No Peace; Tasteless Beer

Nagging.  I hear my wife’s insistent voice, but the words are far away and…mushy, like.  Sometimes it’s like that. I dunno why.  I hear almost everything else fine.  The birds outside the windows.  The steady hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen. But sometimes her voice sounds like it’s coming from real far away…or through water.  Now, I can’t hear exactly what she says, but after 34 years of marriage, I know that tone well enough.   I just want to sit in my chair and drink a beer, watch the game.  I’m a simple man.  I’m a simple man, and like most women, she’s a complicated woman.  I love ‘er, Lord knows I do, but sometimes I just wish she’d stop talking.

I give up.  Can’t taste the beer anyhow.  So I get up and drift to the bedroom.  I feel tired, but I’m not sure how that can be. Why can’t I taste the beer, but I can still feel tired.  Dead tired.  Hardy har.  Maybe it’s on account of all that nagging.  It always did wear me right out, squabbling with her, even when she did most of the talkin’.

Now that I’m in the bedroom and just wanna sleep, all of sudden, her voice is clear as a bell, like she’s whispering right in my ear.  How can a man sleep like that?  Oh, well…at least she’s not nagging anymore.  But this may be worse because now she’s crying softly.

Why did you leave me?  I miss you so much… I’m so lost without you.  I’ll never let you go.

I tell her to hush, that’s it’ll be okay, but she doesn’t hear me, which seems to set her off to nagging again.

Why won’t you talk to me?

I should be aggravated, but now I’m sad, because, dammit, I miss her too.  I can’t touch her…but she won’t leave me alone.  And somehow that makes it worse, having something or someone so close, but you just…can’t…reach ’em.

Somehow the thought makes me more tired.  So I wish she’d just stop talking altogether, just for a while, so I can get some rest.

Jesus, woman.  Even dead, I can’t get no peace.

Reddit writing prompt:

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Made for Each Other (Fiction)

1/2015

Marisol stared at the dirty plate and single set of flatware in the sink. Yesterday had been Jerry and her first anniversary, one year married after a whirlwind six month romance. Her friends said they made a perfect couple, no doubt secretly cattily dismayed by the brevity of the courtship. Her mother was ecstatic, no doubt secretly relieved of the fear of having her only daughter turn into a lonely old spinster because she was too busy wasting her youth on a pesky career to find a man. Marisol was happy.

Yet while she couldn’t exactly say the honeymoon was over, that plate grated on her nerves. She had made Jerry an elaborate and romantic dinner the evening before, complete with candles and a cheap bottle of wine she’d picked up on a last minute’s inspiration, from the convenience store down the street. Jerry hadn’t drunk any of it, but he seemed pleased enough with his meal, and afterward, she had cleaned up, done the dishes, and they cuddled on the sofa for a bit. Then a quickie, and off to bed. Thank you, ma’am.

Tonight Jerry was in the den, in the recliner watching TV, and the dirty plate in the sink was mocking her. She had already made dinner and washed all the dinner dishes, along with Jerry’s breakfast dishes. Today had been particularly busy at work; Marisol was a paralegal for their town’s most prominent lawyer. Her boss was the closest thing to a local celebrity the town had, and though Marisol never divulged much, even to Jerry, she found out much juicy town gossip working in that office. Who was divorcing whom for cheating, who was on probation for drinking and driving. Who had a TRO for domestic assault or was being sued for back child support.

And though Marisol was aching to sit down and maybe have a glass of that cheap wine from the night before, she had done all the accumulated laundry, made dinner, and even had time to run the vacuum through the small ranch style home. She’d hopped in the shower and finished up just in time to greet Jerry with his meal. She’d felt satisfied, as if she’d had a fairly productive day, and she was ready to relax.

But that dish rankled her. It was a wart marring the face of her immaculate kitchen, but more than that, it represented more work to her. And Jerry was on the couch watching TV.

Of course he deserves a break too. He just got off a work, Marisol told herself.

So did I, but I made dinner and then I did all the dinner dishes. Why can’t he wash his own damn dessert plate, instead of leaving it for me to do? she answered herself, in what she had come to think of as her Other voice. This was the voice she heard more often now, although she tried to quell it. That voice was trouble. It was an argument waiting to happen, and Marisol hated arguments, though she and Jerry had never actually had a significant one to speak of.

It’s not a big deal, she told herself, not worth nagging over. Marisol didn’t want to be one of those wives that nagged. She wanted that even less than she wanted to argue.

But the Other voice persisted. It’s not a big deal. Not by itself. Unless you consider all of the other ways he takes you for granted too.

It’s a not a big deal, she repeated patiently.

No, but if you bottle it up, these things add up until it is a big deal.

She had nothing to say to the Other. She just stared at those dishes, dismayed in the recognition of the first tiny seeds of resentment. Her lip curled unconsciously at the chocolate drying to a blackish crust on the tines of the fork.

Just then Jerry came into the kitchen behind her. He was heading to the cabinets, no doubt to rummage for another snack, and only seemed to notice she wasn’t actually doing anything, when he had to walk around her idle form.

“What are you doing?” He sounded slightly annoyed; why that should be she didn’t know. He’d been sort of sour ever since he had gotten home from work.

That note of annoyance in his voice sparked her own. She opened her mouth and a bit of the Other came out. Yet even that was tempered by her desire to keep the peace. When Marisol heard herself speak, she was irritated at the supplicating tone of her words. “Nothing. It’s just, well, I finished all the dishes, and it would be nice if you could wash your own dessert plate so I don’t have to later.”

Pain exploded in her face in a white hot flash, and when it subsided and she could see again, she was sitting on the cold linoleum. Through watering eyes, see could see Jerry looming over her, his face calm but hard.

Don’t tell me what to do, Marisol.”

Her mouth hung open and she sat immobilized, vaguely wondering what would happen next.  Jerry stared at her a moment longer before wordlessly helping her to her feet and then walking out of the kitchen.

Marisol raised a hand gingerly to the her lips, which were already swelling. Still, when she withdrew her hand, she stared at the blood on her fingers a moment before the full realization of what had happened descended upon her like a black wave. She felt a creeping numbness spreading up from her feet and down from her neck, so that her bruised face was the only feeling of which she was aware. The voice of the Other was whispering ceaselessly in her ear, but she couldn’t make out the words. Marisol went to the sink and retrieved the dirty plate. From the dish drainer, she took cast iron pan in which she had cooked that night’s meal. A few beads of water still clung to it, shining like black eyes on the matte surface of the pan.  Her mind felt strangely blank and she stared at those tiny black eyes and walked calmly to the den. She did not expect Jerry to beg forgiveness, and he did not. He didn’t even look away from the TV. She brought the pan up, and with as much strength as she could muster with one hand, swung a vicious arc at his head. The sound of the pan hitting home was like nothing she had ever heard, a hollow and unforgiving sound. Marisol dropped the dirty plate on his still chest. She turned back to the kitchen and, on legs that felt as numb as her mind, she went to the phone on the wall, picked up the receiver, and called her boss at home.

Note: this story started out as a single moment in my mind, along with a question; “What would it feel like in that moment (of complete shock) when a woman is hit by her abuser for the first time?” Somehow, though, the story morphed and took on and even darker tone. I blame Stephen King. Darn his subversive influence.

The Cycle

“I asked you a question.”

He’s trying to control the conversation.  Don’t let him.  You have the power now.  He’ll never control you again.

“Say something…say something!” His lapse in composure is brief, but she sees the rage that she now knows must have always been there.

“What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to answer the question.”

A pause.  “How could you do what you did?  Those women…”

“Have you never been taught not to answer a question with a question?”  She’s never heard that note of condescension in his voice before.  Not in 8 years of marriage or the two years they dated before that.

I never knew him at all…who is this man?

“You still love me…”  His eyes pin her to the spot, like a butterfly mounted in a display case.  “You miss me.  You need me.  Don’t you?”

don’t need him.  And I don’t love him, not anymore.  But, God help me, I do miss him.  At least, I miss the person I thought he was.

“Answer me.”  Somehow this quiet command is more frightening than all of his rage.

I’m not scared of him.  He can’t hurt me anymore.  I’m not scared, I’m…  Defiant,”Why should I?”

“Because I have something you want.”

“You don’t have anything I want anymore!”  No!  Don’t let him see your anger!  If you’re angry, he wins.

He smiles.  “We both know that’s not true.  I know where your sister is.”

bflies-071

Omega

[Friend and fellow blogger Emmie Mears is having another one of her flash fiction competitions, so I thought, what better time to flesh out an idea that’s been knocking around in my head for a couple of days?  I get to satisfy my urge to write without being committed to a full-length novel or story…yet.  Her contest isn’t quite open for submissions yet, but I just couldn’t wait to get a little feedback on this post.  Hoping it fits neatly enough into the dystopian/horror sub-genre…  Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to expand upon it at a later date.  *See notes related to story’s particular plot at the end of the post.]  

Omega-E spreads fast, but there is about a month from the identification of patient zero to the time when the dead start to outnumber the living. The CDC and the government try to manage the numbers, with mass cremations to control the spread of the disease and to keep the corpses from piling up. Americans are pissed. Until their fear trumps the need to mourn and bury their dead. The situation declines fast and martial law is declared, but it’s a token gesture, with soldiers stationed only where there are valuable resources the government deems “in need of protection.” In most of the cities and suburbs, there is no law anymore.

This makes gathering supplies a lot easier, but also a lot more dangerous. There are other dangers besides contamination. Looters, psychos. The marines guarding the supplies will shoot to kill with the slightest provocation. But the worst, other people like us, people whose desperate minds have turned black with panic. Sometimes you can actually see the madness, flapping around, like a bird with a broken wing, behind their too-bright eyes.

And then there are the Infected. Like zombies, only worse. They’re sick, shambling…and bleeding copiously. Omega-E is almost entirely hemorrhagic. Makes the cases of Ebola in Africa look like a head cold. The Omega virus dies more quickly outside of the body than it’s African predecessor, so chances of surface contamination are lower, but once infected…there is no recovery. The only upside is that incubation for Omega-E is brief, the tell-tale rashes, fevers, and vomiting appearing within 24 hours of contamination, with death only a few days later. This makes the Infected pretty easy to identify.

It also makes them very dangerous. Almost up until their last breath, usually dragged laboriously through lungs filled with blood, they are aware… and terrified. If the uninfected have a panic-bird behind their eyes, the Infected are infested with whole flocks. Like drowning victims, they’ll drag down anyone who chances close enough.

It’s easy to stay inside for the first week or so. As the pandemic ramps up, we make pilgrimages to the store and start setting supplies back. But eventually we’ll need to go out there again. We have a little girl. Even if we could live on next to nothing, she couldn’t. And although the electricity and water remain on for the moment, there’s no telling how long it will last.

I heard a rumor about the government instituting rolling blackouts to manage the power supply and “ensure continuity of service” for everyone. The pretenses are breaking down. Pretty soon they won’t even bother to lie to us.

We need a plan. A few more trips out for supplies. Right before dawn seems to be quietest. The pharmacy. The grocery. Guns if we can find them. And then we’ll go out into the country, or maybe the woods. Somewhere there are no people, where we can wait this thing out. It has to end sometime, right? Right…?

 *Due to the word count constraints imposed by Emmie, I didn’t get to delve too deeply into my desired plot  concept.  It may seem like “just another” zombie story, but what I really wanted to explore was how a couple like myself and my hubby would get along with our toddler in the midst of a pandemic crisis.  See, in horror films, you don’t often see many really young children portrayed and my guess is that it’s due to the “logistics” of trying to survive when you have to care for someone who not only completely dependent on you for their well-being, but also not yet cognitively developed enough to realize the necessity of basic evasive and survival skills.  For instance, how do you keep a frightened two year old quiet so you can hide from a passing zombie horde?  I want to follow a couple with no special skills (no ex-green berets or weapons experts here) as they endeavor to survive and protect what is dearest them, and I want to do it without taking the easy way out and “killing off” any characters that could be seen as a hindrance or potential “baggage” to the flow of normal horror stories/ films.  Of course, I have not gotten that far yet. 

Things Not To Do

(sort of flash fiction piece based on common horror tropes.  possibly may still add to/revise it, but for now it is ‘finished’- 3-12)

THINGS NOT TO DO:

Don’t answer the phone. Don’t go into the basement. Don’t open the door. Never ask “Who’s there?” It’s never just the wind. Don’t go exploring. If you do go exploring, don’t split up. Don’t take the short cut. Don’t get out of the car. Don’t stay in the car alone. Don’t go into the woods. Never turn your back. Garlic doesn’t work. Keep your clothes on; cheaters and naked people die first. Never hitchhike. Never pick up a hitchhiker. Don’t scream for help. Don’t get bitten. Shoot them in the head. Grab the nearest weapon and don’t be afraid to use it. And for the love of God, DON’T drop the weapon after you use it! Be careful who you trust. Don’t come out of hiding; you may think the killer is gone but when you come out, he’ll get you. Don’t go near him, he’s not really dead. If you hit him and knock him down, keep hitting him until his brains are on the floor. Monsters exist. Usually the human ones are worse than the non-human ones. Don’t look back. Don’t stop running. Try not to trip. Hold your breath. Don’t make a sound. When the house tells you to “get out,” leave. Don’t open the chest. Don’t play the game. Don’t read the book. Don’t speak the words. You’re already dead.