Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Short Story: "One Simple Wish"

This started out as a novel, but I found out pretty quickly that it was going to be a short. I like this story a lot, even though I haven't submitted it anywhere because I have no idea what genre it is.

On a snowy night that might have been Christmas Eve, a desperate man (his name is irrelevant, though John will do) resigned himself to killing his wife. As he walked slowly down the hall, knowing that he would soon end his own life, as well, the little girl in the room just before his destination called him “Daddy.”
He stopped just outside her door and sight. He tried to ignore her and listen harder at the same time, but he failed at both. She repeated, “Daddy?”

Monday, November 06, 2006

9. One for the Road

Cade took a sip of his gin and tonic, looked around the bar, saw about two dozen pairs of eyes locked on him, and decided he needed another, healthier sip. "Not that I care, but..."
Lindsay, sitting in the bar stool next to him, prompted him with a look to continue.
"Is this a gay bar?"

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

8. Markham

Cade, he and his canine companion having been fed, and fed well, left Yuri's place armed with a cell phone number, orders to call if they needed anything, and one damn lead that probably wasn't a lead at all. Something about "beggars" and "choosers" put that into perspective for the time being.
He sat at a traffic light, turning a plain white business card over in his hand. This had been the only thing of note found in Matt’s wallet. The front had an embossed image that Cade, being an informal student of world mythologies, identified as the Rod of Asclepius. The image of a serpent winding around a staff, in addition to often being mistaken for the Caduceus, was a well-known symbol for practitioners of medicine. Beneath the image were the words "Holistic Healing" and the town of Markham, MA, which Cade had never heard of, but it sounded ominous, anyway. Very Lovecraft-ian.

Monday, October 09, 2006

7. Road Trip

It was good to have company on a long drive, even if that company stuck his head out the window most of the time. At least Cade got to control the music.
Trying to think like a detective (yet conceding that he probably couldn't), he decided that the logical first stop was Matt's apartment in Amherst, Massachusetts. He flipped open his cell phone, dialed the number he had written on a scrap of paper, and the apartment manager picked up on the second ring. Cade identified himself and what he wanted to do, to which the manager readily agreed. He tossed the phone carelessly onto the passenger seat, forgetting that it was occupied. The phone bounced off Loki's back; he raised his head, looked around, and promptly went back to sleep.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

6. Goodbyes

The alarm clock read 8:37am, but somehwere along the line 37 minutes had been added, so 8:00am even it was. This was the result of what was affectionately known as "Alarm Clock Chicken" that Dave and Lily played for a couple of months, all in an effort to be on time more often for work or play. Dave had finally blinked at thirty-seven minutes, which annoyed him to no end. They were still late sometimes; when one is aware how fast the clock is, it's easy to calculate how many times the snooze button can safely be hit.
Now Cade's slumber paid the price. He was dismayed, but not all that surprised, to hear that the song playing on the radio was "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." Clapton, not G'n'R, thank God. He could do without the screeching on this particular day. His body didn't want to obey his mental command to get up, not out of fatigue, but out of grief and guilt. He willed his feet to the floor, stood up, stretched. He walked over to the closet, pulled out his black suit, and hung it on the door. A subtly-checkered red tie and black shoes were next.

Friday, September 15, 2006

5. Table Talk

The driving directions from small-town New York where the Becker's lived to small-town Massachusetts where his parents lived consisted mainly of: "Jump on I-90 East. Go straight for three hours or so." Melissa drove. Cade, not being in the most talkative of moods, alternated between finding her music on the MP3 player, snoozing, and staring out the window at the foliage that had just started to change.

Autumn in New England will never get old for me.

The sun had nearly set when they pulled into the driveway of the old colonial. It was inviting, as it had been for as long as Cade could remember. A lot of people didn't have even one place to call home; he had two. The first thing he noticed was that the lawn looked very good.

Melissa barely had the opportunity to take the keys out of the ignition before the front door swung open and Lily and Dave Becker walked out, each wearing an odd expression of both joy and grief.

Three travellers exited through two doors, and then the hugs and welcomes were in full swing.

"Old man", Cade offered with affection. He stick out his hand, but that was disregarded for a savage hug.

"Ah, shut up." Dave threw an arm around his son, who stood a full six inches taller than he, and walked him towards the door where, Cade could tell, dinner awaited. "Lawn looks great, don't it?"

* * *

Dinner happened as dinners should always happen: laughter, stories, good-natured ribbing, and catching up on what was new in their respective lives. The topic of Matt, while not having been intentionally avoided, had been mercifully absent until dessert and coffee. Lily was the first to speak of him, and she said simply: "I just can't believe he's gone."

There were silent nods all around.

Dave, ever the pragmatist, asked, "What was he on?"

Cade chewed thoughtfully on a piece of angel food cake. "That's the thing, Dad. Nothing. They found zip. Elevated levels of testosterone or something, but it was nothing that looked unnatural. Matt just...snapped. That's the best way I can put it. I realize that you weren't there, and it's almost impossible to explain exactly how bad he was, but he was a lunatic."

Lily looked shocked and unsurprised at once. "You shouldn't talk about your brother like that."

"Lily, Cade's right. The Matt that we all knew was never there that night. He didn't recognize least, if he did, he didn't care. He just kept screaming, 'Where is she?' over and over. He attacked Cade on sight. He would have killed us, Lily. It was..."

"It was fuckin' insanity, is what it was," Cade muttered.


"Sorry, Ma. But it was." He helped himself to another piece of cake. "I could show you my x-rays, if you'd like." He pointed to Loki, who was at Lily's feet chewing on a bone. "Look at him. Look at Lis's damn face, Ma. Would you have ever imagined Matt doing that? If it wasn't for a guy who couldn't sleep on one night out of dozens, you'd be planning three funerals instead of just one."

Lily was silent, and one look from his father was enough to tell Cade that the point had been made. Cade knew that look well and intended to copy it for use against his children someday. The table was silent for several minutes, the word "uncomfortable" not quite covering it.

Loki, for his part, continued gnawing on his bone.

Cade cracked first. "Ma..."

"We're all upset. There's no need to apologize."

"Who's apologizing? I'm bent that you called me 'Caldwell'." Dave laughed, tried to stifle it, but failed. He drew mock dirty looks from both women at the table.

"I'm tried to train him, Lily. I really have." Now it was okay to laugh.

Lily stood up and started clearing dishes. The other three stood to help, but she waved the men off. "Thirty-two years and all I've been able to teach your father-in-law is when heavy stuff needs lifting, lift it. You're way ahead of the game."

Cade blurted out, "Tomorrow I'm leaving to go and find out what happened to Matt." A dessert fork clattered onto the table. Cade figured that he looked as shocked as his wife.

To be continued...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

4. Like a Good Neighbor...

The GMC pulled straight into the driveway and parked, instead of going into the garage, as it normally did. Cade and Melissa weren't staying long. They climbed out and walked (or limped, in Cade's case) to the front of the house. As soon as Cade rattled his keys in the lock, an excited bark exploded through the door.

"Hold on, pal, we're coming," Cade said as he swung open the door. Loki burst through as soon as the opening was wide enough and went a little bit crazy, just because they were back. He jumped into Cade, showing no regard whatsoever for his cracked ribs. In truth, the ribs didn't hurt all that much, but that was probably the meds talking. They watched him run in wide, erratic arcs for a moment and then we able to calm him down. Cade dropped to one knee and stroked the panting dog's fur. He traced a finger along matching gashes that ran almost the entire length of his body. He didn't seem to mind.

"I guess we all got beat up. Hey, if I forget, remind me to cover the window with cardboard or something before we leave. Who knows what kind of wildl-"

He was interrupted by a banging sound in the back of the house. Melissa gasped, and the banging repeated. He heard the tinkle of broken glass. "Goddamn, what now?" He grabbed a shovel that was leaning against the wall, and then he looked at his dog, content that his mistress was scratching him absent-mindedly behind his ear. And then he looked at Melissa, who was looking at her dog with the same expression Cade figured he had on his face.

Why wasn't the dog upset?

Cade took a few tentative steps towards the back of the house, looked into his backyard and smiled. He motioned for his wife to join him.

* * *

Cade walked toward the tall black man in a Michigan sweatshirt. He was wearing headphones, and Cade thought it might not be a good idea to surprise him. "Alvin! AL!" Alvin jumped and spun, mallet in his hand.

"Hey...there he is!" He took off his work gloves and walked towards the couple. "I didn't think you'd be back so soon. Kinda ruined my surprise." He kissed Melissa on the cheek. She hugged him. So did Cade. It felt like the right thing to do.

"Why are you fixing my window?"

"It was broken. Did you paint my garage two years ago when my leg was broken?"


"There you go."

"Neighbors, huh, Al?"

"Neighbors, kid. Now let me finish; I'm sure you want to relax a bit." He pulled his gloves back on.

Melissa said, "I wish. We have to hit the road. Just came to pack a few things. Coffee?"

Al took his gloves off again and let them fall to the ground.

* * *

The instructions consisted of Melissa getting out one half of one sentence before Alvin made it quite clear that, seeing as he had raised four boys, he was quite capabale of handling two cats. And he was sure he could figure out how to get the mail on a daily basis, as well.

"Men." Her voice was mock-exasperated.

"You've been talking to Dorothy. Speaking of..." He reachedinto a a cupboard and pulled out a plate covered in tin foil. Cade's eyebrows rose.

"Chocolate chip?" Alvin smiled. "I do love that woman. Where is she?"

"Daughter's in town. She sends her best."

"I can see that." Cade looked at his watch. "We have to get going." He grabbed both suitcases, which his left side did not agree with at all. He put that one down. "Ow." Alvin picked it up easily, still strong despite his near-seventy years.

They threw the suitcases in the back. Melissa gave Alvin a kiss and opened the rear door for Loki, who happily jumped in. She closed it after him and climbed into the driver's seat. Cade took a moment to say something that needed to be said.

"Al, I..."

"Hey, don't give me any of that sappy shit, kid. Melissa told me why you went outside in the first place. You didn't have to, hell, you shouldn't have, but you did, just to protect us. Not that I'm surprised; that's the kind of man you are."

Alvin nodded, opened the passenger side door, and motioned for Cade to climb in. Cade did, shutting the door with a thud. Alvin handed him the plate of cookies and leaned towards the open window.

"I'm sorry about your brother. I wish I had time to figure out a better way, 'cept I'm old and slow. But you have to understand this one thing, kid: even if I knew that he was your brother, it still would have come down to a choice of either him or you two, and I wouldn't have hesitated one bit longer than I did. That's the kind of guy I am."

He straightened up, rapped three times on the roof, and went back to work.

Neighbors, Cade thought. That sounds about right.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

3. Visiting Hours

Cade drifted in and out of consciousness. He was vaguely aware of motion and an odd red light that faded and intensified, faded and intensified. He caught snippets of conversation that, in his battered state, made no sense to him. If he could have pieced just some of them together, they could have either rid himself of the notion that he was going to die or confirmed it for him, depending on which ones he focused on.

"...gonna be okay?"

"...lot of blood..."

"...looks worse than it is..."


"...oh, God..."

"...just fuckin' drive!"

* * *

When he woke up, he was greeted by a smiling face that, hidden behind an impressive shiner, was his wife's. She was sitting on the edge of the bed; the chair next to it looked untouched. He managed to croak out, "Hey." She replied in kind and planted a kiss on his forehead. It hit him like a sledgehammer, but it was still very welcome.

After the pain subsided a degree or two, he asked, "How long was I out?"

"About a day and a half."

"You okay?"

She nodded.

"You take a punch better than I do, I guess."

She laughed, and in that laugh she was hiding something. He knew what it was, but asked anyway.


She said nothing, and looked into her lap.

He sank lower into his pillow. "Goddamn it..." He put an arm over his eyes and cried for a minute or two. He cried for his brother, not for that...thing...that had put him here, had attacked his wife, had nearly killed them both. If not for Loki, they would both be dead.

"How's the boy?" He spoke into the crook of his arm, eager to change the subject, knowing it was futile. He cried harder, in spite of his efforts.

She put her hand on top of his other hand...soft. Gentle. "He's fine. A couple of cuts from the glass, but that's all." She paused "Alvin couldn't sleep. He took a walk, heard the dog barking, the yelling, grabbed his rifle and ran over. Well, as close as he can come to running, anyway. Matt was about to...Alvin saved our lives. And then he almost got shot by the cops for his efforts." This struck Cade as funny, for some stupid reason. Hey, my brother's dead, my wife looks like she went 12 rounds, and my brains are scrambled...I'm just glad I can laugh.

Melissa, to her credit, accepted it as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Maybe it was. She brushed a few stray hairs off of her forehead, and waited for him to come back to reality.

"I gotta call my parents. They-"

"They already know," she interrupted. "They called a few hours ago, looking for Matt. They sounded worried, I didn't know when you were going to wake up, I-I'm so sorry!" Now she was in tears.

"Nothing to be sorry about. You did the right thing, babe. Shit, we have to go out there."

"Already been discussed. As soon as they release Matt's body...Jesus that sounds wrong...we're heading out there. I called Donnie, too, and made sure that he knew you were unavailable for a while." Donnie was his agent. "I just got off the phone with Alvin, and in addition to saving our lives he's going to take care of the cats and the mail."

"I may have to work just to pay off the cell phone bill." It was a lame joke, but it was the best he could do. He was struggling, but, for now, he was winning.

"Unlimited nights and weekends, sweetheart." She got up, and stood still for a moment, just looking at him. "Thank you. For what you did for me. For saving me." One of the few things he remembered was covering her, bracing for the blow, knowing that she'd be next. She kissed him on the lips. "I just want you to know that. Let me go get you some water." He didn't know what to say. She walked out, but he knew she'd be back soon.

She was wrong about everything. I couldn't save shit, he thought. Pure, blind, dumb fucking luck saved her, and me. Luck, and a retired neighbor with a gun. He felt small, ineffective.

His big brother was dead.


To be continued...

Monday, September 04, 2006

2. Sibling Rivalry

Cade instinctively brought the gun up to fire, but it took him about one second to realize he was a half-second too slow. He got one off; it might have been a hit, but his big brother charged right through it and tackled Cade so hard he though he might pass out. The gun flew off into a bush as Matt landed on top with crushing force.

Cade was a calm, disciplined fighter, and his brother never became anything but a brawler. He wrestled with his brother, intending to subdue him, smack him across the face a few times, and find out what the fuck he was on to make him go crazy like this. He quickly gained the advantage, pinned the good arm, and thought it might be over. But Matt strained with the other arm, the one with the titanium shoulder, and it made a sickening popping/grinding noise as he threw him off like a bull throws its rider when it decides it has had enough. Before Cade knew it, he was flying through the air, shocked at the strength and disregard for pain he had just witnessed. That was impossible. Last I knew he couldn’t even shoot a basketball, let alone throw a 220-pound guy around with one arm. Then he hit the back wall and crumpled to the ground, all thoughts gone.

When they were growing up, they fought sometimes, as brothers, especially two so close in age, like to do. They were always fairly well-matched, and as adults often joked about their unbeaten record against the other. Truth is, they always fought to a draw, because neither one, in his heart, really wanted to win. They were brothers, and that trumped whatever game or girl they felt was worth fighting over at any given time during their fleeting adolescence.

This time, Matt clearly wanted to win. Matt was pounding on his little brother, not caring where the blows landed. He was repeating his mantra of “Whereisshe? Whereisshe?” His voice grew more and more hysterical with each repetition. Cade covered up as best he could, but he was taking a lot of punishment. He heard his wife screaming from the balcony and then run inside. He knew she was heading to him, to help him, to save him. He wanted to scream, “Stay inside!” but he had no breath.

He’s going to kill me, Cade thought. My brother’s going to beat me to death, and then go after Liss, and I’ll never know why. He thought he heard sirens off in the distance, but he couldn’t be sure. He focused on the only thing he could: keeping Matt busy for as long as possible. He took several brutal blows to his face, and he knew it just wouldn’t be long enough.

Then, a shattering of glass, and a terrifying growl. He had forgotten all about Loki, but Loki had forgotten nothing. It had only been about thirty seconds since Matt had first broken the picture window, and Loki had been working his way through it. He launched himself, all sixty pounds of him, at his master’s attacker with a fury Cade always wondered about, but never thought he’d actually see. He tore into whatever he could grab, and Matt moved off Cade.

Good boy, he thought as he fought unconsciousness. That’s my good boy. Liss burst out of the house, carrying the aluminum baseball bat that he stored under the bed for, well, for something like this, he guessed. Matt threw Loki off and moved for her, but the dog was back on him instantly. She swung, catching him square in the chest; he staggered a bit from the blow, a dog was shredding his leg, and still he moved for her.

Stubbornly clinging to life, Cade struggled to his feet. They didn’t abandon me…least I can do...

Liss swung again, but he moved in and punched her in the jaw, driving her backwards. She collapsed, out cold. Matt grabbed the bat, and the look in his eye was both vacant and homicidal at once. Cade could do nothing but stumble to Liss and cover her up with his battered body. He saw that his brother had raised the bat for the killing stroke.

Why, Matty?

Two shots rang out in quick succession. They weren’t police-issue handguns. He wasn’t positive, but it sounded suspiciously like his neighbor’s rifle, the reports echoing in his head as he slipped into darkness.

To be continued…

Thursday, August 31, 2006

1. Bump in the Night

The barking brought Cade and Melissa Becker back to consciousness, if only barely. The floodlights were on, meaning that something had triggered the motion sensors.

He mumbled something, and she responded with a sleepy groan. “Loki, come on, buddy, shut up.” Expecting the dog to throttle back to growling, as he always did when he wanted to bark but his owners most decidedly wanted him to not bark, Cade drifted down, a few glorious degrees closer to slumber.

Loki, uncharacteristically, continued to bark.

“Friggin’ deer,” he said as he stared at the ceiling. “You need to do a better job of marking your territory. Now shut up!” Loki paid him no mind, and barked louder than before.

Dog owners know that a dog is like a baby in many respects, not the least of which is that the dog owner learns to decipher his pet’s different barks the way a parent can decipher a newborn’s cries. After a while, he knows when a dog’s hungry, sees a squirrel, wants to play…

…and when he knows something’s wrong.

Cade bounced out of bed, instantly awake, and walked to the balcony doors. The spotlights threw out a wide cone, but the back yard was large and a great deal was lost to shadows. He absentmindedly scratched Loki, his hackles raised, behind the ears. Still he barked, and that had never happened before. Cade stared into the backyard intently, concentrating on the fringe of the light, knowing that anything within it would be noticeable.

A small voice came to him. “What is it?”

“Nothing, babe. Go back to sl-“

To his left, but exposed in the light, something made a beeline to the back of the house. It was not a deer, unless they had learned to run on their hind legs. Cade jumped back, and that’s when the pounding started. Whatever it was didn’t care if it was seen or heard, only that it got into the house.

“What the fuck?!?”

“Oh my God! What is it?”

Loki bolted downstairs, making a vicious sound the whole way. He wanted to tear whoever was trying to get in his house apart.

Cade couldn’t agree more. He threw open the closet door, and fumbled in the dark for the keypad he knew was there behind half a dozen suits he never wore. “Call the cops.” They simultaneously punched in numbers: she on her cellphone, he on his safe. The door swung open. He pulled out the handgun, popped in a magazine, and hit the slide.

“You…are not...going outside. Wait for the police!”

He grabbed the spare magazine and shoved it into his pajamas pocket as he slid on his shoes. Now the attacker was screaming something that may have been, “Where is she?” Over and over again…”Where is she?”

The pounding was moving all along the back wall of the house randomly, as if the wannabe intruder was too far gone to notice that there was a very large, very breakable plate glass window close by. He was hidden from sight by the balcony, but Cade got the impression that the intruder wouldn’t care if he had a neon sign on his back.

“This guy’s fucking crazy, honey. He’s in the light, he’s screaming, he knows we have a dog in here, and he’s still trying to get in. He could leave us and go next door, and I don’t want any dead neighbors on my conscience. I’m not going after him unless I have to…I’m not stupid…but I need to keep him in sight.” He gave her a kiss. “I’ll be fine. Promise. Be sure to tell the cops what I look like and that I’m armed.”

She began speaking into the phone as he bounded down the stairs. Between the pounding and the barking, he couldn’t even hear his own footfalls on the wooden staircase, so he knew he didn’t have to worry about losing the element of surprise. He opened a window in the study and slid out as nimbly as his tired thirty-year-old body would let him.

Moonlight and familiarity with the land allowed him to sneak around the side of the house quietly, not that it was necessary. He peered around the corner. Sure enough, the madman (he was sure it was a man, now) was running back and forth along the back wall, hitting whatever happened to be in front of him. Cade could hear Loki matching the man pace for pace inside the house, his snout only a few inches from his prey.

Maybe I should have just let him out, instead. Where are the goddamn cops?

True to his vow to not be stupid, Cade only watched. Something about the way the man moved reminded him of…someone he knew. What bothered him was the way the man was pounding. His left arm was moving normally, but his right never got raised above shoulder level. Almost as if he had an injury…or an artificial shoulder.

Just then, by design or accident, he found the window. It cracked, then broke.

That woke him up. Melissa was in real danger now, so he yelled, “Hey, asshole!” and moved around to the back to get a clear shot. The man turned, and it all fell into place.

He thought of the man screaming, “Where is she?” He knew that panicked voice. He had heard it for the first time when he was a young boy, lost in the woods during an ambitious game of Hide and Seek. “Game’s over, Cade! Where are you? Where are you? He remembered thinking how mad Mom was going to be when his big brother couldn’t find him, and how funny that would be.

Then Matt Becker charged, covering the distance too fast, way too fast.

To be continued...