A time to die

Synopsis

The day started badly and went downhill from there

(Written for Round 2 of #nycmidnight #flashfictionchallenge2022 – submitted August 2022)


Suspect or criminal man with handcuffs being interviewed by detectives in interrogation room after committed a crime‘You’re a saint, Shirley.’

Michael looked terrible. I’d known he was sick before I entered Michael Roche, Lawyers. We’d spoken earlier and the husky voice and wet hacking cough were solid clues. Now faced with the fug of germ-infested air, deeply sunken eyes, lank hair and BO strong enough to ward off zombies it was clear that today illness was the MVP.

He’d pulled an all-nighter, weighed down by his fever. There was no rest when dealing with the wicked and our criminal client list was long and scary. There’d be no patience with postponement. Michael had to pull it together, and fast.

I’d come prepared with freshly dry cleaned shirt and suit, mentholated ointment, paracetamol and homemade broth. I’d also brought in a ring burner to keep it warm through the day.

‘Boss, you smell disgusting and look worse.’ I opened windows. An avalanche of tissues had hidden his desk. ‘Do you have shares in Kleenex? That’s a lotta landfill.

‘Give me a break, I’ve never been so ill. I’m secreting green globs. I can hear the ocean and we’re 200 miles from water. My head is killing me, and Ma Jenkins is due any minute.’

‘Followed by Mo the Beast, Curly the Butcher and Samantha the Striptease. It’s a full schedule, boss. A dangerous mix’

‘You’ve brought food?’

‘Yeah. My grandmother swore by this meat bone tea. Pork ribs and Chinese herbs combined. It is guaranteed to pick you up, expunge ill humour and spit you back out bouncing and raring to go.’

‘I’m sure it’s delicious, but I can’t smell a thing. Don’t think I’ll be able to taste it either.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t know if I can get through the day.’

‘Get this inside you.’

I handed him a steaming bowl of broth, some paracetamol and cleared away the tissues.

After a moment, I saw he was slumped over the empty bowl, almost asleep. I roused him to standing and herded him toward his private bathroom.

‘Is he alright?’ Ma Jenkins, diminutive but deadly mob matriarch and mourning mother of Johnny Jenkins, drug dealer. Michael’s failed defence left Johnny languishing in Long Bay prison on a 10-year stretch. Always, anger blazed behind her pale eyes.

Michael appeared and took Ma’s limp hand. He appeared in better health, a real improvement.

‘Good morning, Mrs J.’ He gestured at me to leave. As I pulled the door closed, I saw Ma Jenkins peering into the herbal broth.

Ma was keeping her cool. It wasn’t always the way. She was a powder keg waiting to blow and it was a lottery which version we’d get on any given day. But as Michael guided her to the lift after their meeting, she was crying softly.

‘She was quite maternal,’ he whispered. ‘She asked after my health, told me I should be home in bed and topped up my empty bowl. Forced another couple of tablets on me too.’

‘A bit soon, boss.’ And very suspicious behaviour, I thought. ‘Do you know your skin is yellow?’

Michael shrugged.

‘She seemed resigned to Johnny’s fate. We won’t see her again.’

‘Mo is up next,’ I reminded him. ‘We’ll need to hurry him along, don’t want him here when Curly and Sam arrive.’

Mo the Beast was a local enforcer. As a favour to Ma, we’d taken his case of assault with deadly force a year ago, thinking him innocent. We should have known better. He treated me well, but he was brutal with the working girls under his sway. And he had history with Samantha.

I sensed Mo’s arrival before he’d stepped through the door. The air stilled, dust motes held in stasis, traffic noise abated. Then the tattooed bulk of Mo the Beast blasted into the room.

‘Morning, Shirley,’ he rumbled.

‘He’s waiting,’ I said. I treated our clients as naughty children, while braced to defend. They needed to know who was boss. I was not submissive but also careful to not poke the bear. We had cops on speed dial.

On parole, Mo had ‘allegedly’ roughed up a punter at the club where he ‘bounced’. Mo was desperate, disappointed, scared even. Michael couldn’t fix it.

My heart melted when I saw Michael had an arm across Mo’s shoulder as they exited his office. He could be so gentle with them. He’d removed his suit jacket and his tie was loose, he’d relaxed. Mo appeared subdued and defeated.

Then, catastrophe. A picture of dejection came face to face with the epitome of arrogant confidence in the form of Curly the Butcher, with Samantha on his arm. They were stylish, dashing and debonair – and deadly killers. They entered laughing, then stopped dead.

Sam sidled into Michael’s office, while Mo and Curly faced off. She had good defensive instincts.

‘Let’s take it down, gentleman,’ suggested Michael. Neither man was prepared to give. They were deadlocked.

Suddenly, Ma Jenkins rocked up. Great. The full circus was in town.

‘Boys,’ she said.

Immediately the tension released. Mo nodded to Ma, who inclined her head toward the lift. Curly swaggered into Michael’s office, reunited with Sam who was lazily stirring the hot broth. Ma joined them, whispered something to Samantha, patted Curly’s shoulder then floated back out.

Michael sighed deeply and broke into another wet cough. He was beginning to fade.

‘Boss, you should call it a day,’ I said. Curly and Sam lurched away from the broth. They seemed guiltily relieved.  

‘We can come back,’ Curly said. ‘No problem. Get better, slick.’

Michael slumped into his chair, slurped fresh broth, shook pills into his hand and waved us away.

He was sleeping when I checked back. He’d tipped his bowl. Broth spilled across his desk and dripped to the floor.

I closed the blinds, mopped up the spill with remaining tissues, and turned off the burner ring.

‘Time to go, boss’.  

He didn’t move.

‘Michael?’ 

Friday Fictioneers – a longing

Watercolour painting of a short glass vase containing a collection of seashells, set upon on a piece of wood.

Photo prompt by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

At the corner of my eye, it distracted me

That delicate blown glass, inherited from our nonna.

The one she carried tenderly from Burano

Tantalizing and fragile.

***

There were children, and dogs and large clumsy men

Bumping and thumping their weight about the house

We ladies chopped and stirred and turned out cake

We spoke our truths, lovingly broke bread

While that heavenly heirloom tottered in space.

***

How it held. How it waited

For a moment of inattention

It wanted to tumble, it longed for displacement

Too many years stood still

Sedentary, stable, stagnant.

***

It wanted to fall. [94 words]


Thank you Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (fearless leader) for continuing to set this 100 word or less challenge. Your commitment is appreciated by many.

Other 100 word stories can be read here.

Six Sentence Story – waste not

Waste your life in maudlin, moaning; that is a sin.

We have but a minute, so get stuck in to it.

Push fear aside, source courage, raise your chin.

***

It is not easy, so stand your ground.

Envision your joy, tell your story.

Dance and sing and bring the world and all her children with you on the journey.


Prompt provided by GirlieOnTheEdge

Rules of the hop:
Write 6 Sentences. No more. No less.
Use the current week’s prompt word.
Link up at Wednesday’s post. Link goes live at 6:00 pm through Saturday late…
Spread the word and put in a good one to your fellow writers 😀

PROMPT WORD:  SIN

Simply 6 Minutes – one face in the crowd

A field of sunflowers were all but one face forwards. One lone sunflower faces toward the camera.

Sunflowers

A life spent huddled in the crowd. Somewhere toward the middle, but often trailing behind.

Individual dreams not allowed. A herd mentality encouraged.

For a long time I didn’t wonder if there was anything else. It never crossed my mind.

I couldn’t see further than my own footprint in the sand, with a  peripheral sense of others.

But we all faced forward and did our duty.

We were blind.

***

One day, I tripped on some unevenness. That stumble broke my reverie.

The crowd walked around me, taking a sideways step to avoid collision.

Not one body reached down to pick me up.

I watched them retreat, then looked around me.

Nothing to the left. Nothing to the right.

***

I completed a turn so I was facing behind, from where I had come.

Fields of dreams, towering castles, lowing animals, buzzing insects.

I had been unaware and now had awakened.

I turned to look forward. I was unrestrained. I was freed.

***

What could I do? No boundaries. A wealth of unknowns.

Endless opportunity.

Freedom. [173 words, 6 minutes]


Thanks to Christine for this weekly challenge.

Simply 6 Minutes Challenge Note

  • Set up a timer or sit near a clock so you can keep track of the six minutes you will be writing.
  • You can either use one of the prompts (photo or written) or you can free-write.
  • Get ready and write for 6 minutes, that is it! Can you write a complete story? Can you think of a new Sonnet? Can you write 400 words? 400? 500? There are no restrictions on what kind of writing you do, but you should try to be actively writing for six minutes.
  • After you are done writing, include your word count and then post back to this page #Simply6Minutes or include your link in the comments section. Pingbacks are enabled.

Friday Fictioneer – Shivers

A glass table, with underlighting. An empty wine glass and salt and pepper shakers sit atop the table, also a QR code for ordering. Give a tunnel like effect.

Photo prompt by Fleur Lind

‘Roaches.’

‘Where?’

‘I’m having flashbacks, what a crap installation.’

‘You see roaches?’ I ask.

‘In my imagination. Memory. Movie memory. Creeps me out.’

‘You’ve lost me.’

‘So has this place.’

A shiver tingles from my hairline, down my spine. I shake a shoe, fully expecting an explosion of brown ickiness to erupt.

‘Should I call the waiter?’

‘No, idiot. There aren’t any roaches.’

‘I don’t understand! You’ve lost me, sweetheart.’

‘A white tunnel, leading to depths. A clean, pristine environment? It’s begging for a roach infestation.’

I toss back the wine dregs. Feel something touch my tongue as I swallow.

***********

Thank you Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for continuing to set this 100 word or less challenge. It is certainly a commitment appreciated by many. Other 100 word stories can be read here.

Six Sentence Story – Lost

I thank GirlieOnTheEdge for this week’s Six Sentence Stories prompt — the word is LABYRINTH.

********************Six Sentence Story Logo

I lost myself in the complex labyrinth of life.

A journey from child all the way through to wife, mother, wife, mother.

The career dream lost along the way, day to day drudgery of peon administrator, soul destroying lowliness became the way.

Middle age is the veil of invisibility, where you are now lost not only to yourself but the uprising youth, who do not admire, respect, aspire to anything that you grew, shared, owned, developed or gave.

Why aspire to old age when I could give in now, let go of that dream of retirement, forever downtime, sofa comfort, cruising, reading of books, eating of fine cheeses, imbibing of finer wines.

I don’t look to a haunting purgatory, heavenly thereafter, glorious afterlife, and so should shoot straight for that hole in the ground, because I’d need to have faith in a higher power waiting to take my hand and help me grow and prepare for the next life for that to have any point.

Friday Fictioneers – witch work

A spinning wheel, standing on tiles, with a brick wall backdrop

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

She played into nervous naivety, intriguing with nervy grit.

We were whitewashed, wounded, whipped

Held in her hands, hoodwinked, hijacked

Every word a lie.

Enchanted and ensorcelled.

Left bamboozled, blind, bemused.

 

Stolen purses

Identity nicked

Native, innocence, naively given

**********

Thank you Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for continuing to set this 100 word (or less) challenge. It is a commitment appreciated by many. Other 100 word stories can be read here

Simply 6 Minutes – Breathless

An old, disused, railway track, covered in moss leading upward into mist and trees

Wow! It took my breath away, and so I took a moment.

What usually takes my breath is a punch to the stomach, daredevil drops from height, too cold, too hungry, too scared.

I was in a hurry and under pressure, with no time to appreciate nature, but I stopped.

Not too many years ago, happy people on exciting holidays would have traversed this track. Gasped in awe at the drop away, delighted in the natural features all around. Pointed out deer, birds, bears – who knows.

I looked at the track veering away into the distance, into the mist and imagined different times.

I remembered a loving, carefree family. Kisses and playtime, cakes and lemonade. Living parents.

That was so long ago it was as if a dream. Or something read in a book.

Books. Dreams. Not all lost, because I always had a novel in my backpack. It took up precious space, but it made life bearable. And there were plenty of pristine libraries in my travels. Nobody looted libraries.

The moment stretched, and I breathed deep.

Then I tightened shoelaces, sipped some water, hitched the pack higher on my back and began to pick my away along these now dangerous tracks.

Into an uncertain, but almost definitely treacherous future. [6 minutes, 211 words]

*  * * * * * * 

Thanks to Christine for running this challenge.

How it works:

https://christinebialczak.com/2020/07/14/simply-6-minutes-writing-challenge

  • Set up a timer or sit near a clock so you can keep track of the six minutes you will be writing.
  • You can either use one of the prompts (photo or written) or you can free-write.
  • Get ready and write for 6 minutes, that is it! Can you write a complete story? Can you think of a new Sonnet? Can you write 400 words? 400? 500? There are no restrictions on what kind of writing you do, but you should try to be actively writing for six minutes.
  • After you are done writing, include your word count and then post back to this page #Simply6Minutes or include your link in the comments section. Pingbacks are enabled.

Friday Fictioneers – heavenly connection

An old, canvas covered truck, one side open showing steel pots holding plants/flowers and signs advertising social media contact sites

PHOTO PROMPT © Jan Wayne Fields

For small business like me, social media was a God-send

So many years I hauled ass, and soil, plants, gravel and truck

From this Field Day to that Festival

Door to door, florists and gift emporiums, restaurants and offices

I’d get home more than weary, broken

Someone suggested a Facebook page, Instagram

Pictures sell!

Now, I’ve five trucks, 10 employees and give thanks and praise

For that God-sent connection and the pretty missus I found along the way

She hauls ass like you wouldn’t believe! [85 words]

**********

Not very imaginative this week – been away from creativity for a while 😍

Thank you Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for continuing to set this 100 word or less challenge. It is certainly a commitment appreciated by many. Other 100 word stories can be read here.

Honest Frank

Synopsis

Frank’s ambition dwarfs his integrity and everybody knows it, but him.

(Written for Round 1 of #nycmidnight #flashfictionchallenge2022 – submitted June 2022)


Frank waited to be introduced by Beatrice, the bookshop owner.

Everything about him screamed loud. Bouffant orange hair, piano key teeth, hairy hands and orangutan arms. His tie matched his hair, his shoes were dressed in crocodile. He was tall. He was wide. He was sweating.

That moisture surprised me. By all other measures, Frank was a powerful man, on a mission, full of confidence. His trailing minions appeared toy like. Crisp, clean and smartly dressed. Barely a smile among them.

Something was wrong with Frank. He was grinding his teeth, and regularly clutched his stomach and moaned. Not in good health but needing to perform and not about to back down.

Frank and I go way back. Same small town. This one. We went into the armed forces straight out of college. He was the geeky last-to-be-called man, while I was the full commando. He served his time in supply. I was on patrol, hunting subversives, surviving by the skin of my teeth.

Yet here he was pushing an autobiography of his time in the military. I’d read it and didn’t recognise that Frank. It was embellished beyond belief. I understood it to be the cornerstone of his push for local Member of Parliament in the upcoming election.

‘Good evening, everyone,’ said Beatrice. ‘I am delighted to introduce tonight, an admirable man. One of our own, but so much bigger than us all. Hope you have read this book, it is just remarkable,’ she gushed. ‘He’ll have my vote this November. Hands together please, and welcome Frank Fraker.”

As Frank strode to the microphone, I sensed a latecomer drop into the seat beside me. It was Joe Honest, a wet-behind-the ears newspaper cadet with the local paper. I was reporting for the Herald out of the city, hardened, cynical and prepared to take Frank down. I noticed Frank’s first assistant, Jane Icare in our row. Interesting. I’d pin her down for quotes later.

‘Hello, friends,’ said Frank in his loudest, bonhomie voice. Pompous, bombastic and beaming. ‘How kind of you all to come out on this wet, cold night. I am grateful for your support.’

‘Came in out of the rain, Frank,’ called someone.

‘Tell us about that near miss IED, Frank,’ taunted another.

This was not a subtle crowd. Most understood the real Frank Fraker. I saw confusion on the faces of the few who were there to celebrate the hero of the autobiography, proud to be in the midst of the great man. Frank had his work cut out for him. I settled in to watch the show.

‘Some of you know me. I’ve lived most of my life in the neighbourhood, except for college, then army service. I’ve returned home to serve in this community and hope for your vote, as Beatrice has kindly promised.’

He smiled down at us, like Jesus himself.

‘As with all of my success, this book has been a team effort. My old friend, Jonathan helped. That’s him over there, dressed in navy.’ He waved vaguely at one of the suit guys. ‘My campaign team is here tonight, and if I run out of time to talk to you individually, please approach one of them.

‘The book speaks for itself, you know. Beatrice asked if I could read a selection aloud, but I don’t read. That’s why you folks bought the book because you read. However, I am happy to sign a few copies, slap a few backs and pose for your socials. I, …’.

Here Frank paused and groaned, grabbing his small paunch. He closed his eyes for a second, and bit down hard on whatever was in his mouth.

‘He has kidney stones,’ whispered Jane. I turned to see her grinning face. ‘You know what he’s chewing on? A kidney stone, coated in thick sugar like a gobstopper. It gives him something to bear down on when in pain. It psychologically convinces him that he’s already passed the blasted thing. He also thinks it makes him sound posh. A plum in his mouth. Idiot.’

‘Where’d he get the stone?’ asked Joe.

‘One of his numbnuts,’ she said.

‘I am one of you, which is why I’m running on a platform of “of the people and for the people”, Frank said.

‘Tell em how you were never picked for teams, Frank,’ yelled someone.

‘And how you cheated off Valerie Spark during finals,’ said another.

‘How your hair is a wig, your teeth veneers, how the novel was ghost-written by a playwright, your socials are manned by your court jesters, full of emojis and little substance,’ I added.

‘My autobiography, Stephen. It is a book of facts, not fiction,’ said Frank. ‘Ignore him friends, a member of the freaking press, purveyor of half-truths and fake news.’

‘His groupies represent all that he lacks’, continued Jane. ‘Ivy league, athletes, authors, an ex-marine. Frank is an empty vessel, a vampire. He’ll drain them of their usefulness, then bring in fresh meat. Happened to me.’

‘I am the sun, the moon and the air that you breathe. I will promise everything, give nothing and take all that you have to give,’ said Frank.

Wow, that’s honest, I thought. No, that’s in my head. It’s hot in here.

Frank walked down the aisle toward the signing table, using a handkerchief to wipe his forehead. A sprightly man in his 80s jumped toward him, grabbed Frank’s hand and began to speak excitedly. Surprised, Frank pushed him and the old man fell backward, landing hard.

For a moment, the audience was stunned into silence. Frank rushed to help, concern writ across his face.

‘Call for an ambulance. This man has suffered an attack,’ he called.

‘Well played, Frank,’ whispered Jane.

‘There’s my headline’, said Joe. “Fraker Attack! Candidate assaults 80-year old man at book signing.”

‘You’re catching on, buddy,’ I said to Joe. “You’re a fast learner.’ [979 words]