Reverse Image (part 2)

Reverse Image

part 2

by Thadd Presley

 

When Lucas entered the room, the quiet atmosphere stopped him in his tracks before he could say anything. There was a furrow on his dad’s brow he’d not seen before and his mother’s face spelled out volumes of unspoken emotion. He hoped they weren’t talking about his spring semester grades. He brought them up at the end.

Dad spoke up first. “Would you mind explaining exactly what you’re talking about? Your mother and I don’t have all morning to play guessing games. This afternoon we can hash out all the details and decide what we will do.”

“Ryan Butress.” Mother sounded extra-weird to Lucas and for the first time that morning he and his sister looked each other in the eyes. “I’ll not hear more of that. I have all the time she needs and so do you. She will tell us what she wants, when she wants. And we will not decide what she does, she decides what she does. Understand?” When her husband didn’t answer right away, Clare started crying.

Delilah stood in the gaze of three stone serious faces and she didn’t know what to say. Lucas broke the silence before it became hysteria.

“What is going on?”

“I don’t know. I think it’s because I’m not wearing makeup.”

Dad looked up from his bowl of cereal. “Sweetie, I’m not mad and neither is your mother. We just want you to be alright.”

“Well, I’m fine,” Delilah answered. “I just want to think about how I’m going to tell you what I found out. It’s been staring me in the face for so long and for me to just realize it. I mean, it’s stupid that I didn’t see it before. Why didn’t one of you tell me? Did you not know?”

“How could we know?” Her mother asked. “I don’t sleep in your bed, I don’t go out with you when you stay over at Angela’s house.”

“Is that what happened?” Her dad asked.

“That’s not important.” Her mother answered. “What’s important is what happens now.”

“O.K. Fine.” He stood from the table. His left hand shook and that was a bad sign. It meant he was really pissed. Delilah didn’t understand why her mom was so angry. “I’m going to work before I get in over my head and say something I’ll regret. I love you all and I’ll be home by four if anyone wants to fill me in then.”

As soon as the Mercedes backed out of the driveway, Lucas took this chance to jump ship. “I’m going to the gym and then job hunting. Bye.”

His mother crossed the kitchen and hugged him. Then, she turned and took an apple from the basket. “Eat this on your way. You’ll need energy to workout.”

“Thanks, mom.”

After the kitchen cleared of the menfolk, the women of the house stood quietly. They stood at the sink and watched Lucas jog down the sidewalk until he was out of view, then they looked at each other.

“Why are you looking at me that way, mom? God, why is everyone is so weird this morning.”

“I’m just worried about you. We are worried. Your dad and I.”

“Mom. It’s not a big deal. Here, listen. I’ll try to explain.”

“No. I want you to listen. That’s all I want you to do right now.” She pointed to the kitchen table. “Sit down so we can talk.”

“Mom!!”

“Don’t you yell at me.” She said it quietly, but it was a command that Delilah knew to obey. She sat and waited for her mother to speak. “Now I only have one question and I want the truth. Who’s the father?”

“What?”

“Just answer the question. Who’s the…”

“I don’t know. Dad, I guess. Who else?”

The words her daughter spoke didn’t make sense to her. They had meant something, but they quickly turned into something else before they reached her ears. Something like red worms burrowing through the dirt. Worms that ate the all the bad words once they left the mouth and spoiled in the open air.

Reverse Image

Delilah looked at her face reflecting in the bathroom mirror. She had just learned on Youtube that the image she saw reflecting back at her was not the same as it appeared to people on the street. The reflection was a mirror image. Exactly opposite of what everyone else saw.

She wished she could see what other saw, how she looked from the vantage point of others. How had she gone so long applying make-up backward to her face, primping and teasing her hair backward, smiling approvingly at a look that was completely opposite of what she had always thought it was?

There’s no wonder why she never turned any heads throughout middle school and during freshman year. But, now things were going to be different. Delilah was certain to see what everyone else was seeing.

“Dee, hurry.”

It was her older brother, Lucas, standing outside the bathroom door, probably doing the pee dance.

“Dee, please.”

“Go downstairs. Use dad’s.”

“He’s asleep. He’ll go ballistic if …”

The bathroom door flew open. “Fine. Whatever. Just stop talking to me.”

Lucas stared in disbelief. “What have you been doing all this time? I’ve been waiting patiently, gritting my teeth, because I know …”

“You don’t know anything, Luke. Just like always.”

He pushed past her and closed the door, not sure what he said wrong; without time to think, he could figure it out later if she was in a better mood.

Downstairs, Delilah’s mother, who everyone in the world called Clare, greeted her daughter with all smiles. “You’re gorgeous, do you know that?”

“Mom.” She glanced at Ryan, her dad. “Morning, dad.”

“You’re mom’s right, you know?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I’m not wearing makeup.”

“And I think that’s a good thing because makeup should be saved for special occasions.” Clare continued while buttering toast. “It shouldn’t be for everyday use. It’s really not good for your face over years and years of use.”

“Yep. Clogs your pores.”

“Well, that’s not why I’m not wearing it. It’s more complicated than that. I just found out something huge. It changes everything. Last night actually.”

“Like what?” Mom questioned.

“I don‘t know. Well, I don‘t know. I’m not really sure how to tell you. It’s hard to explain.”

“Whatever it is we we’ll understand.”

“Well, I should have realized it before because we were talking about it before school was out. At least last month ago or two at the most. I should have known.”

This brought the attention of both parents.

Continue on Part 2

Our Walk (fragment 4)

Our Walk
(fragment 4)
by Thadd Presley

As you may well have heard from your own vicar or sister, as you follow our journey together and learn of our battles, the lives of my companions and myself were given over to our Father God before we were born, whether we admit it or not, making our conception a matter of the Church with nothing to with a husband and wife’s love for one another. Our birth into the realm of Earth put a dual claim on us; God had a claim to our spirit while the Church had it’s claim on our body and we knew from an early age that our short lives would be given back to God quickly, for our paths were to bring before us the manifestation of an evil so fierce and powerful that we would surely die upon setting our eyes on it. Our hearts would fail us at just knowing such a blasphemy, since our hearts were the writing stone of God’s commandments long before our fleshy bodies had been taught the lies which would have led us into sin. We know not what lies ahead of us, only that we are to show no fear, nor even bat an eyelash in the presence of Hell’s most hideous creations. When we stand up face to face with the vilest of acts performed by cruelest of monsters, we know our bodies are nothing but dirt and our souls were never ours. The control we have learned to exercise over our body was just for these moment so we can someday fulfill God’s commandment. It is not our lives for which we should hold dear, because there exists a Salvation that none can rival. The evil which lies before us does not have the power to pluck us from the hands of God, only to deliver us into them. While Satan has tried in vain to plunge all of humanity into darkness, even since the beginning of time, and cause God’s children to falter and turn from their destiny, hasn’t the authority to undermine the truth of God’s promises, which is life eternal with God Almighty, who’s name is Worthy.

Our Walk “fragment one”

Our Walk

Fragment One:
The Deepest Stairway

by Thadd Presley

And into hell we went, as close together as our bodies could afford; halfway falling, halfway crawling, barely clinging to the edges, struggling to keep our footing on the narrow edge jutting from the wall, moving slowly and mindfully; for the steps, which led down steeply, would eventually come to a pit; and, if I might add right here, for it must be pointed out in the beginning, the steps were growing steeper as we got deeper and farther from the surface and, being steps like which I had never seen, I must say they were becoming like glass in both color and texture possibly caused by the heat rising from the pit we knew laid below us somewhere in the darkness. The wall itself was of a crumbly nature, a brimstone. I feared that we might, at any minute, find ourselves in the presence of the Devil himself…

 

Murder To Save A Friend (part1)

Murder to Save A Friend
(part 1)

Everything about this situation looks so plain and simple from my point of view. John needs to see it for himself, not that it matter’s who tells him, only that he finds out before it’s to late. It’s true that I see things from my own perspective which comes with a certain light that most people are blind to, but it is illuminating and many people, including my friend John, would benefit from it’s intensity, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying he has ever listened to me. He rarely takes my advice, in fact, usually going in the direction I least favor, causing hardship on himself and those who love him.

The situation is so clear and easy, as I see it, but I know I can’t  bring the subject up to John directly. I shall have to leave the task, this minor act of discretion, to my butler, a man we both adore, who is cunning and knowing, and will slip my words into John’s ear without even a hint of force or embarrassment. To say Hamish knows people would be an underestimation of his agreeable talents, to say he knows exactly the right words to use in every circumstance would be a direct hit on his powers. He is a worldly, faithful servant, not because he needs to be, because he wants to be, and he has raised me from a colicky babe into the gentleman and friend I have become today.

John loves and respects Hamish as much as I do. As my constant companion through childhood and business partner in adulthood, we have both drank from the same trough of learning, which was constantly replenished from Hamish’s well of knowledge and wisdom. As close as brothers, we’ve been through thick and thin together, and we’ve never had a bad word between us. That is, until recently.

So, it shall be Hamish who sets into motion the only possible solution to John’s miserable existence, which is to murder John’s wife and liberate my dear friend from the hell he has been subject to these last six months. Even though, as easy as it shall be, I know John will suspect me and fight tooth and nail to bring me to justice. So, to remove suspicion from myself I set my plan into motion a fortnight ago by inviting John and his wife to dinner by way of telegram while they were away in Knoxville.

Of course, they received the telegram and accepted the invitation. John replied with happy sentiments, admitting that after a week of being away with his wife he was looking forward to Hamish’s cooking, writing that she destroyed a pot of Premium Oatmeal by arguing with him instead of watching the breakfast. And while John knows that his life with Rosa is not perfect, what he doesn’t realize is that it will only get worse.
So, because of my vision and from an act of love for my best friend, I have arranged an “emergency” to befall us on the road at precisely 4:45, while we are on our way from the offices to my house for dinner. A robbery will take place that will once and for all remove Rosa from John’s life.

The death will look accidental. I am sure no one will be the wiser once the excitement is over and she is found. To further confuse matters, I have elected myself to become wounded in the performance as well. I believe it will lend an air of reality to an otherwise fake event. My wounds will not be life threatening, I hope, but should be enough to remove all possible accusations from myself and place them on the thieves.

I realize that someone might look at my scheme and think I’m only being a jealous friend who has lost his playmate and will do anything to get him back, but it would be wrong to assume that. If only it possible to see what I see, why that person would volunteer for a part in my production, possibly even maneuver themselves into the position to pull the trigger and set John free by their own hand.

It is hard for me to look upon tonight without some feelings of guilt because it would not have come to this if I would have spoke up in the beginning. If only I had John’s ear and knew how to explain myself, I know I could have saved John and Rosa. But, it is too late now and to say that I knew what was awaiting John the moment we met Rosa is only admitting that I did nothing to stop it.

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.

A Turn South

A Turn South

by Thadd Presley

“She’s worse, Pa,” Maggie said, coming down from the attic, “she won’t even touch the biscuits and I put jelly on ’em special.”

Of course, I couldn’t help it. When I heard that Angela wouldn’t eat, I started cryin’ and Pa tore off in a tantrum.

After Pa had left Maggie got up and took as if she was goin’ to slap me, sayin’ that I was drivin’ Pa to drinkin’ ag’in and that I needed to quit my cryin’. That made me feel worse than ever because all I ever wanted to do was help.

John came down from Angela’s room then and just looked at us. During the few seconds, where us girls just looked at john, he said, “Call Doc Morgan,” then he looked toward the window. “Tell him she has taken a turn south.”

June, the youngest of us, asked what “a turn south” meant and that made me start cryin’ again, because she was so innocent, but John didn’t answer. We all knew that Angela was gonna die and she would be with Momma in heaven. And although these two thoughts conflicted each other in emotion, they seemed to make the other worse; on the one hand, I felt so bad about Angela and I never wanted her to die, but I also knew she wanted to be with Ma and that she mourned her the most, being as she was Ma’s favorite, but I also didn’t want her to see Ma because that wouldn’t be fair. I also wanted to see Ma. So she couldn’t die, that was it.

John had the phone to his ear and I could see the disappointment in his eyes, and then his face seemed to fall, and I thought is this what the bible meant when it said that Cain’s countenance fell?” Somehow I knew it was right and John’s countenance had just fallen. Then John said, “the doc ain’t home, he’s out on a house-call.”

I thought a moment about praying, because Pa said prayer could make any situation better, but before I could a knock came on the door. Then Pa’s voice called out. “Might as well go on in doc, since as you done come all this way.”

“Thank you.” The doc said, and I heard the door handle turn. I looked toward John to see if he had realized and immediately knew he had. The doc was here. To myself I felt that the prayer was working and I hadn’t even said it yet.

The doc came in and went straight up to see Angela. He nodded at John, on his way, and smiled to us girls, but the smile was only for appearances. It didn’t show any of the doc’s real emotions. I could tell by his eyes and by the way he held is breath that something was bothering him.

He was always so nice, I thought.

Ten minutes after the doc had disappeared up the flight of steps going to the attic, Pa came through the door with a load of split wood. “where’s that quack at?” He bellowed, breathing hard from the chopping. “I got a supper to cook and you girls needs’da finish your outside chores.” He dropped the wood into the box behind the stove. “John?”

“Yes, Pa?”

“Are you going to tell me where the doc is, or do I need to smoke him out myself?”

“Oh,” he looked up the steps. “He’s in with Angela.”

“Bless that man for caring,” he said and looked at the roof. “Bless him for trying. But girls, and you John, you know what he is doing is tampering in God’s business, right? You know he is trying to be the Lord himself.”

I could see John’s mind turning over and over and I felt Pa’s words grow bigger and bigger in the air, just asking for someone to bust them so all the insides could fly out and make everything worse. “Yes, Sir.”

“‘Cause it’s the Lord that determines life and death. Just like before…”

“Before was different, Abe,” the doc said from the stairs, “and I thought you might have learned something from you wife’s,” he seemed to watch Pa, “condition. Why did you wait so long to call me?”

“What I want to know is how you found out?”

The doc finished the three last steps and came into the living room. “My wife heard it at church. During the women’s study group Yvonna asked for everyone to remember the little Ramsey girl. Of course, my wife told me, thinking I should check in.”

“Does she know how me and my family feels about good for nothin’ know-it-all’s meddlin’ in God’s business?”

The doc didn’t answer, he only looked at Pa. Then, he seemed to relax. “No, Abe, she does not,” he paused, “and the reason is this: I don’t think she could understand what you did.”

“Do you think she will understand it this time?”

“I think she would have a hard time believing it.”

“I am still firm in my belief, and I don’t want my daughter taking them elixirs and potions you’re cooking up down in town. You can keep it.”

“Abe, if you would have given your wife only a few doses of that bottle…just a few…” he hung his head. “Do you realize that she would still…”

“The Lord knows what He’sa doin’,” Abe bellowed. “You should know that. You went to school didn’ye?”

The doc looked at us kids, and then back at my father. “Damn you Abraham Ramsey, damn you to hell.”

John shot out of his chair then. “I’m sorry, doc, but they’s won’t be none of that. We don’t swear in this house.”

“Mind the children Shelby,” Pa said, as he stood up, “I’m takin’ this man to his horse and I’ll see to it that he gets down the road.”

“Let me do it Pa,” John said,” grabbing his hat. “I’ll make sure he get’s fer good.”

“Hold on,” the doc called, “now just hold on.” He looked at John. “We need to help your sister first. Now, I took on a hunch and brought the medicine she needs. She should only take two spoons a day until she gets better and then…”

“And then nothin’,” John said. “Now, get outside and on your horse.”

The doc turned and went out the door. His head was low and John was right behind him. “I will not have you deciding God’s fate in my home,” Pa said. “And that’s that. The Lord is something you can trust in.”

“You will live to regret your errors, Abraham, and you will never forgive yourself.” Then quietly, John and the doc walked outside.

I watched as John and the doc were in the window. Pa didn’t pay them any mind. Pa knew that John would get him on his way and that the doc would go easily. His face was turned down and I could see his lips moving. He was praying.

In the window, I saw the doc give John a dark colored bottle and John hid it under his coat. They shook hands and the doc left. Then John came back in.

He sat back down for a while in the living room, but no one said anything for a long time, and then he said, “I’m going to check on Angela.” Then stood up to go upstairs.

“Take that coat off,” Pa called.

“Yes sir,” John said, but walked on up the stairs as if he wasn’t disobeying a direct roder. When he vanished behind Angela’s door, I felt a lot better. I couldn’t help but to think, that if we would have been older and wiser last year, we could have saved our dear Ma.

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.



Copyright Thadd Presley — All Rights Reserved

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Dear Michael

Dearest Michael,

I hope this letter reaches you. I have so much to be thankful for and everyday is a blessing. But, honestly, I am afraid I’ll not see you again.

I sewed up a deep wound today and this is how it went:

“Please hold still,” I told the patient nervously, knowing that he did not understand what I said. “If you keep moving this will not heal…”

“He does not care to heal.” The words came from an elder who stood behind me, watching me closely. The man wore a mask, as did the young man I operated on, and so far, he has been the only one to speak to me in English. “He only wants to fight once more before he dies.” The man on the table jumped as the needle pressed into his skin, jerking the needle from my hand. “To die on this table will endanger his life in Paradise, to have you touch him has made him unclean, that is why he cannot die. If he dies here he will certainly go to hell.”

“I’m doing the best I can,” I told the man, holding the needle close to ripped flesh, “but if he keeps moving he will certainly die here.”

At this point the man on the table passed out. Maybe from fear of eternal damnation, maybe from the loss of blood. His leader must have thought he died because he hit me with in the stomach with the butt of his rifle. I fell to the floor. Suddenly, angry words came from outside the room.

I hate to be telling you this, but I have to tell someone.

I am now directly in the middle of a holy war, although nothing about it seems holy. I knew where I was going to be before I came here, but I did not tell you the truth. I apologize for that. I told you I would be living in Jerusalem, but that is not where I went. Instead I went to a small town near the Syrian border because they needed doctors.

I am still at the school house, just like I said in my last letter. Remember, I told you about the children who were learning English and Bible scripture? That was true, but the children are no longer here. Only a small, rubble-filled building remains. The entire village has been abandoned.

Before the militants came, we had transformed school room into triage and another into a small operating theater. Doctors from the area came regularly to learn new procedure. As a result, many people were receiving medicine. Only now, it all seems pointless. All of our work has been reduced to smoking remains.

Don’t be mad, I’m so sorry.

We heard the explosions getting closer days ago.  We decided we would all go back to Jerusalem. I wanted to leave so bad and come home to you and the kids, but it all happened so quickly. Before we had a chance to pack, men arrived and began giving us orders. It seemed they only wanted medical attention, when we were taken hostage.

We are now trapped and the leader — I can’t spell his name — killed Steven and Matthew. He cut their heads off while they were still alive. I started crying because they were the only men with us and they beat me.

Now there’s only three women in our group and we are all Christian. It seems our captors have no conscience about what they do to us.  One minute they do not want to look at us, then their hands are all over us doing terrible things. Patricia has been wounded and won’t stop bleeding. I have tried all I can. I’m afraid she will die soon. I am the only surgeon left and I think I will be kept alive, but I do not know how long.

I’m sure this will be my last letter to you, my love. I don’t want you to worry. By the time you get this letter I will either be saved or dead. I need you to know that I am not afraid to die. I feel that I am doing God’s work even when I sew together the enemy’s wounds. I can feel mother’s presence all the time.

Please, give the children my love and tell them that I am with the angels. Tell them I am with grandma. Will you do that?

For now, I just am trying to think of my mother and how we used to stay up late and sew quilts for the homeless. Momma always told me I had the hands of a surgeon. When I graduated and began work at the hospital, she told me I could change the world with God’s guidance. Even now, I believe that is true.

Please dearest Michael, do not mourn me for too long. Your love is so strong and it has been my greatest strength here. Promise me that you will show another your wonderful love.

Yours forever and ever,



Copyright Thadd Presley — All Rights Reserved

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The Breakup

  “The Break Up”
by Thadd Presley

She called me from a pay phone downtown and told me it was over. She didn’t cry and she didn’t explain. She just said that it was over and she realized she no longer loved me . When I pleaded with her to tell me what was going on and how this could have happened, she blamed it on the summer and my part-time job at the mall. She said if I would have only been around more she would have never met Brad. Brad who, I asked. His name was like being doused in freezing water; out of no where, it stopped me in my tracks. How could she do this? How could she be with someone else so quickly? When I asked her if she had cheated on me, she hung up. I listened to the phone beep for three full minutes before it stopped. I continued to hold it to my ear for a minute longer. Then, I threw it against the wall.
During our argument, I kept my voice low. My father used to like Sally, but since he learned we were dating he didn’t want her around the house and wouldn’t let us be together, which is why I took the job at the mall. It gave me a reason to be out of the house and a place we could meet and see each other.
I knew my dad was downstairs. I imagined him sitting in his reclining chair, drinking scotch, when I was on the phone. Then he heard the crash of the telephone and I didn’t have to imagine anymore.
I knew he was on his way because the chair makes a certain sound when it is closed to fast, like a spring being tightened too much. It wasn’t fifteen seconds before I heard his thuds coming up the stairs. There wasn’t any chance he was going to my brothers room, although Jimmy’s room was across the hallway from mine. My dad never thudded to Jimmy’s room. It was only towards me that my father thudded.
Bang, Bang!! went my bedroom door and then it opened quickly enough to send a gust of air across my small roll-top desk. Two pages of algebra notes were caught up and swooped onto the floor. My dad’s eyes were bloodshot and he wasn’t in a good mood. He hadn’t gone into work for the last three days and he’d spent most of the time in the living room watching television. Now, that my mother was gone for good, he could drink at home. He used to go to the bar, three blocks away.

He surveyed my room for a moment, looking for something out of place. When I didn’t say what the noise was, he spoke: “Why are you crying?”
“I’m not,” I said and cringed.
“Don’t lie to me.” He rubbed his hands together. “Just don’t give me a reason tonight, I’m not in the mood.”
“I’m not giving you a reason.”

It wasn’t the first time my dad hit me, but it hurt worse than ever before. He never hit me hard enough to hurt, it was more of a warning, but the damage was always there. Killing very slowly my heart and spirit.

When I sat still and didn’t respond, he stepped forward. “You want that I do it again?” He asked this in a tone that I knew was going to get worse the longer I didn’t cooperate. But I got a surprise. His face changed, his hands went down. When he realized I was genuinely upset, his voice softened.
“Why are you crying? Tell me.”
“I’m crying because Sally broke up with me and pretty much admitted she has been dating someone else.” A wave of sadness filled me, tears ran from my eyes, not in drops but gushed. I coughed and gagged on the emotions that came out. I’d never cried so hard in my life, not even when mom left. I was having a break down.
Then dad started laughing.
“Is that all?” He said, turning toward the hall. “Hey Jimmy, come here. Hurry.”

I looked at him in disbelief. How could he be laughing at me? He knew how hard this relationship had been. How much I’d sacrificed to be with her. He had to know how hard it was going to be for me because of how much I loved Sally.
He knew…

My brother poked his head into my room. “Jimmy, look here,” my dad beamed with happiness, “we got some great news today and I want the whole house to hear it.”
Jimmy had heard from his bedroom and all the commotion, but he was too nervous to comment, so my father did it all for him.
“That’s right, Jimmy,” my dad continued, “Sally done called and broke the relationship off.” He put his hands up, “Thank God!! Am I right?”
This made me so mad that, for a moment, I didn’t care what happened to me. I stood up knowing I was going to punch my dad, but Jimmy saved the day.

He looked at me and noticed the small spot of blood at the corner of my mouth. “You mean, you’re not going to hit Joselyn anymore?”
“That‘s right son.”
“So, it’s true,” he asked me. “Sally really broke up with you and you’re not going to be a lesbian anymore?”
I started to say something, but my dad interrupted. “That’s right Jimmy, your sister’s not a dike anymore and we can all go back to the way it was.”
This brought such a big smile to my younger brother and I couldn’t do anything that would take that smile away. He’s suffered right along with me.
“Dad’s right. Sally broke up with me and it’s over. Cool, huh?”

He jumped for joy. My dad stood up and gave me a hug. Then he kissed my forehead. “Damn, this is such a good night.” I smelled the scotch on his breath and for the first time in my life I wondered if it would help me forget Sally ever existed. “I gotta call Fred. He’s been having the same problem with his daughter.”
I quickly glanced at the corner and saw the broken phone beside my tattered Teddy bear.
“Would you call from downstairs, so I can get ready for bed? I just want to sleep for now.”
“Sure, anything you want, darling, anything you want.” my dad said as he was leading my brother our of my room. “Anything you want…”