Remembering G-Man

That commotion in the front must be John, finally. My best friend. It has to be him. Nobody else could energize a room like that. He just can’t resist good conversation, maybe a joke or two, especially with these pretty nurses. I want to jump up and greet him. My legs won’t move though. With this mask over my snout, I can’t even bark to let him know where I am. What if he can’t find me? Wait, it’s okay now, he’s coming closer.

“He’s just this way Mr. Carter. He’s pretty groggy. I’ll let the doctor know we’re ready.”

Image by Mylene2401 on Pixabay

 “Thanks. Hey G-Man. How you doing buddy.”

I’m wagging my tail right? Is it moving? I can’t tell. I don’t want him to think I’m not happy to see him. Good, now that he’s taking that mask off, at least we can say hello. 

I don’t know John, not feeling so great, I whine.

“I’ve been so worried about you. I know it’s still hurts but the doctor’s going to make that stop.”

Thanks John, I knew you’d come back to help me.

“Here, I brought you something.”

Oh, I love that stuffed frog. It was a present from Jennie, the love of my life. Yes, right there, leave it right next to my head where I can smell it. Good John.

“Remember when we met her, that first day at the dog park?”

Of course I remember. It was love at first sight. But then, how could it not be? I was adorable! Once she found out that we were a package deal though, she learned to love you too. I know it was her idea to let me carry the ring down the aisle. The wedding was beautiful. 

“She was so beautiful! Thank you for finding her. And for staying with me when she left. I know it’s silly but I really thought it was forever. True love. Ridiculous huh?”

It had been true love. It almost killed us both when she left us. I never understood why she left. Okay, I chewed up a few of John’s most expensive shoes and I did eat that expensive purse he bought her for her birthday. But I’m irresistible and women love John. Tall dark and handsome they call him. Her leaving was confusing. 

Remember how I ran away that night after she left us? I was so tired of us feeling sorry for ourselves, and I had to make you stop moping around. So I ran out to our pizza place. Remember? You were chasing me, and you ended up flirting with that woman when I stole her pizza off the table. Ha! Good times John. 

Whoa, that’s a pretty big needle you got there doc,I whimper. What you doing back there with … Yow that stings!

John starts to rub my forehead with his thumb, just like he used to when I wouldn’t go to sleep. Still makes me so tired. Maybe I’ll close my eyes, just for a little bit. 

“How about that first day, the day you and I met, remember that?” 

Of course! I remember that day. Do I ever! Why you breezed right in and played with every dog there before you even saw me! I thought for sure you would pass me right by. 

“And then that lady, that mean little woman who showed me back? She tried to get me to pass right by you. She said, you don’t want that one, he’s a troublemaker.”

Yeah, I hated that woman! She always smelled like ammonia and was constantly yelling at me. She wouldn’t let me chew stuff or bark or anything. That’s why I sat up so politely for you. I had to show you how wrong she was about me.  

“But I knew. As soon as I saw you sitting straight up like that, with your big ole paws crossed. Such a little gentleman, my little G-Man! I knew you and I were going to do great things. And we have, right? Why you saved my life little man.”

You saved my life John. I was headed for the burners. I know that. 

“I’ll never forget you.”

Obviously. How could you forget me? I’m adorable! Of course you’ll remember me. I’m so tired now though. Remember me John. 

I’ll try to remember you too. I hope I remember. I hope I remember everything.

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Maxim.um Release

If I could change one thing, it would be meeting Maxim. Maybe if I’d met him a little earlier in life, when I hadn’t been so bored. Or a little later after the stress of the job had calmed down. But he’d found me exactly when I needed excitement, a little passion to release the stress. Now, as I shivered under the sheet he’d passed to me through the bars, I longed for routine. All I could do now was wait for Maxim to retrieve my clothes while I watched the locksmith pick at my cage’s padlock.

“These old ones are tricky. Easier than just cutting those old iron slats though.”

I was grateful for his limited curiosity. Perhaps he saw this type of thing more often than I imagined. He paused to study the lock more closely, then swapped out one tool for another and began again. 

I was anxious to have more on than just a sheet. “I can’t imagine what’s keeping Maxim, he should be back by now.”

It had started innocently enough when Maxim bought me a drink at the hotel bar one night.

“I’ve seen you here before, no?”

I couldn’t place his accent, somewhere from South America maybe. 

“Yes, you probably have,” I answered. “I work for a bank with headquarters nearby. I’m here a few times a month.”

I wouldn’t normally have let a stranger buy me drinks, much less asked him to join me for dinner, but then nothing about my relationship with Maxim was normal. He wasn’t handsome in the typical sense. Of average height, his skin showed the wear of too many years in the sun and his hair was always a little too slicked back. The way he stared at me though, as if he knew something about me that I didn’t know yet. Which I suppose he had. He had captivated me long before I knew what it was to be captive. 

We spent the first week at the hotel. Maxim was a tender lover, considerate in a way I hadn’t known before. The second week, Maxim rented a house so that, as he said, he could have me all to himself. I found more and more excuses to be in town. He insisted on cooking so we could eat at home. With the stress at my job increasing daily, I reveled in being forced to submit, not allowed to make decisions. His obsessive behaviors seemed just a way to spend more time together, his increasingly strange desires just a way to spice up a dull Saturday afternoon. The escalation to extreme play was so slow that I hadn’t noticed.

“Ah,” the locksmith said. “There it is.” With a final twist, the padlock sprung open and clattered to the floor. He pushed his tools to the side, opened the cage door and held out a hand to help me. My legs tingled to life as I struggled to straighten them, but the pain made me stumble backwards into his arms.

“Woah there! Take your time miss. Being all cramped up like that, no wonder your legs won’t work right.”

The locksmith supported me with one arm, the other holding the sheet around my naked body. He set me down on the red velvet couch and turned his back to me to gather his tools. 

“You must think we’re pretty strange,” I said. The door was open. I leaned over to see what could be keeping Maxim with my clothes. I saw some kind of shadow, not Maxim but something dark, a puddle of some sort.

“No ma’am. Not at all. None of my business what people choose to do with themselves. I never seen nothing so pretty as you caged up before though. Why I knew as soon as I saw you huddled up in there that we could have a mighty fine time together.”

A shiver passed over me and I gripped the sheet closer. Sweat tickled the back of my neck. 

“We?”

As he turned, I heard the clang of the shackles before I saw them. I sprung off the couch but my legs gave way. I scurried on my knees toward the door but felt the metal restraint snap in place on my ankle. I’d made it far enough to see the puddle, with Maxim’s bloody body just off to the side.

“Yes ma’am. We’re gonna have a mighty fine time now that we got you out of that little space.”

A Weighty Struggle

Late nights to drink one more bottle of good wine. 
New restaurants recommended by fellow foodies.
The scale leaps upward.

Early mornings to get in a walk while it’s cool. 
New restaurants based on healthy menu options. 
The scale crawls down.

Going up or coming down, I love taking the journey with you. 

Persephone

She started finding pomegranate seeds at the doorstep, and knew it was time. But she had no idea where to start. 

“First it was just droppings, so I figured a neighborhood dog or something. Then it was chicken bones and candy wrappers. Now it’s rotten pomegranates! It’s obviously a squirrel or something, so how do I get rid of it?” 

She grabbed her coffee cup and moved aside so her friend Abby could brew hers. 

“No idea Susan. Sounds like an exterminator to me,” Abby said.

“Great. Where am I supposed to find an exterminator? The only thing worse than rodents is dealing with service people that will overcharge me, if they even show up.”

“I can get rid of it for you,” he said. She hadn’t even noticed the janitor. 

“Really? Have a lot of experience with this kind of thing?”

“Some. Enough.”

She unlocked her phone and shook it in the air. “Have a phone? Or am I going to have to actually write down my phone number for you?”

He pulled a phone from his pocket and took her number. “Okay if I come by tonight to look around?”

They agreed on a time and he pushed the janitor’s cart out of the lunchroom. 

“Seriously?” Abby said. “You’re going to let the janitor come to your house?”

“Why not? At least I know him. Well, I know where he works,” said Susan.

“You are so clueless sometimes. You know he has a huge crush on you, right?”

Susan stared at the door he’d left through, then shook her head. “No. That’s ridiculous.”

“Okay. Whatever you say Susan. Just remember. I warned you.”

—————–

He got there early. She saw him scope out the tree, take something from his truck, then start for the front door. When she opened the door, he was carrying a large white cat with the goldest eyes she’d ever seen. 

“Oh, she’s beautiful!” said Susan.

“Yes she is.” The janitor scratched behind the cat’s ear. “I think she’s your answer. Much more effective than trying to trap them. If you are willing to let her stay for a few days?”

“I don’t know, I’m gone most of the day and I don’t have litter or anything.”

“She’s really no problem. I noticed you have a cat door already.”

Strange, she hadn’t seen him go in the backyard. “Prior owners. I guess it still works though.”

“And I don’t want you feeding her. She’ll hunt better if she’s hungry. Plus, she’s an outdoor cat, so no litter.” 

“Okay, sure.”

“Great!” He dropped the cat, who disappeared into the house, then retrieved a box he’d dropped on the porch. “I grabbed you some pomegranates too. They’re perfect. No wonder they attracted rodents.”

She looked at the fruit and wrinkled her nose. “I’ve never actually eaten any. Are they good? “

He smiled. “You’ll love them. I could show you a few things?” 

She hesitated, remembering Abby’s earlier warning. “I don’t know. I was going out…”

“Give me 15 minutes. Then you can throw me out. But, I think once you have a few pomegranate seeds, you won’t want me to go!”

She pulled one of the fruits from the box. It was heavier than it looked. She knew you were supposed to eat the seeds but she had no idea where to even start.

“Well, maybe you could just show me how to open it?”

As they made their way to the kitchen, the cat swirled around his legs.

“What’s her name anyway?”

Persephone. And she loves pomegranates.”

—————–

Abby wrung her hands in her lap as she sat in the boss’s office.

“I’m so sorry to bother you John. I know you may not be able to tell me anything, but I’m worried about Susan. You said she’d be out for a few days but that was weeks ago. I haven’t heard from her at all. Can you just tell me, well, is she all right?”

John hesitated. “You are right, I really can’t give you any details. Well frankly, I don’t know any details. She just called into HR and said she needed time off. Personal issues. She’ll be gone for the rest of the winter. That’s really all I know. I’m sorry, but I have to run. I agreed to help interview the new janitor candidates. Ours seems to have disappeared.”

Storm Preparations

Image by Martin Str from Pixabay

            In my defense, it was a brilliant idea at the time. I struggled to find a job after finishing my journalism degree. This Storm Area 51 event was my ticket. It had all the right sensational elements: An invading horde versus a highly competent military force with all the best technology, a mystery, and maybe even an alien! There was even a group going to a hilltop to watch the invasion, as they put it, civil-war style. As soon as I heard about it, I knew it would be a viral story, and I needed it. I called immediately and snagged a room in Amargosa Valley where the crowds were set to meet up. 

            I drove in from Vegas a week early, so I’d have plenty of time to scope everything out. I left later in the day than I should have though, so it was dark when I checked into the Longstreet Inn and Casino. 

            “Anywhere around here to grab some food?”

            “Ruby’s might still be open. Not much else around here though.” 

            I dropped my bags in my room and set out to find Ruby’s. The parking lot still had a few vans and some trucks towing trailers, and some inside lights were on. I didn’t see anyone though as I parked and opened the door. I stuck my head in. 

            “Anyone here?”

            The convenience store clerk scrambled out of a back room. I’d obviously caught him by surprise.

            “Sorry, the door was unlocked so I thought you were still open. I just need some snacks and waters, if that’s okay?”

            I moved through the store gathering items as I talked so he couldn’t just throw me out. He looked confused at first but then moved behind the counter and waited for me. I went to the back for a 12-pack of beer. When I opened the cooler door, I thought I heard voices, or shuffling. Strange noises, enough to make me uncomfortable. I grabbed my 12-pack and hightailed it to the register. I didn’t know what I’d stumbled into but I wanted out. The clerk appeared to want that too. He pushed the items back at me as he rang them up, didn’t even ask if I wanted a bag. I knew when to take a hint. I took the change and gathered everything up in my arms.

            “Thanks man. Have a good night.”

            I tossed everything in the car and skedaddled. Then, I thought better of it. This was exactly what I wanted, right? A little suspicion, a little of the unknown. This could be a good test for me, a warm-up for next week. So rather than make my way back to a warm bed and a cold beer, I turned the car around and pulled off onto the shoulder, just close enough to see the parking lot. I shut off the lights and the engine.

            It wasn’t long, 30 minutes or so, before a stream of people poured out of the store and into the waiting vans and trucks. As the store lights blinked out and the vehicles lights blinked on, a knock on the window made me jump. The clerk from the store with a big club of a flashlight shining in my face. How did he get out here without me seeing him? I rolled down the window. 

            “Hey, what’s…”

            The next thing I remember, I felt the rumble of the road under my back. I tried opening my eyes, but they were sticky. I reached up to check the knot on my head where I’d been hit, then rubbed my eyes open. It took several minutes before my eyes adjusted to the dark. I could see other people sitting around the trailer. 

            “Where are we? What’s happening?” 

            “Shut up and go back to sleep. Or I’ll put you back to sleep.”

            Convenience store clerk, obviously NOT a convenience store clerk. I sat up and, once my head stopped spinning and he stopped watching me, I moved to sit on one of the benches around the side. I leaned in close to whisper to the guy next to me.

            “Hey dude. What’s going on?”

            He turned to speak. I shrieked and clapped my hands over my ears. It was a sound I’d never heard, at least on Earth. And his huge black saucer eyes!

            Looks like there won’t be aliens at Area 51 next week. They’ll be with me. Wherever that might be. 

Undeserved

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

She added just a few drops to the eggs before scrambling them, then a couple of drops of Tabasco to cover any odd taste. She snuck the little bottle back into her apron pocket as her husband swung behind her and kissed her good morning.

“Her highness not up yet eh?”

“No. Not yet. She rang early with her breakfast-in-bed demands though.”

“I can’t believe we have to put up with her for another month. I thought for sure the resort would be too booked to accommodate that kind of extension,” he said. 

She smiled as he poured coffee into his thermos. 

“Well maybe she will change her mind,” she said.

“Doubtful. I have to go prep the dingy. See you in a bit.”

They’d worked the island together for almost thirty years. She understood their place as servants, and for the most part, people were decent about their role. She even looked forward to seeing the regulars every year. She watched children grow up and then bring their own children back for vacation. Most were gracious and kind and they usually tipped well enough. Their money either came from inheritances, or from a mix of hard work and lucky breaks in technology or medicine mostly. Noble professions. But this woman’s wealth? The rumor was that her money came from more notorious sources. Some even whispered of trafficking or child labor. 

She could stand it for herself – the barking orders, the last-minute demands. But late last night, the woman decided that the sitting room’s heavy furniture had the wrong fengshui for yoga. The woman demanded that the husband rearrange it all by himself. He’d been awake the rest of the night, icing and heating his old aching muscles. She decided then that she had to get rid of the woman somehow.

She slid the omelet onto the plate and added it to the breakfast tray alongside a mimosa, warm bread, and a vase of freshly cut flowers. She gave the tray to the young man who worked the day shift, then turned back to prepare her husband’s breakfast. But first, she washed everything twice to eliminate any possible residue.

——————————–

He saw his wife starting down the dock with his breakfast in time to hide his handiwork. He would pull the tape off the small slit in the dingy when he launched it. Nothing too dangerous, they were just nurse sharks after all, but it should give the woman a good enough scare to chase her off the island. He felt a little badly about it but he couldn’t stand how she’d treated his wife, cursing at her for the smallest problem like a piece of shell in the crab dip. She’d pushed another one of the servants into the pool, spraining his ankle, just because he delivered the wrong drink. It was only a matter of time before she seriously injured someone. 

——————————–

She reached the overlook with binoculars in time to see the drone take off. Wherever the women’s money came from, she was some kind of social media sensation. The picture of her floating in the dingy over clear blue waters with black shark shadows below was expected to go viral.

She smiled at the picture in her mind, that perfect moment spoiled by what would appear to be simple food poisoning. 

She raised the binoculars as the first stomach spasms jerked the woman upright. She watched her struggle, unsuccessfully, to vomit over the side. As the woman moved, the edges of the small inflatable began to crumple inward. She watched in horror as the sharks smelled the regurgitated food and began to churn the water. The woman flailed her arms and legs, causing the sharks to panic with her. Soon it was a massive swarm of black with the woman in the center, screaming and thrashing. 

——————————–

Her husband called from the hospital. The woman would be fine. The resort owners had agreed to three more months to allow her to recuperate, no charge of course. An obvious attempt to avoid liability. Three more months with her.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “It’s all my fault. I sabotaged the raft. I was only trying to scare her! Those sharks never attack. But when she got sick, they just lost control!”

She closed her eyes. “Come home honey. I have something to tell you too.”

The Worst Road

This short story is my response to YeahWrite’s weekly nonfiction challenge #432: write about the worst road, whether that’s a bad memory or just a bad pothole. 

My husband turned around and poked the blanket back in place around our three-year old daughter.

“She good?”

“Completely out still,” he answered.

She’d fallen asleep not long after we got back in the car after grabbing hamburgers for dinner. We had expected to stay the night, but after watching the storm clouds chase us all day, we decided to push on. After four days crossing the country, the last thing we wanted was to be snowbound in a strange place for who knows how long.

He spun the radio dial searching for any sign of a local weather report. (That’s what you did back before cell phones and all day weather channels. You scanned up and down the dial hoping to find a local signal in time for the weather.) We’d searched all day trying to understand where the storm was, where it was headed, and how bad it was going to be. From what we could piece together, it was right behind us, headed right for us, and looked to be the worst storm of the season.

“How about you? You good still? I can drive again if you need me to.”

I fidgeted in the seat. I could use a break but now that it was too dark to see the storm clouds, I worried that it was right on top of us.

“Yeah, I’m okay. As long as the weather holds. I just wish we’d get out of New York already.”

It may have been because we’d been in the car for four days already or maybe New York really was the longest leg of the trip, but it felt like we’d been in New York forever. We yearned for a mileage sign that had anything but a New York town on it.

My hands tightened on the steering wheel when the first snowflakes hit. I forced my shoulders to relax and flipped on the windshield wipers. I could feel my husband watching me. He stared through the windshield up into the night.

“If we’d stopped, it would have caught us anyway. At least we made it a little further now,” he said.

Within a few miles, the snowflakes were so large that the headlights only created a blinding white tunnel. Semi-trucks with loads too heavy to climb the icy hills were starting to put on their flashers and pull off to the side of the road. With every exiting truck, my hands clamped the wheel a little tighter. I could feel the car slipping each time a car passed us. I heard rustling in the back seat which made my shoulders hunch even more.

“OK. We need to find a hotel,” I admitted.

We passed an exit or two before I saw the blue sign. The snow obscured the details but I could make out justenough. I put my blinker on and crept to the right.

“What are you doing?”

“I saw a hotel symbol on that sign.”

He looked back and seeing nothing, referred to the map. (That’s another thing you did before smartphones – look at maps.)

“I don’t know honey. I don’t see anything.”

“It’s okay. I know I saw it. We wouldn’t be able to see anything from the road in this weather.”

Once we were off the highway, the snow slowed. Probably because the trees were heavier here but still a welcome respite.

“I still don’t see anything. But I know that sign said there was a hotel here.”

With no other cars around, the night seemed darker but the snow brightened the long empty road ahead. We crawled along listening to the snow crunch under the tires. And then we saw it. The same blue road sign I’d seen on the highway. It had an arrow indicating two more miles ahead, and an icon. I drew the car to a full stop and felt my face redden from some mix of embarrassment, anger, and fear. 

“It’s a tent. Not a hotel.” 

As I struggled not to cry, I heard him snicker. He rubbed my shoulder and we stared at each other for a tense moment. Then we both enjoyed a good laugh before we turned back. 

It was over an hour before we made it back to the highway and a real hotel. It was the worst road we ever took but we took it together.