Monologue #24

It’s funny how the one thing you thought was going to change your daily life for the better can manifest in the completely opposite manner.  Four months ago I was looking at a shift change and was preparing to move myself more into daylight hours.  Working third shift was good but working NOT third shift is better.  I’m a swing shift kinda guy and have my best hours right, smack in the middle of our twenty-four hour cycle.  I was excited and looking forward to this change.  I had high hopes of getting back to something more comfortable.  Well, that didn’t happen the way I thought it would.  The new shift was awful; management turned into demons, and my nerves shattered, making me combative and argumentative.  Four months later I have a different job, a different apartment and a different life altogether!  WTF!

Don’t get me wrong, here.  I’m not usually hard to work with.  My day job was my bread and butter; my entire life up until then.  I have ridden out hard times in the past by simply looking past it and seeing that things would get better eventually.  I put twenty-three years into that job and made a career out of it when I had no other career options; mostly because I hadn’t thought of any.  I had been a goalless twenty-something when I went into that industry.  In my mind it was just another stop on my non-existent travel plan through life, kinda like working at the local chicken-by-the-bucket place had been.  It was something to do that made me better money than slinging greasy food at people and going home smelling like fried everything.  I had no idea that I was going to fit so well into the new job and that it was going to become my employment Mecca for the bulk of my adult life.

I guess I’m actually writing an obituary here for my lost youth.  The past few months have left me bitter and feeling more my actual age than I ever have before.  My birthday was a few weeks ago and added a one to my half century of life.  With all those years behind me, putting up with so much crap from a job that once gave me a lot of happiness just became something I wasn’t willing to do anymore.  Putting up with garbage as you grow is a part of life.  Those shovelfuls of shit that get dumped on you are things you learn to deal with and avoid.  Everyone has to learn those things.  I wasn’t born into a family that was bursting at the seams with money and influence so I had to pick my way along like the rest of the poor and middle class.  Finding a job that was a good fit for me was really a surprise, and in many ways, a gift.  I know in my heart that a lot of folks don’t get to spend their lives working at something they actually like.  For me to find that job before I turned thirty was blessing that I can’t overlook.  To have those shovels turn into dump trucks was not.

Now I’m drifting along on the tracks of self-employment.  My car is my business.  Sadly, a lot of other people have chosen the same path as me and the work is a little scarce right now.  I believe business will pick up soon though.  Once the holidays are over all the part-timers will fade back out and I’ll be able to get back to the business of making money.  In the meantime I have resumed work on my novel and started blowing away the dust from my blog.  I never meant to leave it, especially for so long, but the stress of these past few months was more than my writing could hold.  Something had to fall by the wayside.  It hurts to know that my deepest love is the first thing to get left behind when times get tough, but I understand.  Survival first.  Creativity comes later.

Stay sane during this most obnoxious of holidays and don’t forget to tip your Uber/Lyft driver.  They gotta eat too. 🙂

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Snippet #13

“Sandy, you are a magician with that copy machine so I’m going to have you work on the flyers for the event.”

Flushing slightly at the double edged sword, Sandy stayed motionless for a moment, staring at Kylie.  Making flyers was a terrible job, one that Kyle would pick apart and ultimately do herself through the guise of suggested edits.  The job would keep her right under Kylie’s thumb for the next week.

Brown curls swung coyly around Kylie’s cheeks as she pushed papers around on her desk, straightening and sorting, not looking up.

“What are you waiting for?”  Picking up a pen, Kylie studied a single sheet as if she were going to write on it.

Catching herself before the scowl could get all the way out, Sandy allowed herself a slightly heavy exhale and turned to go, her brain burning with dislike.  The benefits that came with her job were hard to walk away from over a single person, especially one that was so covert with her manipulations.  Voicing her opinion of Kylie to a few of her co-workers had only made her appear as a curiosity.  Everyone seemed to adore the woman.  How was she the only one that saw what Kylie was?

Crank

“CRANK!”

Jumping at the sound of his name being bellowed through the forest, Crank nearly lost his grip on the short legged hound wriggling at his knees.  Jamming his fingers beneath the dog’s leather collar, he twisted his head around to see who was looking for him.  Catching sight of the tow-headed, wreck of a boy that was his sister’s son, he dropped his head and sighed deeply.  Marty definitely came from the shallow end of the gene pool.

“Whatcha’ want!”  He tightened his grip on the collar as the young dog scrabbled at the soft earth, trying to get around him to see Marty.  Despite looking like he was being deliberately strangled, Crank was certain the dog had more sense in its head than his fourteen year old nephew.

Heaving his way up to the top of the ravine, the boy bent over, placed his hands on his thighs and waved weakly at Crank.  HIs chest railed as he struggled for air.

“The hell you do?  Run up the side?”  He chuckled cruelly as Marty dropped to all fours, belly jiggling, and wheezed like an old, dying lawn mower.  “I wonder has there ever been a kid what died of a heart attack from just runnin’ uphill?”  Snapping the lead back onto the dog’s collar Crank let him go, watching with amusement as the hound bounced and slathered excitedly all over Mary’s head.

“I think he likes you.”  Crank lifted his cap from his head and refitted it, pulling the bill down lower toward his eyes.  “Why you here, boy?  What’s goin’ on?”

Pushing hard with one hand, Marty forced himself up on his knees, using his other hand to press the spastic, slobbering dog away from his face.  His steel, blue eyes shot desperately to Crank’s.

“Silver!”

The hound sprang upward, tongue swiping toward the open mouth.  Marty lurched to his feet and filled his lungs.

“SHE’S WHELPING!”

The dog hit the dirt as Crank snapped the leash downward.

“Coulda’ just said that!”

Leaving the boy kneeling in the dirt, he plunged down the side of the ravine and began jogging for home.

“Keep up, you sloppy fool.”  Crank grinned down at the dog galloping along beside him.  “Yer gonna be an uncle.”

The Mine – 04 (GW2 Fanfiction)

(Guild Wars is the property of ArenaNet.  I do not claim ownership over any location or character, except those that I have specifically paid for or are in agreement with me over their use.  While some NPC dialogue is taken from ingame, it has been modified and paraphrased to suit the story.  This is strictly fanfiction and is intended for entertainment purposes only, not profit.)

Dropping back, Ian tried to breathe normally, shifting his grip on his staff.  He noted the dark stains on the wood from his sweating palms.

Caithe crouched at the base of the ramp, peering over the top.  “There are sixteen soldiers on the catwalk,” she informed them.  “Zerela, use your long bow to shoot the closest one.  Garm will act as a decoy.  Hopefully we can pull the skirmish over this way and not draw a lot of attention.  Reaper, can you place marks between the catwalk and the ramp?  If things get out of hand, maybe we can bottleneck them there and leave ourselves an escape route back this way.”

Azumae rose slightly and pointed her staff at the metal floor between them and the catwalk.  Feeling her magic gather and release reminded Ian of diving into Lake Delavan on a hot day, the cold water suddenly enveloping his steaming skin.  He wondered if it felt the same way to her?

Nodding agreement with the plan, the Zerela slipped an arrow from her quiver and eased forward, nudging past Eir who was crouched in readiness, holding her sword across one knee and gripping a large dagger in her off hand.  Pausing to remove the owl from her bonnet, the Charr passed the bird back to Ian.  “Keep her close.”  

Feeling honored to be entrusted with the pet of another ranger, Ian gave her a solemn nod and lifted the owl up to his shoulder.  Digging for a stable purchase on the smooth leather armor, the bird squeezed his shoulder tightly, her talons gouging deep enough to leave permanent impressions.

“Garm, to me.”  Inching up the ramp Zerela stayed close to the wall and crouched on one knee.  Muzzle crinkling slightly in concentration, she notched her arrow and took careful aim.

Feeling the magic gathering, Ian kept his eyes fixed on the ranger.  He had used this spell himself a few times so he knew what was coming but, each time he saw it he was still surprised.

Releasing her shot with a tight, twang of the bow string, Zerela vanished from sight.  The nearest dredge barked in pain, the ranger’s arrow sticking in his side.

A sudden shifting of the air above his head ruffled Ian’s blond hair, causing the bird to dig even deeper into his shoulder.  He was positive the Bloody Ranger had just jumped over them all.  

Trotting forward to the catwalk, Garm planted his feet, yipped at the soldiers and wagged his tail.

Three dredge stopped working and gathered around the wounded one, two of them looking blankly at the arrow in his side.  Garm yipped again and danced in place, pounding his feet excitedly.  All four stared at the lupine.

“Where did the wolf come from?”

“Stupid moles!”  Hissing in disgust, Zerela rematerialized between Ian and Eir.  She reached for another arrow.  “How many times do I have to shoot?”

Azumae covered a snort of laughter with her hand.  Seeing Caithe’s sharp look of caution, the necromancer shrugged.  “So, I have a droll sense of humor,” she whispered.   “Throw me to the warg.”

Ducking his head to hide his smile, Ian couldn’t help being impressed at how the necromancer didn’t seem affected by the legendary status of their prickly thief.

“I’m going to stick this one right in his nose.  Maybe they will take better notice?”  Rising to her full height, Zerela took aim and launched a quick, powerful shot at the same Dredge then ducked down again.  Whistling through the air, this arrow thunked into an eye socket, knocking the life right out of the soldier.  His body dropped limply to the mesh. The three standing soldiers looked from their fallen comrade to Garm, surprise on their faces.  

Huffing irritably, Zerela rose and stomped up the ramp, waving her bow above her head.  “Hey!  He didn’t shoot you, I did!”

“Intruders!”  The three Dredge grabbed for their weapons as they yelled to their comrades and began firing.

Grinning nastily, Zerela fired back rapidly, each arrow finding a target.

With a deep sigh, Caithe reached for her guns.  “So much for stealth.”  The Sylvari rose and headed up the ramp.  “Plan B, everyone.”

Feeling his flesh erupt in goosebumps, Ian rose beside Eir and Azumae and lowered the business end of his staff.  Melandru be with me.  The prayer was automatic, a desperate plea in the face of a storm.  His next thought was there is no plan B!  Then Garm howled and all thoughts stopped.  The fight had begun.

“Moon go!”

The white wolf bolted up the ramp and flew onto the catwalk, charging the nearest soldier.  Panicking at Moon’s sudden action, the owl launched into the air, clearly aiming for the Charr’s bonnet.  Having no time to react, Ian watched in horror as she sailed toward the Charr.  Surprised, Zerela paused in reflex to catch the bird.  That moment cost her as one of the Dredge hurled a net, landing it securely over Charr and owl.

Ian felt sick as Zerela froze with her pet in her claw, both of them stunned into immobility.  Lowering his staff to focus on the spot directly beside her, he released the magic and felt himself jerk forward at blurring speed.  As he jarred to a halt the excess energy of the spell flowed outward, melting the netting like it was made of sugar and, soothing its former captives.  Ian groped blindly for the wall, trying to brace himself as his head spun for a second.  That spell was definitely not his favorite.

The Dredge who had thrown the net ran forward, sword in hand, eyes fixed on the Charr.  As he stepped off the catwalk the metal beneath his feet exploded in a mushroom cloud of poison fumes.  Unable to prevent it, the soldier inhaled.  Instantly his pale, moleskin became tinged with putrid green and he bent over, retching uncontrollably.  Eir leaped forward, the metal floor shaking with her weight, and drove her blade down through the back of his neck.  Before he was fully down, she yanked the sword free and thrust it into the next soldier.  More Dredge poured toward her from the left side of the catwalk, all firing guns and stun beams.  The Norn dodged and blocked with amazing speed, her sword and dagger moving so fast they could barely be seen.

Pulling herself together Zerela launched a barrage of arrows over the bulk of the soldiers.  Her face was carved in stone while her eyes sparked with hatred.  The snowy owl dove past Eir, tearing frantically into the face of the nearest Dredge.

Getting control of his balance, Ian shot a wisp into the fray where it found a target, a Dredge with a net in both hands, and began to circle him, draining his strength and throwing off his aim.  Taking advantage of the wisp, Caithe shadow stepped to the weakened soldier and put a bullet into his face.  There was no time to call a victory though as two more soldiers charged her.  Switching spells, Ian sent a surge of energy toward them, molding it into a mass of rolling vines that tangled their feet, drained their strength and locked them in place.  Switching quickly to her sword, the thief sliced their throats.

All light on the catwalk seemed to become sucked away as Azumae took the form of a Reaper.  Her features were indistinguishable as she slid through the soldiers.  Black, smoke-like magic curled around her in tendrils.  Three Dredge fell dead almost instantly.

Ian froze for a second.  Reaper magic was new to him.  It felt like a vacuum, reminding him of stepping through an Asura gate only, nastier.  Trying to hold his staff steady, he wondered if the Reaper would even be affected by his heals?  She looked like a different being altogether.  Maybe she didn’t even need to be healed?

Garm howled again, his fearful noise being echoed immediately by Moon’s icy one.  Better suited to the lower vision, the owl swooped through the air with her talons bared, ripping any dredge she could reach.

Abruptly the light returned and Azumae staggered as the dark mists faded away.  Bracing himself, Ian aimed for a spot beside her and triggered the astral spell again.  The dizziness hit him on the stop.  He staggered against her as the overflow gushed around them.  At least the spell fixes what it breaks, he thought as his head cleared.  

The necromancer straightened abruptly.  “Get back!” she growled and shoved him away from her, back the way he had come. “I don’t need your help.”  Spinning away she immediately blasted out a powerful spell, drawing on the living force of five Dredge at a time, the magic so strong that red lines seemed to flow out from the soldiers in streams, directly to her.  The Dredge stumbled, their knees folding as their strength drained away.  

The force of the shove turned Ian partway around, tangling his feet and twisting his ankle. Sprawling face down on the catwalk his breath rushed from his lungs.  The elder wood staff slipped from his grasp and skittered away as a net landed heavily over him, pinning him down, the edges of his warhorn digging into his hip.  He lay still, gasping for air, trying to move.  His limbs felt like they had fallen asleep, every attempt to use the muscles sending that fuzzy, nerve clenching feeling rushing through him.  His chest refused to expand.  He was suffocating!

The catwalk fell away as Ian felt his pack gouge into his shoulders like something was trying to tear it from his body.  For a heartbeat he hung in the air, bewildered at what was happening, then he was lowered onto his feet.  Air rushed into his chest.

Sword flashing in the dim light, Eir sliced down the next net sailing toward them.  Giving the Dredge that had thrown it a pissed look, she whipped her off hand forward, hurling her dagger into his grinning mouth.

“GET DOWN!”  Zerela shouted.

Ian dropped back onto the mesh, Eir right beside him, and the Bloody Ranger fired across them, hard enough to knock back another rushing Dredge.  The armored mole flew a solid eight feet through the air, crashing against the far side of the catwalk.  In a flash, Eir was on her feet and charging.

Scrambling upright again, Ian hobbled behind the Charr, favoring his ankle, and snatched the warhorn from his belt.  The chance to sound it was past though.

“How many left?”  Caithe shadow stepped toward Ian, her face showing deep lines of exhaustion.  Immediately he triggered his glyph, letting the magic flow around them.

“Just two!”  Azumae yelled and hurled her daggers, dropping the count to one.

The remaining soldier, seeing his odds, turned to run.  Garm, Moon Moon and the owl landed on him in a bloody fury.

The five would-be-rescuers stood gasping on the catwalk amid the bodies of their enemies.  Every face was drawn and shadowed.  

Limping to the center of the group, Ian counted to five and triggered the glyph again, sighing slightly as his ankle finished mended.  He stared directly at Azumae.  The lines of her facial marking, the skull of her profession, stood out in her exhaustion.  He hadn’t noticed them before.  She didn’t meet his eyes.

Taking a deep breath, Caithe waved Ian toward the far side of the catwalk where he had fallen.  “Druid, find your staff.”  Turning away from him she directed her next words to the others.   “Rest a bit, you’ve earned it.  I’m going to scout ahead a bit while… Zerela loots the fallen.”  The thief’s face twisted into a tired smile.  “You fought well ranger.”

Zerela grunted softly in acknowledgment and stroked the feathers of her owl, now cradled in her arms.  She also did not meet Ian’s eyes.

Shoulders sagging, he turned away from the group, his boots making heavy sounds on the wire mesh of the catwalk as he searched for his weapon.

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

The Mine – 02 (GW2 Fanfiction)

(Guild Wars is the property of ArenaNet.  I do not claim ownership over any location or character, except those that I have specifically paid for or are in agreement with me over their use.  While some NPC dialogue is taken from ingame, it has been modified and paraphrased to suit the story.  This is strictly fanfiction and is intended for entertainment purposes only, not profit.)

“INCOMING!”

All heads snapped up and turned toward the bridge to see Caithe streaking back toward them with five angry looking Dredge in heavy armor right behind her.

“Soldiers!” Eir snarled.  Grabbing her bow she notched multiple arrows at once and took a knee, sending a barrage toward the attackers with impressive force. Two Dredge yowled in pain as they were struck, one crashing to his knees with an arrowhead sticking out of the backside of his thigh.

The second one, breaking away the arrow that landed in his bicep, raised his assault rifle and fired, the metallic, double-prongs on the end emitting a tight, beam of light at Caithe’s back.  A split second before it struck her the Sylvari cartwheeled to her right and the beam passed harmlessly by.  Gnashing its massive teeth, the soldier prepared to fire again, this time aiming for the Norn.

“Watch those zaps!” she called out.

While Eir dodged the next shot, Garm launched himself toward the Dredge at full speed, throwing himself at the soldier’s arm as he tried to get off another shot.  The giant mole fell back, his weapon blasting harmlessly toward the ceiling.  Planting his feet, Garm released a dark, terrifying howl.  Three of the soldiers stumbled back, covering their eyes and, incoherent babbles of panic could be heard.  Targeting the slowest one, the snow owl dove into his face with a piercing shriek, tearing with its talons at the mole-like features.

Feeling his spine ripple, Ian kicked his pack aside and reached for his shortbow, nearly getting his arm snapped as Zerela sprang past him on all fours, galloping after the Garm.  The hair on the back of his neck rose in alarm as the soldiers began firing and a bullet whizzed past his cheek.  Feeling like a helpless observer, he swore at himself.  Everything was happening so fast!  The next shot would kill him if he couldn’t pull himself together and start fighting.

Staff in hand, Azumae dodged left and right with the grace of a willow, firing off multiple spells in quick succession, chaining together puddles of poison, fear and cold between Caithe  the trailing Dredge.  Recovering from Garm’s howl they were pressing forward again, this time with nets in their hands.  The soldier closest to them fired the netting toward the black wolf who dodged and showed his teeth in a lupine grin.

Skidding to a halt just before reaching the group, Caithe spun around, drew two pistols from her belt and began firing back upon her attackers.  The fallen Dredge with Eir’s arrow in his leg ceased struggling and lay still, his pale corpse leaking blood from multiple holes.

Garm’s snarls were heard as he made another brutal charge at the soldier that had fired on Eir.  High pitched screams echoed through the chamber.  Reaching his side, Zerela swung her sword with both hands, cleaving through the Dredge with a look of feral determination.

Glancing down, Ian noted Moon Moon still at his feet, casually watching the fight.  

“Go help him!” he growled and notched a trio of arrows, trying to control his nerves and focus the spell that would send them unerringly to their targets. At this rate the fight would be over before he got off a single shot.  Startled by his masters tone, Moon Moon lowered his head worriedly.  Ian stomped his foot and yelled. “ATTACK!”  The Alpine wolf shot off toward Garm, sliding to a halt just behind him and giving voice to his best weapon, a chilling howl that froze the three remaining soldiers in their tracks.  Ian loosed his arrows.

The first struck the heart of the closest, frozen soldier.  He didn’t have time to scream as his life faded away.  His second arrow found it’s way into the arm of another soldier, still sluggish from Moon’s howl but already struggling to free himself.  The force of the hit spun him backwards, leaving him facing the way he had come.  Not a critical strike by any means but at least it would slow him down for a moment.  The third arrow found no target at all, trailing away to the far left and disappearing into the lava flow under the bridge.  Dropping the short bow Ian reached for his staff.

More shots rang out as Caithe took full advantage of the wounded Dredge.

“That’s four!” Eir shouted.  Garm came limping back just ahead of Zerela, blood oozing from an ugly gash on his right shoulder.

“Make that five,” Azumae stated, flinging her axe and shredding the last Dredge where he stood.

Calming his mind as best he could, Ian triggered the glyph on his belt.  It was an easy spell that took little effort to cast, the energy being already gathered inside the glyph itself.  While he was not injured, he sighed with relief as cool, healing flowed over them.  At least his glyph worked even if his aim with his bow was poor.

“You did that on purpose!”  Azumae stalked up to Caithe glowering.

“What if I did?”  The thief pointed at the five bodies.  “They were going to be there regardless.  I just hurried things along.”  Caithe smiled sweetly at the necromancer.

“We are untried as a group.  A stunt like that could have gotten any one of us killed.”  Azumae made a sidelong glance at the human ranger as she spoke.  It was a fast movement, like she hadn’t meant to actually look at him but couldn’t stop herself.

Seeing it, Ian lowered his head.  Even though he had gotten a kill it wasn’t like he had planned it that way.  It was luck, plain and simple and everyone knew it.

“You are no longer untried,” Eir stated while giving Caithe a stare that only the thief seemed able to read.  Sighing, Caithe snapped her mouth shut.  “It may have been unfair,” the Norn continued.  “But, putting you on the spot is the best way to see what your first reactions will be.”

“I’d say we did pretty well!”  Wiping her sword clean with a square of leather from her pack, Zerela flashed her fangs at the thief.  “You got any more tricks up your grassy sleeves?”  Without waiting for an answer she padded to the closest body and began rummaging through its pockets and armor.

“What are you doing?”   Surprised at the Charr’s boldness, Ian gaped at her.  He tried to hold back a shudder as the corpse, nearly as big as the Charr, was rolled over and the small, empty eyes stared vacantly past him.

“Spoils,” the big cat stated, dropping a small pile of trinkets and leather on the ground.  She moved to the next corpse.  This one made a low, whining, noise as she heaved it over.  Eyes widening, Zerela dropped the heavy, limp arm as if it were scalding hot.  Snapping her ears to half mast, she wrinkled her muzzle and clubbed the dead mole in the face, twice with her fist.  When it didn’t react she poked the tip of its long nose with the point of her dagger.  This seemed to satisfy her concern and she resumed her search.

Watching this performance Ian was reminded of the cats that ran through Queensdale, hunting vermin and, becoming terrorized by blowing leaves.  Could the Charr really be some distant evolution of those same creatures?  

“You’re going to pick over the dead and carry it all with you?”  He was skeptical.

“Yes.”  Pausing, Zerela peered at a small object she had found, sniffed it then, shrugging, passed it up to the owl who was once again riding her bonnet.  Without hesitation the owl snapped up the object and swallowed.

“But, your pack will weigh a ton by the time we’re finished!”  She couldn’t possibly mean to loot every single kill, could she?

“I am a Charr,” Zerela stated, as if that was explanation enough.  Plucking a small bag of coins from the belt of the Dredge’s body she weighed it thoughtfully in her hand.  With a satisfied grunt she emptied the bag into the leather pouch around her waist and moved on to the next.

“A share of any treasure found.”  Azumae spoke from just behind Ian, her voice still a little harsh from her anger at Caithe.  “If the dead are the only treasure to be found then looting them is the only way to get it.  Besides,” she said.  “If Zerela waits until we return, the bodies will be too far gone.  The air in this mine will decay them quickly.  Not to mention, they will very likely be found long before we’re finished here.”

Nudging at a fallen pistol with his boot, Ian thought it over.  There was sense in the necromancer’s words but still, the idea of carrying everything as they went was incomprehensible.  He suspected the Charr might come to regret her decision.  Especially since the return trip was not guaranteed.  They might all die in here, leaving Zerela’s collected booty for someone else to claim.

Leaving the pistol where it lay, Ian gathered his weapons, hefted his pack onto his shoulders and followed Eir, Caithe and Garm toward the bridge.  Moon Moon fell in behind him.  Let them have their treasure, he thought.  He still had a chance to make something of himself.  For the time being, he was alive.

(The Mine – 01, The Mine – 03)

Saturday Snippet #7

Alone at the bus stop and swathed in scarf, parka and mittens, Chelsie stared down at her phone, scrolling slowly through the search engine results for the word mysticism.  The top result defined it as a noun and included the word Deity, union and spiritual.  Right below that was the second, alternate definition.

  1. 2.  belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.

That one made her angry.  Who got to decide these things?

The sound of fast moving footsteps hit her ears.  Alarmed, Chelsie snapped her head up, nostrils flaring.  The air cooled around her as a large shadow flowed over the bench.  Her eyes widened and her jaw loosened into a gape.

The man swept along the sidewalk at a ridiculously fast walking pace.  His jeans were open along the outside seams from the waist down to his canvas, sneakered feet, each step making the heavy fabric flap like great, misplaced wings.  

Chelsie could almost wrap her mind around the pants if it wasn’t for the hair.  His shadow was overly wide and misshapen due to a collection of wigs molded together and draping down his back and shoulders.  Blond hair pressed against red which laid over blacks and browns.  The entire mass expanded outward, giving the appearance of comical size to the man’s head.

In the time it had taken her to look up and see this man, he had passed her by, shrinking into the distance like a bird into the horizon.  Pulling herself together she looked back down at her phone.  The browser app had closed.

Blackout

Holding the phone lightly against his ear, Carl felt a small jolt of anticipation run through him.  Kayla was pissed off.

“Yeah, I had to have a repairman come out to look at the garage door.”

“Uh huh?”  He knew exactly where this conversation was going.  Thank goodness she hadn’t video called him.  Reaching for the remote he muted the television so he could hear her better.  Star Trek could survive without his attention for a few minutes.

“Remember that last power outage?”

A guilty grin fluttered at the corners of his mouth.  “Sure,” he said.  “You were stuck at home for that one, right?”

“Yes.”  She spat the acknowledgement through the phone like lemon juice looking for an eye to land in.  “And I asked you to come over and see if you could find a manual release?”

Carl nodded his agreement, knowing she couldn’t see him.  It was official, he was a terrible person.  “I remember.  I tried to get you to go and look and, you said you couldn’t see anything.”  Stretching his legs out along the worn cushions of his couch he reached for his cigarettes and shook one out of the pack.  The ashtray was on the floor beside him.  He reached for it, setting it on his stomach while he fired up.  “It was probably just a button or something on the main box.”  It was probably because the power was out and his sister couldn’t hold a flashlight still.  She constantly moved the beam around, never giving herself, or anyone a chance to actually see anything.

Kayla was silent on her end of the conversation for a just a few seconds.  Carl could visualize exactly what his she was doing, filling her lungs slowly with flame, preparing to spew lava all over her cell phone in the hope that some of it would reach him.

“As it turned out, it was just a lever.”  Her voice was cold and dangerous.

“Really?”  Carl exhaled smoke through his nostrils and gave in to the smile he had been trying to hold back.

“Yeah, really.”  Kayla inhaled harshly.  “Carl, you knew that lever was there!  You left me and my kids stranded here in the middle of a blackout without a car when you could have just come over and opened the damn door!”

Carl took another drag and tapped the ashes into the ashtray, careful to not spill them onto his stomach.  The shirt wasn’t his favorite but he didn’t like to ruin things unnecessarily.  “It was a blackout, Kayla, not a snow storm.  You were fine.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?  How can you think so little of your family that you just ignore them during times of crisis?”

“Crisis?”  Carl laughed at that.  Everything with his sister was a crisis.  The dictionary definition for drama queen had her picture next to it.  “Get over yourself, Kayla.  It was just a blackout.  If you had really needed to leave I would have come over and opened the door for you.”

“I JUST PAID SIXTY-FIVE DOLLARS TO FIND OUT I COULD HAVE FIXED IT MYSELF!”

Holding the phone away from his head Carl sat up and ground out the rest of his cigarette.  He was laughing too hard to finish it.