Sunday Snippet, Freight Elevator by Bill Chance

“When the elevator doors open there is only one other person inside it, a homeless man with electric blue sunglasses and six plastic grocery bags filled with rags. “Close the doors, dammit,” he yells as soon as we step inside. “Can’t you see I’m blind?”

…….

From the back, the homeless man shoves between us, his bounty rustling in his arms. “Stop yelling,” he shouts. though we stand in utter silence. “Can’t you tell that I’m deaf?”

― Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

Dallas, Texas

Freight Elevator

“Well, are you ready to call it a night?”

“Not really.”

“Do you want to go to an after hours bar or something?”

“Not really.”

“I’ve never been to where you live. Can we go to your place?”

“I still live with my parents, you know that. Their apartment is tiny, I sleep on a futon in my mother’s sewing room. I’ve never been to where you live either. You live alone. We have to go there.”

“But my apartment is… really small.”

“Is it clean?”

“Of course. But…”

“It’s big enough then.”


I had always wanted to live in the center of the city… on the island itself. I was tired of feeling like an outsider, a tourist. But rents were so high and I never had and will never have any money. For a year I rode that interminable train ride, rocking elbow to elbow with the other strap-hangers. I would look through the rental listings, hoping, hoping. Finally….

Walking to meet my new prospective landlord past the block after block of tents filling the sidewalk, most a bilious purple-orange color. The government has spent untold millions on buying thousands of tents to “solve” the homeless problem and distributed them – surprised when they were snapped up and the population living on the streets blossomed even more. I looked at the rows of nylon and filth and wondered if I could do that. I have camped a lot over my life but never on a sidewalk beneath the glass canyons of downtown. A lot of valuable parking was taken up by bathroom trailers provided by the city that had necessities and showers, but still….

The address on the listing was a huge hulking brick building. It looked like an ancient factory, divided up into a filing cabinet of tiny living spaces. There were very few windows and only one door. I was repelled at first, but realized that a place at this affordable price was not going to be in a new shiny glass tower with a grid of balconies repeating up into the sky. This was my dream, but it was going to be modified by the real world.

“You are right,” the rental agent said, “this used to be a factory. I have no idea what they made here, but whatever it was, it was huge, as you will see.”

We walked through a maze of sheetrock walls, obviously thrown up to divide some massive assembly room into a warren of rented cubicles. We arrived at a wall that was taken up by a giant steel vertical door with a peeling number “1” stenciled onto it. Of to one side was a single simple round button with an upward facing arrow. The rental agent pushed this. There was a heavy shuddering and a low loud metallic groan. After a minute of this the door slowly raised up, revealing a shallow space delineated off by a translucent plastic divider. In the middle was an ordinary door, with a peephole. It was labeled 1-12 A.

“Well this is it,” the rental agent said. She took out a key and unlocked the door.

“I don’t understand.”

“Like I said, the factory made huge, giant, heavy, something-or-others. They moved them up or down on this gigantic freight elevator. Other than the stairs, it’s the only way to reach the upper floors in this part of the building. Since it was now being used for pedestrians most of the elevator was wasted space. We built this partition and were able to rent out the area behind it. Come on in, take a look.”

“The walls are metal mesh?”

“The back and side walls, yes. But beyond them are only concrete. There is actually a kind of window in back between every two floors. It lets in a nice light as you go past.”

“It moves?”

“Of course it does. All the other residents us it to get up and down. But there is the partition and a locked door.”

“The partition doesn’t look all that opaque.”

“Oh, there’s enough for privacy. And you can make as much noise as you want. You can play music. Folks on an elevator don’t care about that.”

“I see the stove and ‘fridge. But no sink. And no bathroom.”

“On eleven you have access to an old janitor’s closet. A big sink, and we put in a shower and toilet. It’s yours. Your door key fits. Just go up to eleven, get off, down the hall, one left, then a right. I’ll show you.”

“I don’t know if I can live in a place like this. It goes up and down. People at the front all the time. It’s crazy.”

“It’s cheap.”

“It’s the only place I can afford.”

“I’ve heard that before.”


Well, it turns out she loved my apartment. She liked the feeling of going up and down so much that, late at night, when the other people were all home asleep she’d go out the front door and push all the buttons. That would keep my place moving for a while. She loved watching the concrete walls slowly shift up and down.

She crawled out of the hatch on top and put plants on the window sills so she could watch those go by. She bought a watering can with a long spout so she could drip water through the mesh into her plants as we moved past them.

The only problem is that she likes to make a lot of noise in bed when she think people are in the elevator up front. She rearranged the lamps so that we sometimes throw obscene shadows on the translucent wall. It bothers me a little but nobody’s complained yet.

As a matter of fact I think she likes this tiny apartment more than me. If we broke up, I’m afraid she would throw me out.

And I’ll never find another place I can afford.

Sunday Snippet, Morning Routine by Bill Chance

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;

—-William Shakespeare

Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas

Morning Routine

Gregory had not always been an organized person. He lived most of his life in a haphazard desultory way, never sure of what came next. When his wife told him, “I can’t live like this any more,” left for California with the twins and moved in with the lawyer she had met online, he realized he had to get his shit together.

He went to seminars and read piles of books. He listened to podcasts and hired a personal organizer. He decluttered. He downsized and organized, planned and simplified. Most important of all, he made up routines.

By setting up routines he eliminated personal choice in what he did. It was a way to battle back against his natural tendency to chaos. If he could put reality into a series of carefully thought out and designed checklists he could keep disaster at bay. Gregory decided he wanted life to be smooth and planned – all risk and decision eliminated.

His personal organizer gave him a series of printed forms that fit into a binder which covered every possible aspect of every day. She helped him brainstorm, fill out the checklists, then edit and extend them until every hour of every day was planned out ahead of time and he didn’t have to decide what to do next – it was all in black and white. He discovered that once he had settled on a routine he didn’t have to look at the paper any more. It was seared into his memory and after a few days it ripened into an irreversible habit.

The alarm on Gregory’s phone beeped at six AM and after one and only one tapping of the snooze he hopped out of bed to begin his morning routine. He drank the ice water he had placed in an insulated steel tumbler on his nightstand the night before. He moved to the tatami mat next to his bed and did a short series of stretches with a foam roller. He checked the clothes that he had chosen before he went to bed and laid them out on the bed. Then it was into the bathroom. He pushed the electric shaver around on his face and then flossed. He started the water in the shower to allow it to warm up as he brushed his teeth. Then into the shower.

In the old days, he would luxuriate under the hot water, leaning against the tile as the warmth poured over him, enjoying the feel of the droplets against his skin. Thoughts of the day before, the day coming up, and strange random memories from far in his past would joust in his mind for a few split seconds of attention. His wife would get angry because he would waste so much time in the shower and use up all the hot water. Not any more. He washed himself quickly and efficiently, using a minimum of time and cleaning products.

Stepping out, he dried himself with a clean towel hung on a hook. Then he used a small hand towel kept by the mirror to clear a spot in the fogged glass so he could groom his hair with the comb kept in the holder right at hand. A stick of deodorant came out of a handy drawer – it was the only item in there – and he was done in the bathroom

He stepped naked back into his bedroom and sat in a chair he had placed next to the spot where he had laid out his outfit for the day. He had only one task left before he could get dressed and head out for the day.

Next to the chair was a small, sturdy table with a lacquered wooden box and a kitchen timer. The box had a combination lock built in and he moved the numbers to the proper setting. He twisted the timer to seven minutes and opened the heavy lid of the wooden box. Gregory lifted a Glock 19 9mm pistol out of the box, slid a full magazine into the gun, then pulled back on the slide – charging a shell into the firing chamber. He thumbed the safety so that the gun was ready to fire.

Gregory reversed the gun, stuck his thumb into the trigger guard, and then slid the barrel into his mouth. He closed his eyes and sat there, still, listening to the ticking of the kitchen timer. He felt the steel of the barrel between his teeth and ran his tongue around the opening at the end. He tasted the oily residue on the Glock and smelled the slight smoky odor left over from the last time he took the gun to the range. He breathed in through his nose and out through his wedged-open mouth, feeling his breath pass between his lips and the body of the gun.

His mind went to the decision he had to make, the one he made each day. Hamlet had said it best, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Two columns appeared in his mind – the endless stream of checklists to navigate or the dark splotch of blood against his bedroom wall. The “strings and arrows,” or “that sleep of death.” Sitting there, clean and naked, with the Glock in his mouth, he could think clearly and dispassionately as he summed up the columns in his mind. Some days the decision was a close one.

But today, the timer gave off its little “ding,” and Gregory removed the Glock from his mouth. He turned the safety, removed the magazine, cleared the round and pushed it back into the cartridge. It wasn’t Saturday, so he didn’t clean the gun but simply wiped the saliva off with a cloth and replaced the gun, magazine, and cloth back in the wooden case, closed the lid, and randomized the numbers. Gregory put on the clothes that he had set out and walked through the door into another day.

Sunday Snippet, Swallowed by Nostalgia by Bill Chance

“being alone never felt right. sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right.”

― Charles Bukowski, Women

Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

Swallowed by Nostalgia

Craig was never very outgoing, never comfortable around lots of other people. He was surprised when he found himself married with two twin children. Then, all of a sudden, he was alone again, his ex-wife and kids out on the West coast, with a new husband and father.

Still, he had his friends. Not a lot of them, but the ones he had were close. He had his activities, his clubs, his scheduled events. Craig never felt like the center of the crowd, but he was there. He didn’t initiate a lot, but people would contact him, offer up events and activities, and he would go along.

As he grew older, he slowed down a bit, still not outgoing, but not a hermit by any means.

And then the pandemic hit… and it all went to shit.

One day, Craig realized he had not been out of his apartment in almost three weeks. His food was delivered, either cooked or groceries. Every day he’d collect his Amazon boxes – everything he needed and more. It was a reflex to search and click “buy now.” Craig felt like a cave man hunting woolly mammoths with a mouse, keyboard and credit card. After a while he turned the camera off on his work Zoom meetings and would usually nap during the long ones. Nobody seemed to notice.

He ordered blackout curtains for his windows and the highest rated noise-cancelling headphones. Sometimes he’d wear the phones without music, even though his place was quiet – simply to kill off any potential interruptions.

This went on, month after month and Craig began to go mad.

The present became more and more gray and blurred, but the past became crystal and colorful. Events from decades before floated up through his memory and wedged themselves into his consciousness. Especially things he regretted – not stuff that he did, but things that he didn’t do. These errors of omission, vacuums of courage, kept flashing in his mind.

The time a girl at a club gave him her number and he didn’t call… the job offer he turned down… the friends that went to an exotic location and he decided not to go with them…. All these and countless more kept coming back to him. In his mind, though, he went ahead and took the plunge. In his imagination he called the girl, took the job, went along. And reaped the reward.

But then, later, he would realize what had really happened, where he was, and who he had become. Sleep became something he feared, not because of nightmares but because of these triumphant dreams where he corrected the mistakes he had made. And this made the morning even more gray, even more useless.

His health provider kept sending him messages about the vaccine, but he ignored them. Why get the shot? He never left his apartment, was at no risk to himself or anyone else. He didn’t care anyway – if it killed him, it killed him.

Then one morning, after a long vivid dream of driving across the country in a sports car that he had decided not to buy once he woke up and scheduled his shot. It might stop the dreams. He left his place for the first time in months and was surprised at how easy it was to negotiate the paperwork and get the jab in the arm. He actually looked forward to the second, couldn’t wait until the three weeks were up.

It was a beautiful day when he got his second shot – the air with a bit of a chilly breeze but the sun out and hot – cutting through the cold. On a whim, he stopped in a park on the way back.

It was full of people, very few wearing masks. They were in groups, grilling, playing volleyball, kids running around, old folks walking, even a keg of beer next to a boom box (he guessed that the park rules were being bent after such a long time away).

He parked and walked the sidewalk on the circular drive looking at all the people. Live people. Noise. The chatter and music rose up. The smell of charcoal lighter and barbecue sauce. The feel of the cool breeze and hot sun.

It was back. He was back.

Sunday Snippet, Aliens Abduct Cheerleaders by Bill Chance

““You’re the hunter, the warrior. You’re stronger than anyone else here, that’s your tragedy.”

― Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

Sunset High School Cheerleaders

Aliens Abduct Cheerleaders

There are a few people in this world that everyone would consider to be a BADASS. Navy jet fighter pilots, gangsters, hitmen, boxers, bullies, Seal Team Six, high voltage repairmen… that sort of thing. Within that world of people that are badass there are a few that are REALLY BADASS. Think of a bell curve representing the amount of badass someone has – that right hand bit of tail and you have the badass people. Spread that out and you get another curve – to the right of it, the second derivative – and these are the most badass of the badass.

If you meet one of these people (and you better hope you never do) you probably would not even recognize their badassness – at least not right away. There is a saying among the super-badass, “They that do the mostest, talk the leastest.” They will never, never, ever talk about how badass they are. No tales of derring-do, no boastful bluster, no bombastic braggadocio. They are comfortable in their skin, confident in their abilities.

This is a small group, but among them are a handful of the most badass of the badass of the badass. These are the people that keep the badass of the badass up at night, send shivers down their spine. I’m not sure I know about all these people but I know six of them and I doubt there are very many more.

Who is more badass than these six? There is only one. He is not only the most badass person on the planet, he is an order of magnitude beyond; he is so badass that the word almost ceases to have meaning; he is made of pure badass.

He is Spencer Bowman.

Bowman carries an old fashioned pager. It only beeps – doesn’t even display the number calling. He may be the only person in a first-world country that still carries a pager like that.

One day, it beeped. Bowman stomped on the pager, shattering its plastic case, then dropped its remains off the first overwater bridge he came to. He drove his perfectly nondescript and average car to a working class suburb outside of DC and parked in front of a Speedometer Repair Shop in a run-down strip mall. He nodded at the middle aged receptionist and pressed a hidden button. A section of wall opened up and a stainless steel elevator appeared. The walls of the car had slits and Bowman nodded at them, knowing that an unseen man with a machine gun was behind each one.

At the bottom, deep underground, Bowman walked down a bare concrete corridor and pushed open a heavy steel blast door. Beyond was an ordinary drab government-issue office, with a bespectacled man at a desk. Not even Bowman knew what government agency ran this operation. It was so secret and dark it didn’t even have an acronym. Bowman suspected that not even the man behind the desk knew for sure who he worked for.

“Bowman, glad to see you again, have a seat,” said the man at the desk.

“What do you need me for?” was all Bowman said.

“You don’t waste much time, do you,” the man replied.

Bowman said nothing, not even a nod. It wasn’t really a question anyway.

“Well,” the man said, “aliens are stealing cheerleaders.”

“Really?”

“Really. Not just here, all over the world, though, of course the United States leads the world in Cheerleaders and most of the kidnappings are here. The total number isn’t huge, but it’s enough to worry… well, worry the people that know you.”

“And you want me to?”

“Find out why.”

“Maybe it is for breeding stock. There was a movie about that.”

“Probably not. They have mostly been taking female cheerleaders. But there have been a few male ones too. Actually, the ratio is pretty much the same as the total cheerleader population.”

“So, find out why. Anything else?”

“Well, it would be nice if you could get some back. If you can.”

The man handed Bowman a tiny, encrypted USB drive. Bowman already knew the password. And that was it.

There was a surprising amount of information on the drive. Enough for Bowman to figure out a couple of starting points. The government had a lot more data on the recent plague of UFO sightings than the public had been allowed to see. After a month of work, a series of educated guesses, and using some of his more exotic contacts, Bowman was able to figure out where the Alien’s base of operations was – an abandoned water pumping station in Dallas, Texas. The Aliens had a complex, subtle, and deep series of security measures protecting their base which Bowman was able to methodically and completely penetrate.

The Aliens resembled human beings in general, and their advance agents had established an odd cult of bizarre plastic surgery that made them able to… if not fit in, at least pass with their origins unguessed. Bowman reached the leader of the Alien mission with a maximum of stealth and a minimum of violence. They faced each other across an odd seven legged table lit by the unsettling greenish light of the Alien’s home planet.

“Spencer Bowman,” said the Alien mission leader.

“You know me,” said Bowman. Again, it was not a question.

“Of course, our knowledge of your society is more extensive than your own.”

“But why cheerleaders?”

“We need warriors.”

“Cheerleaders? Why not trained military? Or ninjas? Or snipers? Or at least gang bangers?”

“We are so very far advanced technologically that your crude killing methods are no longer relevant. Our weapons need a very specific and subtle mix of physical and mental capabilities and proclivities to operate efficiently. The Earth Cheerleading corps possess these qualities in greater accuracy than any other group we have found in any of the major galaxies.”

“But you can’t just kidnap people.”

“Kidnap? Oh you don’t understand. We present our proposal and they come along if they want.”

“But what if they refuse?”

“What if? Nothing. They return to their life.”

“What if they talk?”

“What if? Would any one believe them? Nope, they would end up a joke in the tabloids. And that’s the thing.”

“What?”

“Nobody has refused. No one. The call of destiny is strong. This is their purpose, they are perfect intergalactic warriors and when this is pointed out – the call is irresistible.”

Bowman knew he had the information he needed and it was time to escape. He turned away from the alien leader and fled out the door, taking every element of the situation in and avoiding the obvious traps. He was confident in his ability to get out of the alien headquarters unscathed and deliver his message to the government.

But Bowman was not prepared for what waited for him in the corridor beyond. There was Amber from the San Luis Obispo Wildcats in her red and blue uniform. She carried a Light Antimatter Laser Cannon and a Neutrino Shield. Next to her was Jeff from the Iowa City High School tumbling squad with a Quantum Saber glowing in his palms. Behind them stood their commander Crystal from The University of Virginia with a Superstring Grenade… just in case.

The fight didn’t last long. Withing a few seconds Bowman was reduced to a series of grotesque smears along a few feet of corridor. The Alien cleaning robot immediately emerged from a hidden closet and began scrubbing at the gore.

Spencer Bowman was without peer in the ranks of earth’s BADASS. But he was completely outclassed by Amber, Jeff, and Crystal, Intergalactic Warriors.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Cinders by D. J. Moore

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

― Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Sightings: Mai-Thu Perret Nasher Sculpture Center Dallas, Texas

Cinders by D. J. Moore

from Every Day Fiction

Short Story of the Day, Flash Non-Fiction, The Boy Who Drew Cats by Jesse Lee Kercheval

“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”

― Robert A. Heinlein

Six Persimmons by Muqi Fachang

The Boy Who Drew Cats by Jesse Lee Kercheval

from Brevity

I was so tired I could barely sneer

A few months ago I had a phrase get stuck in my head – “I was so tired I could barely sneer.” To get it out I had to sit down and write something from it.

Sneer

I was so tired I could barely sneer

I was so tired I could barely sneer; let alone lean back and kick that worthless loser in the balls – which is what I wanted to do.

“What’chew drinkin’ ma’am.” he said. “On me,” he said.

I turned away from the loser to face directly at the bartender and asked, “What do you have in Single Malt?”

“Scotch?”

“What else?”

“Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenrothes…”

“You like the Glens,” I said.

The Bartender continued without hesitation. “Glengoyne, Speyside, Knockando, Cragganmore, Dallas Dhu, Loch Lomond, and Glenturret.”

“No Balmorhea?” I said. I always like to have an ace in the hole, something I knew he wouldn’t stock. There is no Balmorhea Single Malt Scotch. Balmorhea is a little town in West Texas.

“No, sorry ma’am. I’ll ask our distributor if he carries it next time I place an order.”

“You do that,” I said and gave him my favorite derisive squint. Have to always keep one up on the help. “In that case I’ll have a Glenrothes, neat, and put it on his tab.” I gestured at the mirror above the bar but when I looked, the guy was gone.

“Oh…,” I said.

“On his tab,” the bartender repeated, and reached for the bottle. I glanced at the shelf, at the bottle he was grabbing, to make sure the bartender wasn’t trying to rip me off and noticed a long glass case mounted under the shelf. On the outside it said, “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS.” Inside the case was a baseball bat… but… the funniest thing… the little knob on the end was gone and the thin part, where you grab, was sharpened into a point.

“And I’ll have a Bloody Mary,” a voice behind me said. Surprised, I spun and the guy was back again.

“Of course you will,” said the bartender, “On your tab?”

“Yes, please.”

The loser didn’t say anything more; he simply stared at me while the bartender poured the tomato juice. He was tall, skinny to the point of being gaunt, graying hair, dressed like he had bought tacky clothes from the sixties – plaid pants and a striped collarless blazer, a mix of every color never seen in nature. He looked like he thought he was the king of polyester. They looked stale, a little wrinkled, like they had been slept in. I imagined those clothes hanging on racks at Goodwill for fifty years, until this idiot comes in and, “Has to have that outfit.”

The bartender reached out to hand him his drink and he took it right in front of my face. The guy had long fingernails, but at least they were carefully sculpted and clean. The skin on his hands and on his face was impossibly pale, almost translucent, like you could almost see the blood vessels pulsing underneath, but his lips were bright red, I thought he might even be wearing lipstick. Uggh!

Thank God, though, the only thing the guy said was, “Enjoy your drink,” and, before I had a chance to decide whether to say thank you or not, he turned and disappeared into the murk at the back of the bar.

Like I said, I was exhausted, so I was glad to get to sit there and try and enjoy my drink.

“Wow,” I said, “Who was that guy?”

“A regular.”

“Never seen him in here before.”

“He always comes in late.”

I nodded. That’s why I had never seen the loser – I was at the bar a lot later than usual. At the most I stopped by for a simple tip on the way home; I liked to watch the sunset from my treadmill on the balcony. But the board meeting today had run long. It was worth it. The idiot bastards. I had to smile; I couldn’t help myself. I had been working the angles for months setting everything up and it had gone down, well, without a hitch.

“Long day?” the bartender asked.

“Oh, yeah. I’m beat.”

“That’s funny, you look a bit like the cat that ate the canary.”

“You have no idea,” I said. Damn Bartenders. They notice everything. Time to retreat, don’t want him to get the upper hand.

“Little girl’s room?”

“Down the long hall at the back, last door on the right.”

Of course I knew where the bathroom was. I don’t know why I asked. Maybe I wanted a way to let him know where I was going without saying it aloud.

When I came out of the can I noticed a shape blocking the hallway. It was tough to see; it was dark back there, and very smoky. Cramped. I didn’t like it one bit.

“Did you like your single malt?”

Oh, Christ. It was the loser. I felt a bit of panic – he had me trapped back there. But as I approached he moved to the side and pushed himself up against the wall to let me pass. He was so thin, he seemed almost to disappear into the paneling.

“Did you like your bloody Mary?” I asked back, with as much derision as I could. He only chuckled a bit.

“It was alright,” he said. “For starters.”

What the hell did he mean by that? I pushed past him, angling to the side, facing that lime green shiny fabric when I felt a hand on my shoulder, stopping me. His touch was bitter cold – at the time I thought he must have been holding an iced drink. The loser bent close. For a second I thought the bastard was going to try and kiss me. I was way too worn out for that kind of crap.

But of course he didn’t. He held me with preternatural strength, bent my head back, and pushed his long sharp teeth into the arteries in my neck.

—————————————————————————-

“And that’s how it began. In a bar exactly like this one. I’m not tired any more.”

“What about the board meetings?” the bartender asked. I looked at him, looked at his lonely reflection in the bar mirror. He kept a sharpened, polished pine two by four sitting beside the gin.

“Oh, I had to quit my job, not a lot of that kind of work goes on at night. I took up consulting. I can set my own hours.”

“Would you like another bloody Mary?” he asked.

“No, thanks, I had better push off. It’s getting late and I think I’ve a taste for something a bit more flavorful now.”