An Evening With Coatlicue
T. Lee Harris
The guard looked from the body to Katzen. “What has happened, señor?”
“I don’t know,” Katzen said, even though he had a nasty feeling he did. Gingerly lifting the fallen man’s jacket aside he found verification in the form of a dark puddle oozing into the back of the garment.
The guard saw it, too, and his hand flew to his comm. “Dispatch! We have a man shot at the North–” He broke off, staring in confusion at the red stain spreading across his uniform front. A second later, he crumpled to the pavement.
This time the crowd noticed. Someone shouted, “GUN!” just as something zipped through Katzen’s hair. Stone dust sprayed from the polished granite beside him and he blinked reflexively as blown-back shards stung his face. He wasted a nano-second before diving for the lobby doors. His fingertips had barely brushed the bronze pulls when the elegant plate glass shivered and exploded.
Shit. They’re shooting at ME!
The Peace Bringer’s Crossing
“We must leave!” she cried, whirling round wide eyed to face Pantep. “This place is dangerous.”
Pantep’s eyes were fixed on his daughter.
“Wait,” he whispered, “watch.”
Cordavah approached the young attendant and took her hands.
“You are young, you can change and learn to be happy. Come with us.”
The grey-clad girl resisted slightly, then a slow smile spread across her face. Her whole body relaxed and a glow of light appeared around the two girls. A gasp arose from the room.
Hallvana shouted harsh words and the girl pulled her hands sharply out of Cordavah’s grasp, slinking back into the shadows.
“We leave, now!” cried Samarah, sweeping towards the door, her brain reeling, trying to process what had just happened.
“Lady,” Cordavah ran after her. “Cousin, please, we can’t just give up!”
“I said, we leave!” Samarah’s voice cracked as her shoes tapped across the stone floor.
A Secret Place
A place to withdraw to when you feel rejected — a place to go when you are hurting. But a secret place can keep out healing as well as hurt. There is a time to withdraw into a secret place and a time to go forth — just as there is a time to love and a time to hate — a time to live and a time to die.
A time to die. Death. The ultimate secret place. No one can betray you there — or can they? What if there really is a life after death? What if there really is Someone you are accountable to? What if a person dies, thinking he has escaped it all, and finds he is very, very wrong?
Judas studied the loop of rope in his hands for only a moment, then slipped it over his head and jumped. The ultimate secret place.
He did a good job of it. He was dead almost instantly.
He heard laughing. Blood-chilling-cold laughing.
Brotherhood of Man and Beast
Brett Alan Sanders
All were seated at that great oak table except for grandma and granddaughter, who were bringing the last of the fixings to set upon it.
“I have to give it to you again, teacher-man. You didn’t turn tail like I thought you would under the barrage of my eloquence and the supporting noise of my concerned parishioners.”
Becca smiled as she sat down across from her teacher’s pretty fiancée, who smiled back at her and made a point of repressing a conspiratorial giggle at the hyperbolic banter of these men.
“You came out guns a-blazing, stood your ground there like a man, and so won my grudging respect.”
“Vini, vidi, vici,” the younger man answered, mischievously grinning and audaciously quoting Caesar, blowing off the smoke from a pair of imaginary pistols.
His conversant laughed boisterously. The dog, from the carpet just off the dining area, lifted her head for a moment before laying it down and drifting back to sleep.
“You came and you saw, I’ll give you that, boy! But until I surrender, you ain’t conquered! And let me tell you, I don’t give up easy!”
She’s In The Jailhouse Now
Dad had fought very hard to keep Mom from jail. Even Sheriff Ed and his “Jail-Matron” wife — both personal friends of Dad — were tirelessly trying to reason with Mom: “If you just admit remorse, the Judge says you’ll go free — Today!!!”
“Ain’t gonna do it.”
Dad pinched the bridge of his nose. He’d heard this Top 40 hit before. Many times. “Give it up, Ed. She’ll never listen to reason. It just ain’t in ‘er.”
The Sheriff threw up his hands while his wife shook her head. Sheriff Ed showed Mom her purse, which they held in lock-up, and said: “Would you like to have this in your cell?”
Mom smiled sweetly at her friend. “Yeah . . . Thank you. That’d be nice.”
“Well . . . you can’t. Unless you allow Lawrence to take this home . . .” He removed an item from the purse. “For safe-keeping.”
Mom saw what Sheriff Ed held in his hand. “Ain’t gonna do it.”
It was a tear gas gun — It was a freakin’ tear gas gun. When she was arrested, they’d allowed her to bring the unsearched purse into the jail. Again — “Mayberry Days”.
Sheriff Ed turned to Dad. “Lawrence? Please sneak this out in your pocket — All hell’ll break loose if the judge knows she’s got it.”
“Nope — Ain’t gonna let ‘im! My purse stays with me — and everything in it stays in it as well!”
When Mom stated her opinion, she might as well have been carving on the cave wall.
XX and OO
Janet Wolanin Alexander
The vegetative green accenting Highlander’s red began to dim. Birdsong transitioned to insect song — the towhee’s “drink your tea” to cricket chirp. By the time we got to the end of the trail and turned around, it was twilight. We gaily ran back the ridge and started our darkening descent to the lake in the valley. I have good night vision, but, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t see anything clearly. I squinted, slid my glasses down my nose, rubbed my nearsighted eyes, and still nothing focused. I was about to fling off my glasses in frustration when I realized that we were traveling through the condensation of a humungous cloud!
Still Life With Peanut Butter
Florence flipped the device around and said, “Okay, you remember when that man was found dead in a tub of shelled peanuts at Jumbo All-Natural? That little rinky-dink peanut butter factory that all the schools take field trips to?”
“Vaguely. Didn’t they shut down?”
“Just long enough to disinfect everything. Then they opened again, but nobody wanted to buy their stuff because of the dead body.”
“Did the peanuts kill him?” Mamie itched to take the Kindle and look up the article for herself, but she had carefully cultivated her tech-helpless image. She wasn’t about to let anybody think she was capable of handling anything she could fob off onto them.
“Peanuts aren’t generally homicidal.” In a squeaky voice, Florence said, “I’m a peanut with a gun! Your money or your life!”
Mamie made herself laugh along. “He might have been allergic, you know. Or he might have been smothered under them.”
Florence gave her an admiring look. “He might have.” She skimmed the article. “No, he was ‘bludgeoned’. That means walloped upside the head.”
“I know what ‘bludgeoned’ means, dear.”
“But that’s not the important part. The important part is this: Jumbo is having a recipe contest. The winner gets a year’s supply of peanut butter in your choice of creamy or crunchy, pluh-uh-us . . . your picture and recipe on the labels of Jumbo All-Natural for a year and a featured spot on Nightly News at Nine preparing the recipe.”
Now Mamie understood Florence’s excitement. The two of them did a weekly webcam cooking show, and Florence was always looking for a way to “take it to the next level”.
The Dinner Party
At first, I thought she was insulting my garb. One can’t help what one is wearing as a ghost. You are left with what you wore at the intersection of the old life and the new one, a fact which gives the mother’s warning about wearing clean undergarments in good repair significant import. In my case, I had been clothed in black leather pants and jacket, with a black turtleneck to ward off the chill as I rode my motorcycle in the autumn countryside.
“Cat got your tongue?” asked the woman. “Death be not shy,” she declaimed and then guffawed, swatting the boy’s shoulder to signal her wit. He tittered nervously. “Don’t be thinking of trying anything,” she said to me. “We got your instrument of death right here. And I mean to keep it until you do right by me.”
I was still confused. “What can I do for you, madam?”
“That’s more like it. I know someone who should be dead. In fact, you should have taken her a couple of years ago, when she had pneumonia, and then when the chandelier fell on her.” The smirk that accompanied this statement led me to believe that perhaps the chandelier being poorly anchored was not accidental.
“There was the hole with the snake inside, too, Momma. And the. . . .”
“That’s enough, dear. No need to revisit past failures.” To me: “Just do your job. That’s all I ask.”
It was dawning on me. She thought I was Death. Not for the first time, I cursed the fate that led me to that quaint country hardware store on that fall day.
Two Pots of Gold
“Here’s our plan. Everyone here, everyone who lives in our town, has to attend at services this Sunday. Can’t be one empty spot on a pew, can’t be one single person staying home, no matter what is happening. If we have a tornado or your mare decides to drop a foal . . . no excuse. We’ll pray and sing, and we’ll wait for a sign. If we pray long enough and hard enough and all together, there will be a sign. And if it’s a positive sign we’ll go through with the plans that we decide on tomorrow, most likely opening a casino that will belong to this town, these people. Lord knows we have a lot of good-for-nothing dirt to build on.” He was waving his arms in the air from one side of the barn to the other. There was a mix of clapping and mumbling in the crowd. Others were moving in motion with the preacher, making me a little scared they would be speaking in tongues any minute.
“What do we do if it’s a negative sign, Rev?”
“What if we don’t get everyone in church at the same time?”
“We’ll know when we see the sign. And if we can’t get every single person here into church this Sunday, then I bet anything that the rest of you will figure out a way to get them into church by the next Sunday. Our children’s future depends on it.”
“Tell you what,” yelled out Fred, “don’t anybody here better be messing with my kid’s future. Be in church this Sunday, is all I got to say.”
There was a lot of mumbling in agreement. And I tell you, anyone would be plum stupid to not show up. Hard telling what the town folk might do to get them in church. Most of ’em were fired up for some money-making venture to save our community. So, we waited for Sunday services with deep anxiety and maybe some trepidation.