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Sunday, January 29

Come With Me

“Come With Me”
Short Fiction - Paranormal
By Jeff Neale

"She had a good night," the nurse said, as she followed Sam into the room.

"Thank you, Patty. Did she eat anything?" he asked, as he took the chair beside his wife’s bed.

Patty hesitated. "Sam, do you remember what the doctor talked to you about last week that Helen may eventually forget how to swallow?"

Without answering, he turned to look at the woman lying in the bed. Her eyes were open but stared vacantly at a spot on the ceiling while the fingers of her right hand absently picked at the corner of her blanket. She looked so small, frail, and birdlike, Sam thought.

Patty continued. "The doctor said it might be time to start thinking about the feeding tube..."

"It is such a silly thing," Sam interrupted. "Helen used to have such a big appetite and never gained an ounce. Her friends were always so jealous. Now you say she has to..." The words caught in his throat.

"Sam, listen to me," Patty said, gently. She placed her hand on his shoulder. "This is part of the disease process. It isn’t uncommon for Alzheimer’s patients to have a feeding tube."

Sam was quiet for several minutes and then he half turned and asked, "Will this tube make her well? Will it bring my Helen back to me?" His eyes unashamedly filled with tears.

"No," Patty said. "But it might give her some more time." She saw the flash of anger through his tears.

"More time for what?" he asked, through clenched teeth. "More time that simply prolongs the nightmare Helen and I are living?"

"I’m sorry," Patty said, softly. She kept her hand on his shoulder.

"I’m sorry, too, Patty. I am not angry with you. I just don’t know what to say or do. My wife is only sixty years old and withering away before my eyes and I can do nothing to stop it. I feel helpless."

"I know, Sam. It’s okay. I am going to leave for a while and let you and Helen visit and then I will check back in a little bit." She gave his shoulder a squeeze and walked out.

Sam moved Helen’s fingers away from the blanket and kissed her palm. "Helen, they say you need to have this feeding tube thing put in your stomach since you won’t swallow anymore. If I say no, then you will not have any nourishment and you will die. If I say yes, then it will only prolong the misery we are facing now. Helen, you were always better at making important decisions than me. I wish you could help me now. Please tell me what I should do." Sam watched her face intently for any reaction. There was none.

He looked out of the small window at the courtyard of the nursing home. The sun was shining, it was warm, and multi-colored tulips swayed in the warm breeze. "Tulips were always your favorite, weren’t they, Helen?" Tears filled his eyes again, as he rubbed her fingers hoping it would somehow transfer warmth and vitality to her.

"I had better go now. Carol said she was going to bring supper over to me tonight." He smiled. "We raised a good daughter, Helen."

Sam stood and leaned down to kiss Helen’s forehead. It felt cool and damp against his lips. "I love you bunches. I will be back first thing in the morning." He turned and walked from the room, quietly closing the door behind him. He never saw the one solitary tear slide down the corner of her cheek.

By the time he reached home, Sam was physically and emotionally exhausted. He sat his keys on the coffee table and decided to lie down on the couch until Carol arrived. He was asleep in moments. In his dream, Helen stood before him, not frail and helpless, but young and full of life. She was dressed in her favorite bell-bottom jeans and peace sign t-shirt. She was waving anxiously for him to join her. Her smile was radiant, her long brown hair twirling around the flower bead necklace he had given her for her twentieth birthday.

"Hurry up, silly, or we’ll miss the concert," she said. "On the way, we can get one of those hot dogs with everything on it from that cool vendor guy, but if you don’t move your butt we won’t have a chance and I’m starving." She laughed.

Her eyes spoke to his soul. "Come with me, Sammy."

As he took her hand, he felt a tremendously warm vibration fill his entire body. "Don’t ever leave me again, Helen," he said.

"I never have," she said, as they joined the bustling crowd on the boardwalk.

Carol received no answer when she knocked on the door. She used her key and stepped into the hallway. "Daddy," she called, as she walked into the family room. The casserole dish she was holding dropped to the floor and shattered when she saw her father’s pale, lifeless body lying on the couch. She pulled out her cell phone about to call 911 and start CPR even though she knew it would be useless. It was only then she noticed the smile on her father’s face.

The phone ringing in her hand, startled her. "Hello?"

"Carol Barger?" the voice asked.

"Yes."

"This is Patty Hunter at the nursing home. I am sorry to have to inform you your mother, Helen, passed away about thirty minutes ago. I tried to reach your father but there was no answer. Can you please get in touch with him and let him know? Again, I’m so very sorry."

"I think he already knows. Thank you, Patty, for all you have done for our family. I will be down later to make the arrangements."

Carol felt she knew what had happened, and sat with her father for a long time until she too wore a smile.

Wednesday, January 25

The Big Guys

"The Big Guys"
Short Fiction - Crime
By J.A. Konrath

"I'm surprised you asked me here, Ralph. I didn't think you liked me."

Ralph grinned over the wheel. "Don't be silly, Jim." He cut the engines and glanced over the starboard bow. There was some chop to the sea, but the yacht had a deep keel and weathered it well.

"Well, we've been neighbors for almost ten years, and we haven't ever done anything together."

Ralph shrugged. "I work crazy hours. Not a lot of free time. But I've always considered you a good friend, Jim. Plus, our wives are close. I thought this would give us a chance to get to know each other. Belinda mentioned you like to fish."

Jim nodded. "Mostly freshwater. I haven't done much deep sea fishing. What are we going for, anyway?"

Ralph adjusted his captain's cap.

"I was originally thinking salmon or sailfish, but it's been a while since I went for the big guys."

"Big guys?"

"Sharks, Jim. You up for it?"

"Sure. Just tell me what I need to do."

"First step is getting into the harness." Ralph picked up a large life vest, crisscrossed with straps and latches. "This clips onto the rod, so you don't lose it, and this end is attached to the boat, in case you get pulled overboard."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Has that ever happened?"

"Not yet, but it pays to be careful. These are Great White waters, and some of those bad boys go over two thousand pounds."

Ralph helped Jim into the vest, snugging it into place.

"What next?"

"We have to make a chum slick."

"I've heard of that. Fish blood and guts, right?"

"Yep. It's a shark magnet. You want to get started while I prepare the tackle?"

"Sure."

Ralph went to the cooler and took out the plastic bucket of chum. Even refrigerated, it stank to high heaven. He handed it to Jim, with a ladle.

"Toss that shit out there. Don't be stingy with it."

Jim began to slop chum into the blue waters.

Ralph swiveled his head around, scanning the horizon. No other boats.

"So," Jim asked, "what's the bait?"

Ralph gave Jim a deep poke in the shoulder with a fillet knife, then shoved his neighbor overboard.

Jim surfaced, screaming. Ralph ladled on some guts.

"Not very neighborly of you, Jim. Screwing my wife while I was at work."

"Ralph! Please!"

Jim's hands tried to find purchase on the sides of the yacht, but they were slippery with blood. Ralph dumped more onto his head, making Jim gag.

"Keep struggling." Ralph smiled. "The big guys love a moving target."

"Don't do this, Ralph. Please. I'm begging you."

"You'd better beg fast. I see that we already have some company."

Jim stared across the open water. The dorsal fin approached at a brisk pace.

"PLEASE! RALPH! YOU SAID YOU CONSIDERED ME A GOOD FRIEND!"

"Sorry, wrong choice of words. I actually meant to say I considered you a good chum."

It took a while for Ralph to stop laughing.

Saturday, January 21

Can't Never Go Back

"Can't Never Go Back"
Short Fiction - Paranormal
by Rene Miller Knudsen

He rubbed his eyes, the flash of red and blue lights blinding him in the dark. Shaking his head, he picked up speed, leaving the accident scene behind him, flipping on the radio before settling into the leather seat.

He'd be in Vegas soon. Was he running away? Hell yes. Perhaps it was the coward's way out, but right now, it seemed the easiest way to move on. No explanations, no tears to witness, just a long stretch of highway. It was better this way, a clean break for both of them.

“Can’t never go back,” the country singer’s voice twanged from the radio.

“That’s a double negative, you moron,” he muttered. He never did care much for country music, but the choice of stations was pretty slim this far from civilization. His thoughts turned to the past, focused on the years which brought him to this late-night journey. Dinner this evening had decided it. Late from work, he’d come home to find Beth on the couch, her attention on the television. She looked up at him, her first glance full of hurt, but she covered it with a blank smile.

“Let me fix you a plate.” She’d walked to the kitchen, her graceful stride hiding any anger she might be feeling. As she moved through the kitchen, she chatted, the mindless blather one heard in an elevator with strangers. This summed up their marriage. When it changed, he wasn’t sure. Perhaps it was after the miscarriage, or maybe it was always there. He’d been going through the motions, the same routine day in and day out with a woman he felt no connection to.

He could feel the miles pass. In all the times he’d made this run, he’d never seen so little traffic. He remembered going to Vegas with Beth, teasing her when she played only one quarter at a time in the poker machine. Or the night they went to a magic show, enjoying her delight in the glitzy illusions performed on stage. She loved splash and color. He’d never met a person who took such joy in the frivolous things.

But it all ended. Part of it could be blamed on the loss of their baby. The spark which had burned so brightly within her had faded. He had to admit, in his own sorrow, he’d neglected her. They’d tried to find happiness again, tried to find flame in their marriage, but it seemed to have burned out.

The country crooner continued his whine, mourning the loss of truck or wife, but the music faded as his memories went back to earlier this evening. As he sat eating, she continued her light-hearted chatter, but he could see she’d been crying. Her eyes were puffy and red. And he felt like a heel. He shifted in his seat, the squeak of the leather as annoying as the guilt gnawing at him. Guilt for the failure of their marriage, guilt for her unhappiness, guilt for the loss of their child.

Skulking off in the night certainly wasn’t going to alleviate it. He couldn’t end it like this. Beth would wake, find him gone and fall to pieces. He had to go back.

No exits appeared, just an endless stretch of highway. Slowing down, he turned into the median and crossed, heading in the opposite direction. The guilt eased. Perhaps he and Beth could try again. He needed to get home.

“Can’t never go back,” the singer crooned. What the hell? He looked down at his radio. The same song was playing again. His eyes glanced at the red digital display. What was going on? He’d been on the road for hours and yet the time hadn’t changed.

“Can’t never go back.”

The red flashing lights from the accident appeared. As he passed, he felt his head spin. His car laid on its roof, crumpled, the windshield smashed.

He rubbed his eyes, the flash of red and blue lights blinding him in the dark. Shaking his head, he picked up speed, leaving the accident scene behind him, flipping on the radio before settling into the leather seat.

Tuesday, January 17

Friday Night

"Friday Night"
Short Fiction - Crime
By Robert Gregory Browne

Late Friday night was usually the best time to find them. His victims.

Around about eleven-thirty, they'd be coming home off the Interstate, half drunk and lonely, playing their favorite I'm-down-and-out-and-feeling-blue song on the car stereo. Some of them smoked cigarettes--which he hated. Made his clothes stink.

Tuck would punish them for that.

This time, a guy in a beat-up, metallic blue Chevy Nova saw him with his thumb out and pulled over. Tuck had always thought that was a funny name for a car. No va. Down in Nogales it meant, "No go."

He was half smiling at the thought when the guy rolled down his window. The last bars of an old, sad country tune escaped. "Where you headed?"

"Just up the road a bit."

The guy was checking out his smile. "Something funny?"

"I like your car."

The guy gave Tuck a look, but unlocked the passenger door anyway. Tuck climbed in, immediately sucking in the smell of one of those sickly sweet air fresheners mixed with the unmistakable odor of tequila. The heater was on and that was good, because, smell or no smell, he'd been freezing his ass off out on the roadside.

The guy hit the gas before he had a chance to strap himself in. "So what's up the road? You live around here?"

Tuck clicked the buckle shut. "Nope."

"Girlfriend?"

That one made Tuck laugh. "I haven't had a girlfriend since high school. I'm more of a one night stand kinda guy."

The driver nodded. "Same here."

They were silent after that. Stayed that way for half a dozen miles along a stretch of empty road. There was no moon and, except for the headlights, the night was a black hole. Just like Tuck's heart.

He only half-listened to the music, some generic cowboy crying about drinkin' and cheatin'. It was just a wash of sound as far as he was concerned.

The driver finally said, "You hitchhike a lot?"

"Every Friday night," he told him.

"Pretty dangerous. Lotta crazies out there."

"Goes both ways," Tuck said. "You never know who you're picking up."

"I suppose that's true."

"Ever hear of the Highway Hacker?"

The driver nodded. "Who hasn't? It's all over the news."

"Always uses a bowie knife. Gets his victims under his control, then hacks off their fingers, their toes, and slits their throat." Tuck paused. "Takes the tongue, too. That's something the news don't tell you."

"And you know this how?" the driver asked.

Tuck shrugged. "I know what I know."

He was smiling again and the guy took his eyes off the road for a moment and squinted at him. "You trying to scare me or something?"

"The thought crossed my mind," Tuck said. "Always helps with the control issues."

He brought out the bowie knife he kept tucked in his belt.

The driver took one startled look at it, then let loose a laugh so loud it momentarily drowned out the music.

Tuck frowned. "What's so funny?"

"I like your knife," the driver said. "But I like this even better."

Tuck let his gaze drop to the driver's left hand, only to discover that he was holding a sawed-off twelve-gauge.

It had come out of nowhere.

Now it was the driver's turn to smile. "You ever heard," he said, "of the Interstate Shooter?"

That was when Tuck decided that maybe Friday nights weren't so wonderful after all.

Friday, January 13

Goodbye

"Goodbye"
Flash Fiction
by Anne Frasier

After she left I found a folded piece of paper on the floor. Inside was a goodbye letter telling me how she'd met someone else. How she was sorry, but he was everything I wasn't. He was perfect.

I've never been prone to drama, but since I knew I couldn't live without her I found a strong length of rope and a sturdy chair. It was an easy task to rig it up to a crossbeam in the attic.

Standing on the chair, I pulled her note from my pocket for one final perusal, then I was on my way.

At the moment I kicked the chair from under me, I noticed something interesting in the corner of the letter. A date that was nine months old, written in bubble letters. The goodbye wasn't for me. I was the perfect man. The perfect dead man.

Tuesday, January 3

Thomas Rason's Eyes

"Thomas Rason's Eyes"
Short Fiction – Paranormal
By Kelly Parra

Looking into Thomas Rason’s eyes was like staring into a dark, bleak hole. He revealed nothing in his stare. No emotion. No feeling. Only emptiness.

Yet Maya knew a deceiving, ulterior motive lurked in his mind. She sensed it, but couldn't grasp onto the emotion entirely. And that had been bothering her the entire evening. They stood in the doorway of her one room apartment, having returned from a dinner to celebrate her twenty-third birthday. It may have been odd to spend her birthday with a man she'd known for only a matter of weeks, a man she'd kept running into at her favorite coffee shop, but not really. If it weren’t for him, she would have spent her birthday alone. Sometimes sharing dinner with someone who was nearly a stranger was better than sharing company with an empty chair.

Was he waiting to be asked in? Expecting it?

Clearing her throat, she mentally ran through excuses for not asking him inside. Headache, fatigue, bladder emergency? She didn't want to be alone with him any longer.

While his eyes still revealed nothing, his stance echoed eagerness. As if the offer fell from her lips, he'd fly past her with no need of further prompting.

Just wasn't going to happen.

"Thanks for a great evening, Thomas."

"It's early yet. Why don't I come in for a cup of coffee?" The words were friendly. Not even the slightest inclination of seduction. But that didn't stop the hairs on the back of her neck from twitching. Maybe the empty chair would have been a better idea...

"Actually," she hedged. "I'm kind of tired."

Was that a flicker of anger in his eyes?

"I understand." In a quick moment, his hand was behind her neck, narrow face leaning towards hers.

Dread seeped into her gut.

Her hand came to the soft material of his suit jacket to ward him off. Yet that didn't stop him from pressing his mouth to hers and prying her lips apart.

She flinched back, but his arm circled her waist bringing her flush against him. Unease slid through her nerves. Stronger than he looked.

His tongue swept hers, giving her another taste of the dinner mint from the restaurant. The kiss wasn't slow, wasn't fast. It was paced, and so very empty as his dark eyes.

She jerked her head back, wedging her hand further between them. Gradually he released her.

"Well...goodnight, Maya...happy birthday."

She brushed the back of her hand against her swollen lips. "Thanks again, Thomas." Don't ever call me again.

As if flicking a switch, those vacant eyes became sinister, and her breath slowed. Had he read her mind?

She entered her apartment, closed the door, locking the deadbolt. Right, Maya. Not everyone is as weird as you.

Still, she pressed a hand against the door, and finally felt the tingle of something dark, mystical, lingering in the wood. "Not so sure about that anymore."

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