28 May, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Continuum (part 2 of "The Neighborhood")

This story is the continuation of last week's "The Neighborhood". If you have not read that, you can catch up here.

Hank and Ben exchanged a look. Hank went for his scotch while Ben spoke up, "You're right Willis: That sounds crazy. Can you explain?" Ben and Jaime trusted Willis and Colleen with their kids. They were good neighbors, solid upstanding people. He must be joking about a rift in space-time.

Willis rose and paced the floor. "It's something she said last night. Otherwise I wouldn't have thought it." He looked up, pleading with them. "You know I would never leap to that kind of conclusion!"

"I'm glad to hear it," said Ben. He'd been watching Willis closely, not touching the drink he'd been given. Hank had almost drained with his drink.


"Well, sure. I don't think it sounds like you at all."

"Exactly." He sighed and ran his fingers over his head in frustration. "Her words. I don't even really understand myself. She was getting ready for bed and said, 'It feels weird tonight. My routine is all out of order.' Then she laughed and said, 'If I'm gone in the morning, you'll know that breaking my routine warped the space-time continuum.' That's what she said. This morning she was gone, but nothing is missing, not even as if she went to work. And she wasn't at work."

Ben relaxed and took a sip of scotch. He smiled at his friend. "I see. Do you feel like you can sit?" His anxious pacing seemed out of place now that he'd told them what happened. There was clearly an easy explanation.

Hank emptied his glass and walked over to get the scotch from the counter leading to the kitchen. He brought it back and set it on the coffee table between them after filling his glass. "How many of these have you had, Willis?"

"Oh, come on! I'm not drunk!" He looked at each of the men in turn, then answered. "One while I was waiting for you to get here, and this one in my hand. That's it."

"So, do you believe in this space-time continuum?" Asked Ben, ever logical.

He sighed. "We have different interests. The point is, I know SHE believes in it. And before you ask, no we haven't had a fight, yes, everything is good in our marriage. She wouldn't walk out on me."

Hank smirked a little. "That'll be a hard sell to the police. Is that why you asked us over?"

"Kind of. I trust you guys. And now you know everything I know. What do you think?"

Ben looked at Hank, who shrugged. "You know if you get the police involved they'll search your house. Want us to do it now? See if we see something that helps? Since we know you?"

"Be my guest."

They walked through the house together, starting with the front closet, where Willis assured them that all her coats, hats and boots that should be there, were.  Hank frowned. "That purple jacket? Leah always says..." He broke off, knowing that Leah's thoughts about the bright purple jacket were an insult. 

Willis didn't notice the hesitation. "She keeps that in the car, in case of emergency. Good eye!" Willis took a sip of his drink, relaxing. It was weird having neighbors go through your stuff, but it could help.

Ben and Hank both were a little hesitant at first, until a few questions and answers like Hank's put them more at ease. An hour later, after searching the main floor, basement and starting upstairs, Ben's phone rang. "It's Jaime." He excused himself from the guestroom, where they were taking their time, delaying investigating the master bedroom. 

Willis said to Hank, "Shall we start on the bedroom? I know it's uncomfortable, but I appreciate your help."

Hank gave a hefty sigh and nodded once. "Okay. Yeah, let's go." Ben was out in the hall on his cell. "Thanks, honey. I'll be home when I can." He followed the other two in the master suite.

They spent a little longer in here, counting toothbrushes, looking in her jewelry box - Willis appreciated their hesitancy, but encouraged them. "Is there anything I should notice is gone?" Hank had called attention to the purple jacket that wasn't in the hall closet, so it was possible they or their wives had noticed Colleen's jewelry.

After verifying the latches on the window and asking more questions, Hank and Ben were clearly ready to be done. "I don't know what to say, man," said Hank. 

Willis nodded, defeated. "Yeah. Me too. I guess if she's not here in the morning I'll call the police about it."

He stayed downstairs for another hour after the guys left, cleaning the kitchen to a shine, as if doing chores would bring her back. Finally he sat and watched a late night talk show, not really hearing anything that was said. 

During a commercial break, something flickered in his peripheral vision. Willis turned in the direction of the disturbance. Seeing nothing, he watched the commercial. Another flicker. This time he knew it was somewhere by the fluffy chair Colleen habituated. He stared at her chair as the host returned to the desk on TV. 

Like an old TV warming up, he gradually saw a form taking shape in the chair. When Colleen was clear and solid he crossed to her, staring at her. He touched her shoulder, and she turned to him with a jump. "Ah! Finally!" she smiled at him as if nothing had happened.

"You're really here?"

"I have been the whole time. I told you about the problem with the continuum, didn't I?"

"Yes, but..."

"It was just a small warp." She sighed. "I only moved some ... 22 hours? I guess? What time is it?"

Willis' jaw had dropped. If anything he had more questions than before. 

"Maybe we should head to bed early tonight. I won't mix up my routine this time." She rose and reached for his hand. "It really can mess things up. Sorry to cause you any trouble."

He accepted her hand, then pulled her into a tight embrace. "I don't get it."

"Honey, I can't breathe." He didn't relent. "I can't explain if I can't breathe." After he pulled back from the hug she touched his face. "I'm so sorry," she said. "Let's go to bed and I'll tell you all about the fragility of the space-time continuum."

Every Friday, a new flash fiction story, inspired by reader comments (as much as possible). Feel free to leave a prompt for future use in the comments below. This story was actually loosely based on a conversation we actually had at my home. It got me wondering, "what if?"

If you choose to join in for Fiction Fridays, post a link to your story below in the comments. If there's interest or participation, I may start suggesting prompts here for the following week.

21 May, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Neighborhood

She was gone. "Colleen?" She couldn't be gone, but she was. 

"Colleen!" The house looked the same, but felt too quiet. There was no sound, no movement. She was gone. After walking through the house Willis opened the back door and called out into the neighborhood. "Colleen!!" It was early, but the neighbors would be up getting ready for work and their kids packed off to school, so he didn't worry about disturbing the peace. 

She wasn't out back.

He tried the same thing out the front door, standing on the stoop in his robe, calling her name. The paper sat there in its plastic sheath and he bent to pick it up as usual. Everything was as usual. Except his wife was gone.

The neighbor's SUV was pulling out of their garage. Leah rolled down her window and called out, "Morning, Willis! Did I hear you calling for Colleen?"

"Yeah, I guess she's not at your place for coffee this morning, huh, Leah?"

"Not me. I have an early day today. Try Jaime. Is everything okay?"

"We'll see, I guess." Jaime and Ben Holstrom lived on the other side. Willis and Colleen often babysat for their three young boys. He doubted she was there. A routine-follower like Colleen would not intrude on the Holstrom's hectic morning routine. He walked across the yard all the same.

"Sean, get back here and put on your pants!" Willis heard as little Sean opened the door in his underwear. 

"Hi, Mister James!"

Jaime came into the front room, shoving a homework folder into a backpack. "Willis! What a surprise! Everything okay?"

"It's a long shot, but I was wondering if Colleen came over this morning."

"No, not here, sorry."

"Okay, I'll get out of your hair. Have a good day."

He didn't wait for a follow up question. It was time he got himself ready for work. 

He sat at his desk all morning, focusing as best he could at the insurance claims in front of him, but still musing on the morning behind him. What was it she said last night? She was complaining about her bedtime routine being off, but he'd only been half-listening.

Walking to the elevators to head out for lunch, it came to him. He stopped dead in his tracks. "No."

Bob from accounting bumped into him. "Whoa there, Willis, careful!" Looking at him as he moved past, Bob stopped. "You okay? Looks like you saw a ghost."

"I'm... uh... yeah, okay. Sorry Bob." He backed up and grabbed a snack from the break room instead of going for a proper lunch.

Back at his desk he went online. No new expenses, no new social media posts, nothing. She really had disappeared. He sent a text to Ben from next door asking him to stop by after work. Leah's husband Hank, too. Just immediate neighbors. He didn't really know what was going on yet. Maybe he was crazy, but if he was crazy so was Colleen.

Back home after work, Willis poured himself a drink, and kept the liquor out for his friends in case they wanted one too. He looked around the house, but nothing was different. He paced, waiting. No one was knocking yet.

Returning to the counter where his scotch sat, he slugged it back and poured another. Just then the doorbell rang. "It's open!" Hank and Ben walked in together and Willis joined them in the living room, drink in hand. "Anyone need a drink?"

"How about you tell us what's happening first?"

"Colleen's gone."

"I guess I will take that drink, Ben?"

"I guess so. What happened?

Willis poured the drinks as he explained, "This is going to sound crazy, so, just know that I know it sounds crazy." After handing out drinks he sipped his and said, "She created a rift in the space-time continuum."

Every Friday, a new flash fiction story, inspired by reader comments (as much as possible). Feel free to leave a prompt for future use in the comments below. This story was actually loosely based on a conversation we actually had at my home. It got me wondering, "what if?"

If you choose to join in for Fiction Fridays, post a link to your story below in the comments. If there's interest or participation, I may start suggesting prompts here for the following week.

14 May, 2021

Goldilocks and the Jerry Bears

Goldie raced up the steps to the front door of the small cabin. She doubled over, catching her breath from running through the woods. As she was bent down, she peeked over her shoulder. Seeing no movement behind her, no one present bursting from the trees into this small clearing, she stepped up to the door and stood on tiptoe to look in the diamond-shaped window in the front door. 

The interior was dim, with light coming in from one window, and some light spilling through a doorway off to the side. All was quiet inside: no sign of movement. Goldie looked around again, then tapped lightly on the door with one knuckle. 

No response.

Looking around once more, Goldie tried the knob. Miraculously, it was open. She was safe.

She eased in and leaned against the door as she closed it with a quiet click. "Hello?" she called. There was no sound of movement, but judging from the light spilling through that doorway, someone might be home. It was not her intention to intrude but she had finally made her escape and this was the safest place she had seen.

As Goldie's eyes adjusted to the dim interior, she saw a cozy living room. The shades were drawn on one window, but the other allowed some slanting rays in and her breath evened as she watched motes of dust dancing in the sunbeams. A few chairs, some shelves, no electronics. Good. Maybe these people were "off the grid". 

Turning to her right, Goldie was drawn to the doorway streaming with bright, white light. Okay, not completely off-grid. That could only be flourescent. She crossed to the doorway and saw a table with breakfast still laid out.

Unbidden, Goldie felt the saliva burst into her mouth. She was jonesing for some of those pancakes. Why did these people leave in such a rush they left their breakfast on the table? 

There was a serving platter full of pancakes, butter and honey on the table, and she found that the three bowls held some kind of porridge. Maybe Malt-o-meal or Cream of Wheat. It didn't look lumpy like oatmeal always did. She sniffed at the porridge but, finding a plate in a cabinet, piled on pancakes, slathered on the butter. 

Goldie paused, looking for syrup, but decided not to raid her unknown hosts' pantry and opted for a smidge of the honey that had been set out. Goldie was so hungry she moaned with pleasure at each bite. Why was she so hungry? "Mmm... Ohh... Hmm..." 

Goldie leaned back, her hefty appetite sated. Her head was clearing and she found herself jolted by a noise outside and rushed to peer out the window over the kitchen sink. Nothing.

She had escaped, but they'd be coming for her. Now that she was fed she needed to rest, to be better able to run when they came for her. Sleepy, she was so sleepy. 

Back in the living room, she noticed for the first time a crude stairway going to a loft upstairs. Yes. Sleep. Wait, no. If she could grab a catnap down here, she'd have easier exit if needed. 

Goldie tried the coziest looking chair - and almost lost herself in the abundance of fluff. No, no-no-no, she leapt out of the chair and stared at it in annoyance. Such a comfy-looking chair had no business being a death trap! 

There was a window seat, and a very firm looking wingback chair that she decided to skip. The only other seat available looked comfortable enough, so she gave it a try. Hearing the frame crack, Goldie again leapt out of her seat. She wasn't fat! What the heck! It looked alright from her angle in front of the chair, and she didn't see the clearly broken leg at the back of the chair. 

Goldie looked around, suddenly very tired indeed. The window seat? Should she try it? That would mean that if her captors emerged from the forest into this glen, they could quickly see her and drag her back. 

Drat. She gave a side-long glance to the rickety stairway. She'd already broken a chair: dare she attempt climbing? Nothing for it but to try.

With a firm grip on the banister, Goldie ascended to the loft, where she saw three beds, a pair of dressers, and another window. Perfect. If she fell asleep near the window, she could see any danger approaching. Maybe. If she woke. It was a chance she had to take. She hadn't slept well in days.

Goldie lay down on the bed nearest the window - which was also the biggest - rolled around a little to find comfort, then gave up and tried the next bed. She was trying not to disturb the bedding, lying on top instead of under the comforter, but the comforter closed in on her like the comfy-looking chair downstairs. "Oh hell no!" She exclaimed, bolting out of the bed and collapsing on the smallest of the three. Not comfortable, not big enough for her, but by now Goldie was so exhausted she didn't care and quickly passed out.

Her dreams were fraught with colorful bears making her dance when she was too tired or stoned to do it. She was moving through clouds of smoke, looking for clean water to drink, and finally running out the door only to be dragged back inside by a green bear grinning maniacally.

She woke up to a blood-curdling scream: "MAAAaaaaa!" and screamed in return "AAAaaaah!" at the bear cub staring at her and screaming for his mother.

As the mama bear's head rose above those rickety stairs, Goldie protested, "Wait, wait-wait!" Mama bear's mouth gaped open, but she drew no nearer.

"Pops? You gotta see this," she called down the stairs.

"Please," Goldie was holding her hands up in a peaceful shrug to show her innocence. "No one - I don't - No one was home. I just wanted -"

"What? You wanted what?" Growled the big bear now joining the others.

"I'm being followed. I'm in danger. I just wanted to rest before..."

"Get out." That big third bear wasn't hearing it.

"But I -" Mama bear came to the bedside and pulled on her arm to get her to stand. "Best you do as he says," she stated. The family watched as she stepped toward the stairway. They watched her begin her descent, then Mama bear followed, motioning for the others to remain aloft for a while.

At the bottom of the stairs, Goldie reiterated, "I'm in danger. I need help. Is there anything you can..."

"Sh..." Mama bear angled her ear to the door and crossed to the window with the closed blinds. She pressed down one of the slats and peered out. "Ugh," came the growl. She whispered. "Here they come," and tapped on the banister a rapid beat. Her husband appeared at the top of the steps and seeing her motion with her head toward the door he and the cub descended.

With Mama bear consulting with the family, Goldie couldn't resist peeking. She bent to the window sill and pinched two slats together at the corner to see what was so distressing. Her heart raced in a panicked pulse as she watched the five brightly colored bears striding toward the cabin. How did they know?

Dropping the blinds, Goldie backed away from the window, tripping over an ottoman and collapsing into the super-soft chair that started to swallow her again until strong, furry paws pulled her out. She hadn't heard the family's whispered conversation, but now Mama bear herded Goldie and the cub into a small doorway hidden in the wood paneling under the stairs. "Sh." She repeated as the three of them crawled into a dark space. "His cousins."

Every Friday, a new flash fiction story, inspired by reader comments (if possible). Feel free to leave a prompt for future use in the comments below. I hope you liked that story, based on the prompt "Jerry bears" given by J Lenni Dorner (of Blog of J Lenni Dorner) during my 2019 #AtoZ Challenge.

Playlist in the background while writing this: Psychedelic Rock

If you choose to join in for Fiction Fridays, post a link to your story below in the comments. If there's interest or participation, I may start suggesting prompts here for the following week.

07 May, 2021

Fiction Friday - For Want of Pickles

Margery was deep in the fridge. She wasn't going to make the mistake others did of not moving things, not looking behind the front items on the fridge shelves.

No pickles.

Actually, wait... She pulled a jar from the back. Yes!

No. No pickles, just pickle juice. Who did that?

Margery removed the jar of pickle juice to the counter in frustration and commenced opening cupboards at a rapid pace. Nothing was familiar. She was flinging cupboard doors open at random, and moving on if they were full of dishes. Whose house was this?

A baby wailed in the background somewhere. A neighbor? Upstairs? Margery kept moving, ignoring the crying. Pickles! 

A cabinet with food products - yes! ransacking it, she shoved things out of the way, letting spices and sauce packets fall to the floor, looking for the telltale glass jar. Nothing.Where are the pickles? Whose house was she in anyway, and when would they come home? Was it too much to ask for pickles to be accessible?

A door to the side, maybe a pantry? Nope. Broom closet.

Margery escaped out the back door of the kitchen and crossed the darkened lawn in a crouch. No one should see her here. She didn't know why, only knew that no one should be seeing her right now, right here. That screaming baby was definitely coming from a neighbor's house, but she didn't know which one. It was louder out here.

Margery's heart was pounding with urgency as she reached the tall wooden fence at the back of the yard. She lifted the latch and peered out into the alley. No movement. Lots of shadows. She hurried across to the opposite gate and reached over the top of the gate to lift the latch.

Maybe these people had pickles. She needed pickles, even if she didn't know why. Edging into the dark yard, Margery pulled the gate shut with a quiet click, then heard a growling off to the side. A dog. They had a dog. RUN! Her brain set her going and her feet flew across the dew-damp grass, always a few steps ahead of the chasing, barking dog. She took the steps to the porch at a leap and yanked the door to the mud-room open.

The dog stayed outside, barking, but the house remained dark. Remarkably no one was awake. She entered this stranger's house and found the kitchen. 

The fridge had a half-full jar of pickles and Margery dug greedily into the jar for a dill spear. Yes. Success. She sighed in relief as the baby's incessant cries grew louder in her head.

"Sweetie? Hon?" Margery blinked her eyes open as Steve stood over her, rocking their crying infant. "I tried. I can't stop her. I think Grace needs you."

Margery groaned as she sat up and accepted the baby into her arms. "Do we have any pickles?" She asked as Steve lifted his blankets, ready to get back in bed and go back to sleep. 

"Uh, I think so."

"Could you bring me some? I think I'm pregnant again." She opened the top buttons of her pajama top for the baby while Steve froze in place at the news she'd just dropped.

Every Friday, a new flash fiction story, inspired by reader comments (as much as possible). Feel free to leave a prompt for future use in the comments below. I hope you liked that story, based on the prompt "A search for pickles" given by my husband Brett (of The Transformed Non-Conformist).

If you choose to join in for Fiction Fridays, post a link to your story below in the comments. If there's interest or participation, I may start suggesting prompts here for the following week.

04 May, 2021

Reflections #AtoZChallenge 2021

Well, it's over. We made it! We did it! Well, I did it, and if you're reading this, I assume you did it, too. Or at least part of it. It was harder this year for me, somehow, and I was a day late once or twice. What about you?

My theme was Flash Fiction with Audience Participation. I did that in 2019, and loved it. Basically, I committed to writing a new post each day based on audience suggestions. I got some doozies this year, too! It was interesting as I was writing them, to notice how dark my writing has gotten since my last run of flash fiction two years ago. I had to really concentrate on making sure at least a few of my stories were funny or light-hearted.

As for visiting and being visited, I started strong, hitting at least 5 new blogs a day, but got into a low-energy phase when it took effort just to get the writing done. I did not visit as many blogs as I'd hoped, but got through all the writing ones, plus a few others. In the end, I found a few new blogs to add to my blogroll, and reconnected with a couple bloggers I'd found in previous AtoZ's.

What's next? I am bringing back "Flash Fiction Fridays". I am committing to writing a new flash fiction story every Friday. Personal posts may occur on other days. This means I'm always open to suggestion for a new story. I hope you'll pop by some random Friday and check it out.

I'm following Brett's idea and listing my A to Z here, for your convenience. (And for my reference.)

A = Award Certificate [To start the month, I took inspiration from real life]

B = In the Bar [Sometimes you tell yourself what you need to hear, true or not.]

C = The Cellist ["Inside every successful artist is an element of insanity." Based on a video prompt.]

D = At the Dance Club [The prompt I used happens to fit a specific Japanese meme character.]

E = The Agony of Empathy [Is empathy a gift or a curse?]

F = Freedom [Dystopian, 200 years in future]

G = Grayson and Gwennie [Kids will be kids]

H = The Hologram [Some time in the future, in a coffee shop.]

I = I've Got Nothing ... This was the only not fiction post this month. I hit a wall.

J = Jack and Jill ["fractured fairy tale". Not very fairy tale-like, but inspired by the rhyme.]

K = For King or Kingdom [ Another fractured fairy tale. It could have been much longer.]

L = Labyrinth [A fun little story connected to our current day and age.]

M = Mabel [Teenage identity crisis]

N = Not Again [inspired by the prompt "nemesis"]

O = Opal's Opponent [Chess and death]

P = Personal Politics [Small town mayor taking advantage of his position. Might be revisited during Flash Fiction Fridays.]

Q = Queen of all she Surveyed [Aging royalty sees the world with gilt edges]

R = Rest and Relaxation [inspired by the prompt "back to school"]

S = Sorrow Shared [The grief train. I'll probably continue this one in further flash fiction.]

T = Tourists [A fun one (for me) about a teenager forced to travel with his family instead of hang with his friends.]

U = Uninterrupted Quiet [I imagine every creative person seeks a quiet space at times.]

V = In the Video Store [Remember video stores? Personal interaction can be different there than anywhere else.]

W = WTH [A continuation of a story I began during 2019 A-to-Z. Will probably continue.]

X = XOXOXO [Love comes from the most unexpected places.]

Y = The Yacht Club [I may have to continue this story. I have no idea what might happen next!]

Z = Catching Z's [A final fractured fairy tale. For now. Might revisit this one later, though.]