Carol

Carol was getting old. Real old. And her bones weren’t feeling all the travel anymore. Flying first-class was fine, she guessed, if you’d never experienced the thrill and freedom of the open air as she had for so many decades—was it decades already? The seats cramped her fragile wings no matter what the cabin.

Oh, how she wished she could hide them from view. What were now crimped and desiccated had once been lustrous as pearls and as flexible as whips. The other passengers were mercifully courteous, never acknowledging the obvious. Being a fairy that could no longer fly was humiliating enough. Thank heavens Jack had racked up so many frequent flyer miles before his heart got him. Absent that, she’d be unable to do her job at all.

She ordered her usual, a ginger ale with a squeeze of lime and eleven packets of sugar. Stirred it for a while and reminisced about old times. At the top of her game and with able wings, she’d been unstoppable, covering ground like dawn itself. Jetliners were tediously, painfully slow. And that’s before you tack on all the time lost to security lines, misplaced baggage, and weather delays. Was a time she could do thousands, even hundreds of thousands of pickups in a single night. My, she had been a marvel. Like a magical hummingbird.

Now she was lucky if she cleared five or six homes before morning. Barely half a dozen! The only way to get the full job done nowadays was to farm the balance of the work to the younger generation, the millennials. To her knowledge, she’d been the first to subcontract rather than retire. Subcontracting! Who would have thought? It was admittedly difficult, the hours upon hours of scheduling and coordination. Some might say it was barely worth the effort, but what else was there? Bridge with the biddies? Daytime television? Travel hassles and weather delays were always preferable to the pre-morgue marination of Bluebonnet Meadows, a soft prison of pill cups and spittle-soaked Sudoku.

The plane met ice and snow as it touched down at Cleveland Hopkins. Passengers popped their collars and donned jackets, mouthing vague rebuttals to global warming. The cold never much bothered Carol. Her metabolism was extraordinary. Like a woodstove at her core it burned steady, keeping her toasty through the coldest nights of the coldest months. It kept her warm even when garbed in the official uniform, which was cut skimpy for speed.

The baggage carousel rumbled to life. Carol withdrew her notepad and ran over her checklist. The younger fae scoffed at her note-taking, but she’d never needed to return home for a forgotten item, now, had she? She slid the stump of a pencil from the spiral at the top, flipped to the correct page, and touched the lead to her tongue.

One large canvas duffle holding ten empty duffles. Check. One personal trunk containing three cartons of orange drink and uniform. Check. Forty-eight pack of Pixy-Stix? Check. Change purse with lanyard? Check.

On the next page were the few names she’d chosen to handle on her own, the rest having been assigned out to the scabs. Andrew Clausen, Sofia Melange, Bradley Wu, Emily Boatwright, Shawna Johnson, and if she had time, Martin Thackery. Geographically, they were rather closely clustered so she’d be able to do it all in a single cab ride, assuming everything went smoothly.

Outside in Passenger Arrivals, frosty air touched by jet fuel cleansed her palate of the terminal’s odor. They all had it—a rank, vaguely ureic scent, hot with salt and glazed in a layer of industrial cleanser that sat atop rather than cutting through.

A cabbie helped her get the duffle and clothes trunk into the back seat. Carol climbed in after.

Buckling in, his eyes went to the rearview. “Where to, miss?” A Russian accent. What was it about Cleveland and Cincinnati that brought such high numbers of Russian taxi drivers? Not that she was prejudiced. They treated her kindly, and in fact, pried less than most.

“I see you’re getting some cold weather here,” she said.

“Um, yes, miss.” Cabs piled up behind. One honked. “Miss? Where do you like to go?”

She flipped through the notepad, held it to the tiny light in the ceiling. “Yes, of course…okay, here we are. Ambler Heights, yes. We can start on Elandon Drive.”

“Okay, you got it.” He eased into the accelerator. “You have friends at Ambler? Some rich folks over there.”

“Oh, we have work all over the place, mister…” she glanced to the cabbie license suspended from the mirror, “Kud-nessof.”

“Kuznetsov,” he said. “It’s okay, it’s a tough one. Call me Gavrie.”

“Gavrie?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“I am going to put on my uniform, Gavrie. Is that okay if I change in your back seat?”

“Um, sure.” The words tripped from his mouth. The woman had to be eighty years old. “I won’t look.”

“I knew you were a gentleman.”

Gavrie pressed his eyes forward, determined not to glance at the mirror even though the movement was reflexive.

Carol opened the trunk and withdrew a tidy bundle of clothing. She dropped her slacks, exposing thin legs prickled by cold. A pair of light pink tights she rolled from her toes to high around her waist. Off came her sweater and collared button-up. The bra she left on for comfort in case she had to run. Over the tights went a mint leotard with slats through which she threaded her wings. Finally, she removed a pair of violet hair bands from around a wad of tulle. The fabric puffed into a sky blue tutu, auriphrygiate, which she slipped over the leotard. She put her white tennis shoes back on and slapped down the velcro straps.

“I’m dressed. You can look now.”

Gavrie did. Then right back out the windshield.

Carol gathered up her grey hair into bunches and tied two pigtails with the bands. Around her neck she hung a change purse from a yellow-green braid of yarn. She folded her clothes into crisp rectangles and placed them into the trunk.

“Gavrie?” she asked, latching the trunk. “Will we be going near Lakewood Park?”

“Not really.”

“Well.” She paused, looked out the window. “We’ll need to detour that way. Can you take me to Lakewood, the Edgewater Pier first?”

He tapped the meter. “That will add some serious expense to the fare.”

Carol caressed the change purse. “That’s just fine. I have plenty.”

They rode on through Westpark, scraped the Northern edge of Cudell and the West Eighties, then rolled under Highway 20 to the shores of Lake Erie. The air temperature took another dip and she pretended not to shiver. They were close to the water even though she couldn’t see it.

The cab rolled into a parking lot near the pier, fenced in on three sides by chain-link and choked with brown weeds.

“This is fine, right here,” said Carol, taking up one of the empty duffles and nudging the door with an elbow.

She trotted, sprite-like, through the headlights and to a pile of cast-aside traffic barricades. She nudged one aside and stuffed the bag into a crevice, then returned to the cab where Gavrie’s furrowed brow met her gaze in the rearview. She gave him a crisp, mischievous grin.

They made nine more stops.

Gavrie was thoroughly perplexed by the woman, dressed like Easter, hiding sacks about town like the Bunny. Appearances aside, the nature of her actions was unequivocally criminal. He’d been the unwilling messenger for organized crime before and this was how it went down. Only they never used a grandmother bag-man dressed for maximum attention.

By the time they crossed onto the well-manicured streets of Ambler Heights, curiosity was eating him alive. “Can you tell me what it is you do?”

“Oh, Gavrie, aren’t you the jokester. You know what I do.”

“No, I really don’t.” He hoped he didn’t.

Carol smiled knowingly, like they were in it together. “You know how regimented we have to be with our accounting. Maybe you’ve not been privy to the recent changes.” She set her hands in her lap. “With the loss of my wings, I’ve had to outsource much of my work, but I still like to be involved with processing. These bags are for the subcontractors to deposit the night’s collection.”

“What are you collecting?”

“You are so funny, Gavrie. Really. Just a comedian.” She watched the houses.

“Seventy-five-oh-six, stop right here.”

The car ground to a halt in front of a stately brick two-story with an American flag hanging limp from a pole beside the door. Carol reopened her trunk and lifted a carton of orange drink. She peeled the plastic seal and held it forth.

“Do you partake?”

“Ah, no thanks,” he answered.

Carol guzzled the top third of the jug and pressed the lid back on.

“You live here?” asked Gavrie.

“Don’t be silly. Andrew Clausen lives here. I’ll be right back.” She opened the door with authority, her mission clear at least to her.

She skip-shuffled up the cobbled walk to the butter-yellow front door but didn’t knock. A glance through the side window. The lights were out, the house asleep. She stepped over a row of pansies and rounded the home and down a stone path to the side yard.

She danced over a hose and navigated some garden benches and patio furniture. The back door held when she turned the knob. The windows were also sealed. She backed away and considered the home. She’d have to break a window—she preferred not to, but she’d done it before. What choice did she have? Hers was a non-delegable actuarial responsibility. With a loose brick lifted from the walk she looked for the window least likely to be a bedroom.

A shaded window at the corner of the home seemed the right height and size for a powder bath. She stood in the grass beneath and readied the brick. Something made her hesitate. She checked the back porch again and there it was, a doggie door. What luck!

There didn’t seem to be a dog around. Nor any food or water bowls. Maybe the door had been installed by the previous owners. Carol stuck her head through. Nice kitchen. No pets she could see or smell. Oh, what a hassle. In the old days, people didn’t lock up so tight. Nevermind it. Little Andrew would be delighted she’d gone through the trouble.

She wiped her shoes on the mat, making sure not to trace the outdoors in. Stairs went up from the end of the hallway toward the front. Kids were always on the second floor. She tiptoed her way. A creak squeezed from the boards and she froze, perking her ears for any awakenings. Everything would be ruined for the boy if she were seen.

Relieved, she made the top of the stairs and surveyed the layout. Long hallway with a door at the end. Parents. Two doors down the other way. That’d be the children. A large A on one of them gave the boy’s location. She took tiny steps and avoided making a sound. This had been so much easier when she’d been able to simply flutter over stairs and down hallways!

Millimeter by millimeter she pressed the door open until it was wide enough to pass and tucked her wings close so they wouldn’t crinkle against the frame. She slipped inside and there was the boy, Andrew Clausen, sleeping away.

Recognizance reported the loss to be a lateral incisor. She went to the coin purse at her neck to retrieve the correct payment.

She gathered one quarter and pressed the clasp with a muffled click.

Another click behind her.

“Shut up and don’t move,” came the whisper.

Still facing the sleeping boy, Carol held up her hands, said, “It’s okay—”

“Shut up, I said. Now. Quietly, step backward into the hallway with me.”

Carol turned her face to see a man and held up the quarter. “Do you mind if I just,” she gestured to the child.

“Move. Now.”

“Alright, alright.” She shuffled backward out of the room.

With the gun aimed at her face, the man eased by and pulled the door to, then led her downstairs. Mrs. Clausen stood at a narrow wall next to the refrigerator. “The police are on their—,” she hung up the phone and turned to the captured burglar, ”Oh my god!”

Seeing the frail old woman in the full light of the kitchen, Mr. Clausen seemed to relax a measure. He let down the hammer of the gun and stuffed it into his pajama shorts and crossed his arms. “What were you doing in my son’s room?”

“He’s lost a tooth if I’m not mistaken.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Mrs. Clausen.

Carol grinned innocently, displaying her own perfect teeth.

Mr. Clausen was unmoved. “Why do you know about my son’s teeth? Are you from the school? His dentist?”

“Do you really not know who I am?” Carol asked. “What do you think these are?”

She angled her back and fluttered the useless wings at them.

Mr. Clausen made a face, glanced at his wife, then back to Carol. “What do I think what are?”

The curtains flashed blue and red.

“Police are here,” said Mrs. Clausen.

“Come on, lady, let’s go. Maybe the cops can figure out where you escaped from.”

“I’ll explain that it’s all just a terrible misunderstanding.” She followed him toward the front door where he stopped to undo the latches.

“You broke into our house,” he said, reminding her of the crime.

“No, I used the doggie door,” she said with an innocent shrug.

A boy’s baseball glove sat open on the hallway table and in it she set his quarter.

A pair of officers met them halfway up the walk. Another team had Gavrie under interrogation next to his cab.

“Evening officers,” said Mr. Clausen. “I’m sorry to have to bother you about all this…uh, I think we have a case of,” he looked Carol over once more, still not believing his eyes, “confusion maybe?”

“We’ll take it from here, sir,” said one of the cops moving next to Carol. “Is everyone inside alright?”

“Yeah. I found her in my son’s room, but he’s fine. Didn’t even wake up. I think she’s just lost.” Lost, yeah, lost her damned mind.

“I’m not lost, gentlemen,” said Carol, “I can assure you of that.”

“Come on, ma’am,” said the closest cop, taking her gently by the arm, “let’s get you warmed up in the car. We’ll find out where you belong.”

“Well alright, but only for a few minutes. I have five more homes to get to tonight, and that’s before I make pickups.”

The officer gave her a long look, an even mixture of incredulity, sympathy, maybe a touch of amusement. “Yeah, okay. Let’s just gather ourselves for a minute, ‘mkay?”

He led her to the car and helped her in. She shimmied into the seat so as not to scrunch her wings against the vinyl. It was warmer in the car, she had to admit.

The officer plopped into the driver’s seat and blew into his hands, threw her a glance in the rear view. He picked up the radio. “What’s with the cabbie, Jerry?”

Through the windshield Carol saw the officer closest to Gavrie take the mouthpiece from his shoulder. His voice came through the dashboard. This guy says he’s been taking her around town. She’s making drops, can you believe it?

“Are you kidding me?”

Naw. We have a car headed to a vacant cargo lot over at Edgewater by the lake to check on one.

“Buzz me when they find it.” He hung up the mouthpiece and swiveled in his seat.

“What exactly have you been doing, lady?”

Carol adjusted one of her pigtails. “My job, officer.”

“And what is that, exactly?”

Carol shook her head and gave an eye roll. “I’m the Tooth Fairy.”

He rolled his eyes. “And I’m Santa Clause.”

“No you’re not.”

“Look—we’re going to have to take you to the station. I mean, technically you’ve committed burglary. Who can we call? What nursing home did you break out of?”

“I didn’t break out of it, I just walked outside and went to the airport like I always do. I used fly on my own, but my wings have seen better days.”

He either ignored the last bit or it was indistinguishable from all the other nonsense. “What’s with the drops?”

“Drops?”

“The bags you left all over town. You distributing or what?”

“Distributing? No. I’ve had to outsource my work to the kids. Well, not kids. They’re just young. Might as well be kids. They do most all the wingwork for me. Collections.”

He sighed and turned back to the wheel.

A few minutes elapsed as the police outside spoke with Gavrie.

“Oh!” Carol exclaimed, digging into her coin purse. “Officer?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you take this money and give it to Gavrie? I almost forgot to pay him.”

He let her drop the change into his hand. “This is a buck twenty-five.”

“Well, he was very kind. And knowledgeable! He can keep any change.”

The cop leaned into the door and got a foot out when the radio crackled. We found the bag.

“Yeah? What’s the poison?” He glanced at Carol. “Scrips, I’m guessing? Oxy?”

No, man. It’s teeth. The whole bag is full of teeth.

THE END

First Acceptance!

My short horror story “Groundskeeper” was just accepted by The Ginger Collect literary magazine for their seventh issue. It comes out 9/22/18. I’m glad it found a home with them. They value the uncanny, the strange stuff.

I’ve been writing for about four years now, primarily on any one of five novels I’m toiling away on. About five months ago, I got an idea for a short story and wrote it. Then I got another idea and wrote a second story. That was “Groundskeeper.” I never purposefully set out to write short stories, I hadn’t ever tried, but now I have the bug. I probably write one every three weeks or so. They’ve very short. And they’re usually about death.

Fruit on the Forest Path

Janie made her way past the final house on the block, a black-shingled Victorian whose resident, an old widower, was a shut-in. His eyes, it seemed, were multiple, set in a herd of mostly feral cats under his care that watched suspiciously from the perimeter, stationed like gargoyles atop the stone columns that marked each length of iron fence. Other than their following yellow eyes, they showed no movement, and Janie’s relief was palpable as she made her way onto the path and the woods closed behind.

The path was a refuge, the solitary route she took home from school when the world felt too big. Silence hung like a cottoned fog and the outside sounds—street noise, an errant dog bark—faded to rumor. A million miles from squabbling parents and jeering classmates. Her shoulders unraveled some as she burrowed ahead.

The trees had already surrendered to autumn, with all of the sycamores and oaks baring themselves naked. Janie pushed through their leaves, upending dark layers of spongy humus, each footfall muted by the smothering quiet.

She stopped near a bramble and spoke aloud just to test if her voice would be swallowed. “Hello.”

“Who’s there?”

She stood in place and turned to either side, twisted at the middle, and forced her head over her shoulder. “Hello? Who’s there?”

A melodic voice came. “Are you a cat?”

“Uh,” she checked herself over, “no. I’m a person.”

“All cats are persons. They’re just person-cats. What kind of person are you?”

“A human person.”

“How do I know you are telling the truth?”

“Just look at me. Tell me where you are and I’ll show you.”

“Exactly what a cat would say.”

“Well I don’t really know how to convince you that I’m not a cat unless you look at me. I’m a girl.”

“Did the cats see you come in here?”

“Mr. Harkleroad’s cats? Of course they did. There’s like a million of them.”

“Oh great. You’ve probably led them right to me. Please just go.”

“I could help you. Where are you?”

“Prove you’re not a cat first.”

“Besides the fact that I’m human, how do I do that?”

“What word means to understand another person’s plight?”

Confused, Janie gave the obvious answer. “Empathy?”

A sigh of relief. “You’re not a cat.”

“What?”

“Cats can’t use that word.”

“Can’t use it? Can’t say the word empathy?”

“Can’t, won’t, doesn’t matter. Cats are selfish. Wholly individual. It’s all I-I-I, me-me-me. Never a thought about anyone else.”

“So I’m not a cat. Tell me where you are.”

“I’m hiding from cats, girl.”

“Okay,” said Janie, spinning about, “where?”

“My wing is broken. I can’t move very well. Stuck, really.”

“You’re a bird?”

“An owl, girl.” Now the voice made sense. Exactly the type of voice an owl would have.

“My step-sister is a veterinarian! I can get you help!” Her heart swelled with excitement. She’d always loved owls, a talking one was even better, someone to share things with, if only until it recovered.

“Is she good, your step-sister?”

“The best. I can take you to her if you’ll just tell me where you’re hiding.”

The silence returned and a snow flurry blitzed down. The temperature dropped. There wasn’t much place for an owl to hide. A scraggly blackberry breached the leaves. Janie poked it with a sneaker, careful to avoid the unpicked fruit, ruptured and hanging like offal.

“You see the burnt trees?” asked the owl.

Janie knew the ones. Down the path was a stand, three of them dead and blackened by a decades-old lightening strike. She’d always wondered if it had hit only one, with the others catching fire, or if its electric fingers had spread wide to touch all three in one go.

“Yeah, they’re right in front of me,” she said, approaching. “Which are you hiding in?”

“No. The big log on the ground.”

Janie spotted it, thick with char and set diagonally beside the leftmost tree. She followed it upward and matched the fracture-lines. It had been a towering tree, still was, and even though fire had gutted it, she could tell the wood held. “You’re…in there?”

“Where else would you go if you couldn’t fly and had to hide from cats?”

“I guess I’d go in there.”

“Well that’s where I am.”

“Can you hop out? I’ll wrap you in my jacket and take you home.”

A shuffling from inside, moaning. “Ugh, it hurts too much. Can you reach me?”

Janie considered the damp ground, the trunk’s empty hole, what would be a tight and claustrophobic fit. A touch of nausea teased the base of her tongue. “I’ll run home and get a pry-bar. I bet I can break this longways. My dad left his toolbox behind. I could find something in there.” She started to trot off.

“No-no-no! Please!” Hollered the owl. “Cats hunt at nightfall.”

Janie turned back to the hole, somehow blacker than the sooted wood that held it. More flurries fell against the greying sky, low and bulbous. She stepped toward the log and knelt to see inside.

“There you are,” said the owl, though he remained in darkness. “And not a cat at all.”

“How far back are you?” asked Janie, still queasy about navigating the narrow tube.

“Just an arm’s length, perhaps a touch more.”

Janie sat back on her calves, felt the moisture on the ground wick into her jeans, and looked around at the woods. Dusk. She allowed a deep inhalation and blew it out slowly, let her backpack droop to the ground.

“Quickly, please, or I’m a goner,” urged the owl from within.

Janie zipped her jacket to the top and eased onto her stomach, bringing her face to the threshold.

“I’m so relieved, girl. What was your name?”

“Janie,” she said, shuffling on her forearms into the maw.

“Lovely name. I’m so lucky you came along.”

Her shoulders rubbed the sides and she had to keep her face low to avoid bumping her crown on the tunnel’s ceiling.

Outside came a scratching. “Did you hear that?” she asked.

“I only hear you.”

“I’m afraid I’ll get stuck,” said Janie, pressing inward. “My arms are pinned beneath me. I don’t know if I can reach you.”

A zipper ripped opened outside. Her backpack. “Who’s out there?”

Her feet curled inside her boots and she kicked in blind fear at whatever had come. She tried to push out, but had become wedged. “I can’t move! I’m scared,” she screamed.

“Oh, that’s loud,” said the owl. “The cats will be coming now for sure.”

Something scratched at her ankles and she shook it away. “Ow! They’re here!” Another scratch, and another. “They’re hurting me! Help!”

The owl was silent.

“Are you there?” Janie pleaded.

A purring.

She brought her eyes up from below and strained them into the void.

Blackness lifted from over orbs of gold, and the slits that divided them spread wide.

The 73 Day Novel

It took me ten months to produce the rough draft of my first novel. That was a scorching pace for me since I hadn’t ever written anything and had to do things like ask google where the comma goes before and/or after a dialogue tag. Also I asked google things like: “What is a dialogue tag?”

I can do dialogue tags now.

On January 25th of this year I got an idea for a story. On April 7th, tonight, I finished it. 73 days of writing every day with a full time job. It’s not long, 274 pages, and it’s obviously the roughest rough. But it’s done.

I read about and listen to what writers say about writing. They’re always saying that milestones should be celebrated—don’t just gloss over them. Breathe and consider what you’ve done. I’m trying to do that more.

I just finished my second novel and I’m proud of that.

***Celebration concluded.***

Now on to power-editing. Hahaha.

What am I working on? How’s it going?

Completed/polished novels: 1

Queried novels: 1

Rejections so far: 25

In progress novels: 3

-[Sequel to novel being queried] – fully outlined, some written. Just waiting to see where Book I goes.

A Priori (working title) is about 110 pages in. I very much love this project and I will finish it, but it is temporarily shelved so that I can work on…

-[Title to come]. I started this book on 1/25/18 after a story idea came to me as I was falling asleep the evening before. I’m 235 pages in after two months of writing. Extremely excited about this one. It is a completely different angle on a very widely written topic. It is also timely, politically and socially speaking. I should have my first rough complete within another 2-3 weeks. I’ll polish and revise for a solid “First Draft” and get some people reading it.

I never anticipating being a writer. Never thought I would love it as much as I do. Now, three years after I first began in earnest, I find myself trying to wedge words into my stories whenever there’s a free second. Anytime I’m not writing is agony. /hyperbole, but seriously.

The fact that I have received so many rejections has only inspired me. Chugga chugga chugging away.