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

Wolf Lessons

Charles snuffled the grass at his feet, dragging his snout through the dew and loose ground.  He could easily smell the squirrel.  It was so close he could probably swing his head around and find it staring him in the face.  Squirrels might be quick and all, but they weren’t the smartest.  Slow and deliberate, he stepped backwards, one foot at a time, like he wasn’t really thinking about turning around, just sniffing in reverse.

Mocking chitters rang out behind him.  Whirling on his back legs, Charles reared up and brought his front paws down hard on the empty earth behind him.  Blowing air through his muzzle, he glowered at everything he could see, looking for some sign of where the squirrel was hiding.  It was no good.  Not a blade of grass twitched in the night smeared forest.  He straightened his spine and whined into the darkness.  More chittering spilled down from the branches of the oak beside him.  Wrinkling his nose he looked up, his fangs flashing in the sliver of moonlight that managed to burrow down through the leaves.

“Well, that’s just rude,” he said staring at the tiny black orbs looking down at him.  “How can I ever catch you if you keep running up a tree?”  With a soft, complaining wuff, he dropped his rear end tiredly onto the ground.  “I give up.”

“I would expect you to have learned to look up by now.”  Giving him a scowl that only a squirrel can make, the rodent inched onto an overhanging branch and stretched out, letting its tail hang down.  “Wolves are especially praised for their intelligence.  What happened to you?”

“I’m tired.  We’ve been playing for hours.”  His voice was almost a whine.

Rubbing one foot across its face, the squirrel looked down with an expression of extreme judgement.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I thought you wanted to learn to hunt.  If you’re too tired, by all means we will stop.”  Thoughtfully, it pulled at the small, branching leaves and let them pinwheel to the ground.

“You don’t need to be a bitch about it.”  Aggravated and not in the mood, he shook his shaggy head back and forth, dislodging the tree litter from his fur.

“Ooo, somebody needs a nap.”  

Another leaf floated down, twirling across his nose as it landed.  He gave the branch, and its occupant a hard look.

“We can start again tomorrow night.  I need to get some real food and try to sleep.”  Pushing against the ground with his front paws, Charles raised himself back to a standing position and tilted his head to stare at the red rat.  “You look like you could use a rest yourself.”

“How considerate of you.  Thinking not only of yourself at a time like this.”  With a sneer, it dropped another leaf.  “You are a prince among wolves.”

“Whatever!”  Charles wanted to rip the bushy tail down from its branch and fling it against the tree trunk.  The whole night had been nothing but chittering and mockery.  He was sick of it.  Maybe he would ask one of the cats to help him.  They at least knew how to hunt.  What did squirrels know about it?  The gathered nuts and stored them in knotholes.

“Fine, go home and take a hot bath like the human that you are.”  The squirrel sat up and began combing through its tail with its paws.  “When you decide you are serious about being a wolf, let me know.”

Lowering his head, Charles let his ears droop and looked stricken.

“You don’t have to be so mean,” he said softly.  “You have been a squirrel for years.  I have only been a wolf for a month.”

Pausing in its grooming, the squirrel twitched its nose and sniffed at him.

“My bad.  Clearly you should be given special consideration because you’re new.  The safety of werefolk everywhere should be disregarded while you grab a sandwich and a soda.”  The sound of the voice rose high in aggravation, morphing into a chitter.

Belatedly Charles realized that he could understand it.  Their conversation had changed from words to growls and squeaks.  Delighted with the novelty of it, he grinned, letting his tongue loll freely out one side of his jaws.

“Pffft!”  The squirrel pointedly turned its back and scratched at the branch with its back legs, sending a shower of bark down on the wolf.

With a tremendous leap, Charles sprang high into the air and closed his jaws tightly onto the bushy, well-groomed tail.  The squirrel shrieked with surprise as it was dragged forcefully to earth.

“Very clever,” it gasped, its whole pinned against the dirt by one massive wolf paw.  “You tricked me.”

“Not really.”  Charles growled through his teeth without letting go of the tail.  “I just got tired of your chatter.”  Lifting his foot, he gave a sharp twist of his head and flung the squirrel against the trunk of the oak.

Lightly he pawed at the body, confirming that the spine had broken.  He snuffled it thoroughly before crunching it between his jaws.  It wasn’t a large meal, not nearly enough to fill his belly, but definitely satisfying.  He had been correct, Squirrels were not the smartest animals in the forest.

I’d Rather Stand

The brown, faded leather couch was soft and enveloping, absorbing Colleen with a distinct woosh of air when her weight hit it.  Her feet, formerly adorable in her new Mary Janes, now hung childlike in the air as she discovered the true depth of the enormous piece of furniture.  Did she look as ridiculous as she felt?  Who puts a couch like this in a waiting room?  All the chairs, the normal, waiting room kind, were occupied.  Even if someone got up, she probably wouldn’t be able to free herself in time to claim the vacant seat.

Looking out at the folks waiting for their own appointments, she noticed a middle-aged man in the front with a bandage bulging over his left eye.  His unencumbered right eye stared curiously at her.  Giving him a tight smile, the kind she reserved for strangers in passing, she tried to settle more comfortably.  The cushion beneath her rolled and billowed as if she were sitting on a giant, semi-inflated balloon.  Setting her purse on her thighs she braced herself with outstretched arms as she bobbed a bit.

Feeling hugely exposed by this awkwardness, she began inching forward.  If she could at least put her feet on the floor she would be able to stand up without too much of a struggle when her name was called.  The couch didn’t seem inclined to cooperate.  Each bit of forward movement made her abdominal muscles strain to bring her upper body over her knees while her backside sank deeper.  Halfway to her target position she paused, took a deep breath and fought the urge to just flop backwards and take a break.  Unable to stop herself, she looked out at the room.

The man with the eye patch was still watching her.  Frozen in partial movement, arms straining forward and her legs stretched in Barbie doll fashion, she found herself trapped in a one-eyed stare down.  For an absurd moment she weighed her odds of winning, her two eyes against his one.  She was nearly being eaten by the couch while he sat composed on a firm, stable chair with armrests.  Then her stomach gave in to the strain and she sank slowly backward, ending almost flat, but with her head coming to rest at just enough of an angle to let her see everyone else as they studied her.  Lying quite still, she closed her eyes and contemplated her next move.

From this position she would be forced to roll almost completely over in order to gain enough leverage to shove herself off the couch.  Obviously she would land on her knees and have to pick herself off the floor.  Of course there was always the question of the couch’s cooperation.  What if she managed to roll over but couldn’t find her leverage?  Based on the results of her previous attempt she didn’t think it a stretch to envision herself face down and suffocating.  

With a bracing gasp of air, she made her decision.  Clutching her purse safely against her stomach she opened her eyes and raised her free hand into the air, waving it slowly back and forth like a white flag.

“A little help?”

Polite People

Hoisting his pack higher onto his shoulders, Kremly shielded his eyes from the glare of the dropping sun and sighed deeply.  His feet hurt, his fifty-two year old knees ached, and the backpack made him tighten his neck and stretch forward like a turtle.  Leaning against a parking meter he crossed his arms over his chest and mentally sorted through the cash and loose change in his pockets.  His mind drew a clear picture of the total, some of it tucked into his dirty jeans and socks, the rest scattered through multiple locations inside his faded, blue jacket.  Nodding thoughtfully, he surveyed the length of the sidewalk, gauging the dwindling, evening pedestrians.

A gray, Honda Civic lurched to a halt beside the empty parking spot associated with his meter.  The driver, a thirty-something woman with a brown ponytail and a bright yellow tee shirt, began the painful process of sidling into the slot.  Turning around to watch, he openly judged the woman’s efforts.  Having never driven a day in his life, he had no clue about the finer points of parallel parking, however, he didn’t let that stop him from raising his eyebrows in question as the lady cranked her wheel and jammed her back tires roughly against the curb.  Seeing the way she tightened her mouth and didn’t look at him, he began motioning her forward with one hand, displaying the manly patience he knew would make her stomach begin to eat its own lining.  After a minute, she gave up and allowed him to wave her forward and back, guiding her small car perfectly into the spot.

“Thank you for the help.”  Shoving the door shut behind her she stepped hastily toward the meter.

“Oh, no problem.  Being in the right place at the right time is kind of a skill of mine.”  He smiled again, open to praise, while watching her make a production out of locking the Honda until it beeped.  She was a bare inch taller than him.

“Yeah, thanks again.”  Digging inside her stylish, brown handbag she pulled out her smartphone and started thumbing the screen.  “Thank goodness there’s an app for these meters now.  Who has time for this anymore?”

“I can surely appreciate that.”  He smoothed his voice into an amber stream.   “I work in sales and it seems like I’m always running out of time.”  He had moved away from the meter to help her park and now stood just behind it.  “Do you know about sales?”  He kept his voice casual, but what came next was never a surprise.

Shoving her phone back into her bag, she looked up and gave him a tense smile.

“Yeah, look, I need to get moving.  I’m a little late for a meeting and don’t want to get in trouble with my boss.  I’m sure you understand.”  Her eyes flicked nervously toward the building behind him, then skittered quickly away.

What she wasn’t looking at was a restaurant, a rather pricey one where the waiters brought skewers of dripping, sizzling meat right to your table and sliced it directly onto your plate.  He had never eaten there.  He watched her walking her eyes carefully over the other buildings, doing what he thought of as a Killdeer Tactic.  Killdeers were ground nesting birds who would fake an injury, dragging one wing along the ground and running in the opposite direction of its nest.

“You get good mileage with that hybrid?  What’s it get?  Thirty some miles to the gallon?”  He stared interestedly at the Honda, letting his eyes stroll over it.  “Seems like a lot of people are getting hybrids these days.  Save the planet and all that.”  Leaning slightly to one side he looked at her tires.  The little spines left over from being poured still stuck out on the front ones, indicating they were fairly new.

Surprise at being openly ignored froze her expression, and for a few seconds she didn’t respond.  He waited her out, knowing she wasn’t the type to just walk away.

“It gets around thirty-six in the city.”  Her voice was flat and uninspired.

“Yeah, I thought so.”  He pointed at the bus stop sign.  “I don’t drive.  I need to get home to my family.  Do you think you can spare five dollars?”

Taking a slow breath she stared him down, her expression hardening.  The urge to be polite was a strong and crippling one.  Polite people were his bread and butter, particularly the women.  He knew she had been expecting this, but clearly wasn’t sure how to escape.

“Anything really.”  He generously expanded the offer.  “I just need to get home.”

Twitching slightly, as if to reach into her purse, the woman started to deflate.  The look in her eyes changed from hard to resigned.

“Five is about all I’ve got.”

“I sure appreciate it, Miss.”  Kremly stepped closer.

“You know what?  I think I’ll just go.”  She backed away from him, her eyes turning cold.  “I’m sorry.  I can’t help you.”  Turning on her heel she walked directly toward the restaurant and went through the door.  The smell of perfectly cooked meat sailed out behind her.

Watching her go, Kremly silently cursed himself.  The sale had been made, damnit.  He knew better than to push the space issue, especially with women.  Let them come to him.  Never the other way around.  Still…

Looking thoughtfully at the restaurant he again counted the money in his hiding places.  A good meal was always a beautiful experience, especially if you had someone to share it with.  

Pushing his sore feet and knees into motion, he resettled the backpack and followed her through the door.

Shock

Carol shushed Derrick with a wave of her hand, pointing, with her eyes, at the small, robotic cleaner sweeping through the room, towing its cart along behind.  Round, plastic framed glasses hung from a silver chain around her neck, bouncing awkwardly against her large chest.  The blue button up she wore with its abundance of pink flowers did nothing to distract the eye from the obvious.

Looking very much like a rotund, mechanical spider riding an automated vacuum disk, the multi-limbed machine stopped at a narrow panel set into the office wall. It was marked by a sign that read Janitor.  The panel slid to the right, vanishing into the wall as a good pocket door should, and the Janitor began gathering supplies.  

Lips compressed to a thin, judgemental line, Carol watched until it had filled its cleaning cart and moved on.

“I’m certain that thing records everything we say and plays it back for Mr. Colson.”  She pushed a stray piece of rust colored hair behind her ear where it curled obediently below her lobe.

“That seems kind of petty.”  Derrick looked blandly at her.  His own glasses, gold framed and styled for a much older man perched securely on his nose.  “Why bother with us?  We’re nearly the ground floor?”

“That’s exactly why.”  Carol leaned back in her chair to look down the walkway.  The janitor was no longer visible.  “If the ground floor of the business becomes unstable it will affect everything above it.”  She had kept her voice low but the last few words were nearly a whisper.

“I think Shock is just a cleaner.  Quit picking on him. “  Derrick frowned at her.  “You spend too much time thinking everything is a conspiracy.”

“Shock?”  Carol gaped at him.   “You have a name for him?”  She looked like she tasted something bitter.

“No, he has a name for himself.  It’s programmed into him.”

“It’s creepy that you call it a him.”  Crossing her legs at the ankles, she settled into her chair and picked up a pen, twirling it thoughtfully through her fingers.  “Does he talk to you?”

“Actually, yeah.  He can hold a decent conversation while he works.”  Turning back to his computer, Derrick chuckled.  “Too bad he’s a Cubs fan.”

“Shush, here he comes again.”  Snapping her chair around to face her desk, Carol grabbed her mouse and started clicking at various files on her screen.

“Come on Eileen, oh I swear what he means.”

The rhythmic, metallic voice took her by surprise and she froze.

“What the hell?”

Derrick snorted laughter.

“He heard it in the kitchen the other day.  Shane was playing the radio while he microwaved his lunch and decided to serenade Shock.”  Rolling out into the walkway, Derrick gave the Janitor an encouraging thumbs up.  “Chances are he’ll recite the wrong lyrics.  Shane isn’t known for his excellent hearing.”

Carol’s eyes flashed with victory and she jumped on the point.

“So he does record things!”

Derrick sighed heavily.

“Of course he does.  He also records the number of supplies he needs and provides Mr. Colson with a printout.  You might want to cut back on your paper consumption.”

Carol’s jaw dropped open as Shock wheeled by.

“Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, aye.”

Smashing Pumpkins – Samson

Watching Sara Chimner trudge listlessly into the room, head down, brown hair hanging loose in her eyes, Samson tried to imagine what it would feel like to work at McDonalds on the grill.  Sure, people suffered everywhere but, at least as a fast food line cook he wouldn’t have to deal directly with eight year olds.  From the looks of her, Sara would be an unwilling participant today.

“Good morning, Sara.”

At the sound of her name, Sara sighed and slid into her seat, putting her head down directly upon the desk top, arms hanging down by her sides like a rag doll.  Eyebrow arching upward in fascination, he wondered if he was too young to get a vasectomy?

“Is something wrong, Sara?”  Rising from his desk he swallowed his own sigh and walked toward the child’s seat where he knelt down beside her.  “Did something happen?”

Like a marionette, her right arm rose into the air, nearly whacking him in the face, and her hand opened to expose a single, opaque tooth, the bottom edges slightly darkened.  He stared obediently at it.

“We all lose our baby teeth, Sara.  It’s nothing to be upset over.  Your adult teeth will grow in and fill the gap.”  He thought his rational explanation was a good start.  He watched her close her hand again around the tooth and rest it on the desk beside her head.  His jaw tightened.  “Did you lose it on the way to school, this morning?”

A muffled no came from the still form.

“When did you lose it?”

“Yesterday.”

Thinking she sounded rather bitter, he tried a different tactic.

“Do you know about the Tooth Fairy?”  Every child knew about the Tooth Fairy, right?  This particular mythos was still alive and well, being preached to every child on American soil.  He fully expected Sara to acknowledge the question with a positive response.  He was more than a little startled when she raised her head and fixed him with eyes lacking any spirit of life and told him just how much she knew about it.

“I put it under my pillow last night.  It was still there this morning.”  The brown eyes were puffy and red, having shed silent tears of grief all the way to school.  Her lips, normally full, seemed thin, drained of their usual vibrance.

Looking at her now, he could see she had taken a serious blow to her ego.  That a child this young could have her mental legs knocked out from under her by being overlooked by a made up entity that bought children’s teeth for a living seemed absurd.  Part of him wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her, to rattle some sense into her.  The Tooth Fairy is a lie!  It’s all a big lie!  Get over it and get on with growing up.

None of that was possible though.  Samson’s sense of reason struggled to get a grip on his anger.  He was expected to tell these children that the world was round, the sun rose in the east, and that two plus two equals four.  If he told Sara the Tooth Fairy was a lie, he would, effectively face a firing squad.

“Did you tell your mother?”

“No.”  Sara dropped her head back onto her desk, this time using her arm, the one still holding the tooth, as a cushion.  “It fell out after I went to bed.”

So she had just stuffed it under her pillow.  Samson could see it as clearly as if he had been there.  It had never crossed her mind to get up and show her parents the tooth.  Sara had absolute faith that her parents told her the truth in all things.  To have her tooth still with her when she awoke had been far more tragic than just the loss of a quarter.  That tooth meant that her parents were not the all-knowing gods she had thought them to be.  They had been wrong.  Those red eyes weren’t about the tooth, they were about the loss of innocence.

“You need to tell your mother.  Mom’s have a secret way of communicating with the Tooth Fairy.  If you don’t tell her then she can’t send the message and the Tooth Fairy doesn’t know to come.”  He almost patted her on the head but caught himself.  Never touch the children.  Straightening he went to his desk and pulled a couple pieces of tissue from the box and walked them back to her.

“Here, let’s wrap the tooth up nice and safe and put in the front pocket of your bag.  As soon as you get home today, give the tooth to your mom.  Can you do that for me?”

Sara turned her head on her arm to look at him again, this time with a small flicker of hope in her eyes.

“Uh huh.”  She sniffed and sat up enough to drop her tooth on the tissue.

“There, all safe and sound.  Let’s go put it in your bag, okay?”  He stepped back to give her room to get out of her seat and lead the way into the hall.  

Sara’s bag was pink and purple with flowers all over it, a miniature back-pack, complete with straps to go over her shoulders.  Samson handed her the wrapped tooth and watched as she zipped it securely into the small front pocket.  He gave her an encouraging smile that felt unnatural for him.

“Let’s get back to our seat now, and start our day, okay?”

Rogue

“Farming Control, this is Kathleen speaking.  How may I help you?”

“Yeah, hi… um, Kathleen.  I’m calling to report a rogue tractor in the field by my apartment.”

“Okay.  Can I get your name please and the location of the field?”

“Junior Clayton.  The field is right next to my building.  It’s got a lot electrical poles along it.  Isn’t that something that attracts them?  All those electrical poles?”

“Mr Clayton, what is the address of your home?”

“Oh, um… 1234 West Farthest Avenue.”

“Okay.  And the city?”

“Oh yeah, heh heh.  That would help, huh?”

“It’s okay, Mr Clayton, rogue tractor sightings tend to excite people.”

“I’m in This City.  Do you need the zip code?”

“That would be helpful.”

“55555.”

“Thank you.”

“So, those electrical poles.  Are they what could be attracting the tractor?  I hear about tractors in this field all the time, I just never saw one until today.”

“Electrical poles are a possibility.  Tractors have become something of an enigma when it comes to what attracts them.”

“An enigma?  Isn’t that like saying you just don’t know?”

“Well, the first documented rogue tractor was in 1901 in Iowa where the first tractor was invented.  At the time, people speculated that the machine didn’t have a taste for corn.”

“Really?  And what did that one eat?”

“All tractors eat gasoline Mr Clayton.  Rogue or domestic they all eat the same thing.”

“Oh, I guess that makes sense.  So what makes them go rogue?”

“That one in Iowa seemed to prefer mowing wild flowers as opposed to corn.  It was eventually caught and rehomed to Colorado in the National Forest.  Last I heard, it is still there but it only mows once or twice a year now.”

“I don’t think there are a lot of wild flowers in the field here.”

“It may not be a rogue tractor, sir.  I will need to check our resource files to be sure, but  it’s possible there are domestics being worked there.  Electrical poles are usually a sign that the field is marked for maintenance.  What time did you see the tractor?”

“Oh, it was around lunch time.  I was home walking my Daschund so, it had to have been between twelve-thirty and one o’clock.”

“That helps.  The domestics usually work in the morning, before the sun gets too hot.  They are trained to avoid mowing when the under-lying grasses would be exposed to excessive heat.”

“So the one I saw could really have been a rogue!”

“It’s possible.  I don’t want to get your hopes up before we have had a chance to investigate.”

“If it’s a rogue, how do your guys catch it?  Do you have tractor traps?”

“Traps are one way.  It’s expensive to repair the tires on a tractor once we use traps so they are reserved for extreme circumstances.  And the traps don’t always work.”

“They don’t?  How many times have they not worked?”

“Off the top of my head I can think of only four times when rogues were lost after the use of traps.  Three in Wisconsin and one in Illinois.”

“Well, that’s good to hear.  Does This State have anything notable about rogue tractors?”

“Not really.  This State is pretty low on the analysis list.  We don’t get a lot of calls from your area about rogues.”

“That makes me feel better.  How dangerous can a rogue tractor be?  Should I be worried about walking my dog?”

“There hasn’t been a case of a rogue tractor preferring to mow living beings since 1945.  That was only one tractor and it was successfully captured and dismantled.”

“Dismantled?  That sounds extreme.”

“Well, once a tractor gets a taste for blood it’s really better for everyone if it’s just dismantled.  Don’t you think?”

“I suppose.  It just seems so harsh.  I mean, we built them in the first place.  If it wasn’t for us even making them then they wouldn’t exist at all, right?”

“It’s a common political standoff Mr. Clayton.  Everyone has a side they like to stand on.”

“I guess.”

“Okay, I think we have all the information we need.  I’ll escalate your sighting up to the investigators and we’ll figure out what’s going on in your field.”

“Thank you.  I appreciate you taking this seriously.”

“We take all sightings seriously, Mr. Clayton.  Rogue tractors are nothing to be ignored.”

“How will I know if it was a rogue?”

“You probably won’t ever know for sure.  If it’s a rogue it will be captured and rehomed.  Unless you happen to be there when Farming Control collects it, you won’t know.”

“Oh.  You don’t send out a letter or something?  An email even?”

“No sir.”

“Okay then.  I guess that’s all.”

“Have I helped you with your issue, Mr. Clayton?”

“Yes.”

“Would you be willing to rate our encounter on a scale of one to ten as to your level of satisfaction?”

“Sure.  I will rate it as an eight for overall satisfaction.  You’ve been very helpful, Kathleen.  I just wish I could know if it was a rogue for sure.”

“I understand Mr. Clayton.  We get that a lot.  Thank you for your rating and you have nice day.”