Part 5 – Snapshot


                The house was finally quiet. Charlotte, never fond of forced socializing unless it was related to work and therefore paid, was officially sick of people. Her cheeks hurt from baring her teeth and smiling. She had run out of banal chit chat and the patience to listen to the grief aphorisms offered by friends and family and neighbors and everyone else in town who wanted to participate in someone else’s death drama.


For first time in two weeks that Charlotte didn’t have to take care of anybody but herself. She foolishly thought her caregiving duties would officially terminate when her mom died. She didn’t realize that death as a concept didn’t end with the actual death. It just dragged on and on, until every detail was exhausted, the funeral arrangements made, phone calls, emails, and texts answered, every casserole and pie eaten, and every wilted flower thrown out.


                “She was so lucky to have you here with her up to end,” they all said, one after another on an endless loop. “You’re such a good daughter. She didn’t have to die alone.” It took a couple of times before Charlotte learned to temper her response to this line of reasoning.


                “She didn’t even know who I was,” she snapped the first time few times she heard it. “It wouldn’t have mattered if it were me or some random stranger.” After several shocked looks, Charlotte learned to look down, clasp her hands together, and quietly murmur “Thank you.” It also helped to dig her fingernails deep into her palms. Charlotte was glad the social phase of death was over, and she could go back to saying what she actually thought.


Charlotte looked at the clock. It was 4:10 in the afternoon, technically too early for a drink. It was finally cooling down a bit. She had opened every window in the house to clear out the stale air. The family home was almost empty now, and she was getting it ready to be sold. Charlotte tried to summon some sort of feelings up about this. Should she be sad? Nostalgic? Was is normal not to feel anything at all?


Charlotte, her sisters and brother had worked for a week to pack up and empty the house. They each took a few things, sentimental items, easily packed or stored in the trunk of a car. She and her siblings were too far entrenched in their own adulthood to need anything essential. Each of them had houses with silverware, blankets, pots and pans, furniture; all the accoutrements of adult life. There was nothing of real value in the house, not even on a kitsch level. Her parents were solidly middle-class with four kids and not a lot of extra money. Charlotte decided it would be best to donate everything from the house to charity.


The remaining chore was the hardest. Charlotte sat on the floor trying to decide what to do with the remaining stacks of old pictures and assorted mementos from her family’s shared past. A few years ago, her brother John had consolidated all the family photos into individual thumb drives and gave them to everyone for Christmas. It was a great present; everyone loved it. But the hard copies, the original pictures, lost their significance. Reproduced and always available, somehow made them less compelling.


                She piled everything into a big box; photos of the family from the 1950s through the 1990s, travel souvenirs, old report cards, letters from her dad to her mom when he was stationed at Fort Dix during basic training. The photos had a brittle shiny look that digital couldn’t convey. Some were wrinkled, stained, missing a corner. Most of them had the date and the event commemorated on the back in her mom’s perfect cursive. Pre-Facebook status updates without the option to “Like.”

If there were any grandchildren, Charlotte would pass the box on to them and let them figure out what to do with it. She was exhausted by the cleaning, packing, and yardwork it took to get the house in good enough shape to sell. Her tolerance for these duties was at its end. Maybe she’d just throw everything away.

Charlotte picked up a photo of her family next to a Christmas tree with piles of presents beneath it. Her long dead grandparents were in the photo too. Everyone was smiling except for her grandfather. She flipped it over. “Christmas, 1973.” Charlotte stared at her grandmother. She had forgotten how much her mom looked like her when she got old. She tossed the photo back into the box on top of the pile. There were probably 300 photos.

                Charlotte suddenly recalled an afternoon shopping with a girlfriend on Abbott-Kinney after a tipsy lunch in Venice. There were so many retail stores in the neighborhood that a window display had to be significantly outré to lure customers inside. Charlotte was staring a collection of corn husk dolls spray-painted silver when her friend grabbed her arm and dragged her to the next window.

                “Charlotte, you’ve got to look at this,” she said. “It’s crazy. Who are all these people? Or the real question, who were all these people?”

                In the store window, artfully scattered on a black velvet fabric, were dozens of old snapshots of the dead in open caskets. Men in suits with white hair and rouged cheeks, women dressed up like they were going out to a fancy dinner. A little boy in a small white coffin, his head resting on a blue tufted satin pillow. Everybody’s eyes were closed, their mouths set in neutral positions. Charlotte was incredulous.

                “This window wins,” Charlotte said, laughing. “This is really fucked up. Who throws out family photos, and better yet, who collects them?”

                Charlotte stared at the box of her family photos. She wished she hadn’t remembered that store window. Now she couldn’t throw any of this stuff away. She’d drop it off at John’s house before she left to Mexico, then pick it back up and store it alongside her boxes of things she couldn’t throw away back at her house in Los Angeles. Everything that made up a life, everything a person was could be packed away into a box and stored the basement. It was depressing.

                There was a knock at the front door. Charlotte decided not to answer it. The knock became more insistent. Charlotte continued to ignore it. Whoever was at her front door was now actually pounding on it. This made Charlotte so angry that she jumped up and ran to the front door.

“This had better be an emergency,” she said, jerking the door open. It was Jenny.

Charlotte stared at her without saying a word. Jenny crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. Charlotte looked at her garishly tattooed arms and her long hair, dyed a hard, bright red. She was dressed like her teenaged daughters, in jeans deliberately torn at the knees and a tight tee shirt with the slogan “What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas,” written in glitter across the front.

“I’m not doing this with you,” said Charlotte. “Go home. I’m leaving next week.”

“Good for you,” Jenny said. “I’m not going to miss you. We aren’t exactly friends. In fact, I can’t stand you, never could. Can I come in? I don’t want the neighbors to see us.”

“Hell no,” Charlotte said. “I’m not kidding. I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, it’s over. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Do you think I’m worried about you taking Danny from me?” Jenny laughed. “You still think you’re hottest thing around, don’t you? Haven’t you grown up yet? Oh, right, you haven’t. You aren’t married. You don’t even have any kids. You’re the same as you were in high school. But now everyone else is an adult.”

“Just because I didn’t have a litter of kids doesn’t mean I’m not an adult,” Charlotte snapped. “It just means I’m better at birth control. Seriously, go away. I have things I need to do before I leave. I don’t want to talk about anything with you. Move on. I have.”

 “Well, here’s the thing,” Jenny said. “Danny’s going with you.”

“No,” Charlotte said. “He isn’t. You guys have four kids and you don’t work. You need him. If I were you, I’d just pretend it never happened. I don’t love him. It was just a thing.” She turned around to go back inside, but Jenny grabbed her arm. Charlotte looked around to see if any of the neighbors were watching. They probably were. Thank god she was getting out of here soon.

“Listen Charlotte,” Jenny said. “Danny’s going with you. I don’t care where the fuck you go, but get the hell out of here. Did you think I didn’t know what was happening between you and Danny? Do you think I’m that stupid? Everyone in town knows. I’m glad you two found each other again. I’ve been wanting a divorce for years.”

Charlotte clenched her fists and dug her fingernails into her palms. “Look Jenny,” she said. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking or what I was doing. This whole thing with Mom was freaking me out. I’m really sorry. I told Danny it was over after my Mom died.” She blinked back tears.  Charlotte covered her face with her hands as tears ran down her cheeks. She was appalled that she was crying in front of Jenny, but she couldn’t stop.

“By the way, I’m sorry about your mom,” Jenny said.

Fire Sign by Dalmatia Flemming

Fire Sign by Dalmatia Flemming


Marty simultaneously ironed his professional looking white shirt while carefully eating his English muffin covered with peanut butter and raisins.  Tricky, but he was good at it.  The shirt was part of his work “uniform”. But this had not always been his uniform.  At one time his uniform was a Firefighter’s suit.


Yes, Marty used to be a Firefighter.  It was his dream ever since age 2.  And he actually achieved it.  It was no easy task to become a Firefighter.  Marty was building up to this for years.  He worked as an Emergency Medical Technician for a while.  After this experience, he was able to become a Paramedic.  He also took courses in fire technology and volunteered his time at a burn camp for children.  Everything Marty did was to prepare him to get that job, the Firefighter job.


He was so excited when he got the job offer and his parents were very proud of him.  It was everything he thought it would be.  The job was great for about five years.  Then he felt his performance diminishing.  And his supervisor noticed as well.


Marty hung up his freshly ironed shirt, put his plate in the sink and headed for the shower.  The water was hot, as hot as his skin could stand.  The bathroom filled with steamy air.  Marty took deep breaths … slowly … in … and … out….  The heat, that’s what he liked best.


Marty thought back to when he was a child.  In the days before neighborhood recycling, it was his chore to take the paper garbage to the downstairs rec-room fireplace and burn it.  Marty loved this chore.  It was his weekly ritual; pick up the large box of stick matches, slide the box open, select a match, close the box, then strike the match.  That smell … oh how he loved that smell.  We would watch the flame consume and work its way down the match stick.  Then at the very last minute, before he burned his fingers, he would place the match in just the right spot.  Although Marty had easily mastered the one-match-fire while on camping trips with his family, he would light a few more matches, repeating the process.  Marty would watch the fire, mesmerized, until it went out.  He never tried to put the fire out early, he always let it burn itself out.  That was the most satisfying feeling.


Marty emerged from the shower and proceeded to get ready for work.


He liked his new life, not being a Firefighter.  His new work still incorporated his favorite things.  He was already in good physical shape from being a Firefighter, so when he decided to take an “Intro to Circus Arts” class, he got a job offer before the class was even over.  But he turned that offer down.  Because that class was just a prerequisite for the “Fire Arts” class.


Marty did some part-time gig work as a Circus Fire Artist.  He found that he liked performing, something that he never realized about himself.  It was very satisfying.  But not as satisfying as his “day” job.


Marty put on his white shirt and left for “the office”.  Actually, the white shirt was just part of his uniform. He only had to wear it in the office area.  It was a formal and solemn place and everyone was expected to look and behave in a respectful manner.  Marty primarily worked downstairs.


After greeting his fellow co-workers, Marty headed downstairs.  He took off his freshly ironed white shirt, carefully hung it up and changed into his overalls.


There was the large furnace.  Gazing upon it, Marty was overcome with a sense of calm.  Marty went over to the staging area where he found this work orders for the day.  “Three women, maybe I’ll get out early today” Marty thought.


The first one had a pace-maker.  Marty cut into her chest and removed it.  He placed her body in the thin wood container, opened the furnace door and slid her body inside.  Marty turned on the furnace.  He sat and watched though the viewing window, mesmerized.

Lollie and Mack—by Elaine Bonow


“I really don’t do too well this time of the year, do I?” Lollie said to herself. She went into the kitchen, grabbed the bottle of half-finished ten-dollar Pinot Gregio and poured herself a glass right to the top. She looked at the clock. It read 5:27. She stood over by the big kitchen window which looked out over Lake Washington and watched the dismal grey day fade into black.

Lollie always felt this way at Halloween. She thought it might be a rupture into a past life as a druid or some follower of the Cult of Persephone. Each October she physically felt as if she was being dragged down into the depths of Hades, where she was doomed to live for part of the year, in her black stone castle surrounded by those hideous black Popular trees.

“Oh shit, here I go again sinking into a depression. It’s especially bad since Mack died.” Lollie drank a goodly portion of the chilled wine. “I wish I could shake this feeling. I wish I could talk to someone about this, someone like Mack.” She stood lost in thought for a few seconds and thought that the Pinot would have to be her boon companion.

Because of the remote location of the house, almost like the black house of Hades, Trick or Treaters rarely made it down the driveway. She settled down and opened a bag of Halloween Milky Way miniatures. She thought back to that terrible day when Mack came home from an unscheduled doctor’s appointment.

“What’d he say Mack?”

“Well baby, the news is not good. You’d better sit down. It’s cancer.”

Lollie felt as she had been slammed in the stomach. Their lives up to this point had been easy with no major setbacks no problems really. “Oh dear, this isn’t just a…a…”

“I’m sorry Lollie. I didn’t want this to happen to us.”

“I know, but it’s not a death sentence. You can get cured. After all, this is the twenty-first century.”

“Doc Baldwin thinks it is very treatable. But there is no magic bullet.”

“Well, I’m going to hope for the best.” And hope they did. Mack went in for all the standard treatments and in a longish while he improved and their hope was full filled.

It was a year and a half ago when Mack had a small accident. It was nothing really. He tripped and fell going down the front stairs. At first it seemed that he had only twisted his ankle. Lollie made him ice bags, elevated his leg and wrapped it just like it said to do on the WebMD Internet page for a simple sprain.

Mack fussed about all the fussing Lollie was doing insisting that she was over reacting to a stupid accident. But the ankle got worse, more swollen and inflamed. He could barely use his leg. He would scream aloud from the pain whenever he had to put any weight on it.

They both decided to go back to the doctor. His doctor insisted on admitting him into the hospital immediately. The efficient nurse installed an IV and pumped him full of morphine. Lollie installed herself in the bedside chair and awaited the arrival of Doc Baldwin who both Mack and Lollie called Baldy behind his back.

“One year ago, almost to the hour.” Lollie said aloud. The TV was busy talking to itself on the cooking channel with the sound on mute. Bright tattooed choreographed hopefuls were fussing with cupcake frosting that looked like uneatable pseudo monsters while skinny mean mugging models tasted a morsel of cake balanced on one tine of a fork.

Lollie turned the channel and drank some more wine. Just because she could she put a fake log into the fireplace and lit the paper until it flared up. “Ah, that’s better even though it’s just the start of the darkness.” Sitting back watching the flames she continued the path into her bittersweet past. “Oh Mack, how I miss you so much now that you are gone for good.”

Baldy’s diagnosis was bleak this time hopeless really. In the past cancer treatment Mack had already been radiated until he just about glowed in the dark. No amount of medical Marijuana or as it is now referred to as medical Cannabis helped him through the devastating effects of chemotherapy. Lollie always thought of Chernobyl when Mack had to go in for treatment. “Here we go to Chernobyl,” she would tell him trying to make him laugh.

Baldy was straight forward, “I could promise you a miraculous cure Mack. I could keep you both hopeful that if you took this, drank that, tried the same treatment that Jimmy Carter did, and he is still alive mind you. But with this invading species I would be prolonging the inevitable. What I want you two to do is agree on the future and how you want your lives to be.”

The next six months were a special gift for the two of them. They existed on an extraordinary plateau and unlike others they had some precious time to reflect. It was a space for Mack between life and death and Lollie was his special guest. They became closer than they had ever been and even closer in intuition. She could read his thoughts like she was reading written words. When he passed she was the specially chosen handmaiden ushering him into the great beyond.

“Has it been a whole year?” Lollie sighed. “What was it he told me?”

“Lollie, I don’t have much time but I need to tell you something.” He never got around to telling her. The days darkened and Mack died on October 31st.

Lollie finished the Pinot Grige turned the TV off and turned herself into bed. As usual, absolutely no Trick or Treaters this year so the bags of candy stayed intact except for the three, miniature Milky Way wrappers dropped by her feet. The fire embers were controlling their burning as they were programmed to do.

Lollie stumbled into slumber. Just before the late dawn of the Day of The Dead, Lollie was awakened from a dream. Mack’s voice loud and clear said, “You’ve got to make easy hard and hard easy.”

Lollie realized that this message was what Mack wanted to tell her so long ago. She didn’t know what it all meant but was so happy to know that he was still with her and she wouldn’t be alone anymore.



Get Down – by Tom

“Come on Corny. I just want some company.  I’ll make sure it’s worth your time.”  He could not decide whether to characterize her hushed cajoling as cooing or purring.

“I don’t know Lulu.  I had an appointment to pick up some stuff.  It could take a while.”

“What – some Dr. Green?”

“Maybe.  I’ve been trying to arrange this meeting for five days.  He doesn’t have voicemail, never calls me back, doesn’t show.  You know how it goes.  I am hopeful he will show tonight.”

“Aww, Corny, I’ll get you high . . . and more.”  Definitely cooing.  Lulu’s cooing to me.  Two weeks, two phone calls.  What is it she needs?  Am I dreaming? She needs me for something. Again.

“Corny, honey, I need some fun, need some company.”

“That’s what you said last week.  And then . . . “

Last week she had woken him from a deep slumber, the slumber that follows days of work, sleeping at the office,  endless caffeine and pep pills.  His head still hurt. She had told him she wanted to have some fun, lured him over saying she had a couple of friends coming and maybe they could all party, could get down.  She actually said that, certainly in a provocative way.  He did not think he had misinterpreted that..

Well, the lure of Lulu and some friends of hers getting down had most definitely awakened his imagination. It had set it on fire.  Exhausted as he was he found instant energy.  Visions of a scandalously gorgeous and delectable evening to come, a fantasy come to life, Lulu and some of her friends, lady friends he had presumed.   He was so excited it was hard to stop at the series of  red lights he encountered on the way to her place.

Cornelius remembered thinking the early fall night was uncommonly beautiful.  Warm September night, all still, perfect.  He was young, soon to be rich (if his options and the eventual IPO were to be believed), and going to make it with a most unusual and cool  woman and some of her friends.  Yes, he had said to himself “make it.”  He managed to avoid a speeding ticket as he headed south on Aurora.

Then, when he get over there,  he finds Lulu hanging out with two guys.  Boys really, looked like maybe they had never shaved.  Real pale clear skin.  The two of them were dressed all in blue denim.  I was understandably surprised to find out they were the friends Lulu had mentioned.

“A misunderstanding baby.  I thought you would enjoy playing with those boys and me.”

“When you said we could get down, me and your friends, I took you to mean women and not guys, boys.  You got me over there on false pretences, and ones that kind of shook me up.  You really think that’s my kind of scene?”

“Girls or boys.  Whatever Corny, fun is fun.  I thought you were more open minded.  I’m sure you would have sparkled.  Perhaps some performance anxiety?”

“Oh please Lulu.”

Their names were Peter and Paul for fuck’s sake.  He liked to think of himself as open, but this was beyond bounds.  He had a hard time thinking about sex for days.  Am I uptight? It is not like I threw a fit.  He hung around for some exceedingly uncomfortable portions of an hour.  Then she kissed him, and he looked up at the boys and their denim and their dilated eyes, blank stares – even when they looked at Lulu, and everything in him just shriveled up.  Definitely turned off.

“Aw Corny.  I’ll make it up to you.  I promise.  Just me over here tonight.  I want to have some fun.  Something a little more hushed.  Plus, I have something to show you.”

“Show me?”

“Corny, dear.  No one else is here.  I promise.  No surprises, or, well, none involving gorgeous skinny young men.  Just you and me.”

He sighed.  “I’ll be right over.”  He put the phone on the hook, grabbed his keys and headed out the door.


Lulu sighed in disappointment.

“It wasn’t you dear.  I had just been hoping for something, bigger.”  She looked at him out of the corner of her eye.  “Not that you aren’t big enough, she patted him on the knee.  But I was hoping for something out of this world, transcendent, wider, explosive.”

He had gathered that from the arrangement of green stones on the floor of her studio.  They had performed their tableau in the center of it all.  An inverted pentagram would not have slowed him down once he got there and determined that Lulu was indeed without further male accompaniment.  The arrangement on the floor amounted to a convoluted circle, candles to the outside for lighting.

“We’ll have to try again, soon.  Maybe a different arrangement, or outside, or just more directly on the ground.  I don’t know.”

“It didn’t work with Peter and Paul?”

“Oh Corny, they had something, materially, you don’t have.  And I traded with them some things both far greater in value and of much less import to you.

He found, not too surprisingly, that he was quite content, even if she was disappointed.  It had been a great night.  He had not let her down.  If she wanted to try again, soon, well, he’d definitely be down for giving it a try.

“Maybe we need to do it in the road?”  He looked at her, smiled, reached for her.

“Sorry honey.  Our research for this cycle is complete.  Let’s go – I’ll buy you a juice, or some coffee, or something.  I’m thirsty.”


Meanwhile, about 150 miles as a crow might fly – if a crow flew in a straight line over the Cascade crest from Seattle to Winthrop, or about 240 miles as a road wanders, Lucille and Fred and Lage were driving east into Winthrop looking for a cop or a phone.

After getting out of the rain and deciding to head to Mazama or Winthrop to get help for their hypothermic hitch-hiker they had been accosted by two large women driving Fred’s truck so shamelessly that the the alarm was still going, even after the truck had chased, then eventually forced, their car to the side of the road.

One of the truck’s passengers casually hopped out, all dressed in camouflage hunting gear, a head topped with a big mop of curly hair that was barely contained by her orange ball cap.

“Sorry to bother you folks – and yes, sir, this is your truck.  We have no issue with you, no issues at all.  We are looking for that fellow you have sitting there in the back seat.  Paul honey, is that you?  Time for us to take you home.”

Fred started to say something.  The woman shushed him.  Then thought better of it: “can you turn off this alarm? All this noise is really starting to ruin the taste of my donuts.”

Fred turned to Lucille, with a look of great disbelief, anger, and fear, then walked to his truck and disarmed the alarm.  The shrill beeping came to a halt.

All stood still for a moment, the slushy rain snow mix falling silently, a breeze finally stirred them.

It was Paul who spoke first, “where’s Pete?”

“He’s back in town.  We’ll take you to meet him.  Get you some dry clothes.  You look so thin, especially naked and all.  I bet that blanket is kind of scratchy.”

Fred, recovering some of his bearing, started to speak, but the other creature – the driver of his truck, appeared next to him.

“Don’t worry at all,” Doreen said, “here – have a donut.  We know you are both from Seattle, at least if the registrations you have in your vehicles are up to date.  We will return the truck to you tomorrow with a full tank of gas and a repaired steering column.”

Now it was Lucille’s turn to try and speak, and to be hushed, and to quietly accept a rapidly cooling and wilting apple fritter.

“Yes ma’am, that is right.  We looked through both cars.  There’s no way Doreen and I would fit in your car.  Plus, all that thing has is a shitty little lawn mower engine.  It would have been much harder to track Paulie here down in that contraption.”

“Yeah,” Doreen added, “plus there’s a hole in the floor.  How does anyone stay dry or warm in that thing?”

“Anyway,” said Millicent, chunkily through the morass of coffee and donut in her still very full mouth, “c’mon Paulie, we need to go.”

“And no, Fred, we will not be offering any more of an explanation. And yes, you will have to take our word for the return of the truck.  We have your extra key, your home address, the weed you had hidden in with the spare.  Sorry this has been difficult, but all we really want is Paulie, and you will only make things worse by foolishly attempting to slow us down.”

“So,” said Millicent, “have we got a deal?”

Even the dog, Lage, seemed awestruck by the strangeness of the scene, the assumed authority of these two big donut chewing women.  Only Paul seemed unfazed by what he was hearing.  And the words he had spoken to the two women from the truck were the only ones he had said since they found him.

“Paul, where are your clothes?” asked Doreen, the acquiescence of the others assumed.

Paul went and fished them out of Lucille’s subaru.  He turned and nodded at Lucille and Fred, handed the blanket to Lucille and turned, naked and immodest, barefoot in the cold and wet, walked over and climbed into the truck.

“Don’t waste your time trying to follow us.  That shitty little Subaru will never keep up with the truck.  And, let’s just say we will not be nearly as courteous if we happen to run into each other again.”

“Plus, what would you do if you caught us?” said Millicent.

Doreen and Millicent laughed heartily at this.  Doreen almost choked on her donut, Millicent pounded her on the back as they turned and walked to the truck.

With that, they hopped into Fred’s truck and drove off.  By now Lucille and Fred and the dog were colder, wetter, and even more tired, and in some kind of shock.

“Is this really happening?” Lucille asked.

An hour later they pulled into Winthrop.  While Fred called the police from the gas station, and they waited, Lucille climbed in the car and looked in the back seat where Paul had been sitting.  Nothing obvious.  She pulled up the seat, thinking the last thing she needed was the guy – Paul – dumping some kind of stash he was trying to keep from his pursuers (Millicent?  really?) and then having to explain it to the cops if they decided to hassle her and Fred.

Nothing much there, except some shiny green rocks.  Nothing dazzling.  They might have been there prior to all of this madness.  Nevertheless, she picked them up and put them in her pocket, returned to the front seat idly rolling them over in her hand as she sat there, rejoined by Fred and Lage, and waited for the State Patrol.

What Kind of Place Is This?—Clark Humphrey

It seems like we’ve been driving forever, but it’s only been an hour and 45 minutes on the minivan’s dash clock. I’m still weezy from whatever knockout drug the girl had slipped me. Would she like it if some guy did that to her? (Maybe, with what little she’s told me about her own life, some guy had. She sure seems to have had a rough life in any event.)

And what’s her interest in keeping me in the custody of these people anyway? And what do they want with me to begin with? She’s been silent about that in the back seat of this minivan during this drive.

In the front seat, the woman the girl calls “Pseudo Mom” is at the wheel. The man the girl calls Pseudo Mom’s business partner is riding shotgun. Pseudo Mom is also mostly silent, except when she occasionally feels the need to stop the man beside her from starting or resuming grumbling arguments with the man in the middle seat. He’s the man I’d originally delivered the other car to, a little over 24 hours ago that seems like a million years. He’s wearing a different slightly oversized suit jacket with matching slacks, and a different loose fitting shirt. He’s got about as little beard stubble as I’ve got; but the chin and cheekbones it’s on look, in profile, narrow, even slightly dainty. He and the man in the front seat sure seem to have a lot of past history with each other. Off and on all along this drive, they’ve been grumbling to each other about past events and present character flaws. The man in the middle seat says at one point that becoming who he is (whatever that means) had nothing directly to do with getting away from the man in the front seat; it’s just that he’d really needed to do both.

At least two or three times this trip, the woman beside this man in the middle seat (the same woman who’d been with him when I first met him) nudged him with her right elbow. On one of those occasions, she quietly but sternly reprimanded him for his attitude. She “reminded” him that theirs was supposed to be a spiritual journey, one of unity and positivity. He simply grumbled some inarticulate-to-me cuss words.

I’d long since given up any hope or illusion that these people would get me home, or in the direction of home, or that they even wanted to. They seem to have an agenda for me. Even if they won’t tell me what it is, beyond code words about “the induction” and “the great ascending.”

Even now that we’ve gotten here. Wherever “here” is.

The minivan didn’t have its GPS unit on, if it had one. We’d stayed away from any freeways, going down a succession of wide and narrow county roads. The window on my side kept getting steamed up, no matter how many times I tried to wipe it off with my hands and sleeves. Even when I could see outside, from that window or from the front, I didn’t see much that would say where we were at. An endless stream of roads, trees, wheat and corn fields, houses, gas stations, mini marts, ugly modern grade schools, roadside burger joints and wine bars, main streets of small towns I’d never heard of with signs promoting the local Rotary Club, rustic old churches that reminded me of my church back home, signs for a corn maze and U-pick pumpkins, few other cars, fewer other people.

The minivan’s audio system played a CD of New Age instrumentals that were, I guess, supposed to be “chill out” material. When that ended, Pseudo Mom stuck in some generic drum n’ bass, which the girl beside me visibly preferred. She boogied in her seat belt the rest of the way to here.

“Here” is a large, more or less circular, clearing with trees on all sides, at the end of another gravel road. Other vehicles had been parked here before we arrived, and more have arrived since.

The driving machines here include generic late-model sedans and pickups; one beater VW bus with a “burning man” logo decal; a couple of luxury cars with rainbow-flag bumper stickers; an old beater Volvo; a few Priuses (“Pri-i”?); and one short, converted, and repainted former school bus.

The people from some of these vehicles have built “tailgate party”-like food and drink setups. Some of them are relatively elaborate, with gas BBQ grills cooking chicken and hot dogs (some of them “veggie dogs”) under awnings on tent poles in case of rain (which has been off and on all day), with camper coolers full of beer and soft drink cans on ice. Others simply serve coffee from big cardboard dispenser boxes and bags of Doritos from the backs of station wagons. I’ve taken advantage of these people’s hospitality, drinking a lot of coffee (with a lot of sugar) and eating just about anything I can. (My mother always said I was a typical teenage boy with “a bottomless stomach.” I devoured big dinner portions, while she was on one fad diet after another and my big sister was on one “socially conscious” eating regimen after another.)

Around some of the other vehicles people seem to be having shots of liquor or pre-mixed cocktails, popping who knows what kinds of pills, smoking cannabis joints, doing simple exercises and yoga poses, greeting one another with hugs and kisses and (in a couple of cases) serious making out.

There are about 40 or 50 people here now. They look like a cross section of everyone my former pastor said would be going to Hell, and then some. There are 70-year-old hippies with long gray hair. Middle aged punks and “burners.” Young ravers and (white and Asian) hip hoppers. Gays, lesbians, and who-knows-whats. A few “normal looking” people, who seem to be the biggest joint smokers. Very few children, mostly under-fives. There’s even one Black couple here, looking way overdressed. I think I see some of the people I’d seen in that alley the second night of this misadventure. But since it was so dark there back then, I’m not sure.

One to four at a time, they’re closing down whatever they’ve been doing at their own or other people’s vehicles. They walk up another gravel road at the back end of this clearing. This particular place seems to be just a parking lot for whatever’s back there, hidden by the trees and the late-afternoon fog.

Soon enough, the two women from the minivan announce it’s time for us to head in and get ready (for what?). The two men follow them. The girl does likewise, physically pushing me from the back to walk off with them.

I don’t have to walk far before we turn a curve in the path and I see where we’re going. It’s a large tent, like the ones my old pastor used to hold revival meetings in. Some people are carrying benches and outdoor propane heaters into it.

Beside the front of the tent, a woman in a multi-colored robe (a “coat of many colors”, as it were) waves to our group. She looks familiar somehow.

Wait: I know.

No. It can’t be.

No. It is.

What is SHE doing here? And for that matter, what am I doing here?—Clark Humphrey

Outside the tent, the sky’s changing quickly from overcast to just dark.

Here inside the tent, what light we’ve been getting from the outside is fading, leaving candles and generator-powered lamps.

This is all going way too quickly, too intensely.

It’s amazingly loud in here.

Even more amazingly, what had been a cacophony of disparate noises is meshing in my brain into a single, somehow harmonious, blend, like some avant garde symphony.

It gets more intense every minute.

At its base line, there’s a sampled track of “chillout” electronic music, with a steady thumping beat, coming from a portable sound system.

In the aisles, women in clothing ranging from flowing white robes to almost nothing are rolling and writhing, screaming and moaning.

In the back of the tent, various people are dancing, swaying, and kissing. Some of them might even be having sex back there, but I can’t see that far in the increasing dark.

On the benches, people are standing or lying down. Almost nobody’s sitting except some of the 70-year-old hippies. They’re howling and chanting and “om”-ing.

I’m trying my hardest to stay attentive, alert, sane, untaken by this. Almost everything my church upbringing taught me to hate is here before my unbelieving eyes.

Just in front of me, at the front of the little stage platform, the leader of this “induction service” shouts and sings her “sermon” points.

She talks about “the great contradiction that isn’t really a contradiction. We heighten the sensory feelings in our bodies, so we can escape this bodily realm. To some, that would seem wrong. Many people have been programmed to believe the body is the evil opposite of the spirit and of the mind. But really, the more we use our bodies to resonate, to vibrate, at the higher frequencies of pure ecstasy, the closer we get to the next level of reality, where we depart this dying world, these frail bodies. Becoming beings of pure vibration, pure sensation. That’s how the Mayans, the Toltecs, the Atlantians, and so many other past civilizations rose from this realm of existence. They re-tuned themselves to a higher frequency. Like them, we will shed this world of oppression and disease.

“Oh, the remaining inhabitants of the Earth will look for us. But all they’ll find are our discarded clothes, our wigs, our false teeth, our pacemakers, our artificial knees, our breast implants, and our jewelry. Our bodies will be gone, to another frequency of existence, where they will be perfected.

“Some of the remaining inhabitants of the Earth will ask why we ‘were taken’ instead of them. They’d been obedient rote followers of an authoritarian religion, an authoritarian politics. They’d repressed themselves and oppressed others. They’d enslaved themselves to the almighty dollar, while they ruined the planet, the source of all material wealth. Their reward will be to inhabit this world as it becomes ever more uninhabitable.

But we—the freaks, the queers, the woke, the enlightened, the sensuous, the untamed women, the caring men, the non-binaries, the true artists, the lovers, the righteous rebels, the people who give a shit about one another—we are, all of us, whether we all know it yet or not, taking a journey to the next level.

“And that journey, my beloveds, starts tonight.”

The DJ running the electronic-music feed presses a key on his keyboard, and a sound of a dozen bells pealing comes out of the sound system. Some of the people in the tent raise their voices to cheer; others keep doing the different things they’re doing with an extra burst of passion.

I get a sense that a few of these people are looking at me. I’m seated on a bench at the back of the stage. I’ve been dressed in a bright flowing robe that’s tied up in the back. Even weirder, the girl who’s come here with me is dressed the same. I still haven’t been told what I’m expected to do.

The woman at the front of the stage starts talking again.

“To achieve the final jump, we need to add more people resonating the new frequencies from out of different old frequencies, different patterns. More nationalities. More races. More subcultures.More genders. More sexualities. As different and disparate as Humanity herself!” More pre-recorded bells. More cheers.

“Within this quest, I offer to you: our new inductee. Someone who may be different from any of you. A person of youth, of limited experience in life. A straight, cis, white male; but not a co-conspirator in the culture of oppression. A person of empathy and compassion. A person of curiosity, of moral purity, if a little timid.”

My growing suspicions are confirmed when this woman walks back to take my hand and lead me forward. She reaches in back of me, makes a slight adjustment to the back of my robe, and lets it fall to the stage floor. I hurriedly cover myself with my hands. The people at the benches, women and men alike, cheer and applaud.

I’m so self conscious, it takes almost a minute before I notice the girl is now standing beside me, now also undressed. I try not to look at her body, which (except for one strange looking tattoo below one breast) is extremely attractive. I also try not to look at her face, which is rapt in some (drug induced?) daze; she’s got a glassy-eyed stare and a dangerous looking smile.

The strangely harmonious blend of noises fades into the background of my mind, affecting me subliminally in some way.

My self-consciousness soon changes to other feelings. I try to think of anything but where I am now. I try to think of stupid, nonsensical, obsessive things to stop the weird emotions and sensations that are taking me over.

Was I drugged again, when I ate from the tailgate picnics outside here? Maybe in the “sugar” I’d put into my coffee?

If I was, It’s pretty obvious what one of the drugs was. My hands can no longer hide its effect. I turn my back to the other participants.

But as I do this, the girl catches my eye.

I find I can’t look away from her.

My mind becomes a distant spectator, as my body acts on its own.

It reaches a hand out to the girl. It embraces her, then caresses, then gropes her all over. It then fondles her breasts with one hand and her lower spot with the other.

My powerless mind wonders: So now I know why I’ve been brought here, why I’ve been put through everything that’s happened in these short few days. But for what purpose? Is my public mating with the girl really supposed to bring about some sort of alternative Rapture? But that can’t possibly happen. But if I believe, or at least used to believe, in the regular Evangelical notion of the Rapture, what’s really so different about this version?

But do I want to help bring the end of the world? No, I don’t. But what can I do about it? I can’t even control my own body now.

She’s fondling and groping me now. Her left hand caresses my lower back, while her right hand caresses my lower front.

My eyes stare into hers, relentlessly.

So relentlessly, I believe I briefly see her slipping me a secret wink.

Suddenly, she pulls her hands away from my lower body and grabs my right hand.

She pulls me behind her as she runs out of the tent.

The people in the tent don’t seem to be paying any attention as we flee, both of us still undressed.

She leads me down a curving trail in back of the tent, toward another clearing in these woods.

I see rustic but permanent wood buildings. Long, one-story cabins. A chapel. Another parking lot, with a couple of yellow buses parked.

We run past a carved, painted wood sign, like the ones in national forests.

“Camp Philomath.”

I’ve arrived at the place my mom thinks I’ve already been at.

Tale of a Tux – Dalmatia Flemming

Tale of a Tux – Dalmatia Flemming


“Fifteen, do I hear 15 … this is your LAST CHANCE to have YOUR pet on the February calendar for the 2017 Animal Society Foundation’s calendar.  All other months have been sold … this is your LAST CHANCE … 15 going once … 15 going twice … SOLD for $1,400.00 to number 270!

Hannah could not believe she could be so impulsive.

The auctioneer approached Hannah and shoved a mic in her face, “And who is the lucky pet” he ask.”

“Alex, the tuxedo cat.”

“Well, congratulations Alex!”


The big photo shoot day had arrived.  The day before, Hannah gave Alex a good brushing.  He was looking good, but then Alex always looked good.

The photo shoot was a breeze.  Alex was his usual charming and easy-going self.  The photographer got some great photos of him:  Alex in front of the bookcases – he seemed to instinctively know how to look like a Professor, some against a greenish-yellow wall – he rolled around like he was high on cat nip and a member of Andy Warhol’s factory, and some by the window with a city view behind him – now looking like Alex the World Traveler.  The photographer said she had never worked with a pet as mutable as Alex and thought he had real star quality.  Hannah ordered calendars for everyone she knew as a Holiday present.


Ellen’s raucous party was winding down.  Jeff, her co-worker brought his girlfriend Sienna who was now three-quarters smashed.  Struggling to put on her coat while coincidentally standing face to face with the calendar on the wall, she said “look at this cat, who is he!? … Oh wait … it’s a calendar … like you’re going to know who the cat is.”

“Well, actually I do.  It’s my friend’s cat.”

“I’ll email you on Monday.  You know, I’m a Specialty Modeling Agent.  I think I have work for this cat.”

“Ok, I’ll look for it.”  Like that’s ever going to happen, Ellen silently mused.  She’s too drunk to remember.

Sure enough, on Monday morning, Ellen sees and email from Sienna.  And it’s quite intelligible.  Ellen forwards it to her friend Hannah.


Hannah reads the email and thinks back to what the photographer had said the day of the photo shoot, that Alex had real star quality.  She remembered how fun that day was …wouldn’t it be a hoot to retire and act as Alex’s agent?  Hannah fired off an email to Sienna as Alex lounged in the window, unaware of what might lie ahead ….



Part 4 – Ordinary


                Charlotte jerked awake. The bedroom was hot. Her bedspread was streaked with horizontal stripes, black and yellow, black and yellow. Nervous and sleepy, she rolled over on her back and held her hand up in front of blinds, interrupting the symmetry of the shadows. She looked at the clock, jumped out of bed, and put on her robe.


                “Jesus, it’s past noon,” she said.  “How did it get so late? I have to go check on Mom.”


                Charlotte tiptoed down the hall to her mom and dad’s bedroom. Though her dad had been dead for over 10 years, she still expected to see his work clothes draped on the chair next to his side of the bed. She opened the door, and peered in. Her mom’s eyes fluttered open, adjusting to the bright light.  She looked at Charlotte and smiled.


                “Emily, you’re here,” she said. “Let’s go swimming today. I’m glad it’s summer vacation.”


                Charlotte walked over and picked up her mom’s hand. It was so light now, papery and frail. Since her mom’s stroke, her toes and fingers, arms and legs, were curling in on themselves. She looked at Charlotte, her smile fading. “Who are you?” she asked.


                “I’m your daughter Charlotte, Mom,” she answered, smoothing her thin grey hair off her forehead. She felt warm from the afternoon heat. “I’m going to get you lunch now.” Charlotte shook out the blanket and sheet, and draped them lightly over her mom’s thin body. She fluffed up her pillows and saw she needed more water. “Do you want water or juice with lunch Mom?” she asked.


                “But I’m not hungry now,” her mom said. “It’s not time to eat yet. I’m not even hungry.” Charlotte had gotten used to this by now. It was upsetting at first. Her Mom had lost so much weight that Charlotte was worried that she’d have to go on a feeding tube. Each weekly visit to the doctor, her mom had weighed progressively less.


                Her mom’s steady weight loss made Charlotte feel inadequate for the first time that she could remember. She could head up a studio marketing division, but wasn’t able to convince her mom to eat enough to keep from wasting away. Her appetite had diminished week by week. At last week’s doctor appointment Charlotte was frantic.


                “What should I feed her?” she asked the doctor. “She’s emaciated. She’s never hungry anymore. She won’t eat. I’ve tried everything. I make all the stuff she likes. I even make her cookies and pie for dinner just to get her to eat something. I’m the only one in the house gaining weight.”


                “Charlotte, it’s not your fault. She’s just slowing down,” the doctor said. “Her body is telling her what to do. I have a lot of patients who resist it after a severe stroke. In a way, she’s lucky that her Alzheimer’s is so far along. She doesn’t have to fight so hard anymore. She can finally relax.”


                He looked at Charlotte’s stricken face. “Your mom’s not scared,” he said gently. “You shouldn’t be either. After everything she’s been through, it’s inevitable. It’s not just your mom. We’re all going to get there sooner or later.” He held Charlotte’s hand and politely looked away while she cried.

                After that discussion with the doctor, Charlotte decided to let her mom do whatever she wanted. Eat or not eat. Get out of bed or stay in bed. Watch TV or stare at the ceiling. It was her choice. All Charlotte could do was make her as comfortable as she could. Still, she didn’t give up on the food.


                “I’ll be right back with lunch, Mom,” Charlotte said. She went to the kitchen and pulled out the chicken noodle soup she made last night. It was too hot for soup, but by the time she got some into her mom, the soup would probably be cold.


                She turned on the soup and popped four slices of bread in the toaster. Charlotte had forgotten how much she loved bread. Noodles too. Or basically everything that existed in the form of a processed carbohydrate. Lancaster might be a small town, but the bakery ratio per person was far greater than it was in Los Angeles. A person’s weight and BMI didn’t seem to be a such a huge issue either.


                When she was living in Los Angeles, Charlotte had avoided all processed carbs like she would avoid eating poison mushrooms or a piece of dog shit. She and her friends discussed food endlessly, how much they ate, how many calories they allowed themselves per day, their personal gluten situations, vegan versus vegetarian, and the all the food they would consume after a night out drinking.


                Some of her girlfriends talked incessantly about how much they regretted their situational promiscuity after drinking and ingesting assorted drugs during a night out. Not Charlotte. The only regrets Charlotte had after an uncivilized night were all the In-N-Out wrappers on the floor next to her bed the next morning. Sometimes she’d wake up to the guy she’d been out with the night before, and a handful of cold French fries in her bed.


                Over the years, Charlotte had developed a routine to deal with any binge-eating emergency. She would throw away wrappers and stray fries immediately, then get rid of her evening companion. After that, she’d drive to Santa Monica and run up and down Ocean Drive until her wrist tracker signaled she had burned 2,000 calories. If Charlotte was too tired or hung over to run it off, she would throw up in a trash can. She appreciated the fact that nobody in Los Angeles was surprised by much, including public vomiting. LA took a lot out of you, but if you were a certain kind of person it gave a lot back.


                Her toast popped up. Charlotte used her thumb and forefinger to get the pieces of hot bread out of the toaster and set them on a paper plate. She made two sandwiches, each with thick layer of peanut butter and the jam she had bought on Saturday at the farmer’s market. Charlotte ladled some soup into a small bowl and set it on her mom’s tray. As an afterthought, she grabbed a couple of snickerdoodles she made on Tuesday. She turned the stove down, and returned to her mom’s room.


                Charlotte set the tray on her mom’s lap, unfolded the napkin, and draped it around her thin neck above her loose nightgown. Her mom smiled at Charlotte, her eyes clear and happy. “Where have you been sweetheart?” she asked. “I’m hungry. Is that chicken noodle? That’s my favorite.”


                She reached for the spoon, but was unable to grasp it with her gnarled hand. Charlotte watched her struggle intently for a few minutes before she picked up the spoon. She blew on the warm soup and aimed it at her mom’s mouth. After several months, Charlotte was finally getting the hang of it. She managed to get her to eat half the bowl before her mom held up her hand. “I’m full now,” she said.


                “Do you want a cookie, Mom?” she asked. “Snickerdoodles. We used to make them when we were kids.” Her mom didn’t reply, but she ate both cookies. Crumbs were everywhere. Charlotte brushed them onto the tray.


                She watched curiously as Charlotte straightened up her bedside table and picked up stray items off the floor. “Are you married, dear?” she asked. “Do you have any children?’ Charlotte managed to suppress a laugh. She got into the bed and laid down next to her mom. She picked up her withered hand and held it.


                “Not yet Mom,” she said. “Why do ask? Are you afraid I’m going to be an old maid?” They both laughed. “It just seems like a nice lady like you should be married,” her mom said. “But you look a little old to be starting a family.”


                “You think I look old?” Charlotte asked. “Oh, now come on Mom, don’t tease me like that. I don’t look a day over 39 and we both know it. Remember my high school girlfriends? Now that is a grim looking group. I don’t look old.” Charlotte kissed her mom’s hand. “You aren’t worried about me, are you?” she asked. “I’m doing great. I’ve always done great.”


                “I know you’ve done well for yourself,” her mom said. “You moved all the way to that city alone and you made something of yourself. You’re the oldest, and me and your dad were always the hardest on you. You had to set an example for your sisters and brother. We’re really proud of you.”


                Charlotte stared at her, surprised. It had been a while since her last bout of lucidity, at least a few weeks. Maybe a month. “Thanks, Mom,” she said. “It means a lot to me for you to say that. I always thought you were disappointed with me, upset that I never got married and never had kids.”


                Her mom smiled at Charlotte. “How could I be disappointed with you, honey?” she asked. “You’re so sweet. Look at you, cleaning up after me. I’m so glad you here. I’ve missed bingo so much. It’s hot out, isn’t it? I hope the grocery store won’t be too hot this morning.” Her mom’s eyes fluttered. “I worry that the milk’s going to go bad in the car.” She closed her eyes and began to gently snore. Charlotte picked up her tray and closed the door softly behind her.


                She set her mom’s dishes in the sink and checked the soup. It was still warm, but not too hot. She got a couple of bowls, spoons, and dished everything up. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a couple of beers. Chicken noodle soup and beer. And cookies, don’t forget those cookies. She set everything on the tray, and headed for her room. She turned around, grabbed the sandwiches, and balanced them on the bowls. She thought briefly about getting some fruit, but the tray was full now. She would start eating fruit again, maybe vegetables too, when she moved back to Los Angeles.

                Charlotte walked down the hall to her room. She nudged the door open with her foot and set the tray down on her nightstand. She took off her robe and slid back into bed.


                “How’s your mom,” Danny asked. “Is she feeling OK?” He rolled over and pulled Charlotte close to him. She buried her face in his neck. He still had those broad football shoulders and long arms. Charlotte liked it when he wrapped his arms around her and held her until she fell asleep. It was either Danny or the fact that she wasn’t starving, but Charlotte was able to sleep for the first time in years.


                “She ate most of her lunch,” Charlotte said. “But she’s not doing very good. The doctor said she probably wouldn’t recover.” Her throat tightened and her eyes burned. She didn’t feel like discussing her mom with Danny right now. He was just too nice. Charlotte thought that things would have gone a lot better for him if he wasn’t so nice. Or if he hadn’t been so stupid. Charlotte found how surprisingly easy it was to use the words ‘stupid’ and ‘nice’ interchangeably.


                Charlotte wriggled out of Danny’s grasp and reached for her sandwich. “I love eating in bed,” she said, taking a bite over the tray. “You know how everybody is always so freaked out about eating in bed. I’m not. You can always brush out the crumbs or throw the sheets in the laundry if you really make a mess. I could never figure out what the big deal was.” She grabbed her bowl of soup. “Now something hot, that’s a little trickier,” she said. “Don’t bump into me, or you’ll get burned.”


                He pulled the tray up to his chest, and ate some soup. “This is good, Charlotte,” he said. “You’re a hell of a cook. I’d never figure you as a good cook. You look like the kind of person who always eats in restaurants.”


                “So I love a good cliché,” Charlotte said. “And I can’t pass this one up. ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ Have you heard that one yet?” She was interrupted by a sudden burst of yelling and screaming from across the street. She set her soup down, jumped out of bed, and peered out between the shades. She turned around and laughed.


                “It looks like your kids are fighting again,” she said. “Do they yell all day then quiet down at night? Or are they nocturnal, like raccoons? If they were like raccoons, that would explain all the trash lying around your yard.”


                Danny sighed. “I thought you were going to stop hassling me about my kids,” he said. “Didn’t we agree that the kids would be off limits?” He watched as she took the last cookie from the tray and ate it in a couple of bites.


                “Maybe you agreed,” Charlotte said, jumping back into the bed. She scooted over and put her head on his chest. “But I can’t remember if I agreed to agree to your bargain. Did I give you my input into this compromise? I’ll tell you what—I’ll only hassle you about two of your kids, and leave the other two alone, the youngest two.” She laughed. “Deal?” she asked.


                Danny rolled away from her and got out of bed. “No deal,” he said. “I have to get home. Jenny’s going to wonder where I am.”


                He put on his jeans, and searched around for his flip flops. Charlotte watched him as he pulled his tee shirt on. He still looked pretty good, she thought. Not like he did in high school, nothing like that. But he was still handsome, a little fleshy, but who wasn’t anymore.  She rolled onto her back and kicked off the sheet. He stared at her naked body in silence.


                Charlotte put her hand over her stomach, self-conscious beneath his gaze. After four months of eating what she pleased, her belly button piercing was strained to the last millimeter of spare flesh. Charlotte figured those few extra pounds she gained since she’d been home were nothing that a little exercise and a couple weeks of cocaine wouldn’t get rid of when she went back to Los Angeles.


                “Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if you had left?” Charlotte asked. “If you hadn’t gotten married to Jenny. What does Danny’s alternative universe look like?”


                “I don’t think about it,” he said. “I don’t like playing this game.”


                “Never?” Charlotte continued. “You never think what it would have been like if you had moved away like me, gotten a job, were free of any responsibilities, no wife, no kids, nothing. Huh. I’d be surprised.” He stared at her, silent and expressionless. “In fact,” she continued. “In fact, I think you’d be lying. I know you’d be lying. You’re here with me. You must be thinking about something different. I can’t think of anyone more different than me than your wife.”


                He sat on the bed. “Do you remember 9-11?” he asked.


                “No,” she said. “What’s that. What’s 9-11? Are you fucking kidding me, of course I remember 9-11. What’s your point?”


                “I remember after about a week, after the buildings had come down and the firefighters and the police and the Red Cross, everyone had gone through every inch of that place but there still were people missing, people who hadn’t come home that day.” Danny paused.


                “When I was watching the news, all I could think about was that if I were there, if I were in one of the towers or maybe close by in another building, or even walking down the street, I’d disappear forever. That’s what I would do, just disappear. Never go home. Be one of those names, ‘missing,’ I’d be gone.” He stared at her. “Jenny and the kids would get my life insurance, so I wouldn’t worry about that part of it. I could just start someplace new, become somebody else.”


                “That’s insane,” Charlotte said. “You’ve really lost your mind. Your wish is to disappear. Is it the heat? Lack of sleep? Jenny’s bitching all day?”


                Danny walked over to her and kissed her. “All of the above. I don’t want to leave,” he said. “I’d rather stay here with you and let you make fun of me some more. But I have to go home.” He stroked Charlotte’s hair and kissed her again. “I can’t believe you’re still such a bitch,” he said. “It’s would almost be funny, if you also weren’t such a pain in the ass.”


                “Go,” Charlotte said. “Take some cookies with you or I’m going to eat the rest myself. I can’t let myself go, even though I’m living here right now.”


                “You’re too vain,” he said. “That hasn’t changed in 30 years either. Bye.” He walked to the door. “Open or closed?” he asked.

                “Open,” she said. “I want to be able to hear Mom.” Charlotte rolled over and looked at the clock. It was 2:30. Perfect. She smiled. She had enough time to read and get another nap in before she made Mom dinner.



Part 3 – Flashback


                Charlotte rooted through the mess on her dresser, frantically searching for her car keys. She couldn’t find a single thing she needed anymore. Her house was in shambles. Every horizontal space that could be utilized – counters, floors, the bed – was piled with the accumulated detritus of her adult life.


                She looked around at the jumbled stacks and felt overwhelmed. Why had she kept all of this stuff anyway? Charlotte believed that throwing out all useless items was key to keeping her house spotless. But here it was, all these bits and pieces of her life materializing from her closets, drawers, and the basement. Everything she found took her back to her younger days, when life wasn’t so safe and predictable. Charlotte missed those times.


For the past few weeks she had sorted through concert ticket stubs, handbags, books, shells, swizzle sticks, New Yorker cartoons, brittle Polaroids, receipts from Fred Segal, three decades of trendy junk jewelry, matchbooks, the 1984 Olympics program, vacation photos, her Coachella VIP pass from 2010, and the extra car key for her first car.


When Charlotte found the key lodged in the back of her underwear drawer, she was elated. She always knew she didn’t lose it, it had just been misplaced. She remembered fighting with some boyfriend about it. She couldn’t remember which boyfriend, but she was right about the key. She found it thirty years too late to be useful, but still. Charlotte loved that car, her old BMW 2002 with the torn passenger seat, Blaukpunkt tape deck, and that big crack in the rounded windshield she could never afford to get fixed.


                After unsuccessfully searching for her current set of car keys for a few more minutes, Charlotte felt angry and depressed. She went outside and sat down on the warm concrete next to the pool. The water had a greasy film on top of it and was full of leaves. Was she obligated to clean the pool before the renters arrived? She watched the concrete cupid placidly spit dirty water back into the pool.  He looked a little grimy too. She pulled her phone out of her pocket, and pulled up the Airbnb app to see whether her listing obligated her to hire someone to clean the pool.


                “Classic Hollywood bungalow,” it read. “The best LA has to offer. Historic two bedroom, 1 bath in great neighborhood.” That made Charlotte smile. She never would have predicted that. “At the base of the Hollywood Hills, this 1920s stucco charmer has easy access to shopping, restaurants, yoga, and freeways. Small pool in fenced back yard. Available for short- and long-term stays. $4,500/month, first, last and deposit. Children and pets welcome for a small fee.”


                There was nothing in the listing about the condition of the pool. But it looked pretty bad. Charlotte leaned over and stuck her feet in the pool, splashing the old leaves and seed pods. The water was warm, almost body temperature. Back in the day, she would definitely jump in after a couple of drinks at one of her parties. The water wouldn’t have bothered her. But the people moving in were a lot different from Charlotte and her friends had been. She couldn’t figure out what was going on with 30-somethings these days.


                Charlotte winced the second she thought this. At least she noticed when she did it now. Her mindfulness practice wasn’t very effective when she was under stress. For the past few years she would catch herself several times a day comparing things happening today with how things were in the past when she was young. Unfavorably. On just about every subject. To whoever she was talking to; friends, her employees, people next her in line at Whole Foods.


Charlotte was keenly aware that she was turning into the sort of person she couldn’t stand when she was younger. There was always that one person in every group who had to tell everyone about living in LA during the best times, the wildest times, when the parties were the craziest and the nightlife was the greatest. When one of these people started going on about the good old days, Charlotte would try to escape. Most of the time she’d have to endure the lecture. It was always the same.


“If you think it’s fun now, you should have seen it back in the 70s. This is nothing. You can’t even get Quaaludes or decent coke any more. The scene was so much freer then, so much more open. Not like it is now. You can’t even imagine how great it was. I remember when…” Charlotte learned to back away slowly and make a quick break when one of the LA elders began reminiscing. It drove her nuts.


Now Charlotte found herself telling the same exact stories she’d been telling for years, always in the past tense. Her big moments, her greatest adventures had all taken place at least a decade ago. According to her personal mythology, Charlotte’s last really cool experience occurred was when she was 40. She came to this realization after she was 50. It made her nauseous.


After a short period of self-hatred, Charlotte decided to she would stop being that person. She scanned the LA Weekly for the newest restaurants to go to. She read the LA Times to find out what bands to see. She exercised, and kept herself thin so she could still wear good clothes and shoes. She started going to Venice. She dragged her girlfriends along with her, kicking and screaming.  She even determined she wasn’t as good a drunk driver as she used to be, and installed the Uber app on her phone. Nobody drove drunk anymore.


Charlotte stretched herself on the warm concrete next to the pool. She unbuttoned her jeans and tilted her pelvis so that her spine would lay flat. Her back and knees were killing her from packing. She looked up and squinted into the sun. It was always there, that LA sun, pitiless, yellow and hard.


Her phone buzzed. It was one of her younger sisters, calling from Boston. The sisters still all liked to talk on the phone rather than texting or exchanging messages on Facebook. Charlotte answered.


“Didn’t you know only old people call each other anymore?” she asked, laughing.


“You’re older than I am,” her sister Lizzie said. “It’s probably best not to reference your age in Los Angeles. You should know that by now.”


“No kidding,” Charlotte said. “I’m keeping up appearances. I have so much damn Botox in my upper lip that I can barely talk. What’s up?”


“I wanted to see how your packing was coming along. I talked to John today. It’s really nice what you’re doing for Mom. We all really appreciate it.” Lizzie paused. “Are you going to be OK in Lancaster for a while? It’s pretty boring. I hope you aren’t going to be too bored.”


“Yes,” said Charlotte. “Yes, I’m going to be bored. It’s going to drive me insane. It’s still the same little town we grew up in. But I’m only 70 miles from LA, so it won’t be too bad. I can come back to hang out with friends, and get my roots colored. So basically I’m going to be back every four weeks. It’s doable. Mom needs help, you guys are too far away, and John won’t be threatened with a 911 call every time Mom sees him in the house.”


                “Thanks to Facebook, I know that most of my high school friends still live her,” Charlotte continued. “So I won’t be too lonely. I can hang out with all my old friends and we can talk about how much we still hate Julie Towne at the Friday night football game. So it won’t be all bad. Did you see my Airbnb listing?”


                “I did, what the hell. That’s stupid money for your place,” Lizzie said. “Who are these people? What do they do? Why the hell are they paying so much for a house in that shit neighborhood?”


                “Shit neighborhood? Are you kidding? Don’t you mean hip neighborhood?” Charlotte said. “It’s super safe here now. I can walk to the grocery store, but I don’t because it’s too hot. But if I wanted to, I could. No more stolen cars and no break-ins. We have a neighborhood watch committee. It’s all families now. There’s some really good school about a mile from here. Check this out, your kindergartner has to apply to get in. It’s thirty grand a year.” Charlotte giggled. “Thirty grand for elementary school in Hollywood. It’s hilarious.”


                “I’m glad the neighborhood got better. I hated staying at your house when you first bought it,” Lizzie said. “I was terrified to park the car more than a block away from your house. I had to run through that maze of junkies and hookers to get to your front door. I still can’t believe the neighborhood changed so much.”


                “Seriously, you need to believe it” Charlotte said. “It gentrified about ten years ago. I couldn’t even afford to buy my own house right now. It’s too expensive.”


                “You must be glad,” Lizzie said. “So, did you finally take the bars off the windows?”


                “I did,” said Charlotte. “But I left the metal screen door on. It reminds me of when I first moved in, when I would lock the door and watch the nightly freak show from the comfort of my living room. It’s a little strange though. I hated it back then, but now I kind of miss how the neighborhood used to be, with all the weirdos hanging out. Band practice every night in the house across the street.”


She looked up at the curved dome of the Griffith Observatory, perched on the hillside next to the Hollywood sign. “There’s not even very much smog here anymore. Things are really different.”


                “So you actually miss your freak neighbors, street crime, and the smog.” Lizzie laughed. “I can’t believe you. Just be glad you got renters who will pay that kind of money for your place. What are they like?”


“They’re a married couple, super nice.” Charlotte said. “Young, early 30s, married with two kids. Huckleberry and Chapel. Two really cute little girls. I think he works at Paramount. And I don’t really miss the smog.”


                “What?” Lizzie said. “Who gets married and has kids in their 30s? That’s ridiculous. You’re chained to your house and kids for the rest of your life. It’s like you’re just asking to get divorced at 50.”


                Charlotte sighed. “People are different these days. Boring. Nobody wants to have fun anymore.” She stood up and stretched. “Lizzie, I have to get off the phone,” she said. “I need to get everything boxed up and put in storage. I only have five more days to get it done.”


                “I’ll let you go,” Lizzie said. “Anyway, it’s only for six months. John’s coming back then.”


                “Yeah,” Charlotte said. “John’s coming back in six months. Unless something happens. And we both know something always happens. So I rented the place out for a year. I’m officially on a leave of absence from the studio for six months, but I can always get a new job if it goes longer.”         She stepped into the house. It was cool inside, and smelled like jasmine.


                “Are you doing something before you take off?” Lizzie said. “Any plans? Or are you sneaking out of town.”


                “No, we’re all going out next Saturday,” Charlotte said. “One last night on the town with the ladies while I’m still officially a resident. If I can find my car keys. I also have to see Grant and Tony before I go. I promised I’d have dinner with each of them. It’s not like I’m moving to Nebraska for God’s sake.” She paused. “Or Boston. That would be ridiculous.”


                “OK Charlotte, go back to packing,” Lizzie said. “Let me know how it goes. Me and Jane are going to fly out to see you and Mom next month. Good luck getting everything done.” Lizzie hung up.


                Charlotte leafed through the stack of mementos on her kitchen counter. So far she hadn’t been able to throw anything away. She had to drive over to the Valley to get cute storage boxes at Target. Traffic had been a nightmare. It had gotten so much worse. Charlotte had never seen it so bad. She used to be able to get there in 20 minutes. Now it took well over an hour.


                “I’m doing it again,” she said out loud. “Stop it.” Charlotte picked up an old ticket from the top of the pile. August 5, 1985. Stray Cats at the Palladium. She remembered it well. That had been a lot of fun, all those rockabilly guys were a nice change from their usual punk crowd. She tried to remember who her date was that night. He had blond hair. She thought he might have moved back to Sacramento or someplace like that shortly after the show.


                Her mindfulness practice kicked in, jerking her back to 2016. Charlotte decided to find her car keys before she did anything else. She walked around the stacks in her hall towards her bedroom.




Part 2 – Jasmine


                Like many things in the cell phone era, Charlotte’s decision to move back home began with a text. She was growing restless after hour two of the meeting. After 20 years in marketing, Charlotte was bored out of her mind. The pay was great and her commute wasn’t horrendous, all things considered. But for the past few years she had hated every minute she was at work.


At first she thought her job was impossibly glamorous. She was working for a major studio, making distribution deals for superhero movie tie-in merchandise. When she first got her job, Charlotte was thrilled to become a member of the of the elite Los Angeles caste working in “the business.” She was even happier when she was promoted to the head of the Ultra Super Homicide Team franchise. She’d finally gotten everything she wanted.


Charlotte’s initial excitement soon wore off. The movies she promoted were typically loud and silly. The meetings could be more ridiculous than the movies. Each miniature hero, sidekick, and villain was produced again and again, in several different sizes and colors. Each tiny plastic face had several different expressions, which had to be matched and compared with facial expressions from the actors.  The actors would then have to approve their plastic likeness. Charlotte though getting the Treaty of Versailles negotiated was probably easier than getting actor approval.

After the preliminary size, color, and expression was decided on, there would then be several more meetings to determine which third-world factory would be blessed with the manufacturing contract. After deciding on the factory, she then had to determine which fast food franchises would be the best fit to relentlessly plug both the movie and the food. After 20 years, Charlotte felt her sole purpose in life was to distribute choking hazards to the future obese of America.


Her cell phone buzzed on her lap. It was a text from her brother John. The room was silent. Charlotte looked up. Apparently everyone at the meeting was waiting for some sort of response from her.


“I think it mostly looks good,” she said. “But we have a long way to go on Blobbo and Putty Pants. I’m just not feeling it, especially with Putty Pants.” Charlotte looked at her phone. “I think that’s it for the day. I’d like to see everyone back here tomorrow morning at ten with a new idea. This movie is supposed to make money. I’m thinking with this project, we have more than a sequel people. I’m thinking spin-off.” She smiled briefly, got up and left.


“Was she really even listening to us?” she heard someone whisper. “It’s like she doesn’t even care.” This didn’t make Charlotte mad. Instead she was pleased that at least someone on her team was paying attention for once.


She got to her car and read John’s text. “Call me as soon as u can has 2 do with mom.” Charlotte’s heart raced. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, not today,” she thought. “I don’t want to deal with this right now.” She looked at the text for a minute and decided to respond when she got home. She checked her traffic app. As usual, it was going to be a nasty commute. Charlotte decided to skip the freeway and take the long way over Mulholland. It would give her an extra half hour to think.


It was getting dark by the time Charlotte pulled up to her house. The sky was purple and dark green from the haze. She looked up at the sky by force of habit, even though she hadn’t seen stars since she moved to Los Angeles from Lancaster. The city lights were much too bright. The incessant traffic white noise to her now. Spotlights criss-crossed the sky, and a helicopter droned. It was a typical Los Angeles night, busy and loud.


Charlotte got out of her car and walked up the sidewalk to her house. The jasmine was just starting to bloom, and the smell was overwhelmingly cloying and sweet. She loved that smell, except when it got too hot for too many days in a row. Then Charlotte thought it smelled like cheap perfume or embalming fluid in a funeral home. “Funeral home,” she thought. “I have to call John.”


She threw her briefcase and purse on the sofa, poured herself a glass of wine, and headed through the French doors to her back yard. She walked around the perfectly round pool, which was probably built at the same time as the house in the early 20s. It had a little cupid fountain, no filtration system, and lighting that would burn out after six days of constant use. Charlotte still loved it. She sat down on a chaise lounge, punched in John’s number and watched the little cupid spit a steady stream of heavily chlorinated water out of his little pursed lips into the pool.


The phone rang once. “Finally,” John said. “What the hell. I texted you four hours ago. What if it was an emergency?”


“Thank god it’s not,” Charlotte said. “That text scared the hell out of me. Next time do you want to add a few words, something like ‘hey, I have a question,’ or ‘hey, it’s not an emergency.’” She took a sip of wine. “What’s the deal?”


She knew damn good and well what was coming next, but she still dreaded it. She and her sisters all knew that John staying with Mom was a temporary fix at best, a stop-gap measure to delay the inevitable. Mom still had decent days, but for the past several months the bad days outnumbered the good. Her mom rarely recognized Charlotte most of the time, and often confused Charlotte for her own sister who had died several years ago. It was unnerving.


“OK” John began, “OK Charlotte, OK. You’ve got to listen to me, I’m really serious, I’ve got to get out of here right now. I have too many things to do. I haven’t been able to get anything done. I’m running a business; I’ve got to take care of that business. Katy can’t take care of everything herself. She needs me to help her.” He stopped to take a breath. John talked faster than anyone Charlotte knew. She’d be able to get a word in when he was forced to come up for air.


“Also, it’s not like Mom even recognizes me anymore these days,” he continued. “Most mornings when I walk in her room she stares at me and starts screaming. She thinks I’m breaking in or something. The worst thing she’s been screaming lately at the top of her lungs is that a strange man is coming in to rape her.” John inhaled, then continued.


“How do you think I feel when Mom starts screaming that I’m about to rape her, yelling for someone to call the police every time she sees me, the rapist. You’d be totally freaked out, that’s what. Also, you’d get sick and tired of the neighbors running over and wanting to know what’s going on. Most of these people are bored out of their minds and can’t wait to find out who’s trying to rape our Mom. Speaking of being bored out of your mind, do you think this is fun for me here? Do you think…”


“John, stop for minute” Charlotte said. “John. I’m listening to you, just drop the whole incest thing for a minute.”


She was torn between teasing John about the important business matters that he had to attend to immediately and not making him angry. It was a delicate balance that was challenging to maintain with John. On some days, a few well-placed comments would make him so mad that he wouldn’t speak to Charlotte for months. On other days, John would happily agree that he somehow managed to cruise through life with no steady employment and a wealthy girlfriend, while mocking her about how hard she worked.  Charlotte decided he sounded too worked up to be teased.


“What do you need to do?” she asked. “And how long will it take?”


“OK, so here’s the thing,” John said. “Me and Katy and a bunch of our friends want to take this sort of camping surf trip bike trip thing down the coast to Cabo. You know those board shorts we designed last year? I figured out that we could start selling board shorts and the new bike shorts at the same time at all the places we camp and hang out, also maybe start designing some rash guards that can take the changes in the ocean, like the different kinds of salt and seaweed in both California and Mexico.” He took a quick breath. “Also, we thought we could meet some people in places that we camp that we could hire to sell our stuff, you know, like Torrey Pines, Rosarito, La Paz. Wherever.”


Charlotte thought it would be best not to share her opinion right this minute if she wanted him to come back and stay with Mom after his trip.


“So, when are you leaving?” she asked. “And are you going to be gone for very long?”


“Well, we’d all be meeting up at Leo Carrillo, stay there for a few days, then start working our way down  the coast to Baja. Maybe I’ll be gone a couple of months. Four, five months at the most.” John paused. “Are you pissed at me?” he asked. “I’ve been here for a couple of months now. I know you’ve been giving me breaks on the weekend. It’s been really cool, we appreciate it. But I’ve got to get this business going. Spring’s the perfect time.”


“It’s not a great time for me to quit my job right now John,” Charlotte said. “We’ve got the movie coming out, opening weekend’s the Fourth of July. I can’t just take off and leave my job. Look, we haven’t even figured out how to market Blobblo yet, and don’t even get me started on Putty Pants…”


“You hate your job,” John interrupted. “That’s all I ever hear from you; how much you hate your job. Why don’t you just quit, or take a leave of absence, or call in sick, or whatever you wage slaves do. You’ve got enough money. Besides, Mom still recognizes you.” He paused, listening for a reaction from Charlotte. She was silent. John waited a few seconds, then continued.


“Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal,” he said. “Why don’t you move back home with Mom for six months. You get a break from your job and LA, I get the chance to get my business going. After six months, I’ll come back. We both win.”


“John, quit talking for a few minutes,” Charlotte said. “I’ll do it. I’ll put my house on Air BNB and move home. Six months. We’ll figure out what to do after that. I’m hanging up before I change my mind.”

A Dark and Stormy Night by Shanna

A Dark and Stormy Night by Shanna

It was a dark and stormy night and Detective Roberts was not happy to get called out in this weather. The windshield wipers swept side to side, rhythmically, as he drove up the long driveway to the home where Joan and Albert Statler lived. The rain continued to pound as he buttoned up his coat and got out of the car. He drew in a drag of his cigarette and slowly blew out the smoke as he stared at the house in front of him.

It was really more like a mansion, its three stories towering over Detective Roberts. The mansion was well-lit, as light seemed to pour from almost all the rooms on the first floor. Detective Roberts tried to remember what he knew about the Statlers – well-to-do society couple, both in their early forties, no children – as he walked up the front door.  

The sky lit up with lightning and thunder rumbled. Out of the corner of his eye Detective Roberts could see the streetlights flickering and he hoped the power would stay on. The wind whipped the bottom of his coat as he stood on the stoop. Taking a final drag, he stubbed out his cigarette on the brick next to the door and rang the doorbell. He could hear the gong reverberating throughout the house.

A uniformed officer opened the door. “Glad to see you,” he said as he motioned the detective inside the house.  “Come in.”

Detective Roberts walked through the foyer, his footsteps echoing in the large hall. He scanned his surroundings and noticed the walls full of paintings, perfectly set off by the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Vases of china and crystal were displayed on the side tables. He could hear the faint strands of music wafting out from behind one of the doors. He walked by and glanced through the partially opened door and saw the back of a black-clad maid, her body bent over as she leaned on the table next to the radio.

“What do we got?” asked the detective as they came to a closed door.

“The Mr. Statler was found dead earlier tonight in the library. Body’s torn apart,” Officer Floyd stated. He opened the door and stood back so that Detective Roberts could enter the room. “Mrs. Statler found him when she returned home tonight.”

Detective Roberts walked into the room and his nostrils flared, scenting the coppery penny smell of blood. Mr. Statler lay sprawled across the floor, a sheet draped over his body. It clung wetly to the former master of the house, the blood seeping through the linen in several places.

Kneeling down, the detective drew back the sheet. Mr. Statler laid face-up, blood dripping from the torn gash in his throat. Large chunks of skin were missing from his arms and torso as if someone had taken large bites of flesh and gnawed on the man. He was clad in only a robe and a spreading pool of blood soaked into the fabric and carpet below him.

“What do you think?” asked Detective Roberts, looking up at the officer.  “Vampire?”

“Yup, or zombie.”

Detective Roberts frowned. “Zombie? How do you figure that?” He gestured towards Mr. Statler’s throat. “Since when do zombies go for the neck?”

Officer Floyd shrugged. “Maybe it was confused?”

Detective Roberts touched the sticky pool beneath the man. Rubbing his fingertips together he slowly got up and looked around the room. Shards of porcelain littered the floor, the remains of a tea set. A book sat open, face down over the arm of the sofa. Light from the wall scones bathed the walls. The room was silent, a breeze blowing through an open window causing the gauzy curtains to flutter.

Detective Roberts walked over to the window. The light from the room reflected off the broken shards in the window frame and he stared at his fragmented reflection. Rain streamed in through the broken window, soaking the carpet, with a few glass shards laying off to the side.

“Nearest cemetery is what, 2 blocks away?” he asked.

“2 blocks north,” replied the officer.

“Whoever or whatever was here went out this window and left a while ago. There’s no way we can track them, not in this weather.” Detective Roberts sighed. “Let’s go talk to Mrs. Statler.”

Mrs. Statler sat in the parlor, the golden skirts of her gown pooling off of the settee and onto the floor. She was an attractive woman, her dark hair swept off her face, her lips reddened with rouge. Smoke swirled up from the long thin cigarette in her hand and as Detective Roberts walked into the room she brought it up to her mouth and took a long drag.

“Mrs. Statler,” he said. “I’m Detective Roberts.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” she said, exhaling a large cloud of smoke from the corner of her mouth. Detective Roberts watched the smoke as it curled upwards and disappeared into the air. He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket, pulled out his notebook, and flipped it open.

“Can you tell me what happened?”

“Well, as I’ve already told this lovely officer here, I was at a charity dinner and when I got home I found poor Albert lying on the floor, covered in blood. Well, I did what anybody would have done and I rang the police.” Mrs. Statler tipped the ash from her cigarette into the tray beside her.

Detective Roberts narrowed his eyes. “You don’t seem too upset over the death of your husband.”

“He was having an affair with the maid,” Mrs. Statler shrugged. “So cliché.” She stubbed out her cigarette and flicked it into the ashtray, another cigarette butt to join the others, each with a ring of red lipstick on the end where she had clamped the cigarette between her lips. She smoothed down her skirts and stood up.

“May I go now?” she asked. “I have some calls to make.” 

Detective Roberts nodded and Mrs. Statler swept out of the room. Looking at the Officer Floyd, Detective Roberts said, “Let’s go back to the library and look again at the body.”

The body lay in the same position as when they had left it. “When is forensics getting here?” Detective Roberts asked.

“They’re on their way. Seems they got caught in some traffic due to the weather.”

The detective kneeled down again to look at the body. “The throat is torn like a vampire attack. But there is flesh missing like a zombie tried to eat him.” Splashes of blood trailed all around the room and Detective Roberts found it impossible to tell if it all belonged to Mr. Statler or not.

“I won’t know anything until forensics can tell me what killed him,” he stated. “Who was the last person to see him alive?”

The officer checked his notebook. “The maid,” he said. “She brought tea around 9pm.”

Detective Roberts pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Let’s talk to the maid again. Maybe she saw something.”

Officer Floyd went to the door and motioned to the policeman in the hallway. Detective Roberts walked around the room, looking at the bookcases. They were all free of dust with not a book out of place. Either the maid cleans in here regularly, he thought, or Mr. Statler spends a lot of time in the library. Bending over, he squinted to read the names on the spines of the books.

Loud footfalls came from outside the room, causing Detective Roberts to look up and quit his perusal. The policeman rushed through the door. “The maid,” he gasped, “is dead!”

To be continued?