The Journey or the Finish

 

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Image: Pixabay

Short Story – I had to commit to the journey or the finish… I wasn’t even sure what that meant when they told me to check one box. 

“Only check one box. If you check both boxes they’ll send you to the back of the line and you’ll have to start over,” a shaggy man in a red flannel whispered.

I glanced around the open space at people sitting and standing – everyone around me looked like the shaggy man – as some filled out forms and others sat in rickety chairs held together by wire and clothespins.

“What is this place?” I whispered back. I felt like I had been running for my entire life what with my palpable exhaustion oozing out of me like a stench-filled puss and I was surprised, shocked really, that after all that running this is where I ended up.

He furrowed his brow and slunk his shoulders and I got a strange vibe.

I leaned in closer and asked in a barely audible voice, “Is that what happened to you?”

He nodded twice as his shoulders drooped so low I thought he’d fold into himself and then his eyes shifted to the left.

Naturally, I too, looked left and then saw an enormous and elongated creature leaning against a textured wall that looked like rice, but how could there be a wall of rice? It made no sense – none of this made sense. This creature had six limbs yet it stood upright with twelve eyes (I counted) and all it did was hiss and spit at anyone who moved too slow.

Was I dreaming? Was I fucking high? What the hell was going on?

Finally, it was my turn and I bid my strange friend ado as I walked up to the long table and stated my name.

“Which is your commitment? The journey or the destination?” one of the three creatures at the table asked, holding a box to its chin.

“Why do I have to commit? What if I change my mind?” I answered. A stabbing pain shot up my spine and I wiggled as I tried not to fall to the floor.

“Which is your commitment?” a second creature asked after holding a box to its chin.

A million thoughts flashed through my mind in a second but the biggest one was: How could I commit to the finish when I had no idea what I was starting? What would be between there and here? What if I just ended up at the finish and I hated it?

“I commit to the journey,” I stated and puffed out my chest and looked in all twelve eyes.

There was silence followed by a growing buzz of voices.

The creature stared at me and then placed the box on the table and raised four of its limbs to the air.

My heart raced as it climbed out of its prospective spot and lodged in my throat. Damn, I’m a goner. 

“Only rare specimens commit to the journey. Good luck Mr. Walker,” the creature hissed as it held that box to its throat.

The air swirled and popped and then I fell through the floor into the black.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/commit/

Daily Prompt: Final Say

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Final Say

I went to visit you today

At some random lake far away,

I brought your hoodie and that candle

Unsure… how much more could I handle?

People say you took the easy way out

They don’t know what they’re talking about,

Although I understand, I am still mad

There were many more memories we could have had,

Last I saw you, I still remember that day

You walked out… I never got my final say.

Panicked in the Subway

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I am freaked out… panicked.

Things were going well with my friends as we slammed back shot after shot.

Now I am in the subway.

But where?

I don’t remember seeing signs for a subway.

I look left.

I look right.

No light at either end of the tunnel.

It’s so dark.

I should start walking.

Oh gosh, am I still drunk?

The floor is vibrating and…

Now I see light at the end of the tunnel.

I should start running.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/panicked/

Mind Control

via Daily Prompt: Control

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How much control do I really have?

The only thing I can control is my mind.

So when I get that urge to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, and slink down to the bad part of town I avoid like the plague, I have to beat those thoughts back with common sense. I have to control them.

It’s not easy.

I blame so many people, places and things when the battle becomes exhausting in this never ending war on my sanity – my life.

I haven’t been to that place, that hell, that devil’s den of bad choices in almost eleven years.

Those thoughts blossom in my mind when I get comfortable and complacent. They sprout like sick weeds in a garden of naive flowers.

No matter how many weeds I pull or kill, new ones grow and wait, searching for that weak crack in my foundation.

Control? I have enough to keep me alive.

Flash Fiction – 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 had begun.  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.

Vengeful Noodles – Flash Fiction

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Noodles lived in a decent part of the city.  His wife left him five years ago for a circus clown named Rickety Randy the Rolling Roundhouse.  Noodles couldn’t figure it out.  The ostentatious Rickety.  He would purposely wear a purple beep nose just to show everyone else up at the circus with their plain red noses.  Oh, and that flower that squirted Chardonnay.  What was he thinking?  Frigging loser.  Everyone knew he squirted the flower wine into his own mouth because he was such a drunken lush.  He would beep his nose and squirt the flower at least every twenty-seven seconds.  The clown of clowns was falling down drunk in an hour. Turned out he had a hose connected to a plastic pack riding his back filled with his juice.

A freaking drunk clown!  Noodles was mortified.  Noodles swore revenge on Randy, but never got the chance.  Rickety Randy had been at the main gig at a two ring circus in Burgboro. His only job was to arm/paw wrestle Turdster the Tiger while simultaneously playing catch with a six hundred pound bear named Scuttles.  Turned out Scuttles and Turdster had a deep-seated hatred for each other and amidst the paw fight between the two, Rickety slipped on Tiger drool and broke his neck.  Turdster and Scuttles took turns eating Rickety much to the absolute horror of the crowd.

To this day Noodles sends his ex-wife a subscription to Circus Animals Weekly each year.

The Visit – A Short Story

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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!

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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…