Charlie Radio

This is a short story that I wrote for Fundamentals of Character at Ringling this semester. Hope you like it. Parameters were 3,000-4,000 words. Let me know your thoughts!


Spirits of the dead live on in imagination, music, creativity, and humor.
And the written word.

Charlie was always on, like the small radio that played from the kitchen table. The radio, though, was more easily tuned. His grandmother called from the stove.

“Charlie!”

Ba-drump, ba-drump, ba-drump. Charlie galloped down the stairs in the familiar cadence, his steps like sharp stick strikes on a tight snare drum. The radio sang high with trumpets and trombones.

He wriggled around the living room, shuffling torn spiral-bound notebook pages in his small eight-year-old hands. He paused upon inspiration, making hurried scratches on his messy script with a pencil that doubled as a makeshift microphone. His trusty tape recorder was slung across his body with a chewed-up belt. The dark metal hunk bounced on his hip with his spasmodic, amusing movements. He muttered attempted versions of radio show introductions until he smiled with satisfaction.

Granpa scanned Charlie without moving his head. “We’ll be right there, Shirley.”

Charlie squirmed over the ottoman, around the couch, around the chair. Granpa pretended to watch the five o’clock news.

Finally, Charlie sat on the stool next to Granpa’s favorite recliner and pressed the stubborn red button on his recorder. Before Charlie could arrange his notes and speak, Granpa leaned close to Charlie. “Do you know Mr. Scravuzzo?” with a slight chuckle.

“What?” Charlie squealed just above the tape recorder.

“Do you know Mr. Scravuzzo?” Granpa asked again with one very arched eyebrow, as thick as his occasional Italian accent.

Charlie was near hysterics. “No! Who is Mr. Scraboozoo?” Charlie was trying, but failing, to summon all the determination of a dime-store-novel detective. His stifling of titters resulted in sputters of spit from his pursed lips.

“He shit on the floor.”

Charlie collapsed onto the living room rug, laughing without sound and convulsing until his abdominal muscles seized. He never understood the meaning of this oft-repeated joke, but the flagrant use of profanity was exotic and hilarious. He buried his face and gasps of laughter for fear of inviting the attention of his always-busy Gramma.

After a few moments, Charlie spread his arms out and indulged in the familiar braids of the well-worn rug. “Granpa.” He soothed himself with that whispered word. The word cracked off his tongue like fresh bubbles from a soda pop. His notebook pages crumpled on the floor beneath him, the detective story he was about to share forgotten for a moment.

Charlie knew that his grandfather was not his biological parent. Charlie knew that his own parents were gone. The only father he had ever known was Gaetano Gianfranco Guerrieri–his dad’s dad. He peeked up as he felt the recliner footrest pushed down by his grandfather’s legs.

Granpa slowly limped to the TV set and turned the power dial to “Off.” He turned, grabbed his cigarettes from the TV tray, and headed to the small metal kitchen table near his pot-stirring wife. Charlie followed, pushing his papers into a deep jean pocket. He tucked his microphone behind his ear. The aroma of simmering sauce was calling all hopeful diners.

Gramma chopped Charlie’s clean, white plate with her messy, red spatula. “Washa you handsa!” Shirley was neither Italian nor did she have an accent, but after living with Gaetano for over thirty years, she had fun bellowing commands in a horrible imitation of him.

Charlie didn’t look at Gramma. He simply pouted into his sauce-splotched plate. “You washa the hands or I washa the hands.” Charlie knew what that meant. Gramma would grab his ear, lead him upstairs to the bathroom, and use only hot water and too much soap.

“Okay.” Charlie stomped up the stairs to pretend to wash his hands.

As Charlie loudly reached the top, he paused and lingered near the bathroom door. He picked at the dry skin and dirt on his index finger with his thumbnail.

“I don’t hear any water!” Gramma shouted from the kitchen.

“Fine!” Charlie relented and quickly rinsed his hands under the cold water of the sink. He scrambled down the stairs. Ba-drump, ba-drump, ba-drump. Back at the table, he sat on his hands. Gramma stood still at the stove; she lifted lids, checked sauces, turned spoons.

“Show me.” She didn’t turn.

“Fine!” Charlie raced back upstairs and used soap this time. His feet barely touched each step on the way down. He nearly stumbled on the third step disturbing his usually perfect stair drum march. Ba-drump, ba-drump, ba-dump, dump-dump.

“Grazie!” Gramma sang. “Mangia!” She had already filled Charlie’s plate with linguini, sausage, meatballs, and sweet, smooth succo. The table was full with a bowl of grated Parmesan, a basket of torn stirato, napkins, silverware, extra sauce, and that small radio.

The radio played: a 1939 RCA Victor Tabletop Bakelite in Avocado with illuminated dial. It was the fourth diner. Usually tuned to the Big Band station, it was soft and low while they ate.

Charlie took the radio, dinners, his grandparents, and most things for granted. He did not consider familiar objects; inconsequential items did not have lives of their own. These substances did not exist if Charlie was in another room. Things, bodies, spirits lived in his imagination. Life borne on those scraps of paper tucked in his jeans or in his constant, shifting thoughts of possibility and humor. He stuffed his emotions down deep in those pockets; love poured out into silly scripts. Drawing a grin on Granpa’s lips was his sole desire and goal.

Charlie ate quickly. He mindlessly hummed to the swing song playing next to his elbow. Charlie thought only about his script: if Granpa would like it, if there was any action to add, how to say the things he wanted to say to make his grandfather crow.

Detective Scravuzzo? Would that make him laugh?

Gaetano and Shirley were still finishing their plates when Charlie asked to be excused. “Washa you handsa!” Charlie spoke in perfect unison with his grandmother.

“Don’t be smart,” she called after Charlie as he drummed up the stairs, back to his room. Inside, he carefully tip-toed through the galaxy of Star Wars action figures, working model of the Millennium Falcon, and Darth Vader’s bodacious-black Tie Fighter. Charlie sat down in the vacancy he had used to set up this space scenario. He gave the Tie Fighter a squeeze on its tail just to hear the laser fire a short blast at the ol’ Falcon.

He pulled his faceted sheets from his jeans. With some resistance, he finally freed the pages, a small Matchbox car that had belonged to his father, and other bits of metal. The car, some jacks, a few paperclips jangled to the floor. He unfolded the paper wad and savored the rereading of his dashed-off detective story from earlier. He fetched the pencil from his ear and scribbled a few more notes.

He would try to show Granpa tomorrow. Saturday was always a good day for their own program of pretend–Charlie Radio.

He recognized the fanfare floating up the stairs. It was his grandparents’ favorite radio repeat. He grabbed Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, crept quietly to the stairs, and sat down on the top step. He remained very quiet and listened intently to the radio show his family enjoyed.

After several harp flourishes, the crescendo of the brass, an announcer calls,Welcome to Magical May Mystery Theatre. Every week we recall a chilling tale from yesteryear. Let us turn to the wonderful works of Sir Stanley Bunion Boyle. This week is Hemlock Jones and the Case of the Missing Miss.”

The narrator, “It is a brisk fall evening in London. At 411 Butcher Block, the flickering gas lamps illuminate the slightly fogged, second-story window. We peer in to see our veteran detective, Hemlock Jones, relaxing by the fire. He is cranking the handle of his newly-purchased gramophone. After laying the needle, a gentle etude emerges from the decorative horn. Jones reclines on a wingback settee, his feet crossed upon a well-worn pillow. Jones enjoys his elaborate pipe. His trusted companion, Nurse Watterston, seated to Jones’ immediate right, is pouring three cups of tea. An anxious man sits opposite of Jones and the nurse in an upright parlor chair. He pleads with the pair.”

“You must help me find my daughter, Mister Jones! I humbly rely upon your unequaled skills.”

“Certainly, Lord Ghaddi! All in due time, old chap. First, Nurse, a cuppa for the journey.”

Nurse Watterston asks, “Where was your daughter last seen, my lord?”

“Lahdi was at home with my wife, Lady Maia. Her mother sent her upstairs to play while she arranged the house to receive Lahdi’s music teacher.”

Nurse, “And then she was just gone?”

Jones, “Dematerialized?”

Ghaddi, “Beg pardon?”

The nurse explains, “Vanished.”

“Oh. Yes. Quite.”

Jones explodes, “No matter! We shall pinpoint your precious progeny and restore the House of Lord Omar Ghaddi! Nurse, two lumps and away! Hither and thither in the ether!”

The narrator, “The trio gulped down their tea and dashed out into the street. Hemlock Jones used his best disguise to hail a hansom cab at that late hour. He lowered his head, pulled his overcoat away from his trouser hem and rolled his checkered pant past his knee. He revealed a rather racy, lacy white stocking. Immediately, a hansom cab driver diverted his apparatus to the curb and halted abruptly. Hemlock sprang to the carriage step and shouted to the cabbie.”

Jones, “Thank you, Driver! To Paddington! Make haste!”

The narrator, “The driver looked quite disappointed.”

The driver with a cockney accent, “With those gas-pipes, I thought you was a lady.”

Nevermind! Drive on, my hansom man.”
A horse whinnies. Horse hooves clop. The sound of carriage wheels hiss through puddles.

The narrator, “The gentlemen and nurse nestled inside the vessel, drawn by horse on their terse, cursed course. The perplexed party hustled and bustled to address the mess and wrestle with the troubling, tussled puzzle. Phew.”

The harp chimes. The announcer calls, “We shall return to Hemlock Jones after these important messages.”

Commercials. Commercials are so boring. I bet Nurse Watterston looks like my mother. Big, friendly cheeks and soft eyes. Light hair and pink lips.

Charlie laid down on the top step. He took off one of his no-name sneakers and laid it behind his head. He flew Luke Skywalker back and forth, twirling the figure with his nimble fingers. He toyed with the fading light from the lone stairwell window.

He dreamed of adventures with Jones and Watterston.

I’ll be Hemlock. Mom could be Nurse Watterston. Dad could play any character.

Lord Omar Ghaddi would have a snowy beard and large glasses, but just behind those spectacles, at the very top, he would recognize those brows. The entire Guerrieri family had those thick, arched expression-makers. Even the women.

Is that Granpa?

But. Just below the fake-white, bushy mustache would be Frank’s charismatic smile. When Charlie detected his disguised father, Frank’s face wouldn’t change except for a small, twinkling wink.

Charlie’s eyes relaxed. His lips made sound effects for Luke. Pfff-shew. He remembered a novel, comforting tune.

“In me you see a man alone, behind the wall he’s learned to call his home…”

Charlie’s arms became heavy and he yawned.

“…walking in the rain, expecting love again.”

He imagined the thin white line that moved behind the numbers on the dial of the radio. The line turned into a rocket. The rocket launched. The exhaust swirled into curled hair.

“…learning to live with memories of midnights that fell apart at dawn.”

He closed his eyes. Bits of light flashed at the sides of his mind. The stars warped and stretched.

“A man who knows love is seldom what it seems, just other people’s dreams.”

Charlie drifted away before the radio program finished.

Charlie could only hear the hiss and hush of the radio off-air. The light was gone from the stairwell. He felt around for the hand railing to his right. He touched the cool wall by his bedroom door. It was damp. Now he heard the bathroom sink drip echoing through the hall. He couldn’t move very much for fear of falling.

“Hemlock?” A friendly female voice called to Charlie. “Hemlock, is that you?”

Charlie’s mother, dressed in a long, white gown, floated up the stairs, out of the darkness of the living room. She reached out for Charlie.

“Mom?”

She didn’t reply. Charlie felt another presence by his shoulder, pressing into his sleeve.

“Hi, son.” Charlie felt a voice on his neck, a small fire in his ear. Charlie turned to see an old man–top hat with silk trim, spectacles pinched to a round nose, a wiry pushbroom mustache feathering into cheek-tickling chops. “Where have you been, Charlie?”

Charlie’s embarrassment and confusion crackled like pops of static between stations. “I was lost.”

His mother consoled him. “We’ve been so worried, Charlie. We’ve been looking everywhere.”

Charlie brightened. “I’ve been here the whole time. I was waiting for you. I can play now.”

“Sorry, Charlie Radio. It’s bedtime. We can play tomorrow, Sweets. I would love that.” His mother combed his hair off his forehead with her fingers.

“No! Please, don’t leave me. Please. You just got here. I’m here now.”

Charlie’s mother drifted down the steps. “Goodnight, Charlie.”

Charlie turned to his father, an attempt to keep him, to make him stay. “Lord Ghaddi, did you find your little girl?”

“Goodnight, Charlie.” His father winked. He shifted his weight to stand.

The static returned. Charlie’s eyes blurred with tears. He howled.

“Don’t leave me! Please! Please!”

“Charlie,” Granpa whispered. A little louder, “Charlie.”

Gramma gently rubbed Charlie’s arm and called, “Charlie Cheeks.”

Charlie roused; he wasn’t fully conscious. “Hm?”

“Time for bed, Puddin’.” Gramma steadied Charlie under his arm as he rose and turned slowly, aiming for his bedroom door.

Charlie swiped his face with his sleeve. His lashes clumped together. The tears were real at least.

Granpa picked up Luke and Leia from the step and placed them carefully on Charlie’s homework desk. He turned Charlie’s blankets down and fluffed his pillow. “Night, Charlie.”

Charlie woke. The sunshine streamed through his sheer, white curtains. The white panels reminded him of his mother’s midnight gown. He could hear soft voices downstairs. The radio was strangely silent. He slid down the stairs to listen. He stopped on the fourth stair; the third stair squeaks.

“He was listening, Gae.” Gramma was exasperated.

“We don’t know that,” Granpa reasoned.

“Gae, he was listening to the show. I just wonder how many times he’s done that.” Gramma was nervous.

Granpa dismissed her concern. “Let’s not say anything. He probably didn’t even understand.”

“I always thought we should tell him. This is nonsense. I let you ignore this for years. I can’t even say my own boy’s name in my house because you feel guilty.” Shirley trembled. Her eyes flickered and shone with mourning. “He’s mine, too.” Now with pride, “He’s still mine.”

A silent moment passed, like a prayer. Neither knew what to say. The wood step groaned when Charlie shifted.

“Charlie.” Gramma knew he was listening from the stair. “Charlie, come down.”

Charlie lost his cadence as he crept to the edge of the rug. “Am I in trouble?”

“No, Sweets. No.” Gramma stretched her arm and offered her curled palm. “Come here, Charlie.”

Charlie sat beside her on the scratchy tweed sofa. “Why are you mad at Granpa?”

“She’s not mad. We’re sad.”

“Is it my parents?”

“Yes. Were you listening to the show last night?” Gramma asked.

Charlie nodded. “It’s one of my favorites. It’s Sherlock Holmes, right? Sort of.”

Gramma sighed. “Yes. It’s a recording.”

Charlie agreed. “I know it’s not like a TV show. It’s really old.”

“We listen to it when we miss your dad,” she explained. “That’s your dad. And mom.”

Charlie wasn’t certain. “Frank? And Dianne?” Charlie guessed at what she meant.

“Yes. They recorded that just before their accident.” Gramma crossed to the credenza. She cupped her hand and whisked her fingers to summon Charlie.

She lifted the lid, like a hinged upright piano top, and showed Charlie a large device. Brown strips of tape lay loosely pooled around a metal spool. The reels reminded him of his own recorder, but bigger. The holes in the reel made him think of surprised giant panda faces. It looked like a film projector on its side.

“You mean it’s not the radio?”

“I’m so sorry, Charlie.” Granpa shuddered and his breathing changed. He sat forward in his recliner. “It’s my fault.”

Charlie ran to his grandfather and sat beside him on the stool. His small hand patted Granpa’s back. Gaetano broke. He was shaking. “I told them to go have fun.”

“Fun is what you do, Granpa.” Charlie kept patting.

Gaetano stood and grabbed his cigarettes. He coughed and sniffed. He wiped his eyes with his collar as he headed for the stairs.

Charlie sat beside his grandmother; she had returned to the rough couch. He laid his messy hair and muddled thoughts on her lap. Gramma tamed his tangled fringe with her careful fingers.

Granpa wasn’t driving the car. I don’t understand. Gramma told me to go play with Jimmy and I scraped my chin. But she definitely told me it was my fault. I don’t get it.

Charlie knew that his parents had died in a car accident together. Gramma had told him when he was five.

“Why don’t I have parents?” Charlie had asked after spending an afternoon at Jimmy’s.

Gramma’s answer had been short, but reassuring. “They had a bad accident, but we’re your parents now.” Her smile, at that moment, paired with a bowl of ice cream seemed more than adequate.

Charlie’s questions changed that morning. Why don’t we talk about them?

Charlie did what all children do, he grew. Granpa did what all humans must, he died. Gaetano passed during Charlie’s senior year of high school.

When Gaetano died, Charlie didn’t remember that dream, the radio show, or his offering of cold comfort. Almost ten years later, though, the vision drifted in on the billows of his first morning cigarette.

The old tabletop RCA, now permanently silent, sat on Charlie’s shelves, high above his writing desk. It rested next to the sleek Tie Fighter. Both had survived two moves and a pawn shop.

Granpa. The word no longer popped. It welled and bubbled like a tear–slow and full. What’s it like to lose your child? What’s it like to feel guilt for your child’s death?

Charlie plugged in his comfortable padded headphones.

I didn’t even know my parents. They were just pictures in an album, a fairy tale of sweethearts. How could I miss someone I never met? How can I grieve people I didn’t know?

I was never lonely or sad.

Granpa was sad and that worried me.

My friend, Jimmy? His loss was huge.

Granpa–his loss was the worst I’ve known.

My parents? They were…clouds without rain.

Listening to–Pink Floyd. Dark Side? No–Wish You Were Here.

Charlie stared at the open document on his laptop. He pressed his index finger against the edge of the desk, hoping to make his already-popped knuckle crack again.

I want to write a story. But–what?

Pop. The joint gave into pressure.

Nothing seemed worthy. His fingers cramped at the thought of typing anything. He cradled and pulled his jaw to one side, performing at-home chiropractic services. His eyes found the radio.

Avocado. Radio. Charlie Radio. What if…?

His fingers began whisking over the keys like Gramma pinching pepper into a pot. A story whistled on the stove.

In 1939, while the world was falling apart, I was put together.

My illuminated dial dimmed. I can’t play tunes any more. My mind forgot the music. My voice is silent. My faded avocado body has scratches and scars. No one thinks I can hear, but I can. I still remember.

I watch over Charlie. I listen for his voice. I listen for his laughter, stories, dreams, and pain. I listen for his thoughts tapped out on the keys. I listen for his words.

My life began the summer Gaetano Guerrieri walked into the small appliance shop at the end of 15th and Main. He was dressed in an olive-green uniform, holding hands with Shirley. Shirley pointed to me. The shop owner placed me back in my box, wrapped me in thick brown paper and delicately handed me to Gaetano.

“Grazie,” he said.

We strolled along 15th…

THE END

FINE

Hay and Gasoline

Hay.
Gasoline.
Sweet hay.
Gas.
Blood.
Blood in my mouth. Did I fall?

I’m lying in the still-long blades of dry, yellow grass. The motor is running. I can only see the tops of red baseball caps. I hear muffled bellowing.

Someone’s holding my hand. Sun is white. Sweat forms just above my brow. Rolls down. Meets my tears. Down my temple/upper cheekbone. Pooled in the cradle of my outer ear. Can’t move. Can’t see anything but sky. Can’t hear very well. Because of the grass? Or something worse?

The silhouette of my father’s face, grimaced and gray, leans. Zooms. I’m veiled by his plaid work shirt now. His overall strap buckle lightly pressing against the bridge of my nose. His huge gloved hands lift me quickly from the ground. I’m laid on the pickup bed’s tailgate. Next to the leaning batches of barn-bound, recently-bailed hay.

I like the attention. But I’m scared. Only because every pair of eyes I meet are scuffling with fear.

Paranormal Revenge Fantasy (1-5!)

*MATURE CONTENT* Chapters 1-4, with new Chapter 5! for easier reading or just to catch up.


1. Time To Wake Up

The room is white. White, sheer panels over the windows. White sheets on the bed. White carpet, white furniture, white trim. The only bit of color is a tan, overweight man sleeping peacefully on his stomach in a twist of wrinkled cotton ridges.
And…
There is a dark figure sitting on top of a dresser in the corner. Its legs are folded underneath. It is motionless and silent. The white panels ripple in the breeze and rising sun. The shadowy form flaps in and out of focus behind the curtains as they fly. The almost stillness hangs on for several moments.
The black figure leaps.
“WAKE. THE FUCK. UP!”
John was immediately awake. Barely able to inhale, John struggled for his breath, partly from the terror running through his body, partly from the pressure of something very large on top of him. John could not move. Only the figure’s sick-red lips and milky chin emerged from the dark hood surrounding its face. It whispered wetly in John’s ear.
“Rough night? I know you’re awake now, right? I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, John. I’m going to enjoy this.”
There was a long pause. John was terrified. He didn’t bother to ask the question of who the figure was. He understood. This was a person that he had wronged. His lifestyle and work placed him next to dangerous people. He ran a successful car service. Most of the people in Miami who used his company were powerful men who played terrifying games. Drugs, sex, crime. He had arrangements, entanglements, loans with these men. His success had come at a great price, his freedom. It wasn’t a surprise to have someone threatening him, but an invasion of his home was new.
The voice on top of him sang sweet like a woman, but the body was very large and heavy. Even if he had wanted to ask some question, he was not able to speak. He had just enough air to keep from losing consciousness. His mind seized as well. He could simply listen and wait for the next moment.
“I know you didn’t expect to see me. I know you thought you would never have to think about what happened again. Oh, you thought about me for a couple of days. But you didn’t worry about how I felt. You only shuddered occasionally thinking I would show up at your door. But how could I? I only had your number and you took care of that. But you didn’t need to unplug the phone, I only called that one time.”
John’s mind immediately flooded with memories of many girls from the past. He tried to place the arousing lilt and scratch of this voice, but it vibrated with echoes and harmonies. He thought of how many times he had unplugged his phone. Avoided the calls of those girls he wanted, slept with and couldn’t bear to see again. John always looked for girls. Women.
He couldn’t help it. It was a habit. Like chewing gum or biting fingernails. He didn’t sweat over it. He did it unconsciously. Involuntarily. Like bleeding.
“I’m Hy.” She placed her elbow in John’s back as she steadied herself to stand. John yelped and squirmed in pain. “Sorry, John.”

2. Let’s Party

Hy slogged across the room. The pieces of fabric tied to her coat jumped up and down, they danced like wooden wind chimes clacking together on the breeze. Dark hair oozed out of her hood and swished around like ink on marble. When she passed the window, he noticed that she was just as tall. She had to be almost 7 feet. Her legs were long enough to step onto the dresser, turn and squat with her black boots tucked under her, supporting her body.
John realized as she sat that he was free and scrambled on all fours through the sheets to the cell phone on his night stand. It was off. He pressed the power button and nothing happened. He slammed the phone down and called for someone, “Deana??! Are you still here??!” No answer.
He got up off the bed and walked quickly to the door. Before he could reach the hall, Hy silently flicked her finger and slammed the windows and doors shut without even looking up from her task. John stopped. He turned to Hy with his fists formed, not angry, scared. Hy swiped her finger across the small screen of a handheld device.
“This Deana? I’m looking at your Facebook, Johnny. She’s cute. Professional cheerleader, huh? And what else does she do? Professionally, of course. On the side? She’s pretty. How long before she cheated on ya, Jaybird?”
Hy vacantly blinks and smiles for a few moments at John. He has no response. He walks slowly towards the dresser and pulls out a black pair of shorts, unsure if she will allow this.
“I’m at least going to put on some clothes.”
“Oh, yeah, please do. I don’t wanna see that. Can I even see it??” Hy giggled. “You know, that always was a lot like your height and personality. Always coming up short.” Big smile.
John sits down on the foot of the bed to face Hy. She turns her face back toward the screen in her lap as she stretches out one leg and sits on the other. She shifts; gets comfortable. “Yeah, Deana won’t be back.”
“Why, what did you do?” He was angry.
“Oh, I didn’t do anything. It’s what you did. When she walked out of here last night, it was for the last time.” Back to the screen. “Looks like you have a successful company. How much do you owe to the banks? Or this guy?” Hy showed a picture of El Rey, known in Miami as a big-league businessman with ties to the drug cartels, a money launderer. No doubt he washed some of the money in John’s cars.
“Oh, here’s a fun picture. The sweaty, beer-stained collar of your shirt really catches the light in this one.” She laughs. “It’s starting to catch up with you, John.” She continues to swipe the screen, flipping through pictures and pages.
“I can’t see how old you are, Jooooohn. No birthday? By my calculations, you are, let’s see, 45 right?” Hy closes her eyes and then pops them open with the answer. “No! My bad. 46. I missed your birthday this year. Sorry ‘bout that. Happy birthday.” Hy is sitting on the dresser, kicking her dangling leg with absolutely no trace of a smile.
“What do you want?” John asked.
“Yay! I finally get to kick you in the proverbial balls. Here’s the real gut-punch, John.” Hy rose into the air. She floated above the dresser with her arms stretched wide. She was done playing around with her mouse. Her voice consumed most of the air in the room and John’s lungs.
“I am righteous anger. I am vengeance. I am every single girl, woman, person you ever violated. I am the pooling blood of the innocent. I am violence. I am justice. I am the voice of the girl you raped and killed. I am the dark angel formed by all the pain and suffering you have left in your life. I’m here for that life, John.”
“I never raped anyone! I never killed anyone!” John gasped.
Hy raised her hands and pushed an invisible force toward John. He was thrown against the wall, pinned by his wrists to the white suede headboard. She seethed and spit through teeth. “You had sex with a drunk, unconscious woman. Remember Rachel? Maybe you don’t remember her name? Maybe you never knew it. That was rape. Your friend took pictures of you having sex with her. He shared the pictures of you raping her with everyone.” Hy clicked her tongue, “Real sloppy, John.”
John was ashamed, afraid, confused and in pain. He started to cry. His chin dropped to his chest along with small streams of tears.
“Rachel saw those pictures being passed around at school. She was taunted by your friends. But you wouldn’t know that. You never went to college. You simply hung around at the parties, preying on girls. You didn’t know that Rachel was mentally ill. She’d have to be mentally ill to sleep with you, honey. Believe me, we all were.
“You also never knew that she stopped taking her medicine because she ran out. She was too afraid and embarrassed to even walk to the pharmacy to refill her prescription or ask for help.”
Hy swooped down and raised John’s head. She whispered the rest into John’s face, her eyes darting back and forth between his, searching for any sign of recognition or remorse.
“She stopped going to class. She stopped eating food. Rachel killed herself because of what you did. Do you remember Rachel now? She sliced her wrists open in the dorm bathroom while her roommates were at a party. You were even at that party. Her
blood is on your hands.”
She removed the force from his hands and his palms landed limply on the bed. She glided to a stand at the edge of the bed. John could not speak or move. He was motionless with fear and shame. Hy stared into John’s eyes for a moment and then returned to a chair near the window. She sat and folded her arms and crossed her legs.
“You didn’t know that did you? You never called her or spoke to her again. You never picked up a newspaper or watched TV. You were too busy fucking someone else to notice.”

3. The Apology

“I’m–sorry.” A few more tears. John was weak.

“Did you just say ‘sorry’?” Hy was angry.

“I AM sorry. I’m so terribly sorry.” John pleaded.

Hy sat still for a moment. She stared at John. She saw past the surface. She saw past the watery eyes. She saw past the terror and despair. She looked into his heart and saw nothing. “You’re pathetic.”

John groveled. “What should I say? I regret doing that. I was young. I was stupid and drunk. I want to take that back.”

“You can’t take it back! She’s gone and I’m what’s left.”

“I don’t want to die. I don’t want this. I’ll do whatever you want, just please don’t kill me.” John whimpered, “I’ll make amends.”

Hy sighed. “You want to make amends. You have no idea what that even means. What that entails? You cannot make amends. You do not want to make amends. You can’t lie to me. You can’t charm me.”

John shouted, “I’ll do whatever it takes!”

Hy moved so quickly to John’s side that her body blurred behind. She was close to his ear within a second. As sweet as you please, “You know what we’re going to do, don’t you?”


4. Back to the Beginning

John panicked. He was terrified by his own words spoken back to him. Those words are the ones he always whispered to women the moment before he kissed them for the first time. His mind flipped back through time, through each woman, flashing through pictures, rapidly increasing in speed. Then everything came to a bright, white halt.

He landed on the one picture he didn’t expect to see. His own mother. The image in his mind began to play like a home movie, soft and dull at first. Her dress and hair faded into vividly bright spots of swimming color. Her face comes close to his. Her face is distorted. She whispers, “You know what were going to do, don’t you?”

John shuddered and dropped the image like a boiling pan. He shut his eyes tightly and went blank. He tried to dampen the overwhelming feelings that struck like lightning bolts.

Hy sneered. “You’ll do whatever it takes, huh?”

“I get it,” John whimpered.

Hy reassured John. “You don’t get the half of it. That’s only the beginning.”


5. Behind Closed Doors

Hy walked slowly to the door and it opened. John watched Hy as she turned to look back at him. For just a moment, a second before she disappeared, her face melted into something different. She started to shrink and wither. She was gone.

John closed his eyes tight for a few seconds and gathered himself. Trying to understand what he had just been through and seen, he heard soft cries of a small girl from the next room.

What is THAT?

The soft, wet breaths increased. A few gasps. The sounds intensified. Weakly, “No.”

She repeated the simple word until John stood. The noise immediately broke, but his mind accelerated. He was afraid to go into the next room.

Even though the noise had stopped, he could still feel things happening down the hall. Light. Warmth. An energy. His chest ached and dragged. He walked slowly to the door.

He looked and listened down the hallway for the now-silent voice. Everything was still for several seconds. He heard a small noise. Not a voice, but a body shift or a paper move. Someone was in the next room.

The hallway was dark. The hallway was usually bright with sunlight reflected in mirrors, artwork glass and light-colored tile. It was never dark. Even at night, the moon and stars found their way down the hall. The house was different. The tile was replaced with dirty, matted olive-green carpet. There was a smell: stale, heavy, metallic.

He took small steps and strained to make out cigarette butts, crumpled plastic cups, crushed beer cans and torn pieces of paper littering the floor.

As he approached the end of the exaggerated hall, he saw a sliver of silver highlighting the edges of a closed door. Whatever was happening was just beyond. The light bounced, dark to bright, when something bumped the door from the other side. He couldn’t breathe or swallow. His chest was burning. He stretched out his hand to turn the knob.

Paranormal Revenge Fantasy (Cont.)

4. Back to the Beginning

John panicked. He was terrified by his own words spoken back to him. Those words are the ones he always whispered to women the moment before he kissed them for the first time. His mind flipped back through time, through each woman, flashing through pictures, rapidly increasing in speed. Then everything came to a bright, white halt.

He landed on the one picture he didn’t expect to see. His own mother. The image in his mind began to play like a home movie, soft and dull at first. Her dress and hair faded into vividly bright spots of swimming color. Her face comes close to his. Her face is distorted. She whispers, “You know what were going to do, don’t you?”

John shuddered and dropped the image like a boiling pan. He shut his eyes tightly and went blank. He tried to dampen the overwhelming feelings that struck like lightning bolts.

Hy sneered. “You’ll do whatever it takes, huh?”

“I get it,” John whimpered.

Hy reassured John. “You don’t get the half of it. That’s only the beginning.”

The Ravine

This story was composed for a literary competition celebrating Ray Bradbury. Obvs, they didn’t pick mine. So I’m publishing here. Rules: 451 words or less (Fahrenheit 451) and in the style of Bradbury. Mine was exactly 451. Also, one was to pick a theme. Choosing a word from the stream-of-consciousness string of nouns that Bradbury would use for his stories. I chose “The Ravine”.

My body is in the ravine. On my back. Legs twisted and broken. Flesh is taken from my side by dogs. Stones and leaves are taking blood from my injuries. Life is a stain. Draining away. Being stolen. I’m almost gone.

I’m not sure when I came into being. When I came to my conscious mind. I just have memories. Like anyone. No one remembers being born. I just am. But not for long.

I like to run. I’m good at running. That’s good because I have to run. From them.

They are afraid of me. They don’t like me. Always yelling. Always pursuing. Always. They aren’t kindly calling me, looking for the lost. They are mad. And I know, because I exist.

Tug-tug. Tug. I can feel my body moving left-right, left-right, left-right. The dogs are almost done.

  1. That’s my name. I know my name because it was called every morning at work.

451, move forward.

I enjoyed my work. For as long as I did it. Mainly because I was good at it. I was designed for it. I haven’t been at work for several days. My teammates won’t ever know what becomes of me. My death will be a secret to keep.

My brown, muscular legs are losing their power now. Winding down into the earth. I raise my head to look at the men standing over me. They click their cheeks against their teeth. One man has tears in his eyes. The others have steel. All have regret.

What a waste.

I wouldn’t go back. Not even if I could. The world is too sweet. Colorful. Warm. I would die anyway, if I went back, knowing what I know. Seeing what I have seen.

They didn’t expect me to know things. I tried to keep it inside. I tried not reading in front of them at all. Or, if I couldn’t help myself, pretend to be curious, but dumb about papers and pages and books. Eat and nibble at them. Nudge and slobber on them. But also read them.

It worked. Until I spoke. In anger and frustration.

They froze. I froze. We paused in that enormous moment and wondered about more than work, deadlines and productivity. We thought about life. The door was unlocked. I kicked. And ran.

Now. Here. This is where my intelligence has brought me. Bleeding out in a lonely, lovely dry river bed of wild taste and feeling.

They stroked my tangled mane and rested their palms on my cold, barely-beating chest.

They said, “We’ll take you back.”

Please, bury me here. Please don’t take me back. I want to live and die on the out.

“You were our best horse.”

Paranormal Revenge Fantasy (Cont.)

2. Let’s Party

*MATURE CONTENT*
Hy slogged across the room. The pieces of fabric tied to her coat jumped up and down, they danced like wooden wind chimes clacking together on the breeze. Dark hair oozed out of her hood and swished around like ink on marble. When she passed the window, he noticed that she was just as tall. She had to be almost 7 feet. Her legs were long enough to step onto the dresser, turn and squat with her black boots tucked under her, supporting her body.
John realized as she sat that he was free and scrambled on all fours through the sheets to the cell phone on his night stand. It was off. He pressed the power button and nothing happened. He slammed the phone down and called for someone, “Deana??! Are you still here??!” No answer.
He got up off the bed and walked quickly to the door. Before he could reach the hall, Hy silently flicked her finger and slammed the windows and doors shut without even looking up from her task. John stopped. He turned to Hy with his fists formed, not angry, scared. Hy swiped her finger across the small screen of a handheld device.
“This Deana? I’m looking at your Facebook, Johnny. She’s cute. Professional cheerleader, huh? And what else does she do? Professionally, of course. On the side? She’s pretty. How long before she cheated on ya, Jaybird?”
Hy vacantly blinks and smiles for a few moments at John. He has no response. He walks slowly towards the dresser and pulls out a black pair of shorts, unsure if she will allow this.
“I’m at least going to put on some clothes.”
“Oh, yeah, please do. I don’t wanna see that. Can I even see it??” Hy giggled. “You know, that always was a lot like your height and personality. Always coming up short.” Big smile.
John sits down on the foot of the bed to face Hy. She turns her face back toward the screen in her lap as she stretches out one leg and sits on the other. She shifts; gets comfortable. “Yeah, Deana won’t be back.”
“Why, what did you do?” He was angry.
“Oh, I didn’t do anything. It’s what you did. When she walked out of here last night, it was for the last time.” Back to the screen. “Looks like you have a successful company. How much do you owe to the banks? Or this guy?” Hy showed a picture of El Rey, known in Miami as a big-league businessman with ties to the drug cartels, a money launderer. No doubt he washed some of the money in John’s cars.
“Oh, here’s a fun picture. The sweaty, beer-stained collar of your shirt really catches the light in this one.” She laughs. “It’s starting to catch up with you, John.” She continues to swipe the screen, flipping through pictures and pages.
“I can’t see how old you are, Jooooohn. No birthday? By my calculations, you are, let’s see, 45 right?” Hy closes her eyes and then pops them open with the answer. “No! My bad. 46. I missed your birthday this year. Sorry ‘bout that. Happy birthday.” Hy is sitting on the dresser, kicking her dangling leg with absolutely no trace of a smile.
“What do you want?” John asked.
“Yay! I finally get to kick you in the proverbial balls. Here’s the real gut-punch, John.” Hy rose into the air. She floated above the dresser with her arms stretched wide. She was done playing around with her mouse. Her voice consumed most of the air in the room and John’s lungs.
“I am righteous anger. I am vengeance. I am every single girl, woman, person you ever violated. I am the pooling blood of the innocent. I am violence. I am justice. I am the voice of the girl you raped and killed. I am the dark angel formed by all the pain and suffering you have left in your life. I’m here for that life, John.”
“I never raped anyone! I never killed anyone!” John gasped.
Hy raised her hands and pushed an invisible force toward John. He was thrown against the wall, pinned by his wrists to the white suede headboard. She seethed and spit through teeth. “You had sex with a drunk, unconscious woman. Remember Rachel? Maybe you don’t remember her name? Maybe you never knew it. That was rape. Your friend took pictures of you having sex with her. He shared the pictures of you raping her with everyone.” Hy clicked her tongue, “Real sloppy, John.”
John was ashamed, afraid, confused and in pain. He started to cry. His chin dropped to his chest along with small streams of tears.
“Rachel saw those pictures being passed around at school. She was taunted by your friends. But you wouldn’t know that. You never went to college. You simply hung around at the parties, preying on girls. You didn’t know that Rachel was mentally ill. She’d have to be mentally ill to sleep with you, honey. Believe me, we all were.
“You also never knew that she stopped taking her medicine because she ran out. She was too afraid and embarrassed to even walk to the pharmacy to refill her prescription or ask for help.”
Hy swooped down and raised John’s head. She whispered the rest into John’s face, her eyes darting back and forth between his, searching for any sign of recognition or remorse.
“She stopped going to class. She stopped eating food. Rachel killed herself because of what you did. Do you remember Rachel now? She sliced her wrists open in the dorm bathroom while her roommates were at a party. You were even at that party. Her
blood is on your hands.”
She removed the force from his hands and his palms landed limply on the bed. She glided to a stand at the edge of the bed. John could not speak or move. He was motionless with fear and shame. Hy stared into John’s eyes for a moment and then returned to a chair near the window. She sat and folded her arms and crossed her legs.
“You didn’t know that did you? You never called her or spoke to her again. You never picked up a newspaper or watched TV. You were too busy fucking someone else to notice.”

Paranormal Revenge Fantasy

1. Time To Wake Up

The room is white. White, sheer panels over the windows. White sheets on the bed. White carpet, white furniture, white trim. The only bit of color is a tan, overweight man sleeping peacefully on his stomach in a twist of wrinkled cotton ridges.
And…
There is a dark figure sitting on top of a dresser in the corner. Its legs are folded underneath. It is motionless and silent. The white panels ripple in the breeze and rising sun. The shadowy form flaps in and out of focus behind the curtains as they fly. The almost stillness hangs on for several moments.
The black figure leaps.
“WAKE. THE FUCK. UP!”
John was immediately awake. Barely able to inhale, John struggled for his breath, partly from the terror running through his body, partly from the pressure of something very large on top of him. John could not move. Only the figure’s sick-red lips and milky chin emerged from the dark hood surrounding its face. It whispered wetly in John’s ear.
“Rough night? I know you’re awake now, right? I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, John. I’m going to enjoy this.”
There was a long pause. John was terrified. He didn’t bother to ask the question of who the figure was. He understood. This was a person that he had wronged. His lifestyle and work placed him next to dangerous people. He ran a successful car service. Most of the people in Miami who used his company were powerful men who played terrifying games. Drugs, sex, crime. He had arrangements, entanglements, loans with these men. His success had come at a great price, his freedom. It wasn’t a surprise to have someone threatening him, but an invasion of his home was new.
The voice on top of him sang sweet like a woman, but the body was very large and heavy. Even if he had wanted to ask some question, he was not able to speak. He had just enough air to keep from losing consciousness. His mind seized as well. He could simply listen and wait for the next moment.
“I know you didn’t expect to see me. I know you thought you would never have to think about what happened again. Oh, you thought about me for a couple of days. But you didn’t worry about how I felt. You only shuddered occasionally thinking I would show up at your door. But how could I? I only had your number and you took care of that. But you didn’t need to unplug the phone, I only called that one time.”
John’s mind immediately flooded with memories of many girls from the past. He tried to place the arousing lilt and scratch of this voice, but it vibrated with echoes and harmonies. He thought of how many times he had unplugged his phone. Avoided the calls of those girls he wanted, slept with and couldn’t bear to see again. John always looked for girls. Women.
He couldn’t help it. It was a habit. Like chewing gum or biting fingernails. He didn’t sweat over it. He did it unconsciously. Involuntarily. Like bleeding.
“I’m Hy.” She placed her elbow in John’s back as she steadied herself to stand. John yelped and squirmed in pain. “Sorry, John.”

Survived By…(Volume 2)

One Month Later by Martha Maggio

“Hi.”

She didn’t look at me as she sat down at the table.  Syl had grown distant from me over the last month.  Understandably so.  I was of no use to anyone, including myself.  I did not usually even drag a comb through my hair.  I had cut it all off the day after the funeral.

I just took the clippers I used every month on Harold, our dog, and shaved my entire head.  No hair guides or tapering, just full on buzz.  That was the first time I hadn’t cried about an activity in several days.  I had always promised myself to shave it on some strange occasion and that day seemed like the exact moment to pop that cork.  It was intensely freeing and satisfying, just as I thought it would be.  With my preoccupation in crying and eating, I had no time for hair.

But this drastic measure had naturally disturbed my daughter.  We didn’t talk about it.  She casually rubbed my head one day and said with a small smile, “Feels like teddy bear hair.”  I returned her smile with a solitary wink.  And that was all the conversation we had regarding Mommie’s new do.

On most days, I would take a shower, towel dry my very short hair and collapse into bed.  I wore sloppy shirts and dirty yoga pants.  I waited around for breakfast time, fed Syl, walked her to the bus stop and quickly walked back home to take a nap.  Today was different.

“Hi,” she whispered.

“How ya feelin’?” I asked.

“Okay.”  And she immediately started eating her cereal.

We sat in the dining room for fifteen minutes.  Silently.  While she slowly ate her flakes.  I read articles on my tablet and I could feel her eyes scanning me.  But every time I would look up to catch her eye, she would automatically shift her eyes to the window behind me.  The last time I looked up, she had stopped eating and was frozen, spoon in hand.  Tears rolled off her cheeks and landed in the sweet milk.

“What? What is it?”

She couldn’t speak.  She just kept crying into the bowl.  Her hand finally released the spoon and it fell awkwardly to the table.  She grabbed her face and finally let out a whimper.  She sniffed and sucked the fluids escaping her face and hands.  She lost complete control.

“Tell me, sweetheart.”

“I miss Daddy.”  More sobs.

“Me too.”  I touched her back and ran to the kitchen for tissues.  I plucked one of the two boxes on the counter.  It was too light and I shook it.  Empty.  I ran my finger inside to make sure.  The other box was empty, too.  No tissues, as we had used them all very quickly.  I wasn’t ready to go out in public yet to get some and I forgot to ask my mom for more each time she brought groceries.  I grabbed the paper towels off the rack and ran back to the dining room.

“Here.”  I laid the paper towels beside her hand.  She didn’t take them.  She was sober and distant again.  I couldn’t help but feel like a failure about the tissue.

Dangit.  Dang Kleenex.  I should have a pack of Puffs strapped to my friggin’ wrist these days and all I can think about is taking my nap.

“Mom.”  she started.  “Mom, I love you.  But you’re making me miss Daddy more.”

I was gutted.

Oh my God.  She’s right.  I am a failure.  Get it together.  She needs you and you are freaking out.  You selfish, horrible mother.  You are letting your baby fall through the cracks.  GET. IT. TOGETHER.

I took a deep breath.  “Okay.”  I smiled.  “I’m sorry.”  I felt like dying inside.  I felt like smashing myself in the face a thousand times.  I felt like flipping out and bawling my head off.  But I just breathed deep and smiled.  The tears came to my eyes, but I held them back.

She got up from the table after holding my gaze for a few moments and then took her dish to the sink.  She went to the door, put on her backpack and waited for me.  I grabbed my keys and put my arm around her.  We walked together to the bus stop.  We sat on the bench just a few steps from the stop and waited for the bus.  We were really early, but we enjoyed just sitting together in the cool morning.  She touched my hair and whispered, “Teddy bear hair.”

The bus pulled up and I didn’t want to let go.  She pulled away and I saw my hand flop back to the bench.  My hands.  They were so pale and thin.  They seemed just as old and wrinkled as my mother’s.  When did they age?

Syl looked back at me and knew that something had changed.  She knew that we could move forward now.  And that she could count on me again.  This seemed to make her happy.  She didn’t smile, but I could see the light had returned to her eyes.  She didn’t have to worry about losing her other parent to a mental breakdown.

“Have a good day, Sweetie.”

“Have a good day, Mom.”

A Pleasant Surprise by Lillian Maggio

I wasn’t ashamed to walk onto the bus, my face soaked with tears.  I got quite a few odd looks from my classmates though.  Even the bus driver seemed concerned.  I suddenly realized I might look like a mental patient ready to be committed, and felt a warm sensation crawl up my neck and onto my cheeks.

Holy moly, this might just be the most embarrassing moment of my life.

I walked down to the back of the bus and sat down. I pressed my face against the window and watched as my mother disappeared into the distance.  The moist, refreshing glass felt good on my embarrassed-hot face.  I wasn’t happy, but I was… almost relieved. Things were finally going to change.

I hardly noticed him sit down next to me.  “Hey.”  It was a boy that I had seen wandering around at my dad’s funeral.  I whipped around, hitting my elbow on the hard metal wall.

“Um.”

Stupid, careless, ridiculous.

The warm feeling came back.  I hoped he couldn’t see me blushing, then immediately pushed that thought out of my head.

Why do I care what he thinks of me?  I don’t need him.  I don’t need anyone.

But who was I kidding?  I would latch onto any friend I could find.  “Hi.”

He looked away.  It may have been the light, but I swore the tips of his ears were slightly reddish-pink.  “Max,” he whispered, barely audible.  So his name was Max, or maybe Maxwell.  I held back a giggle as I thought.

Maxine?

“Syl,” I stated.  “Short for Sylvestra.”  I made a slight gagging noise and pushed my tongue out a bit while I laughed to indicate my acknowledgement of my too-big, too-formal first name.  I shifted in my seat, studying him.  He wasn’t exactly cute.

His skin was pale, as if he didn’t get much sun (but how could anyone, here in Oregon).  He had shaggy brown hair and bangs that might have covered his eyes if he didn’t keep them tucked away behind his ears.  His round-framed glasses gave him an almost-comical appearance, but he wasn’t smiling.  I doubted he smiled very much at all.  Neither did I, though, after everything.  Only when I was nervous. Like now.

“Gum?” he offered.  I took it, the polite thing to do.

Tropical Mango.  Yuck.

I chewed it anyway, and was surprised by the taste.  As a little kid I had always hated anything mango-flavored, but it didn’t seem so bad now.

“Thanks,” I muttered.  “Can you keep secrets?”

His eyes lit up, but he didn’t smile.  “Sure,” he said.  “Can you?”

“One million percent.”  I mimed crossing my heart, and he did the same.  I felt about seven years old.  “You first, or me?”

“I don’t mind,” he mumbled.  He began absentmindedly tapping his fingers on the seat, in the few inches between the two of us.  Taptaptap.

“I like reading.  A lot.”  People thought it was weird that I loved books, but for me it was like a portal to another universe. Another way for me to ignore the problems of my real life.

He stopped tapping, and his legs began to swing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  “My mom’s in the army.”

“I still play pretend.”

“I sleep with a stuffed dog.”

“I’ve watched R-rated movies since I was seven.”

“My dad wouldn’t let me watch R-rated movies until last year.”

It almost became a competition.  Who has the most embarrassing secrets?  Is it Syl, with her weird addiction to grape soda?  No, here comes Max with his ten-second rule of picking up dry food off the floor.  It seemed to go on and on.  I didn’t care that he was almost a stranger anymore; everything we said somehow brought us closer to being friends.

It’s just like the pleasant surprise of mango-flavored gum.  Something you didn’t think you’d like, might actually be pretty good.  Someone you thought might be an idiot, could turn out to be the best friend you’ve got.  Who knew what curveball life was going to throw at me next?

I certainly didn’t.