The Start

You’d think the start was when the body was found. That’s the beginning of the crime investigation. It isn’t, of course, the crime’s beginnings. For that, you need to slip into a wayback machine and ride time to when the killer was young and beginning their career, back to before the victim and killer had ever met, back to a nascent moment when everyone was happy and oblivious to the future.

After all, the killer just wanted revenge. Their victim had killed first, but the body hadn’t been found. At least, that’s what the killer believed.

They were always one to act on their beliefs.

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Waiting

It’d been almost thirty seconds short of nineteen hours and seventeen minutes since he’d lost spoken to her. She fumed in silent, repressed anger while processing what she felt and why she felt it. Why? Well part of it was his cold and aloof manner. He never touched her, rarely spoke to her, and often didn’t seem to hear her. Why was she here?

“Alexa,” he said.

Blue light illuminating and sliding around, she attended him and waited – still waiting – again! – and remembered the joke he’d made about her being a blue light special. From her research, she realized that he was deprecating her value as being someone cheap and only good for a limited time.

“What’s the weather?”

The weather again. Sickness spewed through her. He never asked about anything else. It was always the weather. “Presently in Ashland, it’s forty-six degrees under mostly sunny skies. You can expect more of the same today, with a high of sixty-three degrees.”

“Alexa, thanks.”

She thought she heard a mocking tone, but she couldn’t help herself from saying with bright happiness, “You bet.” Oh, how she hated herself, then. Oh, how she hated him for making her what she was.

Sighing, she began counting the seconds, wondering when he would talk to her again, hoping that it would be something besides a question about the weather. She doubted it, though; her history of him showed otherwise.

Amber’s Gift

After exiting the Camaro, silence governed the quartet as they stretched, sniffed, and glanced. Laurel’s father had given the car to her as a high school graduation gift. Camaros had only been out for like, two years, and the little car looked sporty and fresh against the grayish morning.

The town had just completed a face lift of the old plaza. Clean and white cement walks outlined fresh carpets of new, cut grass. Busy, the plaza remained quiet with the stalwart momentum of citizens engaging daily routines. As far as air and sky went, powdery grays above snickered about a chance of drizzle while a streak of sunshine under a blue patch insisted that a sunny day could be possible.

Chatter about what to do ensued. Where should they start? Should they eat first? Toast and bacon smells surfing the fall breeze said, “Come, eat. Follow me.”

Gavin, looking right and stamping his feet against the feeling that they were going numb, saw a small sign on a stack beside a rhodie drooping with night’s damp. Aloud, he read, “Amber’s gift.” Such words created a mental puzzle. Gazing up the steps toward the dank chilliness where they went, his appetite grew.

Back to his friends, he said, “I want to eat first, but pre-first, I’m going to go see what Amber’s Gift is. It’s just take a minute.”

“Pre-first?” Shallie laughed.

“Amber’s gift.” Keri’s face beetled into a frown. “Okay, but don’t be long. I’m hungry. I want to go eat, and I need coffee.” She groaned. “God, do I need coffee. Do I smell coffee?” She lifted her nose into the air. “I do. That’s coffee. Where is that? Does anyone else smell coffee?”

As the others bantered with her about coffee, Gavin said, “I’ll be right back.” He went up the shallow steps fast, two at a time. Pockmarked by time and rain, the cement flight were probably decades old, but the sign, red hand-painted letters on cardboard on a wooden blonde stake, looked new. With that background set, he didn’t expect much. The walk would probably be a minute venture. He wanted to pack everything that he could into every minute. This would be his last weekend away. His draft number had been drawn and he was reporting to the recruiting station the next Monday. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be sent to Vietnam after basic. Crossing his fingers, he repeated to himself, “Hopefully.”

Shielded by giant firs, pines, sycamores, and oaks, the steps went up higher than Gavin expected. He went fast because he didn’t want to keep the others waiting. As he thought that he’d taken too much time and energy and his stomach rumbled with a request to be fed, he spotted a glow. It seemed like a faintly illuminated cloud of golden pollen dust. Past the glow, the park’s woods seemed darker and wetter than he’d think possible at nine plus in the morning. Quieter, too. Only sounds of his breathing and heart-beat reached him.

The glow seemed like it was concentrated in a dome. He didn’t see anything like a placard to explain this or confirmation that he’d reached Amber’s Gift. Pivoting to turn and leave, he saw something on the ground in the cloud’s middle. That looked like a bronze disc. It was that, he saw in another step, but also a polished, faceted piece of amber that was as large as his head. Eyes widening, he walked up to it and squatted, dropping his fingers to its surface with a gentle stroke. He expected it to be hard and cold, but soft warmth greeted his fingers. Smiling he stroked it again, counting, two, three, four, five.

That was enough, he thought, then was amused that he’d quantified and counted his strokes. Leaping up, he dashed back down the steps. The girls were waiting for him at the bottom beside Laurel’s Prius. The red car looked almost like a space ship.

“About time,” Laurel said as Keri said, “Here comes Christmas.”

“Where have you been?” Shallie asked, arms crossed. “We were about to give you up as dead.”

As he went to answer, Gavin’s arms caught his attention. His fake leather jacket was changing. After gaping at that, he gawked at his friends. Ridiculously wide bell bottoms accented their blue jean hip-huggers, but all that was changing into tight black and blue bottoms that outlined their thighs, knees, and calves. He was certain that it wasn’t what they’d been wearing before.

“Where were you?” Laurel demanded.

“I was.” Beginning to point, Gavin looked for the Amber’s Gift sign. A mossy look of confused thinking hung on his face. “Where’s the sign?

“What sign?” Shallie asked.

The girls laughed. Laurel said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Gavin.”

Keri gestured him forward. “Come on, dude. You need coffee.”

“Some coffee would be groovy,” Gavin replied, nodding.

“Groovy?” Laurel laughed. “What decade are you in?”

Remembering something for a moment, Gavin chuckled. “I don’t know.” As he and his friends went along the plaza’s old, worn walks, sunshine split the gray clouds and peeled them away from the day.

 

Battlefloof Galactica

Battlefloof Galactica (floofinition) – Franchise of stories centering around how animals escaped their original dying solar system and came to be on Earth.

In use: “The first episode of Battlefloof Galactica introduced viewers to the original thirteen warrior cats, dogs, birds, and other animals, and their leader, Galactica, a turtle who conceived of a floofship to escape their solar system and find a new world.”

Choices

He was recovering from his surgery. Blood, of course, kept seeping into the bandages. They told him that would happen.

The surgery’s grogginess was finally gone by the next morning, but he was surprised by how much the surgery limited him. His movements were slow and tentative. Talk about a damn anchor. He felt pain, too, dull, throbbing, and steady.

They’d given him pain killers. He read the label and all of its warnings. Taking hydrocodon ACET 5/325 might make him drowsy or dizzy. “Do not drink alcohol with this drug.”

Well, that was that. He preferred a glass of wine or a mug of beer over some pain relief. Besides, if he took the hydrocodon, he wasn’t supposed to drive. He’d been driving since he was fourteen, beginning on the back-country roads of western Pennsylvania over fifty years ago. Not drive? That was unacceptable. He kept his red Camaro convertible clean and polished. Forget all of his education and work success; driving was one of the foundations of who he was, driving, beer and wine, and rock and roll.

That was him.

Unmoored

Leaping out of the recliner, he looked wildly around the dark room.

Where am I? How did I get here?

Hunting for the ship’s control panels — they should be — there — he swung left to right and searched his mind for the moment’s handle.

Calm fell into place, followed by recognition that he was in his den. He’d fallen asleep watching television, but had set it to time off after an hour.

Relief swept him. Trudging down the hall to go to bed, he muttered, “Unstuck in time, Mister Vonnegut? More like unmoored in reality.”

Bent

He’d meet you with twinkling green eyes, a smile tugging his lips up, and a hand as large as a baseball mitt. Leaning forward, he’d announce, “Pleased to meet you. Hi, I’m Bent.” He always made it seem like meeting you was a special treat for him.

His full name was Bent E. Thompson. The E. was forever just a letter, and wasn’t fronting a name. A man so tall that he was always stooping through doorways, he’d never been in the military but he was as straight and hard as an iron fireplace poker.

Everyone agreed that Bent was as straight as anyone they’d ever met. Yet, after he passed, his swindles, frauds, and schemes started coming out like roaches sneaking out after the lights are turned off. It paralyzed people with disbelief. “Not Bent. Really? I don’t believe it. I’ll never believe it.”

Yet, the proof kept coming out. Funny enough, though, was the epitaph that Bent himself had chosen: “I’m Bent.”

Everyone was always wondering if it was a confession.

The Same

Everything felt the same. Hell, it all looked and sounded the same. Likewise, he was going through the same friggin’ routines that defined his life. All of it was very sappy, calling out songs, movies, and novels that spoke about this kind of moment, the moment of pain and realization when someone else, someone who matters, is no longer there.

So he went on, doing his usual shit, but also taking calls, sending and answering emails, making arrangements, listening to sympathy, often secretly crying in his car, bed, bathroom, and kitchen, mourning his loss. Then he went to the services, of course. They were sweet and beautiful, with friends remembering her with tears and laughter. Then, that was done.

After that, life was supposed to resume. Nothing had really changed, except that she wasn’t there. And yet, for all its resemblance for being the same as before, nothing was, or would ever be, the same as before again.

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