Torn (Free Fiction)

Torn

A.J. Brown

I found her on the streets, worn by the world and her spirit broken. She offered me sex for a few dollars, just enough for a meal and a place to stay. Maybe that was so; maybe she really wanted a meal and a hotel for the night. I think she wanted enough money to buy some white dust so she could escape the reality of her world for a little while. It doesn’t matter what she wanted or needed cash for. The ‘why?’—now that’s the important part.

Her name was Poppy, and she sat at the edge of an alley, her head down, dirty hair meeting me. She barely had enough energy to lift it up, let alone give me sex like she offered. I helped her to the car, lifting her off her feet and carrying her as if she were my bride. She couldn’t have weighed a hundred pounds. I set her in the front seat, buckled her in and let her sleep as I drove the few miles home. Every few minutes I stole a glance at her, especially when the car passed under a streetlight bright enough to shine on her once beautiful features. Her blond hair was dirty, her skin marked with scars, bruises and tracks from heroin use.

Compassion washed over me, followed by anger. Anger at the world for allowing people to fall off the face of society because of money, drugs, sex or just plain hard times. Heat welled up inside and my face flushed. My heart cracked a little and I had to force myself not to look at her.

Home greeted me with the cool of the air conditioner. I took her inside, her arms around my neck, though I don’t think she realized it. I hoped a warm bath would rouse her, would bring her back to this world. As gentle as I could I slipped her clothes off, dropped them in the trash can and set her in the water. Her eyes fluttered, showing hints of blue behind purple lids.  

addict-2713598_1920Soap, water and a rag washed away the grime a life on the streets left behind. There were teeth marks on her small breasts and thighs. My jaw clenched. My heart cracked a little more. Visions ran through my head of mean lovers or abusing pimps and johns who wanted all sorts of perversities from her. My stomach turned and I tried to block the images with other ones. A little girl picking flowers for her mommy; a teen preparing for her first dance; a graduating young lady, smiling bright, wearing a blue and yellow cap and gown.

She stirred, a moan escaping her. Her eyes opened. She shielded them with one boney hand showing cracked and yellowed fingernails.  

“Who are you?” Her voice was weak. She shook, out of fear I believe.

I said nothing. My mouth opened but words failed me; my throat constricted and the vocal cords froze. 

She dropped her hand and gazed through her drug induced haze. The light went on and her cheeks bloomed with two rosy splotches. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Maybe even a bit of anger crossed her young face. I said nothing of her state and handed her a towel and a robe.  

The lights were down in the kitchen. My head ached, as did my saddened heart. She walked in, smelling of coconut cream instead of filth. The aroma was sweet, and I couldn’t help but smile a little. She sat down to a bowl of cereal and a hot cup of coffee. We didn’t speak while she ate but I watched her as only someone who loved her could.    

“Tell me,” I said.

She did. And my heart cracked a little more. I felt it breaking, pulling apart with very little chance of it ever being whole again. When she was done, I led her to a room. I closed the door when I walked out, my shoulders slumped and tears in my eyes.  

Alone in the dark in the front room I prayed for forgiveness, though I had done nothing wrong. I went to the kitchen, the light still dim, and made a list. I recounted everything Poppy had told me.  

Some time during the night I dozed.  

I don’t know when she left but when I woke, she was gone.  Her clothes were gone from the trash can and the cash in my wallet was as well. My heart cracked a little more, a piece chipping off and falling away forever. I looked for her in all the places she had mentioned. She wasn’t at any of them, though many of the people I spoke with knew her. I took mental images of their faces.

That was four months ago, and I hadn’t seen Poppy since the evening I found her on the streets.  Five days ago, a homeless man found her body in a dumpster behind a burger joint, beaten and broken, stabbed to death. My heart broke and tears fell, more so than any other time in my life, even more than when her mother died. Her funeral was this morning. My little girl now lies in a casket six feet into the ground next to her mother, never to be harmed by this world again.  

But, I’m still here, hurting for the girl I watched grow up, become a young woman, then disappear to the streets. This evening I prayed again for forgiveness. Until now, I had done nothing wrong.  

I hear the screams of the people in the drug house at the end of the street. They had boarded the windows up some time ago and even put condemned signs on the lawn. I guess that was to make it look as if no one ever went there. Poppy told me differently that last time I saw her alive. Flames reach to the sky, licking the air, pushing ash up with it. There’s no escaping—the lone door out has been nailed shut. It’s amazing how little you notice when you’re high; things like a hammer nailing boards in place, trapping everyone inside.  

This is only the beginning. I will bury them all under the weight of my torn heart …

__________

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of this story. No, it’s not that the story isn’t good. It is. It’s also very short, which means I could go back and build it a little more. I find I don’t want to do that. The reason I am not a fan of this piece is I have a daughter, one who I worry a lot about. I worry something will happen to her, that someone will hurt her. I worry a lot. 

When I wrote this piece, the image of the father carrying the young woman into his house, her body emaciated and dirty, her arms riddled with needle tracks was the first image I saw. Him sitting in his chair, hands to his forehead and praying for forgiveness because of the grief and anger he felt was the second image. The third was a gravesite burial. That’s a bad image to have when you fear something like this playing out in anyone’s life.

I hope you enjoyed Torn and please, like this post, comment on it and tell your friends about it. The more readers, the better. Thank you for reading.

A.J.

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Righteous Justice (Free Fiction)

Righteous Justice

A.J. Brown

I walk into the Sheriff’s office, Bible in hand, gun belt around my waist. I take my hat off and nod to Deputy Bill. He’s a lanky fellow with unkempt hair and a deep tan. His feet are propped on the scarred desk where his hat sits.

“Yah hear to see the prisoner off, huh, Pastor Michaels?”

Bill stands from the rickety chair that groans and grumbles as it moves. He comes over to me and claps me on the shoulder and smiles. 

“Yes, Son,” I say. “Each man should be given a chance to make their peace.”

“Even that old sack of crap in there?”

Bill thumbs in the direction of the two cells that take up the far end of the building. 

“Yes, son. Even Mr. Harris should be allowed to make his peace before meeting his Maker.”

I set my hat on the deputy’s desk, right next to his, and unsnap my gun belt. If there is one thing I have learned when it comes to dealing with the condemned, it is to never take a gun into a desperate man’s cell … unless you intend to use it. I made that mistake once. It almost cost me my life when James Reese managed to get the pistol out of my holster. I was young and naïve then, thinking no criminal would possibly attack a man of the cloth. If not for the smarts of the Sheriff, then I would be dead, and the outlaw would have gone free.

But, that was a long time ago. Since then, I have changed and the way I approach each of the men I pray over has changed, as well.

“Luke Harris, stand away from the bars and face the wall.” The deputy’s voice is somewhat monotone but forceful in the same rite. He’s not your typical sheriff’s right-hand man, but he’s not one to let others manhandle him. Bill’s just a good old boy trying to keep the peace in a town that really doesn’t believe in peace.

Harris, a hardened outlaw who once killed his own wife for cooking his eggs the wrong way, stands, moves to the back of the cell and faces the gray wall. The deputy opens the door and I walk in. The sound of steel on steel, clanging together behind me always leaves me unsettled, and it is no different on this day.

“Preacher-man, I’ll be right here watching everything if he tries anything funny.”

I nod and set my Bible on the old cot that has been the final sleeping quarters for many men before their deaths.  

“Mr. Harris, I am Pastor Michaels and—”

“I don’t need your prayers, Preacher. Just let me be until they string me up.”

“Mr. Harris, I don’t think that is the attitude one wishes to take into the afterlife.”

Harris turns to me. His eyes are slits and his mouth is bent scowl. He’s taller than I am and his dark hair is greasy. A black beard peppered with gray covers the lower part of his face. I can feel the anger and hate spilling from him and I know that this is a lost cause. However, it is my duty to my Lord to try and talk to him, to make him understand the afterlife and what awaits him if he doesn’t repent.

“Preacher man, you need to mosie on out of here as fast as you can.”

“I can’t, Mr. Harris. I am here to see you, and I am offering you penance for your sins.”

“Unless you can keep them from stringing me up, then we have nothing to talk about.”

“This is about forgiveness, Son.”

Harris steps forward, his arms reaching out for me. He takes me by my lapels and pushes me against the bars. “I don’t need your forgiveness, Preacher. Do you understand?”

“Let go of him,” Deputy Bill yells from behind me. I hear the hammer cock on his six shooter. “Let go of him, now or you won’t make it to the gallows.”

I grip the bars behind me, preparing to hold myself up just in case he strikes me as the look on his face says he wishes to. Instead, he releases me and turns back toward the small window. I peer around him and see the gallows he will swing from soon. Though I am not privy to his thoughts I feel the need to talk to him.

“Even the thief who hung on the cross was offered forgiveness.”

He says nothing.

“He wishes for none of His children to perish, but have—”

“Eternal life?” Harris interrupts me. “Eternal life? Who wants to live forever, Preacher man?”

“Eternal life in Heaven, Son.”

“I don’t want your Heaven. I don’t believe in your Heaven. So, you can take your Bible and be going now.”

I nod and pick up my Bible. “Mr. Harris, do you have any last words before you go to the gallows?”

“Yeah, tell the executioner I want him to look into my eyes before he pulls that lever. I want him to remember me for the rest of his life. Tell him he will have to live with murdering another man. And I’m sure no amount of forgiveness will get him into heaven.”

***

I stand and watch as Sheriff Loadholt leads Mr. Harris from the cell and into the dusty streets. The crowd that has gathered parts. Several of them make obscene remarks to him. I tell myself to pray for them, for their souls. But as I watch, the only prayer I can offer up is the one for Mr. Harris.

“Have mercy on him.”

It is simple, but sometimes the simplest prayers are the best. 

winters-gibbet-4089464_1920Harris still wears his dark pants and dirty shirt. I can see the nervousness and fear in his face even though he looks straight ahead to the gallows. I think about his parting words and I am saddened by his lack of desire to know salvation, to know that he is going to a better place.

Deputy Bill holds his rifle on Harris as they make their way up the steps to the platform. They lead him to where the trap door will soon open and slide the noose over his head and around his neck. Sheriff Loadholt tightens it and steps aside. 

“Luke Harris, for the crimes of murder, cattle thieving and bank robbery, you have been sentenced to death. You will hang by rope from your neck until such time as you are dead. Your body shall remain hanging for a period of three days as a warning to those who would come to Turner’s Mill and commit these crimes.”

I think about the cross and the three days that passed from death to resurrection.

“Any last words?” Loadholt asks.

“Yes, just one thing.”

“Speak.”

Harris turns to the executioner and sneers. “Look at me. Look in my eyes. My death, my blood is on your hands. You can rot just like I will and maybe the preacher can pray over you on your deathbed.”

When he is done the Sheriff nods. I look down, saddened by the task before me. I lift the hood from my head and stare into Harris’ scared eyes. “I have been forgiven.” I pull the lever and the bottom falls out from beneath Harris. I hear the pop of his neck as his skull dislocates from his spine.

He spins and kicks his legs though I am certain he is already dead. Minutes pass, and finally, he is still, other than the swaying of his body from the rope.

***

I lie here in bed. My thoughts center on Harris, his eyes and the fear in them when I revealed myself to him before I pulled the lever. I am left here to wonder if he repented in that second or two before his life rushed from him. I hope so, but I don’t honestly believe he did. 

***

Another town, another day. I pass the saloon on my way to the Sheriff’s office. Another member of the condemned legion of men await me. This one is an older man, one who shot and killed a lawman in another town. They didn’t want to wait for me to arrive, but they had no choice. My charges are many and my time is precious. 

__________

I’m not big into westerns. Sure, I liked Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, as movies, but I’ve never been a old west fan. However, I do have a handful of stories based on the dirt and dust and ruthlessness of the wild, wild west. Righteous Justice is just one of those stories. 

This story stemmed from one of those flash fiction writing prompts I mentioned a few stories ago. The prompt was to write a story about an executioner. This was my attempt at it.

I hope you enjoyed Righteous Justice, and please like this post, comment on it and let your friends know about it. The more folks share this, the more my words can get out to others. Thank y’all and have a great day.

A.J. 

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Dim (Free Fiction)

Dim

A.J. Brown

Cap was six the first time Death showed itself to him. He played marbles with some friends out in front of a rundown church. Girls skipped rope near the dirt road. A car careened out of control as it rounded the curve, going entirely too fast for the area. Gravel and dirt kicked up behind it; Betty Michaels went air born, her jump rope twisting and turning like a snake in flight. Betty twisted and turned, as well, but she looked nothing like a snake flying through the air.

Cap watched in frozen awe, his mouth ajar, a marble still in his hand. Betty Michaels landed on her stomach in the middle of the road, limbs a tangle of broken bones and torn flesh. Blood splattered when her head hit the ground, her feettouched the back of her head and her spine snapped. She came to rest facing Cap, her eyes still open.  He thought he saw her blink.

***

She wasn’t good enough to be Cap’s girlfriend. Not when they were both only 10 years old and he didn’t care much for girls. Mary gave him plenty of attention, something most boys ate up at that age. Cap pushed her away, wishing she would leave him alone.

“Why don’t you like me?” she asked him at recess one day.

He looked up from where he sat against the tall oak near the center of the playground. His breath hitched. It was the first time he actually saw her. “You have pretty eyes.”  

She blushed.

***

Grandma lay on the bed, her body frail from the Cancer that ate at it. She raised a hand and pointed to the nightstand. “Cap, can I have some water, please?”

He filled a small Dixie cup and put it to her mouth. She sipped, licked her lips and let out a breath that rattled in her chest. “Thank you.”

He took the cup and set it on the small table next to her bed. Grandma’s eyes were half opened; the once shining blue had faded to a dull gray. She hiccupped, her eyes widened. She grimaced and clutched her chest with both hands. A strangled groan escaped her throat and one hand grabbed hold of Cap’s arm. She mouthed the words, “Call an ambulance.”

Cap only looked at her, into her eyes, at the fear in them; the knowing that she had reached the end of life. For a minute, maybe two, she struggled to breathe, to sit up in the bed and get her own help. Her grip loosened and Cap slid his arm from her hand. She settled onto the pillow, her hand dropping to her side.  

As her life faded, Cap gazed into her eyes.  

***

eye-2555760_1920“You ever see the light dim in someone’s eyes?”

“What?”

Mary sat on the blanket next to Cap, sunglasses covering her eyes.  

“The light dim from someone’s eyes—have you ever seen it happen?”

“I can’t say I have. Why?”

Cap shrugged and stared out at the sun hanging high above the mountains. “It’s like a sunset.  During the day, the sun is hot and blazing, the day is bright. But, as it sets—the day dims, becomes gray and continues to fade until it is dark. Dimming eyes are the same. They are bright, glossy. But, as someone dies, it fades until there is nothing left except maybe a reflection.”

***

He held the woman’s head under the water, her nails scratching his arms, reaching for his face.  Fear filled her eyes and then fled with her life, leaving only vacant orbs staring back at Cap. It wasn’t the first life he had taken. It wouldn’t be the last.

His breath came in short bursts and his body shook from adrenaline and excitement. He dried his hands and jotted notes in a little black book.

***

Mary slept. Cap watched her. He switched the light on. She flinched, rolled over and pulled the pillow over her head.

“No, no, Dear,” he said and tossed the pillow to the floor. He straddled her stomach, putting both knees on either side of her body, pinning her arms down. “I need to see your eyes.”

“What are you doing?” she asked, anger and fear in her voice.

“I need your help.”

“For what?” She tried to sit up but the weight of his body held her down.

“What does a loved ones’ eyes look like as they die by the hand of the one they trust the most?”

Recognition swept across Mary’s face. She started to speak but the words ceased when he put his hands around her throat and squeezed. Her eyes bulged and she fought against him, trying to use her legs and hips to buck him off. Snot spilled from her nose and red veins appeared in the whites of her eyes. Cap stared into the gateways of her soul as tears spilled from them. Blood seeped from her nose and her body finally went limp. He held his hands in place another couple of minutes as the light from her eyes grew faint. His heart pounded hard and he let out a breath he had held.

Cap rolled off the bed and went to his desk across the room. He made notes in his book, then collapsed to the floor.  

Cap cried.

***

The carnival came to town. Cap waited until the gates closed and the lights went out before leaving his car. He scaled the fence and made his way through the maze of rides and funhouses; concession stands and games until he found the Hall of Mirrors. A black cloth covered the opening. He pushed through it and stepped into the black corridor.  

Movements caught his attention. He flicked the flashlight on. Distorted versions of himself mocked his every move.  

With mirrors all around him, Cap sat on the floor, opened his notebook to a blank page and set it in his lap. A pencil sat in its crease, waiting for him to write again. From his pocket, he produced a flat razor. Cap raked it across and up his left wrists to the crook of his elbow. He almost cried out in pain. Blood rushed from the wound, but he paid it no attention.  

Cap stared into the mirror, into his own eyes. He thought of Betty Michaels, of how she was possibly still alive for a few minutes after she had been struck by the car. He thought of the others—the subjects he used for research. He thought of Mary, how fear swept over her and turned into disbelief as her life drained away.  

Blood spilled onto his notebook but he made no attempt to grab the pencil and make what little notes he could. Breathing slowed and the edges of the world swam around him. The distorted image in the mirror stared at him, its eyes closing and opening, closing and opening. His shoulders slumped, his body sagged, and he fell to one side. The notepad fell to the ground, the pencil with it.

Cap blinked several times, trying to force his eyes to stay open. Before he faded completely, he saw people standing in the mirrors, their dead eyes dull and staring at him. Mary knelt beside him, her lifeless eyes like two dull marbles. Her hands wrapped around his throat. 

Isn’t that appropriate? he thought as she squeezed.  

He focused on his own eyes as the light faded from them. In them he saw Death one last time. 

__________

I was watching a movie, or maybe it was a television show, one night. It doesn’t really matter which it was. What matters is a scene in the show where a man is choking a woman to death. The woman struggled until a few seconds after he began choking her, she began to have a ‘distant’ look in her eyes, as if she saw something far away and was focused on it. Her face when slack and her eyes dimmed. It is that dimming that I remember more than anything about the movie or show, which I can’t remember the name of. 

I can’t honestly say I remember much else about the program. My mind was suddenly fixated on the way the woman’s eyes dimmed. I even wondered if she was still alive or if she actually died and I had just watched a real life murder in a fictional show. 

Then I thought about the murderer. How did this make him feel? Did he enjoy seeing her life fade from her eyes? Did he ‘get off’ on it? Did it haunt him? Well, I just had to write about it. Like so many of my short stories, when I finished this one I wondered if I should make it longer. Maybe one day, and maybe if I put it in a collection, but for now, the story I wrote the day after watching the scene play out that inspired it is just a short piece. 

I hope you enjoyed Dim, and please, like this post, comment on it and share with your friends.

A.J.

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Raven’s Brew (Free Fiction)

Raven’s Brew

A.J. Brown

R is for Richie Consuella Rodriguez. He was the first to see the shadow loom large overhead. The man-child with the I.Q. of a five-year-old sat in the sand box his pa had made for him years earlier. Long after Pa’s death, Richie still played in the old box, the sand replaced year after year by locals who felt sorry for him. He played cowboys and Indians with little plastic figures bought from a Five and Dime by his mother, she who now lay in her bed unable to do anything more than piss herself and spit grits down the front of her night dress. Sixteen years of dying and somehow, she held on. 

The fort sat on one end of the sand box, nothing more than sticks poked into the dirt; the Indian Reservation on the other end, with leaves stabbed through by twigs to form teepees. The many plastic men battled in the center of the box, the Indians woo-wooing and the cowboys cursing the red men with the hatchets, bows and spears. 

Richie stopped playing when the shadow passed overhead. For the briefest of moments, the sun had been blocked from the play area and a cool breeze tickled his bare arms. He craned his neck up, saw nothing and went back to destroying the pale men in the fort. 

A breeze began and the sound of something flapping with it caught his attention. He glanced up. A scream froze in Richie Consuella Rodriguez’s throat as he was lifted from the ground. His feet struck the fort and cowboys scattered throughout the sandbox. The only figures left standing were two Native Americans: a warrior with a spear, and the medicine man with his arms held up. On one shoulder sat a black bird.

A is for Alexia Garcia. She was not a man-child. Not even a man. With the kids in school and a couple of hours to herself, the cleaning and keeping of the house was at hand. With the wash done, she tended to hanging clothes. Her hum was a lullaby, her voice smooth. She snapped the clothes out, a crisp POP each time, then one by one placed them on the line; two pins per garment. When she was done there would be three lines filled with pants, shirts, socks, undergarments, linens, rags and towels. 

With two lines full, she worked on the final one. A shadow, like a cloud in front of the sun, passed over her. She paid it little thought and continued her work, a hum on her lips. The clothes fluttered with an up tick in the wind and Alexia fought against the towel in her hands. She placed the first of two pins on one creased corner. Before she could attach the other one, her feet left the ground and her world became a haze of black and purple.

One end of the clothesline tore from the post and cut into her palm. Blood spilled from her hand as four fingers fell to the earth. 

V is for Valena Montoya. She sat in the grass outside the cottage that was her parents’ home. Her three years of life had seen nothing considered out of the ordinary. Her soggy bottom soaked the grass beneath her, but she paid no attention to it. Later it would chafe her behind a deep shade of red, but at that time, she was content to stare at the ants making their way through the jungle of grass. 

sunset-2247726_1920.pngThose ants, bright red and large, formed two lines, one to and one from the food not too far from where Valena sat. They bit off portions of it and went along their way, oblivious to the giant in their midst. 

Valena picked up the brown piece of food the ants had been taking from. She shook them off the best she could and placed it in her mouth. A moment later she screamed, as the food hung from her mouth and an ant slipped from between her small lips. 

E is for Elizabeth Montoya. She set the last of the dishes in the drainer and peered out the kitchen window. Her heart skipped a beat, then a second one at the sound that came from outside. She couldn’t make out what Valena had in her mouth, but she could hear the garbled scream. 

She pushed the door open and ran across the yard to her daughter. Elizabeth stopped just short of Valena and one hand went to her own mouth. She lunged forward and knocked the finger from Valena’s gaping mouth. Her stomach knotted and gave way to vomiting. 

N is for Natalia Perez. It was Natalia who discovered the broken clothesline and blood on the ground near where Alexia disappeared. She found two of Alexia’s remaining three severed fingers. Her hysterics echoed in the twilight and the villagers ran to see what was wrong.

They clamored about; their calls for Alexia rang out but they would not find her. 

Natalia sat on her bed, her face tear stained. Her youngest sister gone, she cried her laments and spoke her prayers. In anguish she left from the small hut and set out into the night. Her curses rose to the sky and blackness like none other covered the moon. With sadness still in her heart and on her lips, she was lifted in claws like steel. One talon ripped through her midsection and organs spilled from her eviscerated body. 

With her blood sprinkling the village below, she was carried through the night, her body limp and growing cold. Somewhere in the darkness, she was dropped.

S is for Santavia Alvarez. He, like many others, combed the village well into the night in search of Alexia. Though he would not find her, he felt rain sprinkle from the heavens. He wiped his face and stared at the red staining his fingers. 

Santavia fled beneath a tree and knelt in prayer. The words that came from him were coherent to only him and the one he prayed to. Others around him fell to their knees and prayed as well.

Two more would be taken as they held their heads and hands to the grounds. 

Santavia stood next to the tall tree and watched the sky as Ramon Luiz-Guiterrez was carried off. Santavia fell to the earth again, his body prostrate, and begged for mercy for he and his people.

B is for Benita Alvarez. Santavia told her of the giant bird that swooped down from the sky and took Ramon Luiz-Guiterrez from the ground and how Ramon never screamed as he was carried off.

Benita left her rundown shack and made her way to the chief of the village. 

“We are frowned upon and the great birds have come to take us away.”

“We must make sacrifices,” the chief said.

“We must kill the bird,” Benita countered. 

She left the chief in his bed robes, his head shaking, arms uplifted toward the sky, his words lifted to the gods.

R is for Ramon Luiz-Guiterrez. They found his head near the base of Raven’s Mountain. It was as they feared. It was in that area that the men camped and watched as the giant bird flew to and from, each time carrying another of their number in its giant claws or its monstrous beak. Arrows did nothing to stop it and their spears were too slow.

They bowed and cried out to the gods of their ancestors and begged for mercy and guidance. Morning came, and the four men made their way up the hillside. 

E is for Eduardo Ruiz. He was plucked from the group of four along the mountainside. The bird dove in, its wings silent. It caught Eduardo with its beak and lifted him high in the air before it bit him in half. Eduardo’s body plummeted from the sky. The lower half of his body crumpled into a mass of pulp and splintered bones. The upper half crushed Leo DeLacruz.

The remaining two carried on, their hearts high in their throats and silent prayers whispered from frightened lips. They dashed from tree to tree to stay out of open spaces. Near the top of the mountain, the giant bird swooped down. A loud caw echoed through the hillside and Jose Beltran disappeared in a mass of claws and dark feathers. 

Carlos Guiterrez scrambled along the path. The raven dipped and dove down on him. Carlos ran through the trees for safety as he made his way up the mountain. Refuge was a hillside cave where Carlos ran as far in as he could. The bird flew away.

Night came, and Carlos continued up. With the quarter moon high in the sky, he found himself near the top of the mountain. He peeked out of the woods and toward the open mountain cap. He listened for the bird—the giant raven—but heard nothing. Carlos ran across the opening. 

A hard gust picked up and Carlos heard flapping wings. His screams reverberated all around him and he looked to the sky for the beast that had stalked his people. He saw nothing and then fell headlong. 

Carlos’s eyes snapped open at the sound of wings. He tried to roll over but could get no further than onto his side. He let out a moan as pain ripped through his leg. He felt the heat of something wet seep along his back. 

Carlos looked to the sky. The moon still hung high, its brothers and sisters, the stars, there with him. 

Another sharp pain, this one in his hip, caused Carlos to let out a yelp of pain. He looked toward his legs and a scream that never came stuck in his throat. A baby bird pecked down on his hip and tore a piece of wounded flesh away from his body. All around the bird were bones and torn flesh of the people from his village.

He tried to scramble away.

The bird leaned in, its beak near Carlos’ face. Its head snapped forward and one eye exploded in a burst of pain. Carlos screamed the scream of the dying.

W is for Wilfredo Cruz, the chief of the once quiet village. He spoke again of offering sacrifices, but none would hear him out. The villagers waited for the men who would never come back down the mountain. Their courage and hope waned with each passing minute. Until Santavia Alvarez spoke up. 

Knife in hand, he approached the chief, the leader of their village, his body frail, his mind slipping. And they followed him as he dragged the chief to the edge of the mountain, strapped him to a tree void of limbs. 

Wilfredo begged them to rethink things, but Santavia reminded him, “A sacrifice is needed.”  The knife slid through the chiefs skin, pared the muscle of one arm. They hid back among the trees, spears and arrows in hand. They would wait, and they would have the raven when he came.

Up above, in a nest of branches and mud and leaves and filled with the bones and flesh of the dead, the baby bird ate its meal, and the raven watched and waited.

_________

There’s really not much to tell about this story, except it was based on a prompt, and one I don’t remember. I had also been on bird kick at the time, thanks to another writer, Michael Louis Dixon. At the time, Dixon was part of +The Horror Library+ and he occasionally wrote for the THL Blogorama. He did a handful of posts about fear, but birds had been part of the theme. 

After reading through them, many of us who knew Michael grew concerned about his mental state. The way he wrote them was fascinating, because many of us believed something was wrong with him. We checked up on him, fearing he may have been suicidal. It turned out, they were all fiction posts he wrote. 

We took a collective sigh.

I guess there was more to this than I originally believed. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed Raven’s Brew, and please, like, comment and share. Thank you.

A.J. 

 

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Summer Jumpers (Free Fiction)

Summer Jumpers

A.J. Brown

Down below us children play.
Old men go about their days.
—Todd Mathis
American Gun
Nature Vs Man (From the album The Means and the Machine)

__________

It’s hot out.

~###~

It’s always hot. There are no winters to temper the summer heat—it’s summer year round. Some months are hotter. Rain only makes it worse—steam spills off concrete in white vapors that make it hard to breathe as the heat evaporates the water when it hits the ground—if it hits at all. Scientists say the hole in the ozone caused all this. I don’t know about that. What I do know is one day we’ll all be gone. We’ll all be jumpers before it’s over with. 

The first jumper plummeted to his end when I was a child. Six years old with a head full of dreams. That was the summer things came undone for the world. The sun had inched closer, notching up the heat—108 degrees on the last day of May in Michigan. The stock market had crashed and a new flu had surfaced, taking with it only a handful of people, but the media painted a picture of pandemic proportions. Many people took it as gospel. The jumpers soon followed. It’s like the entire planet lost its mind. 

Some say it is the heat that finally gets to them, drives them insane. Others say it is hopelessness and despair. I think it’s a little of both.

Harry Taylor started the exodus. Good looks, rich, trophy wife, lots of women to keep him company on those ‘business’ trips. He lost it all, money, home, cars, business and wife. It was 114 degrees outside when he climbed to the top of the Fordham building—a 27 floor high rise—spread his arms and tried to fly. He didn’t scream as he fell. He landed on top of a passing car. The impact shattered the windows and crumpled the roof of the vehicle. One tire blew out. Taylor and three passengers in the car died.

A child lived, a young boy.

~###~

The whispers call to me. 

I sit on the dusty ground. Bodies lay all about. Shattered. People walk by as if they aren’t there, or if they are just part of the everyday scenery. Children play among the bones, using them as drumsticks or anything else they can think of. Some of the kids stick the bones in their mouths.

The rats and snakes have long since cleared out. Either the stench or the glutton of food finally ceased their scavenging ways. Flies and bugs still buzz about, nestled in corpses to raise families by the thousands. 

My eyes are to the sky, focusing on the person on the ledge of the once great Fordham building. No one is going to try and coax him down—they gave that up a long time ago.

He jumps.

And I hear the whispers.

~###~

Many people followed Taylor. At first only one or two a week, then upwards to three or four a day. A handful of people jumped together, their arms intertwined. Even with the blood, broken bones and split bodies, their arms remained hooked together after they hit the concrete, like a flesh pretzel. From there it got worse.

The police tried to stop them, but what could they do? Dying is dying and whether it’s by a bullet or from landing on baking hot concrete doesn’t matter to those who want to end it all. Bodies began to pile up. The cops bowed out. Not even the military could stop the jumpers. How could they? They were jumping, too.

The high rises closed off exit doors to their roofs, but that didn’t stop the truly desperate; those who had lost everything, including hopes and dreams; those whose brains had fried with the increasing heat, whose skin had become as red as a Maine lobster. Windows break easily enough when a bullet strikes it. Or a person crashes through. Not only did bodies fall from the sky, but large shards of glass rained down as well. Some onlookers were cut up. Others died right along with the jumpers.

Some cities resorted to digging pits just outside town limits and burying the corpses by the masses. Others piled them like kindling and set them afire. That didn’t last long—the smell of cooking flesh drove folks even crazier and the extra heat didn’t help things. Eventually, they stopped removing the bodies.

It was almost as if the world spoke and its words were, “Everyone else is doing it, why not us?” The stupid rationale that was carried from the beginning of time to now, the end of it.

~###~

The body crashes down less than six feet from where I sit. Blood splatters from its ruptured skull. I flinch away, a little too late to keep some of it from getting on me. It drips down the side of my face. 

I sit and stare, not bothering to wipe the blood from my skin as it mixes with dirt and sweat. 

One of the man’s eyes lies on the ground, its socket crushed from impact and its optic nerves holding it to the pulp that was once his head. It is blue. It stares at me … and I hear the whispers.

I turn from him and look toward the entrance of the long abandoned Fordham building. There is a line of hundreds making their way inside.

Another body explodes on the sidewalk just past the man. The woman wears a dress. It has bunched up around her waist, exposing her creamy white legs and red panties. A wet spot soaks her crotch.

I stand, the whispers urging me on, and step my way through the corpses. I walk by the man. His eyeball pops under my boot.

I need to get in from the heat. My brain hurts and the whispers keep telling me the summer, the heat, the whole mess will never go away.

Maybe they’re right.

~###~

There was this one guy. He haunts me to this day. Black clothes and a chain for a belt; earrings and piercings and odd tattoos donned his body. His brown, unkempt hair and pale skin didn’t seem to fit his clothing, his image. He had taken a running start and jumped out as far as he could. He screamed all the way to the ground and landed feet first. 

JUMPER 2
Bones shattered and blood exploded from torn skin. From the hips down was a ruptured mass of flesh. He survived the jump. His eyes met mine and held my gaze while he lay broken on the concrete. The odd angles of his legs and arms jitterbugged as exposed nerves screamed right along with him. He begged me to kill him; to end his self-inflicted pain. But I couldn’t move. For nearly seven hours he screamed and I watched as his life faded, his eyes became dim and body parts ceased their twitching. 

I heard the whisper for the first time just before his right thumb stopped moving. It came from him—I’m almost certain. 

Join us. Join us. Join us.

I walked away, found a seat in the doorway of an old department store that closed down when the jumpers began their leaps of death. For the last few years it has been where I sit during the days and well into the evenings. It has been my watching perch, my haven in the insanity that has become our world.

By then they had been leaving the bodies in the streets to rot, maybe even hoping to deter other people from jumping. Yeah, that really worked, didn’t it?

Each day chain boy’s body decayed a little more. Rats dined on him. They gave way to bugs. Time and the elements wore away what flesh remained; leaving only bones among shredded clothes and a chain around a waist that was no more. And every day after that I heard the whispers.

Join us. Join us. Join us.

~###~

My head hurts. It always has. I run a finger along the scar on the right side of my skull. It throbs with my heartbeat. I’ve noticed over the last couple of years, as it gets hotter my head hurts worse. My right cheekbone hums as if there is a bee tucked underneath the skin. It’s maddening. I wish it would go away. 

I follow the procession inside the Fordham building where the heat is so much worse than outside. My lungs constrict and the dry air burns my mouth and throat. Sweat soaks my body, and the stench of the living mixes with the decay all around us. 

I make my way up the stairs, each step tearing at the muscles in my legs. By the eleventh floor I slow down and take several deep breaths, trying to suck in enough air to continue. I struggle upward, the whispers pushing me on. A skeletal hand crushes under foot, its bones turning to dust. 

Weary and weak I continue upward, the throngs of people pushing me further. 

The whispers grow louder as we ascend. Thousands of voices sing a chorus line over and over: Join us. Join us. Join us.

I don’t want to join them. I don’t want to jump. Fear overtakes me and I struggle to turn back, to run down the stairs and go to my seat outside. But I can’t. The people push me upward. I stumble as I fight against the flow of the crowd, but I can only go up. I fear I’m going to fall and get trampled under thousands of feet. I swing a fist; connect with someone’s head. There is no sound of pain, no cry of anger. Only the continuous surge pushing me forward.

They prod me up the steps. Their eyes are vacant; their mouths slack; their skin pale, as if they were already dead and drained of blood. 

I am not like them. I am not cold to the touch or wasting away with time. I am not like them at all. But I am. I know the truth. I have never been any different from any of those before me or those who will come after me. 

Join us. Join us. Join us.

As I reach the door to the roof I see it is propped open by a cinder block. The line of people continues forward, shortening as people drop from the building’s ledge. More and more join us at the top. As one person drops off, another takes his or her place. A never-ending cycle.

My head thumps and vomit fills my mouth.

~###~

At the edge I look down. I see the bodies scattered about the street. The once small hills are now masses of arms, legs, torsos and heads. Thousands of bones lay about, broken and shattered; blood runs through the streets. The stench of decay is worse up here. I wonder if enough people jump will the mounds of flesh rise as tall as the Fordham Building itself. 

Children play within the death below. Men and women—gaunt figures of living tissue—go about their day as if nothing is wrong. Across from me people are jumping from the Seth Building. A child is crushed underneath a hurdling body.

Join us.

My father calls to me. I can almost see him on the street, his body crumpled, glass from a shattered windshield still in his eyes. 

Join us.

Mother’s arm dangles from the window of the car, nearly cut in half from the steel roof’s collapse with the impact of the jumper’s fall. 

Join us.

My older brother, James. His head ended up in my lap; his eyes staring up at me. Not much different from his face and that of the teenage punk star with the chain for a belt. They both looked as if they wanted help; release from a pain far too great to bear. 

They whisper to me, calling me every day, every night. 

Join us. Join us.

It’s so hot out. My head thumps with each heartbeat, the fractured skull forever indented by a metal bar that once held the roof of a car up. The sun creeps closer each day, melting my spirit away with its intense heat. There are many people behind me. Their eyes and souls as vacant as mine feel. I raise my hands to my sides and close my eyes. I’m tired of the heat, tired of this world. 

I’m ready to fly …

__________

Music. It is the universal language. It doesn’t matter if you understand it, simply because it makes you feel it. And if you feel it, you can enjoy it. Music is also a vast source of inspiration. A countless number of my stories have been inspired by a base beat or a guitar riff or a couple of lyrics here or there. Sometimes an entire song can be so powerful it makes the mind explode with images.

For me, one such song is Nature Vs Man, written by Todd Mathis for the local band, American Gun. After hearing it the first time I went back and played it again, and again, and again. You get the picture. The song is great, but one lyric stood out among the rest. One lyric kicked my imagination into overdrive and sparked a story. 

‘Down below us children play.’ 

From it came the image of a young man looking down from the ledge of a tall building. He can see children playing in the street. Before jumping, he wonders if he would land on one of those kids. Summer Jumpers was born from that image, inspired by one simple lyric of a song. 

You might recognize the Seth Building. It appears in another post-apocalyptic story, Lost Art. That story takes place in the same world as Summer Jumpers, only years later, and with similar results.

I received permission to use the lyrics at the beginning of this story by Todd Mathis before I ever wrote Summer Jumpers. For that, I say thank you, Mr. Mathis.

A.J.

 

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Linosa’s Number (Free Fiction)

Linosa’s Number

A.J. Brown

A cobblestone road leads through the town and up the lush green hill toward Castle Linosa. Tree limbs, like long arms with outstretched fingers covered with brown and green skin, stretch across the road, intermingling with other trees that form an arch over the pathway. The branches blocked out the moon, not allowing any light to penetrate the hallowed path. It’s been said the trees are alive and bones protrude from their bark, but we do not look to see if this is true. Most men, both knight and thief alike, turn back before reaching the cobblestone pathway, but not us, not on this night, not when our reward awaits us.

Past the trees and into the open expanse that lay before us, we continue on, a band of seven—a number chosen for its lucky implications—men on horse back. Our torches light the night and the path before us. Just ahead we see the castle, thanks to the now visible moon high above it. It’s like an onlooking eye watching as we approach.

Looking back to the trees, we see one of our number is missing, probably having turned back from fright. We are now six, the lucky number no longer on our side. Still, we press on, our fortunes calling us, though some say it is our death that beckons.

The path cuts through a field of tall grass and stakes that are sunk in the ground. The remains of many men who ventured this way hang from them, mostly only skin and bones and hair. We take a collective breath and move forward, our eyes on the dark structure that looms ahead, its voice whispering to us, aching for us.

Once through the field of corpses we reach the giant moat, its drawbridge conveniently lowered for us to cross. Another glance around and we see we have been reduced to a band of five. Off in the distance a scream fills the night. Mercifully, the scream is silenced.

Sweat beads on our heads, and even though we wipe them with our backhands the water pours off us. Hearts in our throats, we press onward. 

Horse and buggyThe first horse steps onto the drawbridge, its shoe creating a hollow clop that echoes in the night. The horse whinnies and bucks onto its hind legs, then jerks forward as if pulled by an unseen force. Its front legs come down on the bridge, one of them losing its footing, sending it and its rider into the murky black waters below us. Our number is now four.

The other horses back away, refusing to step hoof onto the wretched bridge. We are left with only one choice. Though uncomfortable with it, we dismount our horses. As we step onto the bridge, the horses gallop away, back toward the field of corpses and the trees of the dead.

We proceed onto the bridge and across it, each of us with shaky legs, none of us speaking so much as one word. At the other end we see the gates have been raised, its spiked tips high in the air, held up by a giant chain that looks too heavy for any army of men to lift.

As we head through the gates the invisible grip on the chain releases and the gate falls. We scramble, diving into the courtyard as it crashes down with a thunderous boom. Beneath the gate, pierced and crushed by its weight is yet another of our rapidly declining band of men. We stand in the courtyard, backing away from the gate, and we are only three. If we ever wanted to turn back, that opportunity is lost to us forever.

The main doors to the keep are open and we go inside, our goal nearly met, though at the expense of our brethren. Through the dark we climb the steps, our torches lighting the way before us. There are rooms—hundreds of them, but we are only interested in the one where his body lies, where the Inconnu is. There we will find him, his head severed and a stake through his evil heart. And there, too, shall we find riches beyond riches and wealth that will give us lives of a kings if we see fit to live that way.

We reach a door and, though it screams on its hinges, it opens easily. Stepping inside, we see it is the stairwell leading down into almost complete darkness below; into the abyss that is the Inconnu’s burial place.

Our hearts hammer in our chests as we descend the stairs, one by one, dust stirring and rats skittering away. Bats screech overhead and a rush of cool air blows through us. Turning around, we look and now it is just us two: you and I, alone in Castle Linosa, where the greatest vampire that ever roamed the earth was finally slain in his sleep by a heathen, one like us.

Further down we go, our nerves on edge, our bodies soaked with sweat and grime and our hearts beating in our throats, chests, and temples. Our own breathing echoes off the walls and tickles our necks. We hold hands for fear of being left alone or of being the next one taken by the horrid beasts that is the castle and its surrounding lands.

Upon reaching level ground, we let out a collective breath and hold each other tight. The giant door looms over us but opens at the slightest touch, as if its master awaits our arrival. Stepping through the threshold, we see through the flickering light of our torches, we see his coffin, the lid open. We can’t see inside, but that does not matter. He is dead and what surrounds him are the riches we seek. Gold and silver and jewels. Harps and mandolins and ukuleles of bronze line walls; swords of lamentium and armor of gold and jewels; coins and diamonds.

We have finally arrived and the abundance of what we see is greater than we can fathom. I turn and see that your torch lies upon the floor and you are nowhere to be seen. Calling your name, I spin slowly in a circle, taking in the shadows that surround me, hoping, nay, praying I see you pillaging. But you are nowhere to be seen.

My hair stands on end as our number is now down to one.

A wind blows through the crypt and my torch whispers its final breath before blowing out. In the dark, tears fill my eyes and I am but a statue in the room, frozen feet, and paralyzed muscles.

Then I hear the movement in front of me and I know it is you and that I am not alone anymore. We are two again. You and I. My heart leaps silently in joy. I call your name and see your . . . eyes. But they are not the same. These are red ovals in the dark with yellow irises and deep purple pupils.

I feel the sting in my throat as a rush of air swipes by me and I know it is not you in here with me. As I fall to my knees, I realize our number is still two—he and I. But as my face hits the floor, my blood seeps into the gold and silver, and I know his number is still one.

__________

Linosa’s Number was a fun, but tricky story to write. Keeping the language and present tense throughout was difficult. I found myself rewriting portions of it because I slipped into past tense or into third person perspective instead of first (then, conveniently second for a paragraph or two) a few times.

When I wrote this piece I still liked vampires. To be completely honest, vampires dominated my stories for the first few years I wrote. I also wrote a lot more poetry back then. I think this piece reflects that in its almost lyrical feel in spots. 

I hope you enjoyed Linosa’s Number and I hope you will like, comment, and share this to your social media pages. It helps me to get the stories to other folks that way.

A.J.

 

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Jerry Died (Free Fiction)

Jerry Died

A.J. Brown

Jerry died when he was eight. A car accident claimed his life. They were on the way home from a minor league baseball game, something both Jerry (who was a junior) and his dad, who went by Jay instead of his given name, enjoyed. It hadn’t been all that late when they got on the road, just a little passed nine. Jerry had been talking about the game (the home team won, 2-0) and how well the starting pitcher threw the ball. He wondered aloud if he would ever be able to throw like that. They were barely a mile down the road when the car in the oncoming lane veered into theirs and hit them head on. 

***

He stood on the mound, an older guy with scars running the length of both legs and his left arm. The scar on his forehead was puckered and purple and he absent-mindedly rubbed at it with the forefinger of his left hand. His blue eyes had grayed along with his hair—though his hair had grayed somewhat prematurely many years before. A bucket of baseballs sat beside him, all of them gathered over the years as he went to ballparks after games were over and scavenged the ones left behind.

The ballpark he stood in was old, run down. Kids rarely played there anymore. The infield was hard clay with patches of weeds and grass here and there. The outfield held the same weeds and grass, just much more of it. In some spots, there were crystalline spider webs on the ground. When the sun shone down on early mornings, the dew glistened off them, making the webs appear as if they were ice. 

The outfield fence had collapsed in sections, the wood panels crumbled and rotted out. The home team dugout was nothing more than a concrete bench (cinder blocks held together by mortar), while the visiting side’s dugout still had a rusted metal fence separating it from the field of play.

***

Jay slammed on the breaks when he saw the car crossing the line toward them. He tried to swerve out of the way, jerking his wheel to the right toward the shoulder. He would say later, as he laid in the hospital bed after his fourth or fifth surgery, “The guy never slowed down. He never hit his breaks.”

The metal on metal was nothing more than the sound of aluminum cans crumpling beneath the weight of a boot. The airbags deployed, front and sides. He felt the burn of the steering wheel’s bag strike him in the face. His nose exploded, his right cheekbone shattered, and he swallowed more than a couple of teeth. The airbag in the door hit him in the shoulder, breaking his arm just above the elbow. 

The car spun to the right, the tires on that side digging into the grass, catching dirt. Then it went onto its side, followed by its top. The car flipped three times before coming to rest on its crumpled top.

***

He slipped the old glove on his left hand. He hadn’t worn it since a warm night at a minor league game fourteen years earlier. It was tight around the fingers that were slightly chubbier than that night. He opened and closed his hand, the glove doing the same thing.

He was unaware that as he flexed his hand in the glove, the grip on the baseball in his other hand grew tighter. The knuckles on all his fingers, except for his pinky, were white. 

His breath hitched as he stared at the glove, the opening and closing of it reminding him of a fish out of water, gasping for breath … or maybe a person who can’t breathe, who had something pressed against his throat, his windpipe crushed.

***

12734126_10208347032850778_986475889973690833_nJay was dazed. Blood ran into his eyes and dripped onto the car’s ceiling. His face hurt and he felt like he was drowning. His seatbelt held him in place. The pull of it against his chest and stomach felt like a knife trying to cut through bone. His left arm hung over his head, the angle backwards. The bone jutted through muscle and skin.

A horn blared from somewhere. 

“Lay off the horn …”

The words that came out sounded nothing like him. They were as broken as he felt. 

Occasionally, the light tinkle of glass came as shards of window fell away and landed on the concrete. 

Jay wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard feet pounding the ground. He thought he heard people screaming.

It turned out, it was him.

***

Sweat beaded along his forehead. Wet circles had blossomed beneath his arms and what looked like a dark cone had soaked through the back of his shirt. He swallowed the lump in his throat, but it seemed to stay put. His shoulders sagged and all the energy seemed to race down his legs and out of his body. 

He lowered the glove but held tight to the ball. 

On the ground was the cracked pitcher’s rubber at the center of what used to be a pitcher’s mound. He toed it like he did when he was a teenager and pitching in high school. For the longest time, he stared down at his sneaker covered foot. The laces were still in good shape for shoes that were over fourteen years old. The white exterior had grayed over time, but the shoes fit and were still comfortable. 

He took a deep breath and looked up.

***

His head thumped. It became hard to breathe. Dots formed in his vision. His eyes began to shut. Jay was dying. He knew this as well as he knew his son wanted to be a baseball player when grew up.

Jay’s eyes snapped open. Though it hurt him to move, he tried to look into the backseat.  HIs neck screamed. His arm protested. His ribs begged for him not to make any sudden movements. But he couldn’t help it. Through the rush of blood in his ears and the approaching feet, he had not heard his son speak, scream or cry. 

He did hear people yelling:

Call 9-1-1.

We have to get them out.

Oh my God!

Help! Help! Someone help them!

But he didn’t hear Jerry at all. 

Jay craned his neck the best he could. The image of his son in the backseat, the top of the ceiling crushed in, the frame of the window bent so the bar was at Jerry’s throat. His eyes were open and he still held his glove in his hand, a ball still in it.

He yelled, loud and long and hard, until, finally, he passed out.

***

dscn1683When he was in high school, he had been the third pitcher in a three deep starting lineup. He had an okay change up, but those weren’t the rage back then. He also had a good fast ball. It was better than average, but not even the fourth or fifth best on the team. The pitch he loved the most was a curve ball that could drop right off the plate as a batter flailed away at it. Even the good batters seemed to chase it when it was eyeball high halfway to the plate, only to miss as the full arc and break of the ball came into play. 

He didn’t think he could throw that curve ball now—his hand hasn’t been the same since the accident that claimed the use of the pinky. He gripped it the best he could, but knew without that pinky, he would never be able to get it to break right. It might cross the plate but hit the ground before it did so. Or maybe it would end up shooting off to the right or left and not break at all. 

He changed the grip, holding the ball with the middle two fingers on the seams, pointer finger and pinky on either side of the ball, completely on the rawhide, the thumb at the bottom, opposite the middle two fingers. He might could throw the pitch and have it move a little. The spin of the ball would be mostly off though without the aid of the pinky, which hugged the ball, but nothing else. 

He took a deep breath and switched the grip again, this time allowing the index and middle fingers to slide over the top the seams. His thumb went under the ball, opposite the other two. His ring finger and pinky sat beside each other. The only finger not touching the ball was the pinky. It sat, almost limply, by the ring finger. This grip felt right. He thought he could throw that pitch if needed.

“Two seamer it is,” he said and looked in at the batter’s box.

***

There were sirens. Jay heard them, though he had no clue where they came from. Someone kept telling him, “Stay with me, buddy.” He didn’t know who that was or who he was talking to. Jay thought it was a dream, or maybe someone else’s life.

The sirens gave way to bright lights. Stay With Me Buddy Guy was no longer there. In his place were several other voices, mostly men, but a woman (maybe two) was in the mix.

He opened an eye—the right one. Everything was blurry and bright. The faces around him all ran together. Their eyes seemed too large, their mouths too wide. The words coming from them were too loud. Everything was just … too much.

Then he was gone again, the voices and sights gone with him.

***

He had seen the headline. Well, it hadn’t really been a headline. It was more like a small heading with a six paragraph article beneath it. 

Man Who Killed Child in DUI Accident Released From Prison

He trembled when he saw it. He threw up after reading it. He threw up again after reading it a second time. There was a small image of the man to the left of the column. Prison life had not been good for him. He had aged poorly. In the image he wore a green jumper and his hair had thinned considerably. Whiskers stubbled his chin and his eyes held the thousand-yard stare of someone who had gone through a tragedy and still hasn’t come out the other side.

“How could they let him go?” he asked. His words didn’t come out quite right. Though his teeth had been replaced and the bones in his cheek reconstructed, his jaw was never the same. Surgery did no good. It was almost as if he talked with a mouth full of those broken teeth he swallowed. 

It wouldn’t have been hard to find the man—he could only go so far without a job, and his parents’ residence had come up during the trial. But Jay didn’t even have to go searching at all. The man—Collin Pickens—came to him.

The knock startled him. He limped to the door, opened it and almost slammed it shut. The two men stood looking at each other, Collin with the hopeful eyes of a guilty man seeking forgiveness, Jay, father of Jerry, now dead fourteen years, stunned and fighting the urge to punch the man across from him. 

“Mr. Hiller,” Collin said, “How do you do?”

Jay said nothing at first. He didn’t know what to say. How do you do? That’s the first words out of the mouth of the man who killed his son? How do you do? Finally, he spoke. “I’ve been better.”

dscn1703Collin nodded. His hair had thinned. He was smaller than Jay remembered from the trials. His eyes darted about, as if he were a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. “I’m sure,” he said.

“What do you want?” Jay asked, getting down to business. 

“I’m sorry, Sir,” Collin said. “I just want you to know that.”

Again, Jay said nothing right away. He stared at the man, his mind working hard and trying not to bog down. The very bane of Jay’s existence stood three feet from him. What was he to do if he wasn’t going to punch him or slam the door in his face?

“Come in,” he said and stepped aside.

It was Collin’s turn to be hesitant. Then, as if he believed he had been forgiven for his crimes against the Hiller family, he stepped through the threshold. Jay closed the door behind him.

***

The light hurt his right eye. There was no sense of feeling in the other, but the cheek and jaw ached bad. The beep beep of a monitor told him his heart still beat, which meant he was still alive. His head thumped and there was a ringing in his left ear that tried to drown out the heart monitor. 

Jay shook his head and immediately wished he hadn’t. His stomach rumbled and he didn’t get his head turned before he vomited down the front of his hospital gown and the sheet that covered him. 

“Take it easy, Jay.” The voice of his wife was strained. Her hand was cold and clammy. He could hardly make her out through the haze in his mind.

“Where’s Jerry?” he asked. It came out as “Bare’s Derbee.”

It was a long while before she answered and when she did, there were tears in her words. Though they didn’t sound like much, he knew what she had said. “He’s dead.”

Jay cried.

***

On the mantle in the living room stood a picture of Jay, Jerry and Heather. It had been taken about a month before Jerry’s untimely death. They were happy then, a family of three with everything they could want in the growing stages of their lives together. Two years after the death of Jerry, Heather followed, but not by accident or even by natural causes. She went into the night by her own hand and a bottle full of pills. Jay stood by the fireplace, just to the left of the picture. He didn’t realize he had done this.

“I appreciate you seeing me, Mr. Hiller,” Collin said as he sat on the couch opposite the mantle. His eyes were fixed on the image Jay stood next to.

“We … uh … things happen,” Jay said, though he didn’t believe the words coming from his mouth. He looked at the picture of his family. They were all smiling. Jerry had a cap on his head backward, just like his dad. Heather’s hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her green eyes shining the way they always did before her son’s death dulled them with the tears she cried. 

“I guess so,” Collin said and looked away.

“You … umm .. you want a drink or something?”

“Water would be nice,” Collin said with a nod.

“Water it is.”

***

The nightmares kept him awake. His son in the back seat, glove on his hand, ball still tucked in it. The bar of the window on his throat, his windpipe crushed and his eyes open in a begging expression that said, you were supposed to keep me safe, Daddy.

He always woke in a cold sweat, even in the dead of summer with air blowing from the window unit by the bed. He screamed until his throat hurt each time. Then he sat up in the bed, breath labored, blood pumping too fast through his veins, heart breaking all over again.

***

Water it was. 

Jay left the room and made his way through the kitchen to the room he had slept in for the last twelve years of his life. It was nothing more than his old study. The desk hadn’t been used for more than a takeout container catch all (not catching them all since some were on the floor around it). A sheet and pillow were crumpled on the couch and a clock sat on the end table next to it. 

At the desk, he opened a drawer and rummaged through it. Then the second one was opened and the third—and last—followed. It was in this third one where he found the pistol he had bought to use on himself after Heather’s death. He wanted to follow in her footsteps, just give up the living so he could give up the grieving. It was something he never followed through on. He opened the cylinder. Five .38s sat ready to be used. He closed the cylinder back and walked out of the room, stopping for a bottle of water from the refrigerator before going into the living room.

“Here you go,” he said when he entered the room. Collin had been looking at the floor. His hands were clasped together, and his eyes were wet with tears.

“Thank you,” he said and reached for the water. His hand stopped in mid reach and his eyes locked in on the gun in Jay’s right hand. 

“My son is dead because of you,” Jay said. “My wife killed herself two years later because her son was dead, so that means my wife is dead because of you. You see this gun? I bought it so I could join them, but I’m still here. And so are you.”

Collin put both hands in the air, started to say something. Before he could, Jay turn the gun around and brought it down on his forehead.

***

Jay visited the grave. He ran his fingers along his son’s name Jerry Thomas Hiller II. There were words there, something Heather wanted on the stone. Jay had no clue what they were. He never got passed his son’s name.

***

Now he stood on the pitcher’s mound. He gripped tight to the ball. A two-seamer for certain. He stared in at the batter’s box and just beyond it. The metal fence behind it had rusted over the years, but it served the purpose Jay needed it to. Bound to the fence by rope and plenty of duct tape was Collin Pickens. His arms were pulled out to his sides, strapped tight to the fence so he couldn’t move them. Tape wrapped around his forehead, keeping him facing toward Jay. His mouth was taped shut. 

It wasn’t terribly hard to get Collin there and bound to the fence—being unconscious for part of it made things so much easier. When Collin finally came to, all Jay needed to do was put the gun to Collin’s head and he stilled. Jay knew that was the worse thing Collin could have done. That just made it easier for Jay to do what he needed to do.

On the pitcher’s mound he stared in. His pinky twitched as if it were itching to throw the ball as hard as he could. 

“My son wanted to be a pitcher,” Jay said. “I bet you didn’t know that. He was eight years old when you killed him. He would be twenty-two now.”

Jay cocked his arm back and slung the ball as hard as he could. He felt the tinge in his shoulder as soon as he released it. The ball sailed to the right, striking the fence almost three full feet over Collin’s head. That didn’t keep Collin from letting out a muffled scream. 

Jay took the glove off and rubbed his throwing shoulder. “I’m a little rusty,” he said, not necessarily to Jay. “Let’s try this again.” Jay reached into the bucket, plucked out one of the many balls he had pilfered from little league fields all around the state. There was a smudge of orange between the two top seams. He put the ball behind his back and rolled it around in his hand until the fingers found the seams and his grip tightened. Jay looked at second base, just as he would have when he was back in school. Then he turned to Collin Pickens and threw the ball.

***

“He’s not getting away with this, son,” Jay said as he rubbed his fingers along the headstone with his eyes closed. “I’m not going to let him. I promise you that.”

He left Jerry’s grave for the last time the day after Collin Pickens was released from prison and the morning he read the news. There wasn’t much left to say to his son, except, “I love you,” which he did before standing and leaving.

***

dscn1707The ball struck Collin Pickens in the right shoulder with a sickening thud. He screamed his muffled scream. Tears formed in his eyes. If he hadn’t been wearing a shirt, Jay would have been able to see an impression of the seams of the ball on Collin’s shoulder. 

“A little high,” Jay said and reached into the bucket for another ball. One of the seams had snapped on this one. He slipped it behind his back, rolled it over in his hand until his fingers found the seam. Then he threw it.

The ball hit Collin in the stomach. He tried to lift his legs, but his bonds held him in check.

“My son wanted to be a pitcher,” Jay said, “just like his old man.”

He fired another ball in. This one striking Collin in the left knee. A loud pop echoed in the air and the ball bounced off the knee cap. It came to a stop in the dip of the batter’s box where feet had dug it out years ago. Another pained and muffled howl came from Collin. Tears streamed down his face.

Jay took another ball from the bucket, tossed it in the air in front of his face. He caught it and put it behind his back as he looked in at Collin—at the strike zone that was his body.  

“My wife killed herself, did you know that?”

Jay shook his head and laughed. “Of course, you didn’t. How could you?” He paused. “Two years after we buried my boy, I buried my wife—almost to the day. She couldn’t live another day without her son. She … umm … downed a bottle of pain killers—my pain killers—and she just … went to sleep.”

Tears had formed in his eyes by then. He wiped at them with his gloved hand. 

“You killed my son and my wife.”

Jay fired the ball at Collin. It struck him in the left side of his ribs. Collin squeezed his eyes shut just before impact. The sound was thick and sickening. Collin leaned slightly forward, but could go no further, his bonds holding him to the fence.

***

The nightmares never changed. They talk in the car after the game. The headlights from the other car comes into view. His son asks his dad if he would ever throw as good as the pitcher did that night. Then the sound of twisting metal and glass. It is always followed by Jay turning in his seat to see his son’s haunting eyes, the accusatory stare in them. 

As always, he woke with a scream.

*** 

Another ball came from the bucket and was quickly zipped at Collin. As did another and another and another. The balls hit him in the leg and torso and arm. One struck him in the crotch, prompting a moment of vomit that couldn’t get through the tape on his mouth, but that partially came out his nose instead. Jay only missed on two throws. The fence rattled both times that happened.

One last time he reached into the bucket. He kicked it as hard as he could. It tumbled toward third base, stopping just on the infield dirt. Sweat poured off his face and arms and beneath his armpits and down his back into his pants. By then he was tired. His face was red and that twinge in his arm was more of a not so subtle throb. It was a pain he had felt when he tore the rotator cuff in his junior year of college. He didn’t care. He had one last pitch … one last strike to throw.

He said nothing as he stared in at Collin Pickens. The man hanging on the fence was bruised and battered. Some of his bones had broken with the impact of the balls. Blood and vomit spilled from his nose. Tears fell from his eyes. His body sagged, and his arms pulled on their restraints. He shook his head weakly from side to side, as if begging Jay not to throw another ball at him.

Jay went into his wind up and threw the ball harder than he ever had. There was a pop in his elbow, and he knew immediately he had blown it out. The pain was sudden, but he didn’t drop to his knees or grab his elbow. He watched the ball as it struck home in the center of Collin’s face.

***

He slept, the man with no child and no wife and no grudge to hold to any longer. He slept with the aid of a bottle of pain meds, just as his wife had. And the nightmare came no longer.

__________

If you know anything about me, you know I love baseball. Especially little league baseball. You also know I like writing about baseball, but rarely in that nice little let’s get a long and play well together mentality. I like exploring the darker sides of everything, including a game I love. 

I wrote this story over a few days after the family went to a minor league baseball gam here in South Carolina. The game was fun and the home team won 2-0. On our way home that night, no car swerved and almost hit us. However, my mind had already started writing a story when we left the parking lot.

If you enjoyed Jerry Died (or any of the other stories I have posted), please share them with your friends on social media, like this post and comment. I would like to know what you think.

A.J.

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Flash (Free Fiction)

Flash

By A.J. Brown

The world ended in a flash.

Robbie and Sarah were making out at the drive in when it happened. Armageddon played on the movie screen they paid little attention to. For Robbie, his attention span turned solely to Sarah when she nipped his ear with her teeth. When he turned to her, she was smiling, and her upper teeth pinched at her bottom lip in a mischievous manner. He leaned in. One kiss lead to another and another …

One car over, Dale and Delaney Smith sat, not making out, not even talking. They stared at the screen, he actually enjoying the action, she wondering if there was ever love after twenty-six years of marriage. She glanced at Dale. His beard was rough and in need of a trim. Images from the screen reflected in his glasses. He didn’t seem to notice.

Her eyes caught sight of the couple next to them …

Robbie’s hand managed to make it onto one of Sarah’s breasts. It was heavenly and soft and something he had wanted to do since he first asked her out. Deep in the back of his mind, he saw her jaw drop open and her eyes widen. Then he saw her pull away, a hand went forward, and his head jerked away.

“What type of girl do you think I am?” Mind-Sarah asked.

That didn’t happen. In fact, Real-Sarah leaned in, pressing her breast into his hand. She let out a soft moan and slid a hand behind his head. She pushed her lips harder against his. He couldn’t believe it was finally happening. They were kissing and he was actually copping a feel and she let him.

Delaney couldn’t help what she saw. It brought back memories of when they were younger, maybe even the same age as the couple in the car next to them. She had pushed many of Dale’s advances away as teenagers, but now … now she would give anything for one look, one touch … one kiss that brought the magic to her lips and heart.

Robbie’s hand slid down to Sarah’s stomach. He pulled her top free of her skirt and touched bare skin—BARE SKIN!—for crying out loud.

From the corner of her eyes, Delaney saw the girl’s shirt come up. She wore a light blue bra with flower prints—something sexy the boys would like. She wondered if the panties matched, then thought of her own under garments: a cream-colored bra and light pink underwear, nothing she would consider sexy by any stretch of the imagination. Still, she wasn’t in bad shape. She still had good curves, only adding maybe twenty pounds to her frame since their dating days. Okay, twenty-five, but not more than that. 

And maybe that’s where things had gone wrong. The extra weight, the slight chubbiness in her fingers, the pooch in her stomach, the extra padding in her hips. Delaney’s heart sank and her shoulders sagged. She let out a deep sigh and tears tugged at her eyes. 

One car over, Sarah’s shirt hadn’t quite come off yet. It was pushed up over her breasts, but she hadn’t slid her arms out of it. Robbie didn’t try to force it off—that would ruin the moment and he didn’t want to do that. Not if he could help it. His right hand traced the middle of her back until it reached her bra. The fingers lingered there for a moment as Robbie wondered if it would be safe to try and unclasp it—something he had never done before with any girl. Instead, he slid his hand back down along her spine. 

Sarah’s breath hitched and she pulled her lips from his. 

Robbie opened his eyes to see her head thrown back. Then they came toward him. Instead of her lips finding his, they found his jaw, then his neck and then her teeth nipped skin there.

Delaney saw the young man’s hand on the back of the girl’s bra strap. His fingers then fell along her back. Her mouth dropped open for a moment. As much as she didn’t want to look at the young couple making out, she couldn’t help it. She bit the top of her lip with her bottom teeth. When the girl moved in on the boy’s neck, Delaney’s breath caught in her throat. 

She looked away from the scene that played out to Dale’s left. She couldn’t believe he didn’t notice the couple next to them, less than twenty feet away. On the screen, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck were talking, or were they arguing? She didn’t know. She didn’t care. 

When she looked back to the car next to them, the girl raised her arms and her shirt came off. She wanted that type of passion again, but didn’t think it would happen, not after Dale had tried so often and been rejected more than accepted by her.

Robbie pressed his hand to Sarah’s back. He wanted so bad to rip her clothes off and take her right there in the drive thru theater. He didn’t care if anyone saw them. He just wanted her more than he ever had before. 

She bit down on his neck again, this time a little harder. He didn’t flinch away from the pain. Instead, he leaned into it.

Then she stopped. It was so sudden it startled Robbie. He started to speak. She put a finger to his lips, shook her head from side to side. Her arms went above her head, one hand taking the hem of her shirt and pulling it off. It landed on the dashboard. 

It’s really going to happen, he thought. 

Sarah scooted over and patted the center of the bench seat. For the first time since getting the old clunker of a hand me down from his parents, Robbie was happy there was no console in the center and that the seats weren’t buckets. He slid over and seconds later, she straddled him. 

Delaney saw the girl crawl on top of the guy. She saw the guy’s lips go to her neck—it was his turn to be a Hoover. 

“What are you looking at?” Dale asked, bringing her fully from the show. Heat filled her face and if she would have looked in the mirror she would have seen patches of red on her cheeks. 

“Ummm … you.”

He let out a small laugh. “Really? Me?”

“Yeah.”

It was now or never, she thought. If he looks at the car next to them, he’ll know she wasn’t looking at him. She put one hand on his shoulder, then the other one on his face. She leaned in to give him a kiss.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

In the car next to them …

Robbie worked the clasp on Sarah’s bra, but couldn’t quite unhook it.

“Let me help,” she said breathlessly.

I just want a kiss,” Delaney said.

“Okay.” He leaned to the side and gave her a quick peck.

She frowned, shook her head. “No. I want a real kiss.”

“That was a real kiss.”

“No. I want one like this,” she said and pulled him as close to her as she could get him. 

flash-275423_1920The bra fell away. Though Robbie couldn’t quite see them, he could almost feel how perfect Sarah’s breasts were. He kissed her again, pressing his lips hard to her. Her hands slid down to the front of his pants and the world began to rumble. 

It really is like fireworks going off, he thought as she unbuckled his belt.

Delaney planted her lips firmly on Dale’s and hoped he wouldn’t pull away. The ground rumbled beneath them, sending a shiver of excitement through her. It could have been an earthquake or maybe she just made the world shake with her boldness, with her determination.

Dale didn’t pull away, even as the asteroid in the movie hurdled toward Earth and Bruce Willis offered to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the world. His tongue went between her lips and the world shook harder. She pulled away, looked at him. His eyes seemed to shine, something she hadn’t seen in quite a while. 

She pulled him to her and kissed him hard.

Sarah fumbled with Robbie’s belt, their lips still locked. The car vibrated, the doors shook. 

The windows shattered as they kissed.

Robbie and Sarah took a deep breath just as the world lit up in an orange glow.

Delaney kissed Dale harder as heat filled the car. Neither of them blinked as the world vanished around them. 

As the world ended, Robbie and Delaney, one who always wanted the girl and the other who had wondered if love existed after a quarter century of marriage, both thought of fireworks. 

__________

This is one of those rare stories where there is mild sexual content, something I rarely ever use in my writing. However, this was not a piece about sex. It’s about the desire to be wanted by the one you love.

Robbie wanted Sarah. He’s the typical teenager who is somewhat horny and if he has a chance to make it with a young lady, then he would do his best to make it happen. Delaney, on the other hand, had been where Sarah was once upon a time. However, she had spurned many of Dale’s advances. Interesting enough, she regretted that, feeling as if she had pushed him away. Now, all she wanted was a little passion, to be noticed by her husband of over 26 years. 

I guess that’s the way love and sex can be. Sometimes, you just want to be noticed by the one you love. Other times you want to be touched and you want to feel that passion you once had. It also has the occasional fireworks that take your breath away and leaves you in awe and wanting more. 

I hope you enjoyed Flash. It was a fun and difficult story to write. If you have an extra minute, will you please share this post on your social media pages, like and comment. Let me know what you think of the stories I have posted so far. Thanks, y’all. Have a great day.

A.J.

 

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The Two

The Two

By A.J. Brown

The windshield wipers beat a rapid tattoo along the front glass, trying uselessly to keep up with the rain pouring down. It was a dark night, made darker by the clouds blocking out any moonlight. The road twisted and wound its way through trees on either side. Pot holes cratered the road every few feet, jarring the car all over the wet, slick pavement. 

“You took a wrong turn,” Marissa said. She stared out the front window while her right hand clutched tight to the door’s arm rest.

“I followed the directions,” Chet said, “at least until this storm hit and the GPS lost signal.”

“Then the directions are wrong. We’ve been driving down this road for miles, there is nothing out here. Turn around.”

“I can’t turn around, the road is too narrow, and the shoulder’s non-existent. If you haven’t noticed, water is covering the road and I don’t know if there are ditches on either side. If I try turning around we might get stuck, or worse.”

“Then, what’s your plan?”

He looked at her. Though the car was as dark inside as the world was outside, he could still see the side of her face, the silhouette on the backdrop of the passenger’s side window. “The road has to come out somewhere, right?”

Marissa’s eyes grew wide. Her right foot shot out in front of her, mashing an imaginary brake pedal. Her left hand clutched her seat. “Watch Out!” 

Chet slammed on the breaks and looked back to the road. The car slid and tires caught dirt and gravel. It went sideways and toward an unknown ditch or soft shoulder he couldn’t see. He jerked the steering wheel to his left. The car fishtailed then went sideways again before it came to a stop, somehow still in the road.  

For several long seconds both Chet and Marissa sat, not saying anything and holding their breaths. They both let the air flow from their lungs simultaneously, relaxing slightly.

“Oh my God,” Marissa cried when she looked out of her window.  “You almost hit them.”  

Hit what?”

“Those children,” she said, looking back at him. “Didn’t you see them?”

“No, I was …” He paused. How many times had she told him to keep his eyes on the road? How many times had he not listened and veered into other lanes? “I was trying to find a place to turn around when you screamed. I just reacted.” It was a partial lie, the only part being true was he reacted to her scream.

Chet looked at the road. The car had come to a stop facing the opposite direction they had been going. Any other time, he would have thought that was a good thing, but right then, he stared out the window, at the pouring rain beating on his car and the road and … and what he thought was a lump of something in the road. His skin prickled as he thought that lump could be kids. 

That’s impossible, he thought. Why would kids be in the middle of the road out here, in fricking Egypt?

“Chet, we need to check on them and make sure they are okay?”

“Are you sure that is a kid?”

Two kids, Chet. Two kids, and I am positive. I saw them while you were busy not looking at the road, again.”

“I was looking for a place to turn around,” he yelled.

“I’m sure you were.”

“Let’s just go,” Chet said and put the car into gear.

“Wait. What? You’re not going to check on those kids? Are you serious?”

“I don’t see any kids, Marissa.”

“They’re right there in the road, Chet. How can you not see them?”

“I don’t know what that is in the road, but it isn’t a couple of kids.”

“Look again.”

Chet did, straining his eyes, trying to see through the rain. He flicked the bright lights on and his breath caught in his throat.

“I can’t believe it.”

“I told you.”

“What are we going to do?”

“We need to help them, Chet.”

He licked his lips. He didn’t like the idea of getting out of the car in the storm, but Marissa was right. They had to help those two kids. 

Chet opened the door and wished he had thought to bring an umbrella with them, but it had been bright and sunny when they left home earlier. The rain soaked his left side even before he got out of the car and stared at the road. He was drenched within seconds, but it didn’t matter right then. Two small kids, the oldest maybe three and a girl, the youngest not even able to stand on its own and possibly a boy, were in the road.  The girl sat in the road, her legs crossed. She cradled the boy in her arms. They looked to be no more than 20 feet in front of the car, which didn’t seem possible to Chet—they had been a good sixty feet or so seconds earlier. At least, he thought they had been.

Marissa opened her door and stood, closing it gently. The little girl looked up at her with deep brown eyes filled with fear. Her long brown hair was flat and stuck to a face that appeared dirty, even in the rain. Her dress and shirt were tattered and clung to her body. The little boy wore a dirty one piece out fit that appeared too small for him.  

“Hey,” Marissa said as she walked slowly toward them. “Are you okay?”

“That’s kind of a dumb question, Honey,” Chet said, rounded the car and stood next to her. Even with the rain pouring down on them, they didn’t hurry, they didn’t risk the chance of startling them. ”What are we going to do?”

“We can’t leave them here,” Marissa responded. “I would hate myself if we just left them out here to die.”

“How do we get them in the car? They don’t know us. They might not go with us.”

girl-3813105_1920“Hold on,” Marissa said and squatted down. She waddled slowly to the little girl, stopping within an arm’s reach of her. The little girl didn’t flinch or attempt to move away.  She only looked up at her with those sad doe eyes that seemed to reflect in the glare of the headlights.

“Are you okay?” Marissa asked again.

The little girl shook her head.

“Is this your baby?”

She shook her head from side to side. 

“Is this your sibling?”

She nodded.

“Where’s your parents?”

There was no response this time.

“Do you have a mommy?”

Another simple nod.

“Do you know where she is?”

The little girl looked toward the woods, then back at Marissa. With one small hand she pointed at the trees.

“Your mommy is over there?”

A nod.

“Chet, can you—”

“Yeah, I’m on it,” Chet said. He didn’t want to be on it. He didn’t like the idea of walking into the woods at the whim of a creepy little girl. As far as he knew, her parents could be waiting in there to ambush him. They would kill him and kidnap Marissa. They would do all sorts of bad things to her before killing her and burying her in a shallow grave. 

Instead of going straight to the woods, he went back to the car. He popped the trunk and rummaged around the junk in there for a flash light and a weapon. He found a screw driver and picked it up. It might not be much, but it would work as a knife if he needed to.  He flicked on the flashlight and walked to the edge of the road and shined the light into the woods.  

Mostly, he saw trees and underbrush. The beam of light shone on a swath torn into the woods. Just beyond it was a battered car.

“Oh no,” he whispered. He glanced back at Marissa. She was still squatting in front of the two children. Chet stepped into the woods and carefully picked his way over broken tree limbs and flattened bushes. When he reached the car he turned the light to the driver’s side window.  His breath stuck in his lungs. A man and woman were in the front seat, their heads split open, the windshield shattered. The rain had washed a lot of the blood away, but he saw a clump of brain tissue and hair clinging to the windshield where the woman’s head and struck it. 

Chet shook his head and backed away as his stomach rumbled. For a few seconds, he thought he would throw up, but somehow managed not to. He stumbled back along the ruined foliage, slipping a couple of times in the mud but not tumbling to the ground. He left the trees behind and hurried to Marissa and the children.

“Did you find their mother?” Marissa asked.

He shook his head and said nothing at first. Finally, he said, “Their parents are … ummm … gone.”

“Gone?”

He nodded. “Dead.”

“Oh no.” It was hard to tell, but Chet thought tears had formed in Marissa’s green eyes. She wiped at them and turned back to the two children—the two orphans.

“Do you want to come with us?” she asked. “We’ll get you something to eat and clean you up and try to find some of your relatives.”

Again, the little girl nodded.  

“Can I take the baby?” Marissa asked.

The girl looked down at her brother, gave a quick nod, then held the child out to her. Marissa looked the baby in her arms, cradled him gently. 

“Come on,” Chet said, held his hands out to the little girl. She reached for him. Chet lifted the girl from the ground. She wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” he said.

As they hurried back to the car, the little girl lifted her head and looked toward the woods where the car had caromed off the road. A smile creased her young face, revealing two sharp teeth.

__________

This is one of those stories that just kind of happened. An image popped into my head of a little girl sitting in the street, cross legged. In her arms was a baby boy. It was raining. From there the story kind of told itself. However, when I got to the end, the easy thing to do was create a happily ever after type of scenario. 

Come on. This is me we’re talking about. 

As I wrote the last part where Chet and Marissa pick up the two children and take them to the car, I saw the little girl smiling. Behind that smile were sharp teeth. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to make the story just a little darker.

Are the two children vampires? Are they something else? Did they kill the couple in the car in the woods? Are they going to kill Chet and Marissa? I will leave that up to you.

I hope you enjoyed The Two, and please, leave a comment, share to your social media pages and like it as well. I thank you from the top of my heart.

A.J.

 

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Befallen(Free Fiction)

Befallen

A.J. Brown

The fall from the heavens are a mighty rush, air pulling and tearing, bits and pieces of droplets sheering away as the gray mass tumbles to the ground. Water pellets shaped like tear drops spill from crying clouds, an exhilaration coursing through them as the world grows nearer.  

The first few thousand are silent in descent.  t is the spattering against earth that sends their cries back up to the sky, to the ears of the angels and clouds and stars and their brothers and sisters that fall along with them.  

To bursts on hardtop or leaves or to blend into the ocean, ponds, rivers and lakes is their destiny—an accepted fate of a doomed creation. But, the screams … the screams of the befallen, their pained impact, rattles those still in descent, sending fear into unseen hearts, unnerving unknown bravado. Cries of ‘no, no, no’ echo among their number but there is no way to stop the free fall.

rain-455124_1920The world awaits, absorbs the pelting as each drop shatters on contact, soaking into the ground or mixing with dead rain pellets. Cold bodies on human skin, wiped away into nothingness. Oxygen uses their remains to form rust on metallic surfaces. Some of them cling to limbs and bars and bumpers, their lives almost over.

When the sun comes out the mourning begins. Steaming souls rise with hisses, their broken remains falling up instead of down, back to the heavens where another downpour will send them to another collision with an unforgiving world. Those left behind soak into dirt or evaporate off of leaves and other hard surfaces or are tamped down by towels, lives forever extinguished. And in the heavens the clouds and angels and stars all cry … and the rain falls again.

Listen closely to the roar of the rains, to the fear in their hearts as they tremble in flight and die in violence, some to rise again while others are forever gone, souls of the dead never to be remembered, banished from the heavens to the earth below.

__________

Have you ever listened to the rain? Sure, you hear it when it strikes the ground or trees or the roof, but have you listened? When it storms, the rain sounds like a stampede. When it drizzles it’s the rat-a-tat of a drummer in a marching band. It’s not a splat or a plop. It’s louder. like a scream silenced suddenly. That’s what this story is: a scream silenced suddenly. 

I wrote this one evening after sitting on the porch during a storm. I sat in the chair from beginning to end, from the first drop that hit the ground to the last one. It was an odd symphony of sounds, one I likened to screams and bodies breaking.

I hope you enjoyed Befallen, and please, like, share and comment. I appreciate it.

A.J. 

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