Monday, November 30, 2015

Gift with Purchase...

She was wrapping his last present. Just a small box so it wouldn't take long. She loved the ribbons and the bows the best and was already thinking about which to use on this one. Probably the silver ribbon and a gold bow.

Gifts were always tricky with couples. Making it a surprise was hard. You spent so much time together that trying to sneak off to find time to shop was always a challenge. She usually did it on her lunch hours at work. Started early, like October or November to make sure she had plenty of time. She liked picking out just the right thing. Or at least trying to.

He was good at gifts. Not good at sizes. But good at gifts. The difference in sizing between Misses and Junior and Women had always been too much for him to grasp so he had just bought things he liked and given them to her. She would then go back to the store and exchange them for the right size without ever saying a word. Her mother had once told her that if she never corrected him about it he would never learn. She said it was the thought that counted and he put thought in to picking out pretty things. He just didn't grasp the sizing issues.

Sometimes she would find a receipt ahead of the holiday and go in right then and buy the right size. Knowing that she could just return the wrong one after the Christmas rush. She had a little envelope she kept all the receipts in. It was a good system. Especially if it was something fancy for New Year's Eve. That way she had the right dress or shoes waiting in hiding to be brought out and worn right away and the wrong size version could just wait to be snuck out to the returns. It didn't bother her not to be surprised on Christmas morning. It was nicer to have the right size waiting than to be surprised.

When she found the receipt from Victoria's Secret this year she almost blushed. Okay, she had blushed once she went in to the store and found the bra and panty set in her size, it was pretty racy. But the 36 DD and medium panty was no where near her 34B and size small. She just had to laugh imagining him pointing to the mannequin and saying, I think she's around that size. The set was more decorative than functional but she had to admit it was awfully pretty and it would be perfect for New Year's Eve. The straps to the bra were woven with a glittery thread and there was a heart shaped crystal between the barely there cups. She even decided to treat herself to a new dress that would work with the outfit. He wouldn't be able to keep his hand off of her.

While she was shopping she decided that it would be fun to book a hotel room for the night. Why not right? They could have a late dinner and go dancing and then just stay downtown after the ball drop. It would be romantic. She would wrap up a picture of the hotel and a decorative key and that would be the last of his Christmas presents to open. Something to look forward to that week. Anticipation made things so much better. Hotter.

And it had worked for her as well. Keeping her sexy secret to herself all month had made her feel dangerous and wanton. She liked that word. Wanton. It was perfect for how she felt. It even had made the seemingly endless parade of work related parties not so terrible. Get dressed up, but not too dressed up, have a drink, but not too many drinks, relax, but don't get too relaxed. And they had to do it not just for their own jobs but for each others. And clients parties. Merry Christmas...

Last night's had been the last round of them. They had been double booked. His office party lined up with a client dinner she had. So they were on their own. Which was worse. At least if they had each other to whisper to over their drinks to they could find a little rest from the relentless cheer of everyone else. Which is why she had been pleased when her client actually begged off early. He had an early flight in the morning and if she didn't mind could they just grab a drink instead of dinner. She absolutely didn't mind.

She debated for just a minute going home instead of joining him at his function. He wasn't expecting her, after all so if she didn't mention that she had actually been free he would never know. But it was only for a minute. She knew he would never leave her to twist at a party if he was free so she wouldn't do it to him either.

She stopped in to use the restroom on her way up to their office space. Washing her hands she noticed a woman a few sinks down adjusting the strap of her bra. A strap that was woven with a glitter thread. She smiled at her, "I know this is weird, but I used to work in a lingerie department and I would pride myself in being able to guess sizes before measuring. Are you around a 36DD?"


She fluffed the ribbon and bow on the carefully wrapped package and left it on the counter. The note inside was attached to a store receipt, "No returns. No exchanges. At least you know exactly how much this cost you."







Sunday, November 22, 2015

Summer breeze...

It started as a cool breeze.

Comforting.

Soothing when the heat was too much.

Eyes closed, face to the sun, cool breeze against her skin.

Bliss.

She didn’t notice when the breeze got stronger.

Not at first.

The shiver when the cool breeze started to become a cold wind.

Not at first.

Or maybe she did.

And just didn’t want it to be true.

It was a cool breeze. It was her cool breeze.

And then the gusts came again.

The sun on her face. The warmth on her skin. She felt it. She willed it to be.

But the sun was behind the clouds now.

There was no warmth.

There was a storm.

She ignored it.

Standing in the hurricane telling herself it was a light spring rain.

Holding on with both hands so she wouldn’t blow away.

It was nothing she couldn’t face. It was fine.

Until it wasn’t.

Seeking shelter she knew she had failed somehow.

She was soaked to the bone.

She was battered from the wind.

She was cold.

She was beaten.

Then the sun came out again.

She did not go outside.

She would not suffer again.

It wouldn’t last.

She would not be fooled again.

But the sun stayed out.

She warmed up.

She dried off.

The sunshine beckoned her.

She opened the door.

She walked out and put her face toward the sky.


The sun warmed her skin and she wished for a cool breeze…

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friends...

She didn’t remember the first time she met Death. She was too young. Just a baby. But he remembered. He was much older at the time.

The first time he saw her he was standing at her crib side; it was her time. Look, it wasn’t his fault that her time had been so short, it was just his job. He didn’t decide the time lines. That came from above his pay grade. He just got the list and took care of things. She was the last person he was to visit that day. And it just didn’t go as planned. He’d never had a problem before, and hadn’t since. Though he really felt that the visits with her now helped with that. Just having someone to talk to helped, you know? Anyway…

He had come from a big accident on the freeway. It had been a mess. Trying to sort out who was on the list from who wasn’t in the middle of all of that chaos? Really stressful. He almost marked someone who wasn’t on the list. He was reaching out for one of the men involved in the crash and his son dashed right in front of him. He almost grabbed him instead. The son whose time wasn’t up for another 50 years and had a future that was going to impact hundreds of thousands. That’s how close he got to grabbing him. Close enough that the systems to automatically back up his life story kicked in. The proximity alarm rang. He almost took someone too soon. That’s probably what shook him. To come close to a mistake like that? Well that would have been a big mess. Although it turned out that he made his own big mess anyway. But at the time he didn’t realize it. And honestly, was it really all that big of mess? It seems like it worked out for the best. He’d even made a suggestion that the higher ups take a look at his situation and maybe expand on the program. The official word back was “don’t push it” but he’d heard through some unofficial channels they were looking in to it. The problem is that nobody really understood how it happened. Or why. Or why it worked out the way it did.

Okay, back to the first time he saw her. He was standing next to her crib. He was still a little off his game but she was the last bit of work on his list for the day. And really the little ones easy. Yes, he knew that made him sound like a bastard, but again, it was his job. The little ones weren’t afraid. They went with him without a fight. Honestly it was a little grating to have people always talk about how scary Death was. He wasn’t scary. He was inevitable, sure, but not scary. Sickness, disease, pain, those were scary but Death? He liked to think of himself as a relief. As a soothing balm. Like a dark comforting blanket. So anyway…he was reaching out to her when she let out one of those little sighs. You know the ones that only babies make? That kind of cooing rush of air? You know what that is the sound of? Pure innocence. And he’d had a really busy and rough day. The car accident had just been the end of it. There had been a flu epidemic at the nursing home, an outbreak of E-Coli at a fast food restaurant, and just the normal daily list of times. He was flat out exhausted. Dead tired.

Don’t groan! That’s was a good one.

So the sigh. And before he really understood what he was in the rocking chair by her crib holding her in his arms. Rocking. Smelling that top of the head baby smell and well…he cried. Just a little. But he did it. One big fat tear formed and fell. Splash. Right on her little noggin. BOOM! Everything changed. He could see it. Like literally see it. Where the tear had touched her she now had a spot shaped like a sickle. He pulled himself together, put her back in her crib and left. He was going to have to file a report. Man he hated filing reports.

So the first time she met Death she didn’t remember him. And she wasn’t sure when the next time was. Or the next. What she did know is that she had always known Death. One of her earliest memories of him was a tea party. She must have been around 3 or 4 by that time. She had set up the table and put her stuffed animals in a circle and left a space open for him. Then she waited. He didn’t disappoint. When he sat down at the party she poured him a cup of tea (water from the bathroom sink) and served him the finest tea sandwiches that could be found (some graham crackers she had saved from snack time) and they talked about the latest goings on with her stuffed animal crew. Then when tea time was over he picked her up, sat in the rocking chair, and told her a story of his own. As she was drifting off to sleep she looked up in to his dark black eyes and tried to count the stars. She made it to 5 before nap time took over. Some of her best naps started sitting in the lap of Death counting the stars in his eyes. So no, she had never feared Death.

She went through a short Goth phase in High School. She wasn’t sure if it had to do with her friendship with Death or if she just liked the clothes. But she got instant coolness cred when she shaved the sides of head and revealed her unique birthmark. She would sometimes darken it if she was going to a party or a concert. But mostly she left it alone. So people could see it was natural. She had a sickle on the side of her head. She was that cool. If only her friends knew. Though her experiences trying to tell her parents about her friend when she was very little taught her to just keep some things to herself. Besides as much as her friends liked to talk about Death, they really didn’t understand him at all. In fact Death found her new friends to be misguided and lacking in fashion sense.

Eventually she grew her hair back out and started wearing colors again. She and Death were still fast friends. Though now she shared the stories of her school friends instead of her stuffed animals. And when he told her the stories of the world she wasn’t in the rocking chair but usually camped out on the floor. Then there was the one time when she caught mono and couldn’t even make it out of bed to eat without having to take a nap he sat at the foot of her bed and told her stories about ancient Egypt when he was worshiped as a god. She thought it sounded cool. He said it was a lot of pressure and he actually preferred taking things a little more low key. She learned a lot from Death. And he learned a lot from her.

The first time she ran in to him at work had been a shock to both of them. He was waiting in the corner of a darkened room. His next name was here but it wasn’t quite time yet. He didn’t have anyone else between now and his time though so he was just waiting. Death was very good at waiting. Nobody was ever as patient as Death. There was a knock at the bedroom door and in she walked. He watched her go to the side of the bed and take the hand of the boy laying there. “I got your text. You’re worrying me. What is wrong?” And as the boy talked to her Death felt the pull to be in this room fading. He mentally checked his list and saw the name had disappeared. Hunh. Just then she looked toward him. Noticing him sitting still and calm in the corner. He held up a finger to his lips, “Shhh…” and he left.

The spoke later in her bedroom. She asked why he was there; why he had been sitting in her friend’s room. He told her it was his job. She started to cry thinking that she hadn’t made a bit of difference after all. He soothed her. Holding her in his arms and rocking her slowly while he smoothed her hair. No she had. Her friend’s name was no longer on his list for today. She had changed his time line. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. To change someone’s time line. But she had done it. She asked if he knew when her friend would die now. If she should keep worrying. He said he didn’t know. And if he did he could not tell her. That would be against the rules. And since he was already on probation for his last little incident, he tapped the side of her head where her hair now covered her unique “birthmark”, he would not be breaking any more rules. She understood. Or she thought.

When she went away to college she learned that being friends with Death wasn’t always easy. She had that strong unshakable sense of right and wrong that can only belong to mad men and college students. Walking back to her dorm one night she saw her friend Death walking ahead of her. She thought he must be on his way to visit her and thought it would be fun to sneak up on him. Who else ever got the chance to sneak up on Death? You know, it was usually the other way around right? She tried to stifle the giggle that was bubbling up as she thought about it. She might also have been slightly tipsy. When Death walked past her dorm and kept going she decided to follow him and see where he went. Maybe he knew she wasn’t back yet and was wasting time while he waited. He wasn’t. He walked toward two people sitting on a bench in the quad. Then he stopped and waited. For a second she thought he was making sure he wouldn’t be seen. But then she realized why he was waiting. One of the figures on the bench reached toward the other and before she could even scream for them to stop it was done. One had killed the other. Death was there so quickly she hadn’t even seen him move. His hands lifting the second person, oh no, she recognized her… it was a girl from her Psychology class, Death grabbed her and then she was gone. The body was there, but the person? Gone. The boy she had been sitting next to got up and slowly moved away. He was going to get away and Death had just stood there letting him get away with it, he had HELPED. She started to scream then.

He didn’t get away. Her screaming caught the attention of some people walking by. They caught him. He was arrested. She had to testify to what she had seen. Or at least part of what she had seen.

When Death came to visit she didn’t speak to him.

She didn’t speak to him the second time either.

The third time she yelled at him. Death had just stood there and let that man kill her classmate. Then he let him get away. If she hadn’t been there he would have. Why didn’t he kill him instead? Or at least try too? She didn’t want to hear about the rules. Or about whose time it was to go. Or the higher powers. She was mad. He should do something. He explained again and again that he did. That he did his job. She didn’t want to hear about it. She was too mad. She told him to leave. That she didn’t want to see him again. Ever.

The next week her mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was late. Too late. Too fast. Too widespread. Too soon.

She went home from school.

She spent the next few months taking care of her. Listening to her stories. Cooking her meals. Cleaning the house. Visiting with her mother’s friends who came in droves when they heard the news.

Toward the end her mother told her, “I’m not afraid of Death, you shouldn’t be either. I am ready.”

And then she understood again. It was his job. If he didn’t do it her mother would suffer endlessly. People would age and never move on. Bodies would grow frail and weak and they would never find relief. Some lines ended too soon. But that wasn’t his fault. He was there to help. In his own way.

When she went to bed that night he was waiting. She fell in to his arms and sobbed. She fell asleep counting the stars in his eyes.

The next day he came again. She sat on the edge of her mother’s bed holding her hand. Telling her it would all be okay soon. Her mother looked in to her daughter’s eyes and swore she saw all of the stars in the galaxy reflecting back. Death took her other hand and she was relieved.

They reached an understanding that day. She would not judge his work anymore. They were friends and she understood him better than anyone had before.

When she went back to school she changed her major. She became a nurse.


She found work in a hospice center. She helped those that were facing their time. She held their hands and told them stories about the world. And when her friend came for them she sat with them in the calm spaces and helped them count the stars as they fell asleep. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Perfect...

As Vivienne walked in to the coffee shop every eye turned to look at her. Some just a quick glance, others a full on stare. Holly wasn’t even sure if they realized they were doing it. She knew Vivienne didn’t notice it at all. Holly was just used to it happening and watched other people watch Vivienne. And then she watched their faces to see who had noticed. Not Vivienne’s long blonde hair, everyone noticed that. Or her ice blue eyes. They would have noticed that as well. Or even her outfit. She was always dressed perfectly. Like she walked out of a fashion photo shoot. Head to toe not a hair out of place. But no, if they really noticed. See it was pouring rain outside and Vivienne, no umbrella, no jacket, nothing, was completely dry. Not a drop on her.

Holly had asked her once how she did it. And Vivienne looked at her like she was a child asking as silly question. As if the answer was obvious, “Well I just walk where the raindrops aren’t.” Simple really. Of course she did. That was Vivienne.

Holly stood when Vivienne (never ever Viv, not even when they were children) reached the table. She received her dual air kisses and then sat back down. “I wasn’t sure what you would want so I haven’t ordered yet.”

“Oh anything is fine with me.”

“I’m getting just a cup of black coffee. Do you want that?”

Vivienne pursed her lips and thought for a moment. “Do you remember that coffee we had in Italy? The one that was so rich Elizabeth Taylor wanted to marry it? That’s what I want.”

Holly smiled, “I’m not sure they sell that here.”

“Then probably just an espresso.”

Holly was going to get up to order their drinks when Vivienne grabbed her arm, “Did I tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“I’m getting a dog.”

“A dog? In your house?” Vivienne lived in a beautiful apartment uptown. White carpets. White couches. White walls. Every few months she would change the art work, the throw rugs and the pillows on the couch to a different color. Right now it was royal blue. Before that it was red. At Christmas she would go with gold. Perfection. But white. “Dogs are a bit messy you know. They shed. They track in dirt.”

Vivienne stared at her, “Why would you let them do that?”

“You don’t let them do that. They just do that. They are dogs.”

“Hmmm…well, I won’t let that happen. Look.” She pulled out her phone and showed Holly a picture of the world’s cutest little white fluff ball of a puppy. There was no way that dog wouldn’t shed everywhere. Except in Vivienne’s apartment. Holly started to giggle imagining the dog holding back all of its fur until it could go for a walk. Then POOF a giant cloud would automatically pop off and the dog would be shed free until the next time. Of course, not getting a single hair on Vivienne.

“You know dogs have to be walked right? Especially dogs that live in apartments. You would have to walk the dog. In the park.”

“Oh no, Rodrigo, the nice man next door has a dog and said he would love to walk my new puppy. So that’s all taken care of then.”

These sort of things happened for Vivienne. People took care of things for her. Another thing Holly was pretty sure they didn’t notice they were doing. They just felt compelled to handle her problems for her.

“Excuse me? I happened to overhear your order and just thought I’d bring it over to you. Coffee and an espresso right? I also thought you might want to try these. We’ve just started carrying them.”

The young lady from behind the counter set their coffees and a plate of croissant down on the table. Holly reached for her wallet. “Oh no, that’s okay. That gentlemen paid.”

Holly looked toward the counter where everyone else was standing in line and ordering. An elderly gentleman was standing there looking at Vivienne like he had seen an angel. “Vivienne, wave to him.” Holly whispered.

Vivienne flashed her brilliant smile and gave the man a small wave and then mouthed the word “Thank you.”

He blushed and turned back to the counter. Holly shook her head. Only Vivienne could make a man nearing his 80s blush with a smile and a wave.

They sampled the croissant. It was wonderful. Holly wasn’t sure she had ever had one so delicate and flaky. She looked down at her lap. Covered in crumbs. Looking over at Vivienne she wasn’t surprised to see her spotless. No errant flakes at all. They wouldn’t dare. A potential grease spot on her silk blouse? Unimaginable. And so it wouldn’t happen.

“What is going on in your life?” Vivienne turned to Holly again.

This is where Holly could tell Vivienne about the troubles she was facing at work. Or try to start a conversation about the refugee crisis or the recent terrorist attack in Paris and the global and political ramifications that she feared. She could talk about the fact that she thought she and her boyfriend might be splitting up soon. But if she did she knew that Vivienne’s beautiful blue eyes would glaze over, the smile would freeze on her face and she would soon make an excuse to leave. Vivienne treated trouble the same way she treated rain. She just walked where it wasn’t.

It had taken Holly a few years to understand this about her. Perfection was hard to maintain. Vivienne was like a collectible in a box. Nothing touched her and so she remained pristine. Mint condition. The only way Vivienne could maintain her ways was to walk where the world wasn’t.

So Holly told her everything was fine. They laughed about new puppies. They drank their coffee. They discussed the latest fashion trends, the hottest new movies, the bestselling romance novel. Then they parted ways. Vivienne walking back out in to the world between the raindrops.

Holly looked at the rain and took a step forward tilting her face toward the sky, water rushing over her.

Perfection was overrated.




Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Time...

Why do you sit in the darkness instead of look for the light?

Why do you sit in the ignorance instead of opening the book?

Why do you sit with your hatred instead of looking for love?

Why do you hide from your fear instead of trying to be brave?

Why?

The world is losing its way in the dark.

The world is losing its battle to the ignorance.

The world is losing its struggle against the hate.

The world is scared and alone.

You.

You are the light.

You are the book.

You are the love.

It’s time to be brave.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Behind these walls....

“Nervous?”

“A little.”

“It’s perfectly normal. First day on the job, it’s to be expected. But you’ll do fine. Just follow the protocols, they are in place to provide the best in protection. Got your badge ready?”

Swiping ID badges at the scanner they waited until they were verified and they heard the door buzz that it was able to be opened.

“This first room is our tech center. There isn’t a space in the facility that doesn’t have camera coverage.”

“Even the restrooms?”

“Even the restrooms. But we have a filter in place, here look.”

She looked at a computer screen. The bathroom was divided into quadrants and all areas were visible, however the inside of the stalls was blurry. You could make out a general shape, but no details.

“Safety first. But there is always a way to maintain some privacy. That is a permanent filter, you can’t get a clear image at all, the camera isn’t designed that way.”

She nodded. It would take some getting used to she knew. But at least now maybe she wouldn’t have to try and hold her pee for her entire shift.

“This is a map of all of the areas. The security tightens the deeper you go in to the building. There are checkpoints here,” pointing to the map, “here and here. This last one is your ID card and then a retinal scan. You won’t be working in that area at first.”

She nodded again. If she never had to work that block she would be perfectly fine.

“Now here,” back to looking at the map, “is the biggest area of concern for you right now. This is the outside perimeter, the protest zone. They generally arrive around 8 and stay until sunset. They are allowed to walk this area and this area only. If they wander off the path at all they are subject to detainment. They know this and are generally pretty good about staying in their lane. The hard cores are here every day, it’s the newbies that get overly excited. Either they’ve just discovered this as their cause or something has triggered a renewed interest in the situation. Once the news cycle moves on, so do most of them. But you will still have to pull outside duty at least once a week. Don’t engage with them. Don’t take any fliers. And for goodness sake never take any food or drink from them.”

“Oh my gosh, have they tried poisoning guards before?”

“No, of course not. But it does make an embarrassing picture on-line to look like we are sitting down to a picnic with them.”

“Why are they even protesting us? I mean, I have seen them on the news, but it doesn’t make sense.”

“It doesn’t. Who knows why anyone does what they do? They like the freedom and safety they are afforded out there walking, shaking their signs, living their lives, but they can’t make the leap that it’s what we do in here that gives them the opportunity to do it. Twenty years ago? Not a one of them would have wanted to be around here after dark. What we do here makes a difference, don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

“I won’t. My mother told me how it used to be. The constant fear. Worrying if today was the day something would happen to you. The news showing one story after another of terrible things.” She shook her head. “I’m just glad I was too young to remember what it was like before.”

They left the tech area. “This first block is for processing. It’s fairly empty right now. Our brave officers are always out there doing sweeps but for now we’re pretty clear of new detainees.”

She looked around. There were holding cells lining the walls. Probably 100 in all. Two bunks per cell. Right now there were only 5 cells with inmates in them. She tried not to show any fear as she sized them up. She knew that they would thrive on it and she would be damned if she would allow that.

The cells circled an area that had what looked like small picnic tables bolted to the concrete ground. “This is where their lawyers help them process the paperwork we then use to determine which block will be their more permanent home. You can see the eye bolts under the bench? Lawyers are not allowed in to the room until the prisoners are securely fastened to their chair. We cannot risk even one getting hurt because we weren’t vigilant. Procedure is to use three guards to move one prisoner. One will keep a rifle pointed at his forehead the entire time the other two are shackling him, walking him out and attaching him to the conference table. Originally we allowed them private rooms but there was no way to ensure that nothing secret was going on if we let them have that space. So it was decided that processing wasn’t confidential and was not covered under attorney client privilege and did away with that.”

“Is that what they are protesting when they talk about due process then? That this wasn’t the first process?”

“Not exactly, but that’s close enough.”

They walked to the next check point and scanned their badges.

She looked down a long hallway that ended with a guard station. The guard behind the glass gave them a little half salute, half wave to acknowledge their presence. “That’s Garcia. I will introduce when we go by. This is our medium security sector. Behind each one of the closed doors is an inmate. If the cell is empty the door is latched open like this one here. Unless we are at capacity we keep the two cells closest to the door empty. It’s not really necessary, they are extremely secure, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

She looked in to the empty cell. One bed, one sink, one squat toilet. The bed was on one wall with the toilet on the opposite the sink in-between, they were approximately 3 feet wide. Everything appeared to be molded to the floor or wall.

“One piece construction. They are formed and shaped before installation. That way there are no parts that can be disassembled and formed in to weapons. We know how crafty these guys can be. We don’t want to give them any opportunity to try out their skills.”

As they walked down the corridor she could hear some muffled sounds coming from behind the closed doors. “Who are they talking to?”

“Themselves. Some of them pray but you know they aren’t really true believers in anything but destruction so I prefer to think that no god would listen to them anyway.”

“Do they ever try to talk to you?”

“Some do. Some will definitely try to talk to you. You’re new. You’re young. They will assume they can charm you. Catch you off guard. Maybe engender some sympathy. They’ll try. Don’t let them.”

“Absolutely not. I learned about some of their techniques in my criminal justice studies.”

“There is a difference between reading about them and having them used against you. Keep that in mind. Garcia! Good to see you. This is Smithfield, she’s our newbie. She starts full time tomorrow. Will be training with Stanley for her first rotation.”

“Nice to meet you, welcome to the team. Getting the full tour today?”

“Second tour actually. I was able to come with my class first year to see the back area before it went in to service.”

“Ah, there you go. So you’re an old pro now.” Garcia gave her a wink and then buzzed them through to the next section of the building.

There were open shower areas lining one side of the space and a door on the opposite wall. “This is the commons area for showering. They get one a week whether they want it or not. They stay shackled during their showers so you will never be in any danger. Same procedure as when they are being processed. If they try anything lewd or otherwise inappropriate they know that they will not be returning to their nice comfy cell but will be put in to small holding. They usually don’t go to small holding more than once. The door leads to the kitchen areas. Food is not prepared on site, but delivered through there. We pick up the trays and deliver them to the holding cells. The trays are paper. It’s not as good for the environment as they would be if they were plastic and reusable however they degrade quickly and provide no opportunity to be weaponized. They get no silverware. Everything can and will be eaten with their hands. They get water from the sink to drink. “

She nodded. It was a lot of information to take in. She was the most uncomfortable with the open shower area. They showed many videos while she was in school to try and desensitize them to the naked prisoners but she had never completely gotten over feeling a little embarrassed. She knew it would just take time. One of her professors would say, “Think of them as the animals they are capable of being. Not any different than washing your dog.” She hoped that would help.

“This is the final scanner. You scan your badge first, then this will open,” there was a section of the wall that was slightly different than the rest, “This is the retinal scanner. Once you are clear the door will slide open and you will have 2 second to get through the opening before it closes down again. Move quick.”

She nodded, “Are there many still being held there?”

“Some. Mostly they are dying off now. Some of those from our medium security areas do get moved here occasionally. If they are disruptive. But the majority are from before the sweeps. These are the offenders from before we went to preventative measures. They’ve had the opportunity to follow their nature so we keep them away from the others. Now, the rest are just as dangerous. Don’t ever get complacent. You’ve seen the stats.”

And she had. Before the sweeps were put in place it had been undeniable they were needed. It had just taken awhile for everyone to realize that it was the truth. That dangerous men were going to be dangerous no matter how kind hearted you tried to be. She mentally went down the check lists as she had done in school. No matter how you broke down the statistics, socio-economic, geographical, race, religion, age, it didn’t matter. The majority of crime was committed by men. Seventy-five percent of all crime committed by 50% of the population. And if you adjusted for violent crimes then the number increased to 98%. When the majority of the clear headed women accepted this, when the not all men are criminals crowd was finally drowned out by the rational voices of not all men are criminals but almost all criminals are men. Well then the changes started happening. The internment camps were set up. Then facilities like this one to provide more secure holding areas. Cloning was perfected so even their base need to population was no longer needed. This way was best. Anyone could see that. Crime was down. You couldn’t argue with statistics.




Myth...myth...

Lori flopped down dramatically at the table, “I swear some days I feel like Pandora!”

“The music thing?” Jed asked.

“No not the music thing!”

“The jewelry company then? The one with all the little charms that middle aged soccer moms love. Are you something that middle aged soccer moms love?”

“No! Not that. The myth woman. You know the one that told the truth but nobody believed her.”

Janice shook her head, “That wasn’t Pandora.”

“No, that was that umm…Sisyphus.” Jed said pulling the name out of the deep reaches of his brain.

“No, not Sisyphus either. You mean Cassandra. Sisyphus was the king that was punished for pissing off Zeus and a number of other gods. He had to roll the boulder up the hill only to see it roll back down right before he was finished so he would have to start all over again. Pandora was the first human woman created by the gods. She was given a box that contained all of the evil in the world and was instructed not to open it. She, of course, did and boom here we are today.”

“Of course she did.” Jed said, “Can’t trust a woman. Just like Eve and the apple.”

Janice nodded her head, “Yes, just like Eve and the apple. Amazing how the creation myths written and passed down by men find a way to blame women for all the evils in the world right? Seems like that might be…”

“GUYS! We are getting a little side tracked here.” Lori really wanted to talk about her day.

“You’re right.” Jed agreed, “What I want to really know is if Pandora was responsible for all the bad stuff why would a music company and a jewelry company want to name themselves after her?”

“Most likely because 80% of the population just remembers the name from some class a long time ago and has no idea what Pandora’s Box really was.”

“But people look shit up all the time now. You used to be able to just say stuff and now everyone is an instant fact checker. You can’t fudge your numbers, or miss a quote. They are all over you! I’d have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their Google!”

“There is a difference between fact checking and learning though. Most of that stuff doesn’t stick. You look it up to win an argument, you read it off, you move along.”

“True. But still you would think we would remember more than just the names from the old myths.”

“People aren’t smart as a rule. No offense.”

Jed smiled, “None taken. I just am glad I was here to help you look smarter than the rest of us.”

“GUYS! I’m Cassandra!” Lori was a getting more than a little irritated.

“Oh right, okay, Cassandra, tell us what’s bothering you so we can ignore you and think you are lying.” Jed teased.

Lori rolled her eyes. “Are you all done yet?”

“Hmm…probably not, but you tell your story now.”

Janice laughed, “Yes, we will be good. Go on. How are you Cassandra?”

“It’s work. I swear I am always telling them how things are going to work out and they never believe me! See? Cassandra.”

“You’re always right?”

“Yes, Jed, always!”

“Narcissus.”

“Excuse me?”

“I think you are Narcissus, not Cassandra.”

Lori glared at him.

“She’s not like Narcissus. Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and drowned. Lori isn’t vain.”

“Thank you, Janice.” Lori glared at Jed.

“It’s probably more confirmation bias.”

“What? Seriously?”

“Yeah, I mean nobody is always right. And if they never listened to you they probably would have fired you by now. So most likely you are only remembering the times when you were right and they didn’t listen to you and not the times you were wrong or the times they did listen. See? Confirmation bias. We all do it.”

Lori pulled out her phone.

“What are you doing?”

“Looking up bad friends in Greek Mythology!”

Janice laughed, “Sorry, honey. You’re right. I’m not being really supportive. I’ll stop.”

Jed grinned, “Me too. You tell us all about it, and Janice will make supportive noises and I will make vaguely threatening remarks toward anyone who has wronged you. Then we will get drinks and toast to their eventual demise. All because they didn’t listen to the wise Cassandra.”

Lori tried not to grin but couldn’t help it. “Okay, deal.”





Sunday, November 15, 2015

Perspective...

Poppa stopped at the door and sniffed. A low growl sounded in the back of his throat.
“She’s been here again.”

Momma stepped close to him and took a deep breath, she could smell her too.

“Now, don’t lose your cool. Let’s just step back and call the police.”

“The police? Because they were so helpful last time?

Poppa growled again just thinking about it. The insulting questions. The nasty insinuations. “Why would a sweet thing like that stalk you?” “Are you sure that you aren’t somehow encouraging her to be here?” and the worst, “We noticed the bathroom hadn’t been disturbed, I guess it’s not really a woods theme?”

Momma patted his back, “They will have to see that it’s a problem.”

“They only see what they want to.”

Poppa stepped slowly in to the house, “Junior stay back here with your mother. I’m going to make sure she’s gone.” He wasn’t worried about their safety. Nobody messed with Momma when she was guarding her boy.

He started in the kitchen. The first time it had happened she had come in here. That was the time they blamed themselves. Dinner was supposed to be a lovely stew that Momma had spent all day cooking. They had decided to take a quick walk before dinner to give it time to cool off enough to eat. When they got home they found that Junior’s bowl was completely empty and both his and Momma’s had been tampered with. But they couldn’t remember if they had locked the door when they left. In fact they were pretty certain they hadn’t. They lived far out on the edge of Town, nobody usually bothered them out here. But that was before. When they felt safe. And really all that had happened was someone ate some of their food. Momma had a good heart, she said that if they had come in to eat they must have really needed it. And nothing else had been disturbed so it was fine. They still dumped what was left, no sense risking it, and had ordered in a pizza. But that had only been the first time. Now even good hearted Momma was at the end of her patience.

He sniffed around the kitchen, she had been in here, but hadn’t stayed. But she had been in his house again. Touching his things. What did she do this time? He knew it would be something. She was a nasty piece of work.

Poppa stopped for a moment to compose himself. It wouldn’t do him any good to get any angrier than he already was. Right now his first priority was making sure the house was clear. Then he and Momma would talk about moving. Again. He hated to go. They had found this house when their old neighborhood had become a battle zone between that clan of pigs and their landlord. Poppa had sensed that things might go badly if they kept escalating their battles so sadly he had put their house on the market. He was ahead of the curve. He had been able to sell that old brick house that they had loved so much. And they got out just ahead of the complete collapse of the market. They had talked about moving to Momma’s home town in Alaska. He wasn’t sure about that. Though he could grow a thick coat as well as the next guy he really didn’t like the cold that much. So they had decided just to move a little farther out of Town. Live on the edge of the woods. Where it was safer. Ha! Safer…He didn’t like thinking about moving his family again.

What was wrong with the world today? Just a few months ago he had read about the slaughter of an old school chum of Momma’s. He had been eviscerated. Slit from throat to belly. Violent. Cruel. And of course the media reported it (at first) as if he had been the violent one. His killer would have gotten away with too if there hadn’t been security footage found at her grandmother’s house showing that “sweet little girl” collaborating with her much too old for her lover. Killing Granny over the inheritance and blaming their neighbor. Prejudice prevailing. Of course HE would be the guilty one, HE was a wolf after all! We know what they are like. Meanwhile sweet little girls are never looked at twice. Though we all know that sweet little girls grow up to be vicious witches living in candy houses. But NOBODY wants to talk about it. It’s so much easier to blame the wolves. It made his fur crawl.

He went in to the living room. His lip curled and he bared his teeth when he looked at Junior’s brand new chair. The one they had to buy when she had busted up his old one the second time she broke in. That was the time he had called the police. The King’s Guard had shown up and done a perfunctory search. Not trusting his sense of smell. Not believing that they were the victims of a crime and that they even knew who it was that harassing them. They had gone to her house to question her but all she had to do was toss her little blonde curls and bat her big blue eyes and they were certain she was innocent. How could someone so sweet even break Junior’s chair? Wasn’t it more likely that Poppa had lost him temper and broken it himself? They completely ignored the hungry smile she gave to Junior when she thought no one was looking. She was a wrong one, that one. But of course the King’s Guard didn’t believe him. What did he expect? They hadn’t even bothered to look in to his cousin Humpty’s death. Called it suicide. Wouldn’t hear that he might have been pushed. Poor guy, no justice, in pieces. He was a good egg, too.

He looked around the living room. A low growl rumbled in his throat. She had been in here. She had sat in all of the chairs. Again. Taunting them. Mocking them. He looked closer at Junior’s new chair. Was that a scratch in the arm? His lips pulled back and he snarled; she had carved in the arm of the chair GL+BB=TLF He knew if he showed this to the police they would say Junior had done it. Even though he would NEVER call himself that. It had been kindergarten since anyone else had.

Momma heard the warning growl, “Are you okay, dear?” she called out.

“Fine. Stay there. Let me check upstairs.”

He started with their bedroom. The scent was stronger here. She had been in their room. And recently. He looked at their bed and froze…she had been in their bed. The comforter was messed up and the decorative pillows Momma insisted on arranging just so had been moved. He placed a giant paw on the bed took a deep breath. How dare she? She had been here. In his room. Violating what should be the safest of spaces in his house. Taking a deep breath he caught the scent trail again and moved, knowing where it would lead him. Trying to tamp down anger, fear, and disgust as he moved down the hallway toward Junior’s room. The scent strong now. His nose quivering….

He opened the door to see the window open and the curtains fluttering. He could see the edge of the emergency fire escape ladder hooked to the sill. He loped quickly to the window and caught site of her running down the path. He growled a warning after her and heard the returning giggle on the wind. He turned around and saw that she had been sleeping in Junior’s bed. Just waiting for them to get home. He fell to the floor and put his head in his paws and tried to keep from sobbing. What if he hadn’t realized she had been here, what if Junior had been surprised by her? Momma and Junior came running upstairs in response to his last growl. They found him still sitting on the floor. Rocking back and forth. The family wrapped their arms around each other and whispered “it will be all right” over and over.

They put the house on the market the next day.

Alaska wouldn’t be so bad after all.




Saturday, November 14, 2015

Recall Notice...

"I'm sorry, we have uncovered a defect in your soul and are issuing a recall. We apologize for the inconvenience."

He read the email again. Weirdest damn thing ever. Then he deleted it and went on with his day.

An hour later his phone buzzed. Text message.

"I'm sorry, we have uncovered a defect in your soul and are issuing a recall. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

What the hell? The return number was blocked. No way to reply. One of his friends was messing with his head; had to be.

Knock at the door. Postal worker with a registered letter.

"I'm sorry, we have uncovered a defect in your soul and are issuing a recall. We apologize for the inconvenience."

This was a lot of work to go to for a joke. He knew then that is was his buddy Al. Al was always up for a prank and no set up was too much.

He sent him a text. “Good one. You had me going for a minute.”

The reply came: “That’s what she said.”

Then the next: “But what are you talking about?”

So not Al. He would own up to any joke as soon as he was found out. Taking credit was part of the joy.

How could his soul have a defect? What does that even mean? And how could it be recalled? That wasn’t possible. Right?

He stopped himself. Really? Really, Ed? You are believing this now? Come on…

He called his girlfriend.

“I had the weirdest thing happen today…” He told her about the email, the text, the letter. She would make him feel better. “Defective soul. Crazy right?”

There was a pause.

“Well…I can sort of see it.”

“What? You can sort of see that I have a defective soul? What the fuck, Julie?”

“Well, you never cry. Like ever. Not at Titanic. Not at The Notebook, not even at Brian’s Song and every dude cries at Brian’s Song.”

“Not crying doesn’t mean I have a defective soul. It just means I don’t like to cry in public. Damn, Julie, that’s harsh.”

“Sorry, I’m just saying it doesn’t seem that far out to me. Can they fix it?”

“Swear to god, Julie, you are pissing me off. I cannot have this conversation with you. I will talk to you later.”

And with that he hung up. So he didn’t cry at movies, what the hell, that didn’t mean anything. He cried. He cried when…he thought for a little bit. He knew he cried when his dog died. Or at least he felt like he had. But now that he was thinking about it he hadn’t really. He had been sad. Or at least he felt like he knew he should be sad. No! He had been sad! Julie was just messing with his head now. His soul was perfectly fine.

He called his mother. She would make him feel better.

“Oh my…”

“Oh my? That’s all you have to say? Oh my?”

“I’m sure it’s nothing. I mean it’s probably a joke. It seems a little late for them to be noticing a defect now.”

“Noticing it now? As in you think it’s always been there?”

“Now, don’t get so worked up, Edward. You know how you are when your temper flares.”

“How I am? I’m fine! I don’t have a temper problem.”

“Of course you don’t, darling, of course you don’t. The letter didn’t say anything about what caused it did it? I mean, I only had the one glass of wine while I was pregnant with you, I’m sure that couldn’t have been it, right?”

“Jesus, Mother! You are worried if this is your fault now?”

“Parents always worry if what their children suffer from is their fault. But your brother and sister are just fine so I am sure it’s nothing I did. I’ve got to get going, I need to get dinner started. You know how your father is when he’s hungry. Hmmm…maybe I should ask him if he got a letter. Bye, darling, love you.”

He couldn’t believe it. First Julie and now his mother? What the hell was wrong with people.

His phone rang.

Unknown number.

He ignored it.

It rang again.

He sent it directly to voice mail.

It rang again.

Fine. He answered it.

"I'm sorry, we have uncovered a defect in your soul and are issuing a recall. We apologize for the inconvenience."

“Look! Whoever you are, this isn’t funny anymore.”

"I'm sorry, we have uncovered a defect in your soul and are issuing a recall. We apologize for the inconvenience."

“I’m not kidding! This isn’t funny! I am going to report you to the authorities! This is harassment!”

“We are the authorities, Edward.”

He froze. Gooseflesh crept up his arms. He shivered.

“Edward.”

“Yes?”

"I'm sorry, we have uncovered a defect in your soul and are issuing a recall. We apologize for the inconvenience."

It wasn’t a joke. They were taking his soul.

“Wh…” he paused and cleared his throat, “When?”

“Please be advised that a representative for the All Souls, Inc. firm will be arriving within the next…”

The was a knock at the door.

“Edward?”

“Yes?”

“Answer the door.”

He hung up the phone and opened the door. A man and a woman in matching business suits stood on his threshold. The man handed him business card and the woman said:

"I'm sorry, we have uncovered a defect in your soul and are issuing a recall. We apologize for the inconvenience."

Ed tried to keep his cool.

“Yeah, I got that part. Thanks.”

They walked in to his apartment and sat on the couch.

“Please take a seat. We have some paperwork to review.”

Of course there would be paperwork. He had never seen a recall notice that didn’t include paperwork.

He started to read through the sheets as they handed them to him pointing out spaces where he would need to initial.

Standard legalese. He acknowledged being notified of the recall. He agreed to limit disputes to arbitration in a neutral court. He understood the risks involved in soul replacement.

“Wait, what risks?”

“Every procedure involves certain risks. This is nothing more than what you signed when you had your tonsils taken out.”

“My tonsils are not the same as my soul. And what do you mean taken out? You are taking my soul? Can’t you just install a patch or something?”

“A patch? To fix a defect? Like we are Microsoft?”

With that they both laughed. Or at least that’s what Ed thought they were doing. It wasn’t a sound like he had heard before.

“No, Edward, we will be taking your soul and replacing it with a new one.”

“A new one? How does that even work? I mean, isn’t my soul me? If you give me a new soul it won’t really be my soul anymore will it?”

The woman cocked her head to the side, “A new soul is more than fair compensation. You are 32 years old. This one has a lot of wear on it.”

“But it’s my wear. That’s my point. A new one won’t be me.”

It was the man’s turn to cock his head now, “If we give you the soul then it is yours. You will be you, after a fashion.”

Ed looked at them both. Heads tilted to the side. Truly puzzled that he might not want their brand new non-defective soul.

“After a fashion? But I like who I am. Is it really that serious of a defect. I mean, it’s not like I’m a mass murderer or anything. I’m no Jeffrey Dahmer. I just don’t cry at Brian’s Song. That’s not that big of a deal, right?”

The woman started tidying up the stacks of paper.

"I'm sorry, we have uncovered a defect in your soul and are issuing a recall. We apologize for the inconvenience."

“Yes. You keep saying that. That’s your standard answer for everything. I am telling you that I reject your offer and will keep my defective soul, thank you very much.”

This time the man answered. “Jeffrey Dahmer did not have a defective soul.”

“What the fuck? The dude ate people!”

“As that may be…”

“As that may be? What is wrong with you people? You are recalling my soul because I don’t cry at movies and saying his soul was just fine and he FUCKING ATE PEOPLE!”

“That was not our division. Your issue falls in to our division.”

Ed clenched his jaw.

“You two need to leave and you need to tell your boss that I am rejecting his proposal to recall my soul. I will be living with my defective soul, now leave.”

The two exchanged a quick glance and shrugged their shoulders. They gathered their paperwork and stood to leave.

As Ed walked them to the door his phone rang again.

“Tell your people to stop calling me as well. I’m not interested.”

With that he showed the two All Souls, Inc. representatives out and slammed the door before they could tell him about his defective soul one more time.

He sat down on the couch. That’s when he noticed the letter they left behind. He didn’t even want to open it. He knew what it would say.

"I'm sorry, we have uncovered a defect in your soul and are issuing a recall. We apologize for the inconvenience."

Of course. But it went on.

“Due to your refusal of a replacement soul we will no longer be recalling this soul for replacement, repair, and reissue. Please be prepared for a representative of Disposals, LLC a subsidiary of All Souls, Inc. to visit you. Our representative will be arriving…”

There was a knock at the door.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Slowly...

One claw hooked in to the edge of the dangling blanket. Slowly, carefully. If he can move it more. If he can pull it all the way down. Uncovering the sleeping figures above him. Off limits if they were covered, but all his if they weren’t. Rules. But there were no rules that he could not help uncover them. Pulling carefully. Waiting…the half asleep male tries to pull the blanket back but he draws out another claw holding it still…the male will give up. One more try and…he hears the frustrated sigh, “you’re hogging the blankets….” But the female is asleep and can’t hear him. The male grabs the edge of blanket and tries to cover back up. Eventually falling asleep. The soft snores are the signal.


Waiting…claws still holding the blanket. Still. He has experience at this. He’s come close before. But the rules. Once they are awake he is banished. Once it is light outside he is banished. Only in the dark and in while they sleep can he do his work. One time he was about to steal away the female’s breath and she woke. Almost seeing him in the dark in the split second before he was banished.

Slowly pulling the blanket again. The male is uncovered now. He could just take the male. He thinks about it. Waiting. Claws holding the blanket. Teeth gleaming in the moonlight. But he wants them both. He’s never been this close. Inch by inch. Now gravity helps…the blanket slides off. It covers him. Warm from the woman sleeping. Blankets…warmth…he tries to fight it but can’t keep his eyes open. Just a few minutes then he will strike.

She wakes up with the sunrise. Chilly. The blankets have fallen off the bed. She reaches down to pull them back. Stops. Looks. Her husband makes a sleepy sound behind her, “You awake?”

“Yeah, look at this.” She whispers to him.

He leans over her peering over the edge. He sees him curled in the middle of the blankets. A ball of fur in a sunbeam.

“Spoiled thing. He must have pulled them off so he could have them all!”

And in his dreams the cat stretches his claws and bares his teeth…another night, another time.