Shadow Man

Shadow Man

by David Castlewitz

As a boy, Kevin relied on Shadow to protect him from his always-angry father. Shadow killed an alley-wolf that broke into his home. Shadow purged Kevin’s baby brother of the devil that invaded his body, drowning the evil in a bathtub. As a teen, Kevin counted on Shadow to keep him safe when he ventured out of his cell to shower or exercise or eat in the prison cafeteria. As an adult, Shadow accompanied Kevin to the house where he was told to live while he learned to adjust to freedom.

But then Kevin started the job he’d been assigned and that changed everything.

“He’s gone now,” Kevin told Miss McGuire, the social worker. Her thin arms reminded him of his frail mother. She had that same slender body. “He left when I took the job.”

The robots did it, he thought, though the machines where he worked didn’t look like the robots he saw on TV or in comic books. They didn’t have hands and feet; didn’t amble about on ball-jointed metal legs. No heads with eyes and ears and mouth. These robots rattled up and down and left and right, attached by intricate gearing to rods and rails as they plucked grocery items from plastic tubs bolted to steel shelves.

Kevin picked up what the robots dropped. Sometimes a can and sometimes a box. Robots labored without caring about waste, he’d been told by Mr. Goodland, the balding night shift manager, who laughed, belly-like-jelly, his sagging jowls red and his eyes bulging.

Friendly Mr. Goodland.

Kevin knew not to trust him. Like the prison guards, Goodland could turn on him, strip him, hurt him, sear his insides with white-hot weapons. And Shadow wasn’t with him in this warehouse. So who would stop Mr. Goodland?

Kevin prayed for Shadow’s return.

He prayed while he walked with his eyes on the floor in search of what the robots dropped. He prayed while taking cans and small cartons to a bin, where they’d be sorted by men and women who could read, and it was while he prayed that one of the robots attacked him.

He cried out and rushed to a corner, arms across his head, fingers digging into his skull, opening the razor wounds in his shaved head. A screeching robot rammed him. Kevin screamed for help.

A white-coated woman and Mr. Goodland, armed with a mallet, rushed to his aid. The two joked about malfunctions and stupid software that didn’t know better. A third person warned that this kind of accident wasn’t a joking matter.

Kevin remained in his corner. He ignored Mr. Goodland’s entreaties, and those of the seven strangers bunched together and talking all at once. He ignored everyone and cried, as he used to when his father stood over him with that flying belt buckle.

Miss McGuire emerged from the anonymous crowd.

“I’m sorry if we got you out of bed,” Mr. Goodland said. “The House said you’re the only one who can do anything with him.”

“It’s okay,” Miss McGuire said. Kevin liked how she knelt in front of him. Her soft fingertips assured him, as did her faintly musty smell and her hot breath sweet with toothpaste odor.

He went with her.

“Will the robots let me come back to work?” Kevin asked. Miss McGuire glanced back over her shoulder and then said that Kevin could come back tomorrow. She promised, the robots would be fixed.

“Shadow would tear them apart.” Kevin put on his jacket and clamped his narrow brimmed wool cap atop his head. Outside, the cool night air caressed his face.

Miss McGuire said, “I’ll take you home.”

Kevin stood at the back door of a small car in the dimly lit parking lot.

Miss McGuire said, “You can sit up front.”

“I never do.”

“Tonight you can.”

He sat up front. In the flash of light when the car door opened and Miss McGuire took her seat behind the wheel, he saw white flesh above her knees.

So beautiful, he thought. So fragile, those arms and stick-like fingers on the steering wheel. She’d crumble like his mother always crumbled; she’d been no match for his father in a fight.

When they reached the halfway house, Miss McGuire drove past it to the corner and pulled over next to a fire hydrant.

“You can’t park here,” Kevin said.

“I’m letting you out. Whoever’s on night duty will let you in. They’re expecting you.”

Kevin always approached the house from the bus stop at the other end of the street. He’d never come from this direction.

“Just walk back that way,” Miss McGuire said, and then she got out on her side of the car. “I’ll walk with you.”

“But your car.”

“It’s just for a moment.”

Kevin stood on the sidewalk. Cars and trucks of various sizes and descriptions lined both sides of the narrow street. Tall brick houses set side-by-side stood dark and uninviting, with closed doors at the top of white stone steps.

Miss McGuire extended her hand. Her hair fell in jagged waves down the sides of her narrow face. Her jacket, zipped to the neck, hid her body, but her skinny arms and legs exposed her as vulnerable.

He couldn’t help her.

When she screamed and tumbled backwards: he couldn’t help her.

He cowered.

Her eyes widened—gray-green in her stark white face.

He never could protect himself or anyone. Shadow fought his father and saved him, sometimes saved his mother. Shadow killed that murderous wolf. Shadow washed out the devil that devoured his brother. Shadow did all the things that Kevin could not.

And from out of the night, Shadow came to Miss McGuire’s rescue.

The attacker bellowed and fled. Red and blue lights flashed at both ends of the street. Police arrived, more frantic than when they came to Kevin’s home when he was a boy. Police pushed Kevin against a stone wall. They hovered around the screaming and bloodied Miss McGuire.

“No,” she shouted, and broke loose. “Not him. Not Kevin.”

“What happened?” a female officer said.

Miss McGuire gagged. She doubled over. Then she said, “Someone just grabbed me. Then someone all in black–I didn’t see his face–came out of nowhere.”

“He came out of nowhere?” someone said with a hint of doubt.

“Out of nowhere,” Miss McGuire said.

But Kevin knew better. Shadow grew from the play of light on the lace covering his bedroom window. Shadow materialized from the recesses of the buildings. Shadow grew from his fear and need for help. But he wouldn’t tell anyone. This was a secret only he and Shadow should know.

Miss McGuire said, “He chased him off. My attacker. He chased him into the alley.” She pointed to a narrow passage intersecting the street.

Two of the police rushed in that direction.

“Let him go,” Miss McGuire said. “Kevin didn’t do anything.”

Kevin bolted into Miss McGuire’s embrace.

“Where did he come from?” Miss McGuire asked. “This Shadow.” She sobbed. Kevin hugged her. Hard. Like he used to hug his mother when Shadow chased his father away.

“Shadow came just when we needed him,” Kevin said.

◊ ◊ ◊

David Castlewitz
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: SF, fantasy, and magical realism. He’s published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press and other online as well as print magazines. Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

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Lemon Slumber

Lemon Slumber

by Kellee Kranendonk

It was some sort of fad diet—two steps to losing weight. Lose a pound a day until your desired weight is reached, the ad claimed. Step one: eat a lemon. Step two: go to sleep.

Maya thought it sounded easy enough. “Probably too good to be true,” she muttered as she picked up the phone to order her crate of yellow citrus. She paused with her thumb hovering over the last number. It can’t be true, she thought. But it was so ridiculous that just maybe it was.

Determined to shed some pounds before her best friend’s wedding, she was willing to give it a try. “Our old friends will be there,” Dena had said. “Ones we haven’t seen since graduation.” Great! Maya had put on a few pounds in the seven years since, so shedding a few before slipping into an already-ugly bridesmaid dress sounded good, especially if it was easy.                       .

“Your citrus is on its way,” said the female voice on the phone. “It should be there in two weeks.”

Two weeks? Why can’t it be two days, Maya wanted to shout. She wanted start shedding the pounds right away. But she sighed and said politely, “Okay, thank you”, then ended the call.

Two Weeks Later

Maya scrunched up her face and swallowed the first bite of lemon. The instructions clearly said not for lemonade use. These lemons were to be eaten plain and raw for best results.

Anticancer, antioxidant, antibacterial and antiviral, read the paper flyer included in the crate of fruit. Weight loss and digestive aid. Contains Vitamin C, Magnesium, Calcium and Bioflavonoids, it said in bold yellow letters on a dark green background. Beneath it in tiny white letters, it read “May cause erosion of tooth enamel or anaphylactic allergies”.

“What the heck is an anaphylactic allergy?” Maya asked herself, taking another bite. “Damn, no wonder this is a weight loss aid. You’ll never want to eat again after tasting this stuff.” She looked at the lemon slices as if they could respond. “Why does lemonade taste so good?”

After she’d managed to eat nearly the entire lemon, she trundled off to bed. “Sour dreams, Maya,” she said and snuggled down under her blankets.

* * *

Yellow roses sprung up on either side of the path and towered over her head. Each one, as she walked past, bent down as if to say hello. She’d passed several before she noticed the tags tied around each stem, at the base of the flower. She took one in her fingers to read it. “Pick me” it said.

How does one pick a flower larger than herself, she wondered. She took a few more steps then read another. “Don’t pick me,” this one read.

She began reading each one as it bent to her and quickly noted that the instructions alternated. Every other rose’s tag said, “Pick me”. It dawned on her that all she needed to do was choose one. But as she stood, trying to determine how much of a difference her choice would make, a fairy appeared among the roses.

She was atypically tall for a fairy, and slender. She wore a long, mint green dress with a v-waist and a belt that looked like a rosary except instead of round beads, there were silver numbers. The belt clasped at number 5. A golden tiara nestled in thick auburn tresses and she held a sparkling, golden wand.

“Seriously?” muttered Maya. “How stereotypical.”

“Pardon me?” asked the fairy,

“Nothing.” Maya shook her head. “Is your name Tinkerbell?”

The fairy frowned. “Of course not. What an odd name. My name’s Denise.”

“Oh. So, Denise, what am I supposed to do with these roses?”

“Pick one, of course.”

Maya lifted her eyebrows and thought about calling Denise a smartass, but she seemed so serious. “Will you help me choose?”

“I can’t do that. You must listen for the one that calls to you.”

With that, Denise stalked off into a forest of miniature (to Maya) trees. Maya looked at the roses again, which had now turned pink. Putting her hands on her hips, she said, “Okay, roses, which of you is calling me?”

A single rose bent forward. Maya’s name floated on the breeze. She could both hear it and see it. On a whim, she reached out to try plucking the letters from the air. Her hand passed through them as if they were nothing but mist. Which she supposed they probably were. She stepped forward to clasp the rose, to pick it, but as she wrapped her hands around its thornless stem, the petals reached out and enveloped her. . .

Maya awoke in her own bed. “Wow, what a dream,” she murmured, stretching, yawning, and recalling the images from last night. “What are they putting in those lemons? I wonder if that’s the anaphylactic allergy? Well, let’s see if it worked.”

Not expecting to see a change in her scale reading, she was surprised to find that she had indeed lost one pound since weighing herself yesterday morning. “Lemons!” she said, laughing. “Who’da thunk it?”

Deciding to continue her normal daily diet, she set about getting ready for work. After her day was done, she came home to her crate of sour, yellow fruit.

“This is going to be a love-hate relationship,” she said, holding up a lemon. “Well, let’s do it. What are you going to show me tonight?”

* * *

The roses were taller this time, and there were more of them. Denise sat in front of them on a big, flat rock. She smiled at Maya. “Did you choose correctly?”

Since she’d lost a pound she assumed she did. She shrugged. “I guess.”

Denise smiled. “Good! Now, don’t you wish you could eat whatever you wanted and the pounds would go away instead of packing on?”

“Don’t we all?”

“No.” Denise shook her head. Again, she seemed so serious. She waved her wand at the flowers. “Find your rose, Maya.”

At first they all looked the same. But then Maya noticed a single yellow rose had a pinkish tinge. Was that her rose? At the risk of choosing wrong, she said, “Yes, I see it.”

“Go to it, Maya. Eat it, taste it, become it.”

Become it? That almost sounded sexual. Or maybe it was supposed to be some weird spiritual religion. Maya looked at Denise, but she was reclined, eyes closed, and licking her lips. Maya noticed her belt was now clasped at number 6. She went to the rose and again, it bowed to her, spreading its petals. Now what, wondered Maya. Just then a slip of paper unrolled from among the petals, ‘Eat Me’ written on it.

“Okay, Alice,” whispered Maya to herself and grabbed a yellowy-pink petal. It tasted like chocolate. But the next one she ate tasted like a cheese pizza. The next bite was crispy chicken, and the next red licorice. She tried to stop, but each time she did, the rose pushed itself towards her, as if it enjoyed being consumed. Maya ate petal after petal, until the rose was plucked bare. Stuffed, Maya felt like throwing up. The delicious petals rose up in her throat . . .

Maya awoke and leapt out of bed. Halfway to the bathroom, she realized she was neither full nor going to puke her guts out. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she continued to the bathroom to weigh herself, and found she was another pound lighter.

* * *

“Look at me, I’m a 7 now.”

Maya recognized Denise’s voice. It sounded like she was bragging, but what did it mean that she was a seven? Maya thought about the fairy’s belt and how the clasp had gone from a 5 to a 6. Was Denise putting on weight? But who would brag about that?

“That’s nothing. I’m up to a 9,” said an unknown female voice.

“I’ve got it all over both of you,” said a second unknown voice, also female. “I’m a 13.”

“You better feed your roses soon,” said Denise. “You know how hard it is to get them to eat very much at once. If you get too big, you’ll be stuck there forever.”

What on earth were they talking about wondered Maya as she walked along the path. The roses stood tall and quiet; no talking, no tags or rolled up slips of paper.

“Oh, you girls,” said a distinctly gay male voice. “Must you sit around like this? The roses are hungry and must be fed.” Someone—Maya thought probably the man—clapped their hands. “Hurry now.”

Slippered feet slapped against the path, then the three female fairies darted past her. Denise didn’t even seem to notice her. The other two looked similar. Tall and slender wearing the same style of dress, one blue and one red, with a belt of silver numbers. Both carried wands and wore tiaras in their hair as Denise did. Blue dress girl was blonde, and Red dress girl was brunette. Maya turned and saw them leave the path to dart among the roses.

“Oh, honey, what are you doing here?”

Startled, Maya whirled around to face the male. He had short black hair, thinning on top, and wore a pair of round glasses, the glass part tinted blue. His pants and suit coat were covered in black sequins, his cummerbund in red. His white shirt had no sequins but still it shone and sparkled as if it did. In his left hand he carried a shiny black cane, and on his back a tiny pair of opalescent wings fluttered.

“Really?” groaned Maya.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“No, it’s just—” Why was everything here so stereotypical, and why did she never know what to say?

“My name is Maurice, honey. Does that help?”

Maya frowned. Why on earth would that help? She shook her head, but Maurice barely noticed. He was looking at her waistline.

“I see you’ve been using our Lemon Slumber diet aid,” he said.

“Uh, yeah.” How did he know that?

“And how’s that working for you?”

“Fine. I’ve lost a couple pounds so far.”

Maurice smiled. “Wonderful! Be sure you don’t eat too many at once now.”

“Trust me, I won’t!”

“Oh, but you’ll want to, honey,” he said. “You’ll want to.”

When Maya got up in the morning, she had indeed lost another pound. Strangely though, that night, she found herself craving more lemons.

* * *

“You ate four lemons?” Denise screamed at Maya. “Are you crazy? Look at this! Look!” She put her hands on her hips, one finger jiggling her belt. Maya noticed it was noticed it was clasped at 9. “Didn’t Maurice tell you not to eat too many? Didn’t he?”

“Uh, yeah, but. . .”

“My roses won’t eat that much! Do you think I want to be a fat fairy?”

A fat fairy? For unknown reasons, Maya found this extremely funny and burst out laughing.

“You think it’s funny? Do you really think it’s funny?” Denise screamed, stamping her feet, her face turning red. “You didn’t even eat your petals last night. Now everything’s messed up!”

Maya squeezed her lips together and rubbed her nose to keep from laughing anymore. Everything was messed up long before now, she thought, but didn’t dare say it. Denise let out a long scream, and in a flash her two friends were there accompanied by Maurice.

“What’s going on?” called out Maurice as the girls tried to comfort Denise. He rushed over to Maya.

“I don’t know. She’s freaking out because I ate four lemons. I almost . . .”

“Four?” screamed Maurice. “Didn’t I tell you not to eat too many?”

“Well I thought if one took off one pound then . . .”

“Four would take off four pounds,” finished Maurice. “I know. That’s why I told you not to do it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh, honey, you don’t understand how it works do you?”

“I’m afraid not.”

Maurice took her hand. “We’ll explain it, but first you must eat your petals. Come now.” He led her to the roses where several of them wore “Eat Me” tags. “You have a lot of making up to do.” He smiled then walked away.

Maya looked at the roses. Did she have to eat all the ones marked? Even as she wondered how on earth she was going to do that, she remembered how good everything tasted and drooled a little. Wiping her chin, she looked around, but no one was there to see. She broke off a bit of petal. Roast chicken and potatoes. Another petal. Apple pie and cheddar cheese. Another petal. She couldn’t stop. Even when she felt full, she couldn’t stop. Only when the petals rose in her throat and spewed out of her mouth did she stop. But only for a moment. When the puking was done, she started stuffing petals in again. She couldn’t stop.

* * *

In the morning, Maya felt as though she hadn’t slept at all, and her stomach ached. Dragging herself to the bathroom, she stepped on the scales. Four more pounds gone. She rubbed her forehead. Was it really worth it?

“Well, is it?” asked Jan from work over lunch later that day.

Maya stabbed some salad with her fork and shrugged. “I dunno. I mean, it works, but I felt like hell this morning. What do I look like? Do I look like I’ve lost four pounds?”

“I guess,” said Jan. “Four pounds isn’t a lot to notice yet.” She paused a moment. “You do look tired though. How much did you want to lose?”

“Originally I thought about twenty, maybe thirty pounds. Now, I think I’ll quit at ten.”

“So you just eat the lemons before bed?”

Maya raised her eyebrows. “Well, yes, but there’s so much more to it. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

* * *

“It’s okay, baby. Maurice talked to her. She’ll just do one at a time from now on.” Denise stroked the rose that snuggled into her neck. She didn’t notice Maya standing there.

Before bed, Maya had picked a lemon from the box but had decided against eating one. Tomorrow night, she’d thought. But once in bed she’d tossed and turned, unable to sleep, unable to think of anything but lemons. So she’d given in, gotten up and gone to the kitchen. But one lemon hadn’t been enough. Strange, she’d thought, how she’d had such a hard time downing one at first but now she couldn’t seem to get enough. Having been punished enough for eating four, she stopped herself after two (even though she desired more) and went to bed. She’d fallen asleep almost immediately.

Maya cleared her throat and Denise looked up. Seeing Maya, the fairy smiled, then looked at her belt, which was now clasped at 10. She frowned a moment, but then looked at Maya and smiled again. “I guess two is okay, but I’m already up to a 10. The other fairies will be envious, but I just can’t get this guy to eat more than one at once.” She stroked the rose again. “I’m glad you want to help, but I’ll be a balloon fairy if you keep up this pace.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand how this works.”

“Didn’t Maurice tell you?”

Maya shook her head. “He said he was going to, but he never did.”

“This is my rose. He feeds off me. I feed off you. He eats one size at a time. Some roses will eat two, sometimes you can convince them to eat three, but usually just one at a time.”

Maya stared at her, trying to decipher exactly what she meant. “So, are you saying that when I eat the lemons, you, the roses. . . I’m not sure I follow.”

Denise took the rose in her hands and slid it gently away from where it nuzzled against her neck. “You had two lemons, right?” Maya nodded. “Then come with me.”

The fairy led her to her rose. “This is your rose, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then go ahead, eat your petals.” Somehow this eating was part of it. Nothing made sense here.

“But last night I ate a bunch of petals.”

Denise rolled her eyes. “Yes,” she said, sighing. “But that was only because you cheated and ate four lemons. Now, when you’re done eating, give a shout.”

Maya slid a petal into her mouth carefully as Denise walked away. She didn’t want a repeat of last night. But although she didn’t crave the petals as much, she still couldn’t resist them. Forcing herself to stop when she felt full, she called for Denise.

“Normally you’d wake up now,” the fairy told her. “But, I’m going to keep you here. Just don’t tell Maurice. Come on.”

They went back to the roses. “I’m your fairy, and this is my rose,” explained Denise, slowly, as if talking to a child. She held her arm out. The rose bent and began snuffling along her arm. When it reached her shoulder, Denise made a graceful, dance-like move so the rose could snuffle along her other arm. Back and forth she moved like this, the rose snuffling her arms, shoulders, her head, back, chest and belly. When it was over, she patted the rose. It burped and returned to its upright position.

Denise smiled. “The Rose dance. Now watch.” She took her belt and reclasped it at 9. “See?” she said, looking up at Maya. “Until I can convince my rose to eat more than one size at once, I’ll stay between 9 and 10.” She frowned. “Unless you mess up again.”

Before Maya could respond, Maurice called out Denise’s name.

Denise grabbed Maya’s hand and pulled her into the roses. “He’ll kill me if he finds you still here,” she hissed. “I’m sorry, but I have to do this.” She pulled her fist back, then slammed Maya in the stomach.

* * *

Maya felt like she’d been run over by a truck. The thought of lemons, and most other foods, sickened her. She skipped her weigh-in, her breakfast, and even her lunch. Jan asked if everything was okay. Maya smiled and said things were fine. She had a little appetite for supper so made herself a sandwich. She intended on skipping her lemons too, but once again found her craving so strong, she was unable to sleep. She chugged two down then went for a third but forced herself to put it back.

Over the next week, no matter what she tried, no matter how hard she tried, Maya couldn’t manage her breakfast or lunch yet couldn’t resist the lemons at night. She tried to stop at one but the craving was too strong. Once, she gave in and ate three. Denise gave her hell that night, and in the morning Maya’s stomach felt like a wrung out dishrag.

The next two weeks were more of the same. Most nights she ate two lemons, sucking them down like an addict snorting coke. On the nights she ate more, she got hell. On the nights she managed to stop after one, she got praise. Yet she couldn’t stop her cravings. At work, Jan became concerned until finally the boss asked Maya if she wanted to use some of her vacation days. She agreed to a week but soon realized she couldn’t fight her battle with the lemons. She sucked down five the first day and six the next. Denise’s wrath nearly killed her, but still she craved the lemons. On day three, after sucking down two lemons for breakfast, she called Jan for help.

“I can’t stop it, Jan,” she cried. “I need help. Take them away. They’re lemons from Hell!”

Jan looked at her. “How much weight have you lost, anyway?”

“I don’t know anymore. Just take them away. I can’t deal with her anymore!” Maya broke down into sobs.

“Okay, okay,” soothed Jan. “What do you need me to do?”

“The lemons. They’re in the kitchen. Take them away.” She followed Jan into the kitchen.

Jan picked up a crate half full of lemons. “Is this it?” She looked around. “How many of these have you ordered?”

Maya shrugged. She couldn’t remember. They’d just kept showing up. She barely remembered accepting the packages at her door. “I don’t know. I just. . . you need to cancel my order. Or something. I don’t know.”

“This really has you messed up. Do they inject acid into these lemons or something?”

Maya stared. Maybe that was it. Whatever it was, she knew now it wasn’t worth it. Let her old friends see her with a few pounds packed on. It would be better than seeing her like this.

“Where’s the number to call?”

“I don’t know. I don’t. . . I think we have to go to sleep.”

Despite Jan’s confused protests, Maya finally convinced her somehow that the Lemon Slumber diet required her to sleep and that Jan could only help by sleeping too. Maya didn’t even know if it would work, but she was desperate.

* * *

“Where are we?” Jan crowded close to Maya.

“It worked!” Joy spread through Maya but was quickly replaced with dread. What was Denise going to do? What would she say? What about Maurice?

As they walked along the path, the roses bowed down to them. Seemingly repelled by Jan, they gravitated towards Maya. After all, she was the one who’d eaten the lemons.

“What’s happening?” asked Jan. “Is this Wonderland or something?”

“Yeah, on steroids,” said Maya. “Just wait, it gets better.”

Denise waddled out then, her belt clasped at 20. “What do you want now?” she snarled.

“I’m leaving this damn Lemon Slumber diet program.”

Denise’s eyes went wide. “No! I’m sorry! You can’t leave.”

“Oh she’s leaving, sweetie,” said Jan, standing in front of Maya.

“No, my roses will starve.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Jan. “All I know is my friend here has been through Hell. I’m going to see that it stops.”

“Denise, what’s going on?” called Maurice, appearing beside her, as if out of thin air.

“She’s leaving!’

“Oh, honey, you can’t do that. Wait, who are you?”

“She means me,” said Maya, stepping out from behind Jan.

“Ooh, she’s brought friends,” said Maurice, as if talking about a booger stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

“Make her eat her petals,” pleaded Denise.

Maurice looked at Jan as if she were the booger. “Oh, I don’t know if it will work now. Nobody’s ever brought a friend before.”

“Well try it,” demanded Denise.

Maurice looked at Maya. “Well, c’mon, honey. Let’s go eat your petals.”

Maya wanted to refuse. But the thought of the petals, the desire to eat them, was strong. The smooth texture on her tongue, all those tastes, and best of all, no weight gained. She took a step towards Maurice.

Jan grabbed her arm and yanked her back. “What are you doing? Don’t go with that jacked up, glitter-garbed fool!”

“Maurice!” whined Denise.

“But it’s so good, Jan. You have to try it. Please.”

Jan yanked on Maya, hauling her away from the fairies. “No. Remember, you asked for my help? Well, I’m giving it to you.”

“But the petals are so good.”

“Damn it, they’ve got you addicted. But to what, I don’t know.”

Maya struggled against Jan. “I want the petals, Jan. Please let me go.”

“No.” Against Maya’s struggles, Jan pulled her farther and farther away from Maurice and Denise.

“Jan, let me go! I want those petals. I need them. There’s no calories in them, Jan! You need to try them.!” Maya fought against her would be saviour.

Jan grabbed her by the shoulders. “No! You need help, Maya, and I’m it! I’m all you have right now to yank you out of this Hell. You asked me what you looked like, if you looked like you’d lost the pounds. Well, you look like shit, honey. You need a few of those pounds back!”

Suddenly Maurice and Denise were there beside them.

“She wants the petals, Jan. Let her have the petals.”

“No fucking way!” Jan positioned herself between Maya and the other two. “Come on, Maya. Wake up. How do I get us out of here?”

“The petals, Maya,” shouted Denise.

Maya moved to get past Jan and Jan slugged her. . .

* * *

Maya’s head ached, her stomach cramped and her throat was dry. She groaned and rolled over in her bed. Bright light streamed in through the window. What day was it? Had she overslept? Then she smelled something cooking. Toast. Great, she thought. I’m gonna have a seizure.

Noises from the kitchen alerted her that she wasn’t going to have a seizure, but had someone broken into her house? To cook themselves breakfast? Seriously, Maya?

Sitting up and stretching, she looked for her phone, but it wasn’t on the bedside table.  So she got up and crept out toward her kitchen. Peering into the room, she saw Jan bustling around the kitchen. Why was she cooking breakfast here?

“Jan? What’s going on?”

Jan swung around. “Oh, you’re up. Good. How do you feel?”

“Feel? I—” Maya paused, scratching her belly, feeling soft flannel pajamas beneath her fingers. She looked down. They were hers, but they hung on her. “Did I—” She started, but paused again. Why were the names Denise and Maurice floating around her head. She didn’t know anyone with those names.  “I feel okay, I guess. But. . . what’s going on? Why are you here?”

“You took some vacation time, and asked me over, remember?”

“To cook breakfast?”

Jan smiled. “Yeah, something like that. Tell me, how interested are you in losing weight?”

Maya frowned. “I think I’m okay the way I am.”

“Are you sure? Dena’s wedding is coming up soon.”

Why was Jan being so weird? And when had she asked her over? Everything seemed so hazy as she tried to recall. “Yeah, I . . .  I think I’m good.”

“Okay. I’m glad to hear you say that. Let me just ask you one thing—how do you feel about lemons?”

Maya’s stomach clenched and rose to her throat. As she raced to the bathroom, Jan began to chuckle.

◊ ◊ ◊

Kellee Kranendonk
Kellee Kranendonk is a Canadian writer, a wife, mom, and the editor of Youth Imagination Magazine. She’s been published most recently in such magazines as Voluted Tales, 365 Tomorrows, Aurora Wolf, The Fifth Di, 101 Words, and Flash Fiction Press. Her non-fiction has appeared on the Write Well, Write to Sell websites.
https://sites.google.com/a/silverpen.org/kellee-kranendonk—canadian-writer/

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$Reward$ – found parrot (Bay area)

$Reward$ – found parrot (Bay area)

by T.R. North

Found one medium-sized parrot. Possibly some type of cockatoo? Brown feathers, yellow crest, short tail, red eyes. Very sociable, great talker, seems partial to peanuts. Not banded. Might be named Pazuzu or have been raised with another bird named Pazuzu.

Parrot landed on second-floor balcony railing last night in boardwalk district, insisted that “Pazuzu is master”, and tried to entice people to scratch the back of its neck. Can also say “Pretty please”, “Who’s a good bird?”, “All hail the dark lord”, and imitate an old-fashioned telephone ringing. Screams like a dying rabbit (really good impression, may have been raised on a farm or near the woods?) if it wants to play and you ignore it.

Email with description of markings if you think this is your bird. I can only keep it until the weekend, since I don’t have a cage or any bird toys (it’s already knocked all my crosses off the wall and chewed them up) and it won’t stop prophesying the end of all things.

UPDATE: Substantial reward for information leading to parrot’s owner/new home for parrot. It started chanting at night and my neighbors won’t stop complaining to property manager. Local animal rescues won’t take large birds, and the zoo hung up on me when parrot started yelling EXTREMELY rude things about the pope (owner might be stand-up comedian?). Pet deposit is $$$–I need to get this bird out of here pronto.

UPDATE UPDATE: Pazuzu has a forever home! Big shout-out to my property manager and his twin daughters for taking in a lost bird. People like them give me hope for mankind, especially after all the weird dreams I’ve been having lately. (Not to get too personal or anything, just felt like getting that off my chest.)

DISREGARD PREVIOUS UPDATE: Property manager had to give the bird back because of some family problems. (I guess with the nanny? If you’re a nanny looking for a great FT/LI position, check post id: 5891054666 for details! Multiple references REQUIRED and WILL BE CHECKED, though.)

Pazuzu now comes with large cage (for sleeping only, somehow always gets out when awake) and lots of toys. Apparently can also sing in Latin, so bonus for classical music fans! Would prefer to adopt w/in walking dist., since the twins are heartbroken and get kind of hysterical if they can’t see it at least once a day. Bird may also be in a family way? (Ripped up Bible like it needed nesting material.)

Would prefer to adopt soon. Missionaries from local churches keep stopping by my complex, and they all try to break the ice by talking about the bird. Cage also messing with tv reception; only channel that comes in clearly is some weird indie-movie channel running a Cronenberg marathon.

NOTE TO FREREMERRIN73: Stop emailing me weird rants about how much you don’t like parrots. Believe me, I sympathize with how demanding they can be and how much attention they need, but calling them “demons from the darkest pits of hell” is a bit much. I’m filtering everything from you right into the spam folder from now on. Get help, dude.

LAST UPDATE: OK, it’s official, Pazuzu (and family!) is my bird now. Or more like I’m Pazuzu’s human (pets, am I right?). Things have really turned around for me financially, so pet deposit is no problem. Thanks to everyone who emailed links to parrot-care guides, and a huge special mention to baylockedNloaded for the offer to help place the chicks once they’ve fledged. You’re a life-saver, and these little guys definitely deserve some really special homes.

I was pretty on the fence about birds as pets before, but I guess you could say I’m a convert! I honestly don’t know what I’d do without this parrot in my life. I’ve really bonded with the twins, and I feel like we’re almost family now. I just have a sense of purpose that I guess I was missing before, like my life really has some higher meaning now that I’ve got this bird to come home to. I’d do practically anything for it. All hail Pazuzu!

●do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers

◊ ◊ ◊

T.R. North
T.R. North was born and raised in Florida and has never been featured in a News of the Weird column run in another state. Other works of short fiction can be found in The Fiction Pool, Metaphorosis, and Phantaxis. Follow on Twitter (@northonthegulf) for more shenanigans. Website: northonthegulf.wordpress.com

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The Terrorist

The Terrorist

by Gary Earl Ross

Adila Farhani sat in the gray interrogation room, hands folded on the steel-topped table, eyes fixed on the large mirror on the side wall. She had seen enough police procedurals on television to know that someone was on the other side of the glass, watching her. Rather than look away or close her eyes, she made a minor adjustment to her pale blue hijab, to ease the pressure on her neck. Sitting up straight enough to see her own unwrinkled olive-skinned face in the mirror, she was determined that the police see how unafraid she was.

The metal door opened and a tall man stepped inside—fiftyish, balding, clean-shaven, tired green eyes, white skin. He took the chair across from hers, placed his large hands on the table, and sat back as if studying her. After a moment, he leaned forward.

“Ms. Farhani, I’m Detective Mills. I’d like to ask you a few questions, to clear up a few things about what happened on the bus.”

There was a natural coarseness to his voice that made her stomach clench but she answered quickly, “Yes, of course.”

“One of the men you shot said you screamed, ‘Allah Akbar!’ when you pulled the trigger. Is that true?”

“No, sir.” She hesitated a moment, wondering whether she should correct him, then decided she must. “The phrase is Allahu Akbar—God is greatest—but I didn’t say that either. What does the other man say?”

Mills sighed. “Not much, I’m afraid. He’s dead.” He stared at her.

For the first time since she had been taken to the police station, Adila closed her eyes and kept them closed long enough to whisper a prayer. When she opened them again, she felt they were moist but made no effort to wipe them. She swallowed. “What do the other people on the bus say?”

“The driver didn’t know what was happening, but he said you were a regular rider he always picked up near the hospital.”

“I work there, as a pharmacist.”

He nodded. “A couple people in the front of the bus say you just started shooting so they got down on the floor because they thought you were a terrorist who wanted to kill everyone.”

“Because of my hijab.” It wasn’t a question but a statement weighted with weariness.

“Yes.”

“And what do the people close to me in the back of the bus say?”

“No one heard Allahu Akbar. The elderly man who gave you his seat and the four women we’ve talked to all say the same thing.” He took out a pocket notebook and flipped it open. “Two young white males got on the bus and pushed their way toward the back. When they got to where you were sitting, they started harassing you. They called you raghead and ISIS bitch and said you didn’t belong in this country and should go back where you came from. One of them grabbed your…hijab and threatened to hang you with it. Is that how you remember it?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“So you pulled your 9mm Ruger LCP from your purse and shot them both.”

“He was twisting my hijab around my throat and I couldn’t breathe. You must understand, I was afraid for my life…”

“I do.” He smiled, kindly. “I expect where you come from, violence is a way of life.”

“Nashville?” She shrugged. “I was born here but I don’t think it’s more violent than your average American city.” Then she smiled, for the first time since she’d boarded the bus that afternoon. “Now where my parents were born… Well, that’s another story but I won’t tell you what country because America is their country now and you’ve never seen a bigger Titans fan than my father.”

“One final question,” Mills said. “Why hollow points? You know they expand to cause maximum tissue damage.”

“I took a pistol class before I was issued my concealed carry permit,” Adila said. “I learned hollow points are less likely to pass through the body and injure someone else. The nice old man who gave me his seat was right behind the guy trying to choke me, and the second guy pushed the old man aside and kept him from helping me.” She bit her lip and looked into the detective’s tired eyes and wondered if he could see how tired she was. “In Arabic my name—Adila—means justice. How is it justice if an innocent person is hurt for someone else’s wrongdoing?”

Just then there was a knock at the door—a signal to let Mills know someone else was coming in. An older man stepped into the room, well-dressed, white hair slicked back.

“Captain?”

“Mills, the feds are here, the Joint Terrorism Task Force. They want to take over the investigation.”

Mills stood. “Have you been watching, sir?”

“I have.”

“Then you know the terrorist is dead. This young lady shot him.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Gary Earl Ross
Retired University at Buffalo professor and Edgar Award-winner Gary Earl Ross is a fiction writer (Wheel of Desire, Shimmerville, Blackbird Rising) and playwright (Matter of Intent, The Scavenger’s Daughter, The Guns of Christmas, The Mark of Cain). His novel Nickel City Blues, the first Buffalo-based Gideon Rimes mystery, will be published in early 2017 by Black Opal Books.

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Confession

Confession

by Carla Lancken

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It’s been ten years since my last confession.”

Father Monahan sat facing her and said, “Well it’s been quite a while for you then. What brings you back?”

Mandy examined the creases in Father’s black shirt, his silver cross, his black pants and then she looked into his eyes which were warm and hazel, like tea. She hesitated because the truth was hard, but why else would she be here?

“Ummm” was all Mandy could get out. Father smiled and said, “It’s ok, take your time, just say what’s in your heart.”

Even though she had a pang of remorse before deciding to go to confession, she didn’t know exactly why she was there, except that it was Christmas time and she was wrapping a few presents for the little kids next door and maybe she ought to go.

As Mandy tried to phrase in her mind all the things she had said and did during the last decade that would piss off God, she began to feel a queasiness in her stomach.

The confessional started closing in around her, she could feel her heart rise up in her throat, wet rimming her eyes, she grabbed the sides of the wooden chair as if on a roller coaster before she fainted.

Mandy floated across town, her essence nothing more than the odor of soft pine, over the tops of buildings and trees all the way to her old neighborhood where she lived when she was very young. She sailed through familiar backyards where socks perched on laundry lines like Alfred Hitchcock’s birds.

She floated, into living rooms with plastic sheathed sofas and bedrooms with white matching dressers, down hallways and up attics. She floated the old streets and sidewalks where she played hopscotch a thousand light years away.

It was very early morning before the pink of dawn, before cats started scratching on doors and people started trekking home from their dreams. Peaceful and approving, just before the roar of a morning engine, when hollering and rushing water and boiling kettles were trying to meet the deadlines of work or school.

Mandy visited her old house. She expected to see a new family snoring in the bedrooms. Curious to see who inhabited her room, where she played with dolls and her beloved stuffed animals and sometimes a sister.

Although she felt like herself, Mandy was like an invisible scarf swirling over a bed that looked exactly like the one she had. In fact every thing in the house looked the same. She saw herself at eight years, holding her bear. She still had that bear.

She was crying softly into her bear’s ear. Her night gown had been ripped earlier when she was asleep. She wasn’t sure who had blindfolded her and stuck something hard between her legs but she had a feeling.

This kind of thing happened often and as Mandy watched herself crying, she remembered how sad she was then.

She watched as the little girl got up from her bed, holding her bear, and tiptoed past her younger sister’s room. She looked in and saw that she was fast asleep with no worries.

Mandy watched herself fumble down the hall and peek into her parents bedroom. They too were snoring innocently in the early hours.

Little Mandy came into the kitchen and opened one of the drawers. She took out a small box and went to the back of the house. On the steps she put down her teddy, whom she seemed to be listening to intently, slid open the box, took a long match that she was never supposed to play with, and lit it with one perfect stroke.

She placed the lit match and the full box inside the door next to the curtains and waited till there was a satisfying blaze. She walked out to the back yard, around to the front, on to the sidewalk and down the street. Little Mandy walked for three blocks clutching her bear till she came to a corner and sat down almost in the street.

Mandy followed her like a cloud. She hovered over the child in disbelief because this was something she hadn’t remembered until now. She always knew a tragedy had taken her family. Aunt Laura said a fire, or a car crash, something awful. They never really talked about it. She’d always been sad and that would be a good reason why.

When Mandy was revived, a wet rag on her forehead, she was lying in a pew, her head on a strange woman’s lap. The woman said “Are you alright?”

“Yes I’m ok. I just fainted, but I’m ok.”

“Do you want me to call an ambulance?”

“Oh no, I’m ok, thanks for your help. I was just going to confession.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Carla Lancken
Carla paints and writes flash fiction in the Hudson Valley of New York.

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Staying In

Staying In

by Roy Dorman

“So, do you want to go out tonight?” Mel asked. “We could go downtown and walk up and down State Street for awhile.”

“No,” Ethel replied quietly, “I just want to stay home tonight. I was busy today, maybe overdid it, and I’m a bit tired.”

 Mel and Ethel     Fred and Ethel     I Love Lucy     I Love Mel

“But that’s what you said last night and the night before,” Mel complained. “You’re getting to be an old stick in the mud. What did you do today that could’ve wore you out so?”

“Don’t you take that tone with me, Melvin Barton. I was being nice and humoring you about going out,” Ethel replied. “I didn’t do anything at all today to make me tired. Everything is done for us here. You’re ninety-one and I’m eighty-nine and we’re both in wheelchairs. We can’t just “go downtown” if we feel like it. This place is security locked. What I want to do is ring and ask for a couple of those new books on CD they got in for us today.”

“Does this mean you won’t want to be going out tomorrow night, either?” Mel asked shyly.

Ethel felt a little sorry for Mel then. She supposed pretty soon he may have to be moved to the Alzheimer’s unit. That unit was in the other building and she would miss being with him. She would be able to visit him, but that wouldn’t be the same as living with him.

She turned to say something kind to him and found that he was gone. Probably went to the restroom or back to their room. But she hadn’t heard a nurse come to wheel him away. That’s odd, she thought to herself. I hope he didn’t try to get out and go downtown by himself.

She saw the nursing supervisor, Betty, and the new nurse, Marla, at the front desk. She called to them and they both came over to where she was parked.

“Did either of you two see who came and picked up my husband?” she asked. Marla looked at Betty with a question in her eyes.

“Carla, I want you to stay here for a minute and listen in on the conversation I’m going to have with Mrs. Barton,” Betty said in an aside to Marla. Then to Ethel, “Now, Mrs. Barton, you know that your husband is not with us anymore. He died two years ago, remember?”

“No, I don’t remember that,” said Ethel, tearing up a little. “Did we get to say good-bye?”

“No,” said Betty, “Mr. Barton died in his sleep. It was a very peaceful way to go. You didn’t get to say good-bye then, but you two were very close. I’m sure you talked about one or the other going, and in a way, that was as good as a last good-bye.”

“Did I go to the funeral?” asked Ethel, smiling a little now as if she was being told a story.

“Yes, you did and it was a very nice funeral. All of your children were there,” Betty said, getting into the story telling mode. “There was a nice little reception after the service.”

“Could you hook me up with one of the new CD books, please?” Ethel asked, now finished with the issue of Mel’s whereabouts.

“Of course, dear,” Betty said. “Carla, please get Mrs. Barton settled in with a CD book and then come back to the front desk.”

Marla found a book from the new selection and left Ethel sitting listening with her eyes closed.

“And that, Carla, is how we handle things on the Alzheimer’s unit. We answer their questions with the truth, but with patience and gentleness,” said Betty. “Ethel and I have had that conversation quite a number of times in the last two years.”

Marla thought to herself, I’m never going to be able to do this.

Reading the expression on the face of her new nurse, Betty said, “Don’t worry, hon, I think you’re going to do just fine. Really, the best part of the job is the storytelling. I’ve watched you interact with the staff and patients and I’m impressed with the way you handle things. I’m hoping to train you to be my replacement when I’m ready to retire. With my family history, it’s quite possible that I’ll be on the listening end of your storytelling some day.”

Damn, thought Marla. I should have corrected her right away when she got my name wrong; now it’s going to be awkward.

◊ ◊ ◊

Roy Dorman
Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for over 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has had flash fiction and poetry published in Black Petals, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Yellow Mama, Theme of Absence, Mulberry Fork Review, The Flash Fiction Press, Cease Cows, One Sentence Poems, and a number of other online and print journals. Roy is currently the submissions editor at Yahara Prairie Lights.

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