Thursday, March 19, 2009

Deus Ex Mickina

NOTE:  This is an entry for The Friday Challenge, which can be found Here.

Rick leaned on the balcony overlooking the bay, and took a long pull on his cigar.  Behind him, inside the house, the raucous noises of a birthday party were still blasting.  His party.  But at his age, he felt the need for a little quiet.

The quiet didn't last long.

"Grampa Rick!  Grampa!  Come on, tell us a story!"

"Yeah!  You always tell good stories!  Tell us how you made all your money!"

"Story! Story!"

Nine grandkids--plus a handful of their friends--makes for a very intimidating, albeit small, army.  So, Rick reluctantly put out the cigar, but he refused to abandon the brandy snifter, and allowed himself to be led back inside, to the fireplace.  

"Come ON, Grampa!  How did you get to be rich?"

He looked over to the table, where the remaining adults were cleaning away the mess and lost in their own conversations.  This was just him, and the munchkins...not that anyone would believe him anyway.  It had been over sixty years ago, after all.  He settled into his big overstuffed chair, took a sip, and started the story.

"You refused to take a fall."  Big D was a giant of a man, and even sitting behind a desk, he still dominated the large office.  His figure was partially hidden by the stacks of money on the desk--his take of the gambling proceeds from today's fights.  But he hadn't received much from Rick's fight.  "All my fighters know that sometimes it's their turn to lose.  You won when you weren't supposed to.  What, exactly, were you trying to do?"

Rick could only glare at him in cold fury.  This was the man who had driven his father out of business--the man he had gone into boxing to take down.  Every time he hit the bag, he pictured this face in front of his fist.  "To get here," he said, quietly, through clenched teeth.  He slowly stood.  "I wanted to get HERE.  To take you down.  To get even with you for what you did to my father."

The four thugs in the room reached hands inside their jackets and moved closer, but Big D waved them off with a smile.  "I'm not afraid of a punk kid," he said.  "You really want a piece of me?"  He shrugged off his jacket, and popped ten knuckles, making a sound like machine gun fire on a Normandy beach.

This was the fight he had been waiting for all his life, and he didn't intend to waste the opportunity.  He launched himself across the desk, and started a brawl.  The two men wrestled all around the office, kicking papers, kicking the cash into the air.  Rick fought like a man possessed--but he was losing.

He grabbed an arm, and jammed it painfully behind the man's back.  He was trying to break it, dislocate it, anything that would slow the bigger man down.  And, beneath his fingers, it felt like the arm turned rubbery, boneless, and Big D easily squirmed free.  A tree trunk of an arm caught him across the chest, and Rick was sent sprawling over the desk and tumbling against the far wall.

Rick got up slowly, nursing an injured shoulder.  What was it going to take to stop him, dropping a piano on his head...?

"Is that all you've got, kid?" the big man taunted.  He crossed his arms and laughed.

At that moment, the door to the office burst open, and two other men stepped inside.  Rick recognized them as two nondescript men in suits who had been ringside at the fights earlier.  The thugs reached for their guns again, but they weren't fast enough; the shorter man whipped out some bizarre kind of ray gun, and the four goons...just...disappeared.  Big D's eyes got wide.

"Okay, it's time to come home," said the shorter one.  The taller one simply nodded.

"Do I gotta...?"  Big D looked at Rick, and then back to the weapon.  He breathed a long, slow sigh.  Then he reached up, over his head, back to his neck, and pulled.  The face of Big D split in half, like a man removing a jacket, and the skin fell to the floor.  Where Big D had been standing...there was now...

...a duck.  A five foot tall duck, wearing a sailor hat, grumbling something unintelligible under his breath.

The shorter man went through the same motions, and revealed a four foot tall mouse, with huge, round, black ears on top of his head.  The taller one, too, dropped his costume, and looked like nothing more than a seven foot tall dog.  He said "a-hielk."

Without a further glance at Rick, they all headed out the doorway and disappeared down the hall, leaving Rick with cuts, contusions, a dislocated shoulder...and a room full of ownerless cash.

"Cool story, Pop," Jimmy said.  "You never told us that one."

"You never asked," Rick said, lighting a fresh cigar.  And you wouldn't have believed it anyway.

Everyone started saying their goodbyes and trickling out.  When he was alone, he stepped into the library, and found the book on the shelf.  Conrad, Heart of Darkness.  He tilted it out, and the bookcase slid open.  He moved inside, allowing the secret door to close behind him.

There, on the wall, behind a sheet of glass, were three human skins, hung up for display.  The empty eye sockets of Big D glared lifelessly down at him.  And he thought of those words again--"the horror...the horror."

Pix of the Day: Pumba, is that You?

Okay, let's see if we can bring the ol' Pix of the Day thing back to life here.

She-who-must-be-obeyed signed me up for a photography class at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha a few months back, before I broke my camera. The instructor, Pasquale Mingarelli, or "Pat," was laid back, very knowledgeable, and made sure we got a lot out of the class. Make sure to drop by and check out his pictures, too, at

Hope everyone is enjoying the rising temperatures, vanishing snow, and increased rain...*grin*


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Waking the Dead

NOTE:  This post is an entry to the Friday Challenge, which can be found here.

The shooting star arced across the sky, leaving a trail that must have been miles long, shooting sparks in all directions.  It was easily the longest shooting star he had ever seen, awake or dreaming. 

He was dreaming, wasn't he...?  He looked around, seeing the children playing basketball with an inflated frog next door.  Across the street, there was a horse and carriage in the driveway, instead of the Honda that was usually parked there.  And he was getting ready to leave for work with bright, fluffy pink bunny slippers on his feet.

Yes, he was pretty sure he was dreaming.

He let the dream carry him across the street and around the block, and where there should have been an elementary school, he instead found the quiet neighborhood where his grandmother lived.  If he hadn't already known he was dreaming, this would have cinched it, because her home was a forty-five minute drive away--more during rush hour--and he had just walked the distance in thirty seconds.

There was grandmother, tending her roses.  As he walked closer, he could see that roses were blooming every time she touched her the plant.  She was surrounded in red, white, orange, and purple roses, and more were blooming all around her; in fact, it was getting harder and harder to see her amidst the colors of the flowers.

Off in the distance, a bell chimed.  One...two...three...four.  

As he walked up to the gate, she stood, and waved a greeting.  He waved back, and stepped into the yard, but behind her there was a sudden rustling in the bushes, like a crowd of children getting ready to burst out of school at the sound of the bell.  He paused, not sure what was going on, and an immense flock of birds exploded out of the undergrowth.  They were small, like finches or sparrows, and they were all the colors of the rainbow, plus a few that weren't in the rainbow, and they were arrowing directly for...grandmother.

As she smiled and waved, the first few birds reached her, and blasted through her hand.  The first bird took her index finger as it passed.  The second took a bloodless bite out of her wrist.  The flock blasted through, each taking another small chunk while she continued to smile, and continued to wave for as long as she had a limb to wave.

The smile remained hovering in the air long after the mass of birds had flown through.  Finally, the last three birds, flying in a "V" formation, snapped that out of the air as well, and there was nothing left where his grandmother had been except the explosion of roses.

Mick woke, kicking and thrashing, finally tumbling out of bed tangled in sheets.  The dream stayed with him, all through breakfast; he couldn't get that image of the birds out of his head.  Or the smile.  As he was finishing off his coffee, his daughter--all of four years old--came to the table, still in pink pajamas.  She poured her own cereal, added milk, grabbed a rag and cleaned up the splashover, and then sat crunching contentedly, swinging her feet--

Mick choked on the last swallow of his coffee.  She was wearing the pink bunny slippers from his dream.  "You like my slippers, Daddy?" she asked.

Was he dreaming?  Still?

He looked around, but everything seemed real.  No clues that this was still a dream.  He blinked away the confusion, and headed off to work.

As he walked up to the glass door, a sonic boom rattled the windows and triggered car alarms all around him.  He spun, looking for the jet--and instead, saw a massive shooting star.  It left a trail of sparks and smoke in the air before disappearing over the horizon.  It was all anyone could talk about all around the office; no one was getting any work done, least of all Mick.  He tried to lose himself in the code he was working on, but his thoughts kept coming back to that smile, floating in the air, and the monster swarm of color...

At ten, he dialed his grandmother, and it rang...and rang.  Hadn't she heard of voicemail...?

At noon, he dialed again, still, no answer.  At two, he blew off the rest of the day; not that he had been getting much done anyway.  He headed for the freeway, but became stuck in traffic less than three miles out.  An accident had this entire stretch of highway bottled up; the cars were inching along, backed up for miles, squeezing between a flipped semi and the concrete barricade under the careful supervision of a motorcycle cop.  It took more than an hour to creep along two miles, and Mick's temper got shorter every time he jammed on the brakes.  The temperature outside wasn't helping any, either.

Finally, he was allowed to merge right, and get in ahead of a minivan full of school kids, and it was finally his turn to squeeze through the gap.  Why did it take so long to clear a wreck from the highway?  He was finally moving again, but he wasn't going to get there until--

...until nearly four o'clock.

Mick shoved the accelerator down, pushing well past the speed limit, dodging around cars.  He wasn't sure what was going to happen at four, but he knew he had to be there.  It was ten minutes before four when he found the off-ramp, and pulled out into the neighborhood.  It was three minutes before four when he shut off the engine and stepped out onto his grandmother's driveway.

There were no vicious flocks of birds in the yard, or multicolored roses either, for that matter.  He pounded on the door, but no one answered, so he let himself in.

The living room was clean and tidy, just as she always kept it.  The television was playing with no sound; it was showing news footage of a disaster site, a helicopter view of a battered and burned building.  He stared at it for a few moments, and then wandered deeper into the house.

He found her in the kitchen.  The floral wallpaper seemed to surround her with flowers, just like the last time he had seen her.  She smiled, and offered him a plate of hot chocolate cookies.  "It's about time you found your way here," she said.

Mick froze.  Slowly, the pieces started to fit together.  The images spilled into his mind--the coffin, the flowers all around her, three years ago.

And the television...and the twisted hunk of rock and metal that fell out of the sky.  A meteor collided with a satellite, and the combined lump of tons of steel and rock had come hurtling to the ground, landing on his desk as he was getting ready to leave...precisely at four o'clock.  Three days earlier.