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Little Red Riding Hood- Take Two

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Little Red Riding Hood loved walking through the woods. She carried her basket filled with prunes and bran muffins on her trip to visit her old grandmother. Katie loved the woods and never was afraid.  She was entertained by the song birds and the squirrels who performed tricks for her by whirling and jumping from tree branch to tree branch. On her many walks, she had befriended a wolf pack and they trusted her around their pups.

Grandma has been a hunter in her younger days and shot any animal that came into sight. She had made the red cape and lined it with rabbit fur. Katie was opposed to killing wild animals, but loved her Grandma, so she wore the cape on her weekly visits.

It was June and Katie stopped to pick some huckleberries. She kept picking and eating the juicy berries, walking deeper into the woods. Suddenly a mother bear reared up on her hind legs, growling and gnashing her gigantic sharp teeth. Katie screamed and backed away, but the mama bear kept growling and crashing through the brush. Her cubs followed at a safe distance. As Katie backed away from the bear, she bumped into a huge oak tree. The bear took a swipe at Katie, but only caught the red hood, suspending her in midair. Just as the bear pulled Katie closer to her sharp teeth, a pack of snapping and growling wolves surrounded the bear. The alpha female wolf went after the cubs. Enraged, the bear dropped Katie and ran to protect her cubs. Katie ran for her life with the wolves running beside her. Grandma had heard the commotion and was out on the porch. She was aiming the shotgun at the wolves. “No, no Grandma. The wolves saved me!” Exclaimed Katie. Grandma’s hearing was poor and all she heard was “wolves” Her eyesight was failing so she just aimed and fired toward the noise, grazing Katie’s arm. The wolves scattered and ran into the woods, quickly escaping from this crazy old woman. Katie’s yelp and stream of profanity stopped Grandma in her tracks.  Grandma bandaged Katie’s wound while listening to her story of how the wolves had saved her. She was ashamed and put away her gun. “It is time to make peace with the animals,“she said. The cape was in shreds, but she promised to make another one without the rabbit fur. Grandma kept the prunes and muffins and sent Katie on her way with a thick steak for her wolf friends.                                                                     

Rocky the Noble Spider Saves the World

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After her arduous journey up the stainless-steel leg of the stockbroker’s desk, and across a desert of fake mahogany, Rocky finally hopped onto the stockbroker’s keyboard, the “shift” key, specifically. She shouted as loudly as possible, and finally the stockbroker noticed her, on that shift key, and prepared to squish her. 

“Stop!” Cried Rocky. “Please, stop. I’ve come such a great distance.  Don’t let it end this way, I beg of you.”

Amazingly, the stock broker did stop.  Furrowing his brow in puzzlement, he bent over so near to the keyboard that all Rocky could see for a minute was an army of mid-sized pores on the stockbroker’s nose. 

“Am I having a conversation with a spider?”

“You are, yes. I have business here.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever had a spider client before.”

“Your loss.”

The stockbroker’s eyeballs shifted down left as he struggled to process what was happening.

“I wish,” continued Rocky, “to invest in socially responsible securities.”

“Well, but —may I ask who referred you?  How did you learn about me?”

“I saw your commercial on the TV in the employee break room.”

“Here?”

“It was on CNN.”

“Here?”

“No, I believe CNN broadcasts remotely from some place down town.”

“I mean you. You were watching the TV in our break room?”

“Of course. I live here. You can find my website right above the floorboard under the microwave. It’s a great location. Your colleague Maxine can’t pull anything out of the microwave without spilling. Perhaps she has Parkinson’s. A spot of hot chocolate on the floor, and the ants come running. Voila! There’s my dinner.  What a life! I am blessed.  And now I want to share. I wish to invest in socially responsible securities.”

“You’ll have to forgive me,” said the stockbroker. “This is a radically new idea for me.”

“I’m a radical spider.”

“OK. OK. You say you wish to invest in socially responsible securities.”

“Bingo. Good for you. You’re catching on.”

“How much?

“Huh?”

“How much do you wish to invest. What is your medium of exchange? Pesos?  Euros? Yen?”     

“Oh, I see. I have 6,221 ant skeletons squirreled away on the bottom supply cupboard shelf in the employee break room. It’s a fortune.”

“Ant skeletons?”

“Yep.” 

“I’m very sorry, Ms. Spider—”

“Just call me Rocky.”

“Rocky’s a boy’s name.”

“Don’t give me grief about that.”

“The bottom line is ant skeletons are not on any medium of exchange that we recognize here.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that you will not be able to invest in socially responsible securities, or any other securities, for that matter.

“Noooooooooo . . .”

“Right. No.”

“Noooo.” There was a long silence. Finally, Rocky spoke again.

“I feel so crushed.”

“I can arrange that,” said the stockbroker, lifting a finger.

“Stop!” Rocky said. “I’ll go peaceably.”

Rocky seemed so sad. The stockbroker felt an unfamiliar twinge of guilt.

“It’s OK. I don’t think spiders are put on this earth to invest in socially responsible securities.”

“I just wanted to make the world a better place.”

If spiders could cry, Rocky would have been wading home in a pool of her tears.  The stockbroker scratched around in his head for comforting words.

“Rocky. Rocky. Listen.”

“La la la la la.”

“Listen, you already make the world a better place, just doing your spider job.”

“I do?”

“If you weren’t in the break room eradicating ants, we’d have to call in the Pest Control guts. And they’d spray down the place. Squirt something from Monsanto.  And that would be really bad.”

“It would?”

“You couldn’t get more socially responsible, stopping that. You’re saving the world from Monsanto.”

“I’m saving the world!”

“You are! Well, this office, at least.”

“Gee,” said Rocky. “Gee.”

The stockbroker felt curiously better.

“Well,” said Rocky. “Guess I’ll move along now. I’m so glad I consulted you.”

“Goodbye now.

And Rocky went back to the employee break room, and the stockbroker went back to business as usual.

Game of Life

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The deadline was the next day. She vacillated about doing it for days. Her mind was a complete fog, causing loss of concentration at work and forgetting to pack her daughter’s lunch.  Mandy heard the news just three weeks ago and was stunned. “How could this be? What shall I do?” The questions kept her awake at night and she walked around like a zombie during the day. Her life has been routine until now.  A single woman with an eight-year-old daughter. Mandy is proud that she is raising her daughter on her own, making ends meet by working as a restaurant server and occasionally substituting for the chef. She loves to cook, and felt she was very creative. Her dream is to own her own restaurant someday. But it is only a dream. She lives paycheck to paycheck and hoped to avoid any catastrophe that would cause her to lose her apartment or her job. Her few friends were people she worked with, and they were in the same situation.

Joe was a short little man with a round belly and bulging eyes. He reminded Mandy of a toad. He managed to sit in her section of the restaurant every time he came in for a meal. Joe always had a big smile when he saw her. She smiled back, but felt he was just a bit creepy. He didn’t fit the stereotype of a common laborer, but always dressed in slightly dirty painter pants and a T-shirt that barely covered his big belly. Mandy knew she was being judgmental. Her X-husband was a handsome guy, but knocked her around and never took her opinion seriously. She quickly learned her lesson and left him with her four- year-old daughter to start a new life.

The eviction notice came two weeks ago. No reason was given. Just orders to vacate the premises with in the month. Mandy was frantic. She had no place to go, no family to help, and unable to afford any apartment in the area. She couldn’t hide her distress, and Joe noticed it quickly. Mandy couldn’t stop herself from telling him about her dilemma. He came back the next day and made her an offer. He had a big house which he was renovating. She and her daughter could have their own bedrooms.   He needed a housekeeper and cook, and would pay her a small salary. He would pay her a little extra if she wanted to paint or help with renovations. Mandy hated the idea of having to depend on a man again. What would he expect? She was not attracted to him. She asked many questions and made it clear that it was a business deal. Joe agreed. He gave her to the end of the week to decide.

Mandy and her daughter moved into the huge house. The seven bedrooms and three bathrooms had been renovated and were very pleasant. The rest of the house was in shambles with cracked plaster, creaky steps, and missing tiles on the kitchen floor. Her daughter was happy because she could stay in the same school and had neighborhood children to play with. Mandy spent her days painting, doing housework, cooking, and learning carpentry. She became proficient at dry walling and painting.

Joe was always kind, and they thought of him as the big brother they never had. He worked at Intel during the day, occasionally played cards with them, and then locked himself in a small room remaining there until morning. The only sound Mandy ever heard was a faint clicking, but Joe never explained. The door was always locked during the day.

Several years passed. Mandy had time to become involved in her daughter’s school activities, take cooking classes at the local college, and was content with their lives.

One morning Joe didn’t appear at breakfast. She thought he left for a conference and forgot to tell her. After several days, there was a strong odor coming from the locked room. Alarmed, Mandy called the police.  The detective knew immediately that it was the smell of death. They broke open the door. The room was filled with computers and the walls were covered with swords and knives. Joe was slumped in a chair in front of a screen that read, “You Are Dead!” The gaming addiction had become real to Joe and he succumbed to his virtual enemy.  There was no sign of foul play, although Joe held a sword in his tightly closed fist.

Mandy was in total shock! When she was able to think again she wondered what would happen to her now.

They found a will. The house was left to Mandy with the stipulation that she run it as a bed and breakfast for gamers.

 

                                                                               

 

Still Significant

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First meeting, small town hangout in diner parking lot

Astride his motorcycle, he holds court to young admirers

Hanging back, she is presented more than introduced

Relaxed and smiling, asks if she wants a ride

Excited and watchful, accepts her first of many

 

He becomes her everything, she becomes his

His family and friends adopt her, and she them

Without looking back, they move in

A life together, simple but enough

Working at diner, he cooks, she waits tables

Both young, waiting for wonderful

 

Blushing at unexpected attention, she blossoms

Observing others looking, he blames her

Fearing she may leave him for another, he blames himself

Craving love and each other, neither knows how

Searching for answers in drink, he is miserable and unkind

Wanting answers for herself, she leaves to find them

 

Years pass, both trying to make a better life

Needing a friend, she searches him out

Guarding his heart, watching her face but not her eyes

Talking nervously, wondering why she came

Barely breathing, knowing he will give whatever she needs

Seeing his painful restraint, she cannot ask

Watching her drive away, he thinks ……. someday

 

Time passes, each begins to find their own ways

Hearing where she works, he visits her

Talking easily, pleased to see each other looking well

Proudly and calmly, he tells her about his job and new love

Watching him walk away, she thinks ……. someday

 

More years go by, she dates versions of him, he does the opposite

Grown children, both find other loves

Crossing paths again, they sense a strong connection

Having found themselves, they understand each other

Going their separate ways, they thinking ……. someday

 

 

 

 

 

That Day on the River

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The day Twerp fell in the river I remember wishing I hadn't yelled at her like that. I mean some of us are just born a pain in the you-know-what, and the rest of us are, well, easier to get along with. We were up the Badger River in central Alaska on a family fishing trip, which we did almost every weekend in the summer. By “we” I mean Mom, Dad, my sister, Twerp, my brother, Twig and me.

The Badger is a dangerous river, cold and swift, with invisible whirlpools, backwashes and sweepers (low-hanging branches just waiting to scrape some poor kid off a boat). It was a nice day in June, though, so it didn't seem like a time when anything bad could happen. I was about ten years old, which meant Twerp would have been seven.

The ride upriver to the cabin took a couple of hours. Once we got there, Dad tied the boat to the water pump, and I started fooling around with it. It was fun to pump the handle hard until river water gushed out all over the place. The minute I started having some fun though, Twerp started horning in.

"My turn," she insisted, trying to pull my hands off the pump handle. "You have to take turns."

"No I don’t," I said. "There's plenty of stuff to do around here. Go find your own fun."

"It's not fair," Twerp said, stomping her feet. To listen to Twerp, she was always getting the short end of some stick. "I'll tell Mom," she said. Now, there was nothing that made me want to do my sister's bidding less than her threats to take things to upper management. I maintained a firm grip on the pump.

"Mom!" Twerp yelled toward the cabin. "Twyla isn't sharing! It's my turn to play with the pump."

"Back off," I hissed. "Stop copying my life."

"You two," Mom called from the top of the bank where she stood with a dishtowel in her hands. "I don't want to hear another word. Not one. Not on such a fine day. Twyla, you share."

"Let me, let me," Twerp said, pulling at my arm.

I could hardly see her, what with the sun shining off her teeth because she couldn't keep her big mouth shut.

"Oh, take your damn turn," I said before walking away. I didn't even bother to look back. Instead, I wandered out onto the boat to watch Dad. He was working on the motor. Several minutes passed before he said, "Where's Twerp?"

I shrugged my shoulders. What did I care, right, as long as she wasn't in my hair? But then I noticed the silence and realized something wasn't right. Twerp was never quiet. Never. Dad must have had the same idea I did. We looked at each other, then turned and looked back toward shore. There, by the water pump, all we could see were white bubbles in the water.

Dad pushed me out of the way and took what seemed like impossibly big leaps back to where Twerp had been. He stepped right on the duffel bags and tackle boxes and fishing poles, something that at any other time he would have yelled at us kids for doing.

What he pulled out of the water didn't look like anything living. It was all loose. The only thing that looked familiar were Twerp's yellow boots.

I remember looking at them and then up at Mom. She must have come out to call us for lunch or something, but when she saw Twerp and Dad her mouth fell open and stayed that way. Dad was holding Twerp upside down and pounding her on the back. And for the first time in my life I realized what life would be like without her, how it would leave this big hole that we would have to walk around for the rest of our lives. And I realized how quiet everything would be. Too quiet.

Just then, Twig walked around the corner of the cabin carrying an ax. When he saw what was happening, he dropped the ax. It landed on the dirt and raised a cloud of yellow smoke. Dad put his finger in Twerp's mouth and yelled, "Breathe, you little shit kicker. Breathe!" She must have heard him, because just then Twerp started to cough and choke, which made us laugh, which made her angry. Twerp hates to be laughed at.       

That night, inside the cabin, after the sun had gone down and we’d finished eating dinner, we sat around the table as Dad lit the Coleman lantern that hung overhead. The shiny table threw back the warm light as, for the first time, Dad told the story we would come to call “The Day Twerp Almost Drowned.”

"Someone must have been watching," Dad whispered as he lit the first of the two bootie-shaped mantles. "Otherwise, how do you explain my turning around just then to check on Twerp?"

And we all nodded, knowing something mysterious had happened. We'd almost lost Twerp, but then she'd been saved. I couldn't take my eyes off her. Her hair was all washed now and freshly braided, and she was wearing her flannel pajamas so clean and soft. She was enjoying all the attention, of course. Almost made you think she'd done the whole thing on purpose. Ever since the accident, she'd refused to leave Mom's lap, where she sat with a big smile on her face.

Next

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There were long lines at the market again, and Elsa groaned as she took her place at the end of one of them. What is it this time? she thought, fretting about the loss of time. Last time, they were checking to make sure everyone had money before entering. To fight crime, she thought, but she’d had no idea crime had gotten that bad. Well, I guess it’s good to stop shoplifting, which she viewed as a despicable crime. She used to see all those secretive, furtive strangers every day, obviously up to no good, stealing and who knew what all. She was glad they were gone. As the line got nearer the door, she could hear murmuring and saw several people quietly leave the line. One gave her a long worried look before disappearing into the shadows. When she got to the door a riot trooper in full gear demanded to see her papers. She noticed a couple more troopers standing behind him, watching her closely.

“What papers?” she asked, with a sense of relief. She was born and raised right here in this town. She smirked as she pulled out her wallet and presented her driver’s license to the patrolman. She smiled at the woman behind her, confident of her country’s dedication to law and order. Why, there hasn’t been a foreigner or weirdo of any sort here for months now, she thought with pride. No queers, neither. Nothing left but real citizens.

“No, ma’am.” The trooper said, holding her driver’s license. “We need your citizenship papers.” He scowled at her. “They’ve been issued. Where are yours?”

“No, you don’t understand,” she said, lifting her shoulders and giving him an indignant look. “You have to be a citizen to get a license. The license is proof! I’ve no need for special forms.”

“You haven’t any papers?” the trooper asked in stentorian tones. She noticed the two troopers who had been watching step forward so that they surrounded her on three sides, while the woman behind her stepped back, distancing herself while holding her papers in front of her and looking at Elsa with barely concealed contempt.

“No. I’m a lifelong citizen . . .” she trailed off as one of the troopers grabbed her tightly by the elbow.

“Come with me,” he growled, and forced her to go with him as the second officer fell in behind. She noticed a couple more troopers coming forward to take their places as he pulled her towards a table with a couple of immaculate looking, officious young men in perfectly pressed uniforms and wearing visor dress hats sitting behind it. There was a pile of bags and wallets beside the table, but she barely gave them a thought. She’d become adept at not noticing certain things.

“Thank goodness!” she exclaimed. “At last, someone in charge. Listen, I’m a genuine citizen. My license proves it. She gave a start as she realized the first trooper still had her license back at the door. “Your man back there,” gesturing toward the door, “still has it. It’s all we need here. It’s got my picture. I’ve lived here my entire life. I voted for the leader. I . . .” Her voice trailed off as she realized that the man behind the table was glaring at her while the other was busily writing something in a notepad.

“No paperwork is a serious offense, ma’am.” Looking down at the table, and not giving her another glance, he droned, “I hereby sentence you to the rehabilitation camp.” He banged a gavel on the table loudly. Another trooper grabbed her purse and threw it into the pile of bags and wallets by the table, as the first two troopers dragged her away, one gripping each elbow.

“What? No! Wait!” she wailed, as they drug her off, her heart hammering and her face showing terror and shock. “Not me! Not the camp!” She struggled all the way to the detention cage.

Back at the line, the woman who had been watching stepped forward and handed her papers to the trooper. “The leader is cleaning this place up just fine,” she said, smiling triumphantly, and watching proudly as they escorted Elsa away.

The trooper just scowled at her, and handing the papers back, let her pass as he tossed Elsa’s license into a box with a dozen others.

“Next.” he called.

Addiction and Enjoyment

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I am an addict – no less addicted than hypodermic carrying persons that are part of our culture. When separated from my drug of choice, I begin to look for ways to satisfy my craving.  At that juncture, any printed material will usually do, even ads that show up on a regular basis in my mailbox.  I especially like Bed, Bath and Beyond ads which also provide a 20% coupon off any purchase, no expiration date.  Thumbing through their catalog can provide entertainment at least through lunch. Long enough to realize that I really don’t need anything they are currently providing, but the pictures are pretty.

Some people read for knowledge, some for pleasure, and others for pure escapism.  I read for any reason at all.  When separated from the printed word for a few days, I begin to get anxious, and my thoughts drift from conversations.  I have been known to hurry meals and tuck children into bed early in order to create time for my fix.

Should anyone casually mention a passage from a book they have read as meaningful to them, you will soon see me in the library looking for it, for I cannot bear the thought of books lying about that have not been touched, opened, and at least partially read by my own eyes.

Time spent in a bookstore is my idea of soul fulfillment.  I can peruse book shelves all day, read passages, make lists of those I wish to read and leave the store empty handed, but feeling completely satiated.

Truly, I think I need a 12-step program, but I know deep down in the marrow of my bones it would not help, for I do not really wish to stop.  Books hold me together like a set of fancy bookends.  They keep me from sliding into a morass of endless duties that bear no reward for having been completed.  They provide me with the Way and the Light.

The story of my addiction began at an early age; Summer vacation and within walking distance of a library.  As a youngster I was not socially active, thus the pursuit of literature for stand-in friends.

We lived in a suburban area of a middle-American blue-collar town.  Tract homes built at the end of WWII, all alike except for the color. A long cement porch running across the front with two steps up and another fifteen to the front door, 3-bedrooms, attached garage and fenced backyard.  My parents called it an American dream; for me it was simply a convenient place to develop and perfect my habit.

Once in the library I would start in fiction A-C, and from there it was a downhill path along the book shelves, fingers running softly along the book spines until a title would stop me cold.  Carefully removing it, I would look at the cover, read the first page and decide if this one was going home with me this time.  It was a pattern I would repeat every two weeks, and one I have never been able to kick completely.

Today I feed my addiction in a chair by the fireside, sometimes traveling great distances while not moving an inch.  For traveling is best when taken through imagination, and infinitely more satisfying, at least for me.  No packing required.  I can visit different cities and countries in one day or several.  I can listen to the seagulls on the coast of Maine or to the sea lions on the coast of California, look at a stormy sky – that great God-like vision – or a sky that is serene and blue with clouds meandering through it in no particular hurry to get anywhere. 

No, I guess I really don’t want to kick this habit. I will keep seeking; keep searching for the perfect book, the one that will finally put an end to this quest of mine.

Will it be yours?

Nightmare at the County Fair

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Linda Burk is a member of the Writers Unite writing group at the Hollywood Senior Center in Portland, Oregon.

County Fairs are a big thing in Pennsylvania. Folks gather to see the spiffed-up farm animals, chickens and rabbits of every color and size, old fashion farm equipment, and the 4-H display of art, sewing projects, canned goods, and delicious-looking cakes and pies. Blue ribbons were sprinkled throughout the display hall indicating the best of show.

When my coworker asked me to be a baked goods judge at a small county fair, I jumped at the chance. I thought of all those delectable pies and elegant-looking cakes. With some difficulty I found the small county fairgrounds on the appointed day. It was a miniature version of the country fair that I had attended. They had a fenced-in arena for the pigs and sheep, stalls for the horses, and cages of chickens pecking at the hapless bugs that landed in their cages. And of course the food carts, with the aroma of frying funnel cakes, inviting all to reach for their wallets regardless of the time of day.

I found the baked goods judging area and received my assignment. I was to judge the kid’s baked goods. I stopped in my tracks, wide-eyed and mouth open, when I saw the six-foot table loaded with cupcakes.  There must have been 40 cupcakes of all colors and descriptions: chocolate with white icing, white with chocolate icing, icing with sprinkles, a few with blue or pink icing, and several with cherries. It seemed like every kid in the county had entered the contest. My job was to judge each cupcake on appearance, texture, and taste. Appearance was a snap, but texture and taste was more difficult. I had to take a bite of each of the forty cupcakes! They gave me a bottle of water and a knife. After tasting four or five cupcakes, my taste buds went numb. The cloying sweetness was overwhelming! And I had thirty-five more cupcakes still to taste! Some of the little girls were standing by the table, eyes wide as I tasted their special cupcake. It was like cupcake hell! I am sure it was punishment for my love of sweets all these years.

I slowly made my way through the remaining entries, randomly placing blue and red ribbons on the nearest cupcakes. My stomach was churning, my head aching, and I had enough heartburn to last a lifetime. I swore off cupcakes forever. It was months before I could touch anything sweet. I still shudder when I walk pass Saint Cupcake. Those little cakes may look inviting, but I know what is lurking with that first bite.

 

Stop the Wedding

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Candace Olvera is a member of the the Gresham (Oregon) Seniors’ Writing Group.

There was something wrong, but she could not put her finger on what it was. She was invited to a wedding on December 31st, 1795, at 12:00 A.M. That was the bewitching hour, people were telling her.

Who would want to get married at that hour? No one will go, it is too late. Everyone that was invited said they were not going, and would rather be in bed asleep than be out in the cold. Why would anyone want to be married in the cemetery anyway? All the people there are dead. What a morbid place to hold a wedding. Did Pastor Poe say he would perform the wedding there at that time? Yes, I heard it is a go, and everyone is to wear all black. Even the bride is going to wear a black wedding dress. I heard they are releasing 13 ravens after the ceremony. What is up with that?

Does anyone know the bridegroom? Where he came from, or anything about his family? They have not been dating very long, as far as I know. How did they meet, anyway? asked one of the invited guests. Those are good questions, said another. We need answers before Angel marries him.

By the way, what is his name? I heard it is David Dracula. His family is from some place in Eastern Europe, from way, way back, centuries ago. He is quite mysterious, but I did hear he is of royal lineage. I think he may be a duke, or something like that. Maybe that is why she is marrying him, because she wants to be a duchess or something, the maid of honor told the others.

All her friends and all of Angel’s invited guests agreed that there’s a wedding that needs to be stopped. At least until we can find out more about the bridegroom and his background. We only have two weeks to find out what his intentions are, and why he is insisting on having the wedding in the town cemetery at the strange hour of midnight.

Flying Solo

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Mark Alejos lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.

                                                          Flying Solo

The shaken mother shielded her son, grabbing both of his shoulders and jerking him to safety behind her. She stood ready to strike. “You think you’re funny?!” she yelled at me. “Scaring a little kid? What’s the matter with you, you sick freak? Look at you! I should call the police!”

Short trips out in public had become increasingly difficult. I had been drawing too much attention, almost all of it negative. A life as “just one of the flock” had become a thing of the past.

The first sign of trouble appeared in the bathtub one morning. I had just turned off the water, and was drying off. I did my usual vigorous back and forth, sweeping the area, then swiftly moving the towel to the front of my body, when something snagged on my lower back, and then released. It hurt just enough to take a look. I was able to see the area in the mirror, and noted a small spot of blood. I dismissed it as a plucked random hair. With age, hair was growing in uncharted territory, at unreasonable lengths. I finished drying off and while reaching to close the shower curtain, noticed something that had no business being in the bathtub. I didn’t think much of it until I picked it up to throw away—there was fresh blood on its tip.

It’s never a good sign when a boisterous group of teenagers notices you on public transportation. There’s always a ringleader, and the ringleader gains confidence with each laugh he or she triggers from the followers. It can be extremely unsettling to the victim of the group’s attention. “What’s with the costume? Are you for real? Aren’t you a little old? Wait . . . is it Mardi Gras? Were you actually born like that?” Other passengers looked on, thankful it was me, and not them.

The second sign of trouble came while I was changing my shirt, getting ready for bed that same evening. I felt a patch of something on my lower back. Again, I went to the mirror. And there it was—a small area filled with at least seven or eight. A space the size of a Japanese hand fan. I tried not to be alarmed, but the noise in my head was getting louder and louder. This was not normal. I removed the patch as best I could. There was blood, but nothing a few squares of toilet paper couldn’t remedy. I packed the paper in my t-shirt, covering the unwelcome mystery, and went to bed

After a restless sleep, I rose in the morning to a growing nightmare. My entire lower back was covered. There was too much to remove right then, so I took a shower and hoped the problem would wash away. It didn’t.  I found my doctor’s phone number and paced around my apartment until his office opened. The woman who answered the call thought I was joking when I told her my issue, but the desperation in my voice eventually swayed her. She fit me in that day. “He’s going to love this one,” I heard her say to a co-worker, as she hung up.

He poked, prodded, and pulled. “I’ve never seen anything like it, Martin.” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He breathed deep. He sat stumped, on a rolling stool. He took his glasses off. He put his glasses on. He took off a latex glove and stuck a finger in his ear, turning it back and forth reflexively. He put on a new glove. “We’ll take a sample and send it to the lab,” he said, in an aha moment. “You’re healthy, Martin. Nothing says it’s going to spread. How’s your diet? Are you stressed? Have you been exposed to any foreign substances lately? What do we have you on? Maybe this is a one-in-a-million side effect of some medications that are mixing.” He looked at his laptop, scrolling through my history. “Hmmm . . . nope, nope, nothing here. I haven’t prescribed anything for you in years.” He took off his gloves, removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes with both fists, then looked again, blinking excessively. “Let’s keep an eye on it, and see how things progress. If, things progress. Aaahh . . . the mysteries of the human body…. We just don’t have all the answers . . . yet. Stop by the front desk on your way out and schedule an appointment for next week. Good to see you.”

DIAGNOSIS:  Ya got me….

I didn’t schedule another appointment. But I did keep an eye on it. It was hard not to. My condition worsened over the next few weeks. When it became too much to hide, I took an extended leave of absence from work. I told them I had a “personal matter” that needed immediate attention. My boss seemed concerned, more about the work getting covered than me personally. No surprise there.

It was happening while I slept. I don’t even know how I was able to sleep because that’s when it was happening more rapidly. Other noticeable changes occurred. For instance, my eyesight had steadily improved as the condition intensified. I’d worn glasses my entire life, but during this time, I saw with the sharpness and precision of the Hubble telescope. As a child, I had always dreamed of becoming an Air Force pilot—to fly with the birds. But after college I was denied entry into the Air Force Academy’s pilot training program—because of poor eyesight. The recent retinal good fortune was too late. I was too old for the Air Force. Another notable change was that I was going to bed earlier, getting up at the crack of dawn—sometimes even singing—not because I was happy. The crooning came out of nowhere, which was even more frustrating. I was losing control. The other night I spotted a mouse in the hallway and surprisingly, as well as what seemed like instinctively, swooped in to capture it. Before I could think about what I’d done, I had the mouse in my mouth, its tail wiggling desperately between my lips. In the moment, it felt so right. But in hindsight, it was a horrifying act.

Recently, I woke to discover that my forehead had filled out. There was too much to remove. I would have been a bloody mess. It would have made an incredible Halloween mask, but this, was not that. I quit my job over the phone that day. It was no use. There was no turning back. It was unexplainable, unacceptable, unmanageable, and unsightly. I couldn’t go out in public anymore. I had scared too many children and heard more than enough jokes and insults. I would probably have made a great ‘Weird News’ story for the wacky about-town news guy. But the last thing I wanted was to be the main character is someone else’s story. I wanted to be invisible.

As time passed, my entire torso and thighs had become completely covered. The condition had worked its way up to my shoulders, and was starting to appear on my wrists and forearms. I had given up removing thickening signs of it from around my ears.

The worst morning of my life occurred on my fiftieth birthday. At fifty, I expected to have a bird’s-eye view of my past, as well as my future. But when I awoke, I discovered a future in question. While sleeping, my fingers had transformed. Basically, I had no hands. My ability to perform fine motor skills was gone. I would never put on clothes or unwrap gifts again.  I would never sign my name. I would never floss. I would never change another light bulb. And worst of all, my mouth and nose had merged. I can’t explain it, they became one. Trust me

I was a freak. A sideshow. A poster boy for the bizarro. I was terrifying. And terrified. There was still a chance that people would want to come toward me, but only for a double-take. I however, would never be able to move toward them. Whatever I had, “normal” people didn’t want. I could no longer function in today’s world. Life was over as I had known it. And I knew I couldn’t live like this. So in my fit of self-pity and hopelessness, I decided to climb out an open window onto the building’s fire escape, thirty-seven floors high, and give up.

My plan was to end it. But endings don’t always go as planned. Oh, I went through with it. I jumped. But a funny thing happened as I plunged to my death. I put out my arms, or more accurately—my wings. And here’s the best part: next time you see a bird circling overhead, or watching you from a swaying tree branch . . . it could be me.

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