#MidweekMusings 1×08 : Lowlife

The wolf lead Kelly into the clearing, where the woman was standing. She wore one of Frank’s shirts, Kelly recognized it. The woman saw the wolf, saw Kelly, and looked terrified. “Jessica sent me. It’s OK. It’s alright.” The wolf stretched out on the ground, his tail wagged.

Kelly looked around, her eyes searched the trees, the brush. Nothing. No sign of Frank. “Frank brought you here, didn’t he.”

The woman nodded.

“Is he still here?”

She shook her head.

“Damn!”

The woman looked terrified, and Kelly could understand that. She’d been used the same way. By a group of six men. She’d thought it would never end. The things they’d done to her. She fought, she cried, she screamed, she tried. But one against six. She lost. They used her. They beat her.

She knelt on the ground, held out a bag of nuts and berries, and a container of water. “These are for you.”

Frank watched from the trees. He hadn’t expected Kelly to show up. One of the others, yes, but not Kelly. He wanted to step out of hiding. Hug her. Ask how things were at the village. Ask how Valerie was.

The wolf yipped, leaped to its feet, and raced into the trees. “Frack!” Frank silently cursed. It raced to Frank’s side, and yipped and ran in circles. “Frack!”

Kelly saw the wolf race into the trees, saw it yipping at a tree, running in circles. “Frank?”

The wolf bounced around, “Yip! Yip! Yip!”

Kelly raced into the trees.

There was nothing to do but step out of hiding. Frank gave up. “Hi.”

Kelly plowed into him, nearly knocked him over, “FRANK!” She wrapped her arms around his neck, and hugged him like she would never let him go. “Thank, God!”

“Hi, Kelly.”

She grabbed his hand, and hauled him back to the clearing, where the woman waited. The wolf parked beside the woman, then nuzzled her ankle. The woman smiled.

“I see you rescued someone.”

Frank said nothing.

“Was she alone?”

He shook his head.

Frank hated to see sadness in Kelly’s eyes. “Oh.”

“A trap. She was bait.”

Kelly placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder, “Oh, you poor dear.”

“He…” She tried to speak.

“How many were there?” Kelly knew, it was several. She knew, with Frank, it didn’t matter. None of them would have walked away.

“Seven.”

“Where?”

He shook his head. “Not saying.”

“Valerie cries every night.” She didn’t let go of his hand, “Every night, Frank.”

There was no answer. No response.

“What happened? Tell me, Frank. What happened?”

“Take her to the village.” He started to walk away.

The wolf cut him off. It whined, and stayed in his way, no matter where he turned. Kelly grabbed his hand again, and the woman grabbed his other hand. Neither would let go. “Please.”

He wanted to run. To get the hell out of there, and never come back. But, Kelly’d said, “Please.”

“I can’t.” He squeezed both their hands. “I can’t.” He shook his head.

“Why, Frank? Why?”

For the first time since he’d saved her, the woman spoke, “Broken.”

Kelly stared at him. “Broken?” She looked in his eyes. Frank wanted to look away, but found he couldn’t. “Broken?” She held his hand tightly, as if he might run if she let go. “Frank?”

“You said it’s safe. With Jessica.” She wouldn’t let go of his hand. “I’m afraid.”

No one spoke for a while. The only sounds were the leaves in the breeze through the trees, a soft, quiet rustle.

“I don’t belong.” Frank finally spoke. “Not there. You build things. Have hope.” He tried to look at Kelly, but couldn’t. “All I do is kill things.”

The woman shook her head.

Kelly embraced him again. “Please. At least visit. One night.”

He needed to say something. Anything. “How is Valerie?”

“I’m not going to tell you.” Kelly wouldn’t let go. She held him like he’d vanish if she did. “You’ll have to come check on her.”

He didn’t move, just stood there. She swore he’d stopped breathing. “There’s a heart in you, Frank.” She pressed her head to his chest, “I can hear it beating.” She smiled at him. “And you saved her.” She nodded at the woman. “You could have walked away. Left her to die. But you didn’t.”

The woman whispered, “I’m afraid.” Frank saw the fear in her eyes. She knew him. Knew he wouldn’t hurt her.

“See, Frank? See? I felt your heart move when she spoke. I did. You’re not evil, Frank. You’re not. You save people. Like me. Like her.” She looked in his eyes again, “You still have a heart.”

The woman whispered, “Don’t leave me alone.”

Frank sank to his knees. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Valerie held him, wouldn’t let him go. “You brought her this far. Won’t you take her the rest of the way. Just to make sure she’s safe?” She pressed her cheek against his, “Please? I know your heart. It’s still alive.”

Frank cried. He held Kelly, and wept.

And the woman whispered, “Broken.” She knelt beside them both, “Take me where it’s safe.”

Where it was safe. Where broken, wounded people, like Kelly, Gina, and the others went to heal. Safe, where the woman who’d lost everything a few days ago could start over. Maybe learn to smile again.

And maybe the ache in his chest would finally start to fade.

“Take me where it’s safe.”

915 Words
@LurchMunster


For week 1×08 of #MidweekMusings, a flash fiction adventure hosted by #FlashMobWrites (Ruth Long and Cara Michaels). Please, go read all the stories for this week’s prompt.

#MWBB Week 2.43 – Dance The Hanged Man’s Jig

[MANDATORY CONTENT WARNING – A story about suicide. Read at your own risk.]

“Another soul no longer part of this world. Another ray of light, gone. One less spark of hope.” Zain read the headline on the paper again. Another music star found dead. He’d shot himself in the head. Left bits of his brains scattered around his hotel room.

“And no one knows why, as always.” Zain shook his head. He didn’t want to go to work anymore. Not that day. He knew what would happen, how everyone would talk about the suicide. “He shot himself. Why? Why didn’t he get help? Such a tragedy.” It would be the topic of the day, perhaps for days. He didn’t want to look at his social network feeds, they’d be the same. An endless string of people saying, “What is wrong with this country? Why can’t we take care of those who need it?” And countless pleas from millions upon millions, “If you’re thinking about it, get help! Please!”

Zain didn’t want to have it shoved in his face endlessly. It was mindless, always so mindless. “Get help? The man had help!” He wanted to scream. He knew the stories, the years of psychotherapy the singer spoke of on talk shows. The book he’d written about his journey, his walk through depression, the way people treated him.

“Idiots.”

Zain closed his eyes, the words of his therapist echoed in his head, words he’d heard a million times, in a million sessions, “Breathe. Just breathe.” He’d learned well. He opened his mouth, and took a deep breath. As deep as he could, while he thought the first half of his mantra, “Breathing in, I’m breathing in.” Then, he breathed out, “Breathing out, I’m breathing out.”

He felt the tremble of rage in his left wrist, that old familiar vibration in his fingers. “Is it rage? Or is it panic?” He never knew. Perhaps it was both. Perhaps it was only memories.

Normally, he’d run the shutdown script to safely power down his computer. He didn’t feel like waiting for it that morning, so he pulled the plug from the wall, and watched the screen go blank as the cooling fans fell silent. “No. Not going there today.”

One quick dial button on his phone, and he’d called the office, “Not gonna make it in today. Not well.”

And the boss always said the same thing, “Feel better.”

No breakfast. No food. Zain couldn’t eat. “I need a walk. I need a walk. I need a walk.” He grabbed a soda, popped it open, drained half of it. Then, grabbed his daily doses of fluoxetine and Vitamin D. He washed them down with the other half the soda.

“I need a walk.” Zain walked for miles. He watched everyone driving to work, an endless stream of cars. As he walked, he smiled. “He’s free, you know. He is.” Zain glanced at the clouds, “Take good care of him. Heal the wounds this world put into him. The scars. And take away his pain.”

Zain walked, knowing why another soul was gone. Knowing the scars within him, in his heart and soul, the missing pieces of himself, would only grow in number. Knowing he’d never find escape. Never find peace.

“You’re free at last.”

Zain liked the color of the sky, it’s pale blue, with high, wispy clouds scattered on the roof of the world.

“You’re free at last.”

Then, he waited for the next soul to fall. Wishing to his God above more people understood why some people sought escape, asking for world would change, to stop wounding those who dream, who create, who dare be unique, different, alive. Knowing nothing would ever change.

“You’re free at last.”

623 Words
@LurchMunster


This is my entry for Year 2, Week 43 (Week 2.43) of Jeff Tsuruoka‘s Mid-Week Blues-Buster flash fiction challenge. This week the prompt is the song, “Dance The Hanged Man’s Jig” by Aghast Manor. Please, go read the other stories in the challenge.

A Tale Of Wrath : Stand Your Ground

“Take your gun with you. And a couple of spare clips.” I’d never forget Mom’s words, just like I’d never forget that day, when I changed forever.

I wanted to listen to a public speech by Diane Harris, the feminist. Mom tried to talk me out of it. “Son. There are nasty people in the world who try to stamp out what they don’t understand, what they are afraid of. They will be there, and they will try to stop her from talking.”

“I know, Mom. But I need to go. I need to show I support the free expression of thought. Besides, I like the things she says. She makes sense. I want to help her change the world.”

When she knew she couldn’t talk me out of it, she changed to Mother Hen mode, and started trying to protect me. “Take your gun with you.” She insisted on walking me to the front door, and watched me get in my car. “Be careful. Be safe.”

Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if she said, “Come home tonight.” I wouldn’t be surprised if she prayed, “God, bring my baby home safely.”

Everybody knew about the gun threats. “If Diane Harris gets to speak, there will be a massacre. We’ll kill everyone there.” It was one of those men’s groups. You know the type. “Men are superior. Women are subservient to men.” That kind of shit. Another group declared, “All you women, show up! We’ll take your picture, and hunt you down, and show you what women are for!”

Tommy, my best friend said he had to go. His girlfriend was going, and he had to try to keep her safe. Frank and Jimmy said the same thing. And my Dad told me, “You need to stand for something. Pick a side. Pick a cause. Pick something to believe in. And stand up for it.”

Yeah. I pretty much had to show up.

I patted my gun, under my jacket. Concealed, of course. Everyone had a concealed carry permit anymore. I’d never needed it. Never had to use it. But it made me feel safer knowing it was there, and I could defend myself if I needed to.

“Only an idiot would come here to shoot people,” I chuckled. With the Stand Your Ground law, everyone would probably be armed. If someone drew a gun, a dozen other guns would show up ready to shoot him.

And that’s exactly what happened.

First, one guy drew a gun. He shot the girl next to him. Of course, people pulled out their guns, to shoot him, and save themselves. He shot one of them, then another, They started shooting back. Yeah, they got him, and three or four people near him.

Then, a second guy drew his gun. And a third guy. I figure there were a dozen of them in the crowd, pulling guns, shooting at everyone. A guy in the row in front of me pulled out a friggin’ cannon. He pulled the trigger, and started mowing down everyone he saw, shooting merrily away.

So, I drew my gun. And the guy behind me shot me. In the back. “He’s got a gun too!”

It was hell on Earth. Bullets flew everywhere. People panicked. People ran. People died. Everybody screamed. It sounded like something out of a bad movie.

I don’t know how I’m still alive.

They tell me I was in the ICU for a week, no one knew if I’d wake up. They told me what happened. 56 people died. Yeah. 56. 109 wounded. I was one of the 109. Tommy and his girl were part of the 56. Jimmy was another part of the 109. He was recovering, but he’d lost his left arm. Got shot, fell down, got trampled. They couldn’t save it.

They tell me, with a little more technological advancement, I might learn to walk in a few years. Got shot in the back, remember. Spinal cord damage. My legs don’t work anymore. Oh, they’re alive. Blood flows through them just fine. But they don’t feel a damn thing, and I can’t wiggle my toes.

Mom cries every time she visits.

Dad tells me how proud he is, “You stood up for something you believed in! You’re a real man!”

Thanks Dad. Did I mention, I can’t feel my toes?

I keep hearing the numbers. 56 dead. 109 wounded.

The neighbors all sent get well cards. I hate them. Every card. I hate them. “Thank you for standing up for free speech!” “Get well soon!”

I keep thinking I should have gone to the beach instead of the speech. I’d have watched almost naked women in their tiny bikinis, and soaked up the sun. And maybe one of almost naked women would have asked me to spend the night with her. In her place. In her bed. With no clothes on. And I could have banged her.

Instead, I went to that damn speech.

A couple of police officers stopped by after I woke up. They asked me what happened. I told them. I asked them what happened. “It’s under investigation.” That’s all they said.

The nurses explained. No one got charged with anything. Except the first guy with a gun. He was dead, of course, but they’d charged him with instigating a riot. Everything that happened after he started firing was normal self-defense. No one got charged with anything. Even the guy that shot me in the back. “No hard feelings,” the nurses said, “He was only defending himself, standing his ground. It was just bad luck.”

Bad luck. He shot me in the back. I wasn’t looking at him. He drew his gun, and shot me. Crippled me. And he didn’t do anything wrong in the eyes of the law. Stand Your Ground, they call it. Defend yourself, and the people around you. Good, sensible law, ain’t it?

Did I mention I can’t wiggle my toes? I wonder sometimes. Do they itch?

The truth? Everyone went nuts. Everyone went crazy. And just started shooting. And they didn’t stop until they ran out of bullets. Yes, we defended ourselves. And we shot a lot of people defending ourselves. Most of them weren’t the bad guys. Most of them didn’t deserve to get shot.

I sure as hell didn’t.

Did I mention I can’t wiggle my toes? Hell, I can’t even reach the bottoms of my feet. For all I know, the nurses could have painted the blue.

56 dead. 109 wounded.

But we protected our right to free speech. And our right to bear arms. We defended ourselves. Yeah. We sure did that.

I wonder. If my toes itch, but I can’t feel them, do they still need to be scratched?

#FTT 23 : This, To Me, Represents Love

“This, to me, represents love.” I held up a dozen cut roses. They had been Valerie’s favorite kind. Yellow in the middle, with red along the edges. I will never forget the day she left. She didn’t say where she was going. She just left a note, explaining she was leaving to find herself.

“Roses?” Helen laughed. “The ancient symbol of love, and beauty.” She looked at the roses. “And they are beautiful.”

Helen was a good friend. I sometimes dreamed of falling for her. But it was always just a dream. I knew it couldn’t happen. She was my friend. And love? Well. All I had to do was remember Valerie.

And remembering Valerie always caused me to hear Dan McCafferty’s voice, screaming in my mind.

“Love hurts,
Love scars,
Love wounds,
And mars,
Any heart
Not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain,
Take a lot of pain.”

I knew I’d never fall in love again. I knew I’d never survive that kind of pain again. I could still see holes in my heart where pieces had been. Pieces gone since Valerie left.

“You think they’re beautiful?” I had to ask.

“Yes,” she smiled, and grabbed my hand, slipping her fingers between mine. “But, fleeting.”

“How so?”

“They’re cut. They’re pretty enough now. But in a few days, they’re whither. Their petals will turn brown, and black, and fall off. And they’ll become slimy where they’re in the water in the vase.” She squeezed my hand. It felt good. I squeezed back, enjoying the simple physical contact. Just being able to touch her. Feel her hand in mine. I always found my smile when we held hands.

“Yep. Just like love.”

She frowned, but didn’t let go of my hand. “I know. You’re still wounded from her.”

I had to stare at the roses. I couldn’t look at Helen. Not right then. I couldn’t let her see the parts of me missing. I couldn’t.

I was too afraid. Afraid of what she’d see. Afraid of what I’d feel. Afraid of how I felt about her. Afraid of so many things.

“It’s OK. The roses always grow back.” She smiled again. “Every year, they bloom again.” She put her hand under my chin, and gently lifted it up, looking into my eyes. “Just like love blooms again.”

I handed her the roses. “For you.” I whispered those words.

She squeezed my hand again. “I love them.” She smiled. “And I’m not going anywhere.” She kept looking into my eyes. “I’ve got plenty of time. I intend to wait for spring, when love blooms again.” She let me look away, but kept holding my hand.

“I’ll wait for the roses to bloom again.”

456 words
@LurchMunster


I wrote this for Week 23 of Alissa Leonard‘s Finish That Thought. Please, go read all the creatively shared stories in this week’s challenge.

The In Between

How do I resurrect the dead?
How do I bring something
Back to life?
How do I recover something
That’s just gone?

I used to know at least a little bit
Of who I was.
But who I was
Is gone.
Destroyed.

I know who I was
Was anything but perfect.
A person made
Of shattered glass.
Some pieces gone.
Some edges sharp.
Coated in the blood of those
That tried to befriend me.

But I knew.
I knew.
Who I was.
What I did.
How to be.
Every day.

Now.
I don’t know anything.
Anything at all.
I don’t know who I am.
I don’t know what I want.
I don’t know what I feel.
Or even what I dream.

I only know
That I can’t raise
The dead.
That what I was
Is gone.
Never to return.

And I haven’t figured out
What to put in place
Of what used to be.
Oh,
I have some ideas.
Sometimes I think they’re more
Like pipe dreams,
Than ideas.

I keep reminding myself
That no one knows
How long it takes a heart and soul
To heal.

We can guess how long
It takes a broken bone
To mend.
How long it takes
For torn, abraded, lacerated skin
To grow again.

These are physical things.
With rules,
And ways
We can predict.

But how long does it take
For a broken heart
Or a wounded soul
To build the will
To try again?

I keep telling myself
I’m in transition.
Moving from what was
To what will be.

Searching for a life
To replace
The one I lost.

I keep trying to believe
It’s all OK.
That this is how
Things are supposed to be
As I walk away
From the world I knew.
Into a new world.
I have never seen.

Into the unknown.
Into the new.

How long does it take
To stop the flow of blood
From a broken heart,
And make it whole again?

How long does it take
To heal the broken bones
Of a wounded soul,
So it can walk once more?

I don’t know.
Do you?

I only know
This is where I am.
In this in between.
This big unknown.

Using everything I’ve ever learned,
Everything I know,
To find my way to life
Again.

I’m going to take a walk now.
Even if it rains.
Because it’s part
Of who I am.
Of what I do.
Because it helps me
Feel alive
Again.