Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Falling Down (published in Powder Burn Flash)

Poole once said that fear was something that could be seen in another person’s eyes, but Kirby wasn’t sure he believed that. Poole said a lot of things – usually whatever was necessary to get you to believe him. The only thing in the guard’s eyes was surprise. Everything had happened so fast; there hadn’t been time to sort through the looks passing between them before Kirby squeezed the trigger on his Nine.
Just an empty expression.
A face unable to fully comprehend what was happening.
He didn’t see anything that looked like fear.
Kirby thought about that as he stood against the counter, taking a final drag on his Marlboro while staring at the floor in the Jersey National Bank. It was a cold, snowy day in downtown Princeton; bleak and gray outside. Inside the bank eight people, four customers and four employees were huddled together in a tight circle near the vault door. Their wrists and ankles were bound together with long cloth strips Kirby had ripped from the New Jersey State flag displayed just inside the lobby doors. Bits and pieces were left from the flag but none big enough to stuff in anyone’s mouth, and Kirby drew the line at cutting up the American flag just to make gags.
Besides, nobody had made a sound since he shot the guard.
The guy had been pushing sixty-five – probably a part-timer earning a couple of bucks to fill in the gaps Social Security checks didn’t cover. Nobody expected him to pull his gun, and neither one of them figured he would get off a couple of shots – at least not Poole. He had been busy shoving twenties into an old knapsack when the first bullets caught him in the back, spinning him around as Kirby fumbled for his Nine. Poole was already dead by the time he had returned fire and cut down the guard.
The guard’s body was still slumped a few feet away, blood coagulating in thick red streams around him. His forty-five was on the floor by Kirby, a few bullets still left in the clip, next to a phone pulled from a desk and the knapsack stuffed with the bills taken from the tellers’ drawers. Not far away Poole’s body was face down, tangled in the felt ropes used to create customer service lanes; too far away to see what had been in his eyes when he was shot.
Kirby flicked his cigarette to the floor and wondered what he was supposed to do next.
The sharp ring of the phone caught him by surprise.
“Thinking maybe this didn’t turn out the way you expected, huh?”
It was the kind of thing Poole would have said, but then Kirby heard the sharpness in the voice and the edge in the words, and knew it was the cop again. “This ain’t looking good for you right now. You know that, right?”
“Don’t know anything for sure,” Kirby said.
“You can make this easier for yourself, is all I’m saying,” the cop said.
Kirby shrugged. “Just find me a car. Nothing else to discuss except that.”
“How far you think you’re gonna get?”
Kirby rubbed his finger along the edge of the Nine, tracing the line of the gun. Through the front window facing Nassau Street he could see the snow intensify, falling heavily in large, thick flakes. It had been hours since everything turned bad and he wondered about the roads. It wouldn’t be easy to drive, but snow might make it harder to be followed, and he thought about asking the cops for an SUV instead.
He let the silence build for a minute then the cop broke the quiet.
“You still there?”
“Nowhere else to go,” Kirby said.
“You still got options,” the cop said. “Things you can do before this gets any worse for you. Might want to think about that.”
Kirby squeezed his eyes shut. He felt something throbbing in the back of his head, ready to explode.
“I don’t get what I want, the only option left for me is to starting shooting,” Kirby snarled.
“That’s not an option.”
“One at a time, every ten minutes until somebody realizes I’m serious.”
There was tension in the cop’s voice. Like the conversation wasn’t going in the direction he had intended, and he was just now realizing the extent of that miscalculation. “Listen, you got to know that if we hear shots, it changes everything. Makes this little problem you got a whole lot worse.”
“So maybe you need to show some urgency,” Kirby said.
“Things take time.”
“Time ain’t my problem.”
“It’s just the way it is,” the cop said. “Can’t be helped.”
Kirby shook his head. “Get me the car. Now.”
“No way anybody agrees to give you a car,” the cop tried. “Not like this. You got to show us some good faith.”
“You got to show me something! Kirby yelled. “I don’t got to show you shit!”
Kirby slammed the phone down, then yanked it from the wall and flung it across the floor. He caught the stares from the hostages, brief and fleeting, and wondered how Poole would have handled the cop. Poole was cool in everything he said and did. There was a certainty in his actions.
Kirby wished he had that.
He pressed his fingers against his temples, trying to ignore the pain. Kirby again looked at the hostages – each tired and afraid of where the day would go. A few kept their stares glued to the floor while others looked at him for a moment before turning away; only the red head from behind the counter returned his stare. Tall, mid-thirties, with sharp, pretty features, she looked calm and poised. Not at all like the others.
He motioned her away from them with his gun.
The others waited, unsure of what to expect.
Kirby wondered what he would see in her eyes, and slowly released the safety on the Nine.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Grace (published in Six Sentences)

The sand felt warm, the way it usually was on Saturday afternoons in Seaside Heights; face down on the beach under a hot July sun that burned my back and shoulders while Jenny was getting cheese fries and Cokes from the boardwalk concession stand. Later we would jump the waves, venturing farther from shore until the life guards motioned us back, their shrill whistles straining above the roar of the surf and the cacophony of voices that filled the air - ready to save us if we needed help. As the waves rolled into our bodies she would squeeze her arms around my neck and try to drag me under but I could always kick free, riding the wave to the beach and tumbling out of the water with my stomach red, raw, and bleeding from the shells and pebbles that tore my skin and filled the waistband of my trunks; the water would surge forward over the chairs and towels of people too close to the tide line, sending them in a frantic scramble towards drier ground before pulling back with the empty cans, baggies filled with left-over snacks, and cheap plastic toys that had been left behind. Later Jenny would shiver as she held me close on the blanket, towels wrapped around our shoulders, her lips cold, salty, and wet as they pressed against mine, and the warmth we shared would spread throughout my body and stay with me on the drive home. I could feel that warm sand under my face as I opened my eyes in an unfamiliar expanse of desert, just north of Tikrit - a world away from New Jersey and the cool waves of the ocean; the ground was wet with the blood that poured from the gaping hole in my stomach and the mangled pieces of flesh and bone that had once been my legs. I heard the voices of the soldiers around me, the fear and panic in their screams as they tried to help, and felt the searing wave of heat and pain that swept over me - I closed my eyes and wanted only to be home again.

Things Unspoken (published in Six Sentences)

There’s something about the way he touches me every time that makes my heart skip a beat and pushes the air from my throat. I shiver under his hot breath while he whispers softly and pulls himself closer, letting his fingers glide along the curves of my skin. Later he will say what he thinks makes the hurt disappear and tell me again how everything will be all right if I give him not only my body but my trust as well. But when he’s done nothing that is said really matters that much. No matter how hard he tries explaining it in simple terms he thinks I can understand, I know that words don’t have the power to make you feel better – actions and intent cause pain and nothing changes that or takes away what is left. I think about his words sometimes at night once he’s left my room, and wonder what he says to my mother when he slips back in their bed after leaving mine.

Hard Song (published- Micro Fiction Noir)

It’s a cold March afternoon. A driving rain whips in off the ocean as Eddie goes into the liquor store a block from Resorts for a pack of Camels. There’s nobody else in there but him and the clerk – a short guy with pock-marked skin, scraggly beard, and a wandering eye that trails Eddie as he moves up and down each aisle.
He’s just a minimum wage guy, Eddie thinks. He’s got no reason to give a shit about anything Eddie wants.
Eddie drops a ten on the counter and grabs his change. He starts for the door then turns back, asking for a couple extra packs of matches.
The clerk leans below the counter. Eddie’s knee length Thrift Store rain coat is open, making it easy to stick a hand inside. By the time the clerk lifts his head Eddie has the sawed off double barrel leveled at his chin while he’s reaching for the open register.
He’s surprised by the forty-five in the clerk’s hand.
Eddie has no last thoughts. The bullets explode into his chest before he can even wrap a finger around the trigger. He dies never expecting anything like that from some minimum wage clerk.

Six Sixes From The Street (published in Six Sentences)

  • The Steps You Take
  • Hustle And Grind
  • The Edge of Heaven
  • Inside
  • Catching Paradise
  • Fade It Out

The Empty Ride Home (published in Six Sentences)

This one was special; she held a place in your heart none of the others filled – the two of you shared such a unique bond that it hurts now to let her go. You love her the same way you loved them all but there is more to it with her, although every time you told her that, Kylie just laughed and brushed the long strands of hair away from her face with a sweep of her hand, leaving only a knowing smile. It was the same kind of smile she gave other guys vying for her attention and affection; the kind that would bend your heart in ten different directions and leave you searching for words to fill the spaces left behind. All summer you had tried in vain to bridge that distance between you in an attempt to get back the closeness that had disappeared but you already knew Kylie didn’t mind what was there - she was more comfortable with awkward silences than you were. You sit now in the car with the engine idling, looking for the right words but she is oblivious to that longing you have to be significant to her for just a little while longer. She opens the door and turns to give a half-hearted kiss good-bye; it is only when she sees the tear inching down your cheek that Kylie says, “Dad – please,” in such a way that you are both embarrassed and proud, but she is quickly out of the car and off to her dorm room before you can say anything else.

Through The Heart Slowly (published in Six Sentences)

Margaret parks in front of the house on Philadelphia Avenue, turns off the Toyota’s engine, and feels that old familiar pain as she remembers the boy who had lived there years earlier. Even now she can recall so much about their time together in vivid detail – hours spent talking about the strength of their love and the way the boy could make her tremble just by rubbing his fingers in gentle patterns above her knee while telling her how much he loved her. But there was that cold winter’s night with their breath hanging in the air, like the words between them, when she misread her heart and through the tears said it was over. They had parked in that same spot on the street in his dirty white Mustang and she told him that she needed something more than he could ever give her; something she still hasn’t found with the man she married. It has been years since the boy moved north, and although she reads his words from time to time in books and magazines, they don’t fill the emptiness left inside or the longing that consumes each day. She is desperate for that kind of loving touch to make her feel alive just once more – alone in her car no one can hear the sobs caught in her throat or see the tears inching down her cheek as she wrestles with a loneliness only she knows.

The Cheater (published in Word Riot)

In The Moment (published in Six Sentences)

It hasn’t always been this way but you can’t remember a time in the past few years when there wasn’t some sort of tension between you, so when he tells the waitress he’s only having coffee you know in that moment that whatever time you have together tonight will be too short. Once he made the commitment to meet it was a race against the clock – in his mind he has already determined how much time he’ll devote to you; with no crisis looming your allocation of minutes will be brief. Long enough for a cup of coffee, some stories about nothing too important, and vague promises about getting together again, followed by quick good-byes. There are so many things you want to tell him, like how the best times in your life were the days when you walked through the front door, dead tired from a two hour commute out of Penn Station and a job you hated and he and his sisters would scream, “Daddy!” at the sound of the key in the front door. How they would race down the hallway and leap into your arms before you could even drop your briefcase on the floor, and how that little boy made you feel special with his own display of love and affection every time he saw you. But that little boy is left only in memories you draw on now to fill the void in your heart where you both used to dance and play together; replaced by a stranger, and a distance you can’t cross.

Broke Down Cowboy (published in Six Sentences)

He pulls the Ford pick up to a slow stop near the row of pine trees along the edge of the blueberry fields, and after cutting the engine takes the bottle of Jack Daniels and his father’s old straight edge from beneath the seat. Once, back when life was spread out in front of him with hope and potential, he had brought the blonde from Cape May up here one quiet summer evening. They made love in the cool waters of the lake then lay naked in the dirt field, picking blueberries from their skin while staring up at a moonlit night and trading dreams. It was under those same stars that he proposed to her but she said no; soon after that he lost her to a future that didn’t include him, and time and distance hadn’t made that hurt disappear all these years later. Funny, he thinks now; he spent a lifetime searching every face he met for that same kind of promise but none had ever given him what he wanted – the emptiness he found instead was something that had never been filled. He takes a deep pull from the bottle, holds that thought longer than he should, then runs a finger along the edge of the blade before pressing it against his wrist.

The Neighborhood (published in Darkness Before Dawn)

Please Read The Letter (published in Six Sentences)

The last thing she said before hanging up was, “Please read the letter.”
The sheets of paper were spread out in front of me now, like her body had once laid open for the taking, untouched despite the words written in blue ink on each page. I thought about our talks of a future together - plans that had been made and shared, like the ones that October day when we drove out to New Hope and spent an afternoon wandering throughout dozens of antique shops, the whole time sipping hot chocolate and pretending we could afford to be something more than dreamers and hopeless romantics. There had been a chill in the air that weekend - I had never realized how quickly or unexpectedly it could find its way inside our conversations; feeling again the sting in her words and the bitterness in her voice that still came at me some times at night while I laid awake, staring at the ceiling with her pack of cigarettes unopened on the table by our bed. I thought about the sound of her footsteps in the hall and the smell of her perfume drifting throughout the bedroom every time I opened a closet door, as well as the loneliness I felt every morning when I reached for her.
The room stayed empty and dark, and the letter untouched except by a breeze that blew through an open window, scattering the papers to the floor where they stayed for weeks.

With Every Word (published in Six Sentences)

The bedroom was still as our conversation dissolved into a heavy silence broken only by the ticking of the clock on her night table and the occasional sob that hadn’t yet been swallowed in her pillow. I stubbed out my cigarette and leaned forward in the chair, watching her expression and wishing I could be there in ways I didn’t fully understand any more. I knew she was lonely for words I couldn’t find in myself; little white lies that might ease the pain, but there hadn’t been honesty between us in years and I was done bending the truth. I could have told her again that everything would be all right, but neither one of us believed the words, so I just stared at the clock through the quiet of the night and watched the minutes fall away like hours. When she finally closed her eyes one last time I wiped off my tears with the back of my hand, took the keys from the glass bowl by the door, and drove away in the big block Buick that had been parked in her garage. I wanted to believe that she hadn’t suffered but that was another lie; you want to believe anything that makes you feel better about your mom dying, even when it isn’t true.

The Edge Of Night (published in Six Sentences)

The night wrapped its arms around us as we drove west, taking the highway past Medford towards Philly. The kids were asleep in the backseat and we were both counting the mile markers, staring out the windows with quiet eyes. I listened to the drone of the Chevy’s engine and tried to figure out if the rumbling I heard was thunder in the distance, or something else I’d have to deal with when we got home. Playing with the knob on the radio she found a song we both remembered on the classic rock station; the lyrics came back easily but I kept them to myself – content to listen to her mangle the words as she tried singing along in a soft, broken voice. I thought about how we had danced to the song one time, slowly and carefully across the kitchen floor after the kids had gone to bed, but that was before we started measuring the blood we’d drawn from each other and comparing the scars that had been created. Now all I could do was hold on to the memory of how much I had once loved her as the night fell apart around me.

8:30 At The Bar (published in Dogzplot)

Bobby T. is on his second Jack and Coke at the bar while outside the rain continues falling in torrents. Free Bird plays on the jukebox but only a handful of the people inside pay attention. None of them worry Bobby; at least none will once Eddie Vega shows up. But Eddie is already fifteen minutes late. Typical, Bobby thinks. Waiting makes him tense, although the twenty-two tucked against the small of his back gives him the kind of cool that takes the edge off that nervousness.
It's supposed to be easy – in and out in less than ten minutes if nobody gets stupid. Bobby just has to watch the door and wave the gun enough to keep everyone glued to their seats while Eddie hits each cash register. Nothing to it. Bobby knows he's about more than an easy score, and he could empty the clip inside the bar if he had to - just to make that point. Might be the only thing that gets him respect.
It's either the Jack or the twenty-two that give him that confidence. He's not sure which it is.
All he knows is that Eddie's late and he's stuck waiting at the bar