It Makes No Difference

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Most of the guests had arrived and were getting into buzzy beat of Jen and Phil’s Valentine’s Day Eve party when the dull pounding started.

“What the hell s that?” Jen’s friend Laurie said, raising her eyes to the ceiling.

Jen said, “Oh, that’s old Manny Blue, the guy upstairs. Whenever we have some get together, or put on some music to…”

“Get busy,” Phil jumped into the conversation, laughing.

“Phil! You know what I mean Laurie. Whenever we’re what Manny thinks is loud, he bangs on his floor and we turn our music lower. Sometimes actually hear him saying ‘Turn it down.’ But not tonight. Tonight, we’re here to celebrate Valentine’s Day with our friends and if Manny has a problem, he can damn well come down to the party and tell us. Maybe loosen up the old crank.”

Nevertheless, Phil turned the stereo down just a notch, which none of their friends seemed to notice, and the pounding slowed and then stopped. After that, the party continued until past midnight.

In the morning, as Jen and Phil picked their way through orange juice, leftover pizza and aspirin for breakfast, they heard it. Above their living room they heard a dull thump…thump..thump.

“What the fuh..?” Phil said.

“We’re not playing the stereo and the TV’s off, God knows,” Jen said and rubbed her temples. “What’s his problem?”

“I don’t know, but I’m going to go up and settle this with the old bastard once and for all. Shoulda talked about this long ago, if he’d ever come out of his damn apartment.”

Phil climbed the stairs two at a time to the floor above, with Jen slowly following behind him.

When they reached Old Man Blue’s apartment door, they heard the sound of music coming from inside. An electric guitar picked single notes and a quavering voice sang, Without your love, I’m nothing at all. Like an empty hall, it’s a lonely fall…

And then they heard thump…thump…thump and a low moaning and plaintive, “Turn it down, make it stop.”

Phil knocked on the door and said, “Manny” Mr. Blue? It’s Phil Hoover from down in 2B. We gotta talk.”

From inside came the sound of a chorus singing, And the sun don’t shine anymore. And the rains fall down on my door. Then, thump…thump, and “Please turn it down. Please go away.”

“Phil, something’s wrong in there,” Jen said. “Try the door. Try the door.”

Phil turned the knob and found it unlocked. When he opened the door, he saw the back of a sofa, an old stereo like his dad’s beside it, a disc of black vinyl spinning away on its turntable. As they moved into the room, they saw a hand with bloody fingers lift the arm and place it back down onto the record with a scratchy buzz and thup.

Hurrying toward the sofa, they looked over its back and saw the cardboard sleeve that read Northern Lights – Southern Cross, a circle of letters, cards and old photos on the hardwood floor and, in the middle of it all, Manny Blue, kneeling, his forehead bleeding.

For the sixth time since the preceding night, a man named Rick Danko began to sing It makes no difference where I turn. I can’t get over you and the flame still burns. It makes no difference, night or day. The shadow never seems to fade away… Manny Blue, a lonely man who once knew love, lowered his head to the floor one, two, three times. Then he whispered, “Please make it go away.”

A very quickly penned Hesch-style Valentine’s Day story. A poem is on the way…honest.

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The Open Gate

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“Did you not set a guard or lock the stockade gate?” The Fort Orange commander asked Simon Schermerhorn, wincing as a surgeon bound up his wounded leg, of the massacre at Schenectady the night before.

“It was so cold, sir, and we had sent out Mohawk scouts to forewarn us if any French or their native allies were coming, so we felt safe and…not exactly,” Schemerhorn said, dropping his chin to his chest and sipping more hot rum to warm him from his freezing cold ride along the Mohawk River to Fort Orange.

Outside, the wind blew the deep snow, almost obscuring the trees from the guards set along the fort’s western stockade, the one facing the place named for Mohawk phrase for “beyond the pines,” where a French and Indian raiding party might be lying in wait to attack after sacking the village, killing many inhabitants still in their night clothes and carrying off many captives.

“With all that potential for attack and wiping us all out, what do you mean, ‘Not exactly,’ Herr Schermerhorn?” the commander said.

“Well, sir, it was horrible cold and we were feeling fairly safe, waiting to hear from our scouts, so we left the stockade open and did set a guard of…two,um, snowmen,” Schermerhorn said, wincing again, but not in pain.

With a slight simplification and distillation, here is a conversation between Simon Schermerhorn and the military commander of what would one day be my hometown, Albany, New York. On the night of Feb. 8, 1690, Schermerhorn escaped the massacre of the village of Schenectady and, wounded in the leg, set off on horseback through the snow and cold, following the Mohawk River east, to warn the garrison at Fort Orange. Legend has it the authorities in the village were feeling safe that night and indeed did set a guard at the open gate of two snowmen. This five-sentence fiction was inspired by the anniversary of that night and Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, OPEN.

Overlooking the Obvious

I’m open to your suggestion,
I said to the sky.
And the wind replied with a sigh,
giving me the cold shoulder
and a shivering, withering brush-off.
I’m willing to look at things
in a new light, I told low winter sun.
She blinked behind a wisp,
a sky-borne snow scarf,
ducked behind a gray curtain,
making shadow puppets
of the passing clouds.
C’mon, Nature, fill me
with inspiration,
I whispered to the cardinals,
these pennants adorning
skeleton maples.
An empty mitten oak leaf
scurried across virgin snowpack
to its slushy demise.
And Nature said, “I just did.”

Blurred Visions

I don’t know why the purity
of this falling snow
wrenches forth a scene
twisted and blurred, as if
by winds gusting off the roof,
and by years spent staring into
an indistinct vision of some
winter park scene walking by and
a spring that never came.
Always I’d see the snow’s potential
for marring, for cast off slush
and salt to decay its natural beauty,
like age and anger can mar a face,
even one ever youthful in the
blurred eyes of a snowbound beholder.
Then, the chill in the gut,
that might-be that never did.
A windy white hand blows across
my mind, pushing me back inside
from this storm of a million million
useless maybes, sheltering me
for another day and night until
a spring of memories yet to be
comes along. Draw the shades,
stare into the fire.
All is indistinct again,
but warm, as tears glisten,
always warm. Always.

A free write by the writer’s window, watching another snowfall, another new page upon which to let an imagination think back upon a never-was. I said yesterday I wanted to write a poem. This wasn’t it. 

A Mademoiselle’s Kiss

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On his fourth day with the squadron, Lt. David Andrews had already had enough of flying for His Majesty’s Royal Flying Corps, that afternoon in April, 1917.

After he lost his third squadron mate in two days, he visited his CO, Major Alan Hastings, to ask how to get through just another day.

“See here, Andrews, you’re doing quite well to have lasted as long as you have, young pup that you are. Those chaps we lost came over here with you, right? That you’re standing there shows you have the stuff to make it over here,” Hastings said as he took a pull on an old briar pipe.

“But, Sir, these were my mates for months. I even went to school and university with Ellis. How do I deal with losing so many men?” Andrews said.

“Well, Lieutenant, it’s not something one can stop to think about for too long, really. You just have to pour yourself into the work. Take down more Gerries than they do us. Perhaps you should talk to one of the older men here,” Hastings said.

“Older men, Sir?”

“Yes, older. Like Darrow.”

“Sir, Darrow was a year behind me at Eton. And I tried. He barely speaks to anyone. He just climbs into the cockpit, flies his sorties, blessedly comes back to the aerodrome and goes to visit some whore in St. Omer until the next day,” Andrews said.

“Really? He seems so much older than you. Perhaps that’s what’s necessary, young Andrews. The lesson might be to not get so close to too many of the men. And perhaps you might wish to find some local mademoiselle to take to your lap help ease your nerves and share some wine or whisky. Use your lips to do more than fret and cry. Above all, do your job. Now is that all?” Hastings said.

“No, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” Andrews said. He then spun about face, banged down his heel and headed out to the flight line for his next sortie. That was the one where his Martinsyde was jumped by four Albatros Scouts and sent down in flames, burrowing into the mud on the German side of the lines. Lt. Darrow did not return from the flight either. Though no one saw him go down.

That night, after reading the day’s report, Major Hastings, retired to his room and brought out a twelve-year-old bottle of Glenmorangie, pouring himself one tumbler and then another, as he did every night. And there on his lap sat the beauty whose smooth skin he stroked those nights by the yellow light of a small kerosene lamp. And, as he had for the past two weeks, he passionately pressed his lips to the open mouth of his companion.

Only tonight, the .455 Webley revolver kissed back.

A ten-minute free write.

So Sorry

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Cayce and Hopkins knew there would be hell to pay when someone found Feldwebel Krickstein’s bloody body in Stalag Luft VII/A’s north latrine, just as Unteroffizier Beck’s was found four months before.

But they didn’t worry as they scurried along the barracks floor to the bunk where Flight Lieutenant Ralph Owen, a member of their old squadron and the victim of a bruising beating at Krickstein’s hands earlier that day lay moaning.

“Ralph, we got the bloody bastard what done this to you, just like we got that rat Bailey we think told the Gerries you worked with Intelligence Corps,” Cayce said.

Owen gave a long sigh and opened his hand to show a foil-wrapped article folded into a piece of paper.

As the beam of a searchlight shown through the window, Hopkins saw that the object bore the marque of Cafe Demel, a Vienna chocolatier, and on the paper were scrawled the words: “Lt. Owen, so sorry I hurt you so, but…orders. K.”

A five-sentence fiction based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word “villainous.”  Photo from Wikipedia.