The ABCs of Being Alice-Anne

Alice-Anne Andrei-Abbott was named after her grandmothers, neither of whom she ever met. But she was taught that each were women of great strength, faith and devotion to their families. 

Couple that bit of parental whimsy with her mother’s desire to keep her maiden name and Alice-Anne, who was wee bit of a thing, always found herself first in line for everything in school.

Divorce may have excised her father, Adam, from her life, but Alice-Anne would never drop her double-monikered surname, not even when her mother asked if she would.

“Everyone I know is a one namer, Mom. For crying out loud, even you,” Alice-Anne told her mother when Audra Andrei posited such a change after Alice-Anne graduated from high school.

“God damn it, Allie, this would be a perfect time for you to claim your own life from connection to a deadbeat dad’s names.”

“How can you say that, Mom?”

“I just did, Allie, it’s time.”

“Just because you don’t want anything to do with Daddy, doesn’t mean I have to erase that part of me from knowing who I am,” Alice-Anne said.

“Knowing who you are, Allie?”

“Like I haven’t noticed how you’ve removed any photos of me from when Daddy lived with us? Mom, my name — all my names, even those dead old ladies — make me who I am and it’s important to me not to get lost in the crowds I’ll meet in college.”

“Now I get it,” her mother said, her eyes narrowing.

“Oh, really, Mother? Please enlighten me with your epiphany about what I’m trying to say or do.”

“Quite simply, you say you want to stand out, but you’re actually afraid of becoming your own woman.”

“Right, haven’t you been listening to me? Say what you want to say, but I’m keeping my names.”

“That’s it, huh? Under no circumstances will you drop your father’s – the father who walked out on us over ten years ago — that father’s name?”

“Why do you really want me to do this, Mom? Extra-angry because you’re turning 50 next week and now he’s finally remarrying someone half your age, someone who actually buys into his narcissistic bullshit, someone without a puny little bookworm daughter who’s so so so so proud of how her mother raised her totally on her own and how I don’t want to lose his name because it’s a constant reminder that there are two sides to everyone and carrying around that extra weight has made me one fiercely strong little bitch? Exciting, huh?” Alice-Anne said as she  flexed her arms in a strongman’s pose.

“Yes…no…what?”

“Zero chance of me changing my name, Mom. All I can say is, no one’s ever going to make me turn into something I don’t want to.”

“Better not even try, huh,” her mother said with a resigned grin.”

“Correct, Mommy. Damn it, I feel like beating up a large man right now, or maybe just crushing a disgustingly decadent burger, fries and ‘nilla shake over at Bad Daddy’s,” Alice-Anne said.

“Eating sounds like a less offensive, more legal way to go, Allie.”

“Freshman fifteen, here I come,” Alice-Anne said. 

“God, if you play this right, you might weigh in at a solid 105 by the time you graduate college. How would any of us recognize you?” Audra said with a laugh.

“I’m Alice-Anne Andrei-Abbott. Just stand back because no one’s going to mess with me.”

“Kinda like this new you I never knew existed,” Audra said as they walked out of the house.

“Learning more about myself every day, actually.”

“More than I ever did, it seems,” Audra said, gazing out the window. 

“Now let’s get out of here and enjoy ourselves one of the last times before you’re seen with your college girl daughter come September.” 

“Ow!” Alice-Anne said in the restaurant as her mother reached out and gave her hand a tight squeeze.”

“Promise me you’ll always be my little girl?”

“Quite depends on how many of these fries I can wolf down, I think. Really, Mom?”

“Seriously, Allie, Alice-Anne, my all grown up, thinking for herself young woman, just don’t…you know.”

“That’s another reason I’m keeping all my names, Ms. Andrei. Very important that people know who I am, but also who I come from. Why are you crying now, Mom?”

“Extra onions on this burger. You know how they get to me.”

“Zesty things, like us,” Alice-Anne said, winking from what she was sure were the invisible onions on her mother’s burger.

You’ll have to forgive the going-nowhere-and-not-very-fast nature of this little story. It was an exercise I attempted in order to break out of this creative stasis that’s enamored me for the past several months. “What exercise?” you might ask. Give each sentence a closer look, at least at the right-hand end of it. Now the next one. And the next…

I wanted to finish it with my first circuit, but ended up going around twice. Let’s just say it wasn’t as easy as ABC, but was fun to meet the character of Alice-Anne. That first sentence just sort of magically appeared on the top of the page and dragged me across the creative river from there. (And yes, I cheated on the Xs. You try breaking out of something like this. You’ll cheat, too.)

Hell Hath No Fury

“You don’t have to do this,” Lottie said as I was about to finish Landro in the alley.

“After what he did to you?” I said. If Lottie wasn’t there, I’d have killed him already. But with her it was like having a good angel on both shoulders. She was my worst good influence.

“I don’t want you do it.”

“I don’t want you to either,” Landro said through lips I’d split five ways.

“I don’t want you to get in trouble for something I…”

“You didn’t do anything, Lottie. He’s a coward and needs killin’,” I said.

“I didn’t mean it,” Landro said, a tear in his voice and a torrent streaming from what was visible of his right eye.

I should’ve shot him when he came out of the bar, but I was walking Lottie home, still jumpy as a kitten.

“Her thtockings showing, riding astraddle that plug with the missing shoe, giving me the eye. She was asking for it,” Landro said.

I kicked him again. He was asking for it.

“Ted, take me home. Please.”

“All right. Landro, you’re lucky this girl’s more forgiving than any saint.”

I guess my threat worked. Landro was gone in the morning. Never saw him again.

Week later, some Buffalo Soldiers found a body about twenty miles from town. Said Apaches left him naked, face smashed in by a rifle butt, manhood tossed in a patch of cactus. Two sets of tracks.

Funny, one of them had but three shoes.

A 250-word story drafted for Siobhan Muir’s weekly Thursday Threads contest. Had to use phrase “You don’t have to do this.” I led with it and followed that trail. This one will be expanded into something even more grown-up someday.

Better a Pocketful of Respect Than a Fistful of Lightning

Tuesday was a red glowing promise on the eastern horizon as I blinked the tobacco smoke and whiskey from my eyes as I stepped outside the gambling house. That’s when young Jesse Fountain ran up behind me.

“Do you want to see?” he said. He was pretty lucky I was so tired and my hand was a second slow behind my eyes and head.

“See what? Can’t we talk after I get a few hours sleep?” I said.

“This can’t wait. Do you want to see the piece I bought?” he said, leading me down the alley between The Grand and Mrs Pynchon’s house of horizontal delights.

“Piece of what?” I said.

“A gun, Daniel. I bought me a gun.” Jesse said. He reached down and pulled back the long canvas coat he received from the effects of his brother Matthew, an old acquaintance of mine who was a sometime deputy, other times cheating gambler. When Jesse’s hand came out of its folds, it held a nickel-plated pistol. He pointed its business end directly at my chest, where a triphammer suddenly started banging.

“Jesus Christ, Jesse. Be careful with that thing” I said, as I pushed the .38 caliber muzzle down and away from my chest. If you don’t know, let me tell you, any gun pointed at your vitals has a way of waking you up no matter how sleepy you might be.

“Sorry, Daniel. Isn’t she a beauty?”

“I have two questions. First: Why do you want a gun like that? Second: Who in the world would sell you a gun like that?”

“I want it for protection. And Dutch Van Dorn sold it to me. Actually, I traded my horse for it, now that I have Matt’s.”

“If Van Dorn’s involved, I’d be careful squeezing off any rounds lest the damn thing blow your hand off. But again, why? And put that away.”

“You know. I want it for…protection.”

“Jesse, having a gun don’t mean you can use it. For protection or anything else. That thing was made for one purpose.”

“Yeah, to show everyone I’m not a man to be trifled with.”

“No, a double-action Colt Lightning is made to kill other men.”

“See?”

“See what?”

“Ain’t nobody, not from around here or some yahoo up from Texas, gonna mess with a man like me who can pull his iron and get off six shots without once slowin’ down to cock the hammer,” Jesse said, once more pulling out his eight-year-old roan’s worth of backbone.

“I’m not gonna tell you again, Jesse. Put that thing away. If a lawman sees you waving that around at me in an alleyway, he’s likely to get the wrong idea and drop you like a sack of corn.”

“I’d like to see him try.”

What is it they used to say? “God created all men, but Samuel Colt made them equal.”? In my times lawing in some cowtowns in Kansas and Colorado, I met too many young fellas bought into that bullshit. Some, either touched in the head by going too long without liquor or women or getting too much of either too quickly. Or maybe just plain touched. They believed a gun made them more than equal. Jesse was one of those sad cases that qualified on all counts.

“Shot it yet?” I asked.

“Yep, yesterday afternoon behind the stable. Pretty good shot if I do say so.”

“That’s nice. Loud, wasn’t it? What you shoot at, cans or bottles?”

“Cans…and a chicken”

“I’ve yet to meet any cans — or chickens — that can draw a pistol and return fire with mortal intent. But congratulations, I’m sure you showed those horses who’s boss.”

“Stop it, Daniel. Told you, I won’t be disrespected no more.”

“Jesse, I want you to listen close. I’m telling you this for your own good. A gun — even a wonder weapon like your Lightning — won’t earn you any extra respect. In fact, I can attest to the fact it can get you less. Or killed.”

“I told you, I’m a dead-eyed shot, Daniel.” Jesse’s tone changed. I’d heard it maybe a hundred or two times before and I was ready.

“And I’m telling you that will not be enough to change how people regard you. I don’t want to see you turn out like Matthew, s’all. Listen, you’ve always been a good boy…”

“Don’t you call me that. I’m not a boy.”

“No, not really anymore. But you’ll always be a kid to me, Jesse.”

“What do you mean?” I knew I was taking a chance, but I needed to prove something to him.

“I mean I’ll always think of you as Matt’s little brother, tagging along and watching him swagger into a room, gun slung low, eye’s cold, looking for some mark he could hook while he bottom-dealt…”

“Take that back, Daniel, or I’ll…”

“You’ll what?” I had him.

Jesse reached for his Colt, but he had to pull his coat out of the way. As he looked down, I pulled my pistol and cold cocked him a good one with the barrel. I flagged down Deputy Charlie Bassett, who was making his rounds, and we hauled away young Jesse and, minus his Colt of course, stuffed him into the calaboose.

“Charlie, see if you can hold onto that Lightning, will ya? The kid is in no way one to own a piece like that. Same damn gun the likes of Hardin carries, for Christ’s sake. Maybe you can talk some sense into Jesse before…”

“I know. Maybe you taught him a lesson, though, Dan.”

I left Dodge that day and headed over to Trinidad, Colorado for a couple of weeks. When I got back, Charlie met me and told me the story over a couple of beers.

Seems after his two of nights in jail, Jesse and his gun left the safety of Charlie’s hospitality and right off he walked into the Long Branch and tried big-footing some Texas cowboy. They told Charlie Jesse reached first, but he fumbled his draw. The cowboy didn’t.

“Caught his hand in his coat pocket,” Charlie Bassett told me. “Lying there, four fingers of his right hand tucked inside his pocket and thumb hooked outside. With the exception of a .44 caliber hole in his head, I thought he looked rather respectable that way.”

I nodded.

“Good, good. It was only a matter of time, I guess. But that’s all the boy was ever looking for. Respect.”

Built this Western from a 250-word something I wrote for a mini-competition this past week. It’s still in Draft 1.5 form, but you know I love to share my frontier stories. So bear with me as I try remembering how.

Full Circle

“What do you wish us to do?” the doctor asked, his benevolent demeanor, but with a double-parked, motor-running, it’s 4:58 on Friday vibe.

You never think about making the ultimate decision for someone you love. You divert yourself with other thoughts. What’ll the family say? How can I face myself after this?

“There’s no coming back for her,” the doctor said. But there’d be no coming back for me, either.

You stand still for that second, three heartbeats replacing the one normally filling that space.

“Okay.” My throat locking in that word and out the air.

The doctor does what he does. Then we wait. Not long. But a whole life together in an instant. She closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths and… Gone.

But in that instant everything changed. All from one second of indecision to decision.

I had to make the same decision for my Dad, a year later. Everything comes full circle, they say. But you don’t want on this ride more than once.

I’m sure the weepers thought me an unfeeling bastard. The doctor gave the same rap about no coming back, for the best, no-resuscitate order. Then…

“Well?”

In that second, the guy for whom agreeing to have his dog put down changed everything, nodded and said, “Okay, Let’s do it.”

Then I began to breathe again, as others began sobbing. They could never make this decision. But, like I said…in less than a second…changed everything.

I’d cry later.

Like A Picture Drawn In Lavender

The fields of lavender stretch like bolts of corduroy from where we bask in summer sunlight. Their perfume wafts sweet and intoxicating, when we need not their breath, for she knows we must be living in a dream.

A breeze combs the wales this way and that. They dance like rows of tiny willows, swaying to the tunes of that aeolian flute rising from the sea, that brilliant mirror of the sun’s face. Does she know it can never be my face?

“Where are you?” she asks, as if my thoughts are always somewhere else. But I’ll be with her all day. “The light is perfect. Do you wish to draw me? Shall I disrobe?”

Within these purple fronds I’m sure she cannot see my smile. Neither is it lecherous nor amused. She’s not some whore like in the village tavern, nor is she some silly child. She is earnest, yearning, waiting for me to memorialize her today. Some instrument of recollection for when she is old and alone.

Then the tear forms at the corner of her eye, as realization crosses her mind like a cloud.

She’s recalls I’m heir to the darkness, yang to shining yin of this Provence light. I can record my chiaroscuro impressions of her, but they’re fleeting. I’m leaving, evening drawing me in its charcoal-covered hands, drawing me as a stick man of two-dimensions, drawing me longer and narrower as I near my vanishing point out there beyond these fields of lavender.

 

A Matter of Honor

They think I don’t hear them, but I do. Or at least I hear the hum of their talk with words bobbing up every now and then.

It certainly bests the sound of breathing, the crackle of my neck turning left and right on the cot, or the heartbeat that longs to feel hers, just to make some poetry that probably doesn’t rhyme anymore.

But out in the hallway, I’m pretty sure the guards are talking about me. I hear “bastard.” And maybe that was a “poor,” which I’d appreciate if this wasn’t the eve of the dawn we’ve been waiting for. Or dreading.

There! I’m pretty sure that was a “governor,” but it just as well could have been a “southerner,” or a “lovin’ her.” They all could apply to me. Though I’m not sure Yankees understand family and honor like we do.

I probably deserve the dance I’ll do when the sun clears the horizon. Eye for an eye and all. Carpetbaggin’ sumbitch deserved every last ball I put in him. Wish’d I had Daddy’s LeMat to wipe the grin off his face with a shotgun blast, too.

But some Yankee’s probably got that, too. Took everything, eventually, didn’t they? Saber, gun, horses, farm, Mama’s honor, my…

I heard the lock clank.

“All right, I’m afraid it’s time. Ya know, I’d have shot that scoundrel, too, Missy. If it’s any consolation. I take no solace in hangin’ a twelve year old girl,” the glossy-eyed, red-nosed sergeant said.

When there are no more of their culturally established defenders around, some women grow up fast to protect themselves and their own. Especially in a mid-19th Century rural society. This 250-word story reflects such a young woman doing what she decided needed to be done in a family whose men were erased by war. It’s in response to that first sentence up there, the prompt for this week’s Thursday Threads feature from author Siobhan Muir.

1919

As Alice put another cold compress on Frankie’s forehead, I had my hand on her shoulder and felt it heaving up and down.

“Don’t cry, Alice,” I said. But when I looked in her eyes, they were dry. What I felt was not sobbing. She’d been suppressing her coughs, so she wouldn’t wake Frankie.

“It’s okay, honey. I’ll take over now,” I said.

“Thank you, Frank,“ Alice said, pressing her burning cheek to mine. As she left the room, I heard her cough…hard.

For a year, I’d seen buddies die in front of me, nearly ripped in half by German Maxim machine guns, wrong place/wrong time in an artillery barrage, and now a cold that killed in only a few days. I’d seen it France. I was told by some of the boys soldiers were dropping like flies at Fort Riley in Kansas. We slid more than twenty over the side of the Liberty ship bringing us home to the States. They told me it had hit New York City, too.

I was beginning to feel guilty about how some folks were saying we Doughboys brought the sickness back to America, this Spanish Influenza. I didn’t need that kind of help. War can make a guy feel guilty all on his own.

Frankie murmured something and started coughing, a weak, choking sound, so I propped him up a little more. But I knew even that wouldn’t help much.

I’d gone to France because I was drafted, not to make the world safe for democracy.

I fought there to take care of my buddies, but you can’t take care of someone vaporized by an 88mm shell dropped on his head.

I stayed alive to get home to Alice and Frankie, to see my boy grow up. To feel the warmth of my wife again. Tonight I felt feverish heat.

I heard the bed springs ring in the next room, then heard Alice cough again. And again. And again.

You feel so helpless at a time like this, no matter who you are or what you’ve experienced in life. How do you prepare for this? How do you prepare for dying by the hundreds and thousands? Or one at a time.

Frankie tried coughing again and he sounded like he was drowning and I could barely take it anymore. Such suffering for a kid. He opened his eyes and looked at me that same way. And that day broke through the thin crust I’d try to grow over the memory.

I saw that German kid in the middle of that shell hole again. It was full of water that had this yellow-green scum on top of it – the residue of their mustard gas. 

Me and my buddy Charlie Oakley had him covered with our Springfields and motioned for him to come out. But he wouldn’t. He just kept yelling – no, screaming – “Hilf mir, bitte.”

Then the boy, he wasn’t more than seventeen, I’d guess, he kind of fell over and his face went into the water. And he looked like he had shrunk by about a foot. He fell again and between the stagnant water in the shell hole and that Mustard residue, he started choking, drowning really.

Charlie said, “Shit, the kid’s stuck in there. Bottom of the hole must be all mud. I’ll fetch him.”

“Let him go, Charlie. He’s just another Kraut,” I said and spit into the water.

But Charlie was a preacher’s kid from North Carolina and it was obvious since all the way back in training at Fort Slocum that his mama raised him a real Christian gentleman.

Charlie slogged around to the far side of the crater and slid about halfway down. You could see how he was trying to figure out how he could reach the kid. 

“Hey, Frank, come over here. Hold my hand and I think I can grab this kid’s collar,” he said.

The mud in France is a living thing, you know, a monster that’ll suck your boots right off your feet and then eat your toes for dessert. As I clopped-plopped over to Charlie, the mud in that shell hole must have had enough of the German kid and it decided to try an American.

Charlie’s feet slid out from under him and, like on a sliding board, he flew out over the edge and fell flat on his back in that poison water and sticky mud. I ran over as fast as I could, but I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t see the German kid anymore, either.

“Charlie!” I screamed. I mean I screamed. Then I saw his head bob back above the water. But that was all I saw.

“Frank! Help me! I don’t want to die like this. Help me, buddy.” Then he went under again. 

He came back up, but all I could hear was this gurgling in his throat. His eyes were wild then they settled down. Just his face was above the water now. He stared at me like a yellow-green picture of Jesus in Gethsemane. Kind of pleading. And I knew what he wanted me to do.

I remembered what Jesus said that night. I looked into Charlie’s eyes and said, “Father, remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

Charlie sort of nodded and I raised my rifle and squeezed off the most difficult shot I ever took, even though my target was only seven feet away. Charlie disappeared, but the image of his face didn’t. Never will.

Frankie stirred again, shaking me out of this memory. I saw the whole thing in but a second or two. This time Frankie’s breath came like a fingernail swiped on a washboard. It sounded so much like guys who’d caught just enough gas to singe their throat and lungs, but not kill them. Not until they got to the hospital in Étaples. Then they’d get sick, dying there a day or two later. Fever. Lungs giving out.

Like Frankie’s did that night. Honest, they did. Alice lasted two more days. I’d been home three weeks and I can’t help but wonder. Did the influenza kill them or did the war?

Last night, I had that nightmare again where Frankie and Alice are neck-deep in the water and mud of that shell hole and pleading with me to save them. I raise my rifle, but just as i bring my rifle to my shoulder, I woke up. I eventually fell back asleep.

But then, a new dream. I hear the scream of that 88mm shell and it’s falling on top of me instead. I wake up and I realize it’s been me screaming. Again. But that 88mm falling on me? 

Oh, how I wish.

This story is a beefing up of a 250-word mini-flash I wrote for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads. That version won the week’s contest. This version is the first draft of a more complete study of war, PTSD, survivor’s guilt and a world-wide pandemic. Needless to say, it was in many ways inspired the coronavirus infecting folks worldwide. I just built around a similar illness from 100 years ago. 

Who’s The Man?

“Where the hell’s Rosalie?” Pat Bowman asked as he peered over his son Mark’s shoulder toward the front door.

“She was here this morning, Dad,” Mark said with a sigh. He sighed a lot these days, though he tried not to.

“Wasn’t that Becca?” Pat said. 

“Well, yeah. Becca was here, too. A little while ago. Rosalie came this morning, though.”

“I would’ve sworn…” Pat’s attention refocused on the television.

“She’s the one who came earlier, Dad. Trust me.” Mark decided to hold his big inhale this time. Sighing didn’t make Mark feel any better about his father or his own role as Pat’s health proxy and primary caregiver.

Besides, what good would sighing now do? The doctors and therapists explained to him how his father’s condition would become frustrating. Then would come the hard part. Mark closed his eyes and tried not to think of what the hard part would be like in light of the past three months.

“Who the hell thought this stupid ostrich was a good idea to sell insurance,” his father, a retired business executive, said. 

“It’s an emu, Dad. But you’re right. It sucks. Annoying as hell.”

“Stupid fucking bird. Assholes must think we’re idiots. If some ad man brought me this concept I’d throw him out the window. See if he could fly as well as some damn ostrich.”

“Relax, Dad. It’s only a commercial.” Mark was seeing more of these tirades all the time. And they hurt.

He recalled how when they were kids, his sisters Rosalie and Rebecca and he couldn’t go to sleep without listening to their father tell them a silly story.  Never the same one, unless they asked for one. Pat Bowman put the “gentle” in “gentleman.”

Mark thought of the time back at Yale when he the cops hauled him in after trying to score some weed off an undercover. Pat drove from Albany to New Haven in a blizzard to bail Mark out and drive him home. Not once did he raise his voice or issue a profanity. Not one “damn,” let alone a “fuck.”

“You’re better than this, Mark. You know the difference between right and wrong, and the law says what you were trying to do is wrong,” Pat said. 

“It’s a stupid law, Dad. But, yeah. Sorry. I fucked up,” Mark said, his chin to his chest as he stared at the floor board.

“Careful of your language, Mark. Words have power I don’t think you fully understand yet. How you use them communicate as much as what you’re trying to say. I tried my whole life to set a good example for you. Maybe I slipped up — slipped up — somewhere. Always remember, you’re my main man, pal. When I go, I want to say ‘My boy Mark is The Man.’ Not ‘The *blanking* Man. MY Man.”

And so he was.

Mark’s mouth twisted into something between a grin and a grimace thinking of that night. “MY Man.”

“When the hell is Rosalie coming? Was that a car?” Pat said, trying to rise.

“Sit! Yep, It’s Rosalie,” Mark said with touch of relief.

“Hi, Mark. You get some rest. Hi, Dad,” Rosalie said as she breezed into the living room.

“Thanks, Ro. Later, Dad.” Mark said, and kissed his father’s forehead.

“So, is there anything I can do for you, Dad? Need a drink, something to eat?” Rosalie said. Just so she knew she’d have his attention, Rosalie stepped between her father and the television screen.

“Yeah, get outta the way. And can you tell me who that guy was who just left?”

This is a larger version of a 250-word story I wrote (Yes, I WROTE!) Thursday in response to Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads  flash fiction mini-competition. It was probably better at 250. Somehow, though, my piece won. Never ceases to floor me when one of my simplistic, minimalist stories garners some bit of approbation. It’s humbling and encouraging. Those are two ingredients any writer needs to make his or her next bit of creative sustenance. 

Spatter of Memories, Fusillade of Regrets

Caleb Downey heard the sound and turned to see Edwin Howard’s head flung backwards and his body sag to drape the ground like a sack of rags. He felt the spatter of Ed’s memories on his face.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” Caleb said, knowing the men to either side of him in the Union line couldn’t hear him. Just like they never heard the .50 caliber slugs from Rebel Enfields come fetch them to Jesus. Wide-eyed, Caleb skittered back from the makeshift breastwork of a rotten hickory as more Reb bullets chopped it to tinder, let alone kindling.

“Where’re you going, Downey?” he heard Captain Mayfield yell, the flat of his sword spanking Caleb like his Pa would with a switch back in Indiana. “You get back to your position and hold this line with your squad.”

“Cap’n, I ain’t got no more squad. The last of ‘em, ‘cept for me, just lost the top of his head not three feet from my own.”

“You mean…”

“Yessir. All dead.”

“…you completely abandoned that position?”

“Only of the living, sir.”

“You get back up there and hold that post while I find some men to fill in the line.”

“I don’t think so, Cap’n.”

“What? Think of what you’re fighting for, boy. Think of the Union, Indiana, think of your family,” Mayfield said.

“I am. The feller to my right was my cousin Edwin. On the left was my brother, Charles. They never signed up for this, neither,” Caleb said.

Wrote this 250-word mini-story in response to the prompt of using the phrase “I didn’t sign up for this,” for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads feature. Thanks, Siobhan and judge Silver James. Now, on to tomorrow. Another chance to climb into my desk chair and attempt staying there.

Zero-Six-Ten at LZ-Boston

Their five-day mission complete, LRRP Team Cobra rested silently but alertly within the jungle 20 meters from the edge of a small open space where they were to be extracted from “Indian Country” back to their base. This was Landing Zone-Boston.

“Okay, it’s zero-six-ten. Now what?” Sgt. Eddie Jones whispered.

“Orders were to wait here at LZ-Boston. So…” Lt. Ben Sharper replied.

“And when was that supposed to be?”

“Zero-five-hundred,”

“Christ, over an hour ago. And here we sitting like a pimple on Cramer’s lily white ass. He must want me dead,” Jones said.

“C’mon, you’ve been in-country for what, eight months? They’re just late. It means nothing,”

“LT, call in and see where our birds are. I mean before this extraction becomes a dust-off,” Jones said.

“Shut up and relax. We’ve got good cover and security’s tight. Besides, why would they ignore us?“ Sharper said.

“Maybe ‘cause Captain has throbs for Jonesie’s moose, Bian? That’s no hooch girl. She fine. An educated babe, no doubt. And man, she puts out like a five-dollar piece, but only for Josesie,” radioman Bernie Cioppa said.

“That’s ‘cause, while Cramer’s got a lotta swing with Supply, can get her anything from nylons to napalm, he ain’t got a lotta swing in this department,” Jones said.

“Put that away, Jones. I doubt Cramer’s jealous of your Johnson. Chopper, radio,” Sharper said.

Cioppa stood, then dropped like a sack of camouflage fatigues, cut down by an AK-47 round.Two seconds later the first mortar round fell onto their position, lobbed in. by the North Vietnamese LLDB special forces squad that had been tipped to their LZ.

In a couple of minutes, it was over. Much as was the sex between Jones’ girl and Capt. Cramer, happening at that same moment at Team Cobra’s base.

“Your name, honey. Bian. I’m sure it means something beautiful as you are.” Cramer said.

“In English I it means ‘Woman with secrets,’ lover.” Then she laughed the laugh that used to remind Eddie Jones of bamboo wind chimes. Jones was a good listener. SO was Bian.

“Ooh, me likee,” Cramer whispered in her ear.

“Mmmm…tell me more, mon chéri.”

This is a goosed up first draft of a story I wrote in response to author Cara Michaels’ Menage Monday contest, where she sets up three prompts and the writer must write a piece of flash fiction of 250 words or less using all three prompts. This week’s contest presented that photo at the top the story, plus exact use of the phrases “It means nothing” or “it means something.” Being a wise-ass, I did both. Finally, Judge Teresa Eccles wanted a conspiracy theory to be part of the story. I’m not sure how I managed to use that, but I’m equally stumped about where this story set in the Vietnam War came from. But here it is.