Short Story Friday

A STRANGE PROPOSITION FROM A STRANGER

Arbor Winter Barrow

“I’ll have you know I don’t normally show up to luncheons wearing designer sequins carrying a toolbox.” The woman wasn’t just wearing designer sequins and carrying a toolbox, her hair was frazzled and sticking about in all directions. There was definitely glitter in it too.

”Oh?” I asked, uncertain. I didn’t know who this woman was or what she had wanted but I had been sitting at the Sammy’s Sammiches minding my own business when this woman had plopped down across from me.

“May I?” The woman held the toolbox over the table where my notebook and cellphone were sitting.

I moved most of my stuff out of the way just in time for her to drop the toolbox loudly on the table top. The only casualty was my half-eaten sandwich. The other patrons of the sandwich shop looked over, some annoyed, some concerned. I tried to form some kind of verbal protest but the woman opened the toolbox and pulled out a stack of loose papers. Was she using a heavy tool box for a briefcase? All things considered I guess that wasn’t the strangest thing.

The woman eyed the papers like she couldn’t quite make out what they said and then leaned over the table at me conspiratorially. “How about forty acres?”

“Forty acres?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“Mars?” She said this as if it were obvious.

“Mars?”

“What are you, fifty?”

I squinted at her, confused. “Twenty-three.”

“My apologies, it’s hard to tell these days. You’re a young lady, you are a lady right? Last time I assumed I misgendered someone and they were not happy. I felt terrible about it for days, I’m absolutely determined to never do it again.”

I just nodded. “You’re right… this time.” Was this woman for real?

“I know forty acres on that dustball of a planet doesn’t sound all that great, but listen, terraforming is only a decade away, what costs you pennies on the dollar today will get you a thousand times the investment.”

“Wait a second. Are you trying to sell me real estate on Mars?”

“It’s what we agreed to!”

“Uh, I didn’t agree to anything.”

“Look, I know you might be having second thoughts–”

“I’m not having second thoughts, I haven’t even had first thoughts. I’m just sitting here trying to enjoy a sandwich between my classes and you turned it into a pancake with your toolbox.” I pointed to the pitiful thing, half-eaten and half-squished.

The woman peered around the toolbox and frowned. “Why ever would you put your sandwich under a toolbox?”

“That’s…oh my god.” I ran my hand across my face and tried to find an escape route without being obvious about it.

“Listen here Miss Cargill–”

“Thomas,” I said absently and regretted it the second I did.

“Excuse me?”

“My last name is not Cargill; it’s Thomas. Dany Thomas.” What was I doing?! Run away you fool! Abort! Abort!

“Are you sure?” She looked mildly alarmed.

I pointed to the student ID clipped to my collar.

“Oh my.” The woman leaned back and stared at me like she we seeing me for the first time. “You’re not the person I’m supposed to meet.”

“No…shit,” I said with heavy sarcasm. “You owe me a new sandwich.”

“Where’s Cargill?”

“How should I know?”

“I was supposed to meet them here.”

I lifted my hands in a shrug and then waved my open palms in a half-circle to indicate the rest of the sandwich shop.

“Oh, this is bad! I’ll lose my commission over this!”

“Listen, don’t worry about it. I won’t tell anyone.” Lies! I’m telling everyone this bonkers story!

“Oh no, you don’t understand. It was certain, for sure, the contract is right here! It’s supposed to be signed today! If I don’t have a signature and a buyer, I’m toast! I’ll be banished to live on Mercury! Oh, what a world! The worst. No margaritas anywhere!” She genuinely looked on the verge of tears.

“Are you okay? Humans have only been to the moon. No one is going to send you to Mars, much less Mercury.”

“Oh you poor human girl, you don’t get it do you?”

“I’m obviously not getting something, no, so please enlighten me.” Why? Why did I keep encouraging her?

The woman wiped at a nonexistent tear and seemed disappointed there was nothing there except specks of glitter. “I’m from a small backwater planet about fourteen light years from here. This was supposed to be my big break into interplanetary real estate. This pilot program was going to boost our economy and everyone in my family was going to be able to afford all the finest luxuries.”

I was nodding encouragingly until the entire thing percolated through my sleep deprived, over studied, hyper caffeinated brain. “What?” I said stupidly.

“You wouldn’t know it, I think it shows up as being about fourteen light years from here on your star maps.”

“You’re an alien?”

“For better or worse.”

This lady was either on the fast train to crazy town or already there. Or she was telling the truth. She seemed legitimately upset that I wasn’t the person she was supposed to meet. I honestly didn’t know which direction I wanted to believe.

“Alright,” I said and crossed my arms across my chest. “Assuming that you’re telling me the truth. How do I know that I’m actually going to get the forty acres after I pay?”

I think she got glitter in her eyes while wiping at invisible tears because suddenly they were sparkling. “You’re interested?”

“Maybe.”

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” The lady started frantically going through her toolbox. “I’ll have to amend the contract but that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“First, what’s your name?”

“Unpronounceable!”

“Your name is Unpronounceable?”

“Oh! No! I mean, yes, but when I’m here I go by Chuck.”

“Chuck. Okay, Chuck, my last question…”

“How do you know you’ll get the forty acres?”

“Yes.”

Chuck readjusted herself and a new demeanor took over her posture. She was cool, confident, and sparkly in her designer sequins.
“I am not of this world. However in two years’ time the Galactic First Contact Association will be contacting your world and providing technological advancements, assistance, and personnel. Your species has been selected for a pilot program to determine if near-space faring species can be contacted and enriched without destroying themselves.”

“That’s encouraging.”

“It is isn’t it? I’ve seen the reports, even if you do destroy yourselves the chance that another sentient species will rise on your planet is at nearly 88%! Those are great odds.” Chuck didn’t seem to realize that wasn’t encouraging at all.

“So in two years we get contacted and then we get to go to Mars?”

“Yes! We give you the supplies and provide transport and a 25 hour help desk!”

“25?”

“A Martian day is almost an hour longer!”

My phone beeped and I pressed my finger to the near-silent alarm. It was almost time to head back to class. I could miss one class of Special Topics in Anthropological Literature. I could probably write a whole essay about what I was experiencing right now. If it was real.

“Now, since you are being introduced to this fresh, I don’t want to force you into a contract you know nothing about. May I see your cellular device?”

I clutched my phone close to my chest and frowned at her. “Why?”

“I need to call in a transport.”

I reluctantly handed over my phone and she fussed with it for a moment before awkwardly holding it up to her ear.

“Karen! I need a transport from my location to the prospective acreage. Yes. Yes. That too. New inductee! Byeeee!” Chuck handed me the phone back and smiled happily.

“So…where are we going?”

“Mars!”

“Uh…”

I didn’t have a second to question that idea because the air around us started to glimmer and a feeling of warmth replaced the cool sandwich shop AC. The chair under me disappeared and I fell to the floor. But not the floor of the sandwich shop, the floor of a UFO.

Chuck appeared next to me and lifted me up onto my feet. “Apologies, our gravity is heavier than yours.” Once I got my feet under me and stable enough I got a good look at the rest of the room. A wide window looked out on Earth and in the distance I saw a sliver of the moon. Other than the window, the room didn’t have many other features. There was a wide doorway that led into a hallway and a single console in the middle of the room.

Chuck tapped the floor with her foot and the area opened up. A couch lifted up and Chuck pushed me to a seat.

Okay, up till now, I had just been playing along, looking for a good story, and not really taking Chuck’s antics seriously. But I was sitting on a purple couch IN A UFO! I was looking at the southern hemisphere of the Earth. Australia and New Zealand took up the length of the window.

“Ready to see your new plot of land on Mars?” Chuck asked.

I just nodded, at a loss for words.

Chuck took up a position in front of the window and tapped her foot on the floor again. A control panel lifted out of the floor and Chuck tapped happily on the buttons. “Here’s hoping I don’t bring this back to Karen dented!”

“Dented?” I asked. The view out the window shifted as the ship turned away from Earth. I felt no movement or momentum. The only indication that we were moving coming from the track of stars across the viewer as the ship turned. The view went white and colors streaked as the ship zoomed forwards. In seconds we were no longer in orbit around Earth. The rust red surface of Mars filled the window and I gasped again. The pictures I had seen of Earth and Mars from space did nothing to compare to seeing them with my own eyes. I gingerly got up off the couch and went to stand next to Chuck at the window.

“Amazing isn’t it?” Chuck asked.

“I can’t believe it.”

“Seeing is believing!”

Chuck tapped a sequence into the console in front of her and the ship began to descend. I watched with amazement as the Martian landscape filled the viewer and Chuck landed the ship on a flat, rocky bit of terrain. In the distance, huge mountains broke up the horizon line.

Chuck led me further into the ship and at an airlock had me pull on an overlarge EVA suit. I felt like I was wearing a tent. “Why is this so big?”

“This is the suit that was made for the previous contract signer. We had their measurements prior to this flight. After we visit your plot of land we’ll have to have to get your measurements.”

“My measurements? What for?”

We have to make sure we get the right habitat for you. We can’t be trying to put a human sized person into a cat sized habitat now can we?”

“Wait, are you selling Martian real estate to cats, too?”

“Well, of course! They have every right to be there just like you!”

The image of a cat habitat with cats in little cat jumpsuits was unavoidable. I snickered.

“Come along!” Chuck had her own suit on, and of course, it had sequins and glitter all over it. We walked out onto the Martian surface. Chuck used a little red laser pointer to show me the area of land I was being sold.

“How much?” I asked after a minute. It was too much to take in. As soon as I got back I was going to skip class and go home and sleep.

“One US dollar an acre.”

“A dollar…an acre? That’s really cheap.”

“Like I said, pennies on the dollar!” She clapped and then wiggled her fingers outwards like she’d just performed a magic trick.

Forty dollars wasn’t that much if this all turned out to be real, but forty dollars was a weeks’ worth of groceries for my poor college ass if it wasn’t.

“What’s the chance this all falls through and I don’t get to come to Mars?”

“Oh! The money is held in escrow until successful integration and introduction is complete.” Chuck seemed really proud of that.

“Wait, why do you even need money? Earth money isn’t going to be good on other planets.”

“On the contrary. The galactic economy is built on the economies of every species in it. If your planet successfully enters the galactic society your Earth money will be incorporated. One of the reasons my people are doing this is because the sooner you get a jump on and initial standard of another planet’s money the more profitable you’ll be.”

“Well that sounds really complicated.”

“It is.” Chuck nodded.

I looked out on the barren desert and tried to imagine it lush with gardens and greenery. “Two years?”

“Two years. I believe they will try to aim for a slow news day on Earth. They have some algorithm they follow but that is not my forte.” Chuck smiled at me through her helmet.

“Alright. Sure. Let’s do it. I can eat ramen for a week.”

“Oh! Ramen!”

“You can come by my apartment and have some if you want.”

“I would enjoy that. I’m very fond of the chicken flavor. It’s very ubiquitous.”

I laughed. “That’s one word for it.”

So I signed the contract and handed over forty dollars. Chuck joined me for a ramen lunch and two years passed with little trouble. There were only a couple times I regretted the purchase. But the ride to Mars alone was worth it. I graduated from university, got a job as a programmer, and found myself sitting in a cubicle typing code for hours on end. Above my monitor I had a postcard with a picture of Mars on it. Chuck had given it to me after I’d signed the contract. I had put a sticker of a cat in a spacesuit on it at some point.

Chuck had never given me an exact timeline of when Earth would be contacted by aliens but I really wanted it to be today. It was slow, the news was just stories about a goat rescue in China, reforestation in Chile after a forest fire, and every baking show was a rerun.

I guess whoever was in charge was listening, because every screen in the office flickered and a message appeared on the screen.

“Hello, people of Earth. We come in peace.”

◊◊◊

The End

 

Find & Follow!

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~Arbor Winter Barrow

https://arborwinterbarrow.com/

Writer | Artist | Jane of Most Trades

 

Nightmareland

Happy Halloween Horror Lovers!

From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology and its #1 bestseller sequel Dark Visions, comes Nightmareland . . .

A horror anthology with 23 stories from 14 authors!

In a rundown shack deep in the woods, a high school girl dares herself to try the strange new drug all the kids are talking about. One injection of “Nightmareland” is all it takes to unleash a person’s biggest fears to them – and then they are on their own! But rebellious Jessica thinks she will prove herself to her peers and parents.
Tremble along as she is strapped into the chair and becomes a lost child on a Florida party island, an investigator looking into a circus’ bizarre side shows, an abused prisoner locked away in a desolate concrete cell, and much more as Jessica faces the most terrifying ride of her young life.
Compiled by USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror once again unites the minds and pens of more than a dozen amazing authors.

Nightmareland will send you into the foggy twilight of the eerie and macabre, with heart stopping stories from:

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre (The Navigators),

award-winning bestselling author Robbie Cheadle

award-winning bestselling author Ellen Best

award-winning author Kaye Booth

award-winning bestselling author Betty Valentine

award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner

award-winning bestselling author Christine Valentor

award-winning bestselling author Nick Vossen

award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner

award-winning bestselling author Victoria Clapton

award-winning bestselling author Anne Marie Andrus

award-winning bestselling author Adele Marie Park

award-winning bestselling author Barbara Anne Helberg

award-winning bestselling author MD Walker

award-winning bestselling author Dabney Farmer

award-winning bestselling author M J Mallon

Perfect for Halloween or any time, these stories will make you think twice before spending the night alone, watching TV with family, or even going on a casual boat ride.

 

CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!!

Read Now!

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Short Story Friday Night

Under The Square

by
Anne Marie Andrus

chicory, humidity, decadence

 

Trickles of murky water danced between shadows and fractures on the underground wall. Flickering candles twisted wilted blooms and innocent stone angels into a jungle of goblins.

“If you’re still fussing, you should have started earlier.” A redheaded vampire flashed through the arched doorway and scowled at his watch. “This space will never be anything but a tomb disguised as a fancy courtyard.”

“Like the desolate streets above us, masquerading as our city?” A man in a tuxedo slicked his mohawk straight up and adjusted his bow tie. “I thought you said rebirth was near, Mister Steven.”

“It’s so close, I can taste it. You’ve followed my instructions to the final detail?”

“Haven’t I always, sir?”

“As much as humanly possible, I guess.” Steven pointed to a steaming carafe. “Pour.”

The man’s shoulders slumped. “What am I now, your waiter?”

“I didn’t mean…that came out all wrong. Pour me a taste, Zachary. Pretty please.” Silence and a smirk followed his lingering sip. “Ah, silky smooth with a viper’s bite.”

“One coffee blunder was humiliating enough.” Zachary tipped his chin in the air. “That other swill tasted like it was blended with the ashes of the dead.”

“Sure wasn’t chicory.” Steven shuddered. “Ick.”

“Don’t worry. The tool who sold it to me, is at the bottom of the river.”

Steven planted one hand on his hip. “So, where did this brew come from?”

“Cross’ the lake.”

“Hope you’re taking my bodyguards when you leave the French Quarter.”

“So much gloom, even your soldiers can’t tell where the safe zone ends and enemy territory begins anymore. Sun hasn’t come out in years.”

“Yet, the dreadful humidity remains. Just to remind us we’re home.” Steven snapped the cuffs of his dress shirt. He inspected the linen tablecloths, uncovered serving dishes, smiled at the scent of peppermint and turned his nose up at licorice. “My chocolate?”

“All your favorites.” Zachary bowed in front of the dessert tower. “Amaretto, raspberry, almond hazelnut…but, the hazelnut still sucks.” He tapped the artery in his neck. “How bout’ a taste of this?”

“Later. Be available,” Steven said. “Eat a little cinnamon.”

“You…are damn bossy.”

Steven waggled his finger. “Leaders delegate, Zach.”

“Oh well, excuse me.” Zachary plucked a sugar cube from the pristine buffet and dropped it on his tongue. “Will it be the usual guest list tonight?”

“Yes, and I’m sure you’ll hate them all.”

“They turn the room frigid. Swear I can see my breath.” Zachary pointed to the fountain. “Your snooty, light-up water feature was frozen solid after last week’s festivities.”

“There’s a method to my madness. We’ll need the allegiance of all the coven leaders, from every corner of the globe—even the villains—to take back New Orleans.”

“Hmph.” Zachary crossed his arms. “Bastards do seem impressed. You’re still the king of decadence, like in the old days.”

“Just wait for the new days.” Steven leaned over the pastel bubbles and watched glittery fish spinning in circles. “When our family is back in power, all this melancholy will be a distant memory.”

“What about that man with the sapphire eyes?”

“You mean the warrior?” Steven sighed dramatically.

“He’s more than politics to you, isn’t he?”

“Is that a hint of green demon I hear in your voice?”

“After so many years of us…” Zachary shuffled his feet and stared at the fish. “Never mind.”

“His fire, his army—that blood.” Steven spun and pumped his fists. “The warrior is our savior. He holds the keys to an empire.”

Zachary stepped back, but not in time to avoid Steven patting his cheek as if he were a petulant child.

“My empire.” Steven flashed back through the arch. “All mine.”

♦♦♦

This story was originally written for the “3 Word Challenge” on the blog Bonnywood Manor, home of fabulous writer and friend Brian Lageose.

Check him out!

Short Story Friday

Spooky Babysitter

by 

Christian Terry

Ashley’s fork cut through what was left of her tiramisu. Her client’s daughter had been put down for almost an hour. The silence of the house meant that she should be studying but the tiramisu was so delicious. After finishing her dessert Ashley opened her laptop double clicking on her document files.

Now that she had the freedom she was sure she would have the rest of the night to herself to finish her project. As she opened the documents pictures of various newspaper headlines flashed across the monitor. Her assignment that her professor gave would have her follow the trail of supernatural happenings in neighboring towns. Things like “leprechauns in trees” to “ghostly images and sounds ” “unexplained disappearances”.

The point of the assignment was to find why are people wanting these “tales of make believe” to be real? Ashley wasn’t sure what to make of all of this. She believed that if she could see it she would believe it for herself. Her computer monitor flickered for a second before completely darkening. A sharp squawking from upstairs made her blood run cold. It also reminded her that the only person up the stairs was Lauren, the child she was sitting.

The family had no pets, a fact that ran through Ashley’s mind as she grabbed the fork she used to eat her tiramisu. She scampered up the stairs tightly gripping her silverware weapon in her fist. Once she reached the door she flung it open to see little Lauren asleep in the same position she had left her in. Perched at the foot of the bed was a blood red cardinal bird with a thumb sized roll of cotton in between its beak.Ashley flung her arms at the bird predicting that the bird would fly outside of the window across the room in which the bird did flapping its wings through the night air.

Lauren gave a yawn before speaking. “I had the weirdest dream miss Ashley. You saved me from a gigantic female pterodactyl and it was red!” She yelled in excitement rolling over on her pillow which she now found with a gaping hole in the center. “Miss Ashley…” the girl let out.

Ashley grabbed Lauren by the hand and stormed out of the house.

 

♦♦♦

 

Find & Follow Christian Terry

 

Short Story Friday

TWO BEST FRIENDS ARE BARISTAS

by

Elizabeth Lemons

 

A crooked little coffin-shaped sign hung rather creepily and just a bit off-center, somewhat hidden beneath eerie Spanish moss from an ancient tree that draped over a tiny coffee shop where cemetery workers and the occasional mourner would stop in after passing time in the famous Southern graveyard that was just a few yards across the street.

Delia adjusted her purple work shirt that sported their shop’s unique logo. The owners of the shop were two best friends, “Miss Charlotte” and “Miss Cordelia”, and they had hand drawn themselves the symbol of a tiny tomb upon which a tiny coffee cup sat. Above this, in silken threads, the name of their shop, the words Burial Grounds were embroidered on the left shoulder. The concept of the shop had been the brainchild of her best friend, Lottie and had somehow taken their after-college plot of turning a mountain (unemployment) into a more manageable molehill, (becoming entrepreneurs!) with some quick thinking and a few old Southern recipes. The two best friends combined their attributes and somehow had managed to stay out of the red in their first year of business. The shop provided everything that after-funeral crowds might need: water, coffee, teas, pastries, biscotti, bagels and breads, panini and fruit, as well as tasteful cemetery souvenirs such as photography coffee table books of the cemetery that the tourists were just gaga for. Just recently they had also added a very small lunch menu so that the groundskeepers and out-of-town visitors (here to see the book-and-movie-famous gothic nuances that lay by the river just across the way) might be tempted to drop in during the noon hours. A late sleeper, Lottie came in most days after lunch, to prepare the next day’s soups, and sandwich fixings while Delia took great delight in early-hour baking and the opening of the storefront doors each morning.

On this stifling September day in Savannah, Delia was hoping to inspire a few customers into trying her new recipe for Pumpkin bread. As she switched on a coffee pot, she peered out the rippled glass pane of the old storefront. An Autumn fragrance called “Something Wicked” filled the small dining area that was dotted with small black café tables and chairs the girls had found and refurbished from the flea market. The dining area possessed a slightly witchy aura in a Practical Magic sort of way. Delia suddenly observed that a rickety, white-haired, very tall, hat-wearing gentlemen (whom she immediately secretly named “Papa Justify”, she had heard that creepy name in another movie once) was slowly making his way inside from the empty parking lot. She was unsure of where he came from, but it seemed awfully hot for a man of his years to be out and about, walking around alone in the September heat at 10:30 in the morning.

The man creakily made his way to the counter, his loveless face was daunting in the bright morning light, but Delia stood ready to take his order, despite his frightful countenance. Holding a pad, and slightly biting the eraser at the end of a pencil, Delia smiled and said, “Good morning, Sir. What can I get for you?”

He leaned his ghoulish face towards Delia, his large teeth protruding from his thinly-veiled face and replied.” I would love a large cup of coffee, black, and 2 of your old-fashioned tea cakes, please”.

Delia carefully wrapped the two sweets in a glycine treat bag, then poured freshly-brewed liquid glory into the recyclable-yet-insulated to-go cup, it was an aromatic and steaming brew. She dribbled a rich, dark splash onto one of her sneakers as she placed the carafe back on the burner.

The customer appeared to be delighted, thanking Delia as he took his purchases, and left a twenty on the counter. “Keep the change, doll”, he whispered. A shiver ran up Delia’s arms.

It was then that Delia heard a key turning the lock in the back door of the shop. “Lottie, quick! Come here!” Delia called. Delia turned her back to the window that looked over the parking lot just for a moment, motioning to her friend to hurry and observe the unusual customer who had just left. Delia had never seen anyone like him before in her life. Lottie sat down her purse, and quickly was standing by Delia’s side. As they both looked across the parking lot, no one was there. Had the small tourist bus silently picked him up without their hearing it? Surely, he couldn’t have walked completely out of sight in that short amount of time.

Back to the business at hand, the phone rang, orders were placed and work demanded the two friends’ attention and soon the entire morning had flown by. Now the girls were both busy packing up 15 box lunches which they had promised to deliver over to the Cemetery Visitor’s Center across the street by 1 pm. Lottie stayed behind at the store making up a fresh batch of pimento cheese and Delia walked over with a large cardboard box filled with the smaller box lunches, and cold drinks to give to Mrs. McGuire, the docent. She told Delia they were having a Civil War reading near the war monuments later today with guest speakers and so the workers wouldn’t have time to go out to get their lunch. The coffee shop was happy to oblige them. The Visitor’s Center tipped quite nicely.

As the sun pelted down upon the shell-lined pathways, and the hushed Spanish moss gently swayed, swishing ominously throughout the bent and gnarled limbs of the ancient trees, Delia walked past graves and headstones, and statuesque obelisks, headed away from the old grey house that now was designated as the Visitor’s center, and on back towards the shop. Thinking what a lovely blue sky hugged from above, Delia was taken aback as she noticed that someone had thoughtlessly littered the beautiful resting grounds. An abandoned coffee cup sat upon an ornate rock headstone. Intending to clean the trash up herself, she reached to grab the debris, and was taken aback to see that both the sack and coffee cup were imprinted with a little symbol, the coffee shop logo symbol, and the words starkly stated Burial Grounds captured in a sickly red ink made her gasp. A glycine treat bag was also crumpled up with the paper sack, and these were laying over the grassy and sandy grave of a man who had mysteriously died in 1832. His name…Jasper Justify Jacquemin.

This is the precise moment when Delia decided that this would be a good time to lay off the caffeine.

Short Story Friday–Monday Edition ☠️

Behind the Scenes at the Theater

by

Johi Jenkins

September 20, 2019

Words: loneliness, applaud, beg, jogging, memorize, admit, solitude, converse, eternity, marsh

October is just around the corner and all the coffee shops have already busted out all the fall flavors. Outside the air stirs, still warm but with the occasional chilly draft. The fall equinox is only a few days away. Alex is excited for the change and ready to let go of this dreadful summer haze.

The summer had been awful. Loneliness had been his constant companion; he’d been unemployed; a small-town wannabe actor freshly moved to the big city looking for acting work. He’d had a hell of a rough time, unable to join in with the rest of the city as everyone cherished those precious few weeks of perfect weather.

But then, right at the end of summer, last week, things finally improved: he got a job. Not just any job. He was finally invited to join one the most successful theater companies in the city, Elysium Theatre, and a role in their current award-winning production, The Last Victim.

Today is his first day. During his interview he already decided he loved the company. He’d met most of the actors and the stage crew, although of course he didn’t even lay eyes on the main actors. The big shots were just way too important and busy to ever hang out with the main company. They hardly come out to rehearsals, Alex learned to his disappointment, although he wasn’t surprised. He had especially wanted to meet Ben Morgan, the lead actor in the play, who had been Alex’s inspiration to become an actor, and his motivation to join this particular theater company. But Alex is thrilled nonetheless—he might not even see him, but he’s going to be in a freaking play with his hero!

Alex is the first one in. He came jogging from his studio apartment; he was too excited to sit still. He didn’t know what time everyone comes in to the rehearsals, so he chose to arrive an hour early, to be safe. Inside the designated auditorium, some lights are on but there’s no one around. He sits on a chair in the front row.

“Hello,” he hears a voice above him.

He looks up and sees—Ben Morgan? Holy crap!

“Hi, Mr. Morgan,” he stammers.

“Please, dude. Call me Ben.” Ben descends a metal ladder that’s propped against the lighting platform above the stage where he had apparently been, doing who knows what in solitude. About halfway down he jumps off and lands with uncanny grace on the stage. He sits on the ledge, right across from Alex’s chair.

“Right. Ben. I’m Alex. I’m new. I’m playing the banker, the smallest part, I know, barely two lines, but just the fact that I’m in this company, wow, I’m so excited and humbled. And to have my one scene be with you—well, the young version of Caleb, that’s, well, just, incredible.” Wow. Halfway through that logorrhea Alex knew he should stop talking, but he was so nervous that he just kept babbling on. He takes a breath to steady himself because he feels like he wants to talk some more to apologize, or to explain himself, or just to fill the silence, but he decides it might just be best to never speak again.

Ben is looking at him strangely. In his eyes there is a mixture of pity and humor. “Well, Alex, nice to meet you. But let me correct you, so you don’t go around spreading false statements.”

“Huh? What do y—”

“The banker. He’s not the smallest part. He may have only two lines, but he’s one of the most important characters in the story. He’s the pivotal person in Caleb’s life; the one who changes the course of Caleb’s whole life, when he says those two lines.”

Speechless, Alex can’t reply with words other than reciting the lines he’d already memorized, in a half whisper. “ ‘Young man, I’ve been watching you. I believe I know someone who might be quite excited to meet you.’ ”

“Aha.” Ben holds his index finger up and displays a dazzling smile. “And who did the banker mean by someone?”

“The benefactor. Mr. Lawrence.”

“Yes. And Lawrence changed Caleb’s life,” Ben reminds him. “Had it not been for the banker, Caleb wouldn’t have met Lawrence, and he wouldn’t have risen to where he did.”

“I guess,” Alex stammers.

Ben cocks his head to the side as if considering the young nobody before him. “Did you know that The Last Victim is based on a real-life story?”

“No, I didn’t,” Alex has to admit.

“My character, Caleb, is based on a young man who lived in the 50’s. His name was Charles, and he was an orphan. Just like in the play, Charles struggled in life, had many afflictions; and on one particularly bad day, having almost given up hope, he met the banker. The banker saw past the unfortunate circumstances that plagued Charles and saw only his beauty. He introduced him to his wealthy acquaintance, believing this acquaintance would be interested in Charles. And he was right. The wealthy friend took an instant liking to Charles and became his benefactor. We all know what happens next.” Ben pauses for effect, then he narrows his eyes and smiles that knowing smile of his. “But here is where the play differs drastically from the real story. In the play, Caleb goes back to his hometown as a wealthy man, and he purges the men who spurned him as an orphan, right? But in real life, Charles went back to his hometown, alright… but he killed those men.”

“What?” Alex’s face puckers in disbelief. “Just for mocking him?” In the play, one of the things young Caleb struggles with is being bullied by a few older boys that he works with. Later after he’s rich, he has them convicted and put in jail.

“They did more than mock him,” Ben explains. “They beat him up so bad, he couldn’t defend himself. He couldn’t even beg for his life. They left him for dead in the marsh where they worked. But he lived, he healed, and he persisted. He quit that job, went to a bank to borrow money to start a business. He met the banker. His life changed. And later when he was powerful, he went back and got his revenge.”

“Is that true?” Alex asks, unease creeping up his spine. “And he killed them?”

“Yes,” is Ben’s smart reply.

“But how did he do it?” Alex doesn’t really want to believe the supposed real version of the story, so his words are partially laced with disbelief. He doesn’t know where Ben is going with this, but it sounds like the guy wants to tell this story, so might as well ask him.

“I mean, how did he manage it? There were three of them and one of him.”

“There were eight of them and one of him.” Ben drops that in a deadpan voice. “In real life,” he adds.

Alex begins to get a weird vibe. Is Ben messing with him, or what? “So he paid people to do it, or…?”

“Alex, what the popular version of the story which we act out every night fails to mention is… the so-called benefactor, Lawrence, who in real life was named Lehmann, was actually a powerful vampire who fell in love with his intended victim, the little orphan boy that his banker friend brought to him as a gift. The vampire bestowed the gift of immortality on the young Charles. Not right away. Lehmann saw young Charles as a little pet; well, a pet that you have an intimate relationship with. But after some time he turned him into a vampire. And just like Caleb returns to his hometown as an adult in the play, Charles returned as an adult, albeit a vampire one, and had fun getting his revenge.”

Alex realizes his mouth is hanging open and quickly closes it. Ben is obviously joking, but he sounds so serious, Alex doesn’t know how best to reply. He looks at Ben expecting the face to reveal the butt end of the joke, or some clue as to why he’s hearing this fictional story from one of the most renowned actors in modern theater, but the man remains as serious as if he was retelling a news story from last week. Alex decides to play along. He never dreamed he’d converse like this with Ben Morgan on his first day; might as well roll with it.

“Wow, um. So, how do you know all this?”

“I play Caleb. It’s my job to know his character well, inside and out; what is written in the play, and what is not written.”

“Okay,” Alex says, frustrated with the lack of answers and not exactly knowing how he should react to Ben’s story. “Well, if Charles was a vampire, did he even die, like Caleb?”

The Last Victim is named so in reference to the main character, Caleb. After becoming rich and using his power and influence to get his revenge, his decisions gradually cross into the gray area of questionable judgment. Not being particularly trained in morality or ethics, and being quite young, he chooses to bestow assistance to people or deal punishment as his whims dictate. In the end, one particular bad decision puts the life of another young boy in peril; and Caleb, finally seeing his folly, dies tragically in a fire to save the boy, who reminds him of his former innocent self, in a gallant attempt to redeem himself. Thus, he is his own “last victim”.

“A vampire would’ve survived that fire,” Alex challenges. “He would’ve been fast enough to save the boy and save himself.”

Ben’s expression changes and his voice fills with sorrow. “He did perish in the fire. He started it, and both him and the innocent boy died in it. The boy never made it out. Charles didn’t save him. He watched as the smoke claimed the boy and had no remorse. It was Lehmann who killed Charles, finally realizing he had lost control of his little pet. So you see, Charles didn’t die in the fire like Caleb did in the play, but he equally died because of it.”

Alex, temporarily forgetting this story can’t possibly be real, feels awful for the little boy who didn’t make it out of the fire. The play, despite being a tragedy, is generally liked because this one sweet innocent unnamed kid is saved.

“So it was all a lie?” he demands. “Saving the boy, Caleb’s sacrifice?”

Ben shrugs dejectedly. “The writer didn’t like the ending, so he wrote a different one.”

“Well, he shouldn’t have,” Alex says a bit angrily. “Everyone thinks Caleb was this great tragic hero. They all applaud him, and he was an asshole.”

“He was an asshole, but Lehmann loved him. He had turned Charles into a vampire because he wanted to spend an eternity with him. Lehmann felt guilty, thinking he should’ve taught Charles better, guided him better.” He sighs. “It was Lehmann who wrote the story.”

“Wait, what? Lehmann—Lawrence? He’s the author?” Alex tries to remember the writer’s name. He can think of the playwright, but not the original author.

“Yes.”

“Wait.” The author of a real play and the vampire in a fictional story clashing in his confused brain is too much for Alex at the moment. He covers his eyes with a hand, trying to reassess. Of all the things that don’t make sense, the one question that comes out is, “How do you know all this?”

He asked the same question earlier, but in a whole different frame of mind. Disbelief back then, mostly. This time, he wants to know. This time is different.

This time, Ben replies honestly.

“I’m Lehmann.”

He looks into Alex’s eyes, deep into his soul, it feels like. And Alex immediately knows. It’s all true.

“Would you like to know … more?” Ben Morgan hops off the stage and extends his hand down to Alex.

Alex takes the offered hand.

“I would love to.”

***
The END

 

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Short Story Friday

A New Love Blooms in Old Age

by
Victoria Clapton

 

I walked the dusty path that led to the family cemetery located beneath some spindly old cedar trees on the expansive property of the looming Eirewood Plantation. On my way, I stopped to eat a few of the tart bitter blackberries growing there and pondered on how I’d come to such a quiet place.

The sprawling white Greek Revival sat imposing in the sunlight. The tall, thick columns stood stately, supporting the two story gargantuan house while the rocking chairs on the front porch silently invited someone to relax and rock a spell,taking in the beauty of the Southern landscape. Though I had trekked some distance from the house, I could still see the majesty of the house patiently waiting for something, or maybe someone. It’s empty loneliness bothered me very little. At first sight, I was overcome with the feeling of having always been here, having belonged. Whatever the reason, this home was not alone anymore.

Three weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail requesting my presence at McAllister and McAllister Law Firm to claim an inheritance from an anonymous benefactor.

Upon meeting with them, Misters McAllister and McAllister led me to a polished long cherry table in what must have once been the dining room in the old Victorian house they’d converted into their law firm, and there over tall glasses of ice tea, they informed me that I’d inherited the two hundred year old house and the surrounding land that made up Eirewood Plantation from an absolute stranger. Despite my fervent attempt to refuse such a preposterous gift, the McAllisters presented me with the deed, already in my name, and bid me to have a good day.

Now, I stood somewhere between the hulking house and the graveyard filled with crumbling tombs all sporting the name “O’ Brady”, trying to figure out what I was going to do with this unasked for and unusual gift. Unaffected by my presence, a large, husky squirrel bounced from one oak tree to the next as if rejoicing at my arrival.

For a spring afternoon, it was a bit chilly beneath the shade of the trees, and just like the house, this piece of land had a feeling of waiting. A solitary rusted out shovel discarded by the old stone wall surrounding the graves solidified the feeling of a space frozen in time.

“Welcome to Eirewood, Ms. Endicott.” From behind one of the twisted oaks, stepped a nice-looking gentleman wearing light pants, a blue cutaway coat and holding a top hat that he’d just removed from his head in his hands.His cream colored silk cravat accentuated his dapper look. “I’ve been waiting for you to return.”

Startled by his unannounced presence, I took a step back from him but not before I noticed his uniquely light colored eyes. The color of frozen ice, just barely blue, they were visible even in the dappled afternoon light.

“Thank you. Wait, return? I’m sorry, Sir, but I have never been here,” I insisted then introduced myself. “You may call me Eilene I have recently acquired Eirewood Plantation, so I’ve come to see what it’s all about.”

The man moved closer to me. His handsome looks struck a chord in my heart, a memory I couldn’t quite grasp, even if his clothing and manners were two hundred years out-of-date. Perhaps he was here for one of those reenactments I’d heard about history buffs having. Either way, something about his demeanor drew me towards him. My fingers tingled, itching to reach out and touch this mysterious stranger.

“Eilene,” He said my name slowly as if he was savoring his favorite sound. “Then you may call me Jonathan. I’m Jonathan O’Brady.”

“O’Brady?” I recalled the names on the tombstones just behind Jonathan, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. The intensity he watched me with was unnerving and somewhat alluring. There was just something about him, something I couldn’t exactly put my finger on. “Jonathan, are you kin to the people who owned this house? Do you know why the previous owners would leave it to me?”

“You kept your promise,” was his reply. “You vowed that you’d return, that not even death could keep us apart.”

My heart sped up as I processed this stranger’s words. “You have me confused with someone else.”

“Oh?” Jonathan offered his hand to me. “Then let me show you, my love.”

I should have ran off, gotten away as fast I could and called the cops on this crazy anachronistic man. Instead, without any hesitation at all, I rested my hand in the crook of his offered arm and allowed him to guide me back into the shaded cemetery. We weaved around graves, one O’Brady after another, until we reached a battered Celtic cross. At the base was the epitaphs and memories of two.

Eilene O’Brady                 Jonathan O’Brady
Born April 30, 1832              Born November 1 1825
Died May 14 1862                  Died May 14 1862
Eternally Yours

Something in my subconscious stirred, awakening memories of someone else’s life, promises made by a woman I was not. I should have fled. I should have gotten away as fast as I could. I didn’t know what this man was trying to pull, but I wanted no part of it.

Then I made the mistake of looking up from the tomb into Jonathan’s love-filled eyes. Within their pale depths, I saw that he, too, had been waiting. Just like the house and this land, he had been waiting for his love from an old age long gone to begin again-new.

♥♥♥

 

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