Little Ambassadors – A Free Halloween Short Story from Joseph Courtemanche

Sometimes Joe Courtemanche writes a straightforward story, and sometimes he adds a few twists and turns. But sometimes, he comes way out of left field. I’ll leave it to you, Dear Reader, to determine which is the case on this one.

Check out Little Ambassadors, by Joseph Courtemanche.

Thanks for visiting. We’ve got a bunch of stories coming out for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Today’s is the second of the Halloween bunch. Check out some of the other authors in our tribe. Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett.

And keep your eyes peeled at THIS SPACE for an announcement about our new book coming SOON.

Leadership, A Parable

There once was a man, a leader of a small team, who was well-loved by the people he worked with, well-respected by the teams he interacted with, and who always strove to improve the lives of everyone around him

The Manager grew envious of this leader. He was jealous of the successes he experienced. He was jealous of the respect he had. He was jealous of the leader turned even failures into opportunity for growth. He wants to fire the Leader, but he can’t. The Leader is too well-loved by the people in the company.

So The Manager devised a plot.

The Manager goes to The Leader and he says, “For One Million Dollars, will you tell everyone in the company you are a hypocrite and a fraud? I’ll put you on every screen in the company. On the intranet, on people’s laptops, on e-mails. Everyone will see it and everyone will hear you say you are a hypocrite and a fraud. For One Million Dollars.”

The Leader thinks about it and then he says, “Okay, but under three conditions.”

The Manager says, “What?”

“First,” The Leader says, “I want you to stop mistreating the people in the company. I want you to respect their lives, respect their ideas, respect their passions and their ability to make this a truly great place to work.”

“Sure thing,” the Manager says.

“Second,” The Leader says. “I want you to leave the teams alone to do their jobs. No more micro-managing. No more undermining people with politics and playing favorites. No more pet projects. Just leave the teams alone and watch them succeed.”

“Okay,” the Manager said. “No problem. … And the third?”

“Well,” the Leader said, “A Million dollars is a lot, but if you give me two months, I can probably pull in some favors to get the money for you.”

The Leader paused, then continued: “You promise to put me on EVERY screen in the company, right?”

1313 – A Free Halloween Short Story from Kathy Kexel

The Free Flash Fiction Halloween Spectacular continues unabated with a story from Kathy Kexel. Now, long time readers of the Fondue Writers club will know that Kathy isn’t exactly known for her spookiness and scare-i-tude. As fellow author, Jamie Greening, notes:

Creepy doesn’t come natural to Kathy Kexel the way it does to the rest of us in the little writer’s collaboration. She’s the Marsha Brady of the Fondue Writers Club. She is sweet, gentle, and innocent. Kind of the opposite of Joe Shaw.

But Kathy comes through in fine form with a creepy and always visually stunning short story called “1313.” Check it out for yourself.

Thanks for visiting. We’ve got a bunch of stories coming out for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Today’s is the second of the Halloween bunch. Check out some of the other authors in our tribe. Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett.

And keep your eyes peeled at THIS SPACE for an announcement about our new book coming SOON.

See y’all again on Monday. Don’t Break Anything.

Rest In Peace – A Free Short Story by Derek Alan Elkins

The Free Flash Fiction Machine returns from the dead with a wonderful short story by Mr. Elkins about what happens when a loved one is not properly laid to rest. Click on the grave below or visit Derek’s site to check it out

Thanks for visiting. We’ve got a bunch of stories coming out for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Today’s is the first of the Halloween bunch. Check out some of the other authors in our tribe. Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett.

Come back tomorrow for yet another Halloween story.

Glory of the Outcast – A Free Short Story by Rob Cely

Rob is the King of Metaphors. I ain’t lyin’, neither. Check out his resume sometime. He’s got “King of Metaphors” right there on the first page, just underneath “World Class Author” and right after “WalMart Greeter,” because everyone successful in life has been a WalMart Greeter at one point or another, right?

Right?

This week, Rob Brings us the Free Fiction with a short story about what it means to be free on a society that doesn’t want you to be. And also: living in the woods and wearing flannel (I think). Check out “Glory of the Outcast” by clicking on the woodsy image below.

Thanks for taking the time to read this story. Join us again next week for a new release from the Free Fiction Wednesday Club, where one of our award-winning authors will sneak into your brain and extract the things that move you, scare you, excite you, and make you feel love and other emotions (my favorite emotion: hunger).

While you wait, please check out some of the other authors in our tribe. Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett. Most of us have some sort of books and other things for sale. We’d appreciate your support if you’re willing.

This Island Purpose – A Free Short Story by Derek Elkins

Derek always takes an interesting approach to things. Sometimes, it’s a weinermobile, other times its a serial killing orderly. Today, however, Derek looks at the search for meaning. While lost on an Island. In the middle of the ocean. It’s a great read with a great message. Check out “This Island Purchase” by clicking on the Lost image below.

Thanks for taking the time to read this story. Join us again next week for a new release from the Free Fiction Wednesday Club, where one of our award-winning authors will sneak into your brain and extract the things that move you, scare you, excite you, and make you feel love and other emotions (my favorite emotion: hunger).

While you wait, please check out some of the other authors in our tribe. Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett. Most of us have some sort of books and other things for sale. We’d appreciate your support if you’re willing.

The Crickets Sing

Hey folks. It’s Free Flash Fiction Wednesday yet again, and this week its: YOURS TRULY! If you fell out of the rotation when the Covid Chronicles stopped, we’re glad you’re back. We’ve slowed down a bit, with the still-somewhat-quarantined-and-still-just-as-crazy authors doing one story per week. If you missed the first three, please check out Joe Courtemanche’s story, Mulroney’s Mariachis, from July 8; Jamie Greening’s, Jack and Robin Go Swimming, from July 15; and Kathy Kexel’s , The Guardians, from July 23.

No money expected. It’s all free for you and always will be. If you are so inclined, please visit our various websites to see what merch we DO have for sale. Regardless, we hope you enjoy our stories, and we hope to see you back next week. Until then, here’s …

**** **** **** **** **** **** **** ****

The Crickets Sing

A baby blue, 1974 Ford pickup truck drives past the parking lot at James Teague High school in Greenwoods, Ohio, blocks around once, then parks in the lot facing the ball fields and the disused tennis courts.  The Mill Creek flows just beyond the fields. Seven thirty on a late spring evening. Sunset in Southwestern Ohio. The crickets sing to the oncoming night with a red sun swelling just above the horizon, casting an amber hue on the present and long shadows into the steadily accumulating past.  

And old man lights a cigarette, reaches his wrinkled hand behind the steering wheel, and turns the truck off. He sits back and sighs.

A young, thin man with dirty blond hair and a large bruise on his forehead slumps in the seat next to him.

“Come on, now,” the old man says. “Time to get up. There’s work to do.”

The truck’s passenger stirs, unsure of his surroundings. His eyes register the dashboard, the windshield, and the fading yellow-orange dot of the sun beyond, then turns to see the old man in the driver’s seat, pointing a gun at him.

His eyes flash open. He struggles, but the too-tightened seat belt holds him back. Several passes of thick rope bind his hands to his legs in tight knots. Hogtied is what some in the rural parts of Southerwestern Ohio might have called it, but the passenger isn’t concerned about the taxonomy of binding techniques at the moment. It’s hard to be when you have a gun in your face. Anyway, his Boy Scout days have long since passed.

“Mmmm Mrrrmmmph!” the passenger mumbles, his mouth filled with gauze and covered in duct tape.  He coughs as the cigarette smoke fills the truck’s cabin.

“Don’t worry, son,” the old man says in a slow methodical cadence. “I’ll take off that tape off so we can speak, but I need to know you won’t scream.”

“You see, when people scream, I get nervous. And when I get nervous, my friend here,” the old man motions with the gun. “He gets scared. And when my friend gets scared, bad things happen.”

The passenger sits back, stops protesting. He is the perfect picture of calm; all except his eyes.

“Good,” The old man says. He takes off the tape, and they stare at each other in silence, their faces burnt orange from the sunset.

“You already know why you’re here,” the old man says. “I just need to hear you say it.”

The passenger stammers, frightened. “Sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I … I … I think there’s been some kind of mistake.”

“This was no mistake. “

 “I don’t even know you who are! If you want money, I’ll give it to you. Whatever you want, it’s yours! Just LET. ME. GO!”

“Shh Shh Shh Shh.” The old man presses the gun against the passenger’s temple. The young man calms down again.

Through the trucks windshield, we can see kids playing in the park next to the baseball fields. Spring in Ohio is slow in coming but, once it gets here, it hits will full force. Everyone comes out to enjoy the warmth after a long winter. Especially the kids.

“She was fifteen,” the old man begins, “but I knew her since she was born. Her momma had a tough pregnancy: pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes. All that. We were scared she wouldn’t make it, but she did. My daughters are all strong women, why should my granddaughter be any different?”

“She took this world by storm. When she was little, she was a firebolt with big, red hair and a wide, beautiful smile. She smiled with her whole face. Eyes lit up like the sun comin over the hills to light up the valley. Magnificent!”

“She had a certain way of looking at you. Unafraid. So full of LIFE. Like she was just waitin’ for the next adventure to knock on her door, take her by the hand, and show her something new.”

The old man pauses, lowers his head. “She was too trusting. She got that from me.”

“She went missing in August.”

The young man started to squirm, testing for weak spots in the rope, hoping the old man does not notice. He is unsuccessful in both endeavors.

“Stop it, son. There’s no way out for you. I’m too good.”

The old man continues.

“They found her body in the Mill Creek, just over there beyond the football field. See that little break in the trees, just past where all the kids are playing? Look over there.”

The passenger does not look. He stares at the old man. The old man stares back.

“Police said someone caved her head in with one of the rocks from the creekbed. But, before that, they said she had been … violated. Many, many times.”

The old man lights another cigarette.

“They were unable to get DNA samples, and there was no evidence to go on. But, people tell stories. Rumors have a way of spreading, ‘specially in a little town like this. Those rumors led me to you. And now, here we are.”

“Mister,” the young man says, “you got the wrong man. I don’t know nothin’ about none of that. I haven’t touched any little girls. I got a wife and two kids of my own at home. I go to church. That ain’t me.”

“Hush now,” the old man says. “I been watching you for a while. Your wife left you two weeks ago. Took the kids, too. Probably a good thing the way you are. As for church? You ain’t been. Reverend Mordecai over at Westside Christian says he remembers you from high school, but he hasn’t seen you in years. He told me to let know you he’s praying for you. If I see you, that is.”

The old man takes a drag from his cigarette. “Looks like he didn’t pray enough.”

“So, what now?” the young man says. “Are you going to kill me?”

“No, son. This is your chance to confess.”

“Confess?”

“Sure. Confession is good for the soul! You and I already know it’s true. I just need to hear you say it. But I don’t have all day. So I’m going to count to five. If I get all the way to the end and I’m not satisfied with what you have to say, my friend here will take care of business for us.”

The young man struggles harder, but the ropes hold. “You’re crazy, man. I didn’t do nothin’.”

“I figured you’d say that, so I brought along some extra motivation. Look out there on the soccer field. See those kids playing?”

Two middle school girls soccer teams ran on the red sun drenched field, fighting tooth and nail to claim victor for their school. The Purple team scores a goal against the Red team. Half the crowd goes nuts.

“See number 12?” the old man said. “In the Red jersey?”

The young man squints.

“Look closer.”

The young man’s eyes grow wide and frantic. “That’s my daughter! What the hell? What did you do to my daughter?”

“Nothing, yet. But if I get to five, I’m going to shoot her first, to pay you back for taking my granddaughter. Then, it’s your turn.”

The old man levels the gun at the young man and waits patiently.

“You’re insane, you know that? I didn’t touch your granddaughter. I haven’t touched anyone. You can’t do this! I’m innocent! This is absolutely insane. I ain’t sayin’ nothin’. Nothin’.”

“Your choice … One.”

“What the…”

The young man starts screaming, pulling against his ropes so hard they draw blood from his wrists and left welts in his ankles and legs. “Help! This crazy old man wants to kill my daughter. He wants to kill me! Somebody Help!”

“They can’t hear you. No one can … Two.”

The young man bashes his head against the passenger side door and the window but nothing comes of it. The ropes are too tight. The window remains intact. The hog farmers of Ohio would be proud.

“I’m gonna kill you. You hear me? I’m gonna tear these ropes to shreds, then I’m gonna come over there and smash your head against the steering wheel till your skull caves in. I’m gonna laugh when I do it.”

“Interesting you put it like that,” the old man says. “My granddaughter died the same way. Did you laugh at her when you killed her? … Three.”

The young man hyperventilates, taking in deeps gasps of air in quick succession, but it isn’t enough.

“Aliright. Alright. Alright. I did it. You got me. Now, will you let her go?”

“Nice try, buttercup. I don’t want a fake aplogy. I want the real thing.” The old man looks at the kids playing on the field, smiles, and returns his gaze to the young man in the passenger seat.

“You’re running out of time fast,” The old man says, shifting to point his gun at the kids running on the field. Someone scores a goal. The crowd cheers.

“Four.”

The young man’s heaves turn into sobs. He wails.

The old man waits, patiently. He smiles at the young man in agony, then turns his attention to the soccer field, pointing the gun at the players.

“Five,” The old man says.

“Wait! Wait, please. I did it.”

“What was that?”

“I. DID. IT. Okay? I did it. I did it. I did it.” The young man composes himself. “I did it and I’m sorry. Is that good enough?”

“How? Did you choose her or was she random.”

“Random,” the young man says. “I drove past the school on the way home from work one day. I have this white van. No windows. A painting van. I keep shackles and a mattress in the back. I’ve been doing this a long time. I didn’t mean to kill her. I never killed none of them before. But this one was…”

“She was strong,” the old man says.

“She fought back. Jumped out of the van and ran. It was dark by then, and she didn’t know where she was going. She slipped down the embankment next to the creek, tripped over a rock, knocked herself out a little.”

“If she hadn’t slipped, she might have made it, right?”

“Right,” the young man says.

There is a tense quiet in the truck. The old man closes his eyes, picturing that scene, seeing his granddaughter jumping away and running to safety. The young man wonders what would have been – prison, perhaps; a life much different from what he planned. But a life, definitely, and the opportunity for something beyond.

Dreams of neverwhere. Wisps of forgotten memory carried away into the darkening spring air.

“But … I caught up to her. She screamed again, so I grabbed a rock and … and I finished her.” The young man lowers his head. “Is that enough?”

The game has ended. The players and their parents laugh, show each other pictures on their cell phones, tell stories. Then, get in their cars and slowly make their way out of the to the next thing. The sun slips over the horizon and night begins to unfurl across the Mill Creek, the back fields of James Teague High School, and the parking lot where a baby blue, 1974 Ford Pickup truck sits motionless.

“Thank you,” The young man says.

“You’re welcome,” the old man says.

A shot rings out into the night. Three seconds later, another shot. Darkness overtakes the creek, the field, the truck, and the school. The truck does not move.

Outside, the crickets begin to sing.

*** *** *** ***

Thanks for taking the time to read this story. Join us again next week for a new release from the Free Fiction Wednesday Club, where one of our award-winning authors will sneak into your brain and extract the things that move you, scare you, excite you, and make you feel love. While you wait, please chek out some of the other authors in our tribe. Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett. Most of us have some sort of books and other things for sale. We’d appreciate your support if you’re willing.

The Guardians – by Kathy Kexel

It’s Free Fiction Wednesday again. This week, Kathy Kexel brings a story about love. But not necessarily how you might expect it.

Check out The Guardians.

Thanks for sticking with us, folks! Please also consider visiting some of the other Free Flash Fiction authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett. Most of us have some sort of books and other things for sale. We’d appreciate your support if you’re willing.

Mulroney’s Mariachis – A Free Short Story by Joseph Courtemanche

The Free Flash Fiction starts up again – this time at one story per week – with Joe Courtemanche’s excellent story about a man haunted by mistakes in the past. And a Mariachi band.

How many of us can say their past mistakes include Mariachi music and copious amounts of alcohol? I think a lot of us can. A lot of us.

Click on the Mariachi Band to read Mulroney’s Mariachis.

Thanks for sticking with us, folks! If you’re interested in checking out the old COVID CHRONICLES, go here. Please also consider visiting some of the other Free Flash Fiction authors: Joseph CourtemancheJamie GreeningKathy KexelDerek ElkinsRob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett. Most of us have some sort of books and other things for sale. We’d appreciate your support if you’re willing.

This stories, however, will always be free. Because we love you.

Trouble Lifting

I don’t remember the last time I was able to lift SK1 above my.head. The moment passed, as all last moments do, unnoticed and unmarked. All I know is I tried today and, for the first time, I couldn’t do it.

He’s ten years old now. Eleven is not too far off. The moments he permits me to do such things are few and far between. Plus, he’s built kinda like me: a small tank, a refrigerator with legs. Whether its him growing up or me growing older, it makes sense.

But that doesn’t stop me from being a little sad about it.

We’ve taken to hitting baseballs in the side yard once work and school are done for the day. He’s a lefty. He learned to twist his hips and hold in his hands without me having to tell him, and he whips the ball to all sides of the field like he’s been doing it forever. No longballs. Just a line drive that will take your face off if you don’t move your head fast enough. Just like his dad. My mind tells me he looks like Ted Williams when he swings, but I’m biased. I don’t really know.

I try to tell him how happy it makes me to see him enjoying something. It doesn’t have to be baseball. It could be some other sport or no other sport, so long as he loves something for the sole reason that it brings him joy.

Much like me lifting him up, though, he doesn’t want to hear that from me. He’s got a teenager’s sullenness: a desire to be left alone. Which I guess makes sense. He hasn’t seen his friends in four momths, and the action around our house with all five SKs is intense. He gets lost in the mix, sometimes. He is rarely the squeaky wheel.

I tell him anyway. There are other ways to lift him up when your arms can’t do it anymore. I hope the words stick. I hope he remembers them as he continues to grow; especially if the dark times that sometimes visit me also visit him. I hope he KNOWS the same way he knows how to hit: naturally, without effort, something that’s always been there.

I hope.