Friday, September 24, 2010

"Sealed With a Twist"

This is an homage to one of my favorite short stories by Edgar Allen Poe: "The Cask of Amontillado."


The prank wars between rival fraternities on college campuses are well documented, but Frank Fortune had gone too far. I freely admit the video he shot of me in a "compromising situation" with the dean's daughter was a masterstroke, but the way he went about disseminating the thing was above and beyond the gentleman's agreement that generally held sway when it came to such things. The repercussions of the video's viral release were more than I could bear.

I gave him no reason to think a reprisal would be coming. In fact, I made sure to keep my interactions with him on a decidedly positive level. I gave him every impression there were no hard feelings. My smile, which he took to mean we were still on good terms, was in reality the result of my plan for revenge.

Fortune had a hobby. He viewed himself a brewer of sorts, and at the weekly parties our quad of frat houses rotated in throwing he never failed to produce a batch of his most recent swill.

So it was that I found him that night finishing off a large mug off some slop he called "wine." He threw an arm around my neck, confident in our continuing good relations. He was obviously wasted. His breath reeked of licorice and alcohol, and he was decidedly tipsy.

"Monte," he said, slurring the words, "How you doing, man? The dean let you out for the night?"

"The dean and I are okay," I lied. "As long as I keep clean we're cool."


"Speaking of awesome, I need your advice," I said. "My roommate and I have been trying our hand out at brewing. Since you're the local expert on the subject I thought I'd ask for your opinion on our first brew."

"Nats, bro. I'll give it a go. Hand it over."

"Ah, that's the thing. If word got back to the dean I had any alcohol I'd be screwed. Would you mind coming back to the SAE house to try it out?"

He eyed the impromptu stage across the room where a number of the Phi Kappa Psi guys were setting up for the traditional white t-shirt contest.

"I'll miss the show."

"S'ok," I said, "I can always ask Lucas. He claims he's better at brewing than you anyway."

I hadn't taken more than a step before Fortune's arm caught mine in a weak fingered grip. "No way. No way Lucas is a better brewer than me. You take his advise you'll ruin the batch for sure."

"But I don't want you to miss the show."

"I'll come," he said, swaying slightly. "We hurry, we can be back before it starts."

I nodded.


Five minutes later we were in my house heading down the stairs to the sub basement.

"You keep your stuff way down here?" Fortune asked. He was leaning heavily on me as we descended the stairs. I didn't think he would fall, but I wasn't taking chances.

"With the risk the dean may search my room at any time? Damn right."

I led him down the old hallway. The SAE house had been built in the early 1900s. It had been heavily modified during the prohibition era to include several hidden areas for the smuggling of booze. When SAE had purchased the house the first chapter members had discovered the areas. Many had fallen into disrepair and were no longer safe, though some were still used for various purposes.

We entered a room at the far end of the hall. It was scattered about with building materials. Drywall and two-by-fours were stacked in one corner with an assortment of tools lying here and there around the floor.

"What's all this?" Fortune asked.

"We're making this into a new rec room. In the meantime, I make use of this." I led him to the far side of the room where a drywall frame had been erected to cover over an old brick wall. A piece of sheet rock leaned against the frame. I moved aside the sheet rock to reveal an old door, barred with a wooden crossbeam and locked with a padlock. I took a key from my pocket and unlocked the lock. I then removed the wooden beam and pulled the door open. I procured a flashlight from the floor and shined the beam into the open doorway. A small passage made entirely of brick led away from the old door, ending in a jumble of fallen bricks and earth approximately ten feet in. On the floor near the back of the passage sat a small wooden barrel. I pointed at it.

"Good hiding spot, right? No one would ever think to look here."

Fortune burped. "Right about that."

I handed him his mug. "Go try it out."

He swayed a bit unsteadily. "In there?"

"If you don't want to that's fine. I'll ask Lucas."

I turned to leave. Fortune grabbed the flashlight from my hand.

"No, I'll do it." He made his way to the barrel, the light from the flashlight moving erratically as he stumbled forward.

When he reached the barrel I shut the door.

"Hey," he called out. "What're you doing?" His voice was so muffled it was hard to make out. I dropped the crossbar in place and attached the padlock. A moment later he pounded on the door. "What's going on?"

"A little pay back," I replied.

"Good one, Monte." He sounded much more sober now. "Good one. Where's the camera?"

"No camera, Fortune. It irks me that no one will see your humiliation, but I'll learn to live with it. You won't have to suffer long. I estimate you have four hours of air, and then you won't be worrying about anything."

I set the piece of sheet rock in its place on the frame. It covered the door perfectly. A few nails later and the door was completely hidden.

He pounded harder on the door. "Someone will find me. You'll never get away with this."

"My dear Fortune," I replied. "Everyone is at the Phi Kappa Psi party. No one will be down here until morning at the earliest. By then it will be too late."

There was silence for a good long moment.

"He-heh-he-heh-heh-heh. Ha ha ha ha ha!"

Was that laughing? "Something funny, Fortune?" I called. There was no response.


No answer still.

Smiling, I replaced my tools and left the room.


It was forty minutes later at the Phi Kappa Psi house I was approached by a man in a police uniform.

"Are you Monte Tresor?"

"Yes, officer. Is there a problem."

He took me by the shoulders, spun me about and proceeded to handcuff me.

"Mr. Tresor, you are under arrest for kidnapping and attempted murder."

"What? How? I…." It was at that moment the crowd parted and I saw Fortune standing next to another uniformed officer. The baffled look on my face must have spoken to him. In answer, he pulled a cell phone from his pocket and waved it in the air.

Friday, September 10, 2010

In the Barn

Dr. Carter Dietz swore as he slammed the phone down on the cradle. He wanted to scream. He hated dealing with the self-serving bureaucrats who ran the university's grants and contracts department. How was he supposed to finish his research on time if they refused to release the project funds to purchase the needed equipment? What did it matter if the request fell outside of their definition of capital expenditures? Wasn't the money was his to spend as long as it went toward the project? Apparently not. And they had the audacity to leave him a voicemail rather than talk to him in person when he had been calling their office repeatedly or over a week. Did they just conveniently forget his cell number?

He swore again, mentally chiding himself for losing his temper. He would be fifty in a week. His heart wasn't as strong as it should have been and his blood pressure was sure to be elevated. If he didn't want a heart attack he better calm down.

Carter took a moment to compose himself, using the breathing techniques he had learned during his last trip to the health clinic. They seemed to help.

His heart rate was just about back to normal when the phone rang. Oh no, not those idiots from GAC again. The tension in his shoulders immediately returned. He checked the caller ID. The number surprised him. It was his neighbor.

"Carter Dietz," he said as he picked up the receiver.

"Dr. Dietz? Hello, this is Mabel Jones."

"Hello, Mrs. Jones. What can I do for you?"

"Well, I know it's not my business, but that old barn on the west side of your property, the one that butts up against mine? Something strange is going on out there."

"What do you mean?"

"I heard some loud noises about ten, fifteen minutes ago. Figured it was just your boy and some friends. But when the eerie lights started coming through the cracks in the siding I got scared. I called your house, but no one answered. Thought about calling the sheriff, but if it is your boy I didn't want to get him into trouble with the law. Bryce has been a good boy to me. But I thought you should know, strange things are happening."

Carter sighed. Mrs. Jones was a good neighbor. She was always looking out for things. It probably was Bryce messing around with his friends. He'd have to go take a look, just to ease her mind. He glanced at his watch. He was shocked. Was it 8:30 already?

"I'll check it out Mrs. Jones. Thanks for calling me."

Carter tried Bryce's cell, but there was no answer, and Lily didn't pick up at the house. That was odd. Bryce wouldn't have answered if he was messing around doing something he shouldn't, but Lily should have been home at this hour.

Well, nothing for it. It was time to head home anyway. Carter grabbed his briefcase and headed out the door.


Thirty minutes later he was pulling onto the drive that lead back to the house. They had purchased the old farmstead five years ago when Carter took the job with the University of Kansas. The house itself was in good shape, a classic 1950's style farmhouse with front porch, three stories and all the country charm you would expect from homes of that era. The rest of the buildings on the property hadn't managed the time so well. The garage was functional, as was the barn that sat opposite the house across the drive. The family used those buildings regularly, and Carter had even gone through the effort to repaint them.

The old barn was the exception. The old barn had been built before the other buildings, a casualty of the redistribution of properties that had occurred in this area in the mid-fifties. It had originally belonged to the farm that occupied the place where Mrs. Jones now lived. When that farm had been split into pieces and sold, the barn ended up as part of this property, but too far from the house to be worth maintaining. It had fallen into disrepair and was now considered generally unsafe. Carter had agreed to let Bryce attempt a restoration, but it was slow going. The electricity was working now, and Bryce had shored up some minor structural issues, but until the local building inspector declared the space safe for occupancy, Carter had forbid Bryce from allowing anyone else into the building.

Carter exited the car and looked around. The lights in the house and the new barn were out and there were no other cars present. How very strange. He checked his watch. It was just past 9:00. Where could they be?

A noise off to the west drew his attention. Was that a door slamming? The only thing off that direction was the old barn. As he looked that direction a flicker of light played out above the tops of the trees that obscured his view of that corner of the property.

Mrs. Jones' words came back to him. Loud noises and eerie lights coming from the old barn. Could Bryce and his friends really be doing something out there? It was the answer that fit the evidence. Carter found his temper rising. If that boy had friends in that place there would be hell to pay, especially if they were doing what so many teenagers liked to do on Friday nights in this rural community.

Carter grabbed a flashlight from the garage and trekked out to the old barn.


Carter emerged from the stand of trees and stopped to observe. The old barn stood about fifty yards ahead of him. He had heard several sounds of a door slamming and seen several more flashes of light during his approach. Now that he could see the structure it was evident there were lights inside. He could see the same flashes through the cracks in the siding that Mrs. Jones had described. He cast his eyes a bit further down the way where he could see Mrs. Jones house. It was some distance away. The woman may be older than dirt, but she had excellent instincts. Something was definitely going on here. He was going to get to the bottom of it.

Halfway to the barn a movement in the shadows to the right of the door caught his eye. "Who is that?" he called out. He hadn't meant to sound so angry, but there was no mistaking his tone. The figure froze, and then the lights in the barn went out.

Carter trained the flashlight beam at the spot where the movement had been.

"Bryce, if that's you I'm going to...."

His voice petered out as the flashlight beam revealed the figure. He almost didn't see him, dressed in black as he was, a hood pulled over his face. It was the reflection of the light off the scythe that gave him away. Slowly the hooded head turned his direction. The eyes glowed red.

He dropped the flashlight. He didn't mean to, his fingers just lost their grip.

It was Death.

No wait, that was ridiculous. Death? He scooped up the flashlight and aimed it back at the same place. There was no one there.

Of course there was no one there. Death? His eyes had been playing tricks on him. He moved the beam to the barn door. It was closed, but the padlock was missing. A ha! Bryce and his friends must be inside. Who else would have the key?

Carter strode briskly to the barn. "Bryce, that's enough. Quit fooling around with me, son. You and your friends need to come out here now." He reached out a hand and threw open the door.

"Carter Dietz....." The voice floated out of the barn, deep and resonant. He could feel it through his shoes. He froze.

"Carter Dietz, your doom awaits...." A figure snapped into view in the barn. He could only see it in silhouette as bright lights lit it from the back, but the red eyes were unmistakable. Death. His anger drained from him, replaced by pure terror.

"Carter Dietz, your destiny is before you. You're...getting old."

Carter cowered before the figure as it approached. Wait, old?

The main lights for the barn suddenly came back on. "Surprise," yelled an army of voices, "Happy Birthday!"

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. Across the hayloft a large black sign had been strung with white lettering. It read, "Happy 50th Birthday." Tables and chairs had been set up in artful configurations. Black balloons and streamers were everywhere. A crowd of his family and friends filled the room, but Carter's eyes were on Death. The figure pulled back its hood and pulled off the mask with the glowing eyes.


"Hey, Dad," Bryce said as he sauntered up. "I got you good, didn't I."

"Bryce, no one is supposed to be in here." It was the wrong thing to say, he knew, but it was the only thing that would come out. A surprise party?

"I gave him permission," Lily said as she approached from the side. She kissed him on the cheek. "Happy Birthday, Carter."

Carter looked from his wife back to his son. "You organized this," he asked Bryce.

The boy nodded.

"But where are all the cars?"

Lily answered. "They parked at Mrs. Jones place and walked over. We had her call you at 8:30 after most of the guests had arrived."

Bryce grinned, uncertainty showing on his face. "So, what do you think?"

Carter looked around. Smiling faces looked back from all around.

"I think it's wonderful," he replied, "_IF_ you have cake."

Bryce pointed to the small tombstone situated on a nearby table. "It's even chocolate."

"Ah, but you always say you can't eat cake, sweetie," Lily said, a mocking smile playing about her mouth. "With your cholesterol problems it may very well kill you."

"I've already had one run in with Death tonight. Look how that turned out." Carter mussed his son's hair. "I think I'm willing to risk another."

Smiling, they moved further into the barn.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back to School

"It's been a good summer, Tim. We had a lot of fun, didn't we?"

I nodded my agreement as Keri and I went through the doors to the school.

"I'm going to miss having you with me," she continued. "Things will be different without you around."

I felt the same way about her. Life at school was one great bother, but life with Keri had been grand. I slept terribly at school, what with the poking and prodding and knocking all the time. At Keri's, I slept when I felt like it and played when I felt like it. At school, I was fed well, but I heard the same lecture hour after hour. At Keri's, I sometimes missed a meal -- twelve year old girls are so easily distracted -- but I was entertained by the most wonderful variety of music, DVDs, and television programs.

I twittered. Back to the school grind.

Mrs. Fredin looked up as we entered her classroom. "Well, Keri, welcome back! I see Tim is looking fine. How was your summer?"

"It was dicing," Keri replied with a grin. Mrs. Fredin raised an eyebrow, but I knew that 'dicing' meant 'a lot of fun.' I was happy to see I was more current on the popular slang Keri's group used than Mrs. Fredin was.

"Why don't you put Tim down in his place and you can tell me all about it."

Keri deposited me by the bookcase. I looked around. Last year's poster about the human eye had been replaced by a newer one featuring the human cardiovascular system. The tinker toy model of DNA was still in the corner, along with the plastic skeleton the kids so enjoyed. I twittered again. It did feel good to be home.

Keri's talk with Mrs. Fredin was short and she was soon on her way. As she approached the door she called out to me, "See you 'round, bird brain."

"Bird brain," I chirped back. It was our secret greeting.

Mrs. Fredin gasped. "He talked!"

"Yeah," Keri said. "I taught him."

"That's wonderful," Mrs. Fredin said. "It's always hit or miss whether parakeets will talk. Can he say anything else?"

I chirped out another phrase before Keri could respond. This time both of them were shocked. I gave my best parakeet shrug by cocking my head slightly to the side.

Hey, I only repeat what I hear. Not my fault we watched a lot of South Park.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"The Research Project"

"'This is not a good choice for a dissertation topic, Neil.' That's what my advisor told me when I presented it to him that fall afternoon those years ago. 'No one is doing this research. You'd have to build the project from the ground up. What about funding? Who in their right mind would fund such a thing? This is a mistake.'

"I refused to believe it. It was such an important question. Who wouldn't want to fund it? In this my advisor had been correct. The paucity of funding sources was frightening. I was almost finished before I began.

"I was saved by the generosity of Sir Albert William Grey. A true visionary, Sir Albert saw the value of my idea immediately. He was a kindred spirit, with ample resources to see the project through. Not only did he fund the project, he provided valuable expertise in the area of sonic resonance that I would have been unable to draw upon otherwise.

"Let me spend a moment telling you about the facility we used. Nothing in existence suited our needs. In order to reach the goal we had to completely redesign our laboratory space. We were forced to build from the ground up – or rather, from under the ground up. The subterranean vault was cavernous, more than a football field in length and width. The walls were specially designed to eliminate vibration. At the very center we located the lab itself.

"We took great pains to isolate the lab from outside influences – including electromagnetic interference. Electricity was a large no-no. Have you ever tried to minimize electromagnetic signature while operating standard laboratory equipment? It can't be done. All of our instruments were redesigned. Where power was unavoidable, everything was meticulously shielded. The internal testing room of the lab was a marvel of sound proofing technology. State of the art materials and strategies were incorporated, including several of Sir Albert's own design that are currently under patent review. You can see the configurations we used in these photos.

"The most revolutionary part of the design was the nested baffling shown here in slide five. The two panels are divided by absorption plates which channel the vibrations out via this gel filled polystyrene pipe. It's really quite ingenious, and I would be happy to entertain questions about it later in the presentation, but for now, it's time I share with you the results of our experiment.

"After five years and seventy million dollars of research, Sir Albert and I are proud to share our primary finding."

A large photo filled the screen in the auditorium. The vast majority of the picture was black, but there in the very center was a slight rosy glow.

"Ladies and gentlemen, silence is not, in fact, golden. It is pink."

Friday, April 30, 2010


This was a challenge on grace. Somehow, a submarine needed to get in there, so I added that too.


"We're saved by grace, not by works. If you just believe you're saved."

"Yeah, grace is important, but you've got to do something. Faith without works is dead."

"Do as much as you want, but if there was no grace, there would be no salvation, no matter how many 'works' you do."

I groaned. Chuck and Stu were my best friends, but their constant theological discussions really got on my nerves sometimes. The current debate had been continuing on and off for close to a week now. I didn't care who won, grace or works, as long as the conversation ENDED.

"Guys, would you just shut up? You're scaring the fish away."

The conversation stopped abruptly as they glowered at me. I didn't care. They could glower all they wanted. We'd come here to catch some fish and that's what I intended to do.I zipped my lure out into the river and reeled it in as the current carried it downstream. We'd been here for two days now and so far had caught nothing of note. The river was low this year and running fast, making the fishing more difficult. It was frustrating. Chuck and Stu arguing over religion made the frustration worse. I considered moving away from my friends, farther downstream, but that would take me into the middle of our neighbors.

The family of six had been at the campsite when we arrived. The mom and dad like to sit in their folding chairs, seeming to oversee the activities of their brood, while in reality the kids did pretty much whatever they wanted while their parents dozed. The older ones were out playing in the woods – I could hear their shouts and shrieks somewhere back behind me. The younger two, George and Sam (ages somewhere around 4 and 6 respectively), were playing at the edge of the river. The object of their play was a two foot long plastic submarine. One of them would stand upstream, holding the sub in the water. He would let it go and it would rush downstream to where the other would snatch it up and run it back up to the launching point. Then they would switch places and do it all over again. Neither one seemed to care that the toy didn't act like a real submarine. They were having a ball.

They were also making me extremely nervous. Sam was pretty adept at catching the sub, but George was more unsteady at the edge of the bank.

"Here is comes!" Sam released the sub into the quickly moving water. It hurtled downstream toward the outstretched hands of his little brother. George misjudged the sub, and it went sailing past. He grabbed at it. The move caused him to overbalance and he went tumbling into the river.

I stood frozen in shock for a fraction of a second. Thoughts ricocheted around my head in lightning succession: George was only four. While he was wearing a life jacket, the river was moving too quickly for him to be able to swim to shore. His parents were sleeping. The falls were only three hundred yards downstream.

That last thought jolted me into action. I dropped my pole and took off at a sprint. I passed Sam - who was only then registering what had happened - in a matter of seconds, and leapt over a pile of camping gear dumped unceremoniously on the ground by the older children at the conclusion of one of their games. I wasn't very graceful about it; my knee smashed into a large cooler as I landed. I managed to keep to my feet, but the cooler splashed into the water. Pain blossomed in my knee, but I did my best to ignore it. A child's life was at stake and I was the only chance he had.

I stormed ahead, doing my best to dodge around the trees and bushes that lined the bank. I was only partially successful. Tree limbs raked at my limbs and hair as I passed. Thorns and brambles ripped my clothes and tore at my skin. I was slowing down. I could see the cooler pass me out of the corner of my eye. If it was moving faster than me, then so was George.

I increased my pace, headless of the countless small injuries the surrounding woods were inflicting on me. Time lost meaning as I surged forward. How long had it been? I didn't know. My knee was burning now. I wasn't sure how much longer I could go on….

I burst from the undergrowth into a small clearing and was forced to skid to a stop as the river bent on its final approach to the falls. I could see them just up ahead now, the water smoothing as it prepared to drop the seventy five feet almost straight down. I searched frantically for George, but couldn't see him. My heart fell. I was too late. He had already gone over. It was then I heard the frantic sobbing from somewhere behind me. Could it be?

I quickly made my way back along the bank. There he was! I couldn't believe my eyes. The cooler I had knocked into the river had hung up on the branch of a tree that had fallen into the river. George had somehow managed to grasp the cooler's handle and was hanging on for dear life. I didn't stop to consider the how of the situation.

"Hold on, George. I'm coming."

I waded out into the river. Using the fallen tree as my lifeline, I managed to make it out to George before his strength gave way. The little guy refused to let go of the cooler, so I hooked my arm through his life vest, then freed the cooler and hauled both of them back to shore.

Chuck and Stu had arrived while I was making my way out to George and they helped us safely out of the river and back on dry ground. I lay there a minute, my heart pounding as I tried to catch my breath. What had just happened?

"That was amazaing," Chuck said. "Simply amazing. Dude, if you hadn't been so fast to react George would have died."

"What about the cooler?" Stu said, his voice full of wonder. "Kev knocked it over by accident and it miraculously stopped at the tree so George could grab it. God's grace at work."

There was a moment of silence as we pondered that statement.

"True," Chuck said finally," that was grace, but if Kev hadn't acted, the cooler never would have been where it was needed. That took works."

"God's grace would just have been manifested in a different way."

"George still needed to be pulled out of the river. That's works."

Were they really having this argument now? I sighed. Ignoring my two friends, I got to my feet and scooped the still traumatized George into my arms.

"Works or grace," I told him, 'You're safe. Let's get you back to your family."

I limped back along the bank. Chuck and Stu followed after.




I sighed again. It was going to be a long weekend.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Honor the Limit

This story was supposed to be about Limits, with an added twist of a word limit of 500. If I counted right it came out at 298.


Djari was surprised to see the patrol cruiser as his skiff exited the reserve. It was probably just a random patrol, nothing to worry about. Still, he was more than a little nervous as the officer flagged him down.

"May I come aboard?"

"Uh-of course."

Djari offered the officer a hand as he stepped onto his craft. "So, how can I be of service?"

"The officer did not smile. It was then that Djari saw the insignia of a game warden. He swallowed.

"Been doing some angling?" the warden asked.

"Yes, sir, an excellent..."

"May I see your license, please?"

Djari fumbled through his things and managed to produce the license. He was glad it was current.

The warden gave it the once over. "This seems in order. Any luck today?"

Djari felt his hopes rise. He shrugged, trying to be non-chalant. "A few keepers."

"I'd love to see them."


"Is this your live well?"

Djari tried to stop him, but the warden hit the button and the lid to the live well sprang open. Inside were four human bodies, each in its own compartment. The warden scowled.

Djari yelped. "I can explain."

"Citizen," the warden said, his voice harsh, "Are you aware that there is a monthly limit of two humans allowed to be taken from this planet?"

"Really? I..."

"In addition, the child there is obviously too small. It is impossible it measures 14 karnaks."

"I didn't have a measuring device."

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to confiscate your catch and release them back to the planet. You have their abduction coordinates?"

Djari sighed. "Yes."

"Good. Due to this oversight I'm going to fine you 3000 doftali and restrict your activity on Earth to Martians."

"But the Martians are so...tame."

"Be that as it may," the warden said, processing the ticket. "Maybe next time you'll honor the limit."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"The Box on the Porch"

"Hey, Eleni. What's that?" Dori pointed at the far end of the portico.

Eleni paused in her weeding of the temple's front flower bed. She put a hand across her forehead to shield her eyes from the sun. The object was tucked into a corner, hidden from the noonday sun by the portico's tiled roof, and shrouded in shadow.

"I have no idea."

"Well it wasn't there when we came out this morning." Dori got to her feet.

"Dori, don't. It isn't our place to look. We're supposed to finish weeding this bed before lunch."

"It won't take long." Dori brushed off her hands on the front of her acolyte's dress, smearing dirt and debris across the fabric. Eleni sighed. If her friend could just channel some of that endless curiosity into energy for their chores they would finish them much faster. Dori climbed the temple's steps to the portico and practically skipped to the the object's location. She bent down and tugged. A black cloth came up with her hand. Dori squealed with delight.

"Oh, Eleni, you've go to see this!"

"Dori, shhh!" Eleni hissed. She kept her voice low. "The priests will hear you. We're supposed to be working!"

"Then you best hurry, so we can get back to work before they find us. Hurry up, this is amazing."

Eleni sighed again. She knew Dori wouldn't be swayed. Her friend was even more stubborn than she was curious. The best way to get her back to working would be to follow along - as quickly as possible. She got to her feet andrushed up the stairs. Her thought was to quickly look at Dori's
find, and then dash back to the flower bed. What she saw on the porch, however, froze her in place.

It was exquisite. A box, approximately two podes to a side, made of what looked like mahogany. The wood was polished to an extraordinary sheen, such that it seemed to radiate its own light instead of reflecting what was in the environment. The sides of the box were carved with intricate designs that twisted about with loops and whorls. The pattern didn't make sense, until Eleni looked closer. That's when she realized it wasn't a single design, but several nested one inside the other. Trying to follow it with her eyes was making her dizzy. She shifted her attention to the lid.

It was no less fantastic. The entire top was inlaid with tiny squares of nacre. The color palette was an incredibly subtle variation in white, but the image was clear - a pastoral scene. As she shifted her weight to the right to get a better view, the tiled picture also changed, this time showing a grand, cloud wreathed mountain. Eleni gasped. She moved back and the picture shifted once again, back to it's original image.

"Who could have put it here?"

Dori's question brought Eleni back to herself. Before she could respond Dori continued.

"I mean, we were here all morning, right? Surely we would have seen if someone had carried something this large onto the portico. We haven't seen anyone at all."

The answer came to Eleni immediately. It escaped her lips before she could stop herself. "The gods...."

Dori's eyes grew wide. "Do you really think so? It makes, sense, I guess. This is a temple, after all."

It didn't make _any_ sense. The gods didn't just leave their things lying about for anyone to find. They would have left it _in_ the temple, where the high priest could find it. Wouldn't they? But what other explanation was there? No mere mortal could have created _that._

"Let's see what's inside!"

"No!" The very thought of touching the box filled Eleni with dread. "Dori, we have no idea what it's for. We don't ever touch the relics of the gods. Not ever! Even the priests keep their distance."

Dori paused. Eleni could see the war in her eyes, Dori's natural curiosity contending with Eleni's warning. The result was inevitable.

"I have to know what's in there."

"Dori!" Eleni lunged for her friend, but she was too late. Dori's hands closed on the lid. In an instant she had thrown it back.

A shriek, loud enough to wake the very dead pierced them. The shadows of the portico seemed to deepen, drawn to the dark interior of the box. Dread seized Eleni, grasping her about the heart with ice cold fingers.

"What have you done?" she gasped. "Oh, Pandora, what have you done?"

There was a sudden moment of stifling silence, then all Hades broke loose.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Itch

"Don't scratch it."

"But it itches sooooooo much!"

"If you scratch it you could tear your skin."

"But Mom...."

"Bobby, don't fight me on this. If you keep scratching I'll have to tie you down."

Bobby gritted his teeth and tried not to scratch. He tried so hard. He really did. But the darn itch was interminable. Bobby sat on his hands in an effort to control them. It didn't help. Somehow, they made their way back to the itch. His fingers dug frantically into his skin.

Oh, the relief, if just for a moment!

His mother caught him, of course, and she was true to her word. She laid him out on the bench and strapped his arms to his sides. Bobby cried as she did it.


She tightened the straps, immune to his imploring.

"Mom, please...."

"It's for your own good."

She gave the straps a final tug, and then walked away without another word.

Bobby choked on his tears. His body convulsed in great wracking sobs. How could she do this to him? As unpleasant as the crying episode was, it succeeded in taking his mind off the incessant itching. Eventually, though, the sobbing ceased and the itch returned in full measure.

It was insidious. Bobby imagined thousands of spiders crawling over his body, their tiny legs poking at his skin. The itch was worse. He thought about angry wasps buzzing about, landing on him and stinging with a wicked passion. The itch was worse.

Bobby struggled against his bonds. They were so tight! He pulled, pushed, and squirmed in a futile attempt to free himself. The itch mocked him all the while, relentless in its assault. Bobby screamed from the torture of it, arching his back in a violent, twisting contraction. The force of it tipped the bench, and Bobby went crashing to the floor.

The side of his head struck the unforgiving stone with a sharp crack. Bobby felt the skin on his cheek tear from the impact. He didn't care. With the tear came relief, such wonderful relief.

Bobby thrashed against his restraints. He could feel the tear widening. Yes, yes! The uneven stone bit into his hand and the skin tore there, too. More relief. Bobby practically cried for joy – until his mother came back into the room.

"Robert Phinneas Ghoul, what have you done?"

His mother's tone was so sharp it cut through the sunny fog of his relief.

"All that work and you've ruined it."

She righted the bench and drew a finger along the tear in his cheek. The skin had torn several inches. It flapped away from the rest of his face, revealing the dark gray skin of his true self beneath.

His mother frothed in irritation. She bared her considerable fangs at him.

"It took me three weeks to grow that skin. Now you've gone and ruined it before it had a chance to cure."

"But Mom, it itched so much."

"It's supposed to itch! That's how you know it's attaching correctly. Now I've got to sew it back together."

She reached behind her and came back with a very long, very sharp needle and thread.

"Bobby, you'll never be able to hide in human society unless your skin suit is properly adhered. It has to be done if you want to pass for human. Now hold still," she said as she leaned over him, gleaming needle poised above his cheek. "This may hurt a little, but it's for your own good."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Airport Challenge

A quick scene at the local airport...


"Last call for flight 536 with service to London."

The flight attendant put down the microphone. He took a last look around the gate in preparation for closing the door.

"Wait, wait – hold the door!"

The shout came from a young couple, racing hand in hand for the gate. The girl wore a sun dress, white cotton with a flowered print. Her hair was down, looking slightly tousled. The boy with her wore khaki pants, topped by an inexpensive golf shirt. They arrived at the gate slightly out of breath. The woman had a hand bag, the strap thrown over her head so it rested across her chest, but that was the only baggage either of them had. Neither of them could have been older than 20.

"You're lucky," the flight attendant said, "I was just about to close the door. May I have your boarding pass?"

The young woman looked at him, a pleading expression on her face. "Can we have just a moment? Please – I may never see him again."

Maybe it was the look in her eyes, or perhaps the imploring tone of her dainty British accent, but the flight attendant acquiesced.

"One minute."

The girl nodded in thanks, then turned to the young man. He took her by the hands. They stared at each other, seeming to drink each other in.

"Are you sure you have to go, Priscilla?"

"You know I do, Clark. Mother is very sick. There is no one else to care for her."

There was a moment of poignant silence. When the man finally spoke, his voice was on the edge of breaking.

"I don't know that I can go on without you."

The girl's eyes rimmed with tears.

"Oh, Clark. My heart breaks leaving you like this. I wish circumstances were different. I wish I could stay here in the warm safety of your arms. I wish I could promise to return. But…"

Clark placed a finger on her lips. The action broke the dam of her emotions and the tears fell freely.

"I understand, darling. You choose the better part. Just, please, never forget me."

"Oh, Clark - never. Never!"

He kissed her then, gently at first, then more passionately until flight attendant felt embarrassed watching them. He cleared his throat. They seemed to come back then, from the private place they had been. Both looked slightly out of sorts.

"Well, then," Clark said.

"Well, then," Priscilla said in response. "I guess this is goodbye."

An announcement came over the loudspeaker, then, interrupting them.

"Last call for flight 1134 to Rome, now boarding at gate B17."

Priscilla blinked. She turned to the flight attendant.

"Where is this flight's destination? " she asked.

"London," the attendant replied. The couple exchanged glances.

"Wrong flight," they said together. Their faces suddenly lit up in impish grins.

"Luciana," the man said. "We must away to gate B17. You'll miss your plane."

"Yes, Antonio," the girl replied, her British accent gone, replaced by something unmistakably Italian. She winked at the flight attendant. "My poor father is sure to perish without me."

The two took each other by the hand and raced off down the concourse. The flight attendant stood there for a moment, mouth open in disbelief. He considered, just for a moment, calling security. Then he shook his head. Young love…. He closed the door to the gangway, bolted the lock, and returned to the gate counter, his lips upturned in his own impish grin.