Shot In The Dark

Barry was thankful he ordered the extra shot in his coffee. He was going to need it to make it through the rest of Topher’s story.

“Okay so where was I?” asked Topher as he slid Barry his cup.

“I believe you were parked outside his house–“

“–behind the bushes, right right. So yeah, there we were, making out.”

Topher was always a bit fidgety. Working in a coffee shop didn’t help. Add a boy to the mix, and he could be up for days. He sat across from Barry at a small table in the corner. Topher’s break was only fifteen minutes, but for him, that was plenty of time.

“His tongue was crazy long. I almost gagged” he rambled. “The next thing I know he’s on top of me, tugging at my belt. I managed to finally get a word in. I asked if he likes Beyonce. He said ‘I guess,’ so I reached around him and put in the mix you gave me.”

“Track seven?” said Barry.

“You know it.” Topher let out a coyish grin. “So we go back to kissing and he’s travelling up and down my neck. I say to him, ‘Isn’t this song romantic?’ He mumbles, ‘It’s alright.’ I pulled my head away and looked him square in the eyes. ‘Alright?’ I said. ‘It’s more than alright.’ He started sighing, but I told him how this song saved Tricia Cooper’s marriage after she sang it to her husband at their niece’s thirteenth birthday slash karaoke party. ‘It’s nothing short of magical,’ I informed him.

“What’d he say?” asked Barry.

“He apologized,” said Topher. “and admitted he wasn’t the biggest fan of Queen B. I told him we all have our flaws.”

“How tolerant of you.”

“Yeah well, he was hot.”

“I’m sure there was more to him than just that.”

Topher shook his head, “No, not really.”

Barry bit his tongue.

“Anyway, he started to nibble on my ear”–Topher continued with the details of his late-night escapade. Barry zoned out. Picturing Topher in any of the positions he described was a bit much. He clutched his cup and glanced at their reflections in the window.

They were such an odd pair; mismatched in every way. On his best day, Barry was average. A little soft around the midsection, he had thick mousy hair, not only on his head, but peeking out from the top of his graphic tee, and running down the length of his arms. His face and neck had little red marks from where he attempted to shave. When he sat, his shoulders slumped, pinching the rolls of his midsection and pushing them further out, forcing him to always buy his clothes one size bigger. Topher, on the other hand, could pour his little body into anything he wore. Even his black polo and khaki work pants seemed custom fitted. He sported crystal blue eyes and wavy blond hair that never touched the air thanks to the globs of gel holding it in place. His skin was soft; sun-kissed. It spread smoothly across the sharp planes of his face. He was everyone’s type. His pockets were filled with just as my phone numbers as they were tips.

“–so then he zipped up and slid out of the car without so much as a peck on the cheek. He said he’d call me. It’s been three days. I don’t know what I should do.”

That was Barry’s cue, the part of the script where he would say things like, hang in there, give it time, and I’m sure he’s just busy. Topher looked at him, eyes locked in anticipation.

“Sounds like he’s just not right for you,” said Barry.

Topher dithered ever so slightly. “But… he’s so hot,” he whined.

“Maybe that’s not enough?” Barry shrugged. “Maybe you need someone with a little more to offer.”

Topher blinked a few times, as if trying to flush a lash from his eyes. “Why bother?” he eventually said, “It always starts and ends with my pants around my ankles.” He let out a strained chuckle. “Besides, that’s what I have you for.”

Barry felt the blood rush to his face as Topher smiled. It was the one response he couldn’t conceal. Words started to pile up in his throat. He tried so desperately to swallow them back.

“I think you could do better,” he blurted out. He didn’t dare look up at Topher. “Someone who knows you love two shots in your lattes but can only drink one or else the caffeine makes your chest hurt. Someone who answers the phone after midnight and stays on with you until you’re home safe and crawling into bed. You deserve someone who is going to put you, and everything you love, before themselves. And who will let you know every day that you are worth holding to, and never letting go.” He took a deep breath. “Maybe, you should be with someone like—”

“Oh my god he texted me back!” Topher nearly leaped out of his seat, jostling the table and splashing Barry’s drink. “He said he forgot his phone in his buddy’s car, and that he misses me.” Topher beamed.

“Where are you going?” asked Barry.

“He’s at the Froyo Hut a few doors down. I’ve got”– he glanced at his watch– “seven minutes left on my break. Gotta make them count.” He slipped off his apron and handed it to Barry. “If I’m not back in time just make something up. You know me well enough.”

“That I do…” said Barry, staring into his coffee, as Topher darted off.

Third From the Top

Head to “Blogs I Follow” in the Reader. Scroll down to the third post in the list. Take the third sentence in the post, and work it into your own.

(Daily prompt courtesy of The Daily Post)

“The new updates mean that you can stream videos live to viewers while they are being filmed and they will be available immediately for playback on Facebook when the stream has stopped.”


 

My mask was suffocating me. Not the one on my face– everyone at the party had on some ridiculous adornment, as if hiding behind a character somehow made what they were doing less real. What killed me was the mask I had put on long before I stepped into that hall. The one who pretended to hate mutts. The one that saw them as less than human. The one that forced me to straighten my hair and bleach my irises, erasing what little I had left of my mother. I hated being pure.

Pure. That word used to be beautiful, or so I’m told. When the world went to shit, and how much a man is worth was once again determined by the color of his skin, a lot of words changed meaning. Right– for instance. From what I understood, there was once a time when that word toppled tyrants and liberated victims. Now? It was used to signify ownership. The characters in the room held the rights to every one of the mutts lining the wall, all the ones in cages dangling above the floor, and even those piled out back, waiting for trash day.

I turned down tray after tray of orderves, I wasn’t there to eat. I drifted passed the mayor and his wife, gave a nod to Judge Atkins. My heart broke beneath my smile, but I never showed a crack.

I made my way to the front of the crowd, one row from the stage. I needed a clean line of sight. Our host, Lord Carrow, was in the middle of his spiel. “The new updates mean that you can stream videos live to viewers while they are being filmed,” he said, “and they will be available immediately for playback on Facebook when the stream has stopped.” The crowd clapped. Carrow’s Cam had never been more popular, and now with this new technology, there would be no stopping the tide. He demonstrated his new power by hacking one of the mutts on stage. His body twitched. His face scrunched. A scream, barely audible, escaped his clenched teeth. Then I saw myself, through his eyes, projected on the screen above. The crowd roared, this time, their hands too preoccupied with their smartcuffs to clap again. I knew, at that moment, the lives of thousands were being bought and sold, traded and borrowed. Carrow had done what others like him in the past could not– he had commoditized hate.

With everyone’s attention square on their profits, I loaded the app I smuggled in on my cuff. I would have less than a minute before the internal system recognized it was carrying a foreign signal, but that was more than enough time. The mutt twitched back to life. I tilted his head towards the chandelier. A swirl of lights flooded the screen, masking the wobble of his steps. One. Two. A few more and he would be within arms reach. Carrow soaked up the excitement; he was Caesar presiding over his arena. It was only appropriate the first blood spilled that night would be his.

 

<3JE

Weaving the Threads

Draft a post with three parts, each unrelated to the other, but create a common thread between them by including the same item– an object, a symbol, a place– in each part.

(Daily prompt courtesy of The Daily Post)

 


 

I

Father Paolo’s body dangled from the balcony above the altar of Saint Cristobol. A cool breeze cut through the acrid air, swaying the corpse like the bell of a clock tower, while chilling the beads that collected on Agent Solano’s brow. It had been an hour. The local captain continued to mumbled amongst his subordinates. Solano caught the gist of what was being said, but translating every word required more effort than the heat would allow. Rumor had it, the dear old padre’s confessionals weren’t so confidential and that the sins of the townsfolk had become leverage, ensuring the collection plates remained full every week. No one was surprised he took his own life. God’s smite was a hug and a kiss compared to the sharks he poked.

Three of the brutes eventually dragged their asses up the stairs. They pulled the knots out the ropes and wrapped them around their knuckles. Father Paolo plummeted to the ground before they could gain a footing. There was shouting– some of it obscene. Only Solano and the dearly departed retained their composure. The force of impact had thrown the Father’s eyes to the back of his head. Even with his head bleeding out on the floor, the twisted lines of his face were indicative of one thing– Father Paolo died in fear.

Not the normal “I don’t want to die”, or the panic that comes from slowly suffocating. Something stopped his heart long before he was strung up and hung out to dry. But that was none of Solano’s concern. This was an open and shut case. A few photos, a stack of paperwork and he’d be on the redeye home. But then, there was ‘the feeling.’ The one he could never shake. The one that always ended in regret, when ignored. Stick to the facts, he told himself. This was a classic case of self asphyxiation.

But then there was the duct tape, sealing Father’s mouth. It could’ve been self applied, to keep his screeches from echoing off the walls. Solano slipped on a pair of gloves. The body was ice cold. He must have been hanging with the windows open all night. Contusions wrapped around his wrists and down his forearms, too soon to be from the fall. Solano lifted the hands. Knuckles were split open and there was blood pooled beneath the nail beds. Damnit. These were defense wounds.

Solano sighed, resting on the heels of his feet. He searched the bundled robe, now matted with clotted blood. His search turned up a crucifix, rosaries, and a small notebook in which it appeared the priest recorded notes regarding upcoming sermons. The last few pages were missing, torn in such a haste as to leave behind a corner of each. Only fragments of words could be seen. Clearly not enough to deem this death suspect. Perhaps the Father merely scraped the pages because they didn’t live up to his expectations. Said explanation did nothing to quell ‘the feeling.’ And the local officials were starting to hover, eager to perform their routine bag and tag. He would let it go, but not before one last look. He peeled the duct tape back, using one hand to keep the Father’s cheek from tearing with it. Foam erupted at the mouth, pouring down his chin and mixing with the red puddles under Solano’s knees. He pulled out a wad of cloth– no, paper– crumpled into a tight ball, now mostly disintegrated. He pulled back the edges with the tips of his fingers, breaking off a few in the process. He managed to unravel three pieces of paper, torn perforations on each. The ink had long since bled, and the paper that had held it, once a rather heavy stock, was reduced to a semi translucent pulp. There was one word however, Solani was able to make out. Not because it was so well preserved. No, he couldn’t be that lucky. It was a name. One he had come to know all too well.

The feeling, now impossible to ignore, lifted Solano’s fingers and shoved them into the Father’s throat. A few of the locals came running over, shouting incoherently. He wiggled around the back of his throat so long, he thought maybe, just this once, he could be wrong. He could write this desecration off as cultural misunderstanding and still make it back home before week’s end. When his fingers grazed the lump at the back of the throat, he resigned to his fate. With one yank, he ripped his hand from the priest’s mouth, uncorking another wave of bloody bile.

The captain stood over him, arms flailing inches from Solano’s face. Solano held up the object that had obstructed the dead man’s throat. Everyone scowled in unison, their faces a mix of dismissal disgust. Solano could only assume that the severed penis dangling from this fingertips didn’t fall very far from its tree. He rolled over Father Paolo flipped up his robe, and sighed.

It appears padre lost more than just his holy spirit.

 

II

I didn’t get to meet Mary Margaret until the end of her life, but in our brief time together, I’d like to think I knew the real her. Not the hard ass business owner, or the stern but loving grandmother, but rather, I got know the Egyptian goddess stalking the Orient Express. I backpacked through Siberia with the KGB spy turned CIA operative. We raced monster trucks down a dirt road in Alabama, and we sold out concerts at Carnegie Hall.

Before she lived the life most people knew, Mary Margaret lived a very different one. She travelled the country with an improv group, after dropping out of college– full ride. She managed to keep her parents in the dark for years, until they wondered why they couldn’t get extra tickets, or any for that matter, to their daughter’s graduation. She was a pro at mimicry. She could emulate the accent and inflections of anyone. She might have been the best character actor of her generation.

As I removed her soiled gown, I wondered how her life would have ended if she followed that dream; if she were never dragged back home and put to work at her father’s company. Her skin was thin, delicate. There were bruises on her wrists from the day she insisted on wearing every bracelet in her jewelry box, simply because she couldn’t remember which one was her favorite. I made sure the rag only grazed the surface of her skin. I wish I could have washed away the faded scars that crisscrossed her body, erasing not only their presence, but their memory as well. A life full of manual labor had taken it’s toll on her. But in those moments when the spotlight hit her, I saw a life full of regret melt away.

I put her in the little black dress she wore on stage at the Cabana Club, the red blazer that helped her climb the corporate ladder in the 80s, the boots she wore while running with the bulls in Pamplona. The lipstick– royal flush– a little touch of my own. After months of soiling herself and breathing through a cannula, of waking up in a panic because she had no idea where she was, it seemed only right that dear Mary Margaret left this world the same as she entered it. A queen.

 

III

She is late. Lady hates being late.

I trot, never run, down the hall. She leaves her door open for me. I look in, like I always do. She looks happy. Peaceful. But it’s late. She should be frenzied, running back and forth, that tiny brush in her mouth and her hair in big rolls. She should be yelling at me to stop tripping her, and giving me a gentle nudge. There should be music and voices from the television, the squeal of the tea kettle and the smell of bacon burning on the stove. She’s never late, well, not this late.

I walk over to Lady’s bed side. Her arm dangles, as it often does. I lick her fingertips. Cold. Lady doesn’t like being cold. I leap onto the bed. I know I’m not supposed to, but sometimes she doesn’t mind, those times when her face is puffy and her nose wet like mine. But she is none of that now. Her color is gone. Her cheek as cold as her hands. I nudge her with my nose, in that spot on her neck that makes her giggle and twist. She’s silent; still. I want her to get up. Maybe if she was warm…

I curl up in the the nook of her arm. My head lays atop her chest. I can’t feel the thump I usually can, or the up and down when she pants. I miss that. I miss Lady’s funny laugh. I miss her arm brushing the back of my neck. Lady, please, warm up. Lady hates being late.

 

<3JE