Did You Lock The Door?

Where do stories come from?

(there’s a story below, but first)

Where do stories come from? Where does the voice of each character come from? Where do they intend to lead us? Is this gift/curse of writing a manifestation of split personalities, fear, or just an over active imagination? Could it be a deeper understanding of humanity trying to make it’s way to the surface and into the world.

Of course, it could be all of these things and none of them. I know I often hear a dialog to begin each story, then I begin to see them living their lives. Mostly mundane lives, but it so clear I can write it down.

It’s not always something I want others to read. For many reasons, the story is just not for them. Many of my stories wouldn’t be fully understood by someone who doesn’t know me. They would think I was unstable.

Writing is a way I can release the mounting dialog welling up inside of me. There’s a torrent of voices from regular people living their regular lives in regular places making connections in my head. Murder is never the point, even in a murder mystery, and neither is the mystery. It all begins with a voice, a person asking a question about the life they are suddenly living. Something as simple as this:

“Did You Lock The Door”

1200 words

“Steve, did you lock the door before you came to bed?” She asked him every night if he locked it.

“Yes, Becca.” He was tired. The day had been long. Shopping and wrapping gifts had worn him out.

“Did you double check it?”

“I did.”

This was normal nightly procedure. She would remind him about the door a few times before bed, then ask a few times after getting in bed, never forgetting to add:  “you know, someone could just walk in off the street and do anything they wanted to us and we’d be laying dead to the world.”

The memory of her warnings rang loudly in his head. Steve had heard Rebeca go through her script nearly fifty times since they moved from Avalon Avenue to Mill Street and thousands of times before that. He’d heard it so many times that he never forgot to check the door. Especially since moving.

He had begun automatically locking the front door even when coming in from checking the mail.  And, by God, he knew he locked it before going to bed last night. There was no mistake. He remembered distinctly the door locking in his hand because even before removing his boots, he reached back and turned it. It was only a flick of the wrist.

He even rechecked it after his shower before going to the bedroom where Rebeca was already asleep. And then came the ritual. While getting comfortable next and snuggling close to her, soaking in her warmth, she stirred a little and asked, “Did you lock the door?”

“Yes, Becca, the door is locked. Twice checked.”

“OK. Thanks, Love you.” She pulled his arm around her and they settled into their new comfortable bed.

Everything in their house was new. At most, some of it was a month old, because they’d bought it in preparation for the move.

Suddenly, right before drifting off, the door came to Steve’s mind again and he smiled to himself. More and more, he noticed his wife’s OCD beginning to affect him. He tried to push it out of his mind, but since he needed a drink of water and was forced to leave the warmth of the bed anyway, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to check. She would probably ask when he got back in bed.

On his walk through the living room, he saw from the hallway by the blinking of the Christmas tree lights that the door was locked. But, to be sure, he crossed the living room rechecked the door.

On the way back down the hallway with a glass of water, he looked in on his son. Even at five years old, Steve knew the boy was going to have a snoring problem. It wasn’t loud yet, but it was one of his families traits. He stood in the boy’s doorway and made a mental note to see the doctor. It might lead to a discussion about surgery.

It was all so clear. There was no mistake. The door was locked. Son was fine. Wife was sleeping when he returned. But, none of that mattered now. It was only memories. From the warmth of his wife to the sound of young Max snoring, nothing but very detailed memories.

It was six in the morning when he walked back through his house. He woke because he felt the wetness and thought he peed the bed. He woke already embarrassed, but it became worse, even more embarrassing because his pee was sticky. Maybe he had one of those wet dreams he’d always heard about.

When he flipped on the bedside light, he got ready for his wife’s laughter and knew he wouldn’t live it down quickly. She would tease him about it and ask about the girl he had been dreaming of. But, there was no laughter, no questions. The dream had not been wet. The bed was wet with blood.

There was absolutely nothing he could do that would change the terrible facts. It was too late. Walking through the house, he replayed every move he made in his mind, but it didn’t help him understand what happened. Nothing would bring his wife and son back. Rebecca’s worst fears had come true. Someone had walked in off the street and done something to them while they were dead to the world.

Rebeca was dead in his bed, stabbed just inches from where he slept and his son had bruises around his neck where someone had strangled his weak little body until it moved no more.

“Je-sus,” he yelled in two penetrating syllables. She knew all along that this was going to happen. She had some kind of premonition a long time ago and knew it. “I’m sorry Becca!” He screamed it. “I’m so sorry.”

But, nothing would change anything now.  This was a concrete and unforgiving world. If life had suddenly become a game, he wouldn’t restart.  He wouldn’t want infinite lives. He would just turn the game off. He was tired of playing it.

It was too much to take, too much to describe, and no way anyone would understand if he tried. Christmas mornings weren’t supposed to start this way.  This week, this move, and the new year was meant to bring a brighter vision of the future.  Everyone had been fill with excitement, but now everyone was gone and he was faced with a nightmare. He was alone in a world where he no longer wanted to live. Steve knew he couldn’t go on. He wasn’t going to go on, not like this.

It was the end for him.

He didn’t own a gun. He didn’t have enough of the right pills to kill himself. There was no poisons he could drink that would definitely do the job quick and good. There was only a forgotten box of razors in the medicine cabinet, left by the family who lived here before them. He had seen them probably a hundred times over the last month and never threw them out. Neither had Rebeca.

That family had troubles as well, he’d heard. They were bullied into moving away. He didn’t know all the particulars, but nasty rumors were all over the neighborhood and Rebeca had heard more than was good for her.

Yes, the razors were still there. He took one out and removed it from it’s brown paper sheaf. It was shiny and sharp.  He pushed it into his skin right above his wrist and in one quick motion jerked it toward his elbow. The pain was non-existent. He wouldn’t have cared anyway.

The second wrist was harder to cut because seeing his blood made his fingers unsteady, but he managed to put a deep gash halfway from his wrist halfway to his elbow. Pain had began to pulse in his right hand. Then he felt the first wave of panic hit him. The blood flowed faster as his heart sped up.

He felt dizzy immediately, but it was just the thought of dying that scared him. It was only a mild fear compared to living without his wife and child.

He looked at the bathroom floor and was surprised at how much red had pooled under his feet. Dark red footprints tracked his steps back and forth in front of the sink. The mess would be terrible he thought and laughed a little. The sound spooked him and the world seemed brighter than it should, as if a spotlight was directed everywhere he looked.

He walked to the tub and almost slipped getting in. He turned the hot tap on full blast.  Then, reached out and turned on the cold tap. The temperature was just right when the phone rang.

He had no need to answer it and he didn’t care who was calling.

Slowly, he placed his wrist under the  faucet and watched the bath water turn from pink to red.

On the third ring the automated message answered in Rebeca’s voice. “You’ve reached the Mallory family.” Steve’s chest hitched up and he started crying. He would never hear her voice again. “We’re not home at the moment. Leave a message and we’ll get back to you ASAP. Have a blessed day.”

“Steve, Rebeca,” an excited voice all but yelled. “Pick up will ya?” It was the landlady’s northern accent. “OK, look, I just remembered that I forgot to change the locks before you moved in.”

There was a moment of quiet. “I’m coming over directly and do it. I’m sorry, but I can’t put it off. It’s very important we do it today.” There was a pause. “I’ve received word that Harold was seen in your neighborhood. He’s the son of the family who used lived in your home. He could be dangerous, so call me back. I’m on my way to your house to meet the locksmith right now.”

Steve did not hear the entire message. A warm darkness came over him. As he passed out, he wondered if he locked the door. Rebeca would surely ask him first thing.

The End

So where do stories come from? It is our own fears trying to warn us or is it just random thoughts and we string them into stories assigning voices and sentences and places in an attempt to make sense of them?

I don’t know.

Count ’em Out

Count’em Out

by Thad Presley

“Get up,” the drill Sergeant ordered, cocking his head at the man on the ground. When he didn’t move, he turned his attention to the platoon. “We have a dead man laying here and all you can do is stand there. You,” he pointed to the Private on the first line, “what did you see?”

“I don’t know Sergeant.” Then, “Nothing Sergeant.”

“You don’t know?”  Like a bolt of lightening, it happened. The drill sergeant hit private Gerard in the stomach with the butt of his M16-A2 service rifle. “Now, what do you know about that?”

The recruit fell to his knees out of breath and looked up at The Ape from the ground and shook his head, “Nothing Sergeant. I didn’t see a thing.”

“And you,” The Ape shouted, looking at the other recruits. “Did any of you see how this forgetful puke lost his weapon and then got killed?”

A thunderclap of voices lifted into the air, “No, Sergeant.”

“And what about Private Gerardo, here? Does anyone know what killed him?”

Again the voices thundered, “No, Sergeant.”

Sergeant Perry was called “The Great Eight Ape” because of rumors he’d received a Section Eight and then got it over ruled by some big wigs way high up in command. The next year, he returned as an instructor a Ft. Lost in the Woods. Rumors going around said he’d been found eating an Iraqi soldier during the First Iraq War.

Everyone hoped it wasn’t true, but the rumors persisted. All the recruits called him The Ape and although he was an extremely hard instructor many of the men were honored to be under his guidance. It made for great war stories if nothing else.

It was the fifth week of Basic and the platoon was in the middle of Bivouac training where they were learning how to live without luxuries and to keep a camp in working order.

Missouri was known for it’s great expanse of woods, hence the name. The day before was spent on the “old firing range,” which was not supposed to be used but The Ape didn’t care. He usually just trained the men how he saw fit.

During the evening of the night before, the platoon displayed their weapon cleaning skills and made small bets, which involved betting their rations and duties to see who was the fastest. Pvt. Ensign bragged that he could clean his weapon blindfolded and was taken upon the bet by Pvt Greene.

Greene bet Ensign that he couldn’t disassemble, clean, and reassemble his M16 blindfolded. Of course, Ensign took the challenge and bet if he did it blindfolded, then Greene would have to take his Fire Watch for the next week. They both agreed and shook hands.

Everyone watched as Ensign began.

The evenings had become the most exciting time for the men. The drill instructors were starting to lighten up on the recruits. With the dropouts already sent home, the mood was serious but laid back. Ten minutes later, Ensign took off his blindfold and held his clean M16 out to Greene to be inspected. Just as he’d said, he’d taken apart every piece, just as he’d learned the second week in training, and cleaned it.

The day had been fun for everyone and all was well until the next morning when Pvt. Ensign realized his weapon was missing.

The Ape had not taken kindly to the missing rifle and out of frustration began to punish the recruit with exercise. Little did the sergeant know, it was all just a gag orchestrated to make Pvt. Ensign look bad.

After his performance the night before, the platoon got together for a little fun and retribution. No one thought it was a big deal. Practical jokes were played all the time by the men. Two recruits devised a plan to steal Pvt. Ensigns M16 and hide it near the latrine.

It was Corporal Smith and PFC Greene who snagged the weapon. It wasn’t meant to hurt anyone, they just wanted to get back at Ensign for showing off, but things escalated faster than they anticipated and before anyone could say anything. The Ape had swung on Pvt. Ensign.

When Ensign ducked the punch and then a few guys in the platoon laughed, the Ape started to walk away, but turned abruptly and hit him in the stomach with the butt of his rifle. He then quickly brought it up catching him square under the chin. Pvt Ensign fell to the ground and didn’t move.

Everyone knew two other sergeants would show up within the hour to take over the platoon, but that seemed like a million years away.

As Pvt. Ensign laid on the ground, The Ape began to tear into Pvt Gerardo who stood beside him in line.

Growing irritated by the concern on Gerardo’s face, and at Ensign for daring to challenge his authority in front of his men, The Ape raised his weapon and placed the cold steel of the barrel in the center of Gerardo’s forehead. “Do you have a God, son?”

At first, Gerardo couldn’t speak and once he gathered his courage in the face of death, he opened his mouth and the words were interrupted by a stream of puke that erupted from his throat. “Holy mother of Crow, look at this dumb fuck puke on my boots.”

He grabbed the private by the collar and pulled him close.

The private instinctively pulled away from the Sergeant. “You know what you have to do now, don’t you. You’ve got maggot detail.”

Private Gerard knew exactly what the sergeant was going to make him to do and he would have done anything to get the sergeant off his back. But, licking puke off his boots was too far. He couldn’t do it.

“You’re a chicken shit, no brain, puke-eater and it’s time you do something for my Army.”

A wave of anger filled him.

Why won’t anyone help me? One of him and sixty of us, he thought.

No one moved.

Ensign was knocked out. And they did nothing. Reality set in. He wasn’t going to lick the Sergeant’s books.

I’m going to be killed, he thought.

“Do it, puke-eater.”

Gerardo once again gathered his courage. “I have a God, Sergeant.”

“You do? Great. So do I.”

“But,” Gerard was shaking so bad he felt his chin quivering. He had to focus to keep his teeth from clashing together. “I try to do what my God desires of me.”

“Oh, for Crow’s sake, don’t give me that crazy religious nut shit. I can just see it now: Private Jesus Freak sent home on a medical discharge. You trying to act crazy with me, Private? You want to clean my Army up and make us PC and lovely?”

“No, sergeant.”

“I think you do. I think you have a big plan on how you can make my Army a better place. Well, I’ll give you a chance to show me what your worth. You want a nice, pretty, clean Army? Well, you can start by licking Uncle Sam’s boots clean.” The sergeant looked at the other soldiers. “What do you think men?” No one moved a muscle. They didn’t want the man in their face. “If he cleans up the mess he deposited on Uncle Sam’s beautiful pair of boots, maybe we can let him live.”

The private looked down at the boots.

“That’s right maggot. Get to work and you can live to fuck up another day.”

“You won’t shoot me.”

The Ape’s voice lowered to a grumble. “What’s wrong with your ears, Private. Let me tell you in another way. Do it now!”

Private Gerardo held back tears. He fought desperately to hold a straight face. But, it wasn’t going to last long. His emotions were under too much stress. The only way to get this over with was to do it. Just lick the puke up. After all, it was his own. He could do this. He was a soldier. Slowly, he got down on his knees and started to bend over the right boot.

Then, The Ape kicked him in the chest, rattling his head. It hurt so bad that Gerardo thought it broke his sternum. “Do whatever you got to do, private, but get to licking, right now. Them boots better be in parade condition by my count to ten.” He looked at the platoon, “Count ’em Out.”

Slowly the dry tongue of private Gerardo came out of his mouth and stretched toward the black, polished shoe of his sergeant. “One…” The men began in unison,  anticipating the first lick. The Ape, held up his hand and stopped them.

“Come on puke-for-brains, get in there. I want to see you licking that boot the way Jody’s licking your girlfriend’s twat. Clean that Crow-loving boot.”

Then, in a desperate attempt to get out of the situation, he started licking the boot.

“One,” the men counted.

Gerardo just did it, fast, not thinking.

“Two, Three…”

The cooling puke entered his mouth and he swallowed it.

Luckily it was mostly tasteless with a bitter after taste that only barely burned. “You disgust me.” The sergeant yelled, taking a step back and look down on the private as if he was seeing an alien slug for the first time.

“Get on your puke eating feet.” The sergeant was just getting on a good roll. “We have a real, honest to God, puke-eater here. Not in all my time, not in all the holy time of the immaculate Army have we ever had a puke eater in these hallowed ranks.”

The sergeant walked back and forth in front of the men who were still lined up at parade rest. They had been formed up for nearly an hour now and they were all looking for the jeep that would herald the arrival of the two relief sergeants.

“As you all know, we don’t have much time and I need to know what is happening to this world. Terrorists, sympathizers, sleeper-cells, God knows what all. I could say a lot more, but I do not use derogatory names. Because most people are good people. Most people are not puke eating, shit for brains.”

The platoon of sixty men waited to see what the sergeant would do next.

“Let me ask you this. Do you men want a puke-eater watching your back when the chips are down? Do you want him walking the perimeter when you know all he thinks about it slurping puke?”

The men give a sloppy, “No sergeant.”

“You know that this maggot, first thing, is going to run to CO and rat on us. Rat on you!!” The Sergeant let this sink into the heads of the men. “That’s right, he’s not going to tell on me. No, cause he can’t hurt me. He’s going to say ‘THEY let him do it. They made me eat puke.’ Well, lt me ask you this. Can anyone make YOU eat puke?”

There was another, “No, Sergeant,” and this time it had grown in strength.

“Hell, no, they can’t. There ain’t a man in this world that could make ME eat puke. I’d rather die than be a puke eating maggot. But, you were witness to this. You watched as this maggot licked puke and swallowed it. I tell you now, he’ll say to Captain Barrett. Through his sobs, he’ll tell them and swear that YOU let it happen. Both of these numb skulls aren’t worth the time it’s going to take to bury them and yet here we stand wasting the whole day on them. Private Dumbass Number One got himself killed by threatening and then attacking a killing machine known on this base and around the world as Section Eight. That’s right, I know all about my little nickname. But, Private Puke Eater here didn’t learn anything from his battle buddy’s stupid mistakes. He wanted to dance in the mine field. He will now be dealt with in an expedited manner.” The sergeant wait a beat and began again, this time addressing the men eye to eye, one at a time. “But, it’s not ME who will suffer. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind a vacation. It’s YOUR asses that are on the line. Do you want a puke eater lying to the powers that be about your character? Do you want im protecting your six out there when the shit hits the fan?”

“No, sergeant.”

“Then, who wants to do something about it?”

Silence.

“Are you all puke eaters?”

“I’ll do it.” Corporal Hicks, from Knoxville, who the Sergeant called Hicksville, stepped backwards, looked left then right, and ran to the end of his rank and around to the Ape.

“At least we got one set of balls between the fifty-eight recruits standing here.”

“About to be fifty-seven, sergeant,” Hicks said.

A smile formed on The Ape’s face. “Then, get to it, soldier.”

Hick’s wasted no time in attending to his duty. “Turn around, Gerardo.”

“No, shoot him in the gut Private. I want to hear him call for his mommy.”

“Sergeant, this puke eater does not deserve to be shot in the front. He is a coward and should be killed as one.”

“God Damn it, Hicksville, I do the thinking around here. Now do it the way I want you or step back in line.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

Corporal Hicks shouldered his M16-A2. Then, he lowered the weapon. “I can’t do it, not with him looking at me.”

“Then get back in rank, maggot lover.”

The Corporal Hicks turned and started back into line, but he had a change of heart. “Sergeant, I want to do it. I have to do it.”

“Well, get here and do it this time. We’ve got a day to build and it’s getting late.”

At that moment, a shot rang out and Section Eight the Great Ape dropped to his knees.

The platoon looked at Hicksville as he lowered his weapon. Blood bubbled from The Ape’s mouth, but he still spoke a few last words. “This Army is going to maggots and puke eaters and…” then he slumped and died.

A hush went over the men. It was like the flame in their souls went out. Gerardo dropped to his knees and put his head on the ground. He couldn’t believe he was alive.

Hick’s took the lead. “Everyone get ready and pack up the gear. Gerardo stay with me.”

At this, the men, gave a weak, “Huaa!!”

Hicks called a medic and then put in a call to the MPs so they could come out and process the scene. He spoke to Gerardo after he hung up. “I want you to tell them exactly what happened here.” Gerardo started to talk, but Hicks held up his hand. “Don’t worry about me. I have a God too. I spend most of my time in this Army ignoring my morals, but I couldn’t ignore them today.”

“Thank you.”

“Yeah.”

Minutes later, the two relief sergeant’s pulled up in a jeep along with the driver. They unloaded and began asking questions.

Easter, Bloody Easter

Easter, Bloody Easter

by Thadd Presley

“That’s exactly what she told me,” Anita said, handing the sheriff her ID. “I just don’t know what else to do. She said she would kill me if I so much as came down here.”

The sheriff held up his hand to get the attention of an officer.

“And we both know she can.” She was scared and it showed.  “You have to help me.”

“So she told you not to come here and you came anyway?” The sheriff was surprised. Anita shook her head and then, realizing that she was saying no, she nodded.

“Yes, I had to. She has my brother in her basement.”

“But, she said she would kill you.”

“Yes, I know. Please help me.”

“OK.” Fear was visible in the sheriff’s eyes. “Just stay right here.” He waved again for an officer. “I have to make a phone call and get this straightened out.” The sheriff rose from the chair and walked towards her from behind his desk. “Just to be sure. You’re mother has your brother locked in the basement and she is going to kill you because you came down here and told the police?”

“God, yes. What is wrong with you?” Anita was starting to get frustrated. She had already spent thirty minutes explaining to the police that her mother had gone crazy and was torturing her brother.

“Nothing is wrong with me, Anita. I have to get the facts straight. Don’t you see that it’s hard for me to believe a story like this. You’re mother is one of our town leaders and my boss’ wife.”

“Yes, call my dad. Please! I know he’s out of town, but he will tell you that she has been acting funny lately.”

“That’s exactly what I’m doing.”

The sheriff was almost out of the door when Anita screamed.

He turned around and saw blood pouring from her eye. “Dear God,” he exclaimed and ran to her. “What did you do?”

Anita couldn’t answer him, although she tried. Her mouth just wouldn’t say the words.

“Sheriff Coffee,” a deputy called, then he saw the blood. “What’s happening to her?”

“God only knows, Stephen. Get in here and hold her still.”

Stephen entered the small office and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The young girl was sitting in the expensive leather chair with her head lolling from left to right. A thin stream of blood was spurting out from the corner of her eye with every heart beat.
“What is she trying to say,” the sheriff asked. It was obvious to both men that her mouth was moving and words were slowly being formed, but it was in slow motion. Much to slow for them to understand.
“Here.” Stephen pushed a blank piece of paper on the sheriff’s desk.
“Try to write on this, Anita.”

There was no time to think. The sheriff barely had his hand out of the way when Anita used her bloody finger to draw on the paper. She moved her hand back and forth and up and down, lubricated by the blood on her hand.

“What is that?” the Sheriff asked.

“Good Lord. It’s not one of those pentagram things is it?” Stephen looked at the dark red scribble and put his hand on the desk, trying to settled his spinning head. But, it did no good. He was suddenly overwhelmed by dizziness, puke rushed up his throat and sprayed out of his mouth and nose. The sheriff didn’t have time to flinch before the hot, grey, half digested oatmeal landed on his shirt and fell, stinking, on his trousers.

“Damn it, Stephen, pay attention,” he said. But, it was too late. The deputy had passed out and was sliding slowly across the desk, into the floor.
“Anita, please, look at me.” The Sheriff straightened her up as he said it, wanting to get the situation under control. But as Anita continued to draw on the paper with her own blood, the sheriff realized that she had drawn a stick figure. What was she pointing at it, trying to tell him something. He felt as if he was running out of time. “Someone get in here.”

“If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you,” a voice said. He whirled around. 

“Anita?” But he realized it wasn’t her voice. There was no one else in the room with them.

“If you tell, I will kill you.” He knew the sound was in his head. As suddenly as he realized it, a pain shot through his temple down to his right hand. He instinctively knelt down and held his head in his left hand.

“Who’s there?”

“No,” Anita said, forcefully. “He won’t tell.”

“Who’s doing this?” The sheriff demanded.

The voice was louder. “I have you all right here with me.”

The pain in the sheriff’s temple grew and warm liquid flowed onto his lips and down his chin. He reached for his gun and saw that his shirt sleeve was red. He realized it was blood. Before he lost consciousness, he knew what she was trying to draw and he almost had time to laugh.

Why didn’t she listen to her mother? What could he have done to help her? The police are no match for a voodoo doll.