Tag Archives: death

Static


Another story about places where the borders are thin and things get through, Click on the arrow and let me tell you about it.

 

It didn’t occur to Zachary Mosko that anything was amiss when he awoke to the static and hiss. He felt around the bed for the remote and found it near Margaret’s pillow. She remained sound asleep. He pressed the power button, which shut down the LCD monitor and the cable box.

In the quiet of the darkened bedroom, after setting the remote on the nightstand and lying back down, he could still hear the static in his own mind. There had to be some sort of input for static to occur, a channel number without a channel. Zachary realized that what woke him up might not have been the lack of a cable program and the resulting hiss of static.

In the static was another sound: lip smacking was the description which came to mind; as if someone or something had just taken a taste, licked the flavor off its lips a couple of times. Casually. Repeatedly.

Zachary’s eyes were open, searching—guiding his other senses in that way. He was on his left side, facing away from Margaret, facing the closet. He rolled to his back so he could blindly assess the darkness more fully.

The red LED of the television didn’t light the room at all. It glowed like a single eye peering from the edge of the monitor. It remained unmoving, watching its prey in constant calculation. The rest of the creature to which the LED-eye might belong resolved in Zachary’s mind as muted shades of terror and teeth.

Zachary slowly and carefully propped himself up on his elbows, daring not to make a sound. He regretted the recent death of his alarm clock, the room’s lone nightlight. Mental note: go shopping tomorrow.

With a hand on the chain-pull, he focused on the part of the bedroom most likely to have a lurking presence. He prepared to shed light on the situation.

When he turned on the light, he followed the illumination as it reached walls and corners—a tsunami of light; finally casting shadows where there had only been murk, shades of gray replacing the deep darkness of space. His space.

There wasn’t anything to reveal. All threats disapparated under the illumination of truth. No foe could move faster than the speed of light; his retinal perception had a hard enough time just keeping up.

He turned the light back off before it woke Margaret. She might not understand his heebie-jeebies over a little static. Hell, he didn’t understand his heebie-jeebies. He grunted a little chuckle and paid a smirk into the dark.

Outside, the wind gusted up, sounding like the tide coming ashore. As that sound dissipated, another rose to replace it—a high pitched sound, electrical and faint. It was a sound which would prick the ears of a dog before human perception. But there it was, feeling like predatory tinnitus.

The red LED of the LCD monitor went out showing that it had been powered up and in the darkness of his bedroom he felt alone, utterly alone; left to deal with whatever was lurking in the darkness—something he knew was there even after confirming it wasn’t. He was still propped up on his elbows so he could see what happened next.

japan-static-black-mystery

Static began to show up on the screen. It began in black turned to a deep impenetrable gray as it washed in on the speakers. A few scattered bits of light, mere pixels really, scurried across the screen. More pixels vaguely made manifest a shape. As the head and shoulders of the static-thing resolved, the screen seemed to bow and flex, warp and ripple.

Two hands, then two arms reached out across Zachary Mosko’s dresser to pull the static-thing out as if drawing itself from a pool after a few laps. It yanked once and had its chest resting on the dresser. The hiss of its breathing, shallow yet rapid with its exertions, should have woken Margaret. But she remained unmoving and deeply asleep.

After the short rest, the static-thing took a great inhalation filled with electrical interference and launched itself at Zachary. It grabbed him by the legs and began drawing him back, back toward the LCD display.

Zachary reached to anchor himself in the room. One hand landed on the remote control and he frantically tried to turn off the television—turn off the terrorizing presence that couldn’t possibly exist.

Again, and again, and again—he stabbed at the power button.

When that didn’t do anything for him, he dropped the remote on the bed and grabbed at the footboard in a last ditch effort.

The electrical discharge grew louder as Zachary’s feet and legs passed through the surface of the LCD monitor. Pixels parted in fluid motion, engulfing Zachary and taking shape around him.

He inexplicably uttered no cry of help, too busy in the attempt of staying alive. He flailed in desperation as he was drawn in; denial written plainly on his face.

And then he was gone.

He had passed on to another where. A looking glass made by Samsung.

Margaret Mosko woke up then. She felt around on Zachary’s side of the bed and came up with the remote. She used it to turn off the television which was reduced to a light static anyway. She figured Zachary had gone for a snack when the cable went out.

Irony in that. Think about it.

Later, the police didn’t believe her. The spouse is always the first suspect.

But the surveillance video was pretty clear.

So now you know what happened to Zachary Mosko.

I understand it’s going around.

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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.

***

 

A Mahatma Fatwa

I have to start by giving credit for this idea to Icypop Sedgwick, who stated on Facebook that she, “would very much like to be able to teleport.”

I thought it would be a cool business venture and proceeded to imagine possible glitches. It turned into a story idea in a matter of minutes. Here’s the short (and only) version in which I resurrect Detective Becker. Remember him? From “Tricky Treats?” Back in October? Ah, well…

Enjoy!

He was the first to respond.

Detective Becker stood beside his car. Jacket open and pushed back. Hands on hips. He surveyed the quiet neighborhood.

There was the sound of a line gently rapping a flagpole.

In the driveway was a pristine blue ‘69 Rambler American.

It didn’t add up for Becker. This was the site of an international and technological incident? He simply had to wait for Chen. Detective Chen was the head of the Technology Crimes Division. This was his case. Becker was just in for backup.

Chen arrived in a Toyota Venza. It had antennas of every ilk lining the top of it.

“Chen.”

“Becker.”

“What’s this about?” Becker asked.

“We’ve been looking for a stolen Transpon model 208; finally coordinated it to this location. Checked with Nstar and they corroborated the utility spikes inherent with the equipment.”

“What’s a Transpon…whatever you said?”

“A teleportation device.”

“Really.” It was a statement, not a question. Becker scanned the house again, turned back to Chen and said, “Pretty small is it?”

“The garage is new. Added four months ago. It was built to house it.”

“Huh, you really checked this out. So what do we do now?”

“The last power spike was this morning. It coincided with the disappearance of the spiritual leader, Mahatma Ji Prem Sirhaj. He was freed by a mob rushing the prison in which he was being detained.”

“You think he’s here?”

“Unlikely. But the equipment surely is.”

“So we’re here for the equipment?”

“I am, but we must wait for Ramirez.”

“From INS?”

“In case Sirhaj is still here.”

“Ah.”

Becker swiveled to scan the neighborhood again. A dog trotted across the street, tail high in the air. Chen’s car made sounds of contraction as the engine cooled.

Chen fidgeted with his tie, ran his fingers through his hair. Finally he said, “I hope the software update was done on this model.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“The Transpon model 208 is an easy hack without the McAfee firewall updates. If someone wanted to, they could really mess things up in transit if the updates weren’t done.”

“Mess things up?”

Chen studied Becker for a moment and then nodded and said, “Yeah, mess things up. Not everyone thinks Sirhaj is a great spiritual leader. A fatwa has been issued for his death.”

A late model Ford pulled up. The door opened at the same time the engine stopped. “Gentlemen.” She nodded once and said, “What have we got?”

“The Transpon has to be in the garage,” Chen said. “If Sirhaj is here, he’s yours. If the property owner is here, Becker will take care of him. I’m here to secure the transporter.”

Ramirez exposed her badge and said, “Let’s do this.”

They marched toward the house. Becker rang the doorbell. Chen tried the garage door and it opened easily.

No one came to answer the doorbell so Becker, and then Ramirez, joined Chen as he entered the garage. Inside, the blue and silver box filled out the space like a full sized van. The equipment hummed softly.

Chen went around to the side, pulled the doors open. The light from inside illuminated his shocked expression.

“What is it?” Becker asked.

Ramirez didn’t hesitate. She entered the garage and stood next to Chen. When she looked down into the Transpon, she took a step back and gasped. “What the…”

A vaporous miasma wafted out of the Transpon.

Becker couldn’t contain himself. He scanned the quiet neighborhood once again and seeing no reason to secure the garage opening, stepped inside to see what the others were looking at.

A mewling sound came from the Transpon. When Becker looked down, he said, “Holy smokes. What is that?” He started breathing through his mouth to avoid the smell of feces mixed with the coppery scent of blood.

“That’s probably Wilson, the property owner, and Sirhaj,” Chen said. “This is what I was talking about earlier. The updates weren’t done.”

All Becker could see was a puddle of lumpy skin with limbs jutting out at odd angles. Three eyes peered out in different directions. Closer, a tongue lolled from a riot of teeth. The thing tried in vain to articulate a plea.

Becker couldn’t stand anymore. He ran out of the garage and lost his lunch. Prickles of sweat chilled his scalp in the cool winter air. It was close to the end of the year and he had his resolution now. Hands on his knees, he looked out into the neighborhood and resolved to ask his boss, Rodney Cooper, to quit sending him on the gross-out calls.

He needed some recovery time after this one.

Maybe even a vacation.

So, that’s it. I’d like to wish everyone a wunnerful new year!

Take care and do your updates…

Modus Operandi

With this one, I plunge into the dark again. I wanted to call it a ‘slice of life’ story, but not everyone would get the pun. Feel free to shout out if you recognize the setting…

A gray cat wends a figure eight around his legs. As the unnoticed feline scampers off, it fades into obscurity.

He sits on a bench facing the marina, the docks, and the boats. A voice, distant and indiscernible, sounds familiar to him. He turns toward the voice casually and seeing no one there, scans the area for the source in a more aware and frantic way. His eyes—falling on no one—feel tired and bloodshot and he worries they may not tell the truth.

When he turns back in frustration, an ethereal woman is standing some ten feet in front of him. He thinks it is number two.

They always find him now. He squeezes his eyes shut and counts to three adding one-thousand before each number. She laughs as he opens his eyes again, but she is gone. The laugh fades to an echo, reverberant in the canyons of his mind.

He claps his hands over his ears and hunches so his elbows are on his thighs. He stands suddenly, hands tight fisted at his sides and he yells.

“Gaaagh, fuck off!”

Alone with his fears and his guilt, he came out to the waterfront for the air to clear his head. “Nothing helps,” he murmurs as an exhalation.

He marches west, back to Brewster Gardens—back the way he came. The voices whisper, a plotting fraternity of his own creation. He can’t tell what they say, exactly, in their sharp frenzied tones. But he knows they’ve found each other somehow.

He wonders what they want. Exposure? Revenge? He feels like an animal being tracked, hunted for sport. He hates it as much as he hates himself and he turns to walk backward for a few steps. Focus slow, he feels he might have missed a lurker darting for cover. Under the overpass for Main Street, he stops and waits to see if anyone is following.

He doesn’t see them, all shot through with moon glow, walking slowly at the top of the grassy hill and looking down at him.

He hates this. All those people. He wishes there wasn’t a first, doesn’t have to close his eyes to see her. She banged her head on the doorframe with the first thrust. The mirror finish of steel tainted red with gore; when he held it up he could see himself reflected back. He buried that reflection again and again hitting something different each time; bone, meat, muscle. His mind raced through the possibilities with each thrust as if tallying some weirdly wicked dart match. He remembered panting like an athlete, breathing spatter and cold air.

Past the Grist Mill and into the parking lot, clouds opened up to let the moon shine down, spotlighting the only vehicle there at this time of night—really early morning. It is an old Ford Econoline with cancerous fenders and a magnetic sign telling other motorists he is Plymouth Pool Services.

As he runs toward it he thinks he is running from the voices, but their volume never dims. The frustration of it turns to anger as he fumbles for the door key. He throws himself into the driver’s seat and closes the door at the same time. He slaps the door lock and feels instant relief—insulated from the outside. There is no dome light to time out; he removed that long ago. He sits in the darkness, eyes darting about and afraid to move. He is trembling with a fear noted in his breathing.

He has always known fear. His father instilled that emotion in him long ago and he wears it like a long coat. It occurs to him that maybe he should have passed that fear around instead of keeping it for himself. He could have dealt in fear instead of death. The idea relaxes him for a moment as if it is a revelatory bit of therapy.

Motion in his rearview mirror has him spinning around to see. Eyes pierce the darkness, staring in at him. He realizes he cannot run anymore, he cannot hide. They always find him, just like he found himself in the reflection of his favorite kitchen knife. He found temporary comfort in the neat certainty of stainless steel.

How can he run from the ones he has already slaughtered? They hunt, they plot and he hates them. Most of all, he hates himself.

He knows he is a vile murderous creature. He knows.

Killing all those people never assuaged his fears. They still come for him and he can only kill them once.

His eyebrows rise in realization of the final answer. If he kills himself…they’ll have no one to hunt.

“Ha haaah,” he mutters, and then thoughtfully rakes his upper teeth across his lower lip. “I know how to end this you fucks.”

But the idea of plunging his favorite knife into himself is, at once, repulsive. Leaving it dirty and discarded, while he bleeds out in pain is not an option he can live with. The irony of that thought process eludes him.

Another plan jumps to the head of the line and he acts on it. He uses a bungee cord to hold the rear door of the van closed on a hose running from the exhaust pipe. The drone of the engine lulls him, its exhaust slowly asphyxiates.

All of them, solemn as funeral attendees, surround the van. There are several dogs and cats in the group. One ferret chases another down the windshield.

The somewhat pink luminosity of the distant eastern sky hints at a morning he is glad he will never see.

As he flickers out of consciousness he feels he has won—feels they can never catch him now.

It occurs to him that he has changed his modus operandi and he smiles. He feels hands grabbing at him and it gives him a start.

Eyes open and outside looking in, he releases a scream that may never end.

 That’s it and thanks for hanging on to the end. I hope you enjoyed it.

Did you recognize the setting? Did the story make you skin crawl at all? Let me know what you think and please—do tell your friends about FlashTold.

Zombie Luv Flash Fic Contest: Cooties

I should first say that I shy away from those subjects of horror that have been beaten to a bloody, indistinguishable pulp. Vampires, werewolves, and zombies top that list. But I saw the words ‘zombie’ and ‘love’ mashed together for a contest and this story came to mind.  So I wrote it down.

The rest of the zombieluv stories can be found at http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/AdQScg/marisrandomities.blogspot.com/2010/07/zombieluv-news.html  where you can do some voting as well.

The door lurched open and slammed shut again. Jessica Tremblay had her back against it, her feet touched the opposite wall, and her legs were locked.

“Jess-i-ca.”

Daniel was of a single mind, he wanted in.

Jess loved Daniel ever since they were children. She had to convince him that cooties did not exist before he would stand in one place long enough to talk. She would twist to-and-fro, making her dress twirl; a flower in a field of people.

As they matured, he became more interested in her. Well, there was another girl, Cindy Martin. But Jessica always won battles of popularity. By the time they were teens they were meeting in places other than church, like the Dan-dee Ice Cream Shoppe. She went to his high school football games and they went to all the dances together. They became inseparable.

The door she had her back against jerked weakly three times and there was a groan from the other side. It sounded like a garbled word, like “hungry.”

Daniel signed up for the Marines. He told Jessica he did it for the opportunities; he did it for the scholarship money; he did it for the travel.

He was sent to Falujah, which was a goodly amount of travel. In his unit he learned about semper fi, how to fire weapons, and how to fight. The last thing he saw was the Euphrates through dust and gun-smoke as he slid down a wall and the world went black.

Jessica attended the memorial service along with the rest of her family. The whole small town appeared to have shown up to see his flag draped coffin.

Audio speakers were set up outside Cavalry Baptist for the hundred or so who could not fit inside. They listened as one after another stood before a microphone giving testimony about their loss, their feelings for Daniel, and their love of the Lord, amen.

Afterward, Jessica went to stand by the grand old oak where she and Daniel had their first kiss. It was easy to remember how they each stood with their hands clasped behind, leaning in.

She hoped she would feel his presence there. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself and thought back to that moment when his lips touched hers and the world slowed to a stop just for them. Tears welled from her closed eyes.

She was startled back to the present by a voice, “I can help.” It was a croaky old voice that didn’t pronounce the letter ‘l’. “I can he’p you both.”

Jessica could only tilt her head with all the questions she had for this small, ancient black woman.

“I can bring him back for you. Would you like that?”

Jessica nodded manically, wiped her eyes, and asked, “How?”

The ancient HooDoo queen had been displaced by the hurricane called Katrina and was still living with reluctant relatives. She had a price which Jessica agreed to. More importantly, she had a recipe to reignite some semblance of life in the dead.

When Jessica first saw Daniel walking again, she swooned. But as he drew closer, she could see he was…different. His complexion seemed okay until she figured out it was mortician’s makeup. Daniel stood still for her as she cleaned his face which, underneath, was a pasty white bordering on gray. His deathly pallor was an early indication that all was not right.

She was proud that she and her family could look past the color of his skin; but even the way he walked was off. Her father leaned in before Daniel reached her to say, “What’s wrong with the boy? Looks like a bad case of arthur-right-tus.”

There was some banging on the other side of the door and she noticed the house was getting darker. The shadows in the house grew longer. The door jerked and shook on its hinges.

His voice, “Jess-i-caaa,” sounded desperate. “Hun-greee. Jess-i-caaaaaaa.”

Lately, hugging him was a little unnerving. Daniel’s skin moved around as if he were just a bag of bones. Then he began clacking his teeth, biting at the air and finally started aiming the effort toward her.

She ran, but not until after he had sunk his teeth into her shoulder.

“Daniel? Remember when I said Cooties don’t exist?”

An odd sensation coursed through Jess. She felt the pangs of hunger, the want of some food source she could not put a finger on. Her mind worked sluggishly, and there was a chill growing deep inside.

“Daniel. They do. They do exist. And you got ‘em.”

She held her arms out for inspection, twisting them to see. They had the same pale look that Daniel exhibited; a roadmap of veins rose on a stark gray landscape.

“Daniel, you gave them to me.”

“Hun-greeee.”

His voice, slow and monosyllabic, filled her with desire.

“Yesss,” Jess finally agreed.

The door lurched open again and slammed shut for the millionth time. The house grew darker still.

Jessica realized they were more alike than ever now. She drew her legs in and pushed herself up the door. When she opened it, the door hit her shoe, slammed shut, and she had to reopen it—careful of her foot the second time.

Daniel stared at her with a rictus grin.

She stared back for a moment, searching her own feelings. Wonder was replaced by acceptance which was illuminated by love and she smiled back.

Jess stepped out. He caught her hand and turned to walk with her. They shambled off into the night to search for the one thing they both craved, even hungered for.

*

This is an entry in a contest for flash fiction that has to do with zombie love. If you have an idea for a story of your own, give’er a go. The info you need to enter is below.
And below that, you’ll find an opportunity to let me know how you feel about this tale of zombie love. Don’t be shy, readers. I don’t bite—much.
 
 
Guidelines:
  • Word count: maximum 1.000
  • The story must be a romance between two zombies. Make it as horrific as you like. 😉
  • Stories containing animal cruelty, torture, graphic sex or violence, any form of exaltation of violence, racism or other forms of prejudice will be immediately disqualified.
  • Post your entry on your own blog, with a title resembling this:
Zombie Luv Flash Fic Contest: Story Title
  • Copy and paste the contest logo and the guidelines at the end of your entry post.

So, here it is folks—the place where you can comment on the life altering story you have just read.

Lucy Skye’s got Diamonds

Hello readers.

This little gem marks the end of The Diamond Series that began in February. Each of the five episodes were written so they could stand alone. In this one there is the obvious nod to a Beatles tune, Chet makes yet another post mortem appearance, and I allude to the ShadowLands—which is something I’ve been churning about in my cranial wadding for some time now (years, actually).

Donald Conrad

Lucy Skye’s got Diamonds

GemStars northeastern sales representative, Lucinda Skye, had a lot to be grateful for. She was young, charming, and had great teeth. She was also getting a lot of orders from a single family run business: the Muller Funeral Home.

The primary product Gemstars offered, creating keepsake diamonds from the carbon in the cremains of loved ones, could be expensive. That didn’t seem to bother the clients of the Muller Funeral Home. So she decided to visit and see this successful business for herself.

Ann Muller gave Lucy the grand tour of the place before winding up back at the sales office; walls adorned with shelves of urns, brochures, a large LCD TV over the mantle, a corner dedicated to pets, and a table with business cards and a coffee maker.

Ann said, “Can I offer you a cup of coffee? Tea?”

“Tea, thanks.” Lucy took a seat, opened her planner, found her listing for the Mullers and said, “Last time I was in contact with the Muller Funeral Home, I talked with Chet. Your husband?”

Ann immediately understood that this was the Loosey that showed up on Chet’s cellphone, the phone she kept after killing him. “He was. He passed…five months ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. He was quite the businessman. But you…I came here because we’ve gotten quite a few orders from you. It seems you’re quite the businessperson yourself.”

Ann had placed a cup of tea in front of Lucy, opted for bottled water herself, and had taken a seat. “Thank you.” She didn’t know what to say to this woman. She assumed that Chet was seeing her as well, but that couldn’t be. This was her sales region, but she lived two states away.

“What sort of reaction do the families have when they see our work? Are they satisfied?”

Chet was definitely seeing the other three girls; Cynthia, Jane, and Amanda. Ann had killed them all; cremated each so they’d never be found and sent some of their ashes to GemStars to be pressed into diamond keepsakes. She fidgeted with the pendant full of stones hanging around her neck and said, “Yes. They are all happy with your service.”

Lucy noticed the faraway look in Ann’s face and the cage-like pendant she fidgeted with. Weren’t those the GemStars we sent her? “Would it be asking too much to talk to the families; maybe get a testimonial?”

“You can’t do that,” Ann said too quickly. She was focused again, glaring at Lucy. “We don’t bother the bereaved with sales calls. We respect their privacy.” Ann was standing now, the fingers of her left hand touching her thumb in turn. She noticed that Lucy was staring at her pendant and decided in that moment that Lucy could not be allowed to leave.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” Lucy closed her planner, took a sip of her tea, made eye contact with Ann again and said, “I should get going. This has been an enlightening visit. You have a wonderful place here.”

Ann was calmed by the kind words. “Thanks. That’s kind of you to say.”

Both women looked to the doorway, each seeing something fleeting in the hallway. When nothing else occurred out there, Lucy said, “Could I use the ladies room before I go?”

“Of course.”

Ann ushered Lucy down the hall to a doorway. As she opened it for her visitor, she said, “The light switch is just inside.”

As Lucy stepped toward the doorway, Ann corralled her just like she did with Jane. The training Lucy received at her uncle’s studio, the Xin Chang Martial Arts Academy, kicked in and she dropped down and kicked out. Ann caught the glancing blow of her stiletto-heel high on her shin and stepped back.

Something more than shadow-play—something with substance—rushed down the hall past Ann, who saw it in a fleeting glimpse. Lucy noticed it for an even shorter instant because she was getting up.

As Lucy stood, stepping into it, Ann charged her. Lucy windmilled her right arm, deflecting Ann’s tackle. She spun with Ann and delivered a shot to her kidney in passing. Ann collapsed into the heavy open door of the basement stairs, turned and watched Lucy predatorily as she recovered.

“Why?”

“You know too much.” An empty pedestal—for floral displays—stood nearby. Ann snatched it up, holding like a baseball bat, and approached Lucy.

She took a swing, but both women were distracted by a sound coming from the other end of the hallway. It started low and guttural, coinciding with the appearance of the shapeless shadow hurrying toward them.

“Aaaaaaaannnnnnnnn.” The shadow reared up to a halt, taking the form of Chet Muller from the waist up. “What are you doing? She’s not part of this.”

“She was on your phone.”

“As a business contact.”

“Lucy? Spelled with two O’s?”

“No one was supposed to see that. It was personal humor.”

Lucy was staring at Chet, mouth agape.

Ann hoisted the pedestal again and as she swung it she said, “Well it’s too late now.”

Lucy ducked back and Ann changed her grip, holding it like a barbell and charged. Lucy grabbed the pedestal as well, dropped, and using her feet—hurled Ann over her. Ann released her grip and flew over Lucy, somersaulting down the stairs in a horrible crescendo that climaxed in utter silence.

Chet hovered toward the stairs and peered down. Lucy, unsure of Chet and what he represented, allowed curiosity to win out. She approached the stairs as well.

Ann was in a heap at the bottom, her head gruesomely twisted and facing behind her.

Chet said, “There’s something to be said for keeping your head.”

Lucy watched him turn to a smoky, ethereal appearance that continued transforming into shadow as he moved away and down the hall.

At her feet she saw a small cage filled with precious stones. It was Ann’s necklace, the chain broken.

From down the hall, Chet’s voice said, “Keep them, Lucy Skye.”

He began whistling a Beatles tune that she recognized right away and smiled as it faded with Chet to the ShadowLands.

So that’s it for Chet and Ann.

There is an actual company that will—for a price—turn the carbon in the cremains of a loved one into a keepsake gemstone. I called the company GemStars. It made for some interesting Googling.

If you liked the story let me know. Heck, let me know if you didn’t. Feedback is the price I ask of my readers, honesty—the currency of choice.

A Change of Possibilities

Hello again readers. I believe this one can stand alone, meaning you don’t have to read the other parts of the Diamond Series to get it.

Donald Conrad

A Change of Possibilities

 

Regret crept in, curled up, and made itself at home. Ann was living alone upstairs in the residential portion of the Muller Funeral Home, a business her and her now deceased husband Chet had built. The regret Ann felt was not because she had killed Chet; it was due more to her loneliness.

The inevitable end was near when she found out Chet was cheating on her. Ann took it upon herself to make it ‘Chet’s end’. Of course, it wasn’t all Chet’s fault. They say it takes two to tango. So it was only fair that Cynthia should die as well.

Cynthia had a funeral package set up and paid for with the Muller Funeral Home. No one had contacted Ann for those arrangements which meant that no one had found Cynthia yet. It had been a month since Ann killed her, suffocating her with a pillow. That apartment had to stink to high heaven.

The funeral home had its own incinerator for cremation, so it was easy to get rid of Chet. Ann had sent a portion of the cremains to Gemstars, a company that could “create gemstones from the carbon of loved ones.” Having the resulting stone returned, uncut, was an unprecedented request according to the representative she dealt with at Gemstars. In the end they relented; but not until they got the customer-is-always-right defense.

Ann found a pendant she liked at a local jeweler. It was shaped like a canary cage and had heavy gold plating. She put Chet—the uncut yellow diamond—in it. The caged diamond was symbolic for her.

Till death do we part, she thought as she spun the pendant on its long chain.

All these thoughts, like cards in a deck, shuffled themselves in her head.

She was setting up the five large first floor rooms of the eighteenth century Victorian that was the Muller Funeral Home. Chet’s memorial service would be the next day and a large turnout was expected.

In her peripheral vision she caught a glimpse of something darting low and quick. It moved faster than she could react—faster than she could focus, and was gone. She fidgeted with the pendant as she peered around the front sitting room. Content that the room was set up to her satisfaction; she turned off the lights and moved to the receiving room next.

Ann had turned on the gas log to take the chill off but it hadn’t worked. It was still oddly cold and a shudder ran through her bones. She shut off the gas and was leaving that room when she saw something fleeting again. This time it was over by the alcove under the stairs, a naturally shadowed space.

She walked over to the stairs, cautiously looking around and found nothing. She spun to return and froze in both wonder and fright.

The dark shape slowed to a stop in the center of the receiving room. Rearing up, it stretched and swelled until it was the size of a man. It floated and bobbed, features came into focus, and arms were held out in presentation; or maybe it just didn’t want to run into anything.

Ann’s mouth was working but nothing came out.

“No hello? No ‘I love you?’ Cat got your tongue? Snap out of it Ann. You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Well, but, I am. I have. You are.” Ann shook her head, looked down, back up and then ran a hand over the flat-top crew cut she was sporting. “You can’t be here.”

“Oh, but I am. Miss me?” He smiled, still bobbing slightly, floating without feet.

“Go away Chet. You’re dead. I killed you for messing around with Cynthia.”

“A bit harsh, don’t you think?”

“If I couldn’t have you, well…we took vows.”

“Vows? Wedding vows? Nobody listens to that stuff anymore.”

“I do.” Ann poked a thumb at herself. “I do Chet.” She took a couple of steps closer. “We were going to start a family. Instead I find out I’m not enough.”

Chet sank lower, the wispy tendrils of his legs trailing behind him. “You were enough Ann. It wasn’t about you.”

Ann closed the distance and made to slap Chet across the face. His features swirled in the wake of Ann’s hand, following in its breeze.

His ethereal essence curled, returned and reformed. “That was cold.”

“Get out Chet. You’re no longer a part of my life.”

“Hah, I’ll always be a part of your life Ann.”

Ann shuddered at that and wrapped her arms around herself.

“And because you still think of me, care for me, and even love me, I’ll never get beyond the Shadow Lands.”

The truth of what Chet said weighed heavily on her thoughts. But that last: “Shadow lands?”

“Never mind that, I shouldn’t have mentioned it. You’ll see it all soon enough at the rate your going. The thing I came to tell you is that I can see your possibilities—which change with your actions—and most of yours are out of character for the Ann I know. They’re quite…unsettling.”

“You want to talk about unsettling, Chet? How about Cynthia? You and Cynthia. I did her in, you know. How about Jane at the gym? And loosy Lucy?”

With that train of thought, a sudden flash of inspiration hit. She finished with: “And what about the others?”

Chet took a step back; well, it seemed that way at least. “How do you know about the others?”

“I didn’t until now.”

Ann spun in place and left Chet there in the middle of the room. He looked concerned for a moment, and then horror washed across his face. Ann’s possibilities had changed. He sank into himself, slowly at first; reverting to the shadows.

Chet never considered the idea that a ghost could be frightened for the living.

The possibilities are endless at this point, readers. Several things are certain: Cynthia will have to be discovered,  Ann has more work to do, and Gemstars will have a repeat customer. Until next week, bear in mind your own possibilities.