White Lines, Dark Heart

This cunning minx came
slinking up on me
like a movie villainess
only without the swelling
heartbeat theme music and
sudden silence before she
took me. The air warmed,
like a sultry lover’s breath,
and I thought I saw the car
begin sucking up the dotted
road lines like they
were spaghetti.
Their snaking movement
mesmerized me, simmering me
in their pale-striped pyrexia.
That’s when her hands caressed
my face and things went black.
Somehow, though, I fought off
her womanly wiles before
she could turn up the radio,
then switch it off and
everything went sideways.
This time.

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The Occultation

The experts warned of its coming,
but most of us didn’t expect
such darkness until it finally did.
How it cast a Stygian shadow
across the country the likes of which
most of us had never seen.
Well, maybe some old-timers,
but most of them were looking
forward to its arrival anyway.
The golden face we thought we knew
grew darker, as the lunar forces
overcame its careful polish.

Many flocked to be part of the experience,
since such a phenomenon was their goal
left unfulfilled for years.
Others, though, grew more fearful
as the gloomy lunacy spread and shadow
overcame what once provided light
and hope from coast to coast.
Then move or close your eyes,
said some who clamored for this
sea-to-shining-sea anomaly.

But, frightening as they can be,
such triumphs of darkness
over light never last, the forces
of better nature pushing aside
the shadow-maker, bringing our land
back its original sun-bright vision
for those wise enough to turn away
from the eclipse. Of course,
those who gazed so slavishly upon it
had become blind. But they’d lost
their sight to its occultation long
before its shadow fell upon us all.

Up in the Air

Her foot slipped and she started to fall.

Silhouetted against the late afternoon sun, I saw the figure of a girl drop to the pool from the high board.  She hit the water awkwardly with a terrific splash that made me wince.

I did not join the cluster of youngsters at poolside who laughed at her ugly spill.  In fact, I rose from my poolside lounge chair and took a step toward the pool to see if she was okay.  But then I sat back, not quite on the edge of my seat, but nervously nonetheless.  Even on such a hot July Fourth afternoon, I always shivered at the thought of climbing the fifteen rungs to the top of the high board.

The girl swam to the edge of the pool’s diving area and, with what looked like a move as natural as a dolphin’s, kicked up from the water, pulled on the deck edge and twisted into a seated position facing the water.  She sat there for a few seconds and then – not as smoothly as when she was waterborne – climbed to her feet and limped away from the pool directly toward me.  As she approached, I saw she was tall, fair, wearing a two-piece swimsuit and a red welt that spread from outside her right knee, up her torso to her shoulder.  I also noticed her eyes were staring vacantly right through me.

The girl – she was probably eighteen or nineteen – stopped at the lounge chair directly next to mine and reached down for her towel.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

Startled, she looked up, straightened and wobbled a bit, her blue eyes wide and suddenly more focused.

“Oh, you scared me.  I didn’t see you sitting there,” she said.

“Sorry, I was just a bit concerned because you took such an awkward fall.”  I couldn’t help but stare at the ever more reddening stain against her skin.

“Eh, it happens,” she replied, shaking the water from her short strawberry blond hair.  At that, the woman teetered a bit and plopped down on her chair.

“Whoo, must’ve hit the water a little harder than I thought,” she grinned.

“Forgive me, but how the hell can you be so nonchalant about what just happened?” I said.  “That thing, that diving board, all high things, scare me to death.  And what just happened to you is one of the reasons they scare me.”

“Oh, I’ve been jumping off the high board since I was eight or nine.  Never really bothered me, but some little shit behind me jumped on his end of the board as was making my approach and my foot slipped.  Tell you what, though, that water stings like hell.”

“I’m sorry, I’m Bill, Bill Thompson,” I said, extending my sunblock-greased hand.

“Hi,” she replied, “I’m Paula.  The hand she extended was wet, sort of mushy, its fingers pruned from their time spent in the pool.

“Can I get you something?  For the dizziness, I mean.  A bottle of water maybe?”

“No, I think I’ll be okay if I just sit here for a few minutes.  Besides, I think I may have just swallowed about a pint of water.  I know I have at least that much in my ears.”  Paula tipped her head down to the left and gently shook it, attempting to drain that ear.

“Ow,” she said and leaned back in the lounge chair.  “Well, that’s one of ‘em.  But I think I’ll wait a few more minutes for everything to stop rocking in front of me before I try the right ear.”

Then she giggled, the lilting laugh of a teenager, maybe even a ‘tween, I thought.  I was surprised by the sound of her laugh, something like human wind chimes, I thought.

“You’re sure you’re gonna be alright then?” I said.

“Oh sure, soon as I feel a little sturdier on my feet, I’ll climb right back up there.  I’ve got no other reason to be here at the park than that pool.”

“You’re not here to see the fireworks tonight?”

“No, I don’t like fireworks.  They make me real nervous.  That’s made for some lonely July Fourths, but I still have a good time flying off the board.  Instead of flying up and exploding, I fly down and splash.  I’m my own sort of firework, I guess.”

“I really admire you in being able to climb back up there,” I said.  “When I was about five my Dad took up me up with him to the top of a diving board just like this.  Then he chucked me off when I wouldn’t jump like he told me to.”

“How terrible,” Paula said, her eyes fully focused for the first time since she got out of the pool.

“Mom thought so, too.  But that’s how my Dad was, Mr. Throw-‘em-in-the-deep-end.  Sometimes it was for the better, said it would make a man out of me.  Other times…”

I shrugged.  “I still have a thing about heights.  You say that you have lonely July Fourths because of your thing with fireworks; I’m that way about skyscrapers, open elevators, airplanes.  That’s why the first spring break I ever went to was last year.  My junior year – that’s of college, Paula.  And I had to drive to Florida the whole way by myself.  Won’t fly.  Nope, can’t do it. Oh, I’ve tried to fight it, but I always get to the top and chicken out.”

“Well,” Paula said, “I can understand how you can be afraid of certain things.  With me and the fireworks, I guess it’s the noise.  I just can’t take the booming.  You should see me during thunderstorms.  I beat my dog to the spot under the bed every time.”

More chiming giggles.

“You’re very nice,” she said.  “Thanks.  Are you here by yourself, too?”

“Yeah, gonna try to work the tan, splash around, maybe meet some friends later for the fireworks show.”

“Oh, the boomers.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well let’s see, it’s sixish now, so you’ve got awhile before dusk.  That means I’ve got that long to get back to the pool before I head for home.”

“Paula,” I said, simultaneous with her blurting, “So, Bill.”

“Go ahead,” she said.

“What if I could find a way for you not to be afraid of the noise?  Would you stay and watch the fireworks with me?”

Paula frowned for a second.  Then her faintly freckled face opened up into a grin.

“How are you going to manage that?” she said.

“Um, well, I have an idea.  C’mon, what do you say?”

Paula’s expression changed to something like that of a kid taking a test, leaning toward False, but nagged by the tiny possibility of True.  She looked down, right, left, right, like her mind was searching for an Exit sign.

“C’mon, the colors are so pretty in person. TV can’t do them justice.  Sometimes they actually make pictures against the sky.  They sparkle and then they sink down like somebody drew a picture in colored chalk on a blackboard and then threw some water on it.”

“And this is supposed to make me want to expose myself to explosions? Pretty pictures?”

“Well, maybe not, but keep an open mind, okay?”

“Ohh-kay. But you’ve got to do something for me first.”

I felt a chill on the windless pool deck, where the flags above the pool-house looked melted to their poles by the heat.

“Let me help you get up and off that board,” Paula said. I saw a determined look on her face, but heard a voice that was soft and inviting.

“Maybe you really should go home,” I replied.

Paula giggled again.

I began searching for words, as well as a means, of escape.

“Look,” Paula said, “I started diving when I was seven and ended up diving competitively in high school and now college. I even became a platform diver. Think about doing THAT for the first time. One thing I learned is we all have fears and we all have to start low and work our way up. I’ll have you going off that high board by sundown or my name’s not Paula McDonald.”

“Well, at least I’ve accomplished finding out your full name,” I grinned.

“Then it’s a deal,” Paula said, extending her hand as if to shake on it. I reached out and she pulled me up and off my seat. She led me to one of the low boards, the one on the far side of the pool away from the audience of lounge chairs and too-close observers. However, this low board sported a tail of pushing middle-schoolers and teens.

“So, Bill, here we go,” Paula said as we took the position at the end of the swiftly moving line. “This board is just four feet or so above the water. Here’s where we’ll get your feet, umm, dry…and then wet.”

“I’ve been off a board this high before, Paula, it’s just the tall one that scares me. There, I said it, it scares me.”

“You’re allowed to be scared of something, Bill. I had a coach that told me that there’s no disgrace in being knocked down – or landing on your back. If there’s any disgrace, it’s in not getting back up.”

“Thanks, Coach Lombardi.”

“Who?”

“Never mind. Let’s get this over with.”

“Okay, I’m glad you’ve gone off this board before. We’re going to make believe it’s the Big Kahuna this time, though. We’ll do everything here we need to do to get off the high board so you’ll be prepared for later. How’s that?”

“Sure,” I moaned.

“Right, now take your time, try to enjoy the experience,” Paula said. “Remember, for a second after you jump up from the board, you’ll be feeling nothing, just air. It’s this of feeling and hearing nothing that you’ll experience until you feel and hear your entry into the water. That’ll be your explosion, but instead of fireworks, it’ll be, um, well, waterworks. Then, underwater, it’s quiet again. It’s lovely.”

“Yeah, lovely.”

“Remember, Bill, this was sort of your idea, right? Do what I do. I’ll swim to the side and watch. Okay, we’re up in a couple more kids. What I want you to do is walk to the end of the board and feel it sink and bounce a bit. Go with it. Use the bounce to get your butt in the air, out and over the water. Wherever your center of gravity goes, you’re going, too. When you bounce up, jump forward and upwards, stretching your arms out in front of you. Oh, and you don’t really have to look if you don’t want to.”

Paula stepped up to the board and slowly strode to its end, her body matched the sink and rise of the board, just as easily as she was striding across the pool deck. On her last step, the board went down and rose. She coiled her body and then exploded up, out and down into the water, carving a languorous arc above the water to a near-splashless entry into the pool.

She swam to the near side of the pool and looked back at me, a smile of accomplishment, joy, support, something, on her face. I was holding onto the rails on each side of the board. Shoulders tucked tight to my ears, I marched to the end of the board, mistimed the bounce and flipped ass-over-teakettle, splat, onto the water’s surface. For a second, I considered not coming up from underwater, but I broke the surface and swam to the ladder at poolside, where Paula was waiting.

“I think this will take awhile,” she said. “But remember coach’s mantra.”

“Yeah, I tried staying down, but it didn’t work.”

She giggled that giggle again and said, “Let’s go, Bill. It’s still just six thirty.”

For the next hour and a half Paula and I worked on the side and jumped off the low board. After a few mechanically solid dives, she told me that I was ready to fly.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“C’mon, Bill. What more do I have to do to get you up there?”

I had to admit, she had gone way beyond her part of the deal. While I stood in line about a half-hour before, I thought of a way for Paula to deal with the fireworks. I was as sure in my plan as she was in hers to help me fly. Except I was sure my plan would work. Her plan, I decided, was painfully flawed. I was the flawed part of the plan.

Stall, William.

“Okay, okay, but tell me one thing,” I said, digging my bare feet into the concrete pool deck as she pulled me toward the ladder to the high board. “Why are you so afraid of the loud sounds. You don’t seem to be afraid of anything.”

She stopped, let go of my arm and stared at me. Hard. Then she took a step back.

“I don’t want to talk about it, okay?” Paula said and took another couple of steps toward her towel on the lounge chair.

“Paula,” I called after her. “I’m sorry. If I’m going to do this – IF – I just can’t do this without you. I promise I’ll get up there. Just don’t be upset with me. Please?”

Paula spun and coldly looked at me. “If you must know, I was in a traffic accident, okay? Late night. After a meet. Okay? Need to know more, Bill? How about this? It was icy. Tractor-trailer jack-knifed on the highway ahead of a line of traffic. My coach tried to stop, just like all the other cars. We spun, and then all the other cars started hitting one another, bang, bang, bang, bang, BANG. Three teammates and the coach were killed, four others severely injured. Me, not a scratch. That enough to get you going, Bill?”

I felt a chill that was immediately melted by a blast of heated embarrassment from my chest to my forehead.

“God, Paula, I’m so sorry,” I said, reaching for her arm.

She twisted from my grasp.

“Look, I like you. You’re cute, you’ve got kind eyes, and you helped me when everyone else thought I was some kind of klutz. You didn’t know me – obviously. But you wanted to make sure I was okay. And I don’t think you were doing it just to hit on me. Not that I wouldn’t have let you, you little jerk. But right now I feel like I just wasted a day, in more ways than one, and if you don’t climb that damn ladder and jump off that freaking board, I’m out of here, deal or not.”

What could I do? I mean really? I turned around, walked to the bottom of the ladder, where there were only three divers still diving in the five minutes left before the pool was going to close.

I took one step up, felt the water dripping off the guy above me on the ladder. I looked over at Paula. She was wrapping herself in her towel and putting on her flip-flops.

More steps up. The guy in front of me had reached the top and was standing on the near end of the board while another diver bounced and flew out and down into the water. Paula was stuffing things into her tote bag. She hadn’t looked one time at me.

I pulled myself to the rear edge of the board and stood there, looking out at the whole pool deck, the roof of the pool house, and the orangey-blond top of Paula’s head, which was turned toward the women’s entrance to the locker-room.

The guy ahead of me bounced on the end of the board twice, sending it deeply below where I was standing, so all I could see was his body from the shoulders up. And then, when the board came back up, he would bounce maybe two feet above it and land back on the sandpaper-like end again. He was getting his timing right or just showing off, I guess.

Then he just took off. Beautiful. Yeah, I’ll say it. Like a bird.

And there I was, just as the lifeguard sounded his claxon horn and yelled into his bullhorn that the pool was closing.

“C’mon, pal, last dive,” he said to me.

I looked behind me and there was no one on the ladder. I could easily just climb down. Nobody would have to skinny to the side of the ladder or climb off to let me pass. It wouldn’t be like that time in high school. The last time I tried to dive off the high board. The laughs and remarks were about as big an embarrassment as any I ever felt. Until five minutes before I arrived at the top of the ladder.

I walked toward the end of the board and it really felt just like the low board. Only thing different was that the drop-off on either side was about three times as high. It looked like thirty times to me.

I looked over at Paula and she was about five steps from the locker room door. And then she turned around and looked at me. She took off her sunglasses and looked at me. And her face had a sadness about it. I took a breath, bounced once and lost my balance for a second, but recovered. My heart was beating so hard I knew everyone could hear it above the silence on the pool deck.

“Tonight, buddy, while we’re still young,” the lifeguard boomed. “Now or never.”

I chose never. I turned around and took a step toward the ladder. I saw Paula’s shoulders slump and she turned back to the locker room.

And then I slipped and fell.

She was right. There is this feeling of silence, of nothing, not even the wind. And then there’s the noise of hitting the water, followed by the quiet again. She was so right.

She was also right about it stinging like hell.

I came to the surface just as the lifeguard was climbing off his tower and trotting down to see if I was okay. I’m sure he would have a tough time explaining how the only person in the pool ended up drowned at closing time.

I put my head down and swam for the wall behind me, under the board. That’s when I saw Paula.

“Bill, are you all right?” she asked, her face showing what looked like genuine concern.

I walked right by her, grabbed the handle on the ladder and started climbing.

“Hey, buddy, c’mon, let’s go. Haven’t you suffered enough?”

The disgrace is in not getting back up, I heard in my head. Yeah, I’d suffered enough. I was determined to suffer no more –- no more disgrace, at least –- today.

“Bill, it’s okay,” I heard Paula say below me.

I got to the top and just jumped off, head-first. I didn’t hesitate and I’m sure I looked like a complete spazz, but I did it — on my terms — just to prove that I could.

But never again.

Later that night, on a blanket over the hood of my car, I looked at Paula’s face glowing red, then green, then yellow in the reflected glare of each aerial bomb. Mostly, though, her face just glowed.

“Bill,” she yelled above the sound of the third movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony blasting in the headphones on her ears, “it really is very beautiful.”

I had to admit she was right, as I laid back and looked up, almost forgetting my near-failure. I couldn’t shake the idea of the sky as the water’s surface, splashing in a splatter of fire.

A big aerial bomb exploded in a garish flare of pyrotechnic elation. Even I was a little startled this time. It wasn’t the boom of the fireworks, though. It was the touch of Paula’s hand suddenly holding mine.

Yet another flash of colored light split the sky, the biggest yet, as before, it was followed by a second of silence, and then the boom reached me. It was the sound that hit me and it was the concussion of the explosion that washed over Paula. It startled her a bit and she squeezed my hand.

This shocked me. But just for a second.

Then I squeezed back.

So, I thought. Flying.

I found that first sentence somewhere and it intrigued me. The rest of the story just spread like the rings of ripples growing from someone hitting the water from sixteen feet above the surface.  

Come Listen to Me, the Teller of Tales

“… come listen to me, the Teller of Tales …”  ~ Brian Jacques

The children would gather around the fire when the old man would sit and light his pipe. It was his silent way of telling them, “Come, listen to me, the Teller of Tales.”

The children were not the only ones who would grab for the words, the lines, the tales, the dreams the old man would weave into something palpable, like the log upon which he sat or the lap upon the young ones would cuddle. So too would be the tousled head that would rest upon a mother’s breast, a father’s grizzled chin. All of the warm and comforting.

Such a blessed distraction from the star that stared down upon them night and day, growing bigger with each rise and fall of the sun. One couldn’t really call them nights anymore, since the star’s light rivaled the twilight of dawn and sundown.

“Come listen to me, the Teller of Tales,” the smoke would say to their little noses.

“Come listen to me, the Weaver of Dreams,” his eyes sparkling in the campfire would say to their frightened eyes.

“Come listen to me, the bringer of sleep,” his comforting voice would say in its tone so soothing, never rushed or strident, never angry or dismayed, never giving in to the inevitable forever sleep that approached the world in a ball of ice and iron that had slipped from the belt of the great god planet and through the fingers of his red-faced minister of war. And now it was coming into the embrace of the mother of planets.

The old man would begin his stories the same each time: “In the beginning…” which gave the children a little anchor to end their days, something they could moor themselves to like the sea otters to some sea leaf before drowsing hand-in-hand with their loved ones, for no one wanted to be separated from them when the great sleep ultimately came when the ever-dawn became ever-night.

Here’s my last possible moment response to Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines prompt for the week of May 28- June 4. It based on that quote from a character created by Brain Jacques in his Redwall series of novels. I’m not one given to writing fantasy, but in the half-hour it took to write this piece, that’s what appears to have happened on the page. I guess that’s what you’d call it, even though it sounds like historical fiction and reads like speculative fiction of a coming Armageddon.

To Dream, Perchance to Sleep

I don’t dream.

But tonight, I bolted upright and shouted “No,” drenched in sweat, heart pounding, shaking like I had fever chills. I had a nightmare and I couldn’t remember a thing about it.

My wife, Cody, popped up, too, frightened by my reaction to my hazy nightmare. She switched on the bedside light.

“What is it, Rich? Are you all right?” Cody said, placing a shaking hand on my arm.

“I think so. I don’t know what happened. I think it was a dream, I guess a nightmare,” I said, still pumped and confused.

“What was it about?”

“I don’t know. I honestly can’t remember.”

“Will you be all right?”

“Yeah, I’ll be okay. I’m gonna go get a glass go water and calm down. You go back to sleep. I’ll be back in a little while,” told Cody.

“Okay, Rich. You sure you’re all right?”

“Yep, fine. Get some sleep, okay?”

Cody turned out the light, rolled over and pulled the covers back atop her shoulders. I headed to the kitchen, grabbed a drink and ran the faucet on a dish towel, wrung out the cold water and put it over my eyes after I parked myself in my desk chair.

What had scared me so much? Did it really matter now?

I wasn’t fearless in the blank darkness of the hood it places over me, of its smothering dark hand. Darkness had always been my friend, my forever bedmate.

Always, the dreamless monster steals my night, robbing me of sense and senses, sending me to stagger through another day hating the Sun for dropping from its apogee, a golden chanticleer crowing the dawn of another dread sundown.

My every-night nightmare had become a killer of men, of knowledge, of thought. It hid in the darkness of my slumber, the destroyer of light, color, joy. It had come to affect my work as a writer. I’d come up dry on my last two manuscript attempts. Publishers don’t like contracted novelists who don’t provide them books to sell. I hated what I’d become, too.

This nightmare is a dreamless night that tears at the dreams of my day. I pulled the compress and stared into the darkness, wondering why I even bother to close my eyes anymore.

Each evening I climb under the covers, fluff my pillows, kiss Cody good night and lay my head on the pillows in hope for what everyone else slept like. Instead, I blink once and night becomes day.

My weak flesh craved to have its raveled sleeve mended, even knowing my true nightmare monster of dreamlessness rips away the threads, stealing all my hope of a healing night’s sleep. It had driven me mad, no doubt.

And here tonight I had a dream, one so vivid, frightening me so much that it woke me in a state of breathless terror. And I couldn’t remember it. A fruitless fright, another empty night.

So I decided to kill off my dreamless monster by killing off the sleeper. No great loss. What good is a writer who cannot dream? It would be my ultimate creation. An anti-creation.

I sat and wrote it all out for myself, for you, a 600-word bit of flash fiction——or non-fiction, I couldn’t tell anymore——of a man finally achieving his dream. I started to write my note to Cody. But I stopped when I realized she’d left me a year ago. She couldn’t take my depression, my walking-dead wandering through life, my violent outbursts because I didn’t understand awake, asleep or in between.

Then I took all the pills.

Here it is, my first and final dream, a lyrical piece of sweet release. My good night after all.

Day 14’s effort in my Story-a-Day quest through May. Today’s prompt, from novelist Maria Hazen Lewis, was devilishly simple, but gave me fits. Here it is: 

I had a nightmare last night. I woke up and started writing….

Still A Handful

It was supposed to just your standard customer service call, drop off the mid-December supply of oxygen bottles to old Mr. Bentley on Oakdale. Been there a million times. Always a nice visit, except for the fact the old guy still insisted on smoking while hooked up to his Oh-Two.

That’s one of the reasons I always took care when approaching his front porch, because he liked smoking out there. He said his late wife frowned upon his smoking in the house, but obviously he puffed his share to get the take-home version of the COPD Game. And in winter, I would climb the porch and gently rap on the door, not to wake the old gentleman up too abruptly, have him drop his cigar and *POOF* no more Mr. Bentley and maybe some piece of Dan, the AngelAir delivery guy, missing.

It was one of those winter days, the snow out front of Bentley’s was unshoveled, which wasn’t too surprising since Mr. Bentley got winded making himself a ham sandwich. But usually a neighborhood kid or a Home Aid would at least dig out some kind of path past the house and up the walk to the porch. But not today.

I high-kneed it over the snowbank and into the walkway and climbed the four snow-covered steps to the porch. No footprints out there, so I figured Mr. Bentley must still be inside and made a silly prayer that he’d given up the cigars for Advent.

But when I got to the door and knocked, no one came. Mr. Bentley still had the ears of a bat and eyes like a hawk. He just couldn’t breathe well enough to do much more than watch TV, read and write his World War Two memoir.

So, somewhat against my better judgment and feelings of self-preservation, I rang the doorbell and stood away from the half-glass top portion of the front door. I rang and rag, with no result. This worried me a great deal. Mr. Bentley was sharp as any 40-year-old could be in an 94-year-old body.

I tried the knob and found the door unlocked, which was another surprise because Mr. Bentley was an ex-cop and very security conscious. I cracked it open a bit and half-shouted inside, “Mr. Bentley? It’s me, Dan from AngelAir.” Nothing.

Opening the door and walking into the front hall of this old place, I had a straight line of sight to the kitchen and didn’t see Mr. Bentley in his usual coffee-and-newspaper spot at the table near the back bathroom.

“Shit,” I whispered. “Please don’t let me find you down, Mr. Bentley, or worse.”

I moved left into the living room and found the TV on but no Mr. Bentley. But over by the doorway to the dining room, I saw his potted Norfolk Island Pine knocked over, scattering dirt, vermiculite and pine needles onto the expensive Persian rug his in-laws gave him and the Mrs. for a wedding present.

I had my phone in my hand, waiting to punch in 9-1-1 if the unfortunate became a necessity. I turned through the dining room doorway back into the kitchen, having completed a circuit of the first floor. As I looked back toward the entryway, I noticed something I’d missed in my tippy-toeing in——Mr. Bentley’s stair-climbing track seat was still on the ground floor.

That meant, he’d come down from the bedroom sometime this morning, or, much worse, for some reason never made it up there to go to bed.

I looked out the kitchen window and noticed footprints in the snow covering the yard. They’d come from over the back fence and led directly to Mr. Bentley’s back door. I decided the time was right to dial 9-1-1 when I heard the sound of a muffled voice coming from behind the basement door.

“Mr. Bentley? Is that you? It’s me, Dan from Angel…”

“Get me outta here man, this old bastard’s crazy. He’s gonna kill us all,” I heard from some frantic voice that most definitely was not Mr. Bentley’s old rasp.

“Who’s down there? Mr. Bentley, are you okay?”

“Danny? that you?” I heard coming soft from the bottom of the stairs.

“Yeah, Mr. Bentley. Hold on, I’m coming down.”

“Don’t distract him, man. He’ll blow us all the fuck up!” That first voice again.

I took two steps down the stairs and let my eyes grow accustomed to the dark. No one had turned on the basement lights. I turned and found the light switch on the wall to my right and flipped it to ON. What I saw displayed at the bottom of the stairs looked like something from some old John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movie.

Against the far wall, partially hidden behind the furnace was a young guy in a hoodie and jeans sagging half-way down his ass. In his hand he held a silver revolver and he had it pointed at Mr. Bentley, who was propped up against a shelving unit next to the open stairs. In his fist, the old man held something dark, like an oversized egg.

“He’s got a fucking live hand grenade, man. Call the cops or somethin’,” the young guy I took to be an intruder said.

“Drop that gun, dirtbag, or I promise, I’ll blow this place to Kingdom Come. I’m 94-frigging years old and I don’t have a whole lot of quality time left, so I don’t give two shits how I go. This would actually be a hell of a lot better than what’s probably facing me, though,” Mr. Bentley wheezed.

“Call the cops, man. I’m not kidding.”

“If you’re hoping to make it home for Christmas, maybe in about ten years after serving your armed robbery stretch, I’d suggest you slide that peashooter over here and maybe we can work something out, with my brother cops.”

“You’re a cop, too? Fuck me!”

“Uh, Mr. Bentley? I’m calling 9-1-1 now,” I said, and deeply considered going back outside to my van, which would be quite the fireworks display if pierced by hot shrapnel.

“Thanks, Danny. This shouldn’t take long.”

After my call, and keeping the 9-1-1 operator in the line, the next thing I heard were sirens getting louder and louder. And the sound of something metal scraping across Mr. Bentley’s concrete basement floor.

“That’s better, son. Danny? Are the boys in blue outside yet?” Mr. Bentley said. I peered up the hallway and could see the red and blue flashing lights outside, but no police were coming through the door.

“Danny, would you help me up please? I been in this position for about two hours and I’m sore as hell,” Mr. Bentley called.

“I gotta go,” I told the 9-1-1 operator and hung up.

I slowly walked downstairs and found Mr. Bentley holding the silver revolver, which he called “a piece of shit more dangerous to the holder than this hand grenade,” and I got my arms under his and lifted him to a seated position on the second step.

I heard someone open the front door and pad down the hallway.

“Down in the basement,” I yelled up the stairs. Shortly a man in a padded navy blue space suit-looking get-up stood at the top of the stairs.

“No one move down there,” I heard him say through his oversized helmet and face mask.

“Danny, could you do me one more favor today before you deliver my Oh-Two?” Mr. Bentley said.

“Sure, Mr. Bentley, anything,” I said. I mean, what the hell, I was blocked by basement walls below and the bomb squad above anyway.

Could you fish around under the stairs for the pin on this old Mark 2 of mine I kept when I got discharged in ‘46? I dropped the little thing when I fell. Or you could take the grenade out of my hand, but mind you keep the safety down. Either’d be fine. I’ve been holding it a long time and my hand’s getting a little tired.”

“Shhh…sure, Mr. B. I’ll find that little pin thingy for you,” I said and started scrambling under the stairs on my hands and knees.

“Thanks, Danny. Hey, Robo-Cop,” Mr. Bentley called up to the armored bomb squad member, “Think you can shag your Pillsbury Doughboy ass down here soon? Danny’s got deliveries to make and I’ve already pissed myself. But, boy, this is the most fun I’ve had since I retired.”

For Day 11 of my Story-a-Day challenge, I was supposed to work with this scenario:

Your company sends you to meet a costumer at their house. It’s a standard, nice neighborhood.

You ring and ring but nobody answers. The door is ajar, and you enter, calling aloud.

All is in order in the living room apart from an overturned potted plant on the expensive-looking rug…

I had some fun with this first draft. I hope you did too.

Fancy Meeting You Here

Gary Brand’s face and neck burned, his stomach knotted and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and shivered when he saw Jenny Stein sitting in the Southwest Airlines Gate C-3 boarding area.

It had been two years since they split and she had moved to Raleigh and he stayed in Albany. What were the chances he’d run into her making connections with the same flight he was taking to Orlando?

“Shit, now what do I do?” Gary said under his breath. Should he lay back in the Gate C-4 waiting are across the way or maybe park with his back to C-3 in the nearby bar? No, that would be the coward’s way out and he’d proven himself a coward when he told her he didn’t love her anymore. His fear of committing was greater than any sense of love he had.  Besides, it was only 9:15 AM and the bar was closed.

He knew Jenny’s seeing him was inevitable when they began lining up the boarding groups to select their seats aboard Flight 3385 at 11:30.

Let’s prolong the inevitable for as long as possible, Gary decided. So he wheeled his carry on to the outer edge of the waiting area, Jenny sitting closer to the gate with her ear buds in and a book on her lap.

But Gary hadn’t considered Nature’s call and looked up to see Jenny’s seat by the gate no longer occupied. Startled, he swiveled in his seat and saw he had placed himself between Jenny’s seat and the Ladies’ Room. Gary grasped his hood of his jacket and pulled it over his head, hiding his face and gathered his carry on and laptop bag and hustled to a seat by the window at Gate C-4.

“Oh, man, oh, man, I hope she missed me,” he said as he peered from beneath his hood. Jenny came out the restroom entrance and walked by the seat Gary occupied minutes ago. She looked around and walked back to her seat.

Now what? Gary wondered. He knew he had an early boarding pass, so he wouldn’t have to stand in line long, mitigating any uncomfortable meeting.

At that, the gate attendant called for all pre-boarding and early boarding passengers. Gary waited until all but the last early boarding passenger had been waved through and then hustled to the gate, hood up and boarding pass in hand.

Sure that no one would willingly take one of the rearmost seats, Gary moved swiftly down the aisle and selected a window seat in the second-last row. He stuffed his carry on in the overhead bin and placed his laptop bag beneath the seat.

He looked up as more and more Orlando-bound passengers boarded, filling the aisles like waves reaching closer and closer to him as if the tide was coming in. In the mix of men in anticipatory golf shorts, women in leggings and flip-flops and kids either squealing or blindly walking ahead with their eyes on their mobile devices.

And there, approaching like Venus riding upon the ocean foam, came Jenny. He secured his hoodie and dropped his chin to his chest.

“Is this seat taken?” Jenny said.

Garry mumbled in a deeper voice, “Yeah, I’m holding it for my girlfriend. She’ll be down here soon, sorry.”

“Cut the shit, Garry, you coward. I gave you that custom laptop bag sticking out under the seat for Christmas three years ago. What say we talk. We’ve got nowhere to go for the next hour, do we?”

The story for Day 10 of my Story-a-Day challenge was inspired by a prompt from thriller writer Sarah Cain. She asked for a story about a chance encounter. I was short on time today, but I think this one might work.