COL – Perfection

“Every choice you make will alter you.  It will change the chemical makeup of your body and shape the way people see you.  It will give you a baseline for every decision that will follow.”  Looking tall and strong, Charles Ferguson stood beside him, his wide hands with their stubby fingers splayed on the edge of their kitchen table as he leaned down, staring him in the face.  Shane knew his father was only five foot seven, but in that moment his memory made him look so much larger.  The feel of it was like his dad had been towering over him, blocking the bright sunlight that had been shining through the kitchen windows.  Looking at his own hands now, especially the one holding the pen, he tried to feel a connection to that man who had worked so hard to make him understand something that day.  The lesson hadn’t been lost on him, but it hadn’t been learned either.

His own fingers were long, more like his mother’s, with narrow palms and soft tips that seemed to read their way along every movement.  Charles had called it a natural gift for learning, an ability that connected directly to his brain through his eyes.  Whatever he saw, he could do.  His hands would move, copying the motions of what he was seeing, duplicating the rhythms.  It didn’t matter if he was watching someone type a letter on a computer keyboard or being mesmerized by how a machine could carve a small peg from a single block of wood.  His hands would move, following the patterns and flowing along invisible pathways that he could feel.

The pen in his hand was warm, the heat from his skin having created a bond between himself and the plastic.  It was a common pen, a simple thing purchased in bulk in boxes of twenty-five with a personalized logo printed around its cylindrical exterior.  The casual appearance of the pen was a sharp contrast to the paper in front of him.  His eyes were captivated by the form, it’s perfect beauty a drug for his eyes.  Whoever had made this had cared very deeply for its shape.  They had taken the time to feel their way along its creation and respect the rhythm of its purpose.  The pen was typical, just ink in a tube.  The employment agreement was a siren’s song captured on paper.

“If you will sign your name at the bottom of the form that you are accepting the position we can move along to wardrobe and have you fitted for your uniforms.”

A perfect form.  A casual pen.  A voice that scratched his ears.

Rolling the pen between his fingers he ignored the blonde woman with her short, frozen hair and impeccable gray, wool suit.  The lesson wasn’t lost, it just hadn’t been learned.  Why now?  Why that memory at this moment?  His spirit ached for him to sign his name, to write it on the amazing form and become a part of what had created it.  His mother had called that rubbing against popularity.  People liked to be near things that were magnificent, feeling they could absorb the greatness and enhance their own existence with it.  Was that what this was?  Was he just trying to rub against popularity?

“Mister Ferguson?”

Ripping his eyes away from the beautiful form he found the woman smiling at him, the bottoms of her perfect teeth barely showing between her painted, pink lips.  Her eyes were fully open, the pupils expanded in the flourescent light of the interview room that somehow brought a deeper blue to them.  Was she wearing contacts?  Keeping his teeth to himself, he smiled tightly back at her.

“We should move along now.  We have a lot of ground to cover yet.”

Nodding his understanding he rolled the pen around again, looking for a cooler spot to grip.  Carefully he turned the paper, positioning it at the exact angle he needed to get the proper slant on his signature.  It was his way to write in an upward motion, away from him.  His second grade teacher had made a fuss over it, trying to force him to write from right to left instead, but he had ignored her, waiting until she walked away to turn his paper back to the angle he liked.  Positioning the pen over the line at the bottom of the form he took a last look at it, letting his eyes soak in the love that had been imbued into its creation.  He took a deep breath and touched the nib to the paper.

“Okay, let’s move along to wardrobe.”

Feeling like the room had become slightly darker, he shoved the paper away from him, not looking at his signature.  The form was ruined, its beauty destroyed the instant he had touched it.  All he felt now was regret.

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Smashing Pumpkins – Opening Scene

(Being hard at work on getting my book finished I haven’t written a short story this week.  I feel moderately bad, but under the circumstances sacrifices must be made.  My life will be different next week.  Until then help yourself to bit of my main character.)

 

“This will go so much smoother if you will all just get in a line.”  Tammy’s voice rose higher with each word, a useless attempt to verbally control the throng of adults groping over her desk like zombies in search of a meal.  

Samson tried not to chuckle as he thumbed through the stack of papers marked for him.  Tammy’s desk was placed fully across the main path to Principal Brandt’s office, the door being in a direct line with her chair.  Anyone needing to speak with the Principal had to deal with Tammy first.  Like it or not though, the only order in force this morning was that of alpha versus everything that wasn’t alpha, excluding the scavengers drifting around the outer edges looking for their shot, and secretaries who lacked enough self-assurance to enforce order in an excited situation.

As if to prove his point, a narrow, pale arm covered in a three quarter length black knit and surrounded by four wide, silver bangles, snaked its way between himself and the other third grade teacher, Mrs. Chang, and snatched one of the thinner stacks off the top of Tammy’s faux wooden desk.  From the edge of his vision, he could see the platinum blond head of Alison Kanger, one of two seventh grade math teachers, retreat to the south wall with her prize.  Ghost white skin and large, round eyes with irises the color of drying earth clay, Alison was a startling apparition in the fluorescent illumination of the school’s main office.  More than once in his first three weeks here it had amused him to think she would be a heart stopping shock on a dark, county road in the dead of night.  High beams or low wouldn’t make a difference.  If Alison Kanger jumped in front of his car he would scream like a school girl and jerk the wheel.  

Using her middle finger to push her glasses further up the bridge of her nose, Tammy scowled at the group, her round, flushed cheeks bulging outward like a chipmunk.

“Is anyone even listening to me?”  

Noting the way the small muscles around her eyes were tightening Samson looked directly at her and smiled, showing just the bottoms of his upper teeth.  Tammy’s pupils expanded instantly and she smiled back, her teeth fully exposed.  Quickly he looked back down at the papers in his hands. 

“Not really,” Alison stated, head bowed over her papers.  The fluffy, overly large bump she teased into the front of her hair translated into the pillar of a crown in the shadow she cast on the pastel yellow wall behind her.  Her angle in the light coupled with her head down posture gave her shadow a grotesque hump on its back.

“Animals, all of you.”  Straining to cross her arms over her chest Tammy huffed deeply and used her feet to push off from her desk, propelling her office chair backwards, away from them all.  A slight turn at the end gave everyone a side view of the long, brown tresses she refused to trim, the split ends appearing gray and unhealthy as they floated through the air a mere two inches from the floor.

Seeing all his pages were in order Samson went through them a second time, not really looking now as he watched Alison from the corner of his eyes.  The way she was licking her finger before turning every third page was maddening, like listening to someone scrape their nails over an old, slate chalkboard.  The small gap between her top and bottom teeth, clearly the result of a mild overbite, was filled with the tip of her tongue waiting for its next opportunity to wet the middle finger of her right hand.  Near the bottom of the stack she froze for a second, her eyes widening and a calculated smile spread over her entire face.  It vanished so quickly that had he not been watching he would have missed it completely.

Straightening up he began to make his way out of the office.  At six feet on the nose, he was taller than most of them and used that difference to his advantage. Careful to not step on Mrs. Chang’s foot, he dropped one shoulder and slid between her and Mr. McDonald, the Middle School Phys Ed teacher.  McDonald grunted as Samson’s pristine blue button down brushed his arm.

“Mmpf.  Football players.”

A guilty smile flashed across his face.  He had never been a football player or into any sports at all.  His muscular build was from the hours spent at home doing floor exercises while studying his suspects on the plasma.  He never went to a gym.  

“Goodbye Samson!”  Tammy’s voice sing songed over the heads of the teachers.

Raising a hand in acknowledgment he headed into the hall toward the Elementary wing. He had twenty minutes to get himself together before the kids started pouring through the doors.

“Dream on, sister.”  

Irritated by the snarky tone, Samson paused and thought about going back to confront Alison about her assuming attitude.  It would be a great start to his day, but it would undoubtedly give Tammy the wrong idea.  She was nice and all, but she was also a toad. Every time he looked at the squat secretary with her four feet of dead hair, his mind drew a picture of a jelly-filled amphibian with giant glasses riding on a shaggy lily pad.  Naw, let Tammy deal with Alison on her own.

The school housed kindergarten through high school, each part joined to the next by a single set of heavy, metal, double doors.   Pushing his way out of the middle school, Samson let the big doors bang shut hard behind him and walked to his classroom near the end of the hall. Cardboard cutouts of pumpkins, scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns were taped to the walls above the coat racks and JOC banners were tacked over every classroom door.  Closer to the floors, cats, ghosts, spiders and colorful fall leaves had been pasted.  The overall impression was an entire hallway of Halloween.  Welcome to October.

 

Reflections – Part Two of Two

Whistling air again, Mr. Jones slid himself onto the table, pausing for a moment as his feet came off the floor and his body settled back onto itself.  He sighed, the lines at the corners of his mouth becoming shallower as the muscles beneath relaxed.  Raising his head, he gave Master a smile.

“My knees.”

When no further explanation followed, Master narrowed his eyes slightly and shifted his sight again, this time looking specifically at the stated area.  The murky, brown aura swirled around Mr. Jones like a delicate dust storm.  No area stayed motionless long enough for a visual assessment.  In the seven years he had been professionally clearing energy paths and helping to open chakras he had seen several unusual behaviors in a person’s aura.  This swirling was something new.  He had no reference for it.  His eyes flicked involuntarily toward the small mirrors then back to Mr. Jones.

“Can I lay down now?”

Seeing Mr. Jones’ eyes watching him, Master nodded and held out a hand, palm open.

“May I take your jacket, sir?”

It was a simple request that clients acquiesced to without question.  Mr. Jones was no exception.  Shrugging his shoulders the grubby, tan jacket dropped down his arms, landing in a pile on the table’s soft, blue cushion.  Master tilted his head slightly to one side, surprised at the ease of the man’s movement.  

Plucking up the garment by its collar he turned to hang it on one of the round wooden pegs by the door.  When he turned back his foot froze in mid-step.  In that small, two seconds of time, Mr. Jones had, without a sound, become stretched flat on the table.  His hands were again folded, the fingers laced tightly together and resting on his stomach.

Finishing his step, Master made two more and stood again at the head of the table, behind Mr. Jones’ closed eyes.  Every hair follicle on his body was erect.  He could feel the energy gathering around him.  Unable to help himself, he looked again at the small, reflecting discs hanging so carefully over his windows.  They had been a gift from his mother the day he had opened his doors.

“Evil takes many forms.  These discs only guard against one.”

Showing him how to measure the strings and make the knots, she patiently explained the significance of each one.  He had never moved them from his windows.

Raising his hands he brought them together over Mr. Jones’ forehead, cupping them around the area commonly considered the third eye.  With shifted sight he focused his energy.  The response was immediate.

Mr. Jones opened his eyes and looked up, his blue gaze fixed on Master.  The area of his third eye swirled deeply, the murky brown color of his aura sweeping together into a vortex.

Master’s hands became captives of the storm, trapped in the tidal pull.  His own energy lashed out like a whip, violently looking for something to hold onto and finding nothing.  The vortex opened wide, revealing an iridescent jaw filled with teeth, the upper and lowers showing large, canine-like fangs.

Struggling to pull his hands back, Master felt his wrists bind together.  His personal energy poured out of him into the waiting jaws where it swirled away.  Dizziness swept over him.  His eyes rolled upward as the soft, hazy blackness of unconsciousness mercifully captured him in its waiting arms.

Master awakened alone, curled atop the blue cushion of his work table with his head pillowed on one arm as if he had lain down for a quick nap and fell deeply asleep.  He blinked repeatedly, trying to recall how he had come to be there.  Mr. Jones had been been laying here.  

Mr. Jones!

Memory jerked him upright and his head screamed with pain.  Dizzy, he pressed a palm to his forehead where it hurt the most, the skin over his hands feeling thin and tender.  He squinted at them, studying them through pain filled eyes, then looked at the peg by the door.  

Empty.  

The tan, grubby jacket was gone.

Slowly he sat up.  Every inch of him ached as his weight shifted from one part to the next.  It took both hands pulling at his slacks to get his legs over the edge of the table.  The step is still in place.  Carefully he lowered himself down, wincing as his right foot settled on the step.

Behind the sideboard where he kept his crystals, acupuncture needles, incense and hot rocks, is a full length mirror hung on its side.  He had hung it that way to increase the power of the candles he burned while he worked.  The light was softer, more golden and easier on the eyes.  Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror he is numb with shock.

Black hair, once rich and thick, is now thin, peppered with gray and flat in color.  The skin around his eyes has become creased.  The brown of his irises are now flat and washed out, like he had been drained of his vibrancy.  Knowing what was coming, he shifted his sight to see his aura.

Darkness

Shuffling closer to mirror he peered at his forehead.  An iridescent smear seemed to cover the area of his third eye.  Bracing both hands on the sideboard he leaned in, his tired eyes trying to make sense of it even as his stomach seized with horror.

Bite marks surrounded a gaping, ragged hole where his third eye had been.

Mr. Jones had left and taken Master with him.

Reflections – Part One of Two

“Mr. Jones?”

The man’s shoulders were slumped and rolled forward, his neck appearing bowed under the heavy weight of his own head.  His brown, linen jacket seemed worn and overdue for a wash while his denim jeans looked comfortable, loose enough in the waist at least for him to bend fully forward without stress on his stomach.  Brown work boots covered his feet, the thin, black soles heavily scarred from wear.  

Master thought if he were passing this man sitting like this at a bus stop, he would have judged him to be in his mid fifties.  The streaks of gray through his stylishly cut, light brown hair looked to be the result of age, not stress.  There was a difference.

Looking up, the man’s pale, blue eyes skimmed nervously across Master’s dark brown ones and he nodded.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

Not moving from the sofa, the man looked back at the floor and tightened his hands, the laced fingers clinging together almost like he was resisting an invisible force trying to pull them apart.  

Master held himself motionless. The information form on the clipboard stated that Mr. Jones was thirty-three.  Was it possible?  Could he really be that young, or had he simply made a mistake when he was writing?  Shifting his vision ever so slightly, he was not surprised to see a murky, brown aura surrounding him.  

“Would you like to come with me, Mr. Jones?”  Breathing out slowly, Master used his stomach muscles to fill his lungs.  The surface of his skin tingled with anticipation.  

Slowly pulling his hands apart like they were sticky, Mr. Jones placed his palms on the sofa on either side of his thighs and pressed down, his breath whistling through his sinuses as he strained to stand upright.  His right hand came forward in the air, an attempt to balance himself as his legs and feet became burdened with the weight of his torso.  For a single heartbeat he was frozen in time, every muscle in his body taut with the stress of being between positions.  Then his weight slowly settled forward.  His spine relaxed as his feet found their place.

Letting his breath out again Master pressed one hand flat against the frame of the door behind him.  He hadn’t realized he had been holding his air.  Taking a half-step to the left, he made room for Mr. Jones to slowly pass him by.  The man’s presence felt heavy as it brushed against his own.

“Go ahead and have a seat on the table, Mr. Jones.”  It was a standard request.  

There was a short, mobile step on the floor positioned to assist with the ascent.  Moving slowly toward the step, the arch of his neck deepening as the brown, diagonal pattern of the carpet flowed beneath his feet, Mr. Jones made his way to the step.

“Is the lighting too bright for you, sir?  I see you are squinting.”

“Um, no, it’s not the light, thank you.  The mirrors…”  Pausing at the step, Mr. Jones turned his head away from the row of low hung reflectors strung across the three, frosted window panes.  His face scrunched uncomfortably.

“The discs?”  The back of Master’s neck prickled a warning, his small hairs rising.

“Yes.  They hurt my eyes.”

Each octagonal disc was tied securely to an eyelet screwed into the wooden frame of  the window.  Master could easily snip the strings and remove them, but the rehanging would a project.  Every string was measured to a specific length and tied with a unique knot different from its mates.  In combination, the strings, knots and reflective surfaces worked together to provide a specific form of protection for the work room.

“If you are pleased with our progress today and wish to return, I can make arrangements to cover them for you in the future.”

Sighing deeply, Mr. Jones seemed to wilt inside his clothing like a discouraged flower realizing its water had completely run out.

“No bother,” he muttered and placed a hand on the table while he carefully lifted his right foot onto the step, using his free hand to help by pulling on his pants.  “I get used to things faster than most, I guess.”  A groan pushed between his lips as he leaned onto the step.  His left foot rose a mere inch off the floor before settling back down.

Watching the man move with all the starts and stops of someone twice the age of what was listed on his form, Master stepped a bit closer and held out his muscular forearm for assistance.

Eyes widening slightly at the offer, Mr. Jones stared at Master for a second, his watery eyes searching into the clear, sharp brown ones.  Then he nodded and moved his hand from the table, laying it firmly on Master’s forearm.

Surprise blossomed in Master’s chest at the strength in Mr. Jones’ grip.  The narrow hand wrapped all the way around his radius and ulna, the fingers overlapping as they came together on the other side.  At five feet and eleven inches, Master knew he wasn’t as large as they came, but he wasn’t small and he worked regularly at developing the strength in his forearms and wrists.  Squeezing him tightly, Mr. Jones again leaned onto the step, pushing down hard on his arm as the weight of his body rose onto his right foot.

Stiffening his neck, back and abdominal muscles Master pushed back, forcing his arm upward beneath the choking hand.  Mr. Jones’ left foot came off the floor and settled on the step beside his right.  The weight on Master’s arm remained the same.

“Yes, you are a strong one.”  Giving a powerful squeeze, Mr. Jones released his hold and braced himself against the table with both hands, turning slowly around on the small step.  “Quite strong enough,” he breathed.

The impression on his forearm looked deep enough to bruise.  Master watched his blood rush to fill the dents while his spine rippled in alarm.

Snippet #18

The sun was already reaching its zenith for the day.  In a couple more hours, dusk would creep in, spreading a soft, Autumn glow over the canal.  Sunset was always his favorite time of day down here.  

Sitting on the pale, recycled, resin bench, legs spread wide and arms thrown open across the back rest to discourage people from trying to sit with him, Carl watched the fat boy with his too long, red hair struggle with his catch.  He had managed to land fourteen fish in a little over an hour.  That had to be some sort of record.  As many times as he and JC had fished this area when they were boys, neither of them could boast of having caught fourteen in such a short time.  It looked like catching them was only half the battle though.  This kid was really working to get those fish home without losing anything.

Half-filled with water and bullheads, the blue bucket was too heavy.  Alternating between dragging it a few inches, then trying to lift it while not losing the fishing pole clenched under his arm or the small gray tackle box balanced on the lid just under the handle, he battled his way along the path toward home.

Spotting the uniformed officer walking leisurely toward the him from the opposite direction, he thought this might be a battle the kid was going to lose.  Shifting slightly to ease the growing numbness in his butt, he crossed one leg over a knee and waited.  From his vantage point on the other side of the canal, he would have a clear view.

Your Destination Is On Your Right

“Turn left onto Oakfield Burns Avenue and continue for four miles.”

The distinctly female voice seemed almost snarky to Jim as he flipped on his turn signal and slowed for the light.  Oakfield Burns Avenue looked like a country road to nowhere.  Even in the fading evening light, he could see the spot up ahead where the asphalt stopped and it was just a dirt and gravel road after that.  After making the turn, he pulled onto the shoulder and shifted into park.

“Maybe I typed the wrong address,” he muttered, picking up his phone and expanding the map screen with his thumb and forefinger.  The streets zoomed up, names and places becoming clearer.  He stared at the map in confusion.  Oakfield Burns came to a dead end at Oakfield Cemetery.

“What the hell?”  

The location icon was on, he could see it at the top of phone’s screen.  What was wrong with the GPS?  He paged back through the screens to the starting point and retyped the address he wanted.  It only took a few seconds for the app to process his location and show him his route.  He pressed the navigate symbol and listened for the instruction.

“Continue on Oakfield Burns Avenue for four miles.”

Gripping the smartphone a little tighter he gritted his teeth as a sudden shiver went through his shoulders.

“This is crazy.”

“Continue on Oakfield Burns Avenue for four miles.  Your destination will be on your right.”

This time he was positive the voice sounded snarky.  Who programmed these things anyway?  He tossed the phone on the passenger seat and pressed on the brake pedal as he shifted into drive.  There was a gas station back about a quarter mile.  Maybe he could buy an actual map?

“Continue on Oakfield Burns Avenue for four miles.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”  He executed a perfect u-turn into the next lane and accelerated.

“Make a u-turn onto Oakfield Burns Avenue west and continue for four miles.”

“Oh Christ, that’s enough from you!”

Slamming on the brake, he grabbed the phone and exited out of the useless GPS app.  Once the screen was dark, he tossed it back onto the passenger seat, face down.  Grabbing the steering wheel with both hands he let go of the brake and pressed the accelerator again.

“Make a u-turn onto Oakfield Burns Avenue west and continue for four miles, Jim.”  Bitter, demanding and louder than was reasonably possible, the electronic, female voice filled the car.

His foot stamped on the brake pedal in shock as a flurry of goosebumps spread down his arms.  From the corner of his eye he could see the phone still on the seat, face down, just as he had placed it.

“Turn around, Jim.”

Another shivered rolled through him, this time along his spine.  Pressing his lips tightly together he made the u-turn and accelerated along the road, wincing slightly as his back tires skidded coming off the asphalt onto hard packed dirt.

“Continue on Oakfield Burns Avenue for four miles.”

“I know!”

“Your destination will be on your right.”

Holding the steering wheel with both hands as the car rocketed along, spinning gravel and rocks from beneath the tires, he refused to look at his phone the entire four miles.  Cresting a small rise, he saw the Oakfield Cemetery fan out below, the main entry gate directly across the road.

“Your destination is on your right.”

Slowing for the gate, he looked to the right.  A large, broken piece of statuary guarded the entrance.  It looked to be what was left of a once, white, angelic being heralding the way to eternal rest.  He stopped the car, his front bumper barely crossing the invisible threshold.

Pressing the button to roll down the passenger window, he grabbed the phone and hurled it at the statue.  A nasty smile spread over his face as heard the screen break.

“You have arrived at your destination,” he screamed!

Shoving the car into reverse he blasted away from the cemetery.

I Know Your Face!

The sign on the door read: Laundry Thief!  5’ 4”, brown hair, hiding under the stairs.  I know your face!

Um, okay.  The stairs leading to the basement of my apartment building, a.k.a the laundry room, are actually quite open and non-threatening.  Aside from knowing there are twenty-nine of them, I’m not too bothered by the climb.  The picture below is not the actual stairs, but it gives you a good idea of how a saw them.   See all the light?

safeStairs

 Thanks to that sign, written in brown marker, and taped to the inside of the main entry door, I now have to go to the laundromat.  

notSafe