administrations.
By age 30, about 22% of American sons will be working for the same employer at the same time as their fathers. But how does that compare with other countries?
“Shut up, you’re not real.”
“Oh, I’m real, Lizzie. You just can’t see me… yet.”
His bedroom name for me, our secret. The sheets drop from my trembling fingers. “Stay away from Sarah.”
“You know I can’t do that, and I don’t want to. She belongs with me. You’ve had her long enough.”
I try to ignore his deathly purring, his fetid breath, the cold tickle of water he had somehow left on my neck. I rummage beneath the bunk and yank out a cook stove buried beneath a musty tarp. Score on two counts.
“We both know you can’t come out as long as there’s ice on the lake.”
“You shouldn’t have brought our boat, Lizzie.”
I lurch up the steps to the deck terrified of the implications. A few minutes ago, the boat had been a safe haven, now it reeked with his presence.
“Who were you talking to?”
Thankfully, my daughter hadn’t felt her father’s glimmer. “Just myself. Look what I found. This will make a great sail, and hopefully there’s enough gas to cook up some fish.”
Sarah’s bright smile almost erases the horror Richard promised. “I have part of the railing almost off.”
“I’ll start the fish, and then we can figure out how to put up the sail.”
My daddy taught me how to use a knife and fillet a fish. You would think with my upbringing I wouldn’t be caught out on the lake without a paddle. I stifle a nervous giggle as I return my thoughts to Richard. Certainly he would lead the rest of them at sunrise, or would he come sooner?
The makeshift sail fills with air, and the boat follows the wind like a willing puppy. Maybe there’s hope if we can get to shore before nightfall. I have no clue what Richard has planned, but I’m sure darkness will bring answers.
Sarah shoves bites of fried fillet in her mouth, spitting bones into the slushy water. The frigid air stings my eyes.
“Let’s go below and see what else we can find.”
“What are we looking for?”
Something for protection. I don’t say the words aloud, mainly because I don’t know what that ‘something’ could be. What protects a person from deadbeat dads and worthless husbands in the light of day, let alone after they are dead?
“I don’t know. Anything. Something….”
“You mean for the morning.” Sarah’s a smart girl.
We rummage through the drawers and tiny compartments putting together an arsenal of weapons: knives, rope, a hammer─ seems like a crucifix and holy water would be more appropriate, but maybe that only works on vampires. I find an inflatable raft, and an idea formulates. No matter what, I have to protect Sarah. I can’t let Richard get to her.
“Let’s blow this thing up, see if it holds air.”
Sarah looks skeptical. “What do you have in mind?”
“Maybe we can make a distraction, while we make a run for it.” I don’t mention I will be the distraction.
“The ice would have to be thick enough to walk on, if it freezes at all.”
“This is what will happen, if we have to go. The ice will never be thick enough to support me, but it will hold you, you’re small, it will be okay. I will follow on the raft. My weight will be distributed that way.”
Skepticism floods her face. “We’re going to leave the boat?”
“Only if we get a good freeze. The temperature’s dropping.”
It is. Fast. I debate whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. In my mind, I know Richard won’t let the sunrise dictate his presence. He will come with the darkness. I am sure of it.
The afternoon progresses, the sun strives to shine through the thickening clouds, and the ice congeals and solidifies slowing down our progression. Sarah and I take turns breaking the ice from the bow of the boat, and the distant shore becomes distinct and valid.
“We’re going to make it.” Sarah’s voice drips with relief.
“We have a ways to go yet. Why don’t you get some sleep? It’s been a long day.”
Sarah’s face splits into a yawn. “Maybe for a little while.” She snuggles into a pile of blankets.
I continue to break the ice, hoping the wind will carry us far enough. A heavy mist forms across the lake’s surface, erasing the shore from sight. Every sound, every touch of the breeze takes me to Richard’s voice, his presence, his threat to return before the dawn. I know he is connected to this boat, our lifeline, our sole hope for survival.
I study the darkness, analyze the slap of ice against the hull, wondering how he will make himself known.
I don’t remember falling asleep, but you never do. I feel him before I see him.
“I told you I would come for her, Lizzie. It’s my turn. She always loved you more than me.”
The boat has come to a standstill. Damn it. How long did I sleep? “Richie, you know that’s not true. I love you, baby.”
Richard’s hollow eyes stare at me with resentment. Sarah had always been a burden, an inconvenience to him. I look around hoping to see land within reach, but the darkness is barely touched by the rising sun.
The raft is in place on the ice beside the boat, my secret weapon hidden in its folds. I nudge Sarah to wake her while maintaining Richard’s gaze.
“Richie, come to me.” I expose my neck, his favorite part of my body, his fetish. He could never resist the curve, the sweet sweat of our lovemaking that lingered along the collarbone.
“Lizzie…” He drags his eyes away from Sarah. A maggot wiggles out his ear and mud dribbles from his mouth.
“I’ll always love you, Richie, nothing can change that.” My revulsion rises in my throat, thick acid that burns like his icy touch.
“Don’t run away, Lizzie. You’re always running away.”
His fetid breath wafts over me. He takes a step closer, and I counter by scooting back, edging over the rim of the boat toward the raft. The ice is thick enough, I hope. It just needs to hold for a little while. Over Richard’s moldy shoulder, Sarah sits, her hand over her mouth holding in a scream.
“Sarah, go now.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
“Yes, you are! Go now! I’ll be right after you.” Richard has a cold hand on my neck, floating a finger along the shoulder blade leaving a trickle of slime. His frigid breath leaves a shimmer of ice in my hair, and I suppress a shiver. He throws a look at Sarah like a passing thought, his attention transfixed on my exposed skin.
“You would give your life for hers?”
It’s not a question mothers ask. “Of course. I give myself to you now if you will just let her go.”
“It’s not up to just me.” His sunken eyes survey the horizon as the first rays of light pour across the lake and the scratching commences.
Horror floods my mind. “Sarah! Run!” I heave myself over the edge of the boat and into the tiny raft. The ice creaks in protest. It’s thin, but holds. Richard reaches for me. Long claws have replaced his hands. They gouge at the ice, scraping, digging frantically to free his friends below.
In the morning light the shore is close, so close. Sarah scrambles across the slick surface and falls to one knee. The ice emits a violent crack around her.
“Crawl, baby, crawl! Spread your weight!”
Beneath the ice, Shannon reaches for me, her auburn hair snarled with branches and mud. She smiles a vicious smile full of hate and venom. “Come to me, Lizabeth.” Her words reverberate and fill my skull.
Dozens of bodies collect beneath the ice, beating an unearthly rhythm, willing the ice to collapse. More of them head toward Sarah, who crawls toward to the shore, so close, less than a hundred feet.
Another enormous crack fills the air and Sarah screams. “Momma!”
“I’ll save you, baby! Don’t look back!” I reach for my secret weapon, the hammer, and slam the ice next to the raft. Instantly the wraiths turn their attention to me. The cold water envelopes me, but Sarah is safe.
If the lake doesn’t freeze tonight, sunrise will be ugly.
We went out on the lake despite all the warnings. We went out for one thing─ food.
It’s amazing at how fast the weather changed, like once the oven heated up it couldn’t wait to toast every glacier and iceberg. The dam that held back the water above Centerville gave way faster than a hooker takes off her dress. Not many survived. Most of the bodies rest beneath the water buried in thick layers of silt and mud that swept over the small town in minutes.
The apparitions appeared soon after, always at the same time. The dam burst at dawn catching the inhabitants while they yawned and made coffee. Daybreak. Now it’s a dangerous time to be caught out on the lake.
“I told you we shouldn’t have come out here.” My daughter surveys the expanse of water that surrounds our broken boat.
“We have to eat, Sarah.”
“You should have checked the oil.”
“I did, but you know what a piece of crap the engine is. It’s not like I’m a mechanic.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m just scared. You know the stories.”
“They’re just stories.” I fiddle with the engine trying not to think about Jim Harris who had come back to camp with a hand, frost-bitten and black. The ice keeps ‘them’ at bay, but there’s no security in the thought.
“It’s going to be dark soon. What are we going to do?” Terror trips along the edge of her voice.
“It’s cold. Maybe it will freeze.”
Her fear is my fear, because I believe in ghosts. How can the energy of so many people be wiped away in an instant with no remnant of their existence?
Sarah sat silent. It’s said that a crust of ice will keep the lake people beneath the water. It’s possible. The temperature swings are erratic, so there’s hope. It’s our best bet. To be caught out on the open water… well, Jim Harris tells his story.
He had been adrift on the lake, passed out more than likely, and woke up to a cold, fierce grip around his wrist. He claims Mr. Therman, who had been Centerville’s sole liquor store proprietor, had come to collect. Mr. Therman had tugged at him, but even in his belligerent state, Jim had escaped. He lost the hand to frostbite, small price to pay he claims.
I throw a wrench across the deck. “I can’t fix it. Hell, I don’t even know what’s wrong with it.”
Sarah tugs her coat closer. “The temperature’s dropping.”
I tuck a blanket around her, but keeping her warm through the night is not the problem. “Go below and try to get some sleep.”
A full moon hovers over us. Sarah’s snores are a slight comfort from the night, but it’s not the night I fear.
The scratching wakes me. It comes from the bottom of the boat, tiny scrapes like branches on a window. So the tales are true─ the dead do rise against the living.
I don’t want to wake Sarah, not until I’ve ruled out other possibilities. Maybe we’ve drifted over a tree, its branches reaching for fresh air, forever submerged beneath the dark water. But the noise is too rhythmic, too insistent. It emanates from the boat’s wooden hull and the frozen crystal blanket that formed on the lake in the early hours. Thank God for the ice.
I don’t dare look over the edge, afraid of whose familiar face I might see: Old Lady Mabel, an early riser who had probably been heading out to tend her roses before the heat of the day, Phillip Michaels, the newspaper delivery kid all tow-headed and pocked-marked, or maybe Shannon, my best friend. I couldn’t stand to see her auburn hair floating in the icy water.
I wipe away the tears that stream down my face. I hide my head in my arms and press my hands over my ears. Even though the ice is thin, it seems to be keeping the people of the lake at bay. Sarah’s whisper whips me to attention.
“Sarah, no! That’s not your father!”
“Daddy?” My daughter leans over the edge of the boat and stretches her hand toward the face under the ice, a lock of hair skims the thin crust of ice that protects her from the wraith.
It looks like Richard, sort of, except with dark, cavernous eyes. His thick mop of hair has been replaced with wispy, white strands that flow around a skull wrapped in stretched, translucent skin.
“Get back, Sarah.” My voice shakes. “Don’t touch the ice.” I have a conversation in my mind with the bastard who dares look at his daughter from the depths.
“You look good down there, Rich. You deserve every second of purgatory.”
As if it hears me, the apparition casts it gaze on me. “If you hadn’t run off like a little bitch we could have all been together. Forever.”
The voice is clear with his usual menacing intonation conjured especially for me. It rattles inside my head.
Sarah doesn’t notice, either oblivious to the voice or unable to hear it. Her finger is millimeters from the frozen surface, wavering in indecision. The Richard-thing has turned its attention back to me.
“I’m here, Sarah. Come to me.”
This time the voice doesn’t register, but the thin lips are readable. Sarah jerks back her hand and looks at me, a huge tear clinging to the end of her nose.
“It’s not him, baby. Come away from the side.”
Richard-thing fades back then lunges toward Sarah. Her scream rips across the lake’s surface. Dozens of rotting corpses join the Richard-thing clawing at the ice. Leaves adorn their hair and mud slips from mouths open in silent cries for help, faces familiar yet forgotten, malformed by their death.
The scratching and knocking grows to a crescendo. Richard’s voice echoes in my head. “Bitch, bitch, bitch.” Mournful wails and sobs fill my mind. And then it stops. I look to the horizon and thank the sun.
“Are you all right, Sarah?”
“Will he be back tomorrow, Mom? I don’t want to see him again.”
“I don’t know, baby. Hopefully we can get the motor started and get back to land.”
“What about the ice?”
“I don’t think it’s thick enough to stop us. Look.” I tap the frozen crust. “It breaks easy enough.”
Sarah shrieks. “Stop! You’ll let them out!”
“It’s daylight, Sarah. They won’t be back until tomorrow morning.”
“You don’t know that.” She tugs her blanket over her head, a shroud against her fear.
She’s right. How can I predict how ghosts will react, especially when we’re bobbing out here like a turd in a toilet? I survey the skyline.
“We drifted during the night before the ice formed.”
Sarah follows my gaze. “Yeah, the wrong way.” She twists to inspect the opposite skyline. “I think I see the other shore.”
“I can’t believe there are no oars in this thing. How stupid of me.” I spit the word, hating myself for the lack of forethought. I knew the risks coming out here.
“At least we have food.” She kicks a fish we caught the day before. “Never did like sushi much though.”
“We have to figure out paddles, or some way to push against the ice. If we keep going with the breeze we’ll hit land soon.”
Sarah straightens and looks around the boat. “Before nightfall, you think?”
“I don’t know. I hope so.” It’s doubtful, but I keep it to myself.
“We could make a sail.”
A chink in the depressive situation opens. “Great idea! You’re brilliant, Sarah. We could use the sheets off the bunks. Just need to figure out a mast.”
“There’s the railing.”
“Okay, you start pulling it off. There’s a screwdriver in the toolbox. I’ll go below and get the sheets and see what I can do about cooking up those fish.”
At one time Richard and I had had this boat stocked with everything we could possibly need for a romantic getaway. Then the booze had taken over and the abuse had started. It had been stored in dry dock for the better part of the last five years.
A winter chill takes over the cabin, and I know he’s with me. I feel his waterlogged finger trace the line of my neck.
“I’m coming for her tonight.” Richard’s voice reverberates through the tiny cabin.
Do you like lists? Here’s a few more:
Things don’t change here. I live on the edge of nothingness, next to loneliness and despair. This is the plains of South Dakota, the farm where I grew up. I’m still here. I’m not sure why.
My grandparents, a pair of stoic Norwegians, homesteaded in 1912 and laid claim to some of the last free tracts of land offered by the government, determined to make their mark in the soil. The harshness of their lives is engrained in every pioneer picture ever taken. Serious faces tell sad, hard stories, clinging to the last vestiges of sanity hoping the next year would be better.
My father filled my early years with talk of unpaid bills and the high cost of food versus the low cost of grain, and how politicians were the root cause of it all. He had a lot of die-hard views on life, his way or the dumb way, and he never listened to much more than his own voice. I think negative grew in the corn he planted. According to him, the farm’s best year was when hail wiped out our crops, and he had bought the right kind of insurance. Strange how tragedy made him smile.
Summers blow in with a wind so dry and full of sand it’s hard to open your eyes. Rain is a thing of mystery, aloof and hidden in clouds that fight for survival against the sweltering sun. Yearly precipitation comes in the form of snow, the hard biting kind that beats against your face and makes you burrow your head into your shoulders. Wind is a constant companion. It blows across an expressionless landscape void of trees and contour.
There must have been hope here at one time. It’s hard for me to see it. Next year will be the same as last. I’m still here. I’m not sure why.
I remember when Papa planted the acorn next to Momma’s grave. We was too poor for a headstone, and besides, Papa said a tree would be a living memory, a way to keep her alive, and every time we came back Momma’s love for me would have grown. It made sense to me. Maybe the tree would even have a little bit of Momma in it, and that oak tree would grow sky-high and drop more acorns down, kinda like her giving birth. Foolish sentiment, but when I was little, it made me feel better.
The cemetery went and put a fence up without a care to where we planted that acorn. I was spitting mad when I saw it and tried to yank it out, but it was cemented in place. That little tree grew like a beanstalk not caring a smidgeon about the fence which was just like Momma. Determined and stubborn.
I watered the spot telling Momma about my day, how Beau Fletcher stole my apple when Teacher wasn’t looking, or how I got an A on my math test. When I was twelve, Papa got a new job down in Bakerville. I worried about Momma being alone, but it always made me feel better to know that oak tree was giving her shade in the summer and keeping the rain off her some.
Papa and me would try and visit her at least once a year. We’d bring a picnic lunch and sit with her for a spell. That tree kept on growing just working its way around that fence like a permanent hug. Then Papa got another job. Last time I made it back, the tree was gone except for the part hugging the fence. That tree had lived a good long time. I put my hand against its center, the oldest part of the trunk, trying to make a connection with the little girl who planted an acorn with her Papa. I swear I felt her there with me.
At the other end of Momma’s grave, a sapling grew. Wasn’t more than four feet high, but it had a presence, just like Momma.
WordPress Photo Challenge: Out of the World I took this photo in Five Points, Denver, Colorado. I don’t know how ‘out of this world’ my story is, but I thought it was pretty crazy. To me, it proves nature will win every battle man puts forward. Mother Earth will survive no matter what we do to it. We just might not be around to see it.