I waved them out the door. “We’ll be fine. I promise.”
Nothing to worry about, I thought.
Arthur pulled Genevieve toward the window.
“Come, I’ve been working on this for weeks. Got the thing off Ebay and fixed it up… for you.”
She peeked out the shop window. There, on the sidewalk of all places, sat a tiny car, not much bigger than a child’s ride-on toy, brilliantly painted in a rainbow of swirls. Was that a garden on the roof? Her jaw dropped open.
“You like it?” He was practically jumping up and down.
“Aw, Arthur, I don’t know what to say.”
“Come, let’s go for a ride,” he said, grabbing her hand.
She looked at the car in all of its hideous glory, then at Arthur, smiling broadly, his blue eyes twinkling. Oh, the things you do for love!
“Let’s go,” she said, hoping none of the neighbors were watching.
“1182015 … 1182015 … ”
He repeated the number, over and over in a monotone voice. She looked curiously over at her son, who was constructing an elaborate tower of Legos.
“1182015 … ”
“Honey, what are you doing?” she asked him, walking over to his spot on the living room floor. She knelt down beside him and bent to look at his face, hoping for eye contact.
“1182015 … ” he repeated, ignoring her.
She sighed and waited. Sometimes she had to wait a while.
“1182015 … ” He hesitated before placing the red block on top of the yellow, then stopped to consider his tower.
She watched him, content in his own world, movies and television shows swirling around in his brain, often coming out in streams of dialogue. Sometimes she could remember where they came from, and she would be rewarded with eye contact and a sudden grin, but it was always so fleeting. In the next moment, he would be back in his own head.
She thought about the time he kept talking about the missing engine.
“The engine is missing,” he had said, “We have to find her.” He had then paused and stared off into space with a concerned look painted on his face before repeating the whole process like one of those memes her nephew had shown her or a recording on a loop, over and over.
“Is something missing?” she had asked him, trying desperately to connect. “Maybe we could make posters.”
He had turned to her with a moment of lucidity. “Make posters,” he had said, brightening. “Yes! Make posters!”
He had then gone on a jag of drawing wild west wanted posters with the face of an engine from the kids’ show Thomas the Tank Engine. They still hung all over the house. She thought there might be a few in his special needs classroom at school as well. For all she knew, in his mind the engine had been found. The poster making sessions had dwindled, then ceased.
“1182015 … ”
Then there were times like now where he would just repeat random numbers. At those times she was at a complete loss.
“What do the numbers mean?” she asked him, patiently. She didn’t expect an answer.
“1182015 … 1182015 … ” He stared at his tower.
She absentmindedly picked up Legos and began to connect them. “1182015,” she said quietly.
He looked at her hands, then back at his tower. He reached for her Legos. She opened her hand as he took the stack, removed the white one from the top and replaced it with yellow, then added it to his tower. For a moment their eyes met, then he turned back to the Legos.
“We’ve got to save the princess from the tower,” he started in his singsong voice.
She smiled, relishing the small moment of connection.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Days are Numbered.” What’s the date today? Write it down, remove all dashes and slashes, and write a post that mentions that number.
“Get the damn door!”
I slid the tray in the oven, then trudged through the house, wiping my hands on my apron. Why he felt the need to yell, I couldn’t fathom.
“Coming!” I called, as I made my way down the stairs. I quickly threw my apron off to one side and quickly smoothed my clothes. I smiled as I opened the door.
My smile evaporated as soon as I saw the two uniformed men standing there. The world suddenly opened up beneath me and I sunk to my knees. No… Not Thomas.
“Ma’m,” one of the officers began, “may we come in?”
The words slowly sunk through the quicksand that was quickly filling my head. Come in… come in… They want to come in. Stand up.
“Stand up, Leslie. What are you doing?”
The voice came from the top of the stairs. He’d finally figured out how to get out of that recliner then. I looked up at him, the bastard. His voice droned, reverberating in my head as he repeated himself, “Stand up. Let these men come in.”
I looked up at the men from my place on the landing. They were looking away, giving me my space, allowing me my shock and grief. They started swimming in my view, images puddling. I sank my head into my hands as sobs wracked my body. I just wanted to lie down and let the earth swallow me whole.
I felt a firm but gentle grip on my arm. He was trying to pull me up with one hand and widen the door with the other.
“Leslie, pull yourself together,” he hissed. “You can fall apart later.” Then he turned to the men and offered his hand. “Please come in,” he said.
I stood as the men entered, looking down, my face already a puffy and tear-stained testament to the news that was coming.
“Ma’m, sir,” the officer began, “we regret to inform you that your son died early this morning when his convoy hit a roadside bomb.”
The bastard’s voice was quiet. “I thought he was safe. His unit was merely tech support for the troops.”
Safe. I had tried to keep him safe.
All the happiness I had ever felt drained out of me. I remembered that downy newborn head, the sweet smell of baby skin. He had been a big baby, nearly ten pounds. He had grown into a quiet, sensitive boy, preferring to lock himself in his room with his online gamer friends rather than deal with his often drunk father.
The men were talking about arrangements. I nodded without comprehending, unable to breathe, drowning in the air, suffocating. I saw his sweet smile as he brought me flowers from the field out back. I pictured him ruffling Bear’s scruffy fur. I thought about the time he had eaten the cookies I had made for my meeting. He had just shrugged and grinned sheepishly, pleading hunger. He was always hungry.
Memories flowed from an uncorked well – walks and talks, watching movies on the couch, driving lessons, prom, his recent graduation.
I looked at the bastard, now nodding and shaking hands with the men. Where had he been during all those moments? Working. At the bar. In front of his laptop. As he saw the men out the door, I turned and headed for the bedroom. I pulled the suitcase out from under the bed. The acrid scent of burning food wafted through the air as I plucked clothes from drawers.
He spoke from the doorway. “I didn’t ever think…”
The tears resurfaced. I packed with a renewed frenzy, avoiding his eyes. He walked toward me, trying to catch me in an embrace, but I turned on him, a snake coiled, ready to strike.
“You did this,” I said, seething. “You could never accept him the way he was. You always wanted him to man up, to be more like you. You did this.”
His eyes narrowed.
“You could have given him more time to get things together. It’s tough out there these days. But no, you had to draw a hard line – move out or join the service.”
He stared, silent.
“Aren’t you proud of our son?” he asked, finally.
“He was just eighteen,” I said, pushing past him.
I dialed a taxi as I walked out the front door, feeling the weight of a lifetime of compromise and acquiescence pressing down on my shoulders.
Old Bob peeled himself from his recliner. Cable news droned in the background as he shuffled to the door. He peered out the side window, opening the curtain just enough for him to see out, but not enough for those outside to notice. There were three costumed children at his door – a superhero with his cape dangling dangerously close to the lit jack-o-lantern, some kind of homemade wild animal, and a very short grim reaper with a realistic looking scythe. He looked in his bowl–only two pieces of candy left. He grimaced and grabbed and apple from the table, then opened the door.
“Trick or treat,” the children sang out.
Old Bob looked them over, then gave candy to the superhero and the animal, then dropped the apple into the bag of the grim reaper. Fascinating costume, he thought of the grim reaper as he turned back to the news. That one deserves some kind of award.
Just as he had settled in to his recliner, the door sounded again. Shoot! Forgot to turn off the light. He shuffled back to the window and peeked out. There were four kids this time, and the grim reaper was back. He opened the door.
“Sorry kids, just ran out of candy,” he explained. Dismal groans ensued. He turned off the porch light as they walked away. The grim reaper stayed on the sidewalk, watching him. He scowled. Damn ungrateful kids, he thought.
He returned to his recliner. As the news droned on, he started to doze.
He awoke to a thwack! He was suddenly wide awake. Thwack! Thwack!
He pulled himself once again out of his recliner and headed toward the door. He yanked it open just as an egg went sailing past his head and landed on the wall behind him, yolk oozing down. His temper flared. “You damn kids better get out of here,” he yelled into the darkness.
Thwack! Another egg landed on the doorjamb above his hand, splattering him with eggy goo.
“That’s it,” he cried. “I’m calling the police.” Let them deal with the little hooligans.
He turned to reach for his phone, but was surprised to see the short grim reaper in his foyer. The figure stood still, not even seeming to breathe. Old Bob didn’t know much about kids, but this seemed odd, even to him. All the kids he’d ever seen were somewhere on the fidgety scale, but not this one.
“What are you doing in here?” he demanded. “How did you get in my house?”
The reaper just stood there.
“I’ll let the police deal with you, too,” Old Bob said, reaching for his phone. The small reaper slowly pulled out an hourglass. Bob looked at the sand that had almost run out.
“Funny,” he said, but he had started feeling very heavy all of a sudden. As he dialed, his breath caught in his chest. He brought his hand up, panicking. He stared at the reaper, who was slowly walking toward him. He went down on his knees. He looked into the hood of the reaper. “Can’t…breathe…” he managed to say before crumpling to the floor.
“911…What’s your emergency?”
The last thing Old Bob saw was an incredibly lifelike skull and the metallic glint of a raised scythe.
The news droned on in the background as the police investigated the scene.
“Looks like the old guy died of a heart attack,” the paramedic said, then paused. “But I just don’t understand this strange cut on his chest.”
Taking liberties with the prompt this morning. Happy Halloween!
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Trick or Trick.” Let’s imagine it’s Halloween, and you just ran out of candy. If the neighborhood kids (or anyone else, really) were to truly scare you, what trick would they have to subject you to?
They say that on a certain moonlit night in the fall of the year, the fog creeps over the hill, and a white wolf appears, its coat resplendent in the light of the full moon. Its intelligent eyes scan the horizon for that one lone soul who has had the misfortune to be outside on this night. Stealthily creeping ahead of the advancing fog, it lopes just out of sight of the unsuspecting victim until, seizing the opportunity, it pounces and grapples with its prey, finally dragging it back into the forest.
They say it requires a sacrifice.
Jed had heard the stories. He scoffed. He smirked. He may be a cattle man, but he subscribed to Scientific American and prided himself on not falling prey to the superstition of the rest of the country folk.
His wife had met with the ladies at the local library and had heard the rumors of a white wolf. She had come to him, worried, begging him to not go out at night. He had laughed at her. She had begged him to take a gun. Well, if it would make her feel better, he had said.
Jed was picking up a load of feed when he ran into Hiram Lowell. He related the story told to his wife and asked about the rumored wolf.
“Well, yeh might not want to throw caution to the wind,” stated old Hiram, matter-of-factly. “There are things that go on in these parts that can’t be explained away.”
Jed just smiled and shook his head. These old-timers were all foam and no beer.
That night Jed’s wife was working on a quilt for her granddaughter as she watched Wheel of Fortune. The tidy house smelled of pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie. More pumpkins were piled by the front door. The moon rising over the hill cast shadows in the cornfield, its light a cold, shadowy reflection of the warm sun’s rays. Jed stepped into the crisp, autumn night and walked down the country road, his dog Baxter by his side. His gun remained on the rack above the door.
Jed thought he would show these country bumpkins that their rumored wolf was just a story, nothing more. He and his trusty dog would walk this country road, looking for any signs, tracks, or fresh kills. He gave a momentary thought to the gun on the rack at home. Oh, well. You can’t fight a mythical creature with a gun, anyway. You fight this kind of thing with reason – proof. As he crested the hill, he saw the fog rising on the other side. He stood there for a moment, admiring the countryside in the pale moonlight.
Then Baxter stiffened. A low growl gurgled in his throat. His hackles stood on end.
Jed peered into the fog. His eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. In the distance, cows bellowed. He turned on his flashlight and aimed it toward the fog. Two eyes reflected back at him, then disappeared.
Jed had a sudden burst of unexpected fear. Turning toward home, he imagined he heard rusting on either side of him in the tall grass. Soon, the fog caught up with him, caressing and teasing him as it passed. Baxter barked once, ferociously, then bolted toward the house, leaving Jed standing in the middle of the road, only a hundred yards from the house.
He started to run He heard a rustling in the grass and turned just in time to see a flash of white fur and a gaping mouth full of sharp, polished teeth headed straight for him.
Just as he was raising his arm to fend off the creature, it yelped and swung around in mid-air, landing in a heap just feet from him. Glaring up at him, it snarled and picked itself up, then loped into the fog, dragging a bloody forefoot.
He burst into the doorway of his house and grabbed his gun off the rack. The damn thing was hot! He looked back at his wife, peacefully sewing by the fire.
The next day at the feed store, Hiram Lowell sat in his pickup. Jed walked over to relay the news of the previous night, but stopped, confused, when Hiram met his gaze with sharp, glinting eyes. Then the old man smiled, showing polished canines.
That’s when Jed noticed the thick, gauze bandage on Hiram’s forearm.
Adrian ran his fingers along the side of a 1936 Buick. The deep burgundy paint gleamed in the pale light of the full moon. He counted five classic cars gloriously lining the frosty gravel drive. Notes of music crackled from the house, mixed with titters of laughter and clinking dishes. He looked at Amber, shivering in her parka, hands shoved deep in her pockets. At least someone was awake at this late hour.
Adrian knocked on the door.The music stopped, and the door was thrown open wide, emitting a burst of warm air that enveloped Amber. She drew closer to the radiant heat.
“Good evening,” boomed the voice of a stout gentleman. “How can we help you folks this fine evening?”
Amber peered around him. Two women talked and laughed in the background. Their white satin gowns shimmered with the slightest movement, and their short hair bobbed as they laughed. Amber thought of an old Clark Gable movie she had seen as a child. They must be having a themed party. How quaint to find such a thing here, in the middle of nowhere. She shivered.
“Oh, James,” called a melodic voice from within. “Invite our guests in out of the cold.”
“Of course,” boomed James. “Won’t you come in?”
“Maybe just for a moment, just to warm up,” Adrian said. Amber nodded, grateful for the warmth.
“Not many people travel our road since the freeway went in. We don’t see many strangers these days,” James explained.
The two stepped over the threshold and into another world. Elegant couples peppered the room. Candlelight shimmered and flickered, reflected in polished silver.
“What brings you folks out at this hour,” James asked.
“Our car slid off the road up above,” Adrian explained. “We just wondered if you had a phone. We don’t get cell service out here.”
“Of course. I’ll get ’em on the horn,” James replied, entering an opulent study. “Please join us while you wait.”
Amber noticed two women watching her mysteriously, slipping each other glances. She pulled her jacket closer around her despite the heat. A man started playing a ragtime song on the piano. More people arrived, also dressed in strange, old clothing. Amber glanced at Adrian, who just shrugged.
A young maid looked around nervously as she came from the kitchen balancing trays piled with food, then quickly scampered back, avoiding all eye contact. Everyone gathered around the table, feasting on roast duck, vegetables and pumpkin soup. James walked to the cupboard and returned with a bottle and some small glasses. Eyebrows raised.
“Anyone ready for some moonshine?” he asked, smiling beguilingly.
There was a flurry of activity as guests claimed small glasses.
Adrian and Amber looked at each other. The moon must have descended over the frosty hill. Through the darkness the wispy tendrils of morning were probing the sky.
“We should go up and see about that tow truck,” Adrian said.
“Of course, of course,” said James, patting him on the back. “Must get to where you’re going, mustn’t you. Life doesn’t wait while we party.”
They shook hands and said their goodbyes, then trudged up the hill. They found the Prius hooked up to a tow truck and being pulled out of the ditch.
“Thank God for answering services, eh?” Adrian said to the mechanic.
The mechanic looked at him oddly.
“We called early this morning,” Adrian added.
“We didn’t get no call,” said the mechanic. “Trucker said there was an abandoned car out here, so I came to get it. Been sitting here for days.”
“That’s impossible,” Adrian said, baffled. “We just went off the road last night. No cell service, so we called from the house down there.”
As he pointed to the house, a chill went up his spine. Amber clenched his arm in a vice grip. The fingers of sunlight that were teasing over the hills revealed a dilapidated shack, the shiny Buick now a rusted heap.
The mechanic stared. “The old Shepard place? Ain’t no one lived there for over seventy-five years. Big party got outta hand one night. Old man Shepard killed his guests, then offed himself. Locals won’t go anywhere near.” He unhooked the Prius.
Adrian paid the man. As they took to the road, they passed by the old house. Looking at it, Amber let out a cry. Through a darkened kitchen window she could clearly see the face of the anxious maid, hand on the pane, wide eyes meeting hers.
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