STORY THREAD; Apr 14 – Apr 27, 2016 Flash Fiction Writing Contest: “3 of 4 Required Elements”

The LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.

This post is for STORIES related to this week’s Writing Prompt.

Required Elements – must include 3 of the 4 – singular or plural in any combination: 

  • An Antique Fountain Pen
  • A Mallard Duck
  • A Set of Wind Chimes
  • A Child’s Sandbox

Critiques, comments and feedback are encouraged on the LinkedIn Comment Thread; non story comments here will be deleted.

The point of these friendly contests is to hone our craft and create successful stories within a predefined set of limitations. There is no monetary compensation.

Please Note: comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:

One story per author. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be under 1000 words.

Voting

You will need to vote for the following:

  1. Your top 5 votes in order.
  2. Story with your favorite character.
  3. Story with the best use of dialogue.
  4. Story with the best pacing.
  5. Story with the best structure.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

A link to the voting page will be posted at that time.

Winner will be announced in the Comment and Story thread.

  • You may vote only once and cannot vote for yourself.
  • In order for your story to qualify you must vote.

The winner shall name the next week’s writing prompt.
In case of ties, co-winners may be announced and the moderator shall select a winner to name the theme.
The winner has three days after the announcement to contact either Alice Nelson or Carrie Zylka via LIFlashFiction(at)gmail.com with the next theme/items of their choosing.

13 thoughts on “STORY THREAD; Apr 14 – Apr 27, 2016 Flash Fiction Writing Contest: “3 of 4 Required Elements”

  • April 15, 2016 at 10:21 am
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    The Wolf’s Road

    Dean Hardage

    Jonathan’s hand trembled as the old fountain pen moved in slow, laborious printing across the page of the notebook. As he wrote, he thought, “I should have listened. She told me, the old woman told me.”

    When he was a boy and a wandering gypsy troupe had camped outside of town he’d gone there to get his fortune told. It was a lark, something done just for amusement and the words of the old woman had made no sense at the time. The prophetic words had been spoken to the melodious chorus of finely tuned wind chimes hanging in the door of the old fortune teller’s tent.

    For a moment he was still, even his quiet breathing stopped while his mind flashed back to that first moment. It has been a huge step, the first use of a modulated beam of tachyons to communicate with another species. It has been an even more profound leap to this swap of a few ounces of matter across the vast distance between their worlds.

    It was during the intervening years between them that he had become acquainted with many of those beings, one individual in particular. They had discovered so many things in common so against all odds that their meeting felt like fate. The friendship had become very deep over the last 10 years until he finally admitted to himself that it was love. He hope that it wasn’t only on his part.

    “We did it!” someone had exclaimed. The entire collection of technicians, scientists, politicians, journalists, and even a few laymen who had been allowed to witness the shift had all broken into thunderous applause for the matter transfer between Earth and the star Lupus-TR-3 in the constellation Lupus.

    He, one of only three allowed inside the exclusion zone around the transmitter, had stopped almost instantly when he saw what had replaced the large, laser incised diamond on the podium at its center. A tiny doll, more of a figurine. He had used his remote video to zoom in on it and get a better look. It was a humanoid figure, dressed in a simple but elegant shift. It was beautiful but alien. There was something odd about the hands and features, but the eyes were what made him catch his breath. They were dark and deep and the quality of the reproduction was so perfect he could imagine that they were looking back at him. He sat there quietly amid the furor, just gazing at those eyes. He had realized then that it was an image of her.

    How ecstatic he had been when at last the system, now popularly called the Lupus Highway, was declared safe enough to actually permit human travel to their distant neighbors’ home and he had been given a slot among the first group. He would at last get to see her, hold her, and tell her how he really felt in the lilting, almost singsong tongue of her people. How he had nearly died when he got the news that she’d died in an accident only a few days before he was scheduled to make the trip.

    Now he sat in the park watching the mallards swim on the pond and the children at play on the swings and in the sandbox. He wrote his memoirs, the story of man’s first real encounter with an alien species told from his perspective. He neared the end of the final paragraph, eyes filled with tears even as his heart filled with longing once more for what might have been.

    It all made sense now, what the old woman had said. It hadn’t been the usual sideshow fortune about fame, fortune and love. Her words returned to him with all of their portent fully revealed when she’d said, “Beware the way of the wolf, boy, for misery awaits. You shall lose your heart along the Wolf’s Road.”

  • April 20, 2016 at 8:36 pm
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    Forever Love
    Lihua stared forlornly at the pen lying in her hand; given to her by Jizi. She gasped at its beauty now, just as she did that first time. The smile she had then, now replaced with tears that trickled their way down her porcelain cheeks. Those tears gathered momentum as she recalled that warm summer morning as they strolled along the Long Corridor.

    Jizi knew he had no rights to Lihua. She had been brought, an uneducated country girl, to the Palace to join the royal household. Her life was dedicated to the service of the Empress.
    Somehow good fortune touched Lihua, owing in part to her gentle, kind nature.
    In a spur of the moment decision, the self indulging Empress permitted her to study under Jizi’s tutorage.
    He was a scholarly young man; a dedicated teacher.
    ‘I believe that every Chinese person should have the door to knowledge prised open through learning,’ exuberance reflected in his shining eyes.

    Lihua loved the precious opportunities to study outdoors. She reverently carried her bag containing rice paper, ink and blotters, her most prized possessions, prized like the jewels in the Empress’s headpieces.
    Part way along the corridor Jizi had stopped, plunging a hand into the depths of the soft leather bag slung over his shoulder.
    ‘Lihua, I see you, not just as a porcelain doll of extreme beauty, but also as a deeply intellectual woman.’

    He loved her dearly; and because of Palace prohibition, discreetly. He was forbidden to ever demonstrate his love.
    Instead of ring or jewels, he placed a fountain pen into her hand.
    ‘As teacher and scholar this pen binds us.’
    Lihua was speechless. She stared at the most beautiful pen she had ever seen. Two Mandarin ducks engraved on each side of the pen, surrounded by tiny flowers and leaves.

    Her heart leapt fearfully and pounded at the enormity of their situation.
    Suddenly she understood that she loved Jizi and that he loved her!

    The beauty of their surrounds was clarified a hundredfold as they proceeded along the corridor to take their usual place near the Marble boat.
    The lake glistened.
    Nearby, in the shallows ducks were swimming and feeding; not Mandarin ducks, just common Mallard ducks.
    Whatever their breed, ducks were a symbol of happiness and fidelity.
    The pair had swum in close.
    ‘Oh look Jizi, a drake and a duck together.’
    Jizi smiled.
    ‘A sign of beauty and happiness.’

    Lihua thought of the ducks engraved on her pen.
    ‘Tell me about this pen Jizi,’ she asked softly.

    Jizi began; ‘I inherited this cloisonné fountain pen from my family. Fifty years ago my Grandfather commissioned it to be specifically crafted to symbolise our ancestral lineage of learning under Confucius and other great scholars during different dynasties. He intended it to eventually gain status as a functional antique fountain pen.
    Lihua marvelled at the fine, intricate work and wondered at the ability to apply such tiny metal work so skilfully.

    ‘Why me?’ Lihua whispered, holding her breath.
    ‘Whatever happens for us I want you to have this in acknowledgement of my deep and binding love for you.’

    As though on queue, the breeze picked up, rippled across the lake pulling up against the wind chimes hanging from the corner of a pavilion, deflecting its sounds back toward the couple.
    A little shiver rippled up Jizi’s spine.
    They both believed that wind chimes influenced the flow of the winds of fortune.
    ‘We can only hope that the winds will bring good luck. We need it,’ he whispered.

    They could never have imagined which way the winds of fortune were about to blow.

    Through lowered eyes Lihua studied Jizi and recalled their times spent in the classroom. She always felt his devotion in the tone of his voice, sometimes in the brush of his fingers, in the hours he spent teaching her how to read and write calligraphy.
    In turn she shone as his most dedicated scholar.
    Now it had risen to a new level and everything changed forever.

    Jizi and Lihua were very cautious, not wanting to jeopardise what was growing into a most beautiful relationship.
    It couldn’t be consummated, but in its purity it was perfect, perhaps the most beautiful love story of all time.
    People say that love cannot be hidden. It is revealed in the countenance.
    Jizi saw Lihua’s face softening and glowing.
    ‘How could a most perfect face become even more beautiful?’

    The Empress saw it too. ‘There is a change in you Lihua. Who is he?’
    Lihua was suddenly frightened. She knew the Empress was a very jealous person, selfish and not beyond issuing great punishments.
    ‘There is no one Your Majesty.’ She lowered her face and bowed deeply to hide her fear.
    ‘I must warn Jizi the very next lesson.’ She tried in vain to remain calm.

    Unbeknown to Lihua the angered Empress, immediately summoned some of her staff to spy on Lihua’s every move and report anything that would suggest that Lihua was lying.
    Two days later Lihua packed her bag with her treasured pen, ink and rice paper and headed along the path toward the classroom.
    Two young women followed keeping out of sight, watching closely.

    Jizi was waiting.
    They exchanged greetings, merely brushing fingers.
    Faster than Chinese whispers word reached the Empress, wildly distorted and exaggerated.

    In the tower Lihua despaired in her solitary confinement, doomed to a sure slow death. She took up her precious pen and began to write on the last remaining piece of rice paper.
    Separated by imprisonment, Jizi closed his eyes and dreamed of Lihua. He wanted to sear her image into his mind and have it forever with him in the spirit world.

    In that moment a strong autumn wind tinkled the wind chimes, the pair of Mallard ducks huddled on the lake were surprised by the arrival of a new pair of beautiful Mandarin ducks.
    It was rumoured that these were the spirits of Lihua and Jizi united forever in eternal happiness.

  • April 20, 2016 at 11:27 pm
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    The Mysterious Case Of The Malicious Mallard. (Revised)
    By Ken Cartisano ©2016

    He appeared in a pinstriped suit, with perfect posture and a smoldering pipe between his teeth. He placed an expensive briefcase on my desk and introduced himself as he popped the hasps. “My name is Mr. Swann,” he said, “and I represent the unfortunate Mrs. Broom.” I offered him a seat, which he declined, opting instead to loom above my desk, staring down at me over his long aquiline nose.

    After a brief exchange I said, “So let me get this straight, you represent the victim’s wife, and you’re saying Mr. Broom’s death was an accident? I find that hard to believe.” Especially since the wife was a prime suspect. I counted the facts off with my fingers. “Her husband was rich for one thing, she’d signed a pre-nuptial for another, she was suing for divorce, and friends indicated their relationship was anything but amicable, plus, she was in the house at the time of the murder.” I held out my hand with all five fingers extended.

    Unfazed by the burden of evidence I offered, he removed some photos from his briefcase and spread them out on my desk in front of me. They were duplicates of the photos taken by our forensics team.

    “Please take a look at these pictures, Lieutenant Gibbs, just to refresh your memory.”

    I glanced at the photos. They showed the victim lying face down in a child’s sandbox, his hair wet with blood and a few dark spots in the sand near his shoulder. “I don’t see anything here that would alter my opinion,” I shrugged. “This guy was murdered.”

    Mr. Swann replied in an even tone. “I have my own investigative team, Lieutenant Gibbs, and my experts believe Mr. Broom’s death was an accident.”

    I sat back in my chair. “Your experts?” In my experience, attorney’s experts were usually ex-cops, or dumb ass private detectives: In short, amateurs. I sifted through the photos and extracted the one that was taken after we flipped the victim over. It showed Mr. Broom with a fountain pen sticking out of his chest. “That’s an accident? How does one accidentally stab oneself in the heart with a fountain pen?”

    Mr. Swann corrected me. “An antique fountain pen, Lieutenant. A family heirloom passed down through several generations. It’s unlikely that he would use such a venerated object for such a—never mind. That’s beside the point.”

    “It’s happens to be my point,” I said. “He wouldn’t use it, but someone else would.” I leaned over my desk and waved a hand over the photographic evidence. “This guy was stabbed through the heart with his own pen, bashed on the head with a heavy object, and then, after all of that, someone held his head down in the sand until he stopped breathing. The cause of death was asphyxiation, you know.” I leaned back in my chair. “If that ain’t murder, I don’t know what is.”

    Mr. Swann smiled politely as he pulled several more photos from his briefcase, photos I’d never seen before. “I’d like you to take a look at these, Mr. Gibbs.”

    I studied the photo. “It’s a pond.”

    “A duck pond, Lieutenant. And this?”

    I looked at the next photo, “I don’t know, wind chimes?”

    “Right again, Lieutenant Gibbs, a complicated and very heavy set of metal wind chimes.” He produced a photo showing a close-up of the wind chimes. There was blood on the jagged edge of one of the most lethal looking pieces.

    My mind recalled seeing the wind chimes and my attempts to ignore their incessant clanging. With grudging respect I said, “Okay, he banged his head on the wind chimes, is that what you’re driving at?”

    “Partly, yes.” He produced a copy of a half-finished letter. “Have you seen this?”

    “Yes,” I confessed that I had.

    Then he produced close-ups of the sandbox. “Do you see these?” He pointed at a particular place in the picture with one of his perfectly manicured fingers. There were indentations in the sand, in and around the sandbox.

    I looked closer. “Footprints?” I shook my head. “Those are funny looking footprints.”

    “Those are duck-footprints, Lieutenant Gibbs.”

    I looked up at him, scowling. “I’m not sure I know where you’re going with this, Mr. Swann. But…”

    “It’s very simple, Lieutenant. Mr. Broom was sitting at his desk in his study, writing a letter, when he noticed a duck, or several ducks milling about in his children’s sandbox. He rushed outside to shoo them away, and in his haste, bashed his head on the wind chimes. Suffering from a certain concussion, he became dizzy as he approached the sandbox, and with pen in hand, fell face forward, impaling himself on the fountain pen. At this point, Mr. Broom was undoubtedly unconscious and perhaps mortally wounded, but not quite dead.”

    I sighed. “Well—it’s an interesting theory Mr. Swann, I’ll grant you that much. But who held his head in the sand? There’s no way to rule out his wife’s involvement at that point. After all, she was home at the time of the incident.”

    “Ah but there is, Lieutenant. If my theory is correct, I believe it can be confirmed.”

    I called him back a few weeks later. “Mr. Swann? Yeah, it’s Lieutenant Gibbs from the Metro PD. We ran those tests you suggested and they came back positive: Traces of algae, duck feces and duck DNA on the back of Mr. Broom’s head. So it seems that you were right. After hitting his head and then falling on his own pen, one of the ducks sat on the back of his head, holding him face down in the sand until Mr. Broom expired. My only question is, how did you figure it out?”

    “Good instincts, Lieutenant, and—a little de-duck-tive reasoning.”

  • April 21, 2016 at 9:38 pm
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    THE MALLARD

    “You vill be lying on a beach. Zere vill be … a breeze zat vill make a – how you say – tinkly sound? And a … bird, I sink … I can see a bird. Viz a shiny green head.”

    “A mallard?”

    “I do not know vot zat is. A bird, or somesink like a bird, is vot I see.”

    Rourke left the tent a little unsteadily. He’d had a few pints of Guinness beforehand and it was going to his legs. But he was also shaken by the fortune he’d been told. He was a superstitious person at the best of times – he kept a shamrock on him always – and the cryptic image that the old lady had described was already getting under his skin.

    He met up again with Kelly and Shrimp and they made their way to one of the mobile bars on the edge of the fair. His colleagues had been the ones who had pushed him into seeing the old lady; they knew he was superstitious and thought it would be a lark to see how the woman’s predictions affected him.

    In fact Rourke was not taking it so well at all; his face was as white as a sheet.

    “You feeling all right, Rourkey? You wanna lay off the beer, you know,” laughed Shrimp.

    Rourke looked at him blankly and went whiter still.

    “It wasn’t what the old woman said, was it, mate?” Kelly was beginning to worry a little.

    But Shrimp was like a bull in a china shop. “Go on, then. What did the old trout say?”

    “Leave him alone, Shrimper. Let’s get another beer in.”

    “A mallard.”

    Kelly and Shrimp looked over at Rourke.

    “What about a mallard?” Kelly could see that Rourke was not only ashen-faced but was also looking very scared.

    “She saw a mallard.”

    “A fucking duck?!” Shrimp was not the most sensitive of people.

    “A mallard, yes. A mallard duck. I don’t like it.”

    “What does it mean, Rourkey?” Kelly wanted to atone for the prank that he and Shrimp had pulled on Rourke so was treating him as gently as he could.

    “I don’t know. But I tell you, I don’t like it.”

    Shrimp did not share Kelly’s empathy. “Get the fuck out of here. You – Roarer Rourke – afraid of a duck?! You’ve gotta be– “

    He was interrupted by the shrill tone of Kelly’s mobile phone. Kelly took a step away from the others to answer it.

    “Yeah? … Shrimp and Rourkey … Nah, the three of us will be plenty … So, it’s tonight, is it? … Okay. And is it the flat or the house? … All right. Are you sure he’ll be there? … Yeah? And he won’t have anyone there with him? … Okay, we’ll get round there straight away … Don’t worry, he won’t know what’s hit him. … Yeah. I’ll phone you when it’s done.”

    Kelly hung up and turned to Shrimp and Rourke, whose face had regained a bit of colour.

    “We’re on. You okay for this, Rourkey?”

    “Yeah. I’ll be all right.”

    “Let’s get to the car, then.“

    It began to rain heavily.

    ~~~~~

    “Rourkey, you’re the biggest and the quickest – you go round the back. If he tries to get past you, let him have it. Shrimp and me will go in through the front.”

    Shrimp eyed Rourke, a little suspiciously. “You really sure you’re up for this Rourkey?”

    “Look, Shrimp. If you like, you go round the back and I’ll go through the front with Kelly.”

    Shrimp considered the suggestion briefly. “Nah, you’re all right, mate. Back to Plan A. Let’s do this fucker.”

    Rourke made his way down a side alley and emerged in a narrow lane at the back of the house. There was a wall with bushes above it, but a gate that wasn’t so high. Rourke put one boot on the handle of the gate and pulled himself over it, slipping once or twice because of the vestiges of alcohol in his system and the rain, which was falling harder by the minute.

    Once inside the back garden, he crouched down and began moving toward the back wall of the house, but something stopped him dead in his tracks. He paused for a moment trying to figure out what it was, then it dawned on him; someone had set up a wind chime on the back porch, and it was tinkling in the first gusts from the storm that was brewing.

    Rourke went over to the porch and put a hand up to the chime, but he never got to touch it: a figure materialised from the darkness and punched him in the gut … only it wasn’t a punch, and Rourke knew it immediately. His hand went to his stomach in a reflex motion and he could feel the warmth of the blood already oozing out of the stab wound. He staggered backwards. His heel tripped on a raised board and he fell like a hundredweight sack of coal onto something soft.

    He lay there for the briefest of moments, the rain pounding on his face. Then it wasn’t; the man from the darkness was crouching over him, so close that Rourke could smell the whiskey on his breath.

    “You fucking amateurs. You think I was born yesterday? I wasn’t … but you? Well … You’re gonna die tonight.”

    Rourke was feeling light-headed, but he had enough consciousness left to take in the man: he was wearing a hooded cagoule, slick with rain, and by the feeble light that crept over the garden wall from a street lamp in the back lane, he thought he could tell that it was green.

    The man stabbed him again and Rourke’s head lolled to one side. The last thing he saw, before the darkness became eternal, was a kid’s plastic bucket and spade, half buried in sand.

  • April 22, 2016 at 7:23 pm
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    Show And Tell

    Miss Sage dangled her house keys as she handed them to Duncan, the semi retired and experienced local builder and grandfather to one of her pupils.
    “All the keys to my house in case you need to go in the garage or loft.” They exchanged friendly smiles.
    “Please help yourself with tea or coffee. Make yourself a cheese or ham sandwich for lunch. You will be working for a whole day.”

    Duncan was recommended from staff at the school where Miss Sage taught. He did some satisfactory work for the school and the staff. Therefore, Miss Sage trusted him enough to hire him to refurbish the old bathroom in her newly bought house.

    “I’ve got something for ‘Show and Tell’, Miss.” Duncan’s grandson, Sony, piped in as he caught up with Miss Sage. He looked furtively up at his grandfather and held at his satchel tightly with both hands.

    “Go and play!” Miss Sage ruffled Sony’s head. “We’ll talk about it in the classroom.”
    Sony skipped away to join his friends in the recreation ground. Miss Sage made her way to the classroom to prepare herself for the day’s work.
    Duncan whistled, turned his radio on loud as he drove off in his van.

    After assembly, Miss Sage’s pupils followed her into the classroom, hung their coats on the pegs and took their place behind their desks. They were talking about what they brought to school.

    Miss sage knuckled gently on her desk. “Each of you will have the opportunity to show and talk about what you’ve found.” She addressed the class. “Be patient!” She swung her hand across the class as the children became quiet and paid her attention.

    “Has every body managed to find something old or antique from their grandparents for today’s ‘show and tell’ lesson?” she asked narrowing her eyes and forehead.

    “Yes, Miss.” The children chorused and rose their body to look or guess at each other’s find as they shuffled them on their desk. The classroom became chaotic again.

    “Children!” Miss Sage rose her voice. “Each one of you will speak whilst we listened and learn.”
    “Let’s start with you.” Miss Sage pointed at the child nearest to her desk. The child got up and with one hand showed an antique fountain pen. In the other hand she held an ink pot. “This pen is a family’s heirloom. It belonged to my grandmother’s grandparents. It was a gift from when they got married.” She removed the cap to reveal a golden nib. He looked straight at Miss Sage as she explained..
    “I will inherit it.” She finished her sentences.

    “How lovely! Now we use ball pens and pens with cartridges.” Miss Sage added. “Well done!”

    “Next …” Miss Sage turned to the next girl. “What have you brought?” She asked bending her head to her. She picked the wind chime and held it up to the class and shook it. It chimed in a disorderly manner as the rows of blue butterflies danced against each other.

    “My grandmother is Japanese. She brought it with her when she was evacuated during the war. She hangs it in front of her house for luck. It will be mine one day.” the child explained.

    “How interesting?” Miss Sage commented. “People from other countries have certain beliefs and superstitions.”

    The class was disrupted with a young boy entering the class holding a mallard duck. “You’re late and I’ve signed you as absent.” Miss Sage reprimanded as she shook her head.

    “I went to fetch this mallard, Miss.” He patted the glowing, green coloured crest of the bird. “She nests on the banks of the river, at the end of my grandmother’s garden. I was not even born when she started visiting grandma in her garden. She feeds it and calls it her constant companion for many years. He and grandma are both on their own now after losing their partners, and their children have moved on.” Miss Sage could tell that the boy got the story from his grandmother.

    “That’s a lovely and comforting story about friendship between people and pets.” Miss Sage patted the bird. “You must take this wildfowl back to the river before anyone sees it and gets us into trouble.”
    The boy retraced out with the mallard.

    Miss Sage turned to the girl who held a box reluctantly. “So …” Miss Sage asked her.

    “It’s white sand which my grandparents brought over from a holiday. My mother wanted to show her friends that sand is white too. They filled this shoebox and carried it all the way here.”

    “Well done!” Miss Sage picked a handful of sand and let it trinkle down into the box. “Can you see the white sand, children?”
    The girl offered her handfuls of plastic people toys. “I play ‘people on the beach’ with these.”

    “This is so sweet.”

    Finally, Miss Sage turned to Sony with a smile. “What did you find from Duncan?”

    The boy shook a small holdall. An amount of gold jewellery embedded with precious stones glistened as he spread them on the desk. “My grandad hides these precious jewellery. I had to steal them.”
    Miss Sage’s jaw dropped at the sight. She pulled her head back. “These are Asian jewellery! Why and how did your grandad got hold of them?” She could not stop herself asking.

    “He stole them from one of the houses he burgled.”

    “What did you say?” Miss Sage could not believe what she heard.

    “He told us …”

    “Us! You mean your parents know about this…” Miss Sage nodded at the haul.

    The image of Duncan alone in her house and searching for what was worth stealing flashed in front of her eyes.
    “This is wrong and crazy! Put them away.” She croaked, barely able to talk as her voice stuck to her dried up throat.

  • April 24, 2016 at 6:12 am
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    Fate calls

    Lyle Richards sat at his desk, fiddling with his pen. It had stood him in good stead past twenty years. He hated the ball pen – ‘one new fangled thing that’s rubbish,’ he often retorted.

    He looked out and watched his son playing in the sandbox with pails of water and boats and a bucket he filled to make a sandcastle with his aunt helping him. His chortles made his father smile.

    Lyle Richards was a scientist and was going through a tough patch since the past couple of years, but he had a gut feeling he would make it this time. People rubbished his ideas, but he was confident that he would succeed some day.

    There was a buzz going on in the kitchen, ‘what was the matter?’ he wondered as he got ready to partake lunch with his family. He walked in a hurried manner through the long corridors to the kitchen. There were three voices – he guessed his sisters – in – law had come by, but why were they shouting and crying?

    “You shouldn’t have done it!” said the younger one.

    “We are doomed. If Ly….,” she hushed as she saw him entering the kitchen.

    “What on earth is going on here? Who is doomed? What’s the matter? Just when I’m getting a breakthrough you guys create a furore.”

    The sisters- in -law tittered for Lyle was known to bring out scatterbrained ideas, and lose a lot of his money from the estate.

    “This time you’re going to be surprised; watch out,” he said defensively, knowing their attitude toward him.

    “Of course, Lyle, why don’t you relax?” Lara, his wife said.

    “Why not just tell him? You cannot hide things from him, it’s his money after all, and he is the legal heir.”

    “What is Lina talking about? Tell me, NOW!”

    Lara shivered at his tone, then said in a meek voice, “We saw this crowd at the Raleigh cultural and stepped in out of curiosity, when we saw the claim written in the posters. We laughed and then took a peek inside. “
    “Imagine money out of air,” said her elder sister Tina.

    Lara continued, “Everything was hushed with soothing music all around. We stepped in when he asked us to sit down like many of his Indian and even our people sitting with folded legs. I had cramps and fidgeted. He said, ”Madame be calm.”
    “Suddenly I felt no discomfort. I watched him in his orange robes. Incense burned everywhere as he started his rituals. He sprinkled some kind of water on us and the devotees offered us a sweet thing they called ‘ prasad’- a holy offering. As soon as we ate it we went into a trance.”

    “I can’t believe this,” said Lyle.

    He demonstrated and got the money from the air; we couldn’t believe our eyes.”

    Cynthia said, “He offered to solve our problems, we believed him. I don’t know when, but we offered the deeds to him, which he somehow knew was in Lara’s bag.”

    “Just give me that, and she gave it to him. I think we were drugged.”

    “I’m so sorry,” Lara said and sniffled at the mistake – no doubt the estate was a white elephant and a burden to keep up, still it was theirs and their son’s after us, her conscience whispered, “I’m sooo…” she continued only to be interrupted by her husband.

    “Money from the sky! What this hocus- pocus. Who is this so called Godman?”

    “He’s a famous name; I’ve forgotten his name’s some Kar uh mesh Raj. He has millions of followers all over the world.”
    Lyle Richards turned white and flopped into a chair.

    They were ruined he knew and stared at Lara as if she was an alien being. Then he walked back into his study. It was no use shouting at her. He had to call his lawyers to check if they could recover the asset.

    His wife brought him some tea and stood by wondering when Lyle would start screaming at her. But he said words she hadn’t expected:

    “Now we’re cleaned out. Luckily my latest discovery could be the answer to fight this guy.”

    But it didn’t. It turned out to be a dud, and one day the neighbours noticed that the Richards had vanished.

    A little child, his face was covered, was pottering in the soft mud with a stick digging into the wet clay and making mud pies; he was grinning. He was oblivious to the noise in the background.
    His parents turned to his gurgles and he looked adorable with mud all over his face, and suddenly they all smiled. Everything would be fine. They would survive. There was no use trying to lament the past. They could learn from their little one.

    Lyle worked at the Institute of Sciences and Mechanical Devices and was finally on track. But they had no money to move to a better home right now. He had got an offer to move into the company’s guest house, but he refused to do so. He would make it. He had seen the other side and his kids were his inspiration to make it on his own steam.

    Far, far away a plane landed, and a young girl ran to the check out; jumped the line to get an autograph. The girl told him how much she adored him. She wanted to be his devotee. The man smiled a wicked grin. “All fools;” he thought, and then removed his antique pen offered to him as a gift by a devotee.

    Suddenly there was a blast. The godman fell and died instantly

    “Breaking news:

    “Godman Karmesh Raj was killed in a pen blast. He has been known to fool many people in the country, and he claimed he could get money from the skies.” He and the hostess tittered, then put on a straight face.
    “More news for bird lovers,”

    “The Mallard duck is getting rare – their numbers are getting thinner. ‘Save the Mallard’ group has decided to burn candles in silent protest to save this humble breed from hunting and shooting them is halted, and care for their breeding is taken on.

    That’s all the news. Here’s a thought for today.

    Would the godman tell those in hell he could bring fire extinguishers from earth hah ha ha!

    That’s all for today. Good night. This is Bloomseberg News. See you tomorrow at eight.”

    Sitting up with the news on as he worked, Lyle had a smile on his face. Things would definitely get better now.

  • April 24, 2016 at 6:40 am
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    Stay out of my sandbox

    “Dad, Dad, there’s a duck in my sandbox.”
    I got up from my desk with a sigh. ‘Will I ever get to finish this manuscript?’
    “Shoo it away.”
    “No” crying, “it might peck me,”
    Throwing down my lucky antique fountain pen in exasperation I grabbed the hosepipe and aimed it at the duck. He stood there, glaring defiantly. Why didn’t I realise that ducks like water. It’s like threatening a confectioner with candy.
    Right! I’ll try another approach. Choosing a hefty tree branch, I closed in on him. Instead of running away the creature stood his ground, flapping its wings and settling his beady red eyes on me, he started to kick up a storm in the sandbox.
    I stood eye to eye with him.
    “OK, duck. Two can play at that game.”
    I flapped my arms – I thought that looked menacing – the duck didn’t. With a horrendous screech it flew at me, feathers flying.
    Ellie ran indoors, terrified. I would never have believed how big a duck can look when it’s standing upright with its wings spread. I, too, ran for the door. Cursing as I bumped headlong into the wind chimes, and tripping over the table leg I landed in a heap on the wooden floor.
    I could hear the duck banging and flapping on the door, his ear splitting ‘quack’ echoing through the room. The rusty old hinges threatened to break.
    “Dad, Dad, don’t let him come in.” Ellie entreated.
    Then, all of a sudden the noise stopped. We looked at each other, Ellie stopped crying and ran to me. As I held her I could feel my heartbeat slow down to near normal.
    We were safe!
    I picked myself up from the floor, and in the silence that followed I gazed fearfully out of the window. There was no sign of the duck.
    “Dad, I think I’ll play indoors with my crayons for a while.”
    “Good girl, now perhaps I can get on with my story.”
    Retiring to my study, I picked up my pen and, checking the nib for damage, I returned to my draft. The burst of excitement had released a new energy in me; the words flowed as never before. An idea that had been in the corners of my mind for weeks, suddenly gained clarity. I could see the antagonist through fresh eyes; he had all the menace and tenacity of that damn duck. I even gave him red beady eyes. The fear I felt transferred itself to my page, and I was able to truthfully portray the feelings of the heroine – she came alive under my pen. There is nothing like a burst of adrenaline to galvanise a writer!
    I was deep into chapter three when there was a crashing and tearing of wood from the kitchen, and a horrific shriek from Ma. We rushed in to find her standing on a chair, and the duck, with the cat-flap round its neck, was trying to drag the two feet wide sandbox through the one foot wide gap. I ran for my gun.

  • April 24, 2016 at 5:49 pm
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    Punchline
    By Alice Nelson ©2016

    Mitch Cole had been doing stand-up comedy in seedy bars for the better part of 20 years. Tonight he was performing at The Sandbox, a nightclub that had at one time hosted comedians like Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, even Richard Pryor.

    Today, The Sandbox bore little resemblance to the hotspot it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s; and for Mitch, on the downward slide of a career that started at the bottom and never looked up, this was his last month at the once legendary club.

    Burdett Wallace, the cheat who owned The Sand box, had “big plans” that didn’t include comedy. “Hookers and strippers Mitch, that’s the future.” He said.

    The crowd was small, but lively, and Mitch was in the middle of one of his best jokes. “So, this mallard walks into a doctor’s office carrying an antique fountain pen and some wind chimes, and—”

    Four masked gunmen, clad in red, green, blue, and orange ski masks, burst into the club just as Mitch was about to deliver his big punchline. The one wearing the orange mask, jumped up onto the tiny stage, put a pistol to Mitch’s head and told him to “Shut the fuck up!”

    In a very genial voice, the guy in the red mask said, “Ladies and gentleman, place your cell phones into the container that my associate is bringing around. If you do not, we’ll have to shoot you, and I really don’t want to do that.”

    Mitch stood ramrod still on the stage, hoping not to get shot. “Hey I know you,” the gunman in orange said. “Saw you back in ’98 in the Poconos. I thought you’d be in the big times by now.”

    ‘Figures a fan of mine would be a lowlife like this guy.’ Mitch thought

    “You still tell that joke, the one about the mallard walking into the doctor’s office with a—” Orange began laughing, and had to catch his breath. “—he had some wind chimes and a fountain pen. That one killed me every time. Too bad you have to do shows in a dump like this.”

    Noise from the rear of the club, mercifully ended the conversation. Burdett Wallace came stumbling out, followed by the gunman in the blue mask; the owner’s face was bruised and bloodied.

    Red grabbed Wallace by the hair and said, “Old Burdett here is being selfish, my friends. He is willing to risk the lives of all of you, in order to prevent us from getting the money he skimmed off the top of this shitty club. What do you all think about that?”

    The crowd, at first sympathetic, now saw Burdett as the reason for their inconvenience. “Give him what he wants!” Someone yelled from the back of the club.

    “He has moved the money from the safe, and won’t tell me where it is.”

    “I don’t know where it is!” Burdett yelled.

    In an instant, Red grabbed Burdy’s girl, a pretty red head from Witoka, Minnesota. Put the gun up to her head and pulled the trigger.

    The crowd began screaming, some diving under the tables, others trying to find a way out. Burdett fell to his knees. “I’ll kill you, you fucks! When this is all over I will find you and fucking kill you!” Red calmly lifted his boot, and kicked Burdett in the face; the man fell to the floor, unconscious.

    Red shot his pistol in the air to regain control. “Quiet folks, no need to panic.” But Red could feel the wheels coming off.

    “I’m sorry I had to do that,” Red said to the crowd, “But I don’t like people lying to me, and Burdy here is a liar.” He said, pointing to where Burdett was still out cold on the floor.

    “What do we do now boss?” Orange asked.

    “I don’t fuckin’ know.” Red shrugged

    When Mitch fell to the floor, clutching his chest, Red just knew the night was a bust. Mitch looked at Orange and asked, “Could I please go to my locker and get my pills, I’ve got a heart condition?” Mitch thought he’d appeal to the man who seemed to enjoy his comedy.

    Orange glanced at Red, who sighed and said, “Might as well.”

    Mitch led Orange to the closet-like dressing room in back, and began searching inside a duffle bag. Orange sat down and put his feet up on the table. “Lemmie ask you somethin’. Why you playin’ a shit hole like this?”

    Mitch smiled. “Not many opportunities for a comic my age, I’m afraid.”

    Orange nodded.

    “Hey,” Mitch said, “Why don’t I tell you that joke you like so much.” Orange waved Mitch off. “Come on I didn’t get to finish it before you fellas came stormin’ in, it’s my biggest joke of the night.”

    “Fine.” Orange said. “It is my favorite.”

    “So this mallard walks into his doctor’s office—” Mitch began, “—Carrying this antique fountain pen, and some wind chimes…”

    Orange was so caught up in the joke, that he didn’t see Mitch pull the knife out of the duffle bag, he was still smiling when Mitch pushed the blade deep into the soft flesh of Orange’s belly.

    Mitch thought life had kicked him in the nuts yet again when the gunmen showed up, but things actually looked promising. He’d already taken the money out of Burdett’s safe, while the old fool was in his upstairs apartment with the now deceased red head.

    Mitch left through the emergency door, the one cheapskate Burdett never bothered to fix.

    “Hello operator, I’d like to report a robbery at The Sandbox on 9th street downtown. I saw at least 4 gunmen wearing masks enter the building just a few minutes ago.”

    Mitch hung up, and drove away from The Sandbox for the last time. “I hear they’re looking for opening acts at The Improv in Chicago.” Mitch smiled, “I believe things are finally lookin’ up for me.”

  • April 25, 2016 at 5:56 am
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    The Inherited Pride

    1949

    Gustav Ivanovitch was more known as MWP Man With the Pen than his real name. He always put it in his specially stitched transparent shirt- pocket; it was a jeweled faded pen. He put it aside only when he went for a shower. He never parted with it even when he went to sleep. It had a huge antique value, but Ivan was not ready to sell it for any price. Five generations back, it was awarded to one of his ancestors by the Tsarina of Russia for his chivalry and sword play. It was always passed on to the eldest son of the family.

    Their entire clan had migrated to the United States just a year before the Russian revolution, but they never forgot their roots.They were a family of warriors, whereas Ivan was lean and lanky, lacked the strength to pick up a physical fight. So, he became quarrelsome to maintain the family tradition and honor. For this very reason his three wives left him, but the main reason was that they wanted him to sell the pen. They just could not stand its look and odor. He could never marry again as his three exes witch-hunted him to dissuade anyone from accepting him.

    Ivan’s neighbor Aldrich was bellicose by nature. He was a match for a match for him and they never even said hello to each other. People suspected that Aldrich was an ex- Nazi as he could not stand a word against Hitler and had a special hatred for the Jews, Blacks and those of English French and Russian background,but he immensely liked himself. Ivan never confronted him without a pistol in his pocket and Aldrich’s gun license was revoked as there were numerous complaints against him for intimidating the people with his gun. Both of them were scared of each other, but wouldn’t admit it.

    One day, Ivan found a beautiful mallard duck in his backyard, he was fascinated by its feathers and thought of decorating his living room with them. Moreover, he loved the bird’s meat. He observed that it could not fly much for some reasons. He took his fishing net and went to his yard to trap the duck. But it proved to be too smart for him. Ivan could not catch it even after half an hour’s chase, he was out of breath, but refused to accept defeat, after all he belonged to a warrior race. After a while, the duck dashed to Aldrich’s yard, where his 6- year old daughter was busy making a castle in her sandbox. Ivan went after the bird as defeat was not acceptable to him.
    Just when the bird was on the other side of the box, his left foot slipped and he fell on the sand castle. In a shock, the kid rolled on her back and shrieked,” Dad, MWP uncle has smashed my castle.”
    Aldrich came out running and the child continued whimpering,”My castle, my castle.”
    Aldrich yelled at Ivan, “You mother fucker, you have deliberately hurt my child and ruined her castle. You will have to pay for it.”
    Ivan wiped his clothes and looked straight into Aldrich’s eyes, “Go to hell, you mother’s mother fucker. Sorry kid.”
    And he swaggered back to his house.

    Aldrich decided to sue Ivan for trespassing, hurting his child and ruining her castle which was of immense emotional value to the child. A friend of his, who was frequently involved in litigation, advised him that the court would only warn Ivan and he would have to pay the fee to his lawyer. Aldrich clenched his teeth, “But, one day I’ll take my revenge.” Which, he knew he could never achieve.

    In the evening, Ivan gave the kid a box of chocolates. She smiled, “Uncle, you can break my castle again.”

    During the night, when he was drinking he was in a contemplative mood- You have disgraced myself by falling flat in front of a kid. People laugh at you the way you display your pen and you deduce that they are jealous of you.Damn the false pride! Gone are the days of the Tsars and Tsarinas. You are now in America and should think and behave like an American. Is there any place for you in Russia now? There are no more Nobles in the land of your ancestors. Here, nobody is bothered about your lineage. They care not a hoot for that.

    He did not over drink and slept peacefully.

    In the morning, he handed over his pen to the local museum. It was against his pride to sell it for money and he did not want to disgrace his ancestors who never thought of making a profit out of it.

    Rumors spread that he had sold his antique pen for an enormous sum of money. His three ex-wives met him separately with the proposal of remarriage. He just shrugged his shoulders, “Give me some time.”

    His three exes met in a park to dissuade others from marrying him. Soon, the discussion turned hot and abusive. A big fight ensued, hey kicked one another, nails and hair pins were the available weapons. Pulling off the hair was in plenty. It was a feast for the onlookers, none tried to separate them or report to the police. All three of them were hospitalized.

    Eventually, Ivan married a widow with two kids. Often she chides him, “You love the kids more than me.”
    He spreads his hands in surrender and then she laughs.

  • April 25, 2016 at 6:35 pm
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    A History of Me in a Thousand Objects (and Counting)

    “Usually when a woman leaves me, it’s for a musician. Or an alcoholic. I can handle that. But for a jerk like that?”

    Thea, my therapist looked at me steadily.

    “I mean, a musician or alcoholic might offer the kind of edginess or joie de vivre a woman could never find with me. But this guy – can you guess where they met?

    “Tell me.”

    “At a decluttering class.”

    “Decluttering? As in – ”

    “As in Marie Kondo, the Japanese guru of decluttering. You know her? How to throw away stuff and fold your socks. People pay thousands to qualify as teachers in it, would you believe. That’s where they met, in a decluttering bootcamp. What kind of man signs up for that?”

    “Is decluttering a problem for you, Martin?”

    “It’s all bullshit.”

    “So it became an issue between you and Julia?”

    “Even more so now she’s forcing me to sell the house. From the moment she moved in, Julia wanted me to get rid of most of my stuff. I bought the house long before we were together, but after living there for ten years, she feels entitled to half of it. I bought it because it had a big attic and a couple of outbuildings …”

    “For all your stuff …”

    “Exactly. And say in the end I only get half the value, how can I buy anything that big again unless I move right out of the area?”

    “How much stuff are we talking about, Martin?”

    “A lot. I admit it’s a lot. An attic-full. Two large sheds-full. A spare room. But please don’t ask me decluttering questions, like ‘Do you need it all?’ I’m up to here with all that.” I gestured up to the top of my head.

    “What kind of stuff are we talking about?”

    “OK, here’s some examples. Like I’ve got a whole load of hippy crap from a previous girlfriend who stuck with me for half a year. Wind-chimes, Tibetan prayer flags, gongs, dream-catchers, home-made candles. The gongs were the last straw for the neighbours, actually. So they’re mostly in a shed now.”

    “You’re keeping mementos from a previous relationship. Does it surprise you your wife was uncomfortable with that?”

    “Life happens. Look, I’m not the kind of guy who cuts photos in half to exorcise the memory of a failed relationship. That was me then, there’s no changing that. I thought Julia understood. I never questioned her history.”

    “What else?”

    “What else? My pen collection.”

    “Tell me about that, Martin. Why pens?”

    “Well, when I was about twelve my grandfather gave me a fountain pen. It had been my great-grandfather’s before that. Dates back to the 1860s. Antique, and very special. My father was so angry it had skipped a generation and come straight to me. I could see he was smouldering about it. Whenever I could, I would write with it in front of my father, with big italic flourishes. I knew he would punish me in some way for it, so I guess it was a kind of quiet rebellion. Then I started collecting them in my late teens, to annoy him more. Everything from old Parker pens I bought at jumble sales to the top quality Montblancs and Onotos I buy now.”

    I paused. “Then there are the plaster ducks.”

    “Plaster ducks?”

    “You know, ducks made of plaster of Paris. You hang a group of three or four on the wall, flying in formation. They used to be quite common.”

    “You have many of these?”

    “More than 500.”

    “500? Wow, that’s a lot of ducks. Why?”

    I paused for a while, trying to find the right words to continue. “My father was a strict man. He was well into his forties when I was born, very set in his ways. I’m sure he never liked having me around. I messed up his ordered and simple life. And he felt a child should learn discipline. If I did something bad he would lead me down into the cellar and lock me in an inner room. Leave me there in the dark for hours at a time. Overnight even.”

    “How old were you then?

    “From about four years old all the way through to when I was a teenager.”

    “Oh.”

    “When he let me out, the first thing I’d see through the door at the top of the cellar stairs were the plaster ducks, with their green heads and outspread wings, and at that moment I’d feel a sense of relief. Many years later I took those ducks and put them up in my own house.”

    “To remind you of …?”

    “Who I am, and where I came from.”

    “Why all the other ducks?”

    “No idea, really. I just took to buying them. You could get all kinds: ones like the original mallard ducks, ones dressed like cartoon characters – Batman, Superman, Rupert the Bear. I have some with the faces of the royal family, and of politicians. At one time they were trendy, in an ironic kitschy way. They’re quite collectible. But for me, it’s something more. They anchor me in who I am.”

    Thea thought for a while, her pen pressed against her lips. “The items you’ve mentioned so far – it seems they’re all connected to bad memories, at least in part.”

    “Maybe so. Julia says I need to break free psychologically, declutter my mind as much as my home. ‘Go minimal, set yourself free,’ she says. But it couldn’t work.”

    “Go on.”

    “For me, minimalism is just another word for nothing left to lose. You see, most people anchor themselves in their relationships, but I can’t do that. I’m essentially unlovable, and there’s no point in pretending anything different. So if I give up my home and all my possessions, what do I have?”

    “But why keep possessions that just reinforce your unhappiness?”

    “It’s because … without my unhappiness, there really is nothing left of me.”

  • April 25, 2016 at 7:52 pm
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    Living in the Past
    © Ralph Jensen. 2016

    The air was filled with humidity. Out there in the sandbox an uncomfortable breeze rippled the puddles, which had formed during days of relentless rain. A plastic duck lay stranded beside them while other toys were scattered across the lawn.

    “Maybe I should pick up the toys…”

    On the table: a legal pad, one word written: ‘Tommy.’ The rest were scribbles – not the happy kind.

    A set of wind chimes behind him spread erratic sounds while Tommy’s voice still echoed in his head, traveled across the lawn, faded along the bordering street.

    The duck. “Tommy called it ‘Malla.’”

    Rodney was not an optimistic man though he always thought he should be. Still, he remembered better times, when hopes decorated the future, dreams still waited to come true.

    When he and Ellen married, a Korean friend had given them a pair of wooden Mallard ducks. In Korea they symbolize marital fidelity because Mallard ducks are generally monogamous though certain males occasionally stray from that path.

    “Maybe not such an unusual thing among Korean males.”

    The friend had hit him on the shoulder – rejecting approval, her way of saying ‘We don’t speak about these things.’ “But that takes a female too, right?” was Ellen’s peace offer. They laughed. Good days.

    His mind drifted like tumbleweeds, hooked by the links, which his tired brain offered up to the mind for processing.

    Tommy must have heard him and Ellen talk about that story of the Mallard ducks and that’s were he got the name: “Malla! Malla!” He insisted to have them but the fragile figurines wouldn’t have survived the onslaught of other toys so Rodney had bought two plastic ducks and painted them appropriately. Tommy accepted. After all, they were bigger.

    Rodney’s eyes touched the sandbox but hurried back to the table, the legal pad.

    His fingers nervously fumbled a fountain pen. “Must be antique by now.”

    The pen had belonged to his father, before that to his grandfather. Rodney had rediscovered it a year ago when unpacking boxes after their move here. It had given him inspiration. The unconventional way of writing, ink that came in a bottle, taking time to dry… the simple act of writing this way expressed more of a personality than TrueType fonts on a computer display ever could.

    He tried to calm his mind. Focus on breath briefly replaced all idle thoughts with the awareness of processes in his body – natural, innocent events, promising peace of mind.

    But last week’s fateful event surged back to the fore, demanded unshared attention.

    Tommy had played on the lawn, laboring on his tricycle across the uncut grass. Ellen was taking a rest upstairs and Rodney had to leave for an interview – for a job he didn’t want, didn’t expect much of, but bills had to be paid.

    “Tommy, Papa has to leave. Please come inside.”

    Tommy never listened the first time. It was usual procedure that Rodney would repeat the instruction, with slightly increased urgency, in five-minute intervals.

    “Tommy. Please come.”

    Tommy had reached the border of the lawn. Maybe something inside the bushes had caught his attention. Maybe it was just a play to avoid the inevitable trip inside. Leaving the tricycle behind he had entered the thicket as Rodney went to get his briefcase.

    The third time he would pick Tommy up, carry him inside. By now Ellen was awake, preparing hot chocolate – an offering that always did the job.

    As Rodney returned… “Tommy! Where are you?…” there was the screeching of brakes, then a thump.

    It was nobody’s fault. Not Ellen’s, not his, not the driver’s who was totally unprepared for a four-year old dashing into the street for whatever reason a four-year-old could have. And not Tommy’s.

    After the hit Tommy had flown two yards until his head hit the trashcans. He
    did not wake up.

    The silence in the house was oppressing. Ellen was at the hospital, Rodney alone with his thoughts. Of course, he could have done better, could have done something else. Why go into the house, why the triplet procedure? It was a kind of carelessness. Deep down inside Rodney knew that. Preoccupation with adult banalities cost Tommy’s life… would cost… might cost… would?

    Tumbleweeds.

    Still there was hope. But life was not like that. Life did not forgive. Neither did it punish. Neither did it hasten to make amends on behalf of the living. Life was neutral, cold, indifferent. Cruel. Rodney had learned that much.

    His smartphone rang. His left hand maneuvered it out of the pocket. Wrong side, wrong move – the display went dark. Rodney hated smartphones, especially his new one.

    He revived the screen. It was Ellen who had called. “Why only ring twice?” Did he kill the call or did she hang up, not knowing how to break the news?

    Tap here, slide that, scroll, don’t click. Disgusting.

    The phone rang again but now began to slide from his sweaty palm. His right hand rushed to help, dropping onto the table the pen, which rolled, slowly, to the edge, over it, onto the floor. The ringing ceased.

    Blue ink instantly flowed from the pen – not good, a sign of internal damage, irreparable given the pen’s antiqueness. A thin, blue river meandered across the tiles, making its way toward the lawn.

    Rodney was not superstitious. He did not believe in signs but he knew what this meant.

    “I might as well call back.”

    This time the contact list offered no resistance. At the other end Ellen’s phone rang.

    “Rodney?” Her voice was shaking. “I’m low on battery. Sorry that I–“

    “What is it?”

    The river, now shrunk to a creek, had reached the grass. Soon it would all be gone.

    “Tommy woke up.”

    Resurging rain washed the blue off the floor. Drops on his face cleared memories of old, good ones and bad.

    “He will be okay.”

    Life was good.

  • April 26, 2016 at 7:13 pm
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    Chet parked his car, got out and walked over to the bench near the children’s park where some kids were playing in a sandbox. He noted that the car with the blonde driver that had been following him was now parked behind his Corvette. She got out of the car and he liked what he saw; she was a stunner, pretty face and a nice rack, her short skirt showed off her dancer legs. She did her best to try and not look his way. Chet took out what he called his game book then unscrewed the fountain pen that his father had given him when he graduated from MIT (probably a collector’s item now) He made a notation in the book then got up and walked down the street to his favorite old bookstore.
    The chimes on the entrance caught the old owner’s attention. They talked for awhile and Chet asked him about a book that he had heard was good. He saw the blonde standing outside pretending to look at some books on the book stall. He came out and said: “I see you’re interested in numerology.”
    She looked up and said: “yes.” Even though it was apparent that she had the book upside-down.
    “My name’s Chet and if it’s numbers you like, I’m your man.”
    “Hi, my name’s Gina and I’m down here on a short vacation – trying to get my head straightened out,” (what a stupid thing to say, even if it was true.) She’d broken up with her boyfriend two months ago, and had recently been bumped for a promised advancement at work for a big, fat incompetent loser. Suddenly she turned and said, “Hey, what are you doing?”
    A policeman was standing next to her car with an open summons book. “Sorry, M’am, but your car is in a no parking zone.”
    Chet came over and took the officer aside: “How’s the family, John?” He took a wad of bills out and turned away.
    The officer closed the book and said;” We’ll let it go this time but be careful where you park.” The policeman took Chet aside, “Her car has Govt numbers.”
    ”I saw that” she said, “you bribed a policeman!”
    “No, no you’ve got it wrong, he’s a nice guy-just a policeman with three kids. And one of them is autistic. That’s tough on a cop’s salary. I was just trying to help him out.”
    Now she took a good look at Chet. Of course she had been given a photo of him by her chief. He wasn’t tall, about 5’10”, tanned tussled dark blond hair. He looked like a young Robert Redford.
    He took her arm: “There’s a nice café down the street, let me buy you a coffee.” The young girl that took their order knew him. “Two coffees with croissants.” “You bet Mr. Chet.” When she came back with the order, he took the check, pulled a $50 bill out and said: ”Thanks, Millie, keep the change.” One could see the gratitude in her eyes. “Nice girl” he said “single mother trying to make ends meet.”
    “OK”,Gina said, “so you’re the Male Mother Teresa of the local area. What do you do for a living?”
    “I’m a professional gambler” he said.
    As an undercover agent of the newly formed gambling unit of the IRS, she knew this.
    “I’m just going up to my apartment – would you like to come up?” When she hesitated, he laughed. “No etchings and no hanky-panky.”They entered the lobby of a small hotel.
    The landlady was standing by the entrance. “Hello Mr Chet, how are you? I have a package for you.”
    Once again she saw him take out his large roll of money and give something to the old woman. The apartment was sparten in taste, modern but comfortable furniture, a small kitchen with a dining alcove, and one bedroom .In one corner of the living room there was a trainer and in the other a TV.
    “Can I use your bathroom?” Once inside she saw there was no evidence of another woman: no perfume no robe or lingerie in sight. Somehow that made her feel good. But then maybe he was gay.
    They sat side by side on the couch and he gave his speech. “I start each morning with a workout, then a coffee and toast. I check my bets on the various sports, then play a little on-line poker, taking advantage of the guys who have been playing all night and their reactions might be a little slow. Next, I check 3 or 4 horse trainers that I follow (never bet on the horses, only the record of the trainers). I go to Vegas four times a year; twice by car and twice by plane. I’m usually comped out. I have a system for the roulette and the craps table. I never play the machines, And, Gina, you can tell your boss that I always declare my winnings.”
    “So, you knew all along who I was?”
    “I surmised.”
    “But, do you declare all your winnings, or do you cheat a little?”
    “The stock market advisor cheats when he uses insider info; the small business owner cheats when he pockets a cash transaction; or the doctor that makes you take an unneeded test from a company where he’s a stockholder. That’s only the tip of the iceberg– we could talk politics or corporate loopholes.”
    “I’m sorry,” she said, “I feel like I’ve been dishonest with you.”
    “Let’s start over,” he said and leaned over and kissed her.
    Two hours later she emerged from the bedroom wrapped in his robe. She went into the kitchen and removed the snaps from the air ventilator. Inside was a canvas bag stuffed with 50 and 100 dollar bills, by her estimate, over 200 grand. She took it out to the living room and sat on the couch.
    He was standing in the door. She padded the couch next to her: “Let’s go through your systems again – partner.”

  • April 27, 2016 at 11:26 am
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    This story thread is now CLOSED, thank you to all who have participated. Now it is time to VOTE for your favorite story. Remember you can NOT vote for your own story, and if you do not vote, your story is disqualified from competing.
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    http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/voting-for-apr-14-apr-27-2016-flash-fiction-contest-3-of-4-required-elements/

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