Like a glove

I was done rotting in the jail cell, or so they told me. I’d shown good behavior, but my time was up and the governor couldn’t think of a reason to pardon me.

The list they handed me was on pink paper. I scowled. Just because I was a girl, they were putting my last meal on pretty pink paper. And nothing on it appealed to me. I circled nothing, and handed it back in.

The night before I was sentenced to die I was brought nothing, like I’d asked, except for a glass of water. “Gotta keep you hydrated,” the prison guards teased, “electricity won’t flow through your body if you aren’t hydrated. Remember that scene from the Green Mile?”

My sweaty palms betrayed my calm exterior. I said nothing, but rolled my eyes and shook my head at their jokes. I laid down on the scratchy bed surface when the lights went out. The tears that sprang to my eyes as I thought of all the things I’d miss pushed any thoughts of why I was here, in this very situation in the first place, out of my mind. Instead, I daydreamed about the happy times I’d had in life.

When the sun’s rays touched the ceiling, I sat up and let my feet touch the cold floor. I could hear the footsteps moments later, with the unmistakable jangle of keys, even though the doors were now all electric and remote controlled.

All those prison movies are good for is instilling fear in society.

I stayed still on my bed as the door slid open. The newest prison guard, a quaint woman named Patrice, shuffled in. “Stand up.” She ordered, without looking me in my eyes.

I did as I was told. She solidly gripped my elbow and escorted me out of the room. There were three other guards waiting for me, all with solemn faces. They flanked me as we walked down the hallway. At least they knew enough to respect me during my last few moments on earth.

I was brought into a room, pushed into an electric chair. I wiped my palms casually on my jumpsuit as I sat down. The lights dimmed. I could hear the hum of static electricity filling the room.

I counted my breaths as my escorts faded into the background. I looked out at the one way glass, trying to catch a glimpse of something, anything, on the other side. I saw nothing. Then the door behind the chair opened.

Must be the executioner, coming in to do his job. How does he even sleep at night?

Fighting to keep my breathing even, I hardly flinched when the warden appeared in front of me. He was a squirrelly type of man, always dressed to the nines, even when he was supervising us out in the hot sun. There was something about him that held my attention, but his eyes scrutinized me as they strapped me in.

He held a manilla folder. It wasn’t as thick as I thought it would be, but then again, I didn’t even know what was in it.

“This,” he began, “is your new life. There’s a passport, birth certificate, new name and identity and twenty thousand dollars cash. You have a choice, right now, right here in this moment.”

He took a deep breath. “You can become,” he peeked inside, “Stephanie Brown, a woman from Northern Nebraska who’s looking for a new start in South America, OR, you can be electrocuted. The choice is yours really.”

I looked at him, disbelief evident, I’m sure. “Has anyone ever turned you down and instead asked to be electrocuted?”

He grinned. “Actually, yes. You see you’re never allowed back in the country. No one can know that you’re alive. And we actually ship out a cadaver with your name on it, so your family will think you’re dead and gone. No one is to know about the deal, or else you will be hunted down and killed. Is that clear?”

I nodded. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but to be given the chance to leave the country paid for by the government and live free once again? Who wouldn’t take it?

What’s the catch? There’s got to be a catch.

My voice was steady. “And what’s the fine print?”

“Fine print?” He laughed. “There is none. You see we don’t like to kill people. The government doesn’t like to kill people. But, we can’t have people running around killing others because there’s no retribution. So, we ship you out of the country, you don’t tell anyone and you don’t come back, and we both win.”

“When do I leave?” I asked.

“Now.” He answered.

The straps were removed from my wrists. He disappeared, back through the same door, I’m sure. The manilla folder was at my feet.

Each of the guards looked at me, slight grins on their faces. “Stephanie, how nice to meet you.” They said as they walked up and shook my hand.

Just like that I was someone else. And she fit like a glove.

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The Bear Who Followed

Deep in the forest, the bear slumbered. It was close to spring, but the smell of the earth waking up hadn’t come to his nose yet. His eyes were still closed, his breathing rumbled evenly. He was not yet scheduled to rouse.

Outside his den, the lights flickered, waiting for him to catch the scent. They tried to flicker by day, so as not to catch any unwanted attention. It was, after all, the bear they were here to collect and only the bear.

One day a fox meandered closer than before, her nose to the air, sniffing. She caught the sweet smell and followed it, but the lights stopped flickering, and seemed to disappear right there in daylight. The fox lost the scent and returned to her own hunt – the rabbit hidden in the garden – to feed her own cubs.

Struggling to hold in their luminous wonder, the lights finally allowed themselves brief flickers again, for their own sanity. They attracted no more attention that day, nor for the next few days.

At last the rains came. They started off softly, gently nudging the earth’s ground awake. The air filled with the scents of soil, leaves and the bugs that had recently returned to the surface.

The bear stirred.

Then he rolled over and went back to sleep. This time the rains fell harder. The sky crackled with electricity as thunder and lightening permeated and the air became much more humid. The clouds rolled in low, leaving behind morning fog as thick as icing on a professionally designed cake. The bear stirred again.

This time, the bear sniffed cautiously in the wind. He caught scent of the lights, their sweetness, and he opened one eye. Seeing nothing, he sniffed again. The scent was there. And it was enticing. But he wasn’t quite ready, just yet.

Instead he snorted, expelling the sweetness from his nostrils and rolled away from the den’s opening. There he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

The lights flickered outside the den, daring each other to go inside and rouse the bear. He had slept long enough, and his time was now. He needed to come. And the only way to get him to do that, was to wake him up.

Once they agreed, the lights entered the damp den. The bear’s breathing was now laced with the humidity of spring. His wet, sticky tongue hung out of his slightly open mouth and wobbled with every breath. The lights danced dangerously close.

The bear snorted. He pawed at his own nose, in an effort to banish the smell. Finally sick of smelling the sweetness, and longing for a taste of… something, he opened his eyes. With a grunt, he realized his den was no longer empty. Before him, the lights flickered together, the shape that startled the bear to backing out of his den.

He raised his head high up into the air, standing on his hind legs, hoping to get a clear breath full of springtime air. Instead the lights flickered nearby and all he could smell was their sweetness. They lined a path, and he started to amble down it, afraid to cross their trail.

The bear moved faster, hoping to lose the lights behind, but there were always more of them, lining the edges. Realizing the futility of his actions, he slowed, lumbering while squishing his feet in the damp earth. He stopped now and then to nuzzle some of his favorite flowers, or scratch his stiff back on a big enough tree.

When the tower came into sight, he thought about crossing the light path. He stopped, but the lights eagerly  flickered, pushing him forward. A part of him remembered this place, from memories that seemed to happen in another time. In his memories a young man with shiny golden hair stroked his young fur. Shaking his head he plodded along, stealing glances at the tower’s astonishing heights.

The lights continued to flicker. Then they disappeared from his sides and formed a circle close to the tower’s main door. The bear stopped.

The lights began to spin in a circle, growing larger, and larger. They seemed to fuse together, and spin together and the bear watched with open eyes.

The clouds moved in, and still the lights circled. There was a loud thunderclap which echoed off the tower’s stone, and the bear jumped back instinctively. When he raised his head again, he was looking at a young girl.

She wore a white dress, with pink shoes and curly blond hair. Her smile was crooked though, and her eyes gleamed devilishly. She put her hand out for the bear to come nuzzle his fur in, and although every particle of his being balked at the idea, his feet moved forward.

She gently stroked his fur and whispered, “It is good to see you my old friend. I have missed you.”

The bear looked up at her, his black eyes reflecting the confusion in hers. “I know I have changed. I am no longer the man you’d recognize. But it is still me, my friend. Only I have something extra, I know. I have the devil inside me.”

The bear trembled slightly underneath this young girl’s outstretched arm. The girl grinned. “Together you and I can be the predators we need to be,” she whispered. “We can kill the bad, and decide about the good. If there is any good left. There’s no more innocence, that’s for sure.”

The bear snorted. The scent was becoming heavier now. He suddenly recognized it as the stench of death. The sticky sweetness of fresh blood spilled.

He tried to back away, but found his feet rooted to the spot. “Who do you want to be?” she whispered.

Within seconds he felt heat searing through his body. Followed by pain, he let out a bellow he was sure would be heard two towns away. His bones crackled, his fur fell away. When he could once again stand, the little girl let out a belly laugh.

“You wanted to be me?” She laughed again, this time even harder. “With all your power, your prowess, and your strength you wanted to be nothing but a man with a kind heart. What kind of predator are you?”

The bear, who was now the blond man from his memory, opened his mouth for the first time to speak. The words circled his mind, but his heart stepped in and took the lead. “I’m the kind of predator that takes only what is needed for survival and leaves the rest. I am no predator.”

She laughed again. “Then you shall be of no use to me.”

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All in the Eyes

For a child, you could see the weight of the world in his eyes. Even at his young age, he’s seen how the world works. How things like kindness and humanity are dropped for a dime. How people who don’t deserve the world’s hate have all eyes on them as they go about their daily lives. He’s seen too much, for such a young boy. There’s little hope left in those eyes. Little to smile about.

Most of his village believes cameras steal their souls. Perhaps that’s what happened, over time. Cameras stole souls little by little. Images left behind pieces of who a person could have been, given hope and a little kindness. But kindness is banished now, left behind on slips of glossy paper in brighter colors than you’ll find on any ordinary day.

In his eyes you see the reflections of the daily race of war. You see the clouds of dust bombs leave behind. The bloodiest bodies, dropped where they were hit and never moved. The outlines of a daily life that once included laughter, but now only include tears. The worn coffins, large and tinier than you’d ever want to see. All that shows in his eyes. In his hard set mouth. In the lone tear growing in the corner of his eye.

But he’s different than the rest of the village. He let them take his photo, but only if they took it in black and white. That way, they’d take his sadness, and leave his colors alone.

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Ripped from the Earth

It was in the way, where the tree grew. The roots were strong, but not strong enough for the great jaws that came and ripped it from the warm soil.

“Awww, does it have to go?” I whined.

“It does.” Came the response, calm, cool and collected. There was no emotional reaction there, though I wanted, no needed to see one.

“But that’s the tree we planted with our kiddo.” My lips pouted. “Can’t we just leave it?”

“No.”

We watched, together, hand in hand as the machine came and dug its neat hole in the ground. We watched as it swallowed up the tree in its jaw, wrapped it in a prickly canvas bundle and drove it away.

“It’s done.”

He pulled away from me and sipped his coffee, engrossed in the newspaper again. I wiped at my own tears as quickly and quietly as I could. Then I stood, collected a bag of my most precious things and walked out the door.

He didn’t even look up.

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Sunk

“The kids are fighting again.”

The old man fingered his jaw. The lawyers would have to be called again. One on hand, he rued the day he let them take over his business. On the other, well they’d fight it out. The strongest would win. But they’d only win the business.

He thought back twenty years, to when he’d first had his employees make him the box. It was heavy, made of thick, impenetrable steel. He converted his money, his hard earned cash into gold bars and put it in the box. Not all of it, mind you, because that woman of his could spend so much, but most of it.

And no one had even noticed.

The box is too heavy now for him to move. It sits, unassuming, in the back of his Chevy, right next to his rusting tackle box.

At lunch time, he feels new aches, new pains. It won’t be much longer now. He chuckles to himself. They’ll never know. Never.

He could give it to someone. He could. But who? Who deserves it? They all have attitudes, those workers of his. Not like the good old days where people took pride in the work they did. When they kept themselves humble, kept their heads down and got shit done.

These new workers, all they did was complain. How come my raise isn’t as big as his? Why can’t get we get more vacation time? And then there were the ones who left and then had to come groveling back. No. He decided none of them would get it.

He’d have to give it up to the river.

When the workers started shuffling back in from lunch he picked one. The one who looked like he could lift it. “Jeremy! Come here, I have a task for you.”

Jeremy shuffled forward reeking of pot. He shook his head. Now was not the time. “Get in my truck, we’re going for a little ride.”

Jeremy looked confused. But he obeyed. He strapped himself into the front seat. “Where are we going sir?”

Jeremy looked nervous, anxious even. He almost laughs. He knows. He’s heard the rumors that they all think he’s lost his mind. But he’s not feeling fuzzy right now. He’s sharp. As a tack. “To the river.” Is all he answers.

The drive is quiet. He stops the truck along the side of the road, watching the early spring waters gurgle and hiss. It’s overcast and windy, leading to whitecaps on the waves. Perfect.

“Take that box. Can you lift it?”

Jeremy grunts when he picks it up. Although he staggers, he picks it up and follows the old man to the water’s edge. There’s a row boat there, tethered to a weathered tree. The old man unhooks it, and steps in, gesturing for Jeremy to do the same. He follows instructions.

The old man grunts as he rows them out to the middle of the river. “Throw it over.” He instructs.

Jeremy gives him another quizzical look, but does as he is commanded. Surely the old man is mad.

When it hits the water it bobs for the briefest of seconds before breaking through and sinking steadily. He watches it until he can no longer see it. Then he starts rowing again.

“What was in the box?” Jeremy asks when they reach the shore and are tying the boat up again.

“Nothing of importance.” The old man mutters. “Something I don’t want the kids to get.”

They ride back in silence. The old man chuckles now and again. He pulls into the parking lot and turns off the ignition. “Thank you, for helping me Jeremy.”

Jeremy nods. They both get out of the truck. The screeching sounds of arguing adult children reach them even before they make it to the door. The old man smiles.

“They’ll never even know,” he whispers. “Never.”

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The Journal

He found the journal on the train.

It spilled her deepest secrets. Who she wished she’d never let into her life, who she wished she’d kept closer. It betrayed her true feelings about the weeks behind her, even while she managed to keep a brave face in real life.

He imagined her. She’d have light, curly, almost cranberry orange hair. She’d be tall, and stand proud. She’d gaze into people’s eyes and wonder about their hopes and dreams. He put her on a pedestal.

The problem is, pedestals aren’t meant for people.

Three weeks after he found the journal, he went on the same train, the 38 from Central Square to Downtown. He held the journal in his hands, open as he read.

He heard the clicking of high heels angrily moving toward him once the train jerked into motion.

“Excuse me.” She cleared her throat.

He looked up, a blush on his cheeks.

“I believe that’s mine.” Her gaze was not soft and romantic as he had pictured. It was hardened, angry. Sweat beaded on her forehead. She clutched a weathered leather bag with one hand while holding out her other. “I’ll take that now that you’ve invaded my privacy.” She glowered.

Reluctantly, he handed it over. “Oh, I’m sorry. There was no address to return it to.”

“So you thought you’d just have a go at reading it. Someone’s private journal. In a public place, no less. How dare you. You’re really something, Mister, you know that?”

She stalked off.

In his head, he tried again to conjure the girl he’d imagined. With soft, warm eyes and the cranberry-orange curls. Inviting him in, exposing her deepest fears to him. Wrapping him in warmth and acceptance.

The train jerked to a stop and he stepped onto the platform, both embarrassed and surprised as the doors closed and he watched her face disappear into the darkness.

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The Garden

“The vine was just looking for something to crawl up. I gave it a statue.”

She smiled at the realtor. The realtor smiled back.

“Well it’s something most people don’t get in their yards. Speaking of, the landscaping is incredible. What’s your secret? Do you employ a specific company or do you do it yourself?”

“Oh I do it all myself.” She smiled proudly. “I woke up one morning with a hankering to garden, and I came outside to find soil already overturned, so I just started planting.”

“Wow,” the realtor breathed.

They continued walking around the property. “This is the Joseph garden. It has only Kingsblood tulips, a rare, deep, red color. This was the first garden I planted and it’s always been my favorite.”

She waved her hands to the next raised bed. “This is the Christopher garden. Here it’s full of pale butter yellow flowers from the Elsie Eloff tulips, to the Tickseed Moonbeam. I thought about adding some Prism Sunshine Petunias, but then changed my mind.”

They turned and looked at another sprawling garden area. “The Nicholas garden came next. Since he loved blue, I had to include all the favorites: Belladonna Blue Delphinium, Forget Me Nots, Hydrangea, and the Hyacinthus Delft.”

The realtor stopped nodding her head. “I’m sorry did you say these gardens are named after past friends?”

“Oh did I?” She looked surprised. “Well, yes, I’m sure I mentioned it. After my past loves.” Her frown deepened and she lowered her voice. “But they all mysteriously disappeared. I mean, I just can’t figure out where they’d all go. Just the other day, Charles left to go to the store, but hasn’t returned.” She turned back to the realtor. “But that hasn’t stopped me, no it hasn’t. That’s when I put up the statue for the vine to climb. He always did love ivy.”

Her smile turned wistful as they walked by the garage. “You know, it will be really sad to leave this house, and my gardens. But it’s time, I think. Don’t you?”

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