Running on Empty—Originally posted December 2015

***This is the first short story I ever wrote. I wrote it for an introduction to fiction writing class probably in 2013. I fixed a number of typos and cleared up a few confusing parts, but I left most of the awkward writing just so I know how far I have come as a writer. If you want to see the original post, you can check it out here: https://therichardbraxton.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/running-on-empty/ ***

The sun was warm against the morning chill. The long shadows were shrinking. This was a day that was uniquely suited for drinking beer outside. Ned was standing, beer in hand, on the landing. The door was swung open to the second-floor apartment. But Derrick had his crescent wrench and screwdriver in hand. He was alternately jabbing and cranking on the rusting lump of engine bolted to the back of his VW bus. Somehow, this process adjusted the timing. Derrick had traded for a stinger exhaust. And Ned was trying to envision how it would be installed with a minimum of bailing wire and duct tape.

Ned watched as Derrick took a step back and stared at the tools in his hands. Derrick shrugged his shoulders then dropped the tools.  He flung open the side doors of the bus slid his dented red toolbox across the floorboards. Crouched next to the car, he rummaged through his tools. There must have been something in his peripheral vision because he reached under the front seat and pulled out a bag of tacos. He unwrapped one, spread open the soggy shell, lifted it to his nose, and gave it a good long sniff. He took a bite.  He chewed slowly then swallowed hard.

“Yuck, this is stale.” He looked up at Ned and took another bite. “Toss me one of those beers. I need something to wash this down.”

“No problem,” Ned said. “I’ve got a special one just for you.” Ned walked into the small apartment. Just beyond the door was a dingy coffee table covered with empty cans. He selected a choice and unblemished empty labeled Miller Light. Ned held the can in his left hand and unzipped his pants with his right. Wouldn’t you know it, Ned had stage fright. He kicked the door shut behind him and closed his eyes. Ned focused on the faucet’s constant drip until his bladder let loose. A light breeze opened the door with a creak. Ned startled from the sound. His hands shot out to his sides. The urine sloshed in the can. Luckily, he wasn’t one to piss himself from fright. His urine stream had shut off almost instantly and only three or four drops got on the carpet. The can was little more than half full, but that would have to do. He did not think that he could get started again anytime soon. Ned zipped up and walked out the door.

“What took you so long? Did you brew it yourself?”

“You could say that.” Ned tossed the can over the rail.

Derrick took two quick steps away from the car. He tilted his head back keeping his eyes on the can. At the last second, he reached up and caught the can. The liquid splashed, and a few droplets rained down on his face. He must have whiffed that unmistakable smell or felt the heat through the can.

“You pissed in it.” He threw the can back at Ned. It hit the railing spraying the ammoniac liquid all over Ned and the surrounding area.

“You knew I was drinking the last one.”

Derrick shook his head. “Lock the door. We’re getting some more.”

Damn it. Is he channeling Jessie Jackson? Of all the things that he may want to emulate about the man, his cockamamie rhymes and faux-southern cadence should not be one of them. But it is a great way to talk crap. Ned said, “I’ve got a feeling. Your shit ain’t worth stealing.”

Derrick raised his voice. “I don’t know if you have noticed, but this neighborhood seems to be the focus of many unsavory characters.”

“Yeah, they must be the alcoholic types because they never come over and drink with us.” Just last night, Ned had answered the knock at the door. The young couple that lived next to them was standing there with their stupid faces. Turn down your music they said. We have jobs they said.  We have groceries. Your friends parked in our spot. You left garbage on the stoop. We are calling the police if we see you pissing off the balcony one more time. Someone caked shit on our door handle… Well, that last one will be tonight. “You’re right. I have never had neighbors as bad as these.”

Ned locked the door and met Derrick at the car. “I know of a place. It’s a little out of the way, but they don’t check I.D.”

In the years since the interstate came through, the old highway had come to be used for little more than travel between the local cities. There wasn’t much down this section of the road except the rusted hulks of ancient fueling stations, dilapidated restaurants, and faded old motor lodges. The only people who kept this road alive were loggers and out-of-towners who were lost. Even the county seemed to forget that this part of the road existed. Aside from the brush and trees that encroached all the way to the edge of the road or the fields of kudzu that consumed everything in its path, this stretch of road was deserted. The only vestiges of the golden age of highway travel that still remain are at the intersections of major thoroughfares.

But a good ways out of town, where this dead road intersects another, a decaying truck stop clung to life among the rubble. The sign for the Dingle Brother’s Truck Stop boasts of clean diesel, good food, and hot showers. But grass grew up through crumbling asphalt, and there were no takers at the fuel pumps. All the building’s original wood had been eaten away by time and termites. And the nails had long since rusted away. The building was held together with the mortar of bugs and dust lost between the layers of old paint.

Derrick pulled into the parking lot and parked in front of the door. To the left was an overflowing trashcan. And past the trashcan, a homeless man sat in the fetal position sucking the last drop from a bottle of Crystal Palace.

The day wasn’t hot, but Derrick was sweating and his face was pale. The homeless man gagged. Derrick fumbled with the door handle and exited in a hurry. The homeless man vomited a slow drool. Derrick’s stomach gurgled like a draining tub. The homeless man made no effort to move. Derrick clenched his cheeks and walked stiff legged to the door. The vomit rolled down the homeless man’s neck and over his shirt.  Derrick looked back over his shoulder and said, “Grab a sixer of Steel Reserve. I’ll be in the shitter.”

Ned removed the keys from the ignition. Derrick had left the engine running. “What an ass.”

A kid was over by the diesel pumps squishing a puddle of greasy sludge between his toes. He waited for the kid to meet his gaze. Ned gave him a dirty look. That kid better keep his distance. Reservations aside, Ned entered the store.

The inside of the store looked like an old mechanic’s shop.  The place was dimly lit with high ceilings. “They really do serve food,” Ned said a little too loud. “This place smells like boiled hog livers.” The merchandise was scattered over filthy, old, wire racks. The floors were bare concrete with a thin layer of dust. Ned followed the footprints back to the beer cooler.

Ned contemplated the beer selection: Corona, if it needs lime and salt, how good can it be?  Lowenbrau: brewed in Munich. That’s in Germany, right? Budweiser, ye old standby. And Steel Reserve, the butthole of beers. Ned was lost in thought when Derrick arrived.

“I found your mom’s phone number on the bathroom wall. Did you know that she has false teeth?”

Ned’s response was quick and decisive. He had warned Derrick before. The mama jokes had to stop. A quick nut shot should do the trick. He swung his arm swiftly towards Derrick’s crotch.

Derrick sidestepped the first blow. Then, he lifted his knee to block the next. “OK. OK.” He gave Ned a push. “Just grab the beer.”

Ned grabbed two six-packs of Steel Reserve. They walked up to the old bald man behind the register. Ned clanked the beer on the counter.

Derrick said, “Carful, or they will be all fizzy.”

The old man stared at them. “Let’s see them, boys.” he had a Tiparillo in the corner of his mouth and pit stains on his shirt. Mercifully, the air vent above Ned was still working, and he only got a hint of the old man’s true stink. Ned pulled two wadded bills from his front pocket.

“There you are sir, a couple of Lincolns.”

The old man’s face was stone, but his body shook. “You come up here with your hoo-hahs hanging out, and you are expecting favors from me?”

Ned said, “Doesn’t this cover it?” The old man must be greedier than he thought. But he didn’t have any more cash.

“Derrick said, “You can keep the change.”

The old man grabbed the beer and slammed it on the counter behind him. “You not just stupid, you deaf too?” The old man flailed his arms. “Get out of here.” Derrick and Ned scatted.

They ran out the front door. Ned’s heart was racing, but with the door between him and the old man, he slowed to a walk. Derrick took two more strides before he began to walk as well.

Derrick said, “I was about to slap the crap out of him until I saw you running.”

Derrick must have run first. Ned was not such a coward to run from a decrepit old man.

They heard a voice. “You’re both a couple of pussies.”

Ned flinched. It was the kid.

Derrick said, “I’ll slap you too. Call me a pussy.”

The kid was now leaning against the against the driver’s side door of the Microbus. “If you let me drink with you, I will help you get those beers.”

This was a hard spot for Ned to be in. But beer is beer. “Slap him after he gets us the beer.”

The kid said, “I will go in first. Wait for me to start kicking shit around. When they chase me out, you grab the beer. And I will meet back up with you. Have the van running.”

Derrick said, “It’s not a van…”

“…It’s a VW.” Ned said mocking. “I am grabbing something I haven’t had. Heineken, I think.” Derrick followed the kid in. He did not wait for the signal. But Ned was already following Derricks lead.

The kid was barely inside the door when the old man was running out from behind the counter. “Get out of here. You little shit,” the old man said.

Derrick grabbed two warm cases of one beer or another from an end-cap display. Ned swung open the glass doors to the beer cooler. The joy of discovery was welling up inside of him. His excitement was brimming like little shocks of electricity as he reached for the top shelf. The green bottles, that means quality. Ned turned to see Derrick and the kid both running out the back door. Something was wrong. He craned his neck further and saw two men guarding the front door. One was stupid and the other was ugly, or was it the other way around?

Just the same, Ned sprinted for the backdoor. Derrick must have slammed into the door as he ran out. One of his cardboard cases had opened and the cans were scattered all over the floor. Ned stayed to the left to avoid most of the mess. He kicked the door open with his left and a quick spin move got him through the door without breaking even one bottle of Heineken. Derrick’s right hand was holding a shredded scrap of red and white cardboard. The old man yelled something, and Stupid and Ugly came running out the back door.

The kid was already well on his way to the edge of the woods. Derrick was struggling to keep up with the kid. The weight of the beer in his left hand was pulling him off course, and the case slammed against his thigh. He would periodically turn to the right to correct his stride. This resulted in a stumbling zigzag that was by no means fast. Derrick looked back. Either he had just given up drinking or Stupid and Ugly were catching up because he smashed his remaining case of beer on the ground. The cans went flying out of the box spinning and spraying. But Ned was not going to follow suit. Ned turned his head to see for himself how close stupid and ugly were. But he tripped over his own feet.

Ned hit the ground hard. The asphalt scraped his face and arms. His pain was soothed at his hands and wrists by a coolness that worked its way inward toward his chest. The blood and Heineken mixed, and he was baptized in the bitter nectar of disappointment. Ned heard the bellow of echoing laughter. Stupid gave him a good hard kick to the ribs, and Ugly spit on his head. Stupid and Ugly forcefully removed the wet boxes and shattered dreams from Ned’s grip. Stupid took booth of the shattered boxes of Heineken, and Ugly gathered up the cans of Budweiser in the broken case. As Stupid and Ugly walked away, Ned scrambled to his feet. Derrick and the kid stood at the edge of the woods staring at him in impotence. But Stupid and Ugly were too interested in retrieving the beer and they let Ned go. And Ned limped his way over to his friend.

Derrick said, “When they caught you, I just about shit my pants.”

“Are you sure you didn’t? You did eat that three-day-old taco.” They stayed along the edge of the woods making fun of each other until Stupid and Ugly were a safe distance away.

Derrick said, “How are you getting home kid?”

But the kid was already gone. Either he disappeared into the mists from whence he came, or he had just become bored at the juvenile conversation in which they were engaged and slipped off into the woods to poke a dead skunk with a stick. We may never be certain.

Derrick and Ned walked the long way back to the Minibus. They stayed as far from the store as they could. When they got up the nerve to approach the front of the store where the VW was parked, they noticed the homeless man was gone but the puddle of vomit remained. Derrick’s eyes were red. His face was pale, and Ned could see the beginnings of a tremor. “I think we should just call it a day.” Ned’s head throbbed.

“You’re not hung over, are you?”

“No.”

“Then we’re staying drunk today.”

“How? We don’t have any alcohol. Or are we gonna ring out my shirt and drink that. I know let’s scoop up the homeless man’s vomit. I bet it has a fairly high alcohol content.”

“Oh, ye of little faith.”

Look. The old man has our last ten bucks. Tell me. How are we going to buy any booze without money?”

Derrick looked angry, but he was quiet for once. Derrick just faced forward and keyed the ignition. The engine started but it sputtered and gave out. Derrick tried again this time he pumped the gas pedal, and the engine came to life.

Ned wrung a handful of his shirt over his mouth. He managed just one drop. “Mmm…” he thought, “That Heineken tastes better than I imagined.”

Sunday April 3: Who wants to play #OnceUponATime?

“Once Upon a Time” is a cooperative storytelling card game. The object of the game is to work together taking turns telling a fantasy story. The game is part cooperative and part competitive. Each of the players has their own story elements and ending card. When one player uses all of their element cards and reads off their ending card, that player wins. Because of the drive for the players to win, the game devolves into saying a word or two and throwing your cards on the table. This is not how the game is supposed to be played.

In my house, we have changed the rules. Instead of trying to tell one story where each of us try to steal the story from each other, we take turns telling the story we have come up with from the cards in our own hands. This makes it a fun game to play with your kids that helps teach them storytelling structure. At the same time, it is a good tool for practicing storytelling skills in a nonthreatening way.

If you choose to participate with me, feel free to write your story as short or as long as you like and comment a link of your story to this post so that everyone can see the differing stories that come from the same story telling elements.

The rules:

1.         The story starts with, “Once upon a time.”

2.         Use as many of the seven story element cards as you can.

3.         End your story with the phrase on the ending card.

4.         Have fun.

Crazy Sasha and the Talking Horse–#OnceUponATime

Once upon a time, there was a crazy old woman who worked in the castle kitchen. Crazy Sasha is what all the other servants liked to call her when they spun their tales of gossip about her. They would say that Crazy Sasha liked to go on walks late at night around the back of the old church where the priest keeps his horse. They would say that Crazy Sasha liked to talk to that old horse, but not the playful way that people liked to talk to animals. They would say that Crazy Sasha would go to that horse and listen. They would say she believed the horse knew powerful secrets that could change the balance of power in the kingdom should they get out.

In reality, Crazy Sasha was a smart old woman and a competent chef, but it was the gossip that kept her from ever becoming more than a simple dishwasher who was sometimes sent into the pantry to retrieve cooking supplies. And she did go and talk to that horse but only during daylight hours on her days off, and she only talked to it because the horse was the only one around who didn’t make faces at her and call her names.

The Queen’s chambermaids really loved to make up the worst of the gossip about Crazy Sasha. And one day the Queen walked in on Olga and Vera making up her bed. They had been in the middle of one of their most salacious stories about Crazy Sasha and the horse. The Queen had walked in right when Olga had mentioned something about Crazy Sasha reaching for something between the horse’s legs.

Vera was facing the door when the Queen walked in, and her face went white. She waved at Olga and told her to shut her mouth. Olga quickly looked over her shoulder to see the Queen standing in the doorway with a mischievous smile on her face. Olga’s face had gone red, and she was looking at her shoes. The Queen said, “No, no. You two keep talking. I want to hear this.” The Queen listened and Vera and Olga told her all their worst stories about Crazy Sasha and the horse.

That night after dinner service instead of telling her to scrub the kitchen, the head butler, Pavel, told her to get dressed in her best dressing gown. He told her she was being asked to attend desert with the Queen. He told Crazy Sasha she was going to be thanked for her part in the wonderful night’s meal. Sasha knew that she was being set up for something, but she also knew she did not have the right to refuse an audience with the queen. She got dressed knowing that nothing good was going to happen. But she had no idea how bad it would actually be.

When she was dressed, she was escorted to not to the dining room, but to the throne room. The whole court was attending, and the double doors were open to the larger hall. Even the servants were attending although in the back and not in direct sight of the court. Crazy Sasha was escorted straight down the carpet leading through the center of the room to the foot of the throne where the Queen was waiting wearing crown and scepter.

As Sasha approached the throne, the Queen stood up raised her scepter over her head and shouted, “Here comes the Lady of the evening, Crazy Sasha the horse fucker!”

Sasha froze in shock and was shoved forward by her escort, and she stumbled to her knees. The whole court started laughing and the court jester came out of the wings dressed as a horse with a long pink dong hanging between his legs. Then, the Queen said, “Crazy Sasha, take off your clothes and show us all what you like to do with the horse.”

Sasha was still on her knees and stunned. Her escort lifted her back to her feet. And the Queen ordered her again to take off her clothes. Sasha had never even thought to question the commands of the queen, and she didn’t know what to do. Everyone was staring and laughing at her. And the jester danced a circle around her in his horse suit with his pink dong swinging in wide arcs. Sasha caught herself with her hands on the top button of her blouse. Out of embarrassment and simple subordination she had nearly obeyed the commands of the Queen. She could feel the tears streaming down her cheeks, and she did something she never thought she would. She disobeyed the Queen. She turned and ran out of the throne room fully expecting to be run through by the guards for her disloyalty. But the guards were too busy laughing and pointing at her to remember to kill her.

Sasha just ran not knowing where to go, knowing she could not stay in the castle if she wanted to live. She ran out into the night under the full moon. Without thinking she had found herself at the stable behind the church sobbing into her hands in front of the horse, her only friend. At least she had imagined that he was her friend because up until that point, the horse had never spoken. But the light of that full moon had some magic in it that loosened the horse’s tongue.

Sasha started when the horse began to talk. She was sure the guards had found her, but when she looked up from her hands, she only saw the horse. The horse said, “Sasha, my love, I have been waiting so long for you to come to me under the moon. Please don’t think me forward, but I feel like I know you after the countless days you spoke to me of your hopes and dreams.” The horse saw the horrified look on her face. Sasha was almost sure the horse was in on the joke and only trying to humiliate her further. The horse said, “Don’t worry, Sasha. I know you could never love a horse. But I am a man. I have only been put under a spell. Have you ever thought it funny that the priest got a new horse the same night the king disappeared so many years ago?”

Sasha shook her head. She said, “I vaguely remember us having a king long ago, but I don’t remember what happened to him.”

The horse said, “No matter. I am sure that is just another part of the Queen’s spell. You see, she hired and evil witch to put a charm on the royal scepter. Whoever was hit over the head with it would become a horse until the curse has been transferred to another.” Sasha nodded this time there was something in the horse’s voice that was soothing and regal, and bit by bit it was removing the clouds from her memory. There was something to what the horse was saying. She could almost remember the night they had to cook for the old crone. Something horrible like rats and toads. And she was fed in the kitchen so nobody important had to watch.

The horse said, “Sasha, my dear.” This time Sasha believed the sincerity of his love for her. “I need you to sneak into the castle and steal the scepter from the Queen. I will use what power I can muster under the light of this full moon to draw in a fog and everyone in the castle will be asleep. The Queen will be lying in her bed fully clothed holding the scepter in her hand. Grab it from her hand and bring it to me, and we will try to find someone suitably evil to transfer the curse to.”

Sasha believed what the horse had told her and believed that she might grow to love the man inside the horse the way he loved her. She said, “Yes, king horse. I will do this for you.” The horse pulled back his lips trying to smile and let out a happy neigh. He took a step back in his stall and began to prance and kick and groan and grunt horsey sounds. And the fog began to roll in from the field glowing with the full moon’s light and the castle looked strange in the unearthly glow.

When Sasha arrived back at the castle the doors were all open and the guards were asleep at their posts. The whole castle was strangely silent, and the sounds of her footsteps didn’t even echo off the stone walls. She made her way up the stairwell, down the hallway, and into the Queens chamber. The Queen was on her bed, just like the horse said, fully dressed and holding on to her scepter. She reached out for the scepter but the sound of her heart beating in her ears stopped her. Sasha had always thought the Queen beautiful when she had ever seen her in passing, but lying there in the strange light, she looked like she was dead or decaying into some kind of ghoul. Sasha clenched her jaw trying and failing to silence the sound of her heart. Then, she grabbed the scepter, but the Queens hand was grasped tight around the handle, and Sasha could not pull it away.

The Queen awoke in a rage and grabbed Sasha by the hair. The Queen said, “I knew someone would come for my scepter, but I didn’t know it would be you, horse fucker!”

Sasha screamed and struggled to get the scepter away from the Queen. The Queen pulled Sasha onto the bed with her and ripped out a handful of her hair. Struggling for the scepter the queen yanked it high over her head, and Sasha was able to grasp it with both her hands. Then, they both tumbled from the bed to the floor. Sasha was on top of the Queen as they fell. And putting her hands out to break her fall, the scepter came down hard against the Queen’s forehead. The blood gushed from the gash in the Queens head, and she began to spasm and shake. The Queen began to groan and grunt like a horse with a broken leg. And Sasha ran out of the castle with the scepter in hand. When she returned to the stable, the horse was gone, and there stood King Pavel in the horse’s stall. Sasha and King Pavel gave in to the heat of passion and spent the night behind the church in the hay.

The next morning when they returned to the castle, all of the guards and servants were ranting about the wild horse with the long red mane that they found in the king’s bed chambers, and nobody seemed to be able to remember anything of what happened the night before. But more than that, the people were excited to see the return of King Pavel and Lady Sasha, and the arrangements were made for their marriage that night. King Pavel and Lady Sasha lived happily together for many years. And despite their old age, they bore many healthy children together. And on the day of their death the royal scepter was handed down to their first-born son who swore to keep it safe. And there was the horse in the Priest’s stable out behind the church. It was the wild horse with the long red mane that never seemed to die.

Who wants to play “Once Upon a Time”?

“Once Upon a Time” is a cooperative storytelling card game. The object of the game is to work together taking turns telling a fantasy story. The game is part cooperative and part competitive. Each of the players has their own story elements and ending card. When one player uses all of their element cards and reads off their ending card, that player wins. Because of the drive for the players to win, the game devolves into saying a word or two and throwing your cards on the table. This is not how the game is supposed to be played.

In my house, we have changed the rules. Instead of trying to tell one story where each of us try to steal the story from each other, we take turns telling the story we have come up with from the cards in our own hands. This makes it a fun game to play with your kids that helps teach them storytelling structure. At the same time, it is a good tool for practicing storytelling skills in a nonthreatening way.

If you choose to participate with me, feel free to write your story as short or as long as you like and comment a link of your story to this post so that everyone can see the differing stories that come from the same story telling elements.

The rules:

  1. The story starts with, “Once upon a time.”
  2. Use as many of the seven story element cards as you can.
  3. End your story with the phrase on the ending card.
  4. Have fun.

100 Word Love Story

She had imagined he would come out from around that counter and sweep her away with that half a grin on his face, but reality was more awkward than that. She’d come in everyday to buy her cigarettes and ask him silly questions just to see that grin. Even with that red work shirt, he was handsome. So many men his age were, but it was that wrinkle against his cheek. And his piercing eyes. She touched his hand when she took her change. She said, “Tell me, are you free Friday night?” He smiled his silly smile and winked.

NaNoWriMo Day 1 (2583 words) Visions from the Coffee Cup

Allen told her about the toy boat, and why he had come to The City. She told him about the things she saw in the coffee. He told her how he found the toy boat. Or stole it. He saw someone with it and knocked it out of his hand. He said it wasn’t like him. He said he wasn’t a thief but all he could think about was taking the toy boat. He told about the first time he put the boat in his pocket and how the business card just appeared from nowhere.

She told him of her parents and Judy and him. And she told him about the lives of the people that she watches in the coffee. She said, “It all sounds so crazy. I’m sure you don’t believe any of it.”

Allen said, “Of course I believe you. I had my own little form of magic. I knew what was on the business cards, and I knew people would take them. And they would donate, but I’m not sure Raul Botulin is a real person. Maybe he is in one of those places you see in the coffee.”

He had wondered about Raul when he found the first business card in his pocket. Before he knew to give the card away, he looked it over. He saw the link on the back to the GoFundMe page. There was a blurb about Raul and how he was this hotshot poet. How he liked to stand out on the corner of a busy city street and yell out his poems to the people passing by. It said everyone just ignored him, but he knew that he had the words to be great. It said all Raul needed was enough money to get his first book of poetry published. And there was a picture of a young man in an expensive suit standing on an old television on a street corner with people passing by.

She said, “But that’s not the way this works. I only bring people through the coffee not things. And it was only you and Judy. And you came through naked, didn’t you? I haven’t found your clothes.”

Every time he looked at the GoFundMe page, he would think that the young man in the picture looked a little more like him. Eventually it looked so much like him that he began to go by the name. He spent all his savings to buy the same suit of the man in the picture. He hopped that owning the suit would somehow give him the password to the GoFundMe page so he could get access to all that money. Even when it was only one hundred thousand dollars, he felt like it was a life changing sum. And when he gave away that first business card, he saw that the amount in the account had gone up. He hadn’t told this part to Linda. Somehow, it felt greedy or wrong, and he didn’t want her to think those sorts of things about him. And besides, it seemed she had already seen many of the things that had happened anyway even if she only knew what was on the outside.

He said, “You didn’t say the girl was naked. That doesn’t sound like a detail that you would have left out of the story.”

She said, “No, she had clothes. But she didn’t have anything else. Nothing in her hands, and nothing in her pockets.”

He said, “But that doesn’t nothing else came through.”

Linda sounded irritated. She said, “Nothing else did come through. I’ve learned to control it.” It was really her uncertainty that had upset her. She knew that she had learned to resist the urge to bring people through the coffee, and she didn’t know if things had come through only to end up in different locations. She didn’t know for sure that things didn’t come through when she was resisting especially when she was younger. And in times of stress like running into Francisco on the street, she was not sure she could resist at all.

He said, “But you brought me through. You said you didn’t mean to.” Allen looked at her as if he wanted to see what she was thinking. Then, he looked down at his empty cup of coffee. He said, “Can I have some water, or a toothbrush? I think I know why you don’t drink this stuff.” Linda laughed at that, and then they started talking about other things.

They were both startled when there was a knock on the door. When someone knocked with out setting up an appointment with her first, it was usually some kid knocking and then running to hide down the hall. She hadn’t heard any giggling or any frantic footsteps fading out as they ran down the hall. And she didn’t hear any crying. One of her neighbors had come crying once knocking on every door in the hallway running away from her shouting boyfriend. Linda didn’t open the door for her, but she did call the police. She had not seen them and couldn’t give them a description or a room number of the fighting couple, and the operator sounded inconvenienced to be get the call. But he got the street address and her room number. He said that he would send over a police officer to take a report. She rescheduled her readings for that day and waited for hours before she decided that an officer was never going to arrive. One never did. But there was the knock again, and louder and more insistent this time.

Her peep hole had been painted over many times before she even moved into the apartment, and she had never tried to scrape it away to see through it. She always had a hard time seeing through then anyway. So she spoke loudly through the door. “Who is it?”

The man’s voice came through the door. “It’s Vincent from downstairs.”

She recognized his voice, but he had never been up to her floor to her knowledge, so she opened the door a crack and kept the safety chain engaged. She peeked through the door. She said, “Good morning… I mean, afternoon.”

He looked a little surprised. He said, “So, it is you.” He looked to his right and to his left. “Can I come in? I wouldn’t ever come to bother you, but I think you need to hear something. And I don’t think I should tell you here where people might hear me.”

She looked at Allen for a second then back to the door. “Ok.” She disengaged the safety chain and opened the door. Vincent came and shut the door behind him. He took a step away from the door and stopped. He wrung his hands together in front of him as if he were trying to keep them warm. Linda had taken a few steps back and Allen was standing next to the table trying to look intimidating despite having to keep a hand on the table to steady him.

Vincent said, “Two guys had come by my apartment askin’ about a Mrs. Carla and Raul something-or-other. They asked me about this apartment. I’m guessin’ Carla and Raul is the both of you.” He motioned to the both of them with his hands that he was still wringing together.

Allen said, “I’m Allen not Raul.”

Vincent said, “Don’t tell me your name. I don’t want to know. I wasn’t even up here.” He gave them an embarrassed look. “I know that sounds like a line from some corny mobster movie, but I’m serious. I know these kinda guys and one of them said he knew my uncle. I told him I don’t talk to my uncle, and he said he knew that, too.” He looked at both of them to make sure his words were sinking in. He said, “Look, I didn’t tell them nothin.’ And I don’t know nothin.’” He looked at them again. “They said, this Raul disappeared over a year ago and they thought he might be with this Mrs. Carla. I told them I had read of a Mrs. Carla in the newspaper, and I told them to leave. I thought they were gonna mess me up, but they didn’t.”

Allen said, “I think I know the type.”

Vincent said, “You sure look like you do.” He turned to Linda and lowered his voice a little. “Lady, I don’t know what you are doing with a guy like this, but he is bad news. He hangs out with the wrong sort of people. You better get as far away from him as you can. He’s gonna end up dead and probably you, too. You get rid of him and don’t let anybody see you do it. And don’t come talkin to me. I don’t have nothin to do with none of this.” He apologized to both of them and then he turned to the door. He said, “You better lock this behind me.” He looked down both sides of the hallway before he walked out and closed the door behind him.

Allen sat back down in the chair. He said, “It must be those same thugs that did this to me. He said they can’t get the money either.” He put his head in his hands again careful not to hurt his swollen eye. “That man is right. I don’t want you to be part of this. You don’t need to get hurt because they are looking for me. You don’t owe me anything.”

She knew he was wrong. She had heard him asking in his delirium for that toy boat. She knew that she had to return that to him. She said, “Allen, I saw what it did to Judy.” They was a ruckus in the hallway. It sounded like someone being beaten. They both looked at the door.

Allen said, “They must have seen him.” Linda ignored him and went for her purse. She dropped several things onto the floor, but she had her phone out. She was swiping at the lock screen to get the phone to work when the door busted open splintering the wooden frame. Vincent came throw the doorway falling limply onto the floor. He was sniveling and spitting blood.

Allen jumped to his feet pushing the table over a foot, knocking over Linda’s cup, and spilling the cold coffee across the table. It began to drip off the edges of the table and through the seam in the center of the table. But the cold coffee was dead and held nothing for Linda to see.

Two large men followed Vincent through the doorway and stood one on either side of him, and a third stood in the hallway in front of the door telling the other tenants to shut up and go back into their apartments. The bigger of the two said, “There you are Raul. You are coming with us.”

The other man looked at Linda and said, “Put down the phone Mrs. Carla unless you want to end up like this other trash we spilled on the floor.” Linda dropped the phone. She hadn’t even gotten the phone unlocked let alone started the call to the police.

The man from the hallway turned around. He said to the other man, “Freddy, I told you. The line about the garbage was mine. You’re not allowed to say it.”

Freddy looked over his shoulder. “I said trash. I can say trash.”

The big man looked at Vincent still laying on the floor. He said, “Remember, Vinny, your uncle wouldn’t like to hear about you talkin to the cops.”

The man from the hallway grabbed Linda by the arm and the two bigger men held Allen by either arm. They got them down the elevator and out the service door into the alley behind the building where they had a van ready with the engine running and a fourth man already waiting in the driver seat. The driver called through the window. “Hurry up. I already had to pay one cop to let me stay here. The next one may not be so friendly.”

***

Linda and Allen were taken across town to the old warehouse district where they were driven into a sparsely used industrial park. It looked like it the warehouses had seen better days but several of the warehouses upfront were still in use and several of the freight docks had trucks backed up to them. A few of the drivers were sleeping in the driver seat of their day cabs but most of the drivers must have been inside supervising the loading or unloading of their trailers. And they drove around to a small door that led from the alley in back where they kept the trash bins and a few of the worker’s cars. They were ushered through a door that had been scrawled with graffitied names all layered one on top of the other. There were a few throw ups on the rest of alleyway wall but nothing impressive. Inside the warehouse it was dark, and Linda’s eyes didn’t feel like they would adjust to the light. Linda wondered if Allen’s eyes would adjust at all because she was nearly certain that he had a concussion if not something worse.

They were brought into a small upstairs office that had been built in the warehouse way back when this warehouse was still in legitimate use. Now the warehouse floor was mostly just scattered with trash broken wooden pallets and one old tractor tire that didn’t really seem like it belonged in the old center of the city.

Franky and the other big man grabbed two chairs that weren’t too broken, but they saved the good chairs for themselves. They sat the two chairs in the corner nest to a bar that looked like it had been installed much more recently than the rest of the office they were in. Franky grabbed a pair of handcuffs out of the drawer in the desk. Cuffed one of Linda’s arms laced the other cuff behind the bar and cuffed it to Allen’s arm. He said, “You two might be pretty cosey. This spot was really only designed for one person at a time.” Franky sat down in the chair behind the desk, leaned it back on two legs, and turned his head to the other big man. He said, “Hey Pete, we are gonna be here for a while Stacy’s gonna want to talk to them herself. Why don’t you and Red pick us all up a mess of coffee. I hear tell Mrs. Carla really loves the stuff. And If I remember correctly our old friend owed her a few.”

Pete said, “Sure Frank. Don’t beat em too badly before I get back. I wanna give my knuckles a workout.” Pete walked down the stairs and spoke to the other two men. It would seem like Red was the driver and the other man was Johnny. Linda was straining to overhear what they were talking about. The walls didn’t seem to be very insulated, but they did muffle voices quite a bit.

Franky said, “You know, Raul, I’ve seen some amazing things but that night you disappeared in front of my eyes that was a truly impressive magic trick. Right between two cracks of my stick, you just swapped places with the old man.

Markey Monkey the Emperor of Evil–Halloween Reposting

On the back wall of the throne room in the castle of The Burning Hammer hung a full-length mirror with an ornate black and grey filigree frame. Despite the deepening black of the mirror pane, it emitted an ominous glow like dying embers at night. In the center, you could almost see the visage of a disappointed father.

An eight year old child stood with his head down and his hands behind his back in front of the mirror but several feet back. He kicked one shoe against the cobblestone floor, and it made a loud squeak. He said, “But dad, I don’t want to take the zombies out today. Do you have any idea how many people I need to kill to get your crazy machine up to even a little power? I took the hoard of devil children out to Illinois yesterday. We killed half the people in Chicago and the screen is still blinking and saying its critically low.”

The image of old man in the mirror affected a stern look and said, “Mark.” That is how you could tell he was mad. Typically, he would call his son ‘Markey the Monkey,’ ‘Monkey Head,’ or ‘Markey Mark and the Funky Bunch’ that is, when he wasn’t calling him by made up words like ‘Farblegooble’ or ‘Snoopledoople.’ He said, “Mark, come here.”

Mark took a step back and said, “No.”

The evil image said, “What do you mean, no?”

Mark swiveled back and forth on one foot avoiding eye contact with the evil image in the mirror and said, “No, dad. You’re mad.”

The ominous glow of the mirror dimmed a little. “No son. I am trying to look stern. I mean I am putting a lot on you. And I want you to call it ‘The Portal of Souls’ not ‘crazy machine.’ It makes it sound a lot more scary.  You know fear is an important tool in the arsenal of every good emperor of evil.”

Mark said, “But dad, I don’t want to be an emperor of evil. I want an Xbox 5. Billy’s dad bought him an Xbox 5.”

The ominous glow got brighter. “We don’t have the money.” The image looked a little pensive. “The money I have to shell out in alimony.” The image shook its head. “Look just don’t get married. That’s all I ask. You know, all I want is the best for you.”

Billy looked up at his father’s image with his best ‘innocent’ look, “We can use my money. I’m rich. I have more money than anything.”

The Evil image said, “Yes. Yes, Marky Poo, it looks like a lot because I drop all my change in your piggybank, but it can’t be more than forty or fifty dollars.”

Mark whined, “Dad.”

The evil image said, “No, we just can’t do it. It’s final.”

Mark started to cry. “Dad, you hurt my feelings.”

The evil vision in the mirror didn’t know what to do. He knew he was right, but his son was crying. The poor little boy was just overwhelmed. He just needed to calm down. The evil image said, “It’s OK, son. Just stop crying.”

Mark whimpered. “I can’t.”  He kept crying.

The evil vision said, “Oh sweet little Markey Monkey, why don’t you sit down in the throne and cuddle with my desiccated corpse like we used to do before my soul was trapped in this mirror.”

Mark said, “OK, dad.” He climbed up and sat on the arm of the throne leaned against his dad’s boney corpse and wiped his tears on the shirt over the dead shoulder. He calmed almost instantly, and before long he was no longer even breathing hard. He said, “Dad, I feel better now.” He was still cuddling his dad’s corpse.

The evil vision said, “I love you, son.”

Mark looked at the mirror and said, “Too.”

The evil vision smiled a genuine warm smile, and said, “OK, Markey are you ready to take out the zombies? I heard there are still some survivors hiding out in the Great Lakes area.”

Mark smiled at the evil image of his father in the mirror and said, “OK, dad.”

The evil image stood proud and watched its son walk out the throne room door and begin the chant to raise the corpses from the dead. The evil image thought, that little boy will make his father proud by the end of the day. The evil image wasn’t wrong. That was a black day for the state of Illinois. Death drenched in blood and giant gouts of hellfire that can still be seen to this day.

*************************

Little Markey Monkey was out on his father’s business one day in a small town outside of an Iowa corn field. The usual. Flames and air raid sirens and whatnot. He found a little girl wandering through the tall grass up the only hill in the state. A very gradual hill. You might even call it a mound or a lump. But he found her on her way to the playground at the top. He had heard her crying and followed that sound. He said, “Are you hurt?” He reached out and grabbed her by the hand.

She said, “I’m scared. I think I saw a monster.”

Mark said, “Don’t be scared of monsters. Nothing can hurt you.” He grabbed the left sleave of his shirt with his right hand and wiped her tears. He saw the shiver was still on her lips, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small toy car. He said, “Whenever I get sad about my father, I play with this car.” He handed it to her.

She took it, hesitated for a moment then gave him a hug. He hugged her back. She said, “Do you want to be my friend? We could play at the playground.”

He said, “Yes, my name is Mark.”

The little girl said, “My name is Milly. You wanna race?” They both started up the hill parting the grass as they went. Mark let her have a head start because she was smaller.

He said, “Don’t let me catch you.” When they got to the top of the hill they played for a while. There was a swing set with a tire swing on one end and monkey bars, but Milly was too small for both. But there was the play set with the slides connected with bridges and stairs. So they climbed the stairs and played on the slides running across the rubber coated bridges that connected them. It was a beautiful day to play ignoring the black smoke in the sky and the sounds panic coming from town. In fact, the hell fire burning in town added a nice rosy glow to the playground equipment that was quite a bit nicer than the direct glare of the bright son.

After some time, Milly sat down on the top step and began to push the toy car back and forth. Mark sat next to her and put his arm around her as she played. She said, “Mark,” then she pushed the car some more. “Markey… I wish my dad could push me.”

He said, “I can push you.”

She said, “That one.” She pointed to the tire swing.

He said, “I can push you.”

She said, “No, me and you. I want my dad to push us.”

He said, “Me too. My dad is stuck in a chair.”

She said, “Did he get hurt?”

He said, “Not a wheelchair, silly.” Milly just looked at him. He thought she still looked sad. “A throne.”

She smiled. “Your dad is stuck on the potty?!” She practically giggled the words.

Mark laughed, too, rocking back and forth on the step. He said, “Pooping?!”

Milly said, “Pooping!!” They were practically crying. It was so funny.

They both laughed for a while before they could catch their breath. Mark said, “He’s not pooping. He’s dead. He is in the mirror, but his body is stuck on the throne in the castle.”

She scooted away from him. “What castle?”

He pointed toward the fire and smoke on the horizon. “In the sky. The big one way over there.”

She said, “Markey are you evil?

He said, “Yes.” He sounded as if he didn’t even know the implications of his answer. Milly looked as if she might run at any second. He said, “But that doesn’t mean I’m not good.”

She said, “It does.”

He said, “Does not.” He almost looked offended. “I am good.”

She said, “But you’re evil.”

He said, “I am evil.”

She looked puzzled. “Evil-good?”

He nodded. “Evil-good.”

She said, “I’m glad,” then reached over and gave him a big hug. “Because I think my mommy and daddy are dead.”

He said, “Oh…” He hugged her for a second. “Don’t worry about that. Death is not the end.”

She said, “It’s not?”

He said, “No. Of course not. Who told you that?” He scratched his head. “I’ll bring them back. What are their names?” He raised his hands and started humming a strange tune.

She said, “Zombies?”

He nodded. “Zombies.”

She said, “Not zombies! Alive.”

He put his hands down and let out a sigh. He said, “I can’t do that. Not yet. My dad has this machine…” He let his words trail off. He said, “You keep hold of that car. I will take you home with me tonight. My dad won’t like it, but you will be able to stay with us. I will tell him, and we will get your mommy and daddy back alive. Just close your eyes. I have to call my monsters to pick up the dead.”

She closed her eyes and held on to her Markey until he finished his strange chant. He scrubbed her hair with his hand. He said, “It’s OK now, Milly. You can open your eyes.”

They stopped by her house on the way back to the castle and picked up a change of clothes for the night.

********************************

The black mirror in the throne room of The Castle of the Burning hammer began to lighten. It sniffed tentatively at first, and then sniffed good and hard. The evil vision’s voice boomed a sing song. “Markey Mark, little monkey.”

Mark jumped and spilled coffee on the floor and table of the castle kitchen. He said loud enough to be heard in the other room. “What, dad.”  He threw the rest of the coffee down the sink.

The evil vision’s voice boomed into the kitchen. “What do I smell in there?”

Mark yelled again from the kitchen. “Nothing, dad. You can’t smell, remember?”

The evil vision boomed his voice into the kitchen. “I can, too. And I think you are hiding something. Mark, get in here.”

Mark thought his dad was getting mad.  He yelled, “No.”

The evil vision said, “Now, son.”

“No.”

“I’m about to start counting.” Mark still did not come. “One…” The evil voice counted loudly.

Mark poked his head out of the kitchen doorway. “No, dad. Don’t spank me.”

“Two…”

Mark walked through the door. Looking at his toes and walking slow.

The evil vision said, “Markey, do I smell coffee?”

Mark looked up and said, “When did you start smelling again?”

The evil vision said, “I don’t know. It just started on and off in the last… Mark, you are too young to drink coffee.”

“I didn’t drink it, dad.” The news that his father was regaining his senses made Mark both happy and sad.

“So, I did smell coffee.”

“No. There isn’t any coffee. You didn’t smell coffee.”

“Don’t lie to me, Mark. I can see it on your face.”

Mark was astonished. “You can see, too?”

“Well, no… Only sometimes. Like when you lie to me.”

“OK, dad. But I didn’t drink the coffee.”

“Mark… Little Markey, I will not have you drinking coffee. It is not good for a growing boy.”

“I won’t.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

The evil vision said, “By the way. I have been sensing spot around here the past couple days.” Mark smiled he really liked spot. The evil vision said, “I thought you sent him back to hell.”

“He came back. I think he just wandered off into the woods for a while.”

“I don’t know, Markey. When I told you it was OK to keep him as pet you told me that you were up to the responsibility.”

“I am, dad. I am very responsible. I clean his cage and everything.”

“The zombies told me that they were the ones picking up his poop.”

“That is the same thing, isn’t it?”

“Well maybe in the eyes of the law… But cleaning it up yourself is supposed to teach you discipline.”

“Dad, it’s gross. It stinks. It has blood and mucus and pieces of bone. And it’s foamy. The zombies like to do it. They told me.”

“The zombies didn’t tell you that. Nobody likes picking up monster poop. Especially not from a black slime.” The mirror started to dim to blackness and Markey turned to walk away. Then, the evil mirror snapped brighter than ever. “Wait a minute, son. Have you been talking to the zombies?” There was almost excitement in the evil vision’s voice.

“You know what I mean, dad. I tell them to do stuff, and they do it.”

“So… You were fibbing?”

“Don’t be mad, dad.”

“Are you sure? You didn’t look like you were fibbing. You know it would be a big day if you could read their minds. You would be growing into a man. You are not scared of growing up, are you? You are still too young for ‘The Talk’ but I sure would be proud of my little man.”

“I wasn’t fibbing… I just don’t like to clean up the poop.”

“I know, but that is part of your responsibilities. And you need to be more careful with him. Have the zombies make sure his pit is sealed. I mean really sealed. A slime can get through even the smallest of cracks.”

“I will, dad.”

“And really watch them. You are the supervisor really make sure they are doing a good job. I don’t you to tell them I said this, but those zombies… I don’t want to say it. They are… Kind of…”

“Dumb, dad?”

“Don’t say it so loud, son. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

“You don’t want to hurt the zombies’ feelings!?” Mark began to giggle.

“They do have feelings, son. We are not the only ones. Zombies are just the same as you and me. You should respect them.”

Mark looked a little ashamed. “I do respect them, dad.” “OK, son. You just keep an eye on spot. We don’t need him going around killing people when you are not there to collect the power from their souls. We need everything we can get to power that machine. It seems like the power keeps leaking away little by little every day. I need to recheck the wiring diagram against the way the machine is actually hooked up. There has got to be something leaking to ground that shouldn’t me. I mean we really should have the thing up and running by now.”

You Won’t Take Mad From Me

He said, You are sitting right next me at the table. You understand that I can hear that phone call, right? He just told you I love you, and you told him you love him, too.

She said, It’s not what you think. His mother just died. And he has been a friend for three years.

He said, I bet.

She said, He is just a coworker.

He said, I bet.

She said, He is, and his mother just died.

He said, I bet she did. And I bet this is the third time this month that she’s died.

She said, You don’t understand. He is just a friend.

He said, I can tell. He must be a really close friend.

She said, I don’t want to lose what we have.

He said, I can tell. You play that out right in front of me. Then, you tell me that you don’t want to lose what we have. What exactly do you think we have?

She said, He is just a friend.

He said, I heard him say, I love you. Then you told him…

She said, You don’t understand. He…

He said, You told him you love him, too. I am your husband. I don’t care if you are not fucking him. And I don’t believe it either.

She said, I don’t want to lose what we have.

He said, A man does not tell another man’s wife that he loves her unless that woman is his mother. And a man’s wife does not tell another man that she loves him.

She said, He is only a friend.

He said, I don’t want to hear it.

She said, Baby!

She moved over to him and put her arms around him, and he turned away. She put her boobs on the side of his head.

She said, I don’t want to lose you.

He said, stop. I am not in the mood to be touched.

She said, Oh yeah! Well what are you in the mood for?

He said, I’m not in the mood to talk about this.

She said, When will you be in the mood to talk about this, huh?

He said, I am trying to be polite. I have not raised my voice. You keeping at me about this is making me angry.

She said, He is just a friend. I don’t want you mad at me about this.

He said, I am mad. I have earned mad. I will stay mad. And you will not convince me that I should not be mad about you having an intimate relationship with another man.

She said, You don’t understand.

He said, I don’t care if I understand. I don’t care if you are sleeping with him. It doesn’t matter. Ok, it does matter. I don’t want to hear about it. Now, leave me alone, and let me be mad.

She walked off hurt that he was mad. And she would bring it up again. She knew she would. She would just wait until he seemed a little too happy. Then, she would say, We need to talk about this. I don’t want you mad. And she didn’t want him mad, did she?

Visions from the Coffee Cup (part 4)

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a far off stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.

Visions from the Coffee Cup (part 3)

She had never seen Francisco again at least until she came barreling around that corner. She was walking fast and looking down at her phone to see what time it was. She cut as close as she could to the cement column at the corner of the bank building. There was another half block and she was racing to make it before the morning deadline. And there was Francisco coming around the same corner. At least it was him for a second. Or she thought it was him.

No, no it was him. It was Francisco. She had run into him hard and was knocked onto the sidewalk and her attaché case had fallen and come open. Her papers had gotten wet with what looked, smelled, and felt like hot coffee. Her head was swimming, and her arms were dripping with scalding coffee.

It had been Francisco for. He had looked so much older and worse for wear. It had seemed that the last three years had not been good to him. He had been walking and drinking from a Styrofoam to-go-cup of coffee. In the split second of impact, the coffee cup had come open smashed against Francisco’s face. The coffee splashed up and off his face into the air, and Linda was transfixed by the scattering of the black liquid glittering in the sunlight. The falling globes of coffee all at once revealed the man that she had seen in the coffee before she had left her apartment.

All in that split second, she had seen the young man and his two thousand dollar suit and the boat and the beating and the blood and the woman and the note. All at the same time, and all in vivid detail. She smelled the clean linen smell of the high-end tailor shop. Felt each time he was hit with. Felt the whisper of a woman’s lips on his cheek and her hand in his pocket dropping a note. Felt the draw of the toy boat and the mystery of the business cards. Felt the pain of spending his last dime on that suit. Heard the warning from the man at the deli not to go. Felt the caress of a woman’s hands removing his clothes. Felt the frightened excitement of the door flying opened. Saw three men with cutoff broom handles. Heard them asking him for something, but he gave them his name. Was it Raul? Was it Allen? And she felt his passion, and his youth, and his erection, and its fade, and his death. Most of all, she felt his death. And all in that split second.

And Francisco was gone. He had slammed into her knocking her to the ground, and he was gone but for the coffee on her and her papers and the broken cup and lid being kicked across the ground by the people walking past. Some passersby had hooted their approval at seeing her fall. Others had gasped, but none seemed to know exactly how it happened. Although not many had stuck around to voice their opinions. Most had continued walking past. But one man had offered her a hand up. She had expected it to be the young man with the expensive suit, but it was not. It was just some man she may or may not have seen before. He helped her up, handed her the attaché case and then he was on his way checking his pockets to make sure she had not stolen his wallet.

She had not seen what had happened to Francisco or whatever name he was using these days. It was possible that he had just slipped past in the confusion, but it sure didn’t feel that way. There was so much anger at seeing Francisco and confusion and other emotions in that split second that she was sure that he had simply vanished. She had never sent anyone away through the coffee or knew if it even worked that way. In fact, she didn’t know how any of it worked only that it did. She could suppress it sometimes when she had time to concentrate, but this had all happened so fast.

She walked into the copy editor’s office and said, “Mr. Hutchinson, is there a computer I can use?”

He swiveled around in his chair. Then leaned back in surprise. He said, “Jesus, Mrs. Carla. I’d ask how your morning was, but I think I can tell.” He got up from his chair. “Here, sit down. You can use mine.”

It was a good thing that she was able to access her work remotely because here papers were brown, soggy, and wrinkling by the time she got them to the newspaper building. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she went through the extra effort of actually going down to the building when she could have just emailed the documents in the first place. She felt like she might have to explain something to the Mr. Hutchinson or something like that. But he never did ask. He’d always loved her work and seldom made any changes.

She just thought there was something better about the weight of actual paper. Something you could touch. And it gave her a reason to leave her apartment and interact with real people that weren’t her clients. And she liked seeing Mr. Hutchinson. He was a chubby old man and he kept pictures of his wife and his kids and their kids. And he always had something interesting he had just read while he was getting it ready to go to print. But this morning he was only interested in what had happened to her. And all she could tell him is it all happened so fast.

No, she wouldn’t give up her walks to the paper. She liked The City. There was just something honest about not knowing someone and not being forced to pretend to know them. That is what she liked about living and walking there. The City simply existed. It didn’t care if you didn’t know it. The people simply existed. Most people didn’t care if you didn’t know anything about them. And the majority seemed to prefer that you didn’t know them. When she got back to her apartment, she was tempted to pour herself a cup of coffee from the pot she left on the eye to keep hot. But she decided instead to get herself in the shower and change into clothes that were not stained and smelling of stale coffee.

She nearly screamed when she saw the naked and bleeding man lying in her bed. It was Raul or Allen or whatever she thought his name might be. It was the young man from her vision, but he wasn’t dead. He was beaten and bloody and seemed to be in and out of consciousness. She was sure she had seen him die, but here he was. Alive or just barely. She wet a clean towel from her bathroom and began to clean the blood off him. The thought of the police did cross her mind but didn’t call them. She knew that she had brought him here, and now she owed him something. The police would just take him away, and he would end up broken like Judy. Linda was determined to help him.

*** Part 4

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a faroff stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.