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.

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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.

Floofspeare

Floofspeare (floofinition) – A writer who is acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest and most prolific authors of all time, responsible for a large offerings of plays and novels, including The Merry Cats of Windsor, The Taming of the Poodle, Much PooPoo About Nothing, Rex the VIII, Fluffy the III, and the infamous Scottish play, Flooflet, about a terrier. Little is known about Floofspeare, and argument continues as to what animal or fowl Floofspeare was, and their sex.

In use: “Little is known of Floofspeare, leading to many fanciful works of fiction about the writer. Must well known is the series of nine books which began with the best-selling novel, The Secret Life of Floofspeare.”

Paused

Hulley paused from writing his novel. He’d seen and finished a long scene, all praise the muses. Once that was done, he needed to collect where he was and what was to be done.

Scanning the other patrons and front door, he picked up his coffee. Half remained, but cold as iced-tea. Time? Been here sixty-five minutes. Sipping the coffee, he continued peering around, debating options, choices, and plans. Plenty of time remained but his writing energy seemed as spent as a summer storm. It’d been a good day of writing, but —

His eyes picked up on the opening front door, and then his brain shouted, “Holy shit.” His brain’s declaration slammed the rest of his being into shocked stillness. Through the front door came a pale white man, about six three, narrow-framed, with thin white hair and an ancient poets’ beard. He wobbled like he could be tipsy or suffering from a balance issue. Dressed in ragged, soiled denims on this ninety-plus day with a yellow Polo shirt, a Cubs hat, and aviator styled sunglasses, he didn’t fit in. Hulley gagged on recognition: Breech.

It couldn’t be Breech. He almost laughed at the suggestion. It was too freaking insane. Breech was his fucking character, star of the last scene, a gray-blue antagonist traveling the west coast in his big 1970 Chevy Suburban, hunting and killing kidnappers and rapists. Breech couldn’t be here. 

With rising alarm, Hulley conducted a lengthy double-take of the coffee shop. Gone was the tidy suburbanized business with its lit glass food cases and soft beige and blue walls, replaced by a cramped, smaller, and darker place, an old home re-purposed as a cafe. It wasn’t that Breech was here; it was that he was there.

Breech strolled past his table like a spinning top losing energy. Although the man wore sunglasses, Hulley felt Breech rake him with the predatory blue eyes he’d seen with his mind too many times. Breech always thought he knew his quarry by the way they reacted to his scrutiny. The guilty stayed relaxed but the innocents were unnerved.

Slapping his coffee mug down, Hulley gulped down a lump that could’ve been a rock. He didn’t know what was going to happen or what had happened to him, but it looked like the next scene was beginning.

Sucking in a deep breath, he began typing. What else could a writer do?

 

Something Fundamental

His head was down against the silvery sunshine heat. Walking along, he looked up to orient his course and spotted Doctor Frank further up the white cement sidewalk.

He literally froze where he was. His heart beat – he felt it – but a shocked stupor held him stiff. Doctor Frank had died two months before. This had to be a doppelganger. He’d heard or read that everyone has an exact replica of themselves elsewhere on the world. This was the most perfect one he’d ever seen. The man was just like Doctor Frank, the biologist, in every aspect from his impish, good-natured expression, gray and white beard, and slender-as-a-broom frame to the outdoor pants, boots, and vest that were Doctor Frank’s regular attire, including the forest green bush hat.

He snapped out of it. The result put him up the sidewalk past where he’d spotted Doctor Frank, as if he’d never stopped. His head swooned. Pausing to regain control of his senses, he saw Q across the street, waiting to cross.

Now that was fucking impossible. Q’d died four years ago. Like Doctor Frank, doppelganger Q was an eerie ghost of his deceased friend. As he wondered what the what, he saw his mother-in-law, Jean, dead for the last two years, off to the left, with her husband, Carl, who’d been dead since 1992. 

“Holy shit,” reverberated through his mind and came out his mouth. “What’s going on?”

In a blink, he realized all the color had deserted the world, as though he was watching a movie on an old black-and-white television. Closing his eyes to recover, he gasped; with his eyes closed, he could see everything taking place in color, except the dead folk that he saw weren’t there.

Slowly, he cracked his eyes open and took in the monochrome world. The sound differed from before. Swiveling his head, he saw more dead friends and relatives. It wasn’t his beloved hometown any longer, until he closed his eyes. With eyes closed, color was restored, and he was in the town where he’d been living and walking.

Keeping them closed, he resumed his walk. That seemed to work, but it was a temporary solution. Something fundamental had changed in his world.

He was going to have to open his eyes again sometime. And then…

He shook his head. He was going to keep his eyes closed until he was home. And then —

Well, he’d see.

The Flaw

Going through the morning’s triple S activities – shit, shower, shave – he was thinking about his parents and their health. They’d divorced when he was a little boy. Each had contributed to that mess, he decided while conducting his retrospective. Mom forced issues and seemed to thrive on confrontation. Dad shunned conflict. Throwing himself into work, he’d held several jobs simultaneously. He did each well, and they paid well.

After their divorce, Mom had remarried six or seven times – he wasn’t sure – and Dad had several live-in girlfriends besides two other marriages. He thought it was remarkable that he’d married and managed to keep it together for over forty years.

Of course, he’d never been close to his parents. Splitting time between Mom and Dad’s households, he’d struck out on his own after graduating high school when he was seventeen, and then married at eighteen. Neither parent had made an effort to stay very close outside of birthday and holiday cards. Mom visited him and his wife one time, after he’d bought the round-trip airline ticket for her, after they’d been married thirty years. Dad had visited once, dropping by their first apartment for a grinning, goofy fifteen minute visit. Two visits between the two parents in more than forty years.

He sighed. Both parents, in their eighties, were in declining health. He knew he’d miss them once they passed away – everyone told him so – but it was hard for him to generate compassion for their situation.

He hated that he had that flaw and couldn’t seem to do anything about it.

Escape

“Escape”, said big, gold letters on the window. 

Don had never seen the place. The turnover in this town… Yes, he needed an escape. The heat was over a hundred. How far over a hundred? Did it matter? It felt like his shoes on melted onto his feet. Sweat dropped from his face and dizziness spun his head. He needed immediate escape from this heat, He could get some by browsing through this place.

Blissful cool air gushed over him as soon as he stepped inside. The business was laundry room small and almost empty. One round, white table was to the left. On it was a display of brochures.

He wandered to them. “Hi, Don,” a woman said.

Don nearly jumped out of his skin. Finding her sitting in the corner across the room, he shook his head. “Were you there when I came in?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. I didn’t see you. Sorry.”

“That’s okay.”

“And…how did you know my name?”

She smiled. “That’s not important.”

“It is to me.”

“What’s important is that you realized that you need to escape and came in here.”

“Yeah.” Don flicked his gaze from the left to the right. “Right. Actually, I came in here because I needed to escape the heat.”

“Would you like water?” Unfolding from her chair, she gestured to her right where a round white table was home to a crystal pitcher of water and several glasses. Cucumber slices floated among ice cubes.

“I would, thank you.” While saying that, Don took the two steps to reach the table. She was there first.

A glass was being offered as he arrived. “Thanks. You’re quick. You never answered my question.” Drinking, Don watched her reaction. A dark green satin-looking top hung to mid-thigh, giving him the impression of a praying mantis. Young with skin like smoky honey, long black hair and a narrow face, she was an inch taller than him. She probably weighed ninety pounds. After a second glance, he changed that to eighty pounds. He could probably enclose her waist with his two hands.

“You didn’t ask, but I’ll answer. We’re an escape from anything and anywhere.”

Don lowered his glass. “I’m not certain what that means.”

“Yes, you do. Accept it. You know.”

Enough, Don decided. “Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time.” He put the glass down on the table. “Thanks for the water. I’ll be on my way.”

She nodded. “This way.” She slipped past him toward an archway that he hadn’t noticed. Strands of green beads hung over the doorway. She parted the beads with a long hand with glossy white fingernails. “Your train awaits.”

“My train. You’re saying that there’s a train in there?” Don stepped forward to see as she answered, “Yes.”

Don poked his head through the beaded divide. There was a train. It wasn’t a toy, but a full-sized train. “Holy smokes. There is a train in here.” Entranced, he approached the train. Modern looking, it was silver with blue and red stripes. “I love trains. I’ve never been on one, though. I mean, a real one, like this.”

He stepped closer to it. He was on a platform. The train went for hundreds of yards in either distance. Beyond it, a pristine countryside greeted his tired vision.

“So, what’s going on?” He looked back for the woman. Didn’t see her, nor the green beads.

A uniformed conductor approached. “Hi, Don. I’m Geoffrey.” He put a hand out. “You okay? You look confused.”

Don shook Geoffrey’s hand. “I guess I am. I don’t know how I got here. I mean, I know what I did, but what I did doesn’t fit the context of what I see.”

“I see.” Geoffrey laughed. “Sorry. That was unintentional.”

Don tilted his head to one side. “So. Let me be straightforward. Have I died?”

“No. You wanted an escape. We’re offering it to you.”

“This is real.”

“Absolutely.”

“What’ll happen if I get on that train?”

“You’ll escape, which is what you want. You’ll escape this life and this world.”

“Where will I go?”

“That’s completely up to you.”

Don smiled. “That’s not really an answer. Yes, those are words, but they’re not an answer to what I’m asking.”

“It is. You know it is. Let yourself think about it.”

Don shook his head. “I don’t like airy-fairy new age stuff. I fight wildfires. I like solid information.”

Geoffrey shrugged. “You need to get onboard now, if you’re going.”

“What if I don’t? Can I just go back?”

“Of course.”

“Is this a one-way ticket? Can I ever come back if I get on that train?”

“Of course. That’s completely up to you.”

Don had more questions but decided, take the train ride. See where it goes and what happens. He’d never been on a train. He giggled. “Okay, what the hell. Sold.”

Following Geoffrey’s gesture, he approached an open door and climbed aboard the train. Empty, comfy looking tan leather seats awaited him. A whistle blew as he settled into a seat. Looking down, he realized that he was a young man again.

“Well, what the hell.” The train pulled forward. Body sighing as he settled back, he watched the passing countryside through the window and wondered where he’d go, and what would happen to the people and places that he’d left behind.

Then he closed his eyes and let the train lull him to sleep.

 

 

Raspberry Woman

She didn’t wear a raspberry beret. Her capris were black, and her chill shirt was raspberry, with matching raspberry shoes and sunglasses, and short, raspberry and silver.

Seeing her, he gasped. Raspberry woman. He wondered what her secret powers were.

Beneath the Surface

Heat, humidity, and the long day induced weariness. Sitting on a bench in city hall’s shadow, he looked across the plaza. The crowds were thinning. Most of the holiday action was drifting into the restaurants or up into the park proper.

A middle-aged blonde woman danced with a child on the plaza stones. Each was dressed in purple and white clothes, and laughed, twirling their clothes as they spun around.

Deeply inhaling to swallow sad memories, he smiled. Sean’s passing had ripped his marriage apart. After the divorce, he’d remarried, but he’d never had another child. There’d been two, but both were gone. Sean was the end. He missed the laughter and movement that a child brought to a scene.

###

“Dance, mommy, dance,” Laurel shouted. Laughing, Melany recalled her childhood dance lessons and pretended to be a ballerina. After applauding, Laurel mimicked her movements.

Melany caught a glimpse of the man on the edge of her vision. Sitting on a bench, he looked like he might be drunk. She didn’t like the way he stared at them, like a predator. 

Pretending she was out of breath, she collected Laurel. “Come on, honey. We’d better go find the others and get something to eat. Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?”

“Yes, I am hungry.” Laurel took her hand and began marching away with giant steps.  “Come on, walk like this.”

Giving the man one final dirty look over her shoulder, Melany followed her daughter to safety as the man finally looked away.

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