The Visit – A Short Story

DSCN1021© 2017 DAMSteelman

Leaves crunched under Becca’s feet as she walked toward the gazebo. She remembered to get flowers other than roses this time to spare her hands. A chill pierced through her pants as she sighed and sat on the curved, marble bench under the big oak tree.
“I can’t believe I am here again. I swore I’d never come back,” she whispered and looked at the gazebo on the hill, amazed at the thick mass of starlings that sat atop looking back.
“You’ll always come back. Always,” Charlie said, a touch of exasperation in his voice.
“What’s your problem?” Becca asked as she laid the lilies on the bench next to her.
“My problem is you said you were gonna come with me and yet here we are, still arguing about it. The flowers are pretty. Too bad they’re not roses.”
Becca pursed her lips, “Yeah, well, I had second thoughts. And the roses hurt my hands, not that you give a damn.”
“Second thoughts? We made a pact, remember? A promise?” Charlie said and stood in front of her.
“Did we? I don’t remember saying anything of the sort. Besides, you know how I feel about heights.”
Charlie laughed and moved closer. “You know how I feel about roses. And it’s not like you’d feel anything.”
“I guess I am supposed to be afraid of you now or something?” Becca scoffed and stood up.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, please don’t leave yet. I just want to talk,” Charlie pleaded and knelt on the ground. “Please.”
“Fine. But I already told you that I am staying here,” she said. “I like it here.”
“What? Are you kidding me? Six months ago you told me you hated it and wanted out. Remember? Remember that conversation at the cliff? We cut our hands and joined them for eternal solidarity? That conversation is why I’m here and you’re there.” Charlie walked over to the tree and tried to lean against it, his efforts in vain. “You’ve got no sense of loyalty.”
“Yes, Charlie. I remember. I remember everything. That’s the problem. Do you know what else I remember?”
A stiff breeze raked the temperature down as storm clouds claimed victory over the sun.
“Don’t.” He said and laid on the ground.
“Why are you lying down?” Becca asked as she zipped up her jacket. “I’m trying to tell you how I feel.”
“It’s exhausting, all this walking and talking. It’s different for me now.” He sat up slowly and looked at the flowers.
Becca laughed, “Different.” Her upper lip quivered as she rubbed her arms. “Seems the same to me, always blowing me off.”
“Are you going to cry? Don’t cry. I’m telling you, if you listened to me, things would be great.”
“I always listened to you and things were never great,” Becca shouted.
“Come on, it’s wonderful, I promise. I keep my promises,” he said. “Do you still have the bottle? Did you bring it?”
Becca looked back at the car on the dirt road, “No.”
Charlie stared at her emotionless. “You’re lying. I know when you’re lying and I can tell you’re lying. Go get it. Come on, go get it.” He said and crossed his arms.
Becca walked over to the headstone, “Why are you doing this to me? You haunt my dreams, I smell you all the time and…” she trailed off as she watched Charlie move slowly toward her.
“Don’t you miss me, Becca? Don’t you miss me touching you and kissing you?” Charlie said as he extended his arms in her direction, a solemn look crossing his face.
Becca plopped down on the bench and pressed her face into her hands, “Yes. I miss you, I swear I do.” She sobbed.
“Then come on, we can be together forever. We can be lovers again and not worry about anything. It’s so beautiful. Please, Becca. Don’t be selfish,” Charlie said as he sat next to her on the bench.
Becca stood up. “Okay,” she said and walked back to the car.
She returned holding a small, brown bottle with a tattered ivory label. The typeface had been worn off from years of handling.
“You did bring it!” Charlie said.
“Yes, because I had to show you how I really feel.”
“Oh sweetheart, finally we can be together forever,” Charlie whispered and stepped close to Becca’s body. She expected to feel heat or cold – something, emanating from his body.
She opened the bottle, looked into Charlie’s empty, black eyes and placed the cap into her front pocket. Then, she turned the bottle upside down and watched the liquid pour out onto the parched grass.
“What are you doing?” Charlie gasped. “I thought you wanted to be with me forever? Are you insane?”
“I changed my mind, Charlie.”
“You can’t do that. You promised. I’ll keep haunting you. I told you we’d be together forever. I wasn’t kidding, you know.”
“I know. It’s a chance I have to take, Charlie,” Becca said and threw the flowers on the grave. The starlings chattered and flew off together as Becca walked away from the grave.
“It’ll be different for me now too, Charlie.” She said as she got in the car and drove away.

Clown Pajamas Halloween – A True Story

When I was little I wanted to be a lawyer. Then I wanted to be a mechanic. Somewhere in between, I wanted to be a stuffed animal so I could sit on the radiator all day and look out the window with my polyester friends. It turned out I needed more than a love for arguing and gear lube to achieve either occupation.  And the stuffed animals, well, I haven’t figured out how to shapeshift… yet.

It was Halloween 1978 and I was a second grader in this terrible elementary school that looked more like a tuberculosis hospital turned insane asylum than a learning place for children. Back in the day, many schools were tall and intimidating with dark gray and brown stone exterior walls, grates over the windows and a wrought iron fenced school yard – some with pointed tips. I mean, it did seem fallout shelter-esque, though I never noticed the three triangle sign on the building.

So, I was in second grade, autumn was upon us and so was Halloween. Wonder Woman was huge that year and I remember wanting to be Wonder Woman so bad. Nothing else mattered but the Lasso of Truth and the Bracelets of Submission!

il_340x270.657554852_868eWonder Woman Gear – Pinterest

Despite me not having friends in grade school, I had overheard some of the other girls talking about what they would be for Halloween and it was unanimous. Wonder Woman! This was great because… I loved Wonder Woman, too! If nothing, maybe I could get one friend out of this.

I burst through the door after school: “Mom!  I wanna be Wonder Woman for Halloween!” I beamed.

I was going to be something much better my mother told me and my brain rolled with anticipation. What could be better than Wonder Woman? Wonder Woman was the s**t! Nothing nor no one was better than Wonder Woman except Santa Claus who was only better in December!

It turned out that because we were so poor, a Wonder Woman costume was not in the cards for me. My mother told me this while holding a pair of pastel-colored pajamas in yellow and green.

“What are they?” I asked while my stomach flip-flopped like a dying fish.

“It’s a costume.”

“It looks like pajamas,” I corrected her.

“Well, not really. It is a costume. You’re going to be a clown.”

“A what?” My face flushed. “A clown?”

“Yes. A clown.”

I pondered this for a bit since clowns were creepy and maybe that would scare all those little brats at school into submission!

“Okay. Where is the rest of the costume?”

My mother never spared my feelings so instead of hemming and hawing she told me straight up: “There is no rest of the costume.”

The next day I went to school with my costume in a bag like all the other kids and at lunch time changed into my costume just like all the other kids.

“But it’s not even clown colors. Where are the clown shoes? The clown nose? Where is the clown makeup?” the brattiest girl mocked. “Look, everyone, Darlene is wearing pajamas for Halloween!” and all the little brats erupted with laughter.

Dear Lord, please turn me into a dustball right now!

But there I stood, searching my little brain for an answer, an excuse – something to get me out of this 3 x 6 hell.

I told them my mom forgot to pack it, that “my costume was gonna be great but we were in a hurry and I couldn’t miss my bus.”

After they pointed and laughed until the teacher came in to see what was going on, they let me slide, this group of future head cheerleaders and devil women. I went on to eat candy corn and potato chips and get silly little toys that day. However, the humiliation I felt in that coat room followed me for decades along with the “it’s great to be like everyone else” worm that wriggled into my brain.

I’ve since killed that worm, but there were so many moments like this one that shaped who I am today.

Stay tuned.

Got any embarrassing moments? Share in the comments below. 🙂

Flash Fiction – The Visit

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©2017 DAMSteelman

Leaves crunched under Becca’s feet as she walked toward the gazebo. She remembered to get flowers other than roses this time to spare her hands. A chill pierced through her pants as she sat on the curved, marble bench under the big oak tree and sighed.

“I can’t believe I am here again. I swore I’d never come back,” she whispered and looked at the gazebo on the hill, amazed at the thick mass of starlings that sat atop looking back.
“You’ll always come back. Always,” Charlie said, a touch of exasperation in his voice.
“What’s your problem?” Becca asked as she laid the lilies on the bench next to her.
“My problem is you said you were gonna come with me and yet here we are, still arguing about it. The flowers are pretty. Too bad they’re not roses.”
Becca pursed her lips, “Yeah, well, I had second thoughts. And the roses hurt my hands, not that you give a damn.”
“Second thoughts? We made a pact, remember? A promise?” Charlie said and stood in front of her.
“Did we? I don’t remember saying anything of the sort. Besides, you know how I feel about heights.”
Charlie laughed and moved closer. “You know how I feel about roses. And it’s not like you’d feel anything.”
“I guess I am supposed to be afraid of you now or something?” Becca scoffed and stood up.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, please don’t leave yet. I just want to talk,” Charlie pleaded and knelt on the ground. “Please.”

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“Fine. But I already told you that I am staying here,” she said. “I like it here.”
“What? Are you kidding me? Six months ago you told me you hated it and wanted out. Remember? Remember that conversation at the cliff? We cut our hands and joined them for eternal solidarity? That conversation is why I’m here and you’re there.” Charlie walked over to the tree and tried to lean against it, his efforts in vain. “You’ve got no sense of loyalty.”
“Yes, Charlie. I remember. I remember everything. That’s the problem. Do you know what else I remember?”
A stiff breeze raked the temperature down as storm clouds claimed victory over the sun.
“Don’t.” He said and laid on the ground.
“Why are you lying down?” Becca asked as she zipped up her jacket. “I’m trying to tell you how I feel.”
“It’s exhausting, all this walking and talking. It’s different for me now.” He sat up slowly and looked at the flowers.
Becca laughed, “Different.” Her upper lip quivered as she rubbed her arms. “Seems the same to me, always blowing me off.”
“Are you going to cry? Don’t cry. I’m telling you, if you listened to me, things would be great.”
“I always listened to you and things were never great,” Becca shouted.
“Come on, it’s wonderful, I promise. I keep my promises,” he slid the dig in and Becca narrowed her eyes. “Do you still have the bottle? Did you bring it?”
Becca looked back at the car on the dirt road, “No.”
Charlie stared at her emotionless. “You’re lying. I know when you’re lying and I can tell you’re lying. Go get it. Come on, go get it.” He said and crossed his arms.
Becca walked over to the headstone, “Why are you doing this to me? You haunt my dreams, I smell you all the time and…” she trailed off as she watched Charlie move slowly toward her.
“Don’t you miss me, Becca? Don’t you miss me touching you and kissing you?” Charlie said as he extended his arms in her direction, a solemn look crossing his face.
Becca plopped down on the bench and pressed her face in her hands, “Yes. I miss you, I swear I do.” She sobbed.
“Then come on, we can be together forever. We can be lovers again and not worry about anything. It’s so beautiful. Please, Becca. Don’t be selfish,” Charlie said as he sat next to her on the bench.
Becca stood up. “Okay,” she said and walked back to the car.
She returned holding a small, brown bottle with a tattered ivory label. The type face had been worn off from years of handling.
“You did bring it!” Charlie said.
“Yes, because I had to show you how I really feel.”
“Oh sweetheart, finally we can be together forever,” Charlie whispered and stepped close to Becca’s body. She expected to feel heat or cold – something, emanating from his body.
She opened the bottle, looked into Charlie’s empty, black eyes and placed the cap into her front pocket. Then, she turned the bottle upside down and watched the liquid poor out onto the parched grass.
“What are you doing?” Charlie gasped. “I thought you wanted to be with me forever? Are you insane?”
“I changed my mind, Charlie.”
“You can’t do that. You promised. I’ll keep haunting you. I told you we’d be together forever. I wasn’t kidding, you know.”
“I know. It’s a chance I have to take, Charlie,” Becca said and threw the flowers on the grave. The starlings chattered and flew off together as Becca walked up the path.

Flash Fiction Friday: Desperate Measures – Part One

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There were seventeen cats living in Louie’s basement.  Louie wasn’t sure how it got so out of control, but he knew he had a problem when incessant meowing had become the background music for dinner.  Louie really thought he was doing the right thing, but it seemed at some point in the last nine months he became a compulsive cat hoarder.

It all started when Pawsie and Meowlofur were left after his sister Shelia’s death.  She had asked Louie – while infested with tubes on her death bed  – to take her precious felines.  Louie had begged her in the hollow hospital room to let someone else have the pleasure, but Sheila was adamant.

“Take the precious ones, Louis. Take them and protect all of-” Sheila’s last words.

“All of what, Sheila?  All of the cats?” Louie asked.

Sheila’s head drooped forward.

“Alright, I’ll do my best, sis,” Louis sighed. That was his last memory of his sister.

Fluffington, a black and white tabby, came next while Louie was taking the recycling out the back of the office building he maintained as a janitor.  Fluffington, who was nameless at the time, cried under the dumpster while staring at Louie.  Louie stomped his feet.  The cat meowed.  Louie charged the cat.  The cat flipped over and rolled in the dirt all the while purring.  Louie dropped to his knees and scooped the long-haired cat up.

Caring for the cats became increasingly difficult after he adopted Cat 9, but Louie was a sucker for a furry face and every cat he saw outside without a collar he took back to his little house and put in his basement.

Litter had become so expensive that he decided it was best to just dig a ditch in the basement floor.  The ditch was four feet long by two feet wide and roughly a foot deep.  Realizing that he dug the ditch for economical purposes, he pondered how expensive filling it with litter would be.

There was a schoolyard down the street with a big sandbox, Louie remembered.  Each day he would stroll by careful not to alarm anyone about an older man skulking the play yard.  He couldn’t let anyone think he was a weirdo!

After realizing that his pockets were not adequate to transport his free kitty litter, Louie had cut off of the top of a gallon milk container to get sand.  He would go to the sandbox at the playground, careful to make sure he was alone.  He’d look around, and he’d chop his arm down in one big swoosh like a pendulum and fill the container with sand.  He didn’t even miss the days that it rained.  Those were the days he was sure to bake the sand and remove any unmentionables along with the dampness.

But the biggest problem of all was food.

How would Louie feed all these cats? 

…to be continued…

Flash Fiction Friday – The Broken Road

There was this road; this cracked, steamy, dilapidated road that I heard about in a bar about twenty miles outside of the small town of Centralia, PA.  The gentleman (and I use that term loosely) who spoke of the road was so inebriated, I could scarcely tell if he was telling a whacked out story handed down through generations or if there was truth to the tale.

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Photo: DAM Steelman (Centralia, PA)

But I had to know.  That was my nature.  I had to get to the bottom of everything.  So, like a snake slithering back into the trees, I slipped out of the bar unnoticed, and headed for Centralia. I drove around that bright, sunny Sunday afternoon and then I saw the sign:

CENTRALIA – 2 MILES

Yes!  I overheard the road was closed.  And why wouldn’t it be?  Apparently, it was in no condition to handle any kind of traffic.  There were cracks and graffiti; steam and overgrown weeds. I came around a bend and saw the cemetery on Highway 61 that was mentioned. It was old Highway 61 I was searching for and it shot right off of new Highway 61.

I made it!  I could go back to the city and tell everyone about the broken road I stumbled upon.  Well, I could have.

You see, there was a large crack in the road, I hadn’t noticed it really, if you could believe that.  I was too busy gazing at all the profane graffiti on the sun-baked asphalt while catching glimpses of steam shooting out from cracks far down the broken road.

There was no rumble when the ground opened wide and swallowed me whole.  It was almost as if the broken road had been waiting to feast on something to quell its burning innards.

I always did have terrible timing.

*This piece is a repost from an older blog. It is one of my favorites.

Short Story: Cotton Balls of Justice

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(NSFW – Language) I had this dream last night.  Real trippy shit.  Cotton balls. First, I thought it was because I went to bed drunk again, but then I remembered I hadn’t had a drink or a drug for close to seven months. So I chalked it up to too much television. You know, the standby excuse for all bad things is always too much television.

I thought it was a dream until I woke up to the silent dancing of flashing red lights. I don’t live in Las Vegas, so I knew it wasn’t a two for one special at Whores and Spores – Barbie’s Bouncy House.

It was a fire truck, two police cars and an unmarked.

Huh?

I grabbed my pants off the floor, walked over to the window while putting them on feeling like some suave, g-money gigolo, but a glance in the mirror at my doughy, bulbous body and crop circle bald spot yanked me back to reality.

After I stumbled to the bathroom, images resurfaced in my foggy brain about last night as I reached for some aspirin and stuck my face under the faucet to wash them down my parched throat that felt like a cactus riding a cheese grater.  I can’t say I’ve ever experienced anything like that, but I was damn sure it was close to what was going on inside my gullet.

As I peeked through the blinds, I flashed back to the bar – I’m on the nine-ball league – and there was this dude there from a different team (he was way more bulbous than me) and I remembered everyone not liking this guy.

It turned out he was my neighbor and I asked him, “What house is yours?” after we found out we lived on the same street.

He answered, “Legit, the one with all the Marigolds in the yard.”

I felt my face change after he said that. I said, “Oh, you’re the one with the stinky flower fetish.”

And he just looked at me and took his shot on the table. Five ball, side pocket.

“Yeah, it keeps nosy fuckers away from my windows.  Legit, I got some mouse traps buried in there, too.  I feel like I can tell you that ‘cause you seem like an asshole, like me.”

“Who you calling an asshole, asshole? And why are you on the other team if you live on my street?”

“I legit just moved,” he answered and chugged his beer like some 80’s punk in an afterschool special.

He missed his next shot and then I ran the table on him.

Ran it until I got to that shiny black eight ball, or it could be a white and powdery eight ball, but in this case, it was black and shiny. Legit.

“You wanna wager a wager?” He asked as he whistled for the barmaid to bring him a shot of Christian Brothers.

“Uh, sure,” I answered with about as much enthusiasm as a neutered dog at a dog park.

He snickered and threw back his shot. “Ah,” he said and smacked his lips. “Twenty bucks on the nine off the eight ball.  You gotta legit call it and bank it at least two times.” Bang. Shot glass on the bar. Another whistle.  Another fill ‘er up. I noticed the barmaid with her crinkled nose and curled upper lip.

She didn’t like him either.

“Seems fair,” I said and chalked my cue. I measured with my stick; the angles; the warps in the felt on the table.  A song by Chicago came on the jukebox as I called the rails and the pocket, leaned down and drew back to take the shot.

“Wait!” he yelled and motioned for another beer.  I flubbed on the shot and came within a hair of hitting the cue ball. “Sorry. Continue.” He laughed.

Son of a bitch.

After I lost twenty bucks, I called it a night and walked home.  The key was in the front door when I heard an incessant buzzing like a nectar drunk gnat behind me.

It was my neighbor. Bzzzz.

That’s all I remember.

Now, the street is a blinky crimson and I’m peeking out the blinds like a paranoid crackhead.

What the hell happened? And what is with all the cotton balls on my floor?

My bedroom floor – usually caked with dirty clothes and semi-clean socks – was blanketed with cotton balls.

“What the – ” before I could finish, my doorbell rang.

Another peek through the blinds revealed two detectives on my front lawn.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. What the hell did I do?” I ran down the stairs to open the door and waded through a sea of cotton balls in my living room.

“Hi!” I beamed too enthusiastically trying to block the view of cotton balls.

“Sir, we’re gonna cut to the quick on this one. Your neighbor was found dead on his front lawn this morning.  Someone stuffed about five hundred cotton balls down his throat, and well, they stuck cotton in all his orifices.”

“I’m sorry?” I heard him. I had to hear it again.

“You heard me.  Someone shoved cotton up your neighbor’s ass.  We think it was you. We heard he was an annoying son of a bitch who never shut the hell up.  Is that accurate?”

“Yes. He was a prick.” I thought of my dream.  The cotton balls, the blood, the guy who wouldn’t shut the fuck up.

Shut up!  

“Sir, that was some evil shit you did,” the officer said and slapped me on the back. “The neighbors want to thank you.”

There was some faint clapping across the street.

“Good job!” Someone yelled.

“The guy apparently was a real asshole,” he continued and handed me a piece of paper.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“A citation for littering,” he said.

I said, “Is this a joke?”

“Have a nice day, sir.”

I closed the door behind me and pinched myself. What was I going to do with the rest of these cotton balls?

This story is a response to the Flash Fiction Challenge via Chuck Wendig’s blog: http://terribleminds.com/

 

Flash Fiction Friday – The Leaf

Carmine Carmichael smoked his last cigarette twenty minutes ago.  The sun rose above the row homes on Sutter Street as he sat down on the marble steps at the corner.  He hadn’t slept in three days, hadn’t eaten in two days and hallucinations were starting to begin.  His four-week old blue jeans felt crunchy as he ran his hands up his shins, to his knees and then his thighs.

A dead leaf blew down the sidewalk, past his battered sneakers and he thought of how peaceful the dead leaf must have felt. It was, after all, devoid of all feeling.  The leaf had lived its life on a tree somewhere as people passed it by without a thought.

Carmine knew exactly how that little leaf felt. Another leaf blew past and Carmine reached his filthy hand down and scooped it up with care. The weak stem felt dry in his fingers as he twirled it around, looking at the rips in the body of the little leaf.

“I’ll bet you were once so beautiful, little leaf, just like me.  I was a strong man once, little leaf.”

The little leaf stood lifeless in his fingers and Carmine felt his eyes well up as he clutched the leaf to his chest. Little leaf pieces fell to the ground as Carmine sobbed.

Footsteps echoed in the distance and Carmine put his filthy hands back on his thighs and watched the leaf blow away in a dozen pieces.  Carmine watched as shiny, pristine shoes stepped on and over the leaf.

Carmine knew just how that little leaf felt.