Paul Bennet Closes out Week 11 of the Free Flash Fiction Explode A Ganza with a short story about a tragedy and hope. Check out part 1 of his story: “As It Is In Heaven”
Rob is a BIG IDEAS kind of guy. That’s what I like about him. Today, he’s got some BIG IDEAS about how this pandemic might affect us as individuals. Check out “Best Day of my LIfe.”
Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . What was YOUR Best. Day. Evar?
A shaving kit to Christopher Ellis on Newbury Lane, two bottles of almond cherry shampoo to Tirzah Amrein on Cromwell, four sets of furnace filters to Kumar Ramdatz on Eagle Lake Dr, and six whole cases of black, Sobranie cigarettes, straight from Russia, to Mr. Collins on Burns Avenue.
Daniel Peterson delivered it all.
Each morning, before dawn, he drove downtown to the Amazon fulfillment center, loaded up his truck, and started his deliveries. In the mornings, he covered the East end of town from Washington Boulevard to 14th Street. In the afternoons, he hit the West side, from Second Avenue to the river and even some of the suburbs beyond.
But in the evenings, when the rest of his deliveries had been made, Daniel Peterson made his special deliveries. These, he liked most of all.
In the old times, before the pandemic, he’d been a business intelligence manager for a large bank. He worked in financial analytics. Optimizing Growth Opportunities for High-Value Clients is what the mission statement said. The job came with a nice paycheck. He drive a nice car and wore a nice suit to the office. Most days, he enjoyed what he did. The job was nice. Nothing more. Just … nice.
But, when the pandemic hit, upper management used it as an excuse to cover over their past financial mistakes, and furloughed half the company. He got a job delivering for Amazon to fill the gap and found that he liked that much more.
The kids had grown and gone. It was just Daniel and his wife Lisa on lockdown together. He’d leave in the morning, make his deliveries (he hadn’t started his special deliveries yet), then come home to share dinner with the love of his life.
Then, Lisa got sick.
Her cough turned into a fever. They couldn’t go to the doctor, so they tried the hospital. He dropped her off at the Emergency Room entrance, said “I’ll be right in,” and went to park the car. When he got to the door, they security folks said he was not allowed in. “Quarantine restrictions,” they said. “You understand.”
It took almost a full day to find out where in the labyrinthine maze they had taken his Lisa. By then, her cough had become much worse. They had intubated her and left her in a wing in the emergency ward. The doctors left her cell phone next to her on the bed. She could not speak. He spent the next two days telling her how much he loved her over the phone. Over and over. She died sometime between three and five am. He had fallen asleep with the phone in his hand.
Daniel Peterson tried to go to work that day, but he had misplaced his keys. He spent the day wandering from room to room, looking for them. He looked all day, watching the sun push shadows across his living room, his bedroom, his kitchen, and back again. But he couldn’t find anything.
The special deliveries started shortly thereafter.
Daniel Peterson got to know several of his regulars the longer he delivered. Some folks would run quick to the door to sign for a package, standing on the porch to discuss the weather, the news, anything. Others held back and waited for him to leave, venturing out in masks and protective gear only after he was more than a safe social distance away.
Mr. Tim Johnson, who lived in an apartment building on Andover Street told him all about how this COVID thing was a plan by the radical Left to bring Socialism to THESE United States. He regularly ordered books with angry people on the cover. All the books talked about secret societies bent on world domination.
Jana McCullough, mother of five, stood on her porch, nervously smoking a cigarette as she signed for another case of red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon from Oregon. Her children screamed like banshees in the house behind.
“The schools might be remote again in the Fall,” she said, taking a long, silent drag. She started crying.
You learned people’s tendencies when you delivered. That’s one thing Daniel Peterson really liked.
The Bossley family on Hickory must have been struggling with their new baby because they ordered case after case of newborn diapers. The expensive kind. They said thank you from behind decorative glass doors a couple times per week. He smiled and waved back
Shirley McPherson on the East side ordered two new sweaters a day at least. She was like clockwork. Mrs. McPherson was either attempting to dropship her way to financial security, or she had a rather odd shopping addiction. She opened the packages right in front of Daniel Peterson, pressed the sweaters to her face, and breathed in deep.
“Thank you so much,” she’d say, as if he had given her a long sought after and well-loved Christmas present.
The problem, for Daniel Peterson, was what happened after his work ended. He climbed back into his nice car to make the trek home, and the memories and the loneliness hit him like a tidal wave. There was the park where his kids had played. He remembered pushing his daughter on the baby swing on bright, Saturday mornings. Here was the ice cream shop where he and Lisa had their first date. They sat in the park together, not saying much to each other.
“So,” Daniel Peterson began. “Are we a thing now?”
“I guess,” Lisa said. And that was that.
It was worse at home. The scenes of his past life played on an endless loop, presenting him with long-forgotten memories every time he entered a room. The silence in his house was deafening. He stayed up late most nights, streaming odd documentaries on Netflix just to keep his thoughts at bay.
One day, he noticed the regular deliveries of children’s books he delivered to Betty Sawyers on the West side had begun to pile up. Betty had 25 grandchildren in 15 different states, and she liked to give them away as presents.
Betty was old and hard of hearing. Perhaps she hadn’t heard the doorbell, Daniel wondered.
Daniel Peterson checked the doorknob just to check in on Betty. It was unlocked. He entered the living room, and saw Mrs. Sawyers lying dead on the couch in her living room. He called the police who, in turn, sent people to collect the body and notify family.
When no one was looking, Daniel Peterson took her recent delivery of books and loaded them into the back of his truck. That night, when his regular work was done, he drove to Charles Ave on the west side.
One of his regulars had spoken about a family member who had lost his job to layoffs and could not afford, among other things, children’s books for their kids. He located the house, and left the packages on the front porch with a note saying, “for the kids.”
He rang the doorbell and started to walk away when a woman in sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt stopped him.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “We didn’t order anything.”
“I know,” he said. “But these are still for you?”
She opened the package, and began to cry.
“Jim,” she said. “Jim, come here and see this.”
Her husband stepped onto the porch, looked at the books, and read the note. They hugged each other tightly, wiped away a few tears, and turned to Daniel Peterson, who stood silently on the sidewalk.
“Who sent us this?” Jim asked.
“It was a special delivery from a nice, old woman who loves kids,” Jim said, and turned to leave. He could hear squeals of joy from the children as he walked away.
Daniel Peterson drove home that night with a smile on his face.
A new package of socks. A case of imported, Japanese beer. Mint condition Spiderman comic books. A new office chair. Daniel Peterson delivered it all. His memories of his life from before became bright, and he slept soundly that night and many nights thereafter when he had occasion to make special deliveries.
**** **** **** ****
Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . What’s on YOUR Amazon Wish List?
Derek’s mind is warped, but it’s warped in a way that makes me smile. Check out his story by clicking on the water demon below, and maybe he’ll warp your mind, too
Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Allow me to pass my piece of the water to you, as well.
Rob Cely’s up today with his latest Murder Mystery in the time of Covid, “A Quarantine Murder.” This story might cost a few people their lives, but it will cost you nothing. It’s always free to you.
Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Who’s sneaking up behind YOU with nefarious intent?
Jamie Greening never disappoints. This week, he delves into the Science Fiction Realm – with spiritual overtones – with his short story, “The Parallax.” I love the message hidden beneath the shimmering folds.
Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . What’s the message YOU’RE getting from the alternate dimension? Hopefully it has nothing to do with Blue Oyster Cult and Taco Bell.
Happy Memorial Day, y’all! Today, Joseph Courtemanche brings us the convergence of TWO Flash Fiction Explode-A-Ganzas rolle into one. You’ll have to check out his story, “Where Did They All Go?” to find out.
Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . We haven’t given up yet, and neither should you.
Paul J Bennet’s stories are like a trip down memory lane. But the GOOD kind of trip down memory lane. Check out Dr. Benett’s latest: A Funeral for a Sparrow
Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Relax and look at the trees. The trees. The Trees.
Week 9 of the Covid Chronicles Free Flash Fiction Explode-A-Ganza rolls on, this time with Kathy Kexel bringing us an intriguing setup in part 1 of her story Secrets.
Thanks for visiting us! For even more exciting stories, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our somewhat-quarantined-and-still-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . Gran yourself a drink on us! Just … be careful nobody slips something in it while you’re not looking.
There was a new family on Beecher Street.
They moved into the Beige, two-story Colonial across from the Herbert J Thomas Memorial Children’s Park after Mrs. Emmerson died. Mrs. Emmerson had trouble breathing back in December and passed away in her sleep just after the New Year. Everyone said it was COVID, but no one was sure.
The new family on Beecher Street picked the house from a website listing because of the bright red hyacinth flowers in the front. They left petals spread across the lawn like an explosion of joy and color. The new family liked that. Everyone liked that. Mrs. Emmerson had won the city’s coveted flower & garden award for “Best Floral Display” for three years running because of her hyacinth flowers. It was quite a thing to see!
Mrs. Emmerson stopped tending her hyacinths shortly after her breathing troubles started. They died about the same time she did. When the new family on Beecher Street moved in, they were disappointed to see that the flowers were no longer there. They replanted with red rose bushes. Everyone on Beecher Street was sad to see the rose bushes instead of Mrs. Emmerson’s prized hyacinths, so they didn’t say much to the new family. This made the new family sad, too. This is how we do things now.
After the new family on Beecher Street settled in, the Father brought out a bin of recyclable, cardboard moving boxes for trash day. He wheeled the bin to the street, set it down, and coughed once into his left hand. He thought nothing of it, and walked back inside.
The children on Beecher Street were playing kickball in the cul-de-sac. They took note of the Father of the New Family, and shared the information with their parents. Their parents talked to each other in hushed tones across backyard fences. They whispered in phone conversations. They shared sideways glances across cracked driveways that needed resurfacing.
This is how the trouble started.
In less than two days, everyone on Beecher Street gathered at the cul-de-sac next to the beige Colonial where the new family lived. They talked it over. This is how we do things now.
“My daughter Betty said he practically coughed up blood,” Mrs. Barber said.
“Well my son Stevie told me heard the whole FAMILY was coughing!” Mrs. Anderson said.
“I heard they moved here from the city,” Mrs. Granger said.
“Figures,” Mrs. Shackleford said. “That’s probably why they destroyed Mrs. Emmerson’s wonderful hyacinths.”
“Everyone in the city is sick,” Mrs. Hester said. “They probably just wanted to get away from all that.”
“Or bring it to us,” Mr. Johnson said.
“Well,” Mrs. Giles said. “I heard they were part of a political group. I heard they wanted to spread the disease as far and as wide as they can. To destroy our way of life!”
“How could they?” Mr. Samuels said. “The Nerve!”
“That’s what we get for letting unknowns move in,” Mr. Roberts said. There was a quiet murmur in the crowd. A bird flew overhead.
“What happens if they come out again?” Mrs. Giles asked. Mrs. Giles was scared.
“They have to come out, sometime,” Mr. Samuels said. “They can’t stay in there forever.”
“What if they get my kids sick?” Mrs. Hester asked. “What if they get us all sick?”
“They have to know better, don’t they? Don’t they know what they’re doing? Someone should say something. Someone should DO something.”
The murmur got louder. But Bill Michaels, who lived with his family in the biggest house on Beecher Street, stepped up.
“Calm down, everyone,” Bill said. And everyone did.
“Why don’t we try talking to them? All we have to do is tell them we don’t want anyone to get sick, so if they could please take simple and necessary precautions, we can avoid any unpleasantness.”
Everyone agreed this was a good idea. Bill Michaels went to the door of the beige Colonial House on Beecher Street with his wife Susan. Mr. and Mrs. Hester went with them. Everyone else stood in the cul-de-sac. They pretended not to watch. This is how we do things now.
Bill Michaels rang the doorbell. The Father answered. The new family on Beecher Street had been eating dinner, but the Father came anyway. This was the first time their doorbell had rung since they moved in.
“Hello,” The father said.
“Hi,” Bill Michaels said.
“What can I do for you?”
“I understand there was an incident with the trash cans the other day,” Bill said. “I understand you had a pretty nasty cough.”
The Father was confused.
“No,” he said. “I wasn’t coughing.”
“Well our kids said you wheeled out some trash, then bent over and coughed so hard, blood came out.”
“I might have coughed a bit,” The Father said. “So what?”
“You know there’s a sickness going around, right?”
“Yes, but we don’t…”
“We don’t want our families, our KIDS to get sick.”
“I know, but … “
“So we’d appreciate it if you keep your coughing to your own house and not try to infect any of the families on our street.”
The Father was mad. This wasn’t at all what he imagined for his family’s new life on Beecher Street.
“Listen, man,” The Father said. “I don’t know who you are, but I don’t appreciate you coming up to my house and talking to me like this, especially while my family is eating dinner.”
“I’m Bill Michaels…” Bill Michaels said.
“I don’t care who you are. Get off my lawn before I remove you from it.”
The Father slammed the door in Bill Michaels’ face. Susan Michaels was hurt. Mr. and Mrs. Hester were shocked. The rest of the families in the cul-de-sac gasped. No one had spoken to Bill Michaels like that before. This might be how they do things in the city. This was not how they do things on Beecher Street.
The families returned home. Everyone went to sleep. Maybe this will pass, many of them thought. Maybe this will pass.
*** *** *** ***
The next morning, word got around. Mrs. Hester and two of her kids were sick with COVID. Three of the kids who played kickball in the cul-de-sac next to the beige Colonial with the rose bushes had also gotten sick. And Mr. Johnson wasn’t answering phone calls. Mr Johnson always answered phone calls.
“It has to be the new family,” Mr. Hester the group later that day. “Susan said she started feeling sick as soon as we got home last night. Now, who knows what will happen to her?”
“I’m not feeling well, either,” Mr. Samuels said. “I know I was only in the cul-de-sac, but so were those kids!”
“This is all part of their plan,” Mrs. Giles said. “They’re trying to kill us. They WANT to kill us. People like that? They don’t care how many people die.”
“Hold on a minute,” Mr Landis spoke up. “Doesn’t it take five to ten days for the disease to show symptoms? It could be some of us already had it.”
“What’s wrong with you? Are you on THEIR side? Do YOU want people to die, too?”
“No,” Mr Landis said. “I just want to be reasonable here.”
“The time for reasoning is past,” Bill Michaels said. “The time for action is now. Something has to be done before they kill us all. This is how we do things now.”
Bill Michaels stifled a cough as everyone made their way home.
*** *** *** *** ***
By the time the sun had set that evening, three more families had come down with COVID. Two of the kickball kids from earlier were feeling better, but one was still sick. Jim Grant, the town librarian, reported getting sick midway through the day. The closed the library, but it was too late. Nearly everyone who had checked out a book reported having the sickness. Leslie Strongbow turned down an invitation for dinner with Bill and Susan Michaels. Old Mr. Cooper rode away in an ambulance, grasping his chest. All of it was COVID. All of it. Everyone was sure. There was no questioning these facts. The time for reason has passed, Bill Michaels said. And everyone believed him.
This is how we do things now.
That night, when the sun went down, the remaining families from Beecher Street followed Bill Michaels to the cul-de-sac next to the house where the New Family lived. Mrs. Emmerson’s house, many people said. They brought garden tools. They brought pitchforks. A few people brought lanterns to light up their path.
Everyone on Beecher Street was scared. Except for Bill Michaels. Bill Michaels knew what to do.
“Friends,” Bill Michaels began. “Thank you for coming.”
“Beecher Street has been a happy place to live for as long as I can remember. For as long as ANY of us can remember. Some of us, like me, grew up here. We remember playing in Herbert J. Thomas park right there. We remember riding our bikes Up and Down Beecher Street in the summer. Mrs. Emmerson used to give us peppermint candies when our parents weren’t looking. Do you remember that, Sam? Do YOU remember, Jane?”
Mr. Jameson and Mrs. Everett agreed. They remembered. They remembered well.
“For as long as any of us can remember, Beecher Street has been Safe. It’s been a haven against the outside world. Bad things happen out there, but none of that matters to us here. Here, we do things differently.”
“I hate to say it, folks, but some of that badness has come to Beecher Street at long last. This New Family living in poor, deceased Mrs. Emmerson’s house has brought the COVID sickness to us. Tim Hester’s wife has it. Little Billy Mayflower has it. Old George Cooper, too. They might make it, but they might not. Only God knows now.”
Tim Hester broke down crying. Everyone around him put their hands on his shoulder to comfort him.
“If we don’t stand up to the New Family now, we all might get it. We might all die. They might kill us all!”
The crowd was angry now. Their faces grew shadows as the lantern lights danced in the darkening air.
“I say we protect our children and our families. I say we protect each other. I say we protect everyone and everything on Beecher Street and put a stop to this right here and now. Who’s with me?”
The crowd cheered. Bill Michaels marched to the front lawn of the beige Colonial where the New Family lived. The large crowd followed.
The Father stepped onto the porch. He had a baseball bat.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The Father said.
“We’re here to protect our children, our families, and our way of life,” Bill Michaels said. He pulled out a large gun and pointed it at the ground.
“Come out,” Bill Michaels said. “Admit what you have done.”
“Admit what I have done? You’re crazy, man. I haven’t done anything.”
The crowd murmured with disdain.
“You brought COVID to our Street. You killed Mr. Cooper and God knows who else.”
“What the …”
“ADMIT IT!” Bill Michaels screamed. “This is your last chance.”
“I didn’t do ANYTHING, man. I…”
“NO!” Bill took flipped the safety on his gun and pointed it at The Father’s head. The Wife screamed. The children, who had never left the house, hid behind their mother. Several other people in the crowd drew their guns and pointed them at the New Family on Beecher Street. This is how we do things now.
“Out. Now,” Bill Michaels said.
“Alright. Alright. I’m coming out. Don’t shoot. Please. Just don’t shoot.”
“Kneel down here, in the street,” Bill Michaels said.
The Father knelt in the street, facing his house. He looked at his wife and children. They were all very scared. The crowd closed in tight, blocking his view.
“You brought the sickness here. You planned this. You wanted to kill us,” Bill Michaels said.
“We gave you the chance to live with us, to share in the joy of life on Beecher Street, but you chose another path.”
Bill Michaels pressed the gun into the back of The Father’s head. He bent down next to The Father’s ear so he could whisper.
“Put your teeth on the curb,” Bill Michaels said. The Father hesitated. “I’ll shoot your kids first if you don’t.”
The Father complied.
“Because you have sinned against the families on Beecher Street, because you have brought this terrible sickness to us, we must retaliate.”
“You may have thought you could hide from us. You may have thought you could reason with us or become one with us. But that is not how we do things here.”
“This,” Bill Michaels said. “This is how we do things here.”
Bill Michaels lowered his foot on the back of the Father’s head, and painted the front lawn of the beige Colonial house on Beecher Street a bright red. The colors covered the lawn. It reminded everyone of Mrs. Emmerson’s hyacinths, and everyone agreed that things had finally been set to right.
It was quite a thing to see.
Many other lawns were painted similarly over the weeks and months to come. All Up and Down Beecher Street. All up and Down many other streets. All over the city and across the country.
This is how we do things now.
**** **** **** ****
Thanks for checking out our crap! For even more exciting crap, please check out (and perhaps slide us some dollars at ) the sites of each of our quarantined-and-slowly-going-more-insane-than-they-already-were authors: Joseph Courtemanche, Jamie Greening, Kathy Kexel, Derek Elkins, Rob Cely, and Dr. Paul J Bennett . I’m not normally this dark and twisted. Not until you get to know me good, anyway.