Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Best Halloween Ever"

I usually hate Halloween.

Don't get me wrong. I like the costumes, I like the candy, I like the generally spooky atmosphere. It's my parents who have soured me on the holiday. See, Mom and Dad think when you reach a certain age (twelve years) you are too old to trick or treat. Instead of being allowed hit the streets in the hunt for candy I was relegated to standing at the door and filling the sacks of my friends. It was more than a little humiliating.

This year I had high hopes things would be different. This year my parents had consented to allow me to attend a party on Halloween night. I would finally be out from under their noses. Trick or treating, here I come.

Didn't work out that way. Somewhere between twelve and sixteen while I was stuck catering to the lucky candy seekers, my friends had moved past trick or treating and discovered the "joys" of binge drinking. I had expected a fun evening of goofing around in costumes while filling my pillowcase; instead I ended up the babysitter to a bunch of sloshed idiots. Don't get me wrong. The ninnies are still my friends, but they know I don't drink and inviting me to a party where the sole purpose is to consume - just so I can be the official "cop watcher" - was cold. No one even brought candy.

It was a sucky night - and not of the vampiric nature.

When Jackson puked all over my Zorro cape I knew it was time to go. I left the party on foot. (You think my parents would let me drive on Halloween? Visions of me running down cute little ghosts and goblins were more than they could handle.) It was only a couple of blocks to my house - another reason my parents had been willing to let me attend) - so I didn't have long before I got home and had to explain to my parents why I smelled like vomit and where all my trick or treating candy had disappeared to.

I decided to cut through the neighboring cul-de-sac rather than take the main streets. The cops were out in droves tonight, and while curfew wouldn't official start for twenty more minutes, I didn't want to have to explain to them why my cape smelled like vomit either if one of them stopped to "chat."

Lightning flashed across the sky. It seemed the air wasn't just heavy as a result of my mood. Rain was coming. Wouldn't that just be the perfect end to my night, getting soaked on the way home? Why not strike me with lightning, too?

Another lightning bolt flashed. The accompanying thunderclap was loud. It echoed through the cul-de-sac. I quickened my pace. It wasn't that the threat of rain and lightning scared me...okay it was. I was miserable and home was just a block and a half away.

I ran across the street toward the house at the end of the cul-de-sac. I often cut through Mr. Cotter's lawn on my way home from Jackson's. It saved me a good five minutes of travel time which was especially useful when I was late. Mr. Cotter sometimes yelled at me as I passed, but he was an older guy who lived alone and couldn't have chased me if he wanted to. It was a small price to pay to avoid a lecture at home.

Another lightning flash/thunder clap heralded the opening of the heavens. It was an instantaneous downpour. One moment there was nothing, the next the rain was falling so heavily I had a hard time seeing where I was going. The rain was cold and the drops were large. Their impact began to sting. No way....

My fears were realized as small white pellets began to collect on the pavement. Hail. There was no way I was running home in this.

I made a beeline up Mr. Cotter's driveway and onto his porch. The overhang wasn't large, but it did provide some shelter from the hail, which was rapidly increasing in size. A jack-o-lantern sitting on the edge of the porch was getting pummeled. I would share its fate if the wind shifted.

I made a quick decision. Mr. Cotter may not like me much, but I would rather share an uncomfortable moment in his foyer than spend any more time out in this. I had raised a hand to knock when I noticed the door was already open.

"Mr. Cotter?" There was no answer. Hailstones the size of golf balls were careening off the concrete into my legs. I had no time to wait for a response.

"Mr. Cotter, I'm coming in."

I stepped into the foyer of Mr. Cotter's home and promptly forgot about the hailstorm. Mr. Cotter was sprawled out on the floor. He looked unconscious. A large plastic bowl lay nearby, candy scattered across the tile.

"Mr. Cotter!"

I squatted next to him and shook his shoulder. There was no response. For a moment I panicked. Then training from four years in boy scouts popped into my mind. I checked to see if he was breathing. He wasn't, and there was no pulse. I immediately started CPR. One, two, three, four five...the cadence of the chest compressions filled my mind. How many was I supposed to do? I hit thirty and then gave him a quick two breaths. Again. One, two, three, four, five....

I don't know how long I worked, but my arms began to ache from the strain. Come on, where was the pulse? I ended another set of compressions and breaths then checked again. To my very great relief I felt a pulse. It was weak, but it was there! And he had started breathing again.

I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and dialed 911. The operator answered quickly. I told her what had happened. When she asked for the address I paused. Address?

My eyes fell on an open tube of pills not far from one of Mr. Cotter's outstretched hands. I snatched it off the floor and read the address to woman on the phone. She said an ambulance would be there momentarily and to stay on the phone to monitor his progress. As I waited for the ambulance I read the information on the pill bottle. Nitroglycerin tablets. I had heard about those. Weren't they used to help prevent heart attacks?

The ambulance arrived moments later and took over. They took the pill bottle and confirmed my suspicion. It looked like a heart attack. I had most likely saved Mr. Cotter's life.

As I walked home a little later, the hailstorm now past, I reflected on the evening. How differently Halloween had turned out than expected. Gone was the displeasure over a lousy party. Gone was the disappointment of the lack of trick or treating. How trivial that all seemed now.

I walked into my house a few moments later. Mom met me at the door.

"Oh, thank goodness. I was worried you'd been caught in the hailstorm."

"I was, but I'm fine, Mom."

She didn't look convinced, when but a quick visual check showed no evidence of swelling or bruises she relaxed.

"How was the party."

"The party stunk."

"Really? That's too bad. I know how much you were looking forward to it. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I think I can honestly say this has been the best Halloween ever."

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Demolition Without Borders"

This is from a challenge to write a story about a worker with the Demolition Without Borders" company who is called in to demolish a structure somewhere (my choice) in the world. A strange wooden box is discovered and a necklace with a charm is found inside. Something happens when the necklace is put on.... This one is a little dark. (Hmm...lots of dark things lately. Time to write about something happy!)

Two things are certain, I thought as I finished up some paperwork before hitting the mess hall, I'm cold, and I'm hungry. I rubbed my gloved hands together in an attempt to restore circulation. More cold than hungry.

My job with Demolishers Without Borders had taken me to many strange locals over the years, but never one so cold. The Quebecois had two words they used for cold: froid and frait. Froid was your common variety cold - minus 20 degrees below zero, give or take a few degrees. (Centigrade or Farenheit, take your pick. At those temps it didn't really matter which.) Frait was a step beyond. This was Frait, with a capital "F."

The trailer where we had located the office cut the chill a bit, but only so much as it slowed the icy winds that relentlessly battered the settlement. We had brought a couple of generators with us, but we had severely underestimated the effect of the temperature. Both generators were working overtime to heat the habitat tents, leaving the office at the mercy of the elements.

As I rubbed my hands I reflected again on the reason we were out here. It was unusual to find a settlement like this so far north in the province. The logging company employing us said the small community used to belong to an Algonquin tribe, but had been deserted for many years. They wanted to construct a new base camp at the site, but the prefab structures the company preferred wouldn't fit unless the old dwellings came down first. The buildings were little more than shacks, so the company could have done the removal themselves, but this was the off season and a great majority of their workforce was gone until spring. The company never did say why the settlement was deserted, but since an official records search had declared the land as belonging to the company (never say DWB didn't do due diligence) we took the job.

Feeling temporarily restored to my fingers, I tried to finish up my paperwork only to discover that the ink in my pen had frozen. Of all the.... I unzipped the front of my Carhartt jacket and shoved the pen into the pocket of my shirt. I few minutes in there ought to warm it up just fine. Then a few signatures and I could move over to the habitat tents for some food and some much needed warmth.

While I waited, my eyes fell on the small wooden box one of my workers had pulled from one of the buildings earlier in the day. He had been unable to open it and so turned it in to me. It was rather crudely carved with figures obviously meant to invoke fear. I vaguely remembered the Algonquin tribes believing in demons and evil spirits, so it was easy to image the box once belonging to a tribal medicine man. My interest piqued, I studied the box until I found the cleverly hidden catch. I had to take off my glove to open it, anxious to discover what kind of ancient Algonquin talisman it might contain. I slipped the catch, and the box popped open.

I wasn't disappointed. Inside I found a dried, shriveled piece of *something* attached to a small chain that had the appearance of gold. I held the necklace up by the chain. Closer inspection revealed the dessicated flesh to be a finger, though this finger was much too hairy to belong to a human. Maybe a monkey? Though where a tribal shaman would have found a monkey in northern Quebec I had no idea. The thing was truly ugly, but I couldn't resist the urge to slip the chain over my head.

My stomach turned as the finger settled on my chest. Suddenly this didn't seem like such a good idea. I removed the necklace and set it back in the box. The task was made more difficult by the fact that my fingers were beginning hurt from the cold. I closed the box as quickly as I could and shoved my hand back in my glove. The demons on the box seemed to stare at me. They seemed infinitely more menacing than before. I opened a drawer and tossed the box inside. Better if I didn't have to look at it.

My stomach chose that moment to rumble. Man was I hungry.

The door to the trailer opened and Fred leapt inside. A frigid wind followed him in tearing at his face. It was hungry, too.

Fred slammed the door shut, trapping the wind outside. "Man, that wind is vicious! You almost done in here, boss? Weather report says another storm is coming through. Best to be in the habitat before it arrives."

"Yes," I replied, my gut rumbling again. "That would be best."

Fred must have heard my stomach. "You hungry? Supper's on."

I was hungry. Very hungry. My hand acted of its own accord, grasping the letter opener on the desk and plunging it into Fred's neck. Fred's blood steamed as it hit the air. I was so hungry. And Fred was so warm.

Moments later I exited the trailer. My jacket didn’t fit so well any more. It was much looser through the chest, but the arms seemed to have shrunk, coming only to my elbows. My flesh was turning gray, though I doubted it was from the cold. I was much warmer now - Fred had seen to that - but his marvelous flesh had done little to satiate my ever growing appetite. I was so hungry.

The biting wind did little to hinder me as I walked to the habitat. Fred had said supper was on. They were waiting inside. Waiting to feed me.

I entered the habitat.

The wind laughed as it welcomed me home.