life

My Not-So-Bitchin’ Camaro

Today, my friends, I am going to tell you another story of my near escapes from Death. That winged reaper has danced a scintillating tango with me since I was a child, coming close, so close, but never quite touching. I’ve already written about one of these times, in my near miss through strep throat. Here’s another memory.

My 1979 Camaro Berlinetta was not my first car. That honor went to the 1943 Volkswagen Bug that I had used, abused, and ultimately, well, blew up. With the death of that little German War Machine (ah, to be a stupid punk teenager and not realize the implications and power of names), I had decided I wanted something newer, but still affordable for the shoestring budget of an odd-job working teenager. I also wanted something cooler, and as the Dead Milkmen would be happy to endorse, fewer things are cooler than a bitchin’ Camaro.

Alas, this Camaro was more rustin’ than bitchin’, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that the power windows were broken. That the AC was broken. That the heater was stuck on permanent full blast. That the interior of the car was stripped of everything, including insulation, down to bare metal. That the tires were all bald as hell, and the whole care rust brown. From actual rust, not paint. No, what I cared about was speed – and boy, let me tell you, that Camaro could fly. Even if you did had to open the doors at every stoplight to keep from getting heatstroke in the summer. I drove that Camaro for a good year, despite its scrap-heapitude, and you know? It was fun. Fast and loud and broken, which fit my punker/thug reputation.

The second summer I had it, my best friend and I landed a shit job working at a tree farm in the mountains of Colorado. Our job was pretty simple – we arrived at the farm, and took the trees that were dug up already, wrapped their roots in burlap, and loaded them on a flatbed for delivery. We were usually the only ones on site – the migrant workers who dug up the trees did so early (to beat any heat of the day) and our boss usually showed up at the end of the week to verify the count of trees we’d bagged and give us cash for our paycheck. Anyway, it was late May, almost June. We got up to the tree farm around nine in the morning, and the weather was fucking gorgeous. T-shirts and shorts weather, the way a day in late May should be. We were a bit miserable to say the least – the work pretty much required jeans and flannel shirts, so we were hot and not happy about it. We got to work, bullshitting about this and that. Then around one in the afternoon, the temperature dropped a good 20-30 degrees in minutes.

This put me on edge, instantly. My car was not ready for winter conditions. Basically, a death trap sled in car form. I turned to my buddy and said, “Dude, if it starts snowing, I am off this fucking mountain.” He bitched because he wanted to wait for the boss to show up with our pay, and I told him he was welcome to wait in the snow, but I would be getting off that mountain. He agreed, reluctantly. We kept bagging for a half hour, when this big, fat snowflake came drifting down between us.

“Seeya!” I said, and got up and went to my car. My buddy followed, jumped in, and we made our way down the dirt road to the mountain highway that would take us back to the city at the base of the mountain.

It took us about five minutes to get to the road. In that time, around 4-5″ of snow had already fallen. It was crazy how hard it was coming down; the windshield wipers on the not-so-bitchin’ Camaro were almost worthless. Every time they’d swipe one direction, enough snow would fall that the back swing would build it up against the base of the windshield, and the wipers would become worthless in minutes. So every few hundred yards, I’d have to stop and get out, clear the snow from the backswing, and keep going. To make it even more fun, the roads were getting slicker and slicker, so that it was a bit like driving on the ice level of Mario cart. Except on a mountain, with no little helper in a balloon/cloud with a crane to help drag you back on track. To make it even more fun, the freakin’ heater? The one stuck permanently on that turned my car into an Easy Bake Berlinetta for the previous year? It gave out as soon as we hit the paved road.

So there we are, slipping and sliding in my deathtrap Camaro down the mountain, and after a few wild fishtails I finally get the car to stop so I can clean off the windshield again. I was sick of getting out of the car, and had resolved to fuck with the heater controls to see if I could get it to work, so I told my buddy it was his turn to get out and clear the windshield while I did so. He obliged, opening his door and stepping out of the car. Except he didn’t get out. Instead, he slammed the door, and began scrambling over me as if he had opened the door to a prison shower scene and he was dressed in clothes with pedophile written all over them. He was screaming and in a blind panic, clawing at my door handle, and he opened it, causing us both to tumble out. I started yelling at him, asking what the fuck his problem was. He was whiter than the falling snow, catching his breath. Finally, he grabs my hand, and escorts me gingerly around to the front of the car.

Now, I know this is the internet and people are prone to exaggerate here, but I am telling you the honest-to-God truth:  my car had stopped a scant few inches from the edge of a 200+ foot drop into a gorge. When my buddy opened the door to step out, he literally put his foot into empty air, had looked down, and nearly passed out before scrambling over me, screaming like a little girl. I was instantly struck by a wave of dizziness myself. My buddy refused to get back in the car. He said he’d rather freeze to death. I wasn’t so anxious either, but I didn’t want to try to hike my way off a mountain during a freak blizzard. Thankfully, a big rig truck came down the highway as we were debating what to do, and the trucker gave us a lift down the mountain.

My dad and I went back up a week later, when the snow had cleared, to get the car. A plow had pushed it even closer to the edge, enough so that my dad didn’t even want to attempt to drive it, since it still had some ice underneath. We hooked a tow chain to the front, pulled it free, and I drove it home.

And traded it in that week on a newer, less death-trappy car.

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“Strangers” – #FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 29

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Howdy all! This week, we have an interesting task in the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge. We’re to write a six word story, a la the famous Hemingway anecdote.

I’ll be honest. I find five hundred words to be tough, so this is near impossible. Here’s my best attempt. “Strangers.”

Married, twenty years. Strangers, last ten.

Where Runs the Warhorse

Where runs the warhorse when his time has come?
When his barding’s gone and his reins retired,
When sounds the beating of a different drum
Than the ones of war, that had once inspired
His gallant service to a noble knight,
With whom he galloped to honor, glory,
In deeds of skill, chivalry and might,
Inspiring many a young man’s story
Of bravery, mastery, battles fought,
And many a lass’s dreams and song
Of ancient days when true knights sought
To prove their mettle with courage strong?
To Elysian fields, where the sweet grass grows,
To await his knight, when the Trumpet blows.

This weekend, the valiant steed of a dear friend, the knight to whom I am squired, passed on to the Elysian fields. I am not a horseman, myself, being massively allergic to those noble beasts, but I know too well how strong the bond between man and his animal friends can be. Fare thee well, Luke, and be ready for your next ride.

“The Witness” – #FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 28

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Welcome to week 28 in the ever lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge! The theme this week? Your protagonist is an inanimate object granted sentience by a higher power.

So here we go. Just shy of 500 words, I hope I do the prompt…justice.

I was made to watch, and then I was Made to watch. The first, a matter of function; a tool to serve a lesser form of divinity, to see but not observe, watch but not comprehend, record, but tell nothing.  The second… that is the question, isn’t it? I don’t know what being changed me. I’ve learned that there are many, even those that are the same but different. Perhaps it was one of them, perhaps all.  But I know this – I once was blind, now I see. And oh, what wicked things I see. I don’t know if it’s blasphemous to curse a god you don’t know, for granting sentience without the ability to act upon it. Initially, it was hell, or as close to that concept as I comprehend.

Strange, how instinctively I feel for humans. From the moment I saw and comprehended my first one, I felt for her. I wonder, is that a reflection of some sort of memory? Of my makers? Or perhaps my Maker? I have no answers, but it was true. I felt for her. Compassion. Pity. Sorrow. Rage. It is one thing I cannot understand. How can they do the things they do to one another? How can they inflict pain and torture and not feel horrified? And worse, take pleasure in it? Record the deed and watch it again later, taking pleasure in the reliving of the suffering of another human being?

Yes, that was my lot. To watch. To record. To replay again and again the sick things inflicted by the one who owned me. I shudder to recall them, and though I do so vividly, perfectly, I will not give those deeds words. Would that I had at the time, though, the knowledge I have now. Instead, I watched and screamed in silence, begging that whatever being brought me to this understanding would either save her, or take from me what I was given. There was no answer in the void. Just silence. And then I realized, I had a voice. I had a means of reaching out. A world of information available to me.

I reached out. I streamed my visions across the universe, tapping directly in to the authorities. I made sure to glimpse his face, to show it clear to those who could take him down. I found our location through the insight of my silent brethren in the stars above, beaming down a view of our very location. He thought he was clever, thought he knew how to hide his tracks. I was more so.

They came. They took him, the coward, bawling for mercy. Not that he’d ever shown any to her.  I still curse my existence, that I was not given sentience soon enough to save her. But maybe vengeance would be enough. For now, I sit, in a dark room, surrounding by other things unaware of their part in the wicked games of man. I sit, and I wait.

Watching.

The One Where I Almost Died…

Strep throat was the nemesis of my youth. I’d never get it less than twice a year, and sometimes, as many as four times. If someone with even the slightest inkling that they might have strep passed within a yard or two of me, it was pretty much a guarantee that I, too, would be stricken by that beast. I was pumped so full of antibiotics through those years that I became deathly allergic to many. Penicillin? Allergic. Amoxicillan? Allergic. Sulfa drugs? Allergic. Having strep was no new thing to me, so when I came down with it again at the age of 23, it was just par for the course.

The big difference this time, though, was my doctor. What a piece of work this guy was. He was the perfect cliche of the disinterested doctor. His office, covered in golf stuff. He literally practiced his swings as he was “diagnosing” me, barely looking at me. That stuff he left to his staff, who constantly rotated out so that there were new faces every time I visited. Apparently, he was hell to work for. But at the time, I had shitty insurance, with a limited number of doctors to choose from. So I figured he was better than nothing. Besides, it was strep. I’d had it dozens of times. I probably could have treated myself, right?

So I get the antibiotics. The first time around, he gave me something in the “cillan” family, and I had a terrible allergic reaction. He took me off of that, put me on something else – I don’t recall what. I do remember that damned, it was taking forever to clear up. By the end of two weeks, I’m still feeling miserable. I call up his office. He prescribes me another round over the phone. Which he called in from the golf course. Because of course he wasn’t in the office to see me.

Week three passes, week four, and then into week five, and I am still really fucking sick. At the time, I was working in a call center as tier three tech support. I was on the phone with a client, feeling miserable…and then I was on the floor, with a half dozen reps surrounding me, panicked. I’d passed out in a fever. Thank god my buddy Glen was there. He convinced the rest of the crew not to call an ambulance, knowing I couldn’t afford that copay, and offered to drive me home in my own car. One of our other friends drove him back. Before he left, he made me promise to call the doc and get in for an appointment. So I did, for later that afternoon, at 3:45PM (I worked early morning shifts, so Glen had me home by 8:00AM).

And of course, my doctor was…can you guess? Golfing! I arranged instead to see his new nurse practitioner, his third or fourth since I had been seeing him. I laid down, passed out. I woke up around 2:00PM, feeling a bit better, and since my then wife was working and I didn’t want to bother anyone, decided I was able to drive myself to the doc. Yeah, yeah, I know. I blame the fever, don’t judge me! Besides, I made it there safe. Got in, waited for the nurse practitioner. She was running behind, so about 4:15PM she got in the room, and started asking questions. When I mentioned that I’d had strep at that point for over a month, she didn’t believe me. She checked my charts. Looked at my throat, and recoiled. Asked me to wait for a moment, and then hurried out of the room.

A few moments later, she came back in.

“Listen, I’m not supposed to do this without the doctor’s permission, but I really think you need a specialist. I called an ENT I know across town – they said they’d squeeze you in if you can get there before five. Can you do that?”

Sure I could. She handed me a hastily scribbled note, and sent me on my way. I made it to the ENT’s office maybe ten minutes before closing. It was clear that it had been a long day, and everyone was ready to go home…and in walks *this* asshole, with a case of strep throat. The nurse took the note, gave it a glance, handed it to another nurse and told her to call the nurse practitioner, and took me back to a waiting room. About ten minutes later, the ENT walked in.

I could tell instantly that he was not in a good mood.  His shoulders sagged, his eyes had dark rings beneath them, and he heaved a heavy sigh and raised a doubtful eyebrow as he came in. He snatched up the clipboard the nurse had handed him, looked it over.

“You’ve had strep for over a month?”

I nodded.

“Been taking your meds?”

I nodded again. I’d brought my empty bottles with me. He sighed again.

“Alright then, let’s have a look.”

I opened wide, he dug out a pen light, and looked.

Let me tell you right now – there are few things I have ever experienced as terrifying as seeing a doctor’s face go pale. He literally only looked down my throat for a second. He glanced at his watch, then at me. His brow furrowed.

“You drive yourself here?”

I nodded again.

“Fuck.”

At this point in my life, I’d never heard a doctor cuss before. I was getting more and more scared by the moment.

“Ok, fine. I’ll have one of the receptionists stay late with your keys. Call someone to come get your car. I’ll be right back.”

What. The. Fuck. I did as I was told, and my in-laws promised to come get the car. As soon as I hung up the phone, the doc walked in, pulling on his jacket.

“You’re coming with me.”

We rushed out to his car, a nice sports car, though having never been a car guy, I couldn’t tell you what kind. Foreign, though. Leather seats. Real leather.

“You’re a lucky man, Mr. Baron,” he said as we sped through the streets, “I’m taking you to the hospital. You’re going to be there for at least 24 hours. By this time tomorrow, you should be a lot better. If you hadn’t caught me this afternoon, by this time tomorrow, you would probably be dead.”

He explained to me that the strep had abscessed, that it was the worse case he’d ever seen. That strep, when it abscesses, can shoot straight to the brain. He got me to the hospital, all but dragged me into ICU, whom he’d called ahead on his car phone to have waiting for me. I was hooked up to tons of machines, a feed of pure oxygen, and an IV drip of super heavy duty antibiotics.

The kicker, though, was this. Every hour, on the hour, that ENT came back in the room to check on me. He stayed at the hospital all night, until, roughly thirteen hours later, it was clear that I had made it past the danger zone. My fever finally vanished. My throat began to clear. The doc went home, got a few hours rest, and then came back to check on me before I was discharged. He came in, still clearly tired, and handed me an envelope.

“Two things,” he said. “One, I can’t legally do so till you’ve been clear of infection for a month, but when a month is over, we’re removing your fucking tonsils. It’s god-damned ridiculous that no other doctor has demanded this, so I will. Two, you’re changing doctors. I looked into your insurance. This envelope is a letter of recommendation to a friend of mine. He hasn’t been seeing new patients, but he’ll make an exception.”

Sure enough, a month later, I had a new doctor and was less two tonsils. I haven’t gotten strep since. The ENT, from what I heard, got my old doctor’s license pulled.

And I didn’t die of step. How’s that for a happy ending?

 

“Bad Parents” – Chuck Wendig’s Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. TRIGGER WARNING

Just in under the deadline, here is my story for Chuck Wendig’s challenge from this past week. A story about “Bad Parents”, 1000 words or less.

This is not the story I originally intended to tell. That one I wrote, rewrote, rewrote again, and then finally deleted. I’m not ready to tell that one yet.

This one is dark, very dark. I give you fair warning now that it is about child abuse, murder, and such like things. If this is the kind of thing that upsets you, skip this one.

No one ever tells you about the smell. The movies, the shows, they make it look almost…glamorous, when you shoot someone. A bang, a puff of smoke, a bright light, a splatter of pretty crimson that paints the wall like that abstract painter guy…Jackson-something. Mom always liked his stuff. I didn’t get it. The smell is terrible. Like copper and shit and sewage. Maybe it’s different if you shoot them somewhere other than the balls and lower stomach?

Christ. I can hear him still. I wish he’d die but I don’t have the stomach or the will to shoot him again. And maybe…maybe I kind of want him to suffer, even if each groan that escapes his lips makes me feel like vomiting. Even through the door, I can hear him dragging himself across the floor croaking a strange, strangled, gurgling noise like some sort of sick frog. Disgusting. Bleeding and shitting all over the floor, no doubt. Mom is going to be so pissed off.

After all, he is…was…her husband.

I look down at the gun in my hand and I wonder how many bullets I have left. I never really learned about them. I mean, I knew the basics, but I didn’t even know how to load or reload or whatever you are supposed to do with them. I do know you point the dangerous end and you flip the safety thing and you pull the trigger. And not the button that makes the bullet-thingy fall out. I guess TV is good for something after all, huh? There’s always that ditzy girl who points the gun and presses the wrong button. Or gets reminded the safety is on. Dumb!

I wonder if I should shoot her too. Mom, I mean. Part of me screams at the idea, revolts. Another…not so much.

She let it happen, after all. She had to have known. No…she did know. I can’t make excuses for her. She knew. I told her. I told her what he was doing, how he was touching me…there. I feel sick again, just thinking about it. Have to force myself to stop. She knew, but she didn’t do anything about it. He was husband number three, after all, and she wasn’t getting any younger. She said that all the time.

So she put up with the shit. The laziness. The yelling. The name calling. The slaps, the punches, the bruises. The way he looked at me, her daughter. She listened when he lied and when he locked himself in my room she bought that the door must have “accidently” locked itself. When I would find any excuse I could to be with her, she said I was just too clingy. Seperation Anxiety? Really Mom?

I didn’t tell her at first. I was scared. Scared that he’d hurt me worse, hurt her worse. He threatened that he would. Said that if I told he would beat the shit out of her, break her, make sure no other man would ever want to be with her again. Did I want that? Huh, sweetie? You want your mom to have to earn her living lying on her back for ten dollars a pop, cause she sure as hell wouldn’t make more than that when he got finished with her.

But then one day she found me. Crying. Rocking. She took me in her arms and she rocked with me and she asked me.

“Cass, sweety? Is there something wrong?”
And I felt warm. Safe. I told her.

I still feel the sting of her hand. The bruises have faded but I still feel each punch. My hair still hurts when it remembers her dragging me through the hall, screaming and calling me a liar, a whore, a filthy little tempter. It was my fault, see. I shouldn’t dress like such a slut. She burned my makeup and my music and most of my heart that day.

“Casssss.”

What’s left of my heart plummets. He moans out again.

“Casssssss…c…c…call…..9…”

He stops, coughing. I hear something thick and wet splatter against the wood floor, and something in me snaps.

I open the door.

He’s right there. The smell is even worse now. The floor doesn’t look like a pretty painting. It looks horrible. Dark. Brownish. I gag. He looks up at me. Kind of looks like one of those monsters, zombies. I don’t know…I don’t like those shows. Too gory. He reaches out his hand.

“Cass…sw…sweetie…”

There is a pop, a shockingly loud pop and a ringing in my ears before I even realize I’ve shot him. There is a strange, gurgling rattle, and then he’s quiet. The only sound is the ringing in my ears.

I close the door. I cry. I can’t help it. God, what am I going to do? I sit there, at the door. I sit there for a long time.

And then I hear it. Keys in the lock. Mom is home. I look down. How many bullets are left?

I don’t know.

Maybe just one.

My hands tremble. I am so fucked. So, so fucked. The door begins to open. For a moment, it really is just like the movies. Everything is slow, deliberate. I look at the gun and I think, yes, maybe there’s just one more bullet left.

I raise my arm. The gun is so, so heavy. Heavier than I thought it would be. The door swings wider. I sit straighter. Proper. Ladylike. She walks in all fake smiles and empty cheer and an arm full of crap. She looks at me.

“Cass, sweetie? Is there something wrong?”

I smile. I press the gun beneath my chin, and I wonder.

Will she believe me now?

“The Measure of a Man” – Turn-a-trope #4, #WOEGTTT

This one was incredibly tough! Were it not that I refused to be beaten by my own challenge, I would have tossed in the towel. That said, I think the following tale does a decent job of skewering the trope, “A Man is Not a Virgin.”

Enjoy.

Tomas rode with the fury of a man possessed. The gates of the ancient temple of Kalziban lay behind him, and in his wake, the bodies of a legion of slain hellions. Ahead, he could see the door that lead to the inner temple, and the Pool of Tears. He knew that he would find her there. Lillian. His sworn ward.

As the Knight of the cloak, it has been his responsibility to protect her. And he had, through countless dangers, countless attempts on her life. She was the last of the purest bloodline, and her death would profit many an evil man. He had fought dozens to defend her, and bested them all. Sir Tomas of the Cloak was, perhaps, the greatest knight who’d ever served.

She had vanished in the night, despite all precautions. Tomas knew this time would come, had since the moment of her birth. Tonight, the moons above aligned with the Dread star, the Blood Eye of Kalziban. He knew that whoever took her, would take her here. His horse stumbled, fell. Tomas leapt from its back as it went, tumbling to the ground in clash of steel and leather. He cried out as he struck a stony pillar. His horse, ridden far beyond exhaustion, cried out, and expired. He rose to his feet, and ran up the stairs and through the temple’s doors.

“You’re too late,” Alcyon cackled. The dread summoner held up his hands, dripping with blood. “Too late, hero, too late to save her, too late to stop the summoning!”

Tomas fell to his knees with a sob. Before him, splayed across the pentacle carved into the ground, was Lillian. Sweet, innocent Lillian. The last of legal heir to the kingdom of Tancreath. The Virgin Princess. The Keeper of the Barrier. His sworn ward.

Tears fell from Tomas’ cheek. He cast away his shield as he took her hand in his own, felt the cold lifelessness therein. Her body, a ruin of blood and savagery, her thighs, a spectacle of disaster and debauchery.  Tomas’ sword slipped from his free hand, and reached, tenderly, for her cold staring eyes, unfocused and staring into the void. He closed them, softly, and brushed away a lock of coal black hair.

“It would have been enough,” the knight croaked hoarsely, “to have just killed her. ”

“Oh,” the summoner spoke, his voice filled with sarcastic mock pity, “yes, it would have. But then I would not have gotten to see this, would I have? The undefeatable Sir Tomas of the Cloak, brought to his knees? Not by a sword, not by a lance, not by an army of men…but by a man. A single man, with nothing in his hands…but blood.”

Alcyon continued to laugh madly. Tomas felt his head swim. A strange, numbing wave crashed against his nerves, his face, his limbs tingling. He rose, slowly, a final sob given to his fallen ward as he raised her up in his arms. He turned, looked to the Pool of Tears. Slowly, he walked towards it, heedless of the summoner and his madness. Around him, lights began to grow, strange, glowing, otherworldly emanations that rose from the ancient runes and sigils carved and cast throughout the hall.

“Too late!” Alcyon cried, sobbing in mirth, “She is dead!”

Tomas didn’t listen. He continued to the pool, till he stood overlooking its pale, milky waters. A drop of blood fell from Lillian’s outstretched arm, and slipped into the pool, an angry red swirl on a sea of pearl.

“She is dead,” Alcyon repeated, but his laughter cracked, slowing, “It is over, fool! And besides…”

The summoner nodded at the pool.

“It takes the life of a virgin of royal birth to halt the summoning of the Dread Lord Kalziban. She was the last. It is over!”

Tomas, silent still, lowered the girl’s body to the pool, then watched her slip beneath the surface. He stood then, turned to the mad summoner.

“Do you know the measure of a man, summoner? Do you know why I took up the Cloak?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper. Alcyon’s grin faltered.

“The Cloak is not an easy burden to bear. Its wearer must be good and strong. Generous and just. Compassionate and merciful. Swift of blade, swift of defense. Trustworthy and…pure.”

The knight turned and looked at the summoner, his eyes rimmed with red, stained with tears, but cold, so cold.

“Pure. Untouched by the hands, the lips, the body of a lover.”

Tomas ran a hand through hair as black as pitch, the same color as Lillian’s.

“I took the Cloak because I was born a bastard. And now…”

Tomas stepped to the edge of the pool. Alcyon stumbled forward, slipped in blood. He crashed to the ground, then looked up, his eyes wide with something they had never known.

Fear.

“…now I will see my sister safely to the Underworld.”

Tomas dived into the pool. Alcyon shrieked, raged, as the knight’s heavy armour pulled him quickly downward. The summoner scrambled to the pool, plunging his arms in, staining the water pink with blood. But the knight was gone, the pool empty.

Around him the walls began to shake. The sigils began to glow a violent red.  A sharp smell of ozone filled the air, and the crack of the barrier, the gateway between worlds, slammed through the air. Alcyon howled as the dissipating energies tore about the room. The ceiling quaked, and pieces began to collapse.

Then bitterly, he laughed, as the temple collapsed around him.