Two More Part 4 – Heart’s Desire

Did you miss past episodes of the TWO MORE saga? If so, check out Part 1, in which two men keep a bar open late to discuss Murder and Mint Juleps. Check out Part 2, in which a main character loses it and kills someone in a parking garage (which we have ALL wanted to do at some point, am I right?). Check out Part 3, in which someone goes to Seattle and it ruins their life. And Part 4? Part 4 starts ….. NOW.

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

Jim Becker stood in the parking lot behind the Blue Fern Restaurant. It was 11:20 P.M. and it was cold. In his hand, he held the pistol his father had given him when he turned eighteen.

“Only for protection,” his father told him. “Never to hurt. You hear me, son? NEVER.”

“Never,” Jim said, but he didn’t put the gun away.

The man in the garage. The kid. The pool of blood. The broken bike. He couldn’t get the images out of his head. He hadn’t really killed anyone yet. Not really. Both of those were just … accidents. … Right?”

I’m a scientist, the Devil said. I’m very precise.

Jim still wasn’t sure. What would happen at 11:30? Would some strange-looking guy step out of the restaurant? Maybe a drug dealer or a closeted pedophile or something? Would Jim just shoot him and run away? Is that how it worked?

Could his heart’s deepest desire really be worth all this? And what was the Devil up to, really? Heart’s Deepest Desire? What was this, Jim wondered, a Hallmark Movie?

Could his heart’s deepest desire really be worth all this? And what was the Devil up to, really? Heart’s Deepest Desire? What was this, Jim wondered, a Hallmark Movie?

“Emma would have known what to do here,” Jim spoke to the wind. “She always had a preternatural understanding of how things worked and what was going on beneath the surface of all things.”

He looked at the gun again.

“I wish she were here now.”

**** **** **** ****    

Jim returned from his trip to Seattle expecting to find his house either emptied or burned down. Neither would have surprised him. In fact, aliens could have abducted the entire city or an as-yet-undiscovered super volcano miles underground could have exploded and taken out half the country, with his house as the epicenter, and Jim would have shrugged and said, “Figures.”

Instead, he returned to find Emma, busy in the kitchen, making dinner.

“Oh, you’re home!” she said. “Can you hand me the parsley? I think it’s on the second shelf behind the rosemary.” She laughed: a kind of short chuckle that always made Jim smile, even now.

“My mother used to always tell me to keep the parsley front and center. Why, I’ll never know. It was just one of her rules. Rule #2 is you don’t keep taco seasoning next to the curry, but that parsley and rosemary thing was her favorite. Maybe she just hated rosemary. You know anyone who has funny rules like that, sweetie?”

“No,” Jim lied, and handed her the parsley.

“Thanks.” Emma took the parsley from her husband and then, before letting go of his hand, stood on her tiptoes, and kissed him. Nothing special. Just a peck. Then, she turned and busied herself with the next task in her recipe.

“How was your trip?”

“Fine,” Jim said, stunned.

“Anything crazy happen that I should be aware of?”

Jim’s heart skipped a beat.

“Um… no,” He said. “No, of course not.”

“Remember, we have dinner with the FAMILY on Saturday.”

“Right.”

“And your Dad wants to help us fix the door to the upstairs bedroom soon.”

“Sure.”

Jim’s phone buzzed. It was Samantha.

“I have a call from work,” Jim said, heading into the hallway.

“Alright,” Emma said as he left. “Dinner in 10.”

“Hi,” Jim said.

“I’ve been thinking about the weekend,” Samantha began. “And I’m not sure you and me would work out.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Jim said, hoping to put the whole thing behind him.

“I don’t want to lose my marriage, my family,” she began. “And I know you don’t want to lose yours. So we’ll have to keep this between us.”

“Right.”

“No special date nights. No rendezvous at hotels. No stupid love letters. None of that.”

“…Sure,” Jim said. “None of that.”

“But there are always lunch breaks, long afternoon one-on-one meetings, and the occasional conference,” she said. He voice had an edge to it as she spoke. “I can’t wait for those.”  

“Uh … Listen,” Jim began.

“Yes?” the voice on the other end was hesitant.

“Um … I had a really fun time this weekend,” he spoke in monotone. “I can’t wait to meet you again.”

“Same here,” Samantha said, breathing out a sigh that sent tingles down Jim’s spine.

“Honey,” Emma called from the kitchen. “Dinner!”

“I have to go,” Jim said.

“See you tomorrow.”

Jim returned to the kitchen, put his phone on silent, and sat down with his wife. They shared dinner together, shared old stories together, drank a few bottles of wine, and sat on the back deck of their small house, watching the fireflies light up the night sky.

Emma took Jim by the hand and led him to their bedroom. She kissed him again. They were intimate for the first time in months, and it was the best sex Jim had remembered having in a long time, perhaps ever.

When it was over Jim held Emma in his arms until she fell asleep, then rolled on his back and stared at the ceiling for hours, watching as headlights from the cars that passed their house drew shadows across the ceiling.

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

True to their word, Jim Becker and Samantha Upchurch did not pursue each other outside the bounds of the normal workday. It was a nine to five affair full of lunchtime liaisons, mid-afternoon project planning meetings in remote conference rooms, and the occasional offsite excursion for team-building exercises where the team consisted only of Jim and Samantha, and the exercising in question was most decidedly not HR approved.

Things at home seemed to improve for Jim as well. After the blow-up before Jim’s Seattle conference, Emma seem to have come back to her senses. They talked about their days, bought a new kitchen table so they could eat dinner together, and made it down to the Friendly Stop on occasion for Thursday night quiz bowl.

Jim explained away any eccentricities in either his actions or his work schedule with surprising ease.

“Why do you need to go in early tomorrow?” Emma would ask.

“The operations director is in town from London and will be at the office by 6:00 A.M,” Jim said. “He’s a real stickler for punctuality, just like most of the Brits who work for us. I want to make a good impression.”

“Why did you spend so much money on lunch when I packed you a sandwich and your favorite pub chips?”

“That? Oh, the new team makes regular lunch trips, and it’s expected that managers and leaders like me occasionally cover the tab. I know it’s stupid, but it’s part of the culture. It’s okay. We can afford it.”

“You seem different,” Emma asked once, making his heart skip a few beats. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, sweetie. I suppose I have an extra spring in my step lately. It’s because you’re so lovely. Thank you for noticing. I love you so much.”

For a while, Jim imagined he could manage his life this way. Deep down, he knew it couldn’t last and, when it finally all blew up, it would likely be his fault for lighting the fuse. But, for now, speaking mostly in little half-truths that, while not exactly lies, Jim rationalized to himself, certainly did more to keep the peace than anything else in what had passed for their marriage for the last few years. He had his wife at home and his friends-with-benefits, who was not looking or anything serious anyway, during the day.

“The best of both worlds!” Jim told himself at night when he stared at the shadows on the ceiling, wondering why he was unhappy with all of it.

And Jim was right. Things went on this way for a while without even a hint of problems. But, as Emma née Ridenhour’s mother knew all too well, you can’t keep the parsley away from the rosemary for too long. Eventually, they’ll find each other again and mess up your whole cupboard.

The mess started for Jim and Samantha on a Tuesday afternoon in the spring, shortly after they returned from another project planning lunch, and it came in the form of a middle-aged man named Dave.

Dave was so nervous, his comb-over had flopped backward, standing straight up over his head.

“Dude, just so you know, HR’s been asking about you and Sam.”

“What do you mean?” Jim asked. His breathing quickened.

“They’ve been asking if you Samantha have been, you know…” Dave rammed his fist back and forth a couple of times and stuck his jaw out at an awkward angle. “That’s not you, is it?”

“No way,” Jim lied. He lied almost reflexively now.

“Good. Just giving you a head’s up. Keep your head down.”

For the next hour, people walked swiftly past his desk. He could hear them mumbling, shooting furtive glances in his direction as they passed. The experience reminded Jim of the time he went to Hilton Head with his parents as a kid. He’d stand in the ocean, feeling the water rush past him as another wave gathered behind him, then try to run to the beach as fast as he could to avoid the water cresting over him, pulling him under.

Jim could feel the water gathering. He tried to focus on work, hoping that he was just imagining things, that Dave was full of it, that maybe he could leave early and avoid whatever it was his soul told him was soon to come.

Fifteen minutes before Jim had planned to leave, the water crested and broke over his head.

Samantha walked through the main office with a box in her hands. Her eyes were red from tears. She carried a clump of worn tissues in her hand. An HR director – Jim didn’t know her name. They all looked the same to him – escorted her to the exit, then walked straight to Jim’s desk.

“Mr. Becker,” The HR director said. “Please follow me.”

Jim sat on a cold, metal chair as his manager, his director, the HR director who escorted him in, and three additional HR representatives read the charges against him. Several of his colleagues had complained about their relationship over the course of three months. They had been unable to gather any evidence of wrongdoing for quite some time, but when the IT department insisted in installing surveillance cameras in the empty  fourth floor conference rooms in response to laptops that had coming up missing, they had all the evidence they needed.

“Ms Upchurch,” the HR director began.

“Mrs. Upchurch,” Jim corrected her.

“Ms Upchurch,” the HR lady shot back. “Samantha and her husband divorced two months ago.”

Jim was shocked. He had no idea.

“Ms Upchurch denied everything until we showed her the tapes. She has taken a leave of absence and will submit her resignation at the end of the fiscal quarter. We suggest you do the same. A formal letter has been sent to your residence, explaining all the details.”

“Wait, what? You sent a letter to my house?”

The HR director straightened her glasses and smiled.

“Yes, Mr Becker. It should arrive tomorrow.”

“But I …”

“But what? Are you afraid what your wife might say?”

Jim was speechless.

“It sounds like you have some important conversations ahead of you, Mr Becker. Security will escort you out.”

The managers got up to leave. “Good day, Mr. Becker.”

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

Emma Ridenhour was making pot roast and singing to herself when Jim got home. It was a folk song Jim had never heard before. He stood in the living room by himself, listening, and it reminded of the first time he met his wife. The way she danced by herself, the way she smiled at him, the feel of her lips against hers on that first kiss, and many others since.

Jim stood in the living room and cried silently. The wave had crested. The parsley had found the rosemary again. His life with the only woman he had ever truly loved was over, only Emma didn’t know it yet. Jim stood in the living room, weeping. There was nothing he could do to fix the mess he had made or change the only path in front of him.

Jim walked into the kitchen, and told Emma everything.

Three days later, Jim finally cleaned out the crock put full of pot roast neither of them had eaten. He walked to the living room and sat in the space where the couch used to be. The bookshelves, the pictures, all their memories were gone. All that was left was ratty, high-backed chair from his college days, his clothes, and the crock pot full of moldy pot roast he had recently thrown away.

That, and the silence, only this silence was somehow worse because where, in the past, there was hope of renewal. Now, there was no hope.

Jim went down to The Friendly Stop, ordered a few beers, and started telling everyone how happy he was to finally be single again. Everyone but Sean believed him. Sean could see his eyes.

“The last thing I need is another woman,” Jim Becker said, and it was true. He didn’t want another woman. He wanted Emma.

But Emma was gone.

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

Jim Becker put his gun in his pocket and made his way to the front entrance of the Blue Fern restaurant. Someone had draped a sign over the door that read “The Quarantine Cantina. $2 beers for all non-essentials.”

Jim laughed as the wind blew through his jacket and made him shiver.

“Why couldn’t the Devil have picked somewhere warmer and more well lit?” Jim asked, but no one responded. “I wish Emma were here. She’d know what to do.”

The answer to the Devil’s riddle was obvious. Emma was his heart’s deepest desire. Could it really be true that all he had to do to get her back was take care of the final person on the Devil’s list? Jim had seen a lot in the last twenty-four hours, but even this seemed extreme.

The hooded man in the garage. The kid lying next to his mangled bike. The images flashed through Jim’s mind over and over. Jim Becker wasn’t sure he could go through with it.

He closed his eyes, and what came to him this time was not the constant reel of his past mistakes – of which today’s mishaps were only the most recent examples – but instead, it was Emma. All the pain and death and suffering and loneliness swept away, replaced by pictures of Emma on their wedding day, walking toward him with that sly smile on her face; Emma asleep on the couch with her hand rested against her cheek in a way that always made him smile; Emma, looking into his eyes and saying she loved him again, that all was forgiven, that they could rebuild their lives together, forever and always.

Emma.

Jim gave in. He allowed himself to believe the possibilities the Devil had shown him. Jim realized that yes, he could kill someone – a very bad someone like the devil said – if it meant he could have his Emma back.

Jim stood next to a lamp post in the rain, watching as the doors to the Blue Fern Bar opened wide and people streamed out into the night air.

“Man in red,” Jim said, scanning the crowd. “Man in Red.”

An older couple slowly made their way down the steps to the sidewalk. They wore green windbreakers and blue jeans. A group of college men screamed good-natured obscenities at each other, moving sideways like a mob toward the parking garage a few streets north. One kid wore a  maroon University of Alabama hat but, other than that, there was no one in red.

That’s when Jim saw her. Those eyes. Those lips. That face he could never forget, not in a million years. It was his heart’s deepest desire, his love, his Emma coming down the steps.

She wore a beautiful red dress.

“No!” Jim said, realizing now, almost too late, that it was all a lie. “Oh God, no!” He turned and started to run away, but the Devils’ words came back to haunt him.

This person is on my list. This person will die, whether you do the job or someone else. I’m a scientist. I’m very precise.

“I have to warn her,” Jim thought. He took off running, following Emma down the alleyway next to the bar.

“Emma!” he screamed. “Emma, wait!” Jim ran full throttle now, not aware that he still had his gun in his hand. He caught up to her, grabbed her by the shoulder, and she turned.

“Emma!”

A sharp, loud noise echoed off the buildings around them. The shocked look on Emma’s face made him stop, momentarily stunned.

“Jim? Oh my God, Jim? What are you doing here?”

Jim stumbled back and looked down. There was blood on his shirt. Emma stood in front of him, holding a gun of her own. She had pulled the trigger. Jim doubled over in pain, grabbing at his abdomen.

“Jim!” Emma screamed.

His watch started beeping. 11:30. If he didn’t act now, Emma would soon be dead. He tried to scream, tried to tell her to run, but all that came out was a groan.

Emma saw the gun in Jim’s hand. “What’s going on? Were you trying to kill me?” she asked, the pain in her voice almost too much for him to bear.

“No,” Jim said, barely able to speak. “Never.”

Jim finally understood. This had been the Devil’s plan all along. It certainly looked like he was trying to kill her, didn’t it? But looks can be deceiving. Hadn’t the Devil himself said that? Jim wondered if that man in the garage had really attacked the blond woman, or if there was more to the story.

Jim fell to the ground.

“Oh my God, Jim!” Emma knelt beside him, and held his head in her lap. She pulled out her phone, frantically dialing 9-1-1. “Please, God, somebody help me!”

Heels clicked quickly in the alley behind him. The Devil himself had come to finish the job, and all Jim could do was watch.

I’m a scientist, The Devil had said. I’m very precise. The person in red will die at 11:30.

Here Jim was: his formerly white shirt stained a dark, deep red from the blood that pooled around him, seeping into the concrete.

Jim raised his hand, meaning to shoo Emma away, to protect her from all of this. She grasped it in both her hands and kissed him. Jim’s blood smearing across her cheeks.

“Hold on,” she said.

The clicking got closer. Old Scratch, The Man in White, The Lord of the Dead. The Devil stepped over the soon to be deceased Jim Becker, made a show of brushing a spot of blood off of his white pants, and stopped.

Jim closed his eyes, and the last thing he heard before passing from this world into whatever waited for him in the next, was this:

“Hello, Emma. That was your first. You’ve got two more.”

Lockdown – A Free Story by Rob Cely

With the quarantines going on, I’m sure most of us have begun to experience some, shall we say, adverse reactions to isolation. The Introverts might be okay, but the rest of us extroverts are going a little nutty.

More nutty than normal, anyway.

But what would happen if we faced extreme isolation for an extended period of time? How would it affect our health? Our relationships? Our minds?

Rob Cely explores this theme in today’s short story, Lockdown. Click on the face below to check it out.

Our band of merry misfits is rounded out with Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr Paul Bennett. But, just because we’re well-rounded NOW doesn’t mean we’re stopping here. There are plenty of other geometric shapes to try out. Watch THIS SPACE for future additions, subtractions, multiplications, and maybe even some differential equations to your Fantabulous Free Fiction Explode-A-Ganza.

I’m on Deck tomorrow with part 4 of my serialized short story: Two More. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, am excited to find out how it ends.

The Problem of Pain and COVID-19 – A Free Story from Derek Elkins

Do you have questions? Sure, we all do.

If you’re anything like me, it’s common to ask big questions in times like these. For example: Why does everything suck all of a sudden? When will things stop sucking? And, of course: What happens if the Burger King down the street goes out of business? I really like Whoppers and I don’t know how I can go on if I have to drive all the way to Winter Garden – a full 25 minutes away from Shaw Manor – to get a Whopper. Why me, God? Why?

Let’s hope you’re not a shallow and self-absorbed as I am. Let’s hope you’re more like Derek Elkins, who dealt with some of the more transcendental questions that crop up when things fall down. Head on over to the shawblog at josepheshaw (dot) com (slash) blog to see a much deeper conversation Derek Elkins recently had with his daughter with his story, The Problem of Pain and Covid 19

Our band of merry misfits is rounded out with Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr Paul Bennett. But, just because we’re well-rounded NOW doesn’t mean we’re stopping here. There are plenty of other geometric shapes to try out. Watch THIS SPACE for future additions, subtractions, multiplications, and maybe even some differential equations to your Fantabulous Free Fiction Explode-A-Ganza.

Jamie Greening is on deck for tomorrow. We’ll catch you on the flip. Until then, don’t break anything.

Song in October – A Free Story from Dr. Paul Bennett

I originally intended to share a quasi-embarrassing story about a time, back in high school, when I went to a prom or a homecomming dance with a girl-who-was-maybe-a-girlfriend-but-we-never-had-a-conversation-about-it-so-who-knows-yknow-what-I-Mean. And I had a few to choose from because, as it turns out, one of the things in life I am good at is wandering into situations that will make for good stories a few years down the line.

Unfortunately, I believe I’m friends on Facebook with most of the women who lucked out into having to go to a high school dance with me instead of someone cool, and I’m quite certain they would call me on my b.s. Which means I’d have to be honest about the stories. And what kind of fun is that?

So here’s a sweet story about young people in love from a new entry into our fun band of misfits. Dr Paul Bennett (an actual doctor, as opposed to Doctor Joe Courtemanche, who is a Doctor of Transcendental Epistemology, which is a thing I did not just totally make up) spends his days fighting the Covid-19 virus and saving people’s lives. At night, he writes stuff like this.

I bet all those girls-who-were-maybe-a-girlfriend-but-we-never-had-a-conversation-about-it-so-who-knows-yknow-what-I-Mean would have preferred to be with someone like HIM way back when.

I know I would have if I were in their shoes.

Click on the young couple below to read “A Song in October.”

Desperate Measures – A FREE FREE FREE FREE FREEFREE Story by Kathy Kexel

Week three … yeah, let’s call it week three. I have no idea what week we’re on. I don’t even know what day it is anymore. I just know that time passes, the kids scream at me, and I keep on keepin’ on … comes to a close for the #CovidPocalypse, and Kathy Kexel brings us to a close with her short story, Desperate Measures: an uplifting story of joy and hope and the strength of humanity to overcome.

By which I mean it is not any of those things. But it’s still a very good story. Click on the thief below to check it out.

Robert CelyDerek Elkins, Jamie D. Greening, Kathy Kexel, and Joseph Courtemanche are all part of this magical Covid Quarantine Experience. You can’t get rid of me no matter how hard you try. Dr. Paul Bennett joins us Monday as we continue down the path of insanity and creativity. Here’s hoping we all see a light at the end of the tunnel soon. See you on the flip.

Two More Part 3 (of 4) – Slivers of Light

If you missed part 1, check it out here. If you missed part 2, check it out here. If you think you missed part 3, you’re in luck … THIS is part three. Let’s get started with that one right now …

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

Jim Becker left work early that afternoon. A news van showed up at the garage just after the cops, and plastered Jim’s face on television, newspapers, the Internet, everywhere. He was an immediate celebrity; a big-time hero, just like The Devil said.

“If I have to tell the story one more time, I’ll shoot myself and get this over with early,” he thought. And he still didn’t know what to make of the man in the white. WAS he real? Or was Jim just losing his mind?

“I’ll have to ask Emma when I get home. She’ll probably think this is all funny.” Then he remembered. They were divorced. Emma wouldn’t be there.

Nobody would.

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

The hardest part was the loneliness.

On the outside, Jim and Emma Becker seemed fine, thank you very much. They went to work, visited with friends, and saw their families on the weekends just like every good, suburban couple is supposed to do. They were full of plastic smiles, fake optimism, and just the right amount of energy in the banal stories they shared with work friends and acquaintances to not arouse suspicions that they were, both of them, hopelessly miserable.

Once they returned home from these excursions, the silence enveloped them and, with it, the loneliness.

Jim tried to fill his time with random activities he could obsess over just to keep his mind off his failing marriage. He read every book he could get his hands on, tried to grow a Fu Manchu once until Emma shaved it off in his sleep, and watched hundreds of obscure documentaries with transcribed subtitles.

One documentary about homeless children who lived in the sewers of Ulanbataar, Mongolian to escape the winter cold was the kind of stuff that could rip your heart out, except the translators kept insisting the street signs for “Slow Children Playing” should actually say “Dead Children Playing,” and Jim didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or even whether the sign had been mistranslated.

He bought an online course on Muay Thai kickboxing, but pulled a groin muscle attempting a head level kick; tried to teach himself Mandarin, but decided he was dyslexic in Chinese; and once pulled out his old high school drum set with the intention of starting a band with some friends at work. That dream went down the drain – literally, it would turn out – when Jim spent three hours attempting to master the tom pattern for the Rush song, YYZ, causing Emma to storm into the room, wild-eyed.

“Oh my God, Jim! Stop it!”

“Stop what?”

“You’ve been banging on that thing for hours. I can’t take it anymore!”

“I just need to get the transition into the 5/4 time signature,” Jim said as he tapped the edge of his cymbal ever so slightly. “I need to work out the Morse code for the letters in the title.”

“What the HELL are you talking about?”

And off they went again. That fight lasted two hours and resulted in Jim throwing his drum set out of their third floor attic window after Emma told him of course she wanted to support his dreams … so long as his dreams weren’t stupid.

The kick drum broke into several pieces, a few of which slid into the sewer next to their driveway.

“I wonder if the kids in Ulanbataar play music in the sewers,” Jim said, at which point Emma stormed out of the room and didn’t speak to him again for over a month. He slept in the empty space in the attic where his drum set used to be, and locked the door.

Which was alright with Jim. He was finally able to grow that Fu Manchu, although he ended up shaving it again after a week. Emma was right. It was ridiculous, but he would never give her the satisfaction of admitting that out loud. He never gave her the satisfaction of admitting anything then. Not to her. No sir.

At work, Jim was a “rock star,” a real “up-and-coming high performer,” and many other hyperbolic HR terms executives like to use when they don’t know how to peg someone. When his company merged with a logistics firm from Texas, Jim found himself working in a new sea of near-to-middle-aged men wearing Walmart Khakis blue Oxford button-downs with clip-on ties.

“The new blue collar!” a co-worker told him once as he launched into an un-asked-for dissertation about stock portfolio and how amazing his recent picks were. It made Jim want to puke.

But, then, there was Samantha.

Samantha Upchurch was a project manager by trade and a spitfire by design. She wore bright, loud dresses and suits to match her bright, red hair and big personality. She liked to wear horn-rimmed glasses, even though Jim suspected she didn’t really need them.

“I wanted to be a librarian once,” she told Jim and a few team members over cards at lunch, “but there was one problem with that plan.”

“What was that?”

“I talk to the books, but the books? They don’t talk back.”

Her outsize personality got on most people’s nerves, but Jim loved listening to and, when he got the chance, talking with her. The thing Jim liked about Samantha was she asked questions. All sorts of questions.

“You play the drums? What’s your favorite band? You like Dean Koontz novels? Have you read the one about Nazis and time travel? I think Die Hard is definitely NOT a Christmas movie. What do you think?”

Jim didn’t see anything wrong with it. There was nobody else at work to talk to and, of course, Emma wasn’t saying anything. What was he supposed to do? Ignore her? Good luck with that. Samantha Upchurch was many things in life, but she was not one to be ignored.

A few months past the merger and their regular, card-playing lunch group dwindled to just Jim and Samantha. With all that time to themselves, their conversations turned deeper. Samantha was married to an electrical engineer who never seemed to want to help with the kids, and her two daughters, she admitted, were teenagers now and driving her insane.

“Sometimes I wish I could Eat, Pray, Love my way out of all this,” she said. “Except I’d go to Philly instead of India because it’s really hot in Delhi and I LOVE cheese steaks.”

Jim told her about losing the baby and how they were having “a bit of trouble reconnecting.” He put his head down and was surprised when Samantha took his hand. He looked up.

“You’ll make it through,” She said. “You love her.” The statement had the slightest tilt, as if there was a hint of a question. Jim held her gaze for a long moment, wondering if, had the question been asked, he could have answered honestly in the affirmative.

“Yes,” Jim said, pulling his hand away. Samantha pulled hers back, and they both retreated to their desks in silence.

There was still nothing wrong, Jim tried to convince himself. It was probably nothing, and anyway if it WAS more than nothing, Jim would just ignore any such advances in the future. Jim had a rule against relationships with co-workers.

“And also, I’m married,” Jim thought. “So I’ll just ignore it. That’s it. Just ignore it.”

The only problem was Samantha Upchurch was many things in life – a mother, a project manager, a purveyor of strong opinions and, of course, a married woman – but she was not one to be ignored; especially by those who, like Jim Becker, are so willing to remain interested.

Jim and Emma Becker got into one of their worst fights the morning Jim had to leave for a work trip.

Jim had forgotten to take the garbage out the night before and, as a result, the kitchen was covered in ants and smelled like spoiled meat.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I have to get going,” Jim said.

“You always do this to me,” she screamed at him. “You never listen! You don’t care!”

Jim tried to take the garbage out on his way to the car, but Emma grabbed it and they spilled the contents of the bag all over their front lawn. When Emma ran back in side, Jim followed her. As he came in the door, he heard a loud crash on the wall next to his head. He looked down. There was a broken, glass vase at his feet and a shattered rose.

Jim was shocked.

“Emma,” he said. “That was the rose from our wedding.”

“I know,” she said.

“Why?”

After a long moment of silence, she spoke. “I hate you. I’ve never loved you. I wish I had never met you. I wish I had never asked you to dance at the Friendly Stop, wish we had never been married, wish we had never lost … never lost …”

Emma Becker broke down crying in the living room. Jim tried to console her, but she screamed obscenities at him.

Jim Becker slowly backed out of his house, got into his car, drove to the airport, and met his co-workers at a conference in Seattle.

That night, as Jim and Samantha shared drinks at the hotel bar, Jim told her the truth about his marriage. The loneliness, the silence, everything. When he finished speaking, Samantha reached for his hand, but Jim pulled it back.

“No,” he said. “I think it’s time we call it a night.”

“Walk me to my room?” Samantha asked.

“Sure.”

They rode the elevator together in silence. When they got to Samantha’s room, she looked up into Jim’s eyes, smiled at him sadly, and walked in.

As Jim turned to leave, he noticed Samantha had left her door open just a crack; enough so a sliver of light from within flashed across his eyes.

Jim Becker stood still in the hallway outside Samantha’s room, staring at the door, thinking. A moment later, he pushed the door open, and followed her in.

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

Jim considered stopping for either a late lunch or early dinner on his way home from work, and turned left onto Peace Haven Rd instead of his normal trek down Winton. The sun shifted behind the trees, casting slivers of light that danced in his eyes, blinding him. He reached for the visor to block out the sun but, before he could, there was a flash of color and a scream.

Jim slammed on his brakes and the car shook violently before coming to a stop. He leapt out to see a mangled bicycle lying in the street. Next to it was a small child, no more than five or six years old.

The kid wasn’t moving.

Jim called 9-1-1, held the kid’s hand while he waited for the paramedics, and tried in vain to find a pulse. The kid’s blood seeped into Jim’s work shirt, staining it. Jim broke down in tears.

“Hello Jim,” the man in white spoke from behind.

“Good God!” Jim screamed, frightened.

“No … The other one, but I’m happy to congratulate you on your second.  Way to go. You’re really on your way!”

Jim was shocked. The bike. His car. The kid. The man in white? It was too much to take in.

“This,” Jim said, looking at the kid’s lifeless body. “THIS is my second?”

“Uh huh, and you made quick work of him, too. I’m impressed. Most people hesitate. But not you. You just plowed right on through.” The man in white made a hand motion like a mack truck driving through a series of barricades. He included the kind of truck mouth noises like a small child.

“You said these people were evil,” Jim said, practically screaming now. “The BAD kind of evil. People who deserved to be removed from society.”

“Oh, they are. Trust me, Jim. They are, indeed.”

“THIS IS JUST A KID!”

“WAS a kid, Jim. You took care of that.”

Jim fought the urge to charge at the man in white, grab him by the neck with both hands, and bash his head against the pavement. He didn’t want to kill people, but this man didn’t qualify. Was it even possible to kill him? If Jim was just imagining all this, the paramedics would arrive to find Jim Becker in the throes of a psychotic break, attempting to strangle a tree or maybe thin air, and take him to the nearest padded room.

That idea struck Jim as just fine. Fine, indeed.

If, however, the man in white truly was The Devil and not just a figment of his imagination, Jim doubted he’d get two steps in before The Devil took him down. It was worth a shot, though. That kind of killing seemed justified at the moment; like Justice, as the man in which said earlier.

The man in white waited patiently for Jim to make up his mind. That soulless smile never left his face.

 “I can’t do this. You didn’t say anything about killing kids.”

“I didn’t say you wouldn’t kill kids, did I?”

Jim was about to blow up again.

“What you have to understand about me and The Big Guy Upstairs, Jim, is we’re Gods! We have an eternal perspective. We see events and their consequences played out in the fullness of time.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means when you look at this kid, all you see is a kid. I look at him and I see what this kid will become. He has the potential to be a mass murderer, a military leader who will slaughter millions, or worse … a politician. You didn’t kill a kid, Jim. You saved millions of lives. Congratulations.”

“He just looks like a kid to me,” Jim said.

“Looks can be deceiving,” The Devil said. “Just ask my third wife.”

“This just doesn’t seem right,” Jim said,

“That’s exactly what SHE said when she caught me with those college girls!”

The devil stepped closer. “It’s all complicated, I know. But you did a good thing. Trust me. This kind of thing is a science and I’m very precise. I know what I’m doing.”

“You said he has the potential to become evil. You didn’t say he WAS evil.”

“Hey. With Free Will, even Science ain’t an exact Science. You know what I mean? The good thing – well, the good thing for me, at least – is most people are not accustomed to exercising their will. They leave the decisions up to other people. Sometimes, they leave it up to me!”

“If I have free will, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he get the chance to choose good or bad, right or wrong?”

 “Good question, Jim. But why worry about it now? You’ve got one more to go and, trust me, this next one’s a doozy. I’ve got something special for you, Jim, and – OH!. You’re gonna love it!”

Jim looked at the kid. Five years old. Probably just learned to ride that bike, probably wanted to show his parents he could ride in the street like the big kid he wanted to become and now, because of Jim, would never be. Was this really a mass murdering psychopath? Or was just a kid on a bike?

“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” Jim said

The Devil sighed. “It’s up to you, of course. Like I said. Free will is free will.” The devil stepped closer, put his hand on Jim’s shoulder.

“But you should know. This next person is on my list. This next person will die whether you do the job or someone else. There are a lot of other people who would help me if I asked.” The Devil smiled wide. “A lot.”

“Really?”

“I told you. I’m a scientist. I’ve been doing this a long time. Longer than you know.”

“Why me?”

“I like you, Jim. You’re a good man. You make me laugh. And, after all you went through with Emma, you could use a break.”

Just hearing her name made Jim want to break down into tears.

“I’m rooting for you,” the main white said. “I WANT you to make it to the end. And I’m serious. You’re really gonna like this next one.”

“Who is it?”

“Here.” The Devil reached into his pocket, pulled out a yellow Post-It note and handed it to Jim. It read: “Blue Fern Bar. Fifth and Sycamore. Downtown. 11:30. Look for the person in Red.”

Jim flipped the card over. It read: “Hugs N Kisses, Satan.”

“What if I say no?” Jim started to ask, but The Devil was gone again.

“I hate it when he does that.”

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

Check out the exciting conclusion in Part 4: Heart’s Desire.

Virus by Derek Elkins – A Free Free Free Free Free Free (Free) Short Story from the Covid Pocalypse Explode-A-Ganza

In celebration of Derek Elkins’ second entry into the CovidPocalyse Explode-A-Granza Completely Free Fiction Blowout Spectacular, I wanted to write an allegory of an allegory (because Derek’s story from today is an allegory, which I looked up on Google and then pretended I knew all along), and none of the rest of our band of misfits has attempted such high-brow stuff.

So I sat down to write an allegory of an allegory, but I kept getting distracted by the Shaw Kids (aka #theSKs) in their efforts to complete an never-ending stream of homework assignments. I then threw the quest to write my allegory of an allegory onto the never-ending pile of stuff I intended to complete today and proceeded to work on some app dev tasks for my job.

Then, I got distracted by the SKs again. Then, I had to fix the network, which keeps going down. Then, my priorities at work got shifted. Then, I had to stop the SKs from beating each other with empty plastic bins. Then, I had to yell at them for throwing the toys that used ot be in the now-empty plastic bins all over the floor while I was in a meeting at work where my priorities were shifting again. Then, I ahd to help someone with a homework assignment AND crash a database all at the same time.

So I gave up on my allegory of an allegory. Because life, it seems is often about throwing a never-ending stream of tasks on top of tasks so that the important tasks you hope to accomplish never see the light of day until you read a story that is an allegory and it reminds you of your failings, so you write a blog post about your failure and hope people who have a tenuous grasp of the meaning of allegory THINK you’re actually doing your allegory of an allegory when all you’re doing is taking up space.

Click on the picture of Sisyphus to read Derek’s story, Virus. He’s a lot smarter than the rest of us. It’s really good. You’ll like it.

Histoire gratuite pour votre plaisir et votre plaisir. “The Package” de Jamie Greening

If you have followed past instructions – as I am sure you have, Gentle Reader – you will have, by now, encountered The Butch Gregory series by Jamie Greening. You will also have become acquainted with the character of Wyoming Wallace, and his penchant for solving problems with violence and sarcasm.

Exactly the kind of Project Management and Negotiation skills I can get behind!

So, when you read today’s Flash Fiction from Jamie Greening, you will know all references to previously published material therein, and will take JOY in revisiting a previously loved character and his exploits bringing a very important package to someone in need. Click on the elevator below and enjoy!

IF you have no idea what I’m taking about, Go to Jamie’s page, so you can read up on the Butch Gregory series, and get the full extent of excitement and nostalgia from Jamie’s new story, “The Package.”

The Rona – A FREE FREE ABSOLUTELY FREE Short Story from Rob Cely

The Covid-pocalypse continues, and so do we!

Welcome to week three of the Fantabulously Free Flash Fiction Fandango. … Yes, I feel about saying that, but who cares? Let’s keep moving!

Today, Rob Cely joins the crew with his short story, The Rona. Click on the locked door to read this more-chilling-than-I-expected-it-to-be tale.