Short Story Friday

Parkway Picnic

by 

Anne Marie Andrus

 

“Are you freakin’ kidding me?” I shouted at the six lanes of southbound traffic that slowed to a miserable crawl and then ground to a complete stop.

     Never should have agreed to go in on this ridiculous shore house with my friends. Never.

I unbuckled an antique lap belt and hoisted myself through the old car’s sunroof. Red brake lights snaked ahead for miles.

     Way back in January,No thank you,” had been on the tip of my tongue. But everyone insisted I get out more—find a man—up my game. I’ve met every doctor, lawyer, accountant and stockbroker in this state. Boo, not interested.

Across the median’s concrete barrier, the northbound lanes were eerily empty.

     That’s a lousy sign. Looks a bit like my love-life.

I slumped down in my seat just as sirens blared and strobes lit up the rear-view mirror. Police cars wove down the gravelly shoulder followed by firetrucks, wreckers and a lone ambulance.

     If one ambulance is all they need, maybe it’s just a fender bender?

I fished for a tablet in my backpack and scrolled to the traffic app. Bright red lines in both directions were punctuated by a slew of orange circles with lines through the middle. I banged my forehead on the steering wheel until a muffled bark and wet nose brought me back to reality.

“Oh, puppy. It’s you and me against world, right?” I rubbed fluffy ears. “And I’m sure you have to pee.”

Buried under folding chairs, a mini barbecue grill and my bundle of beach towels, I found a leash.

The car sputtered and stalled.

     Damn jalopy. At least it won’t overheat.

I reached out and checked the pavement with my hand. “Too hot for you, little Bonnie.” I hoisted the tawny furball into my arms and knocked the car door shut with my hip. Two lanes away, the grassy median beckoned. I squeezed past a conversion van covered in bible-verse bumper stickers. Inside tightly rolled up windows, the driver blasted show tunes and conducted an invisible orchestra to his own private musical. A silver-haired woman in the car next to him pointed and laughed. I giggled and waved to her with one of Bonnie’s paws.

While I looked around, the puppy sniffed the grass, investigating the scent of every soul that had stopped here before.

     What is that rumble? Can’t be thunder. Maybe a dragon?

I swallowed hard as if I were on a plane, trying to relieve eardrum pressure. A few seconds of silence fell over the crowded highway before the crystal-clear sky exploded into chaos.

     Helicopters!

One—two—three! Medevac choppers roared overhead, low enough for me to read the numbers on their bellies. I spun to check for another as the leash snapped against my wrist. Searing heat shot through my ankle just before my shoulder crashed against the edge of the pavement.

Screams and slamming doors echoed in my skull as I scrambled, desperately searching for the leash. Invisible hands came from all directions, sitting me up and brushing me off.

“Bonnie!” I pushed everyone away. “I lost my dog!”

“Don’t worry dear.” A lady in hospital scrubs handed me an ice pack for my ankle, took my pulse and looked deep in both eyes. “A young man ran after the pup.” Apparently satisfied I would live, she peered past me. “And . . . he’s got her.”

“Small miracle I didn’t hit my head.” I accepted a gauze pad from over my shoulder and held it against my skinned elbow. I turned to see the four-pronged base of a cane and followed the trail of oxygen tubing to a tan, smiling face.

“I have a first aid kit, dear.” The silver-haired woman patted my good shoulder. “For just this situation.”

“How klutzy am I? A blind person could see that—” I gestured toward the rough curb.

“Here you go, miss.” A silken baritone voice swept over me as calloused palms placed a wiggly puppy in my lap. “What a perfect angel. Half terrier, half collie?”

“She’s a rescue so, probably a little of everything. Thank you so much for—” I kissed Bonnie’s fuzzy head and looked up at the good Samaritan who retrieved her.

     Whoa.

“Thank you…” I read the letters on his navy-blue work shirt. Beveled Edge Blacksmith Shop. Is that even a thing? My gaze wandered over his sculpted biceps, past his perfectly trimmed goatee and up to dancing emerald eyes. “Ummm, you’re totally covered in dog hair.”

“You’re very welcome.” The man started to brush off his chest and tossed his arms up. “Mud, dog hair, horse hair…all day. Everyday. I may be hopeless.”

“You can’t be from around here.”

“Of course, I am. Born and raised.” The man offered his hand and helped me to my feet. “I’m Justin.”

“I’m Grace.” I looked at my bruised knees and handful of bloody gauze. “Just a name, not a description.”

“Come on, Miss Grace. I have water and snacks in the cooler. Enough for everyone.” He waved all the bystanders toward his shiny pick-up truck, stopping to make sure the silver-haired woman’s cane was firmly planted on flat pavement. “Ma’am, what’s better than a Friday night Parkway Picnic?”

Butterflies swirled in my stomach and tiny sparks danced in my throat. I hoisted Bonnie in my arms and whispered in her ear. “Okay, so I maybe I haven’t met every man in New Jersey.”

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Short Story Friday

A Lunch Date Gone Wrong

By:

Victoria Clapton

2019

 

The bright orange glow from tonight’s full moon glowed over the mostly empty benches on Jackson Square. It was a cool, autumn evening in the French Quarter. Most of the tourists and artisans headed home over an hour ago and were now missing the magical ambience that situated on the old cobblestones.

“Are you ready, Sybella Rose?” I shivered as Demien’s hand came to rest in the small of my back, reassuring me that this idea of a date, a date with a vampire, wasn’t crazy.

I held up a heavy picnic basket my friend Aloysius had filled and smiled. “Sure.”

Like me, Demien loved to go down to the river at night, to watch the waters of the Mississippi roll by in rippling shimmers, so I didn’t even ask him where we were heading for our lunch date at 2:00 a.m. Over the levee, towards the moonwalk, we had a spot.

He made no sound as he moved, guiding through shadows. Only his long dark hair, ruffled lightly in the breeze. The sweet, citrusy scent of bergamot assaulted my senses with every step he took, and I fought the irrational urge to reach out for him, to pull him into a kiss that he may not even want.

Recently, I’ve made a career at throwing myself at the almost five hundred year old vampire walking gracefully beside me. I physically could not stop myself. I needed to touch him, to consume him, to be consumed by him.

As he showed no signs of insatiable attraction, I can only assume he is not afflicted by the malady, a curse known as The Binding, as I was. This, too, his ability to ignore the urges pressed upon us, drove me even more insane.

Someone listened to Trombone Shorty in one of the cars that pass by on Decatur Street. This town, my beloved New Orleans, embraced its culture like no other place.

“Where are your thoughts?”

I hadn’t realized that Demien had paused at the crosswalk, waiting for the signal to cross over Decatur, and now scrutinized my temporary silence.

“I was just thinking about New Orleans and its artists. Such a special place.”

The walk light flickered, and we crossed the street. I did not even bother with why a vampire cares about crosswalk procedures at two in the morning. Demien was filled with so many conundrums, keeping up with them was impossible.

“That’s why we locals fight so hard to keep outsiders from ruining it.”

I panicked for a moment, right in the middle of the road, when it occurred to me I no longer held the heavy picnic basket. Demien urged me along, shaking the picnic basket he must have grabbed from me at some point as he guided me towards our lunch destination.

Nerves assaulted me. No matter how long this went on, I continued to find myself baffled at the way Demien’s presence both calmed me and shot my nerves to frazzled. I could never predict what he would do next. His actions caught me off guard.

So, I stood there on a grassy patch near the moonwalk and the river, watching him spread out a checkered picnic blanket for me to sit upon while we dined…well, while I dined.

His movements held my attention as he carefully unloaded the basket–a bowl of fruit salad, a po’ boy dressed, a few bottles of Abita Amber. The snacks kept coming, more food than I could eat.

My mouth draped open as Demien opened each item of food, arranging it beautifully before me, and then held his hand out to help me sit in the Victorian skirt I had chosen to wear tonight.

This man, this vampire, was ruthless. Terrifying. I had seen him kill. I’d felt his violent rage against me, and I could not reconcile the horror with his heart.

“How was your day?” He motioned for me to begin eating as he stretched out his impossibly long legs and leaned back on his hands.

“You’re beautiful.” I murmured, then cursed. I hated this curse. I took a breath, then I answered his original question like a normal person. “JoJo taught me how to draw a few veves today, but I had to promise not to catch anything else in the shoppe on fire.”

“Again?” There was a smile in his tone. I could not control the magick inside of me, everyone knew it. Asking me to not let my emotions take over, to not magickly ignite the voodoo shoppe or anything else into roaring flames was almost a joke.

“Look, Mr. Vampy-Pants, this is your fault.” I was teasing, but his dead body lost whatever semblance of pretend mortality he acted out as it froze into complete stillness and his gaze settled onto the water.

He had slipped back into the dark place where he resided, and I had to do something before my stupid comment ruined our lunch date.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, you know. Believe it or not, even though you are a huge pain in my ass…I enjoy your company.”

“You’re not eating.”

“Jerk!” I whispered under my breath but picked up the po’ boy and took a huge bite.

He scoffed but relaxes somewhat, and I focused on my food to keep from crawling into his lap and begging him to take me right there in public.

The moment between us was peaceful, enjoyable even, until a whirring sound and a warning yell pulled me from my happy place.

“Watch out!”

Demien scooped me up in a blur, and the eruption of thuds and thwacks in the place where we’d just been sitting took me by surprise.

“What the bloody hell?” I declared, though I’m less concerned with what interrupted our moment than the loss of Demien’s arms when he released me.

I took in the tenseness in Demien’s shoulders, the way he ever-so-slightly crouched, and looked beyond him to see that some punk had been out on the Moonwalk in the middle of the night in roller skates and had lost control, careening through the grass straight on top of our picnic.

Demien’s anger froze the kid into place. Having let his guard down with me, he’d slipped straight into predator mode at the first hint of me being in danger.

I stepped around my solid hunk of vampire and offered a hand to the kid who’d plummeted upon our lunch. “Here, let me help you up. Are you hurt?”

He stuttered and stammered, “N…no. I’m fine. I’m so-sorry.”

“Okay,” I said calmly. “You should go.”

Like any rational person, I thought that if anyone should get bitten here, it damned well better be me, but I kept my thoughts to myself and aided the kid to his feet.

“Sorry, again. I didn’t mean to…” The kid’s preservation instinct kicked in and he took off into the night.

I took a deep breath and began picking up the remnants of our lunch date gone wrong, and then pulled on the bond between us. “Demien, come to me.”

I didn’t know if he’d succumb to my request. He was just as likely to disappear into the night. I packed everything away except the blanket, which I flipped over.

“Demien, come and sit.”

He didn’t look at me. Deep down, I knew he couldn’t. He was fighting the demon inside of him, the predator that had wanted to kill, that still wanted to kill. But he once more found a place on the blanket.

Relief rushed through me…then insanity. Without any hesitation, I maneuvered my body until I was sitting between his two legs with my back up against his chest. My bare neck waiting, beckoning just below his mouth.

“Sybella,” he growled in warning.

His fangs brushed against my skin.

“What? Didn’t we come here for lunch?”

 

 

 

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