Saturday, July 31, 2010

Decision. Consequence. (FFF #37)

Another week, another Friday Flash Fiction challenge. I'm going out of town for a convention next wee, so I probably won't be able to comment on anyone else's stories right away. Rest assured, I'll read them all when I get back. Without further ado...

Decision. Consequence.

As with juggling, the key to life is to keep the procession moving steady and don’t look down. That's what Joe would always say. Fact of the matter is, I'd rather be juggling right now.

With chainsaws.

Flaming chainsaws.

While blindfolded.

Instead, I'm in the trunk of a dark green 1972 Comet with my hands tied behind my back. The road is bumpy and I bounce off the roof each time we hit another hole. The car either needs new shocks or this is their way of softening me up.

We turn off the main road onto gravel and the car comes to a stop. The car's engine keeps running and I hear both doors open and shut. Keys jingle by my right ear and the lid of the trunk flies open. Four hands come in and drag me out.

I'm in some kind of quarry. A dump truck is on my left and a pile of gravel to my right as the two goons march me to the middle of a clearing. I call them Mike & Ike because I can't think of better names right now. Mike is the taller one. His punches felt like a bag of hammers and he probably had the same amount of brains. Ike is two inches shorter with a perfectly shaved head and he holds a gun on me. He says, "That's far enough" when he thinks I'd gone far enough.

"On your knees."

"Listen, fellas," I say. "It's all a misunderstanding."

Ike hits the base of my skull with the gun and I fall to my knees. Out of the shadows in front of me, steps a man in a jet black suit with a purple silk tie held in place by a diamond pin. The pin catches the light from the overhead lamps as he steps toward me.

"You have something that belongs to me."

I look at him and say, "I've been trying to explain to your boys, you got the wrong guy."

Mike punches me in the temple and I pitch forward. I suck in a lungful of dust and dirt and start to cough. Mike grabs me by the shoulders and returns me to my upright and locked position. Tie Man says, "Let's try this again."

I blink the floaties out of my eyes and concentrate hard. I know exactly what they're looking for, but I'm not ready to give it up. I work at a bar down by the pier and money's always tight. A couple days ago on my way home from a shift, I hail a cab because it's raining. In the back of the cab is a satchel. I was about to tell the cabbie someone lost their bag when I get a glimpse of what's inside and shut my mouth. Back in my apartment, I count it. Close to a quarter million dollars.

"Whatever you lost," I say, "I can help you find. I've got some connections. I know some guys."

Tie Man raises an eyebrow at Mike and the big lug hits me again. He picks me up and keeps hitting me until the world goes swimmy. This time when I cough, I cough blood.

"You stole something from me," says Tie Man. "Nobody steals from me and gets away with it."

"Look," I say. "I didn't steal anything. I found it, OK? There was this bag in the back of a cab. No names on it. No tags. What was I supposed to do?"

"You took something that didn't belong to you." Tie Man is the kind of guy who doesn't get loud when he gets angry, he gets quiet. And his voice is so very quiet. It chills me to my bones. "When you take something that doesn't belong to you, that's called stealing."

Yeah, I kept the money. Wouldn't you? As a bartender in his late twenties, any free money is good money. I was on top of the world for a a full day. Then on the TV at the bar, I saw a news report saying a cabbie had been brutally murdered. I recognized the picture as the guy who picked me up in the rain. I asked my boss for the rest of the shift off and headed home to find my apartment on fire. Mike and Ike were waiting for me when I went to look for Joe.

"OK," I say. "I've got your money. Look, it was an honest mistake. You can have it back and I'll repay you what I spent. That sound fair?"

"Where is it?"

"In a locker at the bus station. The key's in my shoe."

Tie Man nods to Mike who rips off my shoe. I see the key and the little orange keychain fly through the air toward Tie Man. "You have what you want. Can I go now?"

Tie Man strokes his chin. "You see, with every decision there is a consequence. You decided to take my money and the consequence...."

His voice trails off, but I know what he's implying. Ike steps behind me and I hear the hammer of the gun being pulled back.

I squeeze my eyes shut as tight as I can and grit my teeth.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Last Voyage of the Rebecca (FFF #36)

It's Friday Flash Fiction time again. This time the polls broke and mass hysteria ensued.  Writers were allowed to choose whatever sentence(s) they wanted to use.  I, naturally, used my own.

The Last Voyage of the Rebecca

In the distance I saw all kinds of birds circling over something, but I couldn't tell what from where I was. I turned my boat around and started rowing in that direction.

I'd never seen the water as clear and blue as it was that day. I could see all the way down to the sandy white bottom and all the fish that lived there. It was a big difference from the night before.

We left port from Wilson City about five days ago on the Rebecca. She was a salvage ship chartered out of The Bahamas. The deeper parts of the Atlantic are filled with old shipwrecks. Find a ship first and you could set up your own mint. That's what we were doing.

The captain got wind of a wreck southeast of Bermuda. Some old ship, maybe even one of the fabled lost ships of the Spanish Armada. My mouth watered at the thought of a hold full of Spanish doubloons.

We were on our way back to port when the storm hit. The sky was black and the wind sounded like a wounded animal. I am convinced that the ship floated on its side at one point. The captain and first mate tried all they could to keep the ship afloat. Chances of survival in a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic are slim to none, but it's better than staying on a sinking ship. Adams tossed bucket after bucket of water overboard, but he couldn't keep up. I took off alone.

The birds took flight as I approached and they circled over my head - squawking. I knew then what Tippi Hedren must have felt like.

There was something under the water. A large shape; dark against the white sandy bottom. I grabbed my mask, one of the few pieces of equipment I was able to save, and held it under the water. The shape looked to be the wreck of the Rebecca. It was eerie. The calm ocean, the birds, and no debris floating in the water.

I took my shirt off, put the mask on, and dove in. I swam and I swam and I swam. The water was deeper than it looked. I surfaced and drew in a lungful of fresh sea air. Without the proper diving equipment, I doubted I could reach her. I took a couple deep breaths and dove again.

It wasn't a Spanish ship we found, but a French one. None of us were experts, but it looked like a wreck from the 1700's. The hold was full of rusted rifles and crates that had long ago become homes to sea creatures. We did, however, find some tarnished jewelry and an unbroken crate of glass bottles with wax seals.

The deck of the Rebecca was almost in reach and it felt like my lungs were on fire. My hand brushed against something and I realized it was a mooring hook. I grabbed hold of it and started bashing it against the nearest porthole. The glass held and I banged harder and harder. I was almost out of air and my vision grew blurry. I swung the hook once more and the porthole cracked. I had to stop.

I burst through the surface of the water, gasping and coughing; taking in much needed oxygen. I pulled myself into the life raft and ripped off the mask. Blood trickled from my nose and I wiped it on my shirt. I laid there, resting; letting the hot sun dry the saltwater on my skin.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't dive again until the next day. But these weren't normal circumstances. I put the mask on, grabbed the mooring hook, and dove back in.

I swung at the porthole with all my might. I jabbed it with the blunt end of the hook. I hung onto the deck and kicked it with my heel. Finally, it gave way. I thrust the moor inside and hooked the first thing I touched and clawed my way back to the surface.

Blood was now pouring from my nose. I put a finger under it and leaned forward until the bleeding stopped. I was thankful there were no sharks in the water. I was as good as dead anyway, but I knew it would be suicide to go back down.

Opening the bag I grabbed, I had to laugh. It was just my luck. It wasn't any of our supplies. It wasn't any of the jewelry we found. It had two of the sealed bottles we salvaged. I tore off the wax seal, popped the cork, and drank a toast to my lost friends with the finest champagne I ever tasted.

****

Welles here again. I had this idea, so I proposed the sentence. Over the weekend, I read this article and got the idea of a different ending to the tale.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cross-Country Trip (FFF #35)

It's Friday Flash Fiction time again. This week's sentence comes to us courtesy of Flannery Alden. My entry this week is my attempt at a Cornell Woolrich type story. It's a bit long-ish, and could definitely have been longer. Hope you enjoy.

Cross-Country Trip

"I don't disagree with you, but you have to admit, this puts me in a delicate position." The man who called himself Alex sipped his drink and flashed a dazzling smile at Meghan. "You see, if I tell you I'm not, you'll be disappointed. But if I tell you I am, you'll no doubt call the police."

Meghan reached out and touched his arm. "Then let's leave it a mystery, shall we? I simply adore mysteries."

The band struck up a swinging tune behind them and the dance floor quickly transformed into a mass of swirling dressed and flailing limbs. It was a typical Friday night at El Mocambo. Meghan often stopped off for a quick cocktail in hopes of finding Mr. Right.

She spotted Alex right away as he was just her type: tall, dark, and handsome. It wasn't too long before he came over and bought her a drink. There was an air of danger around him that Meghan liked.

"Well," she said, "I hate to be a wet blanket, but I should be getting home. I have to get up early for work tomorrow."

"But it's Saturday."

"They're doing their twice a year inventory. All the girls have to be there. It's so boring."

"Let me walk you home."

She blushed and thanked him. Alex slipped some money out of his pocket and laid it on the bar. His hands were large and strong and Meghan couldn't help notice how nicely manicured his fingernails were. He offered her his arm and they left the revelers to their bacchanalian delights.

Outside, the sun had nearly finished dipping below the horizon. In the distance, the sky glowed red as if it had applied rouge before going out to meet its beau. Meghan's apartment wasn't far away, so they walked slowly, hand in hand, enjoying each other's company.

"I had a lovely time," said Meghan.

"Me too. May I call on you again sometime?"

"I'd like that very much," said Meghan. "You know, you really do look like him."

Alex leaned in and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. He turned and walked away. Meghan felt a warm glow growing inside her as she reached for her keys. She slid the key into the lock and suddenly a hand wrapped her waist and another covered her mouth. She dropped her purse and tried to scream, but only a muffled noise came out. The hands dragged her into the alley next to her building and roughly threw her to the ground.

Meghan rolled over and saw Alex. He said, "I really wish you hadn't recognized me. Like I said, this puts me in a delicate position."

He was on her before she could scream, his rough hands squeezing her neck. She dug her fingernails into his hands and struggled, but she couldn't break his grasp. She thought, "He seemed so nice", and her world went dark.

***

Monday, July 12, 2010

Recent Reading

I've been working my way through The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.  Frequent readers of this blog will probably have guessed that by how many times I've reference him in the past couple months.  I tend to read a couple stories, go on to another book, then come back for another dozen or so stories.

Of course, there are the greats that everyone talks about:  "The Snows of Kilimanjaro", "Hills Like White Elephants", "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber".  But I'd like to talk about one that I just read last night called "A Canary for One".

Luckily, the full text of the story is available on Google Books, so you can read it online here.  In fact, I suggest you do so and then read the rest of the post hidden after the jump.