The Internship Lie – A Short Story

Great. The phone buzzed obnoxiously as she stepped out of the tub.

“Yeah?” she shouted over the sound of water spiraling down the drain.

“I’m outside; you coming or what?” Her boyfriend’s tin-can voice asked.  

Patience, geez. “Almost. Just getting out of the bath.”

“Well, hurry up! We’re gonna be late,” he huffed.  

Bet he’s bouncing his knee and drumming his fingers. “I gotta dry off first; give me ten minutes.”

“Just throw on some jeans and a tee and get out here,” he argued.  

We won’t be late anyway. “It’s easier to get jeans on a dead body than wet legs,” she spouted.

“How would you know?” He laughed.

You’ll see. “I interned at a mortuary one summer.”

Advertisements

To Be Graceful – A 100 Word Story

It’s a great day when I get to watch Graceful at work. The cowlick in his hair gets tossed around by the salty breeze. The sun glints across the words printed on the broad back of his wetsuit.

World Surf League.

The best triple whammy is headed our way.

I know if I can just grab onto the back of Graceful’s board, he can teach me to be like him.

I let out a groaning “Whoops!” as I pry shards of Graceful out of my teeth.

Book Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Let me first of all say, this is not in my usual genre range. I like YA novels; I like dystopian fiction. But the whole girly, pageant-like vibe is not something I’m interested in. It took a lot of arm yanking and three recommendations from people I trust before I even started watching Once Upon a Time. Because as my mom now says, “Let’s watch the fairy princess show!”

But for some reason, the cover caught my eye when I was walking through a bookstore. I’ll admit, I set it back down. I thought it looked interesting but was worried the author wouldn’t deliver. After all, I had never heard of her; honestly, that says much less about her than it does about me. Anyway, I told myself I’d look it up later to make sure it was clean (minimal swearing/sexual content etc). I forgot. Only when I was stalking a blog and found a raving review did I remember that I had thought it might be a good book.

Bought it the next time I was in the bookstore. Got razed by both husband and mother…”I can read a girly book if I want to! And besides, I bought this one too.” *points to a somewhat boyish spy thriller akin to Tom Clancy*

Well, I read it and loved it. While there was some minor sexual references, the book was mostly clean and the story was engaging. This tomboy is going to pick up the rest of the series…

Book Review: The Calling by Rachelle Dekker

Yesterday, I finished the sequel to Rachelle Dekker’s debut novel. I was lagging behind on this one for awhile. I think because I was afraid it would not have the same impact on me that the first novel (The Choosing) accomplished. I was wrong.

I’ve described the premise before but here’s a quick recap: in a pseudo-post-apocalyptic America, the Authority rules with a heavy hand. Women who are not chosen by a young man during their selection ceremony are destined to become indentured servants; men who are imperfect for some reason (think birth defect or chronic stutter) become members of the militaristic police force. It’s the only way of life, until a mysterious man named Aaron begins planting seeds in the hearts of the citizens.

The first novel was written entirely from Carrington’s perspective. She fails to get chosen and tries her hardest to accept the fate that the Authority tells her is God’s Will for her life. The second novel is in Remko’s point of view. As he tries to lead a group of rebels outside the Authority city, he finds every step he takes leads them closer to capture and death. Wow, I thought my heart really empathized with Carrington; Remko, on the other hand, totally resonated with me. His struggle through regret and self-blame really hit me hard.

Even more, his journey to true freedom. I’m waiting expectantly for the last book in this series

Book Review: The Girl In Between by Laekan Zea Kemp

Ok, so here’s another eBook I picked up for free from Kindle. The premise: a girl, Bryn, with the rare disease KLS (where the sufferer falls into something like a deep sleep for long periods of time) finds herself strolling through her memories instead of being catatonic during her episodes. Everything is safe and familiar until a boy with amnesia washes up on the beach in her dreamland.

I think my interest in this was somewhat superficial. How does someone with a disease like that function on a day to day basis? How does it affect their relationships, schooling, and mental state?

I found the details really interesting, so I have to give the author props for hooking me on that. Also, somewhere kind of late in the game, the book explicitly mentions that Bryn is American but has Colombian heritage. Also, you later find out that the boy is Italian. So, props for having diverse main characters. But, I will mention that from the first pages of the book, I occasionally forgot and thought Bryn was British. I thought maybe that was just some of the author’s voice slipping in: an unknown author with a unique name could have any number of origin stories and “accents” that might bleed into their writing. Fine by me but maybe something the author should be aware of.

My main complaint with this novel was not the story itself. That was totally fascinating and I loved it. My problem was the large quantity of mature content. As a YA novel, it felt realistic in that there was a ton of vulgar language, conversations that were drug related or had sexual references. Yea, it’s the real world. Coworkers tell unsavory jokes, the guy at the supermarket swears profusely when his debit card malfunctions, TV ads…OK no more ranting…

When I’m reading, that’s the world I’m trying to escape. I don’t really want to escape into a world where it’s just as adult. Another good reason why I read a lot of Christian fiction. Regardless, I powered through the first novel only to reach the end at a totally unexpected part.

This is a strategy I’ve seen in a lot of eBook freebies. You get the reader hooked then end the novel in with just enough concluded that you can say “Finito!” but other parts of the narrative require the purchase of the sequel to keep you from throwing a tantrum. Well, I’m getting mighty sick of this strategy. Perhaps, I’m a bit sensitive because I recently read this blog post on authors leaving things “unresolved.” http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2016/05/i-intend-to-multiply-when-do-i-break.html

Or maybe I’m a bit naive and the author totally thought the narrative arc of the novel was complete but in my opinion there was too many loose ends. Will Bryn die because of the changes to her dreamland? Why did Roman get stuck there in the first place? What’s the deal with the shadows? What’s the deal with Bryn’s grandmother? These all seemed highly important right until the last page when none of them were resolved.

I was so mad (and annoyed by the mature content) I actually resolved NOT to buy the sequel. Unfortunately, Kindle recently updated and when I tried to scroll through to the page where it used to tell you the price of the next book in the series, I accidentally clicked on BuyNow for the next book. *rolls eyes in annoyance at technology*

The Echoes – A Short Story

So, I started this short story in response to a writing prompt that I found. For reasons that will become obvious later, I put the prompt at the bottom of the page.

The Echoes

Today, I didn’t get fired. I’m thankful for that. It means I had a good day. Since it’s Friday, that means I had a good week. To reward myself for another week employed, I spent the evening relaxing. I ordered in a pepperoni pizza, read a few chapters of the Bible, and watched the Giants game on ESPN.

As I get ready for bed, I wander through the house, following the echoes.

In the bathroom, I stare in the mirror. In the corner of my eyes I see the overhead light shine off my wife’s long dark curls. She helps our son, Silas, brush his teeth. He is big enough to do it on his own but you have to cherish the times when they ask for your help. If you don’t savor every moment, you long for them after their gone. The last diaper, the last bedtime story, the last walk in a stroller. I brush my own teeth and make my way downstairs.

I have a nightly ritual for checking the doors and windows. You have to make sure everything’s locked up in the city. I flip off the television as I pass through the living room and hear the echoes of cartoons and lullabies. In the kitchen, I lock the back door flip off the outside light. My eyes adjust to the dark but if I stare hard enough I can see the pile of leaves in the backyard. It’s a perfect jumping pile. As I look up to find the Big Dipper, I hear the laughter. Squeals and giggles and heartfelt belly laughs. Silas was having fun.

I move on to close and lock the dining room windows and flip the light on and off quickly in the laundry room. There’s no window in there, but my nightly walk includes all the rooms in the house. I scowl at myself as I pass by the coat closet on my way back to the stairs. There’s no window in the coat closet and there’s really no reason to check it for intruders. It’s not big enough to consider a room. Plus, I hung my coat in there only a few hours ago when I got home from work.

My counselor says that challenging myself to deviate from my routines will eventually help me overcome some of my obsessive behaviors. The temptation to run back down the stairs, start all over, and this time include the closet nearly overwhelms me. But I trudge onward through the upstairs hall.

Silas’ room is a yellow, green, and orange safari adventure. Soft light filters out of the elephant nightlight. Overall the room is tidy, except for the unkempt bed where my son slept. A waist-high bookshelf full of bedtime stories and early chapter books doubles as a night stand with a humidifier for Silas’ breathing. I sit gently on the bed for a moment, staring into that nightlight. My son’s soft wheezing fills my heart with love until I’m ready to leave. I check his window with a quick glance out into the yard below. Nothing unusual lingers or lurks in our backyard. The picnic table and pile of leaves look the same from up here as they did from the kitchen.

I shut the door softly and move on to my wife’s home office. The lemony smell of Becca’s favorite candle dances around the room but I check and see that the flame is no longer lit. Her desk is messy but I resist the desire to organize and clean it up. The window is already locked so I move on.

Finally, I am back in our bedroom and I lock the door. I squeeze my eyes shut tight and wait for silence to take over the house. It always does eventually: the creaking, the footsteps, and the soft whispers disappear. Tonight is different though. Instead of fading away, the voices, clomping of feet up the stairs, and the eery lullaby melody grow louder. Clearer.

The strange singing in the kitchen is from a woman. The feet stomping up the stairs belong to a child. I jump in confusion when a knock sounds on my door. Silas’ voice calls out.

“Daddy, let me in. Mom’s got that scary look again, the one where she starts singing that creepy song. Daddy, please let me in!”

I stand up but hesitate in moving towards the door.

“Daddy, please, you promised you wouldn’t let her hurt me again!”

I rush forward and open the door. Silas bolts through the door and practically plows me over to get the chair from my desk. As he slams it under the doorknob I drop to my knees and yank him around to look at his face. He has pale blue eyes and high cheekbones. I can barely see him through the tears forming in my eyes, but when I sweep his bangs away from his forehead, I know he is not my son. He is not Silas. The woman singing downstairs is not my Becca.

Silas and Becca have been dead for five years. A tragic accident at an amusement park took them from me while I was working overtime to pay off student loans. But I always hear their echoes. The way I figure it, when you love your wife and son, they dig themselves deep into your heart. Death can’t take their sounds, their smells away from you. It can’t take their laughter or singing. Their bedtime prayers. Their echoes and memories strewn about the house are as much a part of my ritual as the door locking and window checking.

I don’t get the time to wonder further though, as the boy runs to the desk and scoops my phone up. I hardly know what to say or do as he dials 911. A loud bang on the door reminds me that, according to the boy, there’s an armed and dangerous woman outside that door. I drag my chifferobe and dresser up to the door without dislodging the chair. Instead of eery singing, the woman is now snarling, spitting obscenities, calling the little boy vile names and making death threats.

I turn back to look at the boy but he’s already hanging up the phone. I blink in confusion and he stares back at me. As the door starts making little cracking noises, he rushes over to the window. My bedroom window leads to the roof above the kitchen.

“We can go out this way,” he says. “Come on, she’ll kill you if you stay here.”

I follow the boy out the window and onto the roof. The wind is chilly but the recent drought has kept the roof tiles dry. I lead the boy over to the side nearest the detached garage. If we need to make a grand escape, I’d rather go by car than on foot. I help the boy slide to the edge of the roof and lay down on my stomach to lower him to the ground. After he hits the ground safely with a dull thump, I drop myself quickly and start running towards the car.

The boy follows me and I struggle to get my spare key from underneath a loose cobblestone in the path alongside the garage. We rush inside, shut and lock the door. That won’t stop whoever she is for long, if she realizes we’re out here. Now, I have to throw myself on the garage floor to find the spare car key in it’s magnetic box under my bumper. We get in the car and I press the automatic door opener. Scared that the crazy lady is already onto us, I lock the car doors and start creeping towards the garage door as it slowly lifts off the ground. As soon as I can, I slip the car underneath the door and peel out.

I don’t see anyone in my rear-view mirror or side mirrors. Hopefully, the maniac was still trying to barge her way into my bedroom. I glance over at the boy who got me into this mess and finally declare, “How the heck did you get into my house? Who are you? Why is there a nut-job breaking down my bedroom door? How did she get into my house!?”

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I was hiding in the coat closet. I snuck in earlier today when I ran away from her. I wasn’t gonna steal anything, I swear. I just wanted to borrow a phone but you don’t have a landline and I couldn’t find a cellphone. When I heard you coming into the house I hid in one of the bedrooms. Your son’s bedroom, I guess.”

I’m still lost. Before I can point out that he really hasn’t answered any of my questions, he continues.

“I didn’t think she’d actually come looking for me. I thought I could wait until you fell asleep, borrow your phone to call the police, then sneak out and find some place to meet the cops.”

Finally, I get a word in. “But who are you? Who is she? I mean I can see why you’re running from her but…” I taper off.

“Oh, right, my name’s Jack. Sorry, it’s been a long time since I’ve talked to anyone. I live across the street. Well, not really. The lady who lives across the street from you kidnapped me years ago. I’ve been in her basement. I can see your house from my window. I never had anything to do so when I watched out that window I would pretend to be friends with all the people I could see.” He glances over at me to gauge my reaction and continues. “I kind of pretended you were my Dad.”

When I look over at him, his face is red and I notice he has freckles like Silas used to have. He’s about ten, the age Silas would be today. Even in my shock and confusion, I feel bad for the boy. I can’t even imagine someone stealing my son and hiding him away in a basement. It was hard enough to lose a son to a known end, let alone never knowing where he is. If he’s even alive. “Your parents must be crazy with worry.”

“Yea, my Mom’s probably pulled all her hair out by now.”

“What about your Dad?” I wonder aloud.

“He died before I was born,” Jack answers. “Sorry I caused you all this trouble. I don’t even know your name and here I go breaking into your house and getting you nearly killed by Nadine. That’s her name, by the way. She made me call he Mother but her name is Nadine something.”

“Seth, that’s my name, and I’m glad you broke in. I wish I had known you were down there, I would have called the cops.” I give him a small smile to show him I’m not mad at him. “How did she get in my house, though?”

“I don’t know. I guess maybe she snuck in before you got to locking all the doors and stuff. When she gets that glassy look in her eyes, she can be very sneaky.

We finally pull into the police parking lot. If any cars had been dispatched to my house, I had not seen them go by us. With how many different roads and routes that could be taken in the city, it’s not overly surprising that we missed whoever was headed out to check out Jack’s call. When we go in though, it’s all paperwork and questions for hours. I’m interviewed by the police; at one point, they go so far as to accuse me of kidnapping Jack. Apparently, the state of my house, which they searched, Jack’s statement, and my own statement finally leads them to believe me though. I’m walking out of the interrogation room and heading back to my car, when I see Jack waiting in a chair in the large outer reception area. I walk over and sit down nearby.

“My Mom’s on the way. There’s going to be all this stuff going on: doctors, news people, cops. But the only thing I can think about is what I’m going to say to my Mom. They said I’ve been gone for over a year. Do you think she’ll remember me? What if she married some guy and had a new son by now?”

We both pause and look up for a moment as Nadine is dragged by in handcuffs. The cop with her looks like he had a rough time subduing her. Bloody lip, black eye. I’m glad I didn’t have to fight her off.

“Jack, hey look at me,” I wait for him to comply. “Your Mom has never forgotten you. I’m sure that some things have changed while you were gone but your Mom loves you and that could not have changed no matter how long you were in that basement.”

While I was talking, I didn’t notice the young woman come and stand a few feet behind me. “Jack!” She cried. “It really is you!” As she scooped her son into her arms like he was just a toddler, I watched them both burst out in tears and nervous laughter.

I tried to quietly sneak away. While I was happy God had allowed me to play a part in this happy reunion, I wanted to minimize my intrusion into the life and privacy of what are essentially two strangers.

“Seth, wait!” Jack cried out.

I turned and tilted my head as I often do when confused. Before I could figure out what was happening, Jack had ran up and jumped into my arms. He hugged me hard and I couldn’t help but hug him back. He had been through quite the ordeal and he reminded me a lot of my own little boy.

“I heard what you told him back there, about how I would never forget him. I can’t thank you enough for helping my son escape from that woman. I’m Sarah.”

While I don’t know what exactly to say, because I didn’t do anything all that special, Jack’s Mom asks me to sit with them for a minute. We chat about anything and everything. I find out they are local and that Jack will be going to school at a nearby private school. Sarah hadn’t remarried or had any other children. Her baggage of a missing son, like my own baggage, had kept her from the dating scene. While we talked over police station coffee, Jack repeatedly kept looking over at me and giving my a mischievous, knowing grin. Until finally, he came over and whispered in my ear.

“You should ask my Mom out on a date.”

“Maybe we should be friends for awhile first, OK, bud?” I stammered.

Sarah’s sweet smile and following laughter reminds me that no one knows a child better than their parents.

Today’s writing prompt: As you climb into your bed late at night, someone hurriedly knocks on the bedroom door. “Dad, let me in! Mom’s coming, and she’s armed! Please, dad! You promised!” You are single without children.

Prompt Source: From the depths of pinterest, unsure of origin

Memories and Nightmares – A Short Story

I woke up startled. Not like one of those minor startles but instead with a full-blown nightmare quality gasp. My wide eyes shifted between the three people leaning over me. One of them was saying something. My head hurt too much to sit up and I felt a slow warmth behind my neck.

“Emma?” he said, “Emma, can you hear me?”

I wonder who these people are. Also, why does the one up front keep calling me Emma? It looks like I’m on the floor of a home improvement store. But how did I get here? I work in an office doing secretary tasks for a bunch of accountants. It’s not glamorous but it pays the bills and keeps me busy.

“Emma?” Front guy says again.

“My name is Claire. What happened?”

“Uhmm…your name is Emma.” He points to my shirt. “See, it’s even on your name tag.” Another guy, actually a rather cute guy, behind and to the right of the first man, points to a nearby ladder. “A customer knocked you off the ladder because he wanted you to mix his paint.”

“But I’m just a secretary,” I mumble.

“Nah, Emma. You work here. But you manage the hardware stock; you’re not a paint mixer,” cute guy says. As he says this, I see a team of paramedics weeding through the customers with a gurney and red medical bags.

At this point, I start getting scared. These people have me confused with someone else. They’ll get the paramedics confused. My insurance will throw a fit. I hate hospitals and I don’t want to go alone. I want my best friend. If I’m going to a hospital, I need Noah.

“Where’s Noah?” My heart starts pounding as the medics start getting closer.

While first man and cute guy seem confused, the third guy who looks about a hundred years old, looks annoyed. “I don’t have any employees named Noah. If you’ve been lollygagging on the job to flirt with some boy –”

Cute guy cuts him off. “Emma doesn’t lollygag. I’m sure Noah’s a family member or something.”

The paramedics show up and start asking questions. What happened? Where does it hurt? Can you wiggle your feet? I’m too overwhelmed and confused to help. Instead, I start crying. “Please, just get Noah,” I say while the strange men are explaining to the paramedics how I fell off the ladder and seem to be disoriented about who and where I am.

“I KNOW WHO I AM!” I yell, finally getting their attention. “My name is Claire Robbins. I live on Birch Street in Evanstown. I work as a secretary at the offices of Schmidt and Klein. The only thing I’m disoriented about is who on earth you people are and why you keep calling me Emma. Please. Please, just get Noah. I need Noah.” While most of that was angry and I even got sarcastic air quotes in for the word ‘disoriented,’ I ended in a whispered plea. In my anger, I had sat myself up. Apparently, I had hit my head well enough, because the dizziness from sitting up turned into black static-like spots in my vision.

The second time I woke up, I found myself in a hospital bed. The initial panic I had felt toward the paramedics and the hospital seemed a little silly now. But then I remembered how weird all those people were acting and the anxiety started to creep back in. As I looked around, I realized my wrist was cast and I had a bandage dangling in my face. Using my good hand, I found the rebellious bandage belonged to a long strip that wrapped around most of my head.

As I tucked the bandage out of my way, a man I had formerly missed coughed from the corner. More fear crept up as I realized this was the cute guy from the home improvement store. However, I finally had the presence of mind to look at his name tag. His name was Devin.

“Uh, hi?” I said.

“Hey Emma, you had us all pretty worried there.” As he leaned closer and kissed me on the cheek, he whispered, “Especially me.”

I guess he must have sensed my panic because he sighed and leaned back. “You still don’t remember who you are, do you?”

“But I do. I’m Claire Robbins,” I reminded him.

“Em, the doc said it might be awhile before your memory comes back,” he sighed deeper this time, as if it hurt him that I couldn’t remember. “Maybe I could try to help you remember?”

Silent tears fell from my face but I nodded slowly. He picked up a cell phone from a night stand between the bed and an uncomfortable looking chair. He said, “This is your phone. I’m going to pop open the camera app, ok? After a few clicks with his thumb, he turned the phone toward me. “That’s the self-facing camera. See, that’s you?

As I looked at the stranger in this makeshift mirror, I felt a twinge of familiarity. Like perhaps I spent too many mornings trying to hide that small scar on my cheek with makeup and long bangs. “How’d I get this?” I wondered.

“Oh man, that one was a doozy. Uh, you snowboarded off a roof,” he looked away.

I snowboarded off a roof?” I repeated.

“You don’t believe me?” He wondered. Again, he looked kind of depressed by the whole situation and I felt kind of bad for him. He seemed to really believe I was this Emma girl. And he liked her; it was pretty obvious.

“Sorry, I’m not really sure what I believe anymore. I mean I specifically remember being Claire. I know about the kind of life I lived as Claire and I remember my best friend. I have memories of the crazy things he conned me into doing.” Though I gave him a slight smile, Devin frowned and walked to the window. He looked stormy, standing there with one hand on the back of his neck and the other swiping at his face and dark hair. After a few shuddering breaths, he came back over and pointed out a scar I hadn’t noticed on my good forearm.

“Last year, we went hiking and you tripped over this huge rock. I couldn’t figure out how you didn’t see it. Do you remember what you told me?” He asked.

I couldn’t hold his gaze, he was too intense. Though most of my fear had started to dissipate, I still couldn’t conclude that this guy wasn’t bonkers.

“You said it was my fault for being so tall, dark, and handsome. Then you laughed and threw a pine cone at me,” he recalled. With a whisper, he finished the memory, “I was your best friend.” His sincerity hurt.

He picked up a worn leather wallet from the nightstand. “This is yours.” He hands it to me. I flip if over in my hands a few times. It does look like the type of wallet I would carry. I unfold it. The first thing I see is a driver’s license. The picture is the same face I saw in the cell phone’s camera. The name agrees with Devin though, Emma Hughes.

In addition, the picture is obviously one of those cheesy barely-old-enough-to-drive licenses. I remembered taking this picture. I had just passed my road test and my Dad had said he’d help me buy a car after I got my license. I was thinking of all the used car shops we would navigate. I had gotten a job a year prior and saved up $3000. It wouldn’t get me anything fancy but Dad said he’d pay the registration and insurance for the first year.

I pull the license out of the sleeve and notice I had other cards crammed behind it. A library card, a bank card, an employee ID from the home improvement store I first woke up in. The billfold hid a stack of wallet photos and one single letter shaped paper. The first photo was of a young girl, maybe a tween. I got the feeling she was my cousin but I couldn’t pull her name out of the fog of my memory.

I flipped through the rest of the pictures slowly, forcing myself to guess at names and relationships. Until finally, I pulled out the last snapshot. As I stared at it, everything came rushing back at me in a blur of information. I started crying and Devin took our wedding photo from my hands. He pulled me into a hug as I told him. “I remember. Oh, Devin, I’m sorry.”

After we calmed down a bit, his curiosity got the best of him, “What was that last piece of paper you had?”

“It’s a letter I got earlier today. Read it.” As he opened it, he started reading aloud.

“Hey Emma,

I just finished reading the advanced copy of Slamming Doors that you sent me. I absolutely loved it! You did such a good job with Claire and Noah. You must have been so deep inside their heads to get everything across to us ignorant readers. Though I had to laugh because I knew from the very beginning that you based the two of them on you and Devin. He’s going to love it when he sees the dedication. I assume you’re still planning to give him his copy for the big 3 year anniversary. Can’t wait for the party!

Congrats again on the publication!

Love, your brother,

Wyatt”