Eulogy for Sunny

This is a rare bit of non-fiction from me. It’s about Sunny, who has been with use since we lived in East Bridgewater. The pictures below can be viewed larger by clicking on them; they’ll open in a new window so you won’t lose the audio feed.

Let me read this to you by simply clicking the arrow below.

***

Shopping for another dog back in 1997, we came upon a Shih Tzu we named Sunny because that was the effect he had on our family.

Our other dog, Dutch, already the most facially expressive dog we had ever owned, raised one eyebrow—then the other, performed a lot of head tilting, and smiled with that long collie beak of his. All the rest of our dogs over the years showed some measure of jealousy at the arrival of the newest, but Dutch was just happy to have another buddy. His name morphed from Dutch to Dutchie-kins to simply Kins.

Sunny and Dutch played together quite a bit, and in the beginning we had to remind Dutch he was much bigger. Sometimes Sunny would stand under Dutch and taunt him by tugging on his chest fur. While Sunny was doing that and matching his moves to escape, Dutch was careful not to step on the little guy. That collie would look all around himself, trying to find a way to stop the young Shih Tzu we took to calling Punk Boy.

Once, Dutch simply laid down in exasperation while Sunny was under him tugging on his chest fur. A smile grew on Dutch—like a face being unzipped—with the realization of his unplanned success.

Our house always had toys laying around for the dogs to play with and Dutch had a hard time discerning the difference between his toys and the Barbies my daughter played with. He decapitated quite a few of those. Every dog has a favorite. Sandy—our first—had a particularly pliable parrot, green with a squeaker in it. Dutch, of course had Barbies.

Sunny loved to chase balls around.

His favorite type of ball came from those displays you see in stores; a hundred or so balls, a foot in diameter, held in a plastic framework of heavy rubber bands so you could just reach in and grab the one you wanted. Sunny loved those big rubber balls.

He’d heave his chest at it or try to bite it and the ball would start moving. He’d give chase like a soccer star all around the house. Dutch would play spectator as Sunny moved that ball around, barking as if heckling it, or goading it on. Dutch would just smile and sigh.

If you tried to take the ball from Sunny, he’d zig to your zag or he’d stop and gather the ball up with his front paws trying to hide it under him, which didn’t work as it was twice his size. The exercise would get him panting, tongue extending from his mouth impossibly long and curled upward.

We moved to Plymouth when Dutch was an old guy and the place didn’t have a stockade fence like the house in East Bridgewater. I’d like to think it was Dutch reminiscing about the adventures he had after escaping the confines of that fence that got Sunny going on his own escape attempts. We’d let Sunny out and stay with him till he had done his thing. He’d walk away from you, peering back furtively every once in a while. He’d wait until you were distracted and looking away and he’d bolt from the yard. He never got far; his little Shih Tzu legs didn’t stand a chance against his owner’s. Or our neighbors would give us the heads-up if it came to that.

One day though, just as the sky was darkening, he took off. Tail down and in a trot, thunder began to rumble in the sky above. Sunny was frightened of loud noises. Motorcycles, loud cars, fireworks, and thunder claps all scared the crap out of Sunny. Literally. I’ve seen him run off down the hall of our house after a really good thunder clap and he’d leave little tootsie rolls in his wake.

That day he got away, there was a lot of thunder and lightning. He was gone for hours and a frantic search during the storm came up empty. I can only imagine the journey that took place during that deluge. Between trying to not be caught and running from the thunder, he must have gotten enough adventure to last a lifetime. When we got him back, he was soaked to the skin, dirty as though he had hidden under every car and in every garden between us and the two young girls who brought him to our front door. They recognized him.

He was quivering uncontrollably. And he had been changed by the ordeal.

We had an invisible fence system installed so he never got out again. For years, we played loud music whenever a storm approached so he wouldn’t have the crap scared out of him.

We loved Sunny so much that when we got another dog to take the place of Dutch, we chose another Shih Tzu and named him Teddy Bear—or Ted for short. He’s my reading buddy. Later, we came across another and named him (Six-gun) Sam because he has a bunch more toes than is the norm. He’s the new soccer star.

None of the dogs we’ve had over the years has equaled Sunny for his soccer abilities, or for his stealth at escape. Sunny is fourteen now. He is blind and suffers from dementia. And now, a tumor presses against his cranial wadding, spazzing out the little guy.

The young, playful, escape artist is still in there. You can see him come out when dreams are full and the legs start moving. He runs still, if only in a world he conjures.

My greatest hope is that he goes to look for Dutch when his time comes—and that time is near. Those two, Punk and Kins—an escape artist and his mentor, have a lot of catching up to do.

***

 

Convolution

First; I’d like to tell my subscribers to visit FlashTold to listen to the audiofeed. The email link only provides for a download. I’m not sure about making the whole shebang clikable in a subscriber email.

For the rest: let me read this circular story to you by clicking on the arrow below. I think you’ll like it…

Dennison woke with a hitching inhalation of air and peeled himself out of the corner of the door pillar and the seat. He noticed the garish combination of blood red, pale yellow and black in the flannel shirt Owen, the driver, was wearing.

Owen looked at him in the rearview mirror and said, “Welcome back sleepy head.”

The radio was playing softly, an old Dave Matthews tune titled Crash Into Me. Chris had shotgun and he shifted his body around to look back. Nodding in time with the music, he said, “Wish I could just drop off like that.”

Dennison straightened and then arched his back, all while taking in the passing scenery. Everything was green but had a look about it as though tired of growing and maybe ready for the next part of the cycle. It was mid-September. Occasional outcrops of granite could be seen, just as they had been left by passing glaciers a thousand lifetimes ago—or maybe a thousand thousand. The song on the radio started giving in to static as it so often does on road-trips though New Hampshire.

Owen said to Chris, “See if you can find something good on that thing, will ya?”

Chris nodded again, began pressing the search-up button. What he got for his effort was mostly static, with vague hints of distant radio stations mixed in. Then, clear as a new CD, one station came in with the opening riffs of an AC-DC tune, Highway To Hell. Cranking the volume, Chris said, “Awesome.”

Dennison put his hands over his ears and began rocking in place. “No, no, no, no, NO! Not again! I can’t do it again!”

Chris looked back at Dennison in alarm. He turned the volume back down some, and asked, “What’s the matter, Den? You all right there buddy?”

Owen’s eyes darted between the windshield and the rearview.

Dennison said, “It’s the same dream every time and I can’t do it again. There has to be a reason for all this.”

On the radio, Brian Johnson rasped about not needing a reason because there’s nothin’ he’d rather do.

Dennison continued, “It’s the same dream over and over. Don’t you see? There has to be a way to stop.”

Owen said, “It’s okay Den, you’re awake now.”

Dennison said, “But I’m not. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. THIS is the dream. Right now. Right here. And you guys are in it.”

Chris said, “Awe, come on Den. That doesn’t make sense. You saying I’m dreaming you too?”

“No, you only exist in my dream. I made you up. I don’t know where you came from originally, probably someone I met at the gym.”

Chris gave a furtive glance at Owen who was listening but saving his opinion for the moment.

Dennison said, “Take this car. This is the car my dad owned just about the time I hit ten. That has to be why I’m always in the back seat.”

Owen said, “Not to burst your bubble there, Den, but this ain’t your dad’s car. I just bought it a month ago. It might be used, but I’m sure it wasn’t used by your dad.”

“You’re not getting it. Everything in this dream is from parts of my life. It’s all cut and paste.”

“Look,” Owen said while Dennison lip-synced, “We’re just going up to Franconia Notch, take in the sights, check out Flume Gorge, maybe see if there’s anything left of the Old Man on the Mountain.”

Chris cut in by saying, “Gawd, how do you do that?”

Owen said, “What?”

Chris said, “He lip-synced everything you just said. Perfectly. Like it was coming out of his mouth.”

Owen gave Chris a worried look and Dennison said, “That’s just it, see, I’ve done all this before. I know what you will say, what you’ll do, and how it’ll all end.”

Chris said, “Yeah? How will it end?”

“We crash. I die—or maybe we all die. Then I wake up in this dream to start over again. So I don’t die, or— I’m caught in the middle of a dream and a nightmare.”

Chris said, “What do you mean ‘we crash.’ Crash into what?”

“A truck barrels through an intersection and rips this car in two.”

Owen said, “I think I can avoid a truck. It’s not like I’m drunk. Aye?”

Chris smiled at that.

Dennison looked dreamily out the side window and said, “There’s no stop sign to see because a tree limb hangs in front of it. We’re doing, like fifty-five, sixty. The truck is really screwing along—more like eighty. I look up just in time to see the driver’s face and we almost make it through the intersection. Time slows, stretches, and niblets of glass fly at my face. At the very moment the cool chrome grill touches the skin on my face, I wake up here, in the back seat again.”

 “Jeez,” Owen said. “Sounds like you’ve done this before.”

Dennison laughs a little maniacal laugh. “Yeah,” he says, drawing it out to a whisper while nodding. “Last time, the trucker was my eighth grade English teacher. Little things like that change.”

Dennison’s eyes get big as saucer plates. “This is it. STOP. Not again, please?”

Chris and Owen look at each other as they pass through the intersection and miss the stop sign just as a truck smashes into the car. Dennison notices the driver is the local pastor. The back of the car crumples, glass flies, and just as the chrome grill touches his face—

Dennison woke with a hitching inhalation of air and peeled himself out of the corner of the door pillar and the seat. He noticed the garish combination of blood red, pale yellow and black in the flannel shirt Owen, the driver, was wearing.

Owen looked at him in the rearview mirror and said, “Welcome back sleepy head.”

The radio was playing softly, an old Dave Matthews tune titled Crash Into Me…

******

That’s the story. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think; and thanks for stopping by!

When The Bus Stopped

For this story, I’ve recorded an audio version which will allow me to read it to you. Audiobooks have been part of my literary diet for some time now. Making this recording has given me a new respect for the art. As for this first recording of moi, well, I’ll leave it for you to decide if it’s any good. I do welcome constructive criticism—in fact, crave your thoughts. Because with each thoughtful comment, I hope to become a better storyteller.

Listen along now, by pressing the arrow below.

He knew it was coming the way he knew a cold sore was going to sprout on his lip. It was a sixth sense feeling, the twinge of something erupting without showing itself to the other senses. He was going to be picked on today.

Seymour Dekker could feel the eyes on him when the bus came to a stop, or maybe it was just the sun reflecting off the bright yellow paint. He checked the side as it arrived, scanning for open windows—projectile ports for the unwary—but they were all shut. Studying the sand near the curb, waiting for the flipper sound of the bus door to open, he stepped up into the open maw and was immediately swallowed by the big yellow monster.

The bus lurched forward just as he swung into a seat, the only seat left available to him. For three quarters of the trip down the throat of the yellow beast, kids sat at the outer limits of their seats. Seymour didn’t challenge any of these seat-hogs for fear of bringing attention to himself. In a battle of wits, Seymour wasn’t necessarily unarmed. He was an imaginative kid. It was just a matter of being a little slow on the draw.

He didn’t remove his backpack, but slouched into it like ill-fitting body armor. He had the seat to himself and sat close to the window, watching the blur of yards, fences and bushes go by as if the bus remained stationary and the world rushed past.

Awareness creeped in like the pause between television show and commercial. The bus had gone silent, never a good thing.

“What’s this?” a voice said directly behind him which he recognized as Aaron Bohmer. “Nobody brings lunch anymore, See-more-pecker.” That was Aaron’s favorite bit of name calling for Seymour, who had to admit his name was an easy target.

Jason White cackled at that, and sing-songed, “See-my-Dicker.” It was certainly a lesser heckle.

Aaron had the brown bag open, looking in when Seymour turned. “Hey, that’s mine.” He reached for it but the backpack weighed him down. Slow on the draw again. His mother must have left the zipper open at the top of his pack.

Seymour scrambled his legs around to the aisle and stood. He didn’t advance because to do so would put him in the middle of Aaron’s group. The group consisted of Jason White, Kyle Morrison, Brad Torkle and, of course, Aaron Bohmer.

The others would likely act differently without Aaron around. Aaron orchestrated everything they did and they followed his lead; would follow him straight off a cliff if that was where he was going.

With the lunch sack cupped in his left hand, Aaron pulled out a bag of potato chips and tossed them back, saying, “Here you go, Brad, you like chips. Don’t you?”

Brad caught them between two open palms the way he would catch a particularly bothersome fly. There was a loud pop and chip crumbs escaped to the bus floor. “Thanks Dicker,” Brad said, and then poured the remaining chip crumbs into his mouth.

“Come on guys, that’s my lunch. Give it back.”

Aaron removed a sandwich bag containing three chocolate chip cookies. He smiled and tossed the bag back to Kyle. “Wow,” Kyle said. “Didn’t figure you for holding out with the chocolate chip cookies.”

Seymour saw what came out of the bag next and his mind started reeling for a way to stop this—for a way to rewind like he could with his favorite DVD at home. His mother rarely put candy bars in his lunch, but this morning she had included three snack size Snicker bars. Aaron tossed them back to Jason—one at a time. “I can’t eat those because I’m allergic to peanuts and I don’t like them anyway.”

Seymour was breathing hard, hyperventilating, and he felt an exhilarant rush of adrenaline. His body was experiencing a fight-or-flight moment and Seymour wanted nothing to do with either one. His left hand had a white-knuckle grip on a seat back and his right was clenched in a fist at his side.

“You guys can’t do this,” said Seymour. “I’ll, I’ll starve and have to tell someone.”

“Yeah? Who? Who you going to tell?” At the bottom of the bag was a sandwich which Aaron began unwrapping. “Hey, will you look at this. My favorite: blow me and sleeze.”

It was Seymour’s favorite too, and his mom put a light scrim of peanut butter on the cheese side—just the way he liked it. But he only thought of this for a half a beat. His main concern, trying to find a way to stop the madness was a moot point as well.

Aaron stood there, a smug look on his face, taking bites from the baloney and cheese sandwich. Seymour couldn’t contain himself anymore. Aaron was the reason the others acted the way they did. Aaron was the one who handed out his lunch to everyone. It was all Aaron’s fault. He was a mean kid who didn’t deserve to live. “I wish you’d just drop dead Aaron Bohmer.”

Chewing a little slower, Aaron’s face began to contort with a querulous look. He dropped the sandwich and his eyes went wide. Clutching at his constricting throat, he dropped to his knees. His mouth moved like a fish out of water, or maybe he was trying to say something. But this time he was slow on the draw, and never had a chance to point out he had something in his own backpack to ward off the symptoms he was experiencing. Symptoms, he knew, that had to be borne of his peanut allergy.

The bus driver saw the whole thing in his expansive rearview mirror and stopped the bus. That’s when Aaron Bohmer fell back, dead as a doornail.

When the bus stopped, Seymour Dekker became just: Dekker—the kid you didn’t want to mess with. When the bus stopped, the legend of Dekker began.

*~*

That’s the story and I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you think.

Five Shots

~*~

The woman I love was snatched from me the day Janice Stobblemeyer’s parrot escaped and I became a world renowned authority on the paranormal.

My girlfriend, Patrice, and I were out and about that day taking in what the world had to offer the way hummingbirds take in a flower garden; flitting from store to sight to shop.

Patrice wore a simple summer skirt and a pair of sling backs. She had just had her hair done very short and her green eyes reflected the day’s sun in prismatic iridescent splendor. We had been dating for nearly a year and were already finishing each other’s sentences and coming up with meal ideas that were uncannily alike.

On that fateful day, we were cruising coastal towns and had stopped in Plymouth to see the Mayflower and the Rock. Up in Plymouth center, we perused a few antique shops and stepped into the Kiskadee Coffee Shop before moving on.

Out in the sunshine, Patrice declared she would like to drive. Palm up, she waggled her fingers and I dangled the keys into her waiting hand while stealing a kiss. She fobbed the car door, opened it and before she could get in I told her to wait.

“I want a shot for insurance purposes,” I said.

She tipped her head to one side, smirked and said, “You shit,” with a seductive quality all her own.

I set the camera for a five shot burst, centered her in the viewfinder, and press the button. She looked directly into the camera. It captured her left hand holding the door open, right arm on the roofline. Her smile genuine, teeth gleaming white from the sun overhead. Across the street I could see two parking spots taken up by a Cadillac Escalade and a two door RAV 4 from the nineties. Someone was reaching for the door of the real estate office from inside; you could just make out the arm.

In the second shot, Patrice’s lips are peeled back more, making her smile a little bigger. The door of the real estate office across the street is opened slightly and the angle of the glass in the door makes it impossible to see the person on the other side at all. A couple with a black and white Pug on a purple leash are entering the frame from the left. The nose of a yellow Mini Cooper has entered from the right.

In the third shot, Patrice has tipped her head back. You can’t tell in the shot, but she has taken to shaking her head slightly—as if her hair were longer and she was trying to move it off her shoulders. The sun is shining fully on her face and her eyes are closed. There is a white vehicle entering the shot from the left, proximity muddled by its whiteness.

In the fourth shot, I can see enough of the white vehicle to know it is a Ford Excursion. The passenger window is part way down, and a blur of color can be seen exiting through it. That is Janice Stobblemeyer’s parrot escaping. It turns out she had accidently hit the window button and was busy trying to catch her bird rather than drive the land yacht she was in. The parrot didn’t get far, landing on a parking meter for later retrieval.

This brings me to the next point in the fourth shot. The nose of the Excursion has actually made contact with Patrice and her smile has been replaced with a mouth tipped back ready to catch what looks like a recently tossed piece of popcorn.

In the fifth shot, I can make out Janice Stobblemeyer who is still looking out the window of her white monstrosity. The driver’s door of our Toyota Highlander is folded neatly against its own front fender. My precious Patrice is bent back against the oncoming vehicle like a ragdoll, arms askew.

The most intriguing aspect of shot five is that you can make out Patrice in wispy detail with the Excursion as a backdrop. Her corporeal self is being thrust forward by that rolling zip code and her spiritual self has already made the break. In that moment, before her spiritualness has realized its fate and moved on, shot five has recorded the eventful split of the spirit and the corporeal.

Shot five gives me some notoriety as a paranormal expert and I ride that wave knowing Patrice would have pushed me on. ‘Take success where you find it,’ she would always tell me. The spiritual split was so well defined in shot five that everyone forgets about the other four shots until—.

Until I was to talk at a symposium in Boston two years later and it was suggested I bring blowups of all five shots. I was to line them up so a sequence of events could be viewed, bringing to life the moments leading up to THE moment.

They were all enlarged to something like three foot by five, and I placed them in a row on easels. Soon, a crowd formed around shot four which surprised me. It was shot five that depicted the separation of body and spirit. So I joined them and discovered what looked like a piece of popcorn tossed in the air above Patrice in a smaller format, was something else entirely.

It looked like a little pixie, but I knew it was an angel. It was as ethereal as Patrice in shot five. But it had wings and appeared to be darting in like a super hero, arms outstretched and reaching for my darling.

My eye sockets suddenly felt too small, my eyeballs—rubbed in salt. A tear raced for my jawline. I had hope in that moment. In all the goodness that was our relationship in the past, my memories flashing stop-motion quick as though as one last glimpse before my own demise, I saw hope for a future both bright and fulfilling. I felt the eternal flame of love.

~*~

I hope you enjoyed that.

Thank you for your kind support.

Piggy Back

This story was inspired by news coverage of a hit and run. I figured they could run, but how do you hide from that monkey on your back? That burden would haunt me for sure.

~*~

 I pulled into the self-serve a little too fast. My steering was erratic. She was watching me from inside the SUV ahead of me at the gas pumps, her hands were on the back of the seat and she watched in a manner that was both stoic and solemn. I felt I knew her from someplace; a strong enough sense that I wanted to go talk to her, if only to say hello.

Finished filling my tank, I got in and drove off because I was in a hurry. As I drove, I wondered about the girl and why she seemed so interested in me. She was young, maybe eight or ten. She could have been my daughter. But I’m not married.

Earlier, I had a three martini lunch during which I finalized a deal to buy the old town hall and court house. Next week the place will be busier than a bee hive. In a month, it’ll be affordable housing for singles.

I am a real estate opportunist. Some people see a used up relic of a building and think it should simply be razed. I see potential; creating jobs, business and housing.

I wanted a package of gum, something minty and fresh.

The girl was sitting on the steps of the convenience store when I pulled up. There was a moment in which I rationalized it couldn’t be the same girl. Even though she had the same three quarter length denim pants and Minnie Mouse tee shirt, she was looking down at her hands and there was something about her that seemed different. When she looked up at me, directly at me, I could plainly see that the left side of her face was abraded, as though she had fallen from her bicycle and slid a ways. It was a startling thing to look at on this young and innocent child.

I got out of my car and went to her carefully, so as not to cause alarm. Squatting in front of her, I asked, “Are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you?” I felt a little guilt creep in—for being in a hurry and leaving her so quick before.

She shook her head slowly and looked down to her hands once more, which made her seem a bit shy. I stood, looked around for the SUV I had seen her in at the gas pumps but it was nowhere in sight.

“Wait here,” I said, and went into the convenience store. I forgot what it was I wanted, so I bought an ice cream for her. She was gone when I came back out.

In my car, I ate the ice cream before it became a puddle in a wrapper. I kept an eye out for her, but she never reappeared. She was a cute kid who sort of reminded me of a girl I knew when I was just a kid myself. Her name was Lisa something. She might have been my first crush, back before I knew what a crush was.

The rush I was in before seemed pointless now. I didn’t want to go home. There was something about that girl that ate at me, nagged me, made me feel like I needed to know her or know more about her. So I went to Walmart and found myself wandering aimlessly, my arm looped through a hand basket. In men’s clothing, I found jeans I liked and carried a pair to the changing room to try them on.

Before I reached the changing room, which was strategically located between men’s and women’s, I saw the girl. The same girl, with the same three quarter length denim pants and Minnie Mouse shirt which was beat up and had a piece torn out of it. That abrasion on her face was more vibrant, more horrific.

Her head was tilted down and she was watching me through her bangs as I walked toward her. She motioned for me to turn around and when I did, she climbed up onto my back and wrapped her arms gently around my neck. I traded her for the hand basket and we left the store without a word. She was light, insubstantial.

I gave her a piggy back out to my car and when we arrived I noticed a piece of cloth hanging from the cracked and broken plastic around the headlamp. She tightened her hold of me then, and I felt strangled. My Adam’s apple was being turned to applesauce. She recognized the missing piece of cloth from her own shirt; I was sure of it as much as I was sure of whom I had on my back.

I’ll be giving her a piggy back for a very long time.

~*~

That’s the story and I hope you liked it.

Thank you all for your support!

Collecting Sarah

The prompt for the Manomet Writers’ Group this month was “those who stayed behind.” I started on a story about space travel and abandoned that. There was another about time travel which just didn’t work out. Then there was this one. Everyone collects stuff at one time or another in their lives, and we all have someone we love or are loved by someone. It’s an easy story to related to.

Unfortunately, I could not attend the writers’ group this month so you get this one untested. Enjoy.

I’m meeting Sarah after work. She parks her car in the lot up by the historic Jenny Grist Mill. Why she chooses to park there instead of at the Inn where she works is something of a mystery to me. Maybe she thinks she needs the exercise.

Maybe the exercise is another reason I find her so attractive. So when I first started meeting her, I chose to do a bit of my own walking. I start from the pergola entrance of Brewster Gardens which might seem a bit over the top. I have a lot of catching up to do. Besides, once you get started on something like this it escalates—takes on a life of its own.

I make a point to study the stainless steel sculpture as I enter the gardens. It probably has a plaque explaining some mundane reason why it was erected, but I‘ve never read it. For me, it’s enough that it seems to represent all the tortured souls who died in every horror flick ever made.

Art is about interpretation.

Someday, Sarah and I might just tie the knot. If that eventuality comes to pass, there are a couple of photo ops at Brewster Gardens I would take advantage of. There’s the pergola at the entry of course. And then there’s the wonderful foot bridge spanning the Town Brook. I can’t remember ever walking over it without pausing at its apex to look for herring swimming in the waters below. From mid-April to sometime in May, they’re just dying to reach the pond beyond the Jenny Grist Mill where they go to lay their eggs. The indians taught the pilgrims to scoop the herring from the waterway and use them for fertilizer. Nowadays, the act is illegal.

Making something illegal is our government’s way of telling us to be discreet.

The walk from Brewster Gardens to the Jenny Grist Mill takes place on a paved footpath that passes under the roadways leading south and west from the center of Plymouth. At night it is lit by lamp-posts, yet still offers pedestrians the opportunity to have a contemplative walk—away from motorized traffic.

I like to think of Sarah on these walks. She is a beauty. It’s a shame she wears her long dark hair in a ponytail all the time, but it’s probably a requirement of her job. When I first started meeting Sarah after work, I remember being attracted to her smile. She turned to hear something someone was saying to her as she exited the inn; when she continued out the door, she had a wonderful smile on her face that I can still picture.

The memory makes me light on my feet and I do that little shuffle-step Dorothy did, arm-in-arm with Scarecrow and Tin-man as they declare where it is they’re off to.

Her mere presence brightens my day and makes me happy to be alive. I long to hold her in my arms, look into her eyes or maybe nuzzle her neck and whisper little loving thoughts.

At the mill I stop in the shadows provided by an early sunset and only have to wait a minute or two. Sarah’s timing is impeccable as always and I fall in behind her as we go out to where her car is parked.

As she fobs her lock and opens the car door, I loop a very large zip-tie over her head and cinch it tight around her neck. Her scream comes off as little more than a gurgle and she swoons into my arms. I whisper in her ear how beautiful she is and she flutters her eyelashes.

Flirt.

When she finally relaxes, I take it as a sign she’s comfortable in my loving embrace so I pull her closer to kiss her neck. It amazes me how peaceful she looks cradled in my arms and I brush the hair from her face to enjoy the fullness of her radiant beauty.

The plan for this evening was to cross the upper pond and follow the Town Brook away from the mill. Carrying her like a bride over the threshold, I pause at the center of the footbridge and set her down. The smooth oblong stone, I collected only days earlier, fits snugly under her coat and I zip her back up. She wears the added weight well. I scoop her up once more, give her a peck on the forehead, heave her over the rail opposite last month’s Sarah and drop her into the water below.

Collecting Sarahs has become quite a hobby; once you get started on something like this it escalates—takes on a life of its own. For those who stayed behind there is some regret I could not collect them as well. But I must move on. You can only fit so many Sarahs in one pond.

beyond

In beyond,  I try to capture the immediacy of the moment in thriller fashion. I read this one for the Manomet Writers’ Group working off the prompt “he/she who went beyond”. They all seemed to like it.

My hope is that you will too.

From beyond the door came a whisper, like a conjuration. Lizzy saw a shadow recede from the wide gap at the bottom of the dressing room door and her heartbeat kicked up a notch.

“Elizabeth Abigail Brown, where are you?”

Lizzy snapped her head around, let out her held breath, and several silk scarves in the rack she was hiding behind wafted out. Her gauzy view cleared.

“Come out from there. Stay close.”

She did. But then, walking around a circular rack of blouses, she slipped into the middle when no one was watching. She faced the doors again—there were three of them—and simply waited. Something was going to happen, she was sure of it.

Lizzy hadn’t witnessed anyone entering the changing rooms, so theoretically they were empty. Yet something was clearly happening inside one of them.

It was only minutes ago she was walking a line in the carpet, imagining herself performing a daring high-wire act across some great height, arms out for balance. The line ended at the middle dressing room door. She reached for the handle, uncertain what she would find beyond.

“Don’t go in there, sweety.” There was an edge of malevolence in that voice and she spun around. The dress-shop lady was standing there with just the top button of her sweater done up over a floral print dress; her hands clasped in front as if ready to pounce. “You won’t like what you find behind that door.”

Lizzy watched that lady’s look of concern crack to a knowing grin, tea-stained teeth showing some menace. The gray-haired witch glanced back to where Lizzy’s mom was rifling through a rack of dresses and then scurried to the back room. That’s when Lizzy noticed the shadow-play in the light coming from under the door.

There it was again.

All the doors had large gaps at the bottom, big enough for something to reach out. Lizzy was sure that most of her wouldn’t fit underneath if it came to that, but still.

She shuddered; a cold shiv ran up her spine. Then there was a bump against the inside of the door and Lizzy’s heart stopped for a beat. It happened again, though softer the second time and Lizzy remembered to breath. There was a scuffle going on in there; a kidnapping perhaps. Or maybe someone was being murderlized.

The world had shrunk to her immediate periphery, making her acutely aware. Mom seemed miles away and unreliable.

What exactly was behind the door? Or any of the doors for that matter? Weren’t they just changing rooms? Someone must be in there changing; must have gone in there when she wasn’t looking and was trying stuff on. From her vantage point inside the circular rack of blouses, she felt safe. Out of sight and out of mind.

Something dragged along the inside of the door as if in answer to her sense of safety. It could have been a hanger; or a claw—a thick, heavy, black claw. Lizzy sat up a little straighter and then decided to put more distance between her and that door-to-the-great-beyond. She slinked out backward from the circular rack, keeping the door in sight as much as possible.

A hand touched her shoulder—Lizzy squealed and twisted away. With her eyes big and round she saw it had only been her mother who was staring back at her with a horrified look; which then transformed into mortification.

Her mother straightened her posture some and said, “My, what’s gotten into you?”

When Lizzy didn’t respond right away she held up two dresses, one in each hand; put on a smile. “I want to try these on, what do you think?”

The dress-shop lady had come out from the back room, hands clasped at her chest again.

Lizzy nodded dumbly, eyes blinking in surprise over her mom not perceiving any threat.

Her mom pointed with one of the dresses and said, “Get the door for me. You can come in and let me know which is better.”

The moment of truth had arrived.

Lizzy stepped toward the dressing room door, stood behind it as she opened it and said, “You first.”

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Much.