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Cellular Apologies

Day 16 of 16 – Writer’s Digest Writer’s Prompt Bootcamp

A stranger asks to borrow your cell phone. You agree. She turns away and talks on it for a moment, then faces you once more. “I’m sorry,” she says, eyes red. “I’m so sorry.” Then, she runs away.

Why do I get this feeling that I’m being followed?  I know it sounds ridiculous, but the feeling is strong.  I turn around and see that nothing seems amiss.  I start walking again, but as I pick up speed, I hear my steps being matched.  When I slow down, the same thing.  I stop and turn around again.  This time I am met face to face with a girl in her mid twenties, about my age.  She is frowning.  Spooked, I turn back around and continue on my way.   I try to ignore her, but I still feel her presence behind me.

I duck into a coffee shop hoping to lose her, but she follows me in.  I am flustered and confused, so I decide to approach her.  “Excuse me, but can I help you with something?” I inquire.  Her face turns red as she asks if she can borrow my phone.  “It’s important,” she says, a bit angrily.  I pause, not able to grasp what is going on.  I should say no, but I am feeling that she is in distress so I just hand over my cell phone without any questions asked.

I take a few steps away from her so she can have some privacy and she turns away.  After what seems to be about a minute, she turns back to me with red eyes, hands me my phone, says, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” and runs out of the shop.

What the hell was that all about?  I am left standing there stunned until I realize that she never broke the connection with whoever it was she was speaking with.  I put the phone up to my ear and say, “Hello?”  “Hi, who is this?” replies a male voice.  A familiar male voice.  “umm, Dad?” I answer.  “Michelle?  What are doing?”  What am I doing?  I should be asking him that.

What I don’t understand is why a strange woman would follow me, ask to use my phone and then call my dad.  I’m guessing it isn’t a coincidence.  “Dad, why did that girl call you?  How does she know me?  I’m really confused and I would like it if you would shed some light here.  I have to admit to being a little freaked out right about now.” I say.  “Calm down Michelle, she’s just a friend.”

“Calm down?  Dad, she was visibly upset.  You need to come clean right now.  Who is she and why was she crying?  Please, don’t lie to me, I’m begging you.” I feel on the verge of tears as well, out of sheer frustration.

I hear him sigh on the other end.  I have left the coffee shop and am walking down 5th Avenue.    I’m feeling the need to move.  “Honey, that’s Cleo.  Oh God.  Please…okay, I was seeing her,” he explains, “but I ended it with her last week.  I’m so embarrassed to say this, but it seems she is stalking me.  She keeps calling me and showing up at the office.  I don’t know how she got you involved.  Please.  Can we keep this between us?  Pumpkin?”

My dad is a creep.  I mean, I love him.  But he is a pathetic excuse for a husband.  My poor mother has accepted the fact that dad cheats. “He can’t help it,” she says, “he loves me, it’s just that he needs more than what I can give him.  I’ve just learned to look the other way.”  I don’t know how she can live like that.  Because of him, I’ve grown leery of men.  I’m not sure how I can trust them.  His infidelity has been going on since I was a teenager.  Probably even longer than that but I was too young to figure it out.

“You know what dad?  What you do with your life is your business, but please don’t bring me into it.  I don’t need your lovers knowing who I am.  Why was she following me?  How does she even know who I am?  She’s half your age, dad.  She’s young enough to be your daughter.  It’s a little freaky.  And if she’s stalking you?  It was bound to happen sooner or later.  Look, I have to go, I’m just about home.  We’ll talk about this later.”  I hit the off button and put my phone back in my pocketbook.

I live in a walk-up on the lower east side.  I’ve never been so relieved to be home, the last hour has been a bit harrowing.  I walk up the three floors to my apartment, stop to search for my keys and open the door.  I’m about to fall onto my couch from exhaustion when I think I hear and see something.  It’s getting dark out so the apartment is full of shadows being thrown from the street lights.  I flip the switch for the lamp.  I drop my bag and take a step back.  “Cleo?  How did you get in here?”  She’s holding a knife.

I turn and run as fast as I can for the door.  Unfortunately, she is moving faster than me and grabs me by the hair.  All I keep thinking is that my life is going to end if I don’t fight for it.  I throw myself around and grab at her arms.  She’s strong, but so am I.  We both struggle for what seems like an eternity.  Suddenly, I hear my dad’s voice, “Cleo, drop the knife or I’ll shoot.”

Surprisingly, she does as he says.  I run and hide behind him.  I am suddenly transported to when I was a small child and we were visiting Santa in the mall.  Except this isn’t Santa, this is a deranged ex-lover.  The ex-lover of my dad’s, who is married to my mom.  Although I am extremely angry at him, I am relieved he is here.  I hear the sirens outside getting closer.  In a few minutes this will all be over.  “By the way,” he says, “I never told her about you.”

Sinking Ship

Day 15 of 16 – Writer’s Digest Writer’s Prompt Bootcamp

You realize the boat is sinking, but that’s not the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing happened last night. 

Oh God.  What’s going on?  What is this?  A reenactment of the Titantic?  Is this really happening?  I stopped what I was doing and tried to concentrate on what the Captain was saying.

I didn’t want to go on this stupid cruise in the first place.  But, no, “we have to,” he says.  “It’s our 20th anniversary,” he says.  “What better way than to cruise it with friends,” he says.  Yes, you heard right.   Friends — our best friends — Jack and Abigail share our wedding anniversary.  To the day, to the year.  We didn’t know each other at the time of our weddings, we met through our kids.  Of course, what other way do you meet friends at our age than through your children?

Ever since we first realized we shared the same anniversary 12 years ago, we’ve celebrated every year with them.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  Abigail had to have emergency gall bladder surgery on our 16th anniversary, otherwise it’s something every single year.  Sometimes it’s a winery, a three-day weekend in Cape Cod, or just plain old dinner.

I love Abigail and Jack very much, but I would like to have my husband to myself once in a while.  This is a tradition that was started by Larry, my husband.  He loves to party, he loves to be surrounded by people.  Me, I need solace.  I’m shy and the constant going out is just a bit outside of my comfort zone.  With Larry, it’s always go, go, go.  It’s exhausting.

So here we are, on a sinking ship.  Who can say that in their lifetime?  What’s funny is I’m not as frightened about it as I should be.  Mainly because what happened last night was way worse than a sinking ship.

The four of us met in the dining room for dinner.  The one thing I am enjoying about this cruise is the non-stop eating.  I’m usually pretty good about watching what I eat, but it’s so nice to just throw it all out the window for a few days.  At my age (don’t tell anyone, but that would be 45) it’s hard to keep the weight off.  I know I’ll probably be up more than 5 pounds when I get home, but I don’t care.

I don’t usually drink that much, but I partook in a bit too many cocktails this time.  It was completely out of character for me.  I was feeling no pain and was in the mood to party.  I know, “shocking” as Larry would say.  The tables seemed to be turned last night.

After dinner, the four of us walked over to the discotheque.  Or as the kids call it today, the club.  We all drank some more, we danced, we laughed, we were having a great time.  Until Abigail called it quits.  So, it was just the 3 of us.  We partied, we drank, we danced some more.  And then the shock of the evening came — Larry was tired.  He tried to talk me into going back to the cabin, but Jack and I were having way too much fun to call it a night.

And then there were two.  I’ve known Jack for a long time.  He’s almost like a brother to me.  “Last Dance” by Donna Summer played.  It’s the song that always plays when it’s the end of a wedding or a New Year’s celebration.  Larry hates that song because it means that the party is over.  Usually, I am grateful for it…except tonight.  I let my hair down and was having a great time.  I realized that I really need this.  Jack and I got on the floor.  We danced.  He spun me around and he pulled me against him.  I could feel him against my back.  Something was happening and I didn’t know how to stop it.  Truth be told, I didn’t want to stop it.

We started to kiss, slowly at first.  Then it turned passionate.  Sex with my husband is great.  I’ve never had any complaints.  But this…feeling.  My god, I haven’t felt this in ages.  And it was with Jack.  I’ve never felt an attraction to him before.  It never entered my mind.

I was a puddle on the floor.  I needed to get out of here.  I tried to pull myself away from him but when I did, he just followed on my heels, pulling at me.  In my defense, I asked him to stop.  I begged him to stop.  “Jack, please, we can’t do this.  What about our spouses, our friends, our children?  Please let me go.”  But there was a part of me that didn’t want him to let go.  I was feeling more alive, attractive and sexy than I’ve felt in years.

I felt 18 again, the way we were going at it.  I don’t know how, but we found a quiet nook down the corridor.  He threw me against the wall, reached up under my skirt, moved my panties to the side and entered me.  Just like that.  It was over as quickly as it started.  It felt good.  At the time, I didn’t have any regrets.

Until today.  When I woke up and realized what I had done, I felt like my world would split in half.  If Larry ever found out, he would leave me.  My marriage, as I knew it, would be over.  I don’t want my marriage to end.  I love my husband, I love my family.  This would tear us apart.  I know I can’t live without Larry.  I’m not sure I could survive it.

I woke up with dark thoughts.  Larry kissed me good morning.  I was feeling a little ill from the effects of the alcohol last night.  He wanted to go to breakfast, but I told him I wasn’t feeling very well and that I just wanted to rest.  Besides, I couldn’t face either Jack or Abigail.  I don’t know how I could face them ever again.

After he left, I went into the bathroom and got the bottle of sleeping pills.  I couldn’t pull myself out of it.  This dread.  We live in a small town.  What if Jack opened his mouth to even one person?  Word gets around so quickly these days.  I couldn’t do that to my kids or to Larry.

I poured the entire bottle out onto the bedside table.  There was already a glass of water sitting there from last night.  I grabbed a handful of pills and was about to throw them into my mouth, when I heard the announcement.

“ATTENTION.  THERE IS A FIRE IN THE ENGINE ROOM.  DO NOT PANIC.  EVERYBODY PLEASE MOVE TO THE UPPER DECK FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.  IT SEEMS THAT THE SHIP IS SINKING.”

 

Matchup!

Day 14 of 16 – Writer’s Digest Writer’s Prompt Bootcamp

Write a story featuring a ouija board, a search engine, and a self-help book.

I received the strangest gift for my 21st birthday — a Ouija board. Now I don’t claim to know much about the Ouija board but I will say that I saw “The Exorcist.”  I know that if that little girl Regan didn’t mess around with that “game” in her basement, those weird, terrifying things never would have happened to her.  But that was just a movie.

I also did play with it once. I remember when I was 10 and a bunch of my friends and I were totally into seances and levitation. We were obsessed to the point where we would plan a sleepover every weekend so we could get our crazy on.

Once one of these friends brought a Ouija board. We were all intrigued. We sat in a circle with our fingers lightly pressed against the planchette.  We would ask it silly questions like “does Billy love Angela?”  It would start to move and we would all peek to see who was making it point to “YES.”  It was fun, and I didn’t feel frightened in any way.

Anyway, the girl who owned the Ouija board had a story about it. She said that there is no way of getting rid of it once you own one.  She claims she was scared of it and before she and her family moved from their old house, she left it behind in the closet for the new homeowners. You know, kind of like a housewarming gift. The funny thing is, when my friend settled into their new home and she was hanging her clothes in her closet, the Ouija board was sitting there on the shelf.  In other words, it followed her.  It was a creepy story, but I’m not really sure I believed her.

So, I didn’t know what to say to this friend of mine.  I thanked her, of course.  But it wasn’t exactly the most welcome gift I’ve ever received.  Here I am with this game that I don’t want and I don’t know what to do with. I mean, I guess I could have fun with it.  Call some friends over and recreate the old times. Have a levitation and a seance or two.  But that seemed strange.

When I got home that day, I Googled “Ouija Board.”  The first few hits were basically just definitions.  Then there were some Youtube videos of kids and people playing with The Ouija.  And some “true” stories of things that happened to people when they played with it.  One of the things they always said was to not verbally allow a spirit into the room and to always say “goodbye” before putting it away.  Like my 10 year old self, I started to become intrigued.  I didn’t really believe that you could communicate with the spirits on the other side with a cardboard game, but my curiosity was piqued.

I pulled out the game, dimmed the lights and put my fingers on the planchette.  I wasn’t sure what to do, so I asked it if anyone was there.  Nothing happened, so I kept repeating my question.  After about 15 minutes, the planchette moved to “YES.”  I pulled my hands away from it in shock.  Then put them back and asked what his name was.  After a few moments, the game piece spelled out “L-U-C” and then stopped.  I asked if it was a boy or girl.  It went to the “G.”  Hmm, maybe it is a Lucy.  “Are you Lucy?” I asked it.  “No.”  I asked what she was doing here.  “K-I-L-L.”  Totally and completely freaked to my core, I said goodbye and put the game away, deep into the dark recesses of the garage.

I have a bit of a problem.  I’ve had it since I was a kid.  It used to drive my mother absolutely bonkers.  I’m very impressionable.  In other words, if someone complains of a headache, I will immediately get one.  If someone at school has a cold, I will wake up the following day with a sore throat.  In high school, there was this girl who turned up pregnant.  I swear within a month, I started experiencing pregnancy symptoms and I never even had sex!

So, here I am, sitting on my bed in my room.  It dawns on me that I could have been speaking to the devil.  And I suddenly remember learning or reading somewhere that the devil is actually a girl.  I start to freak out and think that the devil is possessing me.  I start to think about Regan and how her bed shook and her room got cold.  I was absolutely paralyzed with fear.  Yes, I realize I am a 21year old woman and I should know better, but honestly, I did feel cold and shaky.

This is when I remembered my book.  My mom bought me a self-help book a few years ago about mind control.  I try to tell myself that it’s all in my head.  After reading my favorite chapter, I felt calm again and realized I was being completely irrational.

Now about that Ouija board…it turns out you can dispose of it.  I got my dad’s shovel and the game, walked back into the woods and buried that sucker at least a foot under dirt and rock.  But I guarantee you, If it shows up on my closet shelf, I will probably die of a heart attack.  No, really.  I guarantee it.

Breaking Down

Day 13 of 16: Writer’s Digest Writer’s Prompt Bootcamp

A tire blows out as you’re in the car with someone on the verge of his/her own breakdown. Stuck in a small town, you’re about to do something you haven’t done in years.

As I sit waiting for my train at the local Amtrak station, I think about how I wound up back here.  I was called on by my mother, a mother who was dying.  This God-forsaken town is where I grew up and I haven’t been back in years.  Memories of my childhood are fairly painful.  I can remember praying for the day I turned 18 so I could flee this place.  And that’s exactly what I did.  Me, a small suitcase and $2,000 in cash boarded a one-way trip out of here and never looked back.  Until now.

So, here I am waiting for my train to take me home.  The last 3 weeks have been hell on earth.  Caring for my sick and dying mother was no picnic in the park.  I know this sounds terrible, but I was relieved when she finally passed on.  For once in her life she was organized and had her funeral completely planned out, which made her burial quick and seamless.  I have left everything else to the sister I never got along with.  I don’t care much about getting anything in that house.  I just need to get out of here and get home to my husband and children.

I am deep in thought when I hear the announcer say something about a train cancellation.  I look around frantically, maybe I heard wrong?  Unfortunately, I heard right.  It seems my train has been cancelled and won’t be leaving until the next morning.  I start to panic.  I desperately need to escape this place.  I practice the breathing exercises that my therapist taught me when I find myself in this type of situation.  After I have calmed down a bit, I walk up to the rental car window and am told that the next available car isn’t for hours.  I start to hyperventilate.  I am visibly upset and I have gone past the point of no return.

It is then that I feel a tap on my shoulder.  I look behind me and there is a woman about my age standing there with a huge, friendly smile on her face.  My thought is, “what the hell are you so happy about?” when she says that she is headed in my direction and would like to offer me a ride.  At first I am skeptical but then realize I am just being uptight.  My therapist told me I need to learn how to trust people.  So that’s what I do.  I trust this woman and accept her ride.  I am overcome with a feeling of relief so powerful I almost cry.

We get into her small Ford Fusion and head out to the highway.  I realize that it’s going to be a very long drive ahead of us but remind myself that I am at least going in the right direction.  My new traveling companion introduces herself as Marcy.  During the first 2 hours there is a lot of quiet and little chit-chat, which is completely fine with me.  I’m not much of a talker, especially with strangers.

It’s at this time that Marcy decides to start speaking.  She tells me she’s going back home after being separated from her husband for 4 months.  “Oh, that’s wonderful Marcy.  I’m so happy for you.”  I can’t imagine being separated from my husband, so I am genuinely happy for her.

Marcy starts to cry.  At first, it’s a mellow cry with small, quiet tears.  I reach over and pat her shoulder, tell it’s going to be okay.  I say that I can imagine how happy she must be to be reuniting with her husband.  Then her emotion turns into outright anguish.  Sybil-type anguish.  I get a chill.

“Oh, we aren’t reuniting in the way you are thinking.  The bastard doesn’t want me.  He said he doesn’t love me anymore and wants a divorce.  Just like that, he just doesn’t love me anymore?”  She starts to scratch at her arms.  I tell her she should stop but she doesn’t.  She just keeps scratching and scratching until she starts to bleed.

She starts to scream, “I have done nothing but love him for the last 10 years of my life.  When I caught him with that other woman in that restaurant, I just got so upset.  I started throwing things, I dumped a glass of ice water over her head, and smashed their dishes on the floor.  Then he tries to tell me that I’m ruining his deal.  I’m ruining his deal?  What about our deal?”  I know it wasn’t my business but I found myself saying, “maybe it was just a business lunch?”  “No, I’m not buying it.  They were laughing like they were lovers.  I know that look.  We used to have that look.”  I’m starting to realize why her marriage failed.  This woman is a kook.  She’s absolutely out of her mind.

“So, your husband doesn’t know you’re coming then?” I ask.  She snaps her head in my direction and looks at me like I’m the one who has gone completely mad.  “NO, of course not!”  An odd smirk appears on her face, a smirk that gives me the creeps.  “I’m going to surprise him.  He is going to get the surprise of his life.”

The sky above starts to darken.  Within minutes we are in the middle of a terrific thunderstorm.  Because this is the kind of month I’ve had and I couldn’t imagine it going any other way, the evening gets better.  We get a flat tire.

I am stuck in the middle of a violent thunderstorm, with a could-be violent woman in the middle of nowhere.  I tell her I’m going to get out and try to flag someone down to help us.  She reminds me that there is the potential of getting struck by lightening.  I’m thinking there is less a chance of me getting struck by lightening than her stabbing me to death.  But I sit, practice my breathing and wait it out.  And listen to what she is planning on doing to her estranged husband.

God, I feel like I’m in a bad horror movie.  This can’t be happening to me.  All I keep thinking is I have to stay on this woman’s good side, I’m terrified of pissing her off.  And then I think that I have to warn this guy somehow.  “What did you say your husband’s name was?” I ask.  “Victor.  Victor Paulson.  His name is so ugly, isn’t it?  How could I have married a man with such a name?  Victor Paulson.  Disgusting.” she sputters with complete venom.

I wait a few minutes while I wonder how to get her cell phone from her.  Surely, his name has got to be in her contact list.  I feign trying to make a phone call with my own cell.  I pretend to be making a call to my husband to tell him I’ll be later than I thought.  “Oh, damn.  My phone has died.  Do you mind if I use yours?” I say.  “Oh, of course.”  She’s sweet as pie.  Like I said, she’s Sybil.  I casually take her cell phone from her, but feel anything but casual.  On the inside I am a crumbling mess, but I try to keep it together.  I look through her contact list as quickly as I can, locate Victor’s number and commit it to memory.

It is here and now that I am grateful that I have comfortable shoes on and am in good shape.  I reach in the back for my suitcase, open the door and make a run for it.  The weather has lightened up some so I no longer fear getting electrocuted.  Although that thought is much more welcoming than the thought of sitting in the car with that looney bin one more minute.  After I’ve gotten far enough away from her, I do what I haven’t done since I was a teen.  I stick out my thumb and start to hitchhike all while I’m making a phone call to the one and only Victor.

My Resignation

Day 12 of 16:  Writer’s Digest Writer’s Prompt Workshop

After years of unhappiness, you’ve finally had enough and have decided to quit—but we’re not talking about your job. Write a letter of resignation to someone other than your employer—your school, your family, your favorite sports team, etc. 

Dear Flo,

You and I are done.  We have been “friends” since I was 14 years old and I just can’t take you anymore.  From day one you have caused me tremendous pain.

I thought as we matured, you would improve.  Behave better, treat me with kindness.  But no.  You wouldn’t give me a break.  Even though we only saw each other about a dozen times a year, you couldn’t treat me with respect?  You couldn’t just come and hang out?  No, you had to make yourself known.  You were loud.  You were obnoxious.  You were cruel.  Everyone knew you were here, even when I tried to keep you under wraps.

You embarrassed me more than once.  At school, at work, out in public, anywhere you could.  I don’t know why I put up with you for so long.  Actually, that’s not true.  I know why…because I needed you.  I was dependent on you.  As much as I loathed you, I respected you on some level, you were essential.  Without you, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I have a confession to make…I used you.  I got what I wanted and then disposed of you.  You see, I saw a doctor about you and it turns out, you were bad for my health.  We both agreed that you needed to be terminated.

So goodbye Flo, I wish I could say it was nice.  But to be honest with you, it just really wasn’t.  I happily say goodbye to embarrassing moments, cramping, bloating, anemia, hemorrhaging and pain.

Now I can wear white any day of the month, I no longer need to count out my vacation days around you, and I can say goodbye to those ugly long sweaters that covers all that is happening below the belt.

Enjoy your after-life.  Wherever that may be.  I really don’t care, as long as it isn’t here with me.  It was nice while it lasted.  No, no, it wasn’t.  I don’t know why I said that.

Sincerely,

One Happy, Non-Menstruating Woman

 

The Stranger

Day 11 of 16 – Writer’s Digest Writer’s Prompt Bootcamp

You’re walking home from work one night and taking shortcuts through a labyrinth of dark city alleyways to meet someone on time. Suddenly, a stranger parts the shadows in front of you, comes close and asks you to hold out your palm. You oblige. 

Only people who know the city well should do what I do when I’m in a rush to meet someone.  As is my usual practice, I am running late.  Although, in my defense, this time it really isn’t my fault.  I was wrapping up at work and getting ready to leave at five o’clock on the dot, when my boss asked me to make some last minute changes to a document.

I had plans for months to meet my friend Julie for dinner tonight.  Julie is someone I met long ago at a time when things weren’t going so well in my life.  She basically brought me back up to the surface.  So when we can schedule in some time to see each other, I don’t want to have to reschedule if I can help it.  That’s why I took every back alleyway I could to Connolly’s, the pub we actually met at over 23 years ago, so I could get there on time.

Because it was the dead of winter, it gets completely pitch black by 5pm.  The shortcuts I take are dark and devoid of people.  It’s downright scary walking this way alone.  My dad bought me a can of Mace a few months ago and it is in these times that I keep it wrapped tightly in my fist.

I’m in the back alley somewhere between 7th and 8th Avenue, when I hear a rustle.  I’m not very courageous so I don’t stop to try to find what it is.  Suddenly I see something move in the corner of my eye.  I know it’s not a rat because it’s far larger than that.  As the image and sound gets closer, I move faster.  All of a sudden it comes out of the shadows and steps directly in my path, preventing me from going any further.  I immediately hold up my Mace and point it toward his face.

He holds up his hand.  “No, please.  I come in peace.  I mean you no harm.”  What is this?  This guy sounds like he came out of a different era with his speech.  I stop dead in my tracks and pull the Mace away from him but still keep it where he can see it.  I can’t see his face because he has a black hood pulled down over his eyes.  “What do you want?” I ask.  “Please, listen to me.  Hold out your palm,” he replies.  With my empty hand, I very shakily and slowly hold it out, palm up.

He careful places something in my hand.  And as quickly as he appeared, he was gone.  Just like one of those stealth ninja guys.  I look down and see that he has placed a business size card in my hand.  I pull out my iPhone and turn on my flashlight app to see what it says.

“YOUR PLANS HAVE CHANGED.  JULIE WANTS TO MEET ELSEWHERE BUT TO FIND THIS PLACE, YOU WILL BE SENT ON A SCAVENGER HUNT.”

“Are you friggin’ kidding me?” I say out loud.  I try calling her on my phone but I am immediately forwarded to her voicemail.  “I’m going to kill her.”  I stand there for a minute deciding if I want to play along or turn around and just go home.  I decide I have nothing better to do so why not?  It’s a Friday night anyway.  After a few minutes of reading the clue aloud, I figure out what my next step is.

An hour and a half and 5 clues later, I find myself in front of Obao Restaurant, my favorite spot.  The doorman hands me my last clue.  It says that I found my destination.  I am full of mixed feelings…happiness, exhaustion and, if possible, a little bit of annoyance.  I open the door and am led to a back room.

It is in this moment I realize that I have been completely fooled.  Every person who means something to me is in this room and they all yell “SURPRISE” at the same time.  Julie throws her arms around me and whispers “Happy Birthday” in my ear.  Standing next to her is Jim who says, “I come in peace.”  Son of a bitch.  I’ll get him…

Dollar Message

Day 10 of 16 – Writer’s Digest Writer’s Prompt Bootcamp

You’re at your favorite department store buying a birthday present for a friend. As the cashier gives you change, you notice a message with specific instructions scribbled on one of the bills. What do the instructions say? Do you carry them out and, if so, how? 

Stella needed a gift for a friend.  A birthday gift to be exact, for her best friend, Carol.  At 54, Stella has perfected the art of gift-giving and she takes pride in every present she purchases or makes for people.

She is now on Day 4 of the hunt for Carol’s gift.  “Bloomie’s.  Bloomie’s will have what I need.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of that from the start,” she mutters to herself as she drives in that direction.

Carol had recently lost a lot of weight and is in the process of creating a new wardrobe for herself.  Stella remembers this and heads directly to the Misses Department.  She remarks to no one in particular that she thinks it’s clever that they call it the “Misses” department.  She sure doesn’t feel like a misses these days, but doesn’t mind shopping like one.

After 4 long days, it takes her approximately 5 minutes to find what she is looking for in Bloomingdale’s.  A maxi-dress made of the softest material and is the perfect color for Carol’s skin tone.  She knows she’ll love it and will get great joy wearing it this summer.

She brings the item to the register, saying that she “will not be needing a gift receipt because I am THAT confident that my friend will love the dress.”  The cashier looks at her with complete indifference and says, “that will be $164.99 please.”  Stella hands her $200 in cash.  When the cashier gives her the change, Stella notices that there is a message on the ten dollar bill.  She reaches into her bag for her reading glasses and sets them on her nose.  She reads it and says a bit too loudly, “oh damn, not one of these again?”

Stella is not a fan of these messages.  To her, they are like a chain letter and we all know what chain letters mean if you don’t do as they say.  She should know because the first time she received a chain letter, it promised a life of doom and bad luck for the recipient if not followed.  She remembers laughing at the absurdity of it, ripping it up and tossing it into the trash.  The next day she slipped and scraped her knee going out to her car, found out one of her favorite stores had closed its doors, and then proceeded to get into a car accident.  It was just a fender bender, but an accident nonetheless.  Ever since that incident, she begrudgingly follows through.  She has become superstitious.  Knock on wood.  It drives her husband crazy.  He says it was just a coincidence, but she knows better.

The message says she doesn’t have much time to accomplish this task so she starts to think fast.  She calls her husband and tells him that she won’t be home for dinner.  In fact, she’s not sure how late she’ll be so don’t wait up for her.”  She finds her car in the parking lot and takes Rte. 101 toward Hollywood.

Stella’s husband, John, settles on the couch to watch the 11 o’clock news.  John never misses the news.  He likes to keep up on current events both internationally and locally. And of course, the weather.  The man needs to know the weather about as much as he needs his right arm.

Just as he starts to wonder where his wife is, there is a breaking news report.  It seems there is some kind of ruckus in Hollywood.  “Oh come on, don’t tell me the kids are climbing that damn Hollywood sign again,” John says to himself.  “When will they learn?  Stupid damn kids.”

“IT WOULD APPEAR THAT A WOMAN WHO LOOKS TO BE IN HER FIFTIES, HAS CLIMBED THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN AND IS STANDING IN THE SECOND “O” SINGING  WHAT WOULD SOUND LIKE TO BE THE THEME SONG TO “THE SOUND OF MUSIC.”  SHE ALSO APPEARS TO BE IN THE NUDE.  WE WILL KEEP YOU ABREAST OF ANY NEW DEVELOPMENTS.  BACK TO YOU CHUCK.”

The helicopter hovering overhead is shining its’ light on the subject.  The camera hones in on the woman’s face.  “Stella??? What the hell?  Have you gone and lost your damn mind?” John screams at the television.  He grabs his keys, gets into his car and drives the usually 20 minute ride doing close to 80 miles per hour.

When he gets there, he explains that he is the spouse of the crazy lady on the sign.  They have rescued her by now and have her covered with a blanket.  They are preparing to place her into the back of the police cruiser.  John rushes up and demands an explanation.

She is smiling and holds out her left hand to him, which is closed tight around something.  She unfolds her hand and gives the object to him.  As she gets into the car and the police take off, John looks at what she has handed him.  It is a wadded up ten dollar bill with a message.

“FIND A SIGN AND MAKE YOUR NAME KNOWN NOW BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE OR YOU WILL DIE WITH REGRET”

“Yup Stella, you stupid fool, you’ve done it again.  This time you’ve completely misunderstood the entire message” John sighs.  He gets into his car and heads for the station.  He knows it’s going to be a long night with a lot of explanation.

Obit for Your Favorite Character

Day 9 of 16 – Writer’s Digest Writing Prompt Bootcamp

Write an obituary for your favorite fictional character (literary, television, etc.), including how the death occurred. 

Roy “The Professor” Hinkley, B.A. B.S., M.A. Ph.D., 43

Roy Hinkley, otherwise known as “The Professor” has died at his home on Grass Hut Lane on an Uncharted Island Somewhere in the South Pacific.  He died from complications of syphilis after finally succumbing to Ginger Grant’s advances.  His death occurred on January 22, 1972.  News was received via “message in a bottle” style and took over 40 years to be found.  Although he has been gone for more than 4 decades, we feel a deep loss and will be missed by many.

Before the ill-fated 3-hour tour, Roy was a high school teacher in Cleveland, Ohio where he taught science.  He also dabbled in botany and was an inventor.  He was handy with coconuts and  bamboo but was unable to devise a way to get off the island.  Or even fix the ship, for that matter.

Although he was a very dashing looking man, he didn’t seem to know the first thing about women.  He made up for that by being a deep thinker, an avid reader, a staunch leader and a loyal friend.  Still, he couldn’t figure out how to get them all off a deserted island.

In 1972, he was survived by Ginger, Mary Anne, Mr. Howell, Mrs. Howell, The Skipper and Gilligan.  There is no family that anyone is aware of as family was never spoken of.

The Pacific Ocean is Roy’s resting place.  In lieu of flowers, send some help or perhaps send something that will fix a hole in a boat.

 

Full Disclosure

Day 8 of 16 – Writer’s Digest Writing Prompt Bootcamp

He toured the house with the real estate agent.  “I love it,” he said. “Is there anything we should know about the house’s past?  The agent looked down.

“Yes?  Is there a problem?” Tom asks. Tom and Melissa had been looking for the perfect house for well over a year.  This would be their first home together as a married couple. The first year of their marriage was off to a rough start.  Melissa’s illness almost prevented them from being wed at all, so this home needs to be absolutely perfect.

This house has it all:  Queen Anne style Victorian with a turret, rounded wrap around porch complete with a painted ceiling the color of the summer’s sky, and a kitchen that would make Emeril jealous.  The backyard is filled with spectacular flowers of all kinds. Every color in the rainbow. “Melissa will love it, I know she will,” Tom mutters to himself as he roams from room to room.

The realtor looked up with a sheepish look in her eyes. “Well, it could or could not be a problem depending on your beliefs.”  Tom was pretty sure she was going to tell him it was haunted. He rolled his eyes at the thought.  “A little boy died in this home in 1848.  He fell down a flight of stairs which resulted in a broken neck.  It is said that he roams the house in the night.  But don’t worry, he supposedly is a nice ghost.”

“Really? That’s it?” asked Tom.  “There’s more,” replied Joan.  “It is said he was pushed by his father, who, in turn, hung himself in the foyer.  Legend has it that his wife died the year prior and he wanted the family to be together again.  The father is not pleasant.  As a ghost, I mean.  He can make life pretty miserable.”  Tom couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  He thought it was utter bullshit.  He believed that someone died here, and was pretty sure he could prove it by looking at the microfiche at the library, but haunted?  He was having a hard time believing that for even a minute.

Tom wonders what Melissa would think about that for a moment and decides that if she knew, she wouldn’t want the house.  But this house is perfect and there is no such thing as ghosts, so he makes the decision to go forward with an offer.  Makes the decision for the both of them, since she was too sick to come.  “Don’t you think you should discuss it with Melissa first?” asks Joan.  “No, I know she would love this home.  This is the one, I can feel it.  She will fall head over heels.”

And he is right.  After the closing, they drive over to their new house, Melissa is immediately smitten.  She can’t believe their good fortune.  She wonders for a moment why they got such a great deal on this magnificent home, but doesn’t let the thought linger for too long.

They reach the front door and Tom lifts his bride to carry her over the threshold.  He throws open the door, and it is in that moment he realizes he made a mistake.  Their excitement for their new home immediately vanishes and fear enters their lives.  A deep fear that even rivals that of the diagnosis of Melissa’s disease.

Back From the Future

Day 7 of 16 – Writer’s Digest Writing Prompt Bootcamp

A knock at the door catches you off guard. Upon answering it, you’re greeted by a man who says he’s from the future—and he can prove it. More important, he says he has information that will save your life. 

This is not a good day.  It’s not even close to a good day.  It’s the kind of day you wish you could start over and plan every moment yourself.  It started with a strange dream last night.  It was one of those dreams that seemed so real that you had to think long and hard to determine if it really happened or not.  This dream not only felt real, but scared the living hell out of me.

Although it was Wednesday and I should be working, I decided to call in sick.  I can’t put my finger on it, maybe it was my dream but I just don’t feel right.  Besides the weather outside is practically monsoon-style.  I’m not really in the mood to be on the road with all the other idiots (me included) who slam their brakes if it so much as sprinkles.

Then I get a phone call that was on the other side of weird.  Actually, I received a couple of phone calls.  The first one was just a hang up.  No big deal, it happens.  Then when the phone rang again a few minutes later, there was a man on the other end looking for me.  I don’t know if the call was from the same guy or not, but if it was, he hung up again after he received acknowledgement that he had the right person.

Now I am, as my 14 year old niece would say, “legit freaked out.”  I pour myself a cup of coffee and sit at the dinette in my small kitchen and try to concentrate on reading the newspaper.  When I unfold it, the headline reads, “MISSING WOMAN FOUND DEAD.”  Next to the article, there is a photo of me.  I don’t read the article, mainly because I am officially on the verge of a breakdown.  I fold the paper back up and start to pace.

I can feel the panic rise up from my toes all the way to the follicles in my head.  My entire body starts to shake uncontrollably.  I run to the hall mirror to take a look at myself.  Besides being as white as a new sheet of paper, I am here.  I pinch myself for clarification and I am most definitely here.  What the hell is going on?  I am feeling a combination of dread, disbelief and utter confusion.  I run back to the paper to look again, except that the headline I read two minutes ago has disappeared and has been replaced with, “TROPICAL STORM BETTY HEADING OUR WAY.”

Have I completely lost my mind?  I can’t seem to control the thoughts in my head.  I start to bite my nails, which is strange because I am not a nail biter.  I am so scared and suddenly exhausted so I lie down on the couch and pull the blanket over me.  I am just going to close my eyes for a minute.

I don’t know how long I slept, but I am suddenly jolted awake by a loud knock on the door.  When I answer it, I am greeted by a man dressed in a black trench coat and matching fedora.  There was something kind and trusting about his face.  I went against everything my mother ever told me about strangers and let this man into the foyer to get him out of the storm.

When he spoke my name, I realized it was the same man who had called me on the phone a couple of hours ago.  “I’m sorry, do I know you?”  “I am from your future and I’ve come to deliver a message,” he replied.  Oh God, here we go.  “Excuse me?  I don’t understand what you mean.  I don’t think you have the right house.  You should leave before I call the police.”  He said, “Please, you must believe me.  I can prove to it to you.”

He proceedes to describe the strange dream I had last night in vivid detail.  I ask him about the newspaper article.  He said, “the article and your dream are one in the same.”  He followed it up by telling me that it was going to come true if I didn’t listen to him and change the chain of events that would lead to my death.

Who is this guy?  Is he like a Nostradamus or something?  I look around for cameras.  Am I on some Candid Camera type of show?  Am I being “Punked.”  But what is happening to me right now is more like The Twilight Zone.  I’m expecting Rod Serling to step out of the shadows any minute.

I start to shake and suddenly feel the urge to vomit.  He leads me to the couch.  I am surprisingly not afraid of this man.  There is this inexplicable feeling of overwhelming trust, in lieu of everything that has happened this morning, I also get the feeling that I don’t have much of a choice.

I am on a train, one of those commuter trains that takes you to and from the city.  I look around and notice that I seem to be the only person here.  Even though I am wearing my earbuds, there is no sound coming out.  All I hear is the “clack clack clack” of the train running down the tracks.  It’s daytime but the lights inside the car keep blinking on and off, almost strobe-like.  Suddenly, I hear the heavy door between the cars ahead of me open and close and a woman comes running down the aisle, her arms outstretched.  She is screaming and begs me to help her.  As she gets closer, I notice that this woman is me.  And there is blood streaming down her face.  I look down and notice that there are pools of blood in the palms of my hands.  I open my mouth and try to scream, but no sound escapes me.

I hear a phone ringing again, except this time it’s my cell.  It’s my new boyfriend, Alex.  I am so relieved to see his name pop up across the screen that I excuse myself from my man of the future and answer quickly with a breathy “hello.”  “Hi babe, it’s me.  I have a great plan for the weekend.  Pack your bags.  I’m taking you into the city, we’ll take the train.”  When I look across the room for my man from the future, he is gone.