Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Basement Bar (Blogophilia 12.10)

I have a number of characters that I have developed over the years. Kari Summers, Jerry Goldstein, Jeremy Allen: they all represent a piece of my personality. I’m going to pull one out of the vault I haven’t worked with in about 30 years: C. Hartridge Heath IV, Esq., Attorney to the Rich and Useless.
 
                         *************************************
 
“Glad to meet you on this beautiful Atlanta day. But you can’t tell it in this dank drunk tank. The name is Hartridge Heath, most everyone calls me Hart. Glad to meet you. As you can tell by the ‘esq.’ behind my name, I am a bar certified attorney. What kind of law, you ask? Any law that supports the American Pie way of life, Son. And don’t you forget it. Truth, justice and estate loop holes for the right folks, like me. My family tree comes with ties to Nobility! Why I can trace my lineage on my mothers’ side to William the Conqueror when he raped some local lass on his way through. At least that’s what the Parish directory said.”
 
“Why yes, Son, I have never left the south. Daddy sent me to military school when I was seven and stayed there until was time to go to Athens, and with a few strings pulled, did law school at Emory. Such a shame they let the liberals in there, I finally had to stop my contributions. Of course, ol’ Georgia has changed a lot, and not for the better.”
 
“Hey, Hope! Can I get another mint julep? And another martini for the young man, here.”
 
“I’m a stick in the mud, you say? Hush your mouth. My ancestors were always right, even when they weren’t. They were paid to leave Britain by the Crown, that meant something. Then we carved out the greatest agricultural economy anywhere. Slavery? Now, I admit they got too attached to it. And more than a few of the farms were lost when the Yankees invaded. That’s when my Great Great Great Grandfather Elias found there was more money in juggling words than worrying about cotton. You always got at least a fee, if not a cut of the crop, when you wrote the contract right.”
 
“This tradition continues as he fleeced all the Yankee carpetbaggers trying to pick up land for cheap. Elias realized money really was God. And it was a God you could work mostly to your advantage. His sons, Jackson and Bryant continued this trait when they moved into Savannah permanently and set up the firm. They cemented their place in society down there when Bryant, how to I put this delicately, had to marry Cecilia Hartridge. Now we have offices there, here and in Nashville. All cities with like minded clients interested in preserving our lineage from the savage threats we see on the outside. People with very old assets tied and ways.”
 
“Oh, I’m aware we are dinosaurs. And many think it is evil we still exist and will go to lengths to eliminate us from the world. What those fools don’t realize is they are just like us in most ways and you cannot separate the just from the unjust, or the good from the wicked. They stand together as black and white thread. When one thread breaks, the weaver will check the loom.
 
“What? That was too deep for you? Well, if you must, go on. I don’t have court today, or any clients to worry about, so I’ll just stay here in Hope’s Dungeon. Don’t like the sun anyway”
 
“Hope! Can I have another one? I’ll get you a check for the tab when I get back to the office.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Blogophilia 12.10-American Pie
Pic Guesses: Basement Bar (in blog)Hope’s Dungeon (in blog) dank (in blog), drunk tank (in blog), tavern, cabin, closet, storehouse, wine cellar, workshop. 
 
Hard Prompt is a paraphrase to fit the narrative.
 
You cannot separate the just from the unjust
And the good from the wicked; 
For they stand together
before the face of the Sun 
Even as the the black thread and the white
Are woven together.

And when the black thread breaks,  
The weaver shall look into the whole cloth
And he shall examine
The loom also.
 
Khalil Gibran- On Crime and Punishment-The Prophet. (c) 1923.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Bowsprit (Blogophilia 11.10)

There
Bobbing
On the dock
Golden sun shines
From a bowsprit view
To the wide harbor pass
Anyway the wind blows, I’m
Open to the sea.

Meet me, Captain Saint Lucifer
Darlin’ I’ll be there.
To buck the seas and drink the teas
Of dream lands far away.
Don’t stay at the bridge,
Let her go where she may.
As we meet
Our watery grave.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Topic (Any way the wind blows): Colleen Keller Breuning
Song Lyric-”Meet me, Captain St. Lucifer
Pic guesses: Dream Land (in blog), Cave, Sanctuary, Isaiah, Sunrise, Sauron, Perch, Spirit.



Friday, May 5, 2017

YouTube musings...

Hey, Heidy and Howdy! It's your old buddy, Harry Handy floating along the Geritol trail. Over the years, people have asked me: "Harry! Is you life only moldy and oldie?" No, not really. I do wander what they refer to as "Socialist Media" from time to time to get ideas for good ol' WOFT.

Let me guide you oldsters in some of things available. Trolling along one day, I found a second generation Hippy couple walking the talk about being off the grid and out of the MAN'S grasp:


The wife, Esther is the daughter of Carla Emery who was one of the ultimate Hippy Chicks. She's got some interesting things to say


And then there is this youngster living the ultimate "Year Off Dream"


And when you select any of those, the YouTube algorithm sends you down the rabbit hole of crazier and crazier stuff.


Yep, clear out before the bombs come...Where have I heard that before?


A good reminder that no matter how the kaleidoscope changes, it all remains the same. Someone, somewhere wants to destroy your world and everything in it. With luck, we'll already be dead when it happens. If not, we'll still be dead.


Sleep tight, Ladies and Gents.

If you can. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sunday Morning Haiku (Blogophilia 10.10)

Looking out window
To Sunday morning sunshine
Empty street below

Coal dust blankets cars
Delivery truck brings meat
To the starving ones

Man reads on voting 
Not intending to join
His lover in there

The secret to get
Ahead is getting started
With a coffee cup




Topic-Doris Emmett
Pic-Sallon Newlove
Pic Guesses-Streets cape Coal Dust (in blog), Delivery (in blog), Empty Street (in blog), Midtown, Sixth Ave., Diner, 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mile HIgh Club

Scanning the sites today, I find an article claiming about 10% of air travelers have had sex either in the airport or on the plane itself.

Getting Busy

Now, for several reasons, I rarely fly. But I guess I'm just not looking in the right direction when I go through the airport. All I see are exhausted drones dragging their belongs behind them trying to make the next flight.

Maybe I should go out more?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Friday Night (Blogophilia 9.10)

The text comes in just as he comes in the store: "Working until 6." Damn it. He's early and she's late again. You would think he'd get used to it. Or she would quit agreeing to work over. Lord knows what the fuss would be if it were her waiting on him. Might as well get a cup of coffee and pick up a pizza. Won’t be time for much anything else for supper. 
 
As he approached the Starbucks stand, a chubby woman with wild curly hair and stained leggings stood at the counter. Another lost soul needing a shower to occupy his time. She asked repeatedly the difference between a Grande and Venti. Great. Her conversation seemed not so much with the Barista than with herself. Maybe they are sampling over in the cheese department. Better than waiting for this moron finish.
 
As he crossed over the aisle, he stopped to look at a rather large wine display. The manager had a sense of humor, putting "Menage a Trois" next to "Middle Sister". A bottle of "Josh" should be added, just for chuckles. A trashy novel could be written just from the labels. "Winery Row." Josh committing 19 crimes at Toasted Head trying to get Middle Sister away from that awful Mondalvi family, while Ernest and Julio woo...Wait, wasn't that"Falcon Crest"?
 
Nobody would get it. The ladies would look past that display and go "Oh, New Age is on sale. Let's get a that and some Havarti". Boom, the store just got another $25. It was all for the impulse buy, to separate you from the maximum amount of money. The way of the world. At least the world he was used to.
 
Nobody was at the cheese department, so with a sigh, he heads back to Starbucks and woman is gone. The barista's highlights are old and faded, but somehow she still smiled. Venti Pike's was ready and handed over with a knowing wink. He'd been doing this too long. At least the chair is open and the phone has a full charge. Candy crush to the rescue.
 
Somewhere into the second game, a drift of a one way conversation worms into his consciousness. The voice is shaky.
 
"Yes...I've talked to the doctor and he won't extend my prescription...But nobody understands...It's a matter of life and death...Let me have that number and I'll call you back...It's a toll free call?...I hope I have enough time on my phone..." Click.
 
The woman's back is to him. She's strung out. Makes sense.
 
"Yes...I need this for my anxiety...No, you don't understand...I've got..Hold on, I've got another call...This is she...You'll front me four days?...Bless you...How long...See you then...Hello, I'll call you back..." 
 
Softly, she placed the phone on the table and turned toward him. In a squeaky voice, she said:
"Hello. I'm a writer."
 
A small smile ran across his face.
 
"Really? So, am I. Are you published?"
 
Her eyes went toward the floor.
 
"Not in a long time. Back then it was mostly scientific stuff. But I had an accident and with concussion I have constant anxiety. I have to have my meds just to exist."
 
"That's terrible." He said, taking a sip of the cooling cup and not mentioning his eavesdropping. "I suppose you've heard all the thick skull jokes."
 
She frowned at that.
 
"I think I'm paranoid. No. Not that, more complicated. Poetry and rhymes are always running through my head."
 
"That's a good thing, usually."
 
"No, it's not. I'm manipulated. They make me fall down for a thrill I hope they'll prop me up with some more pills. I'm going down to the Pharmacy to see."
 
The tune almost immediately began playing in his head. Funny how a song you haven’t heard in twenty years pops up so readily. With a shrug, he returned to his game, shoulders twitching to the imaginary beat.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Topic-Toll Free Calling- Barbara Kausteklis
Pic Guesses-Pizza (in blog) paella, hot out of the oven, party, three meat, supreme, cheesy, paddle, dinner,

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Circus (Blogophilia 8.10)


Yeah, I thought about a story. Couldn’t really get a good idea.
 
Then I thought about writing about Easter and Holy Week. That had some possibilities, since the statement “He is risen” and copious amounts of incense brings back all the back-slid to prove they are still alive. In their day-to-day lives, Sunday morning church service is not an enormous priority. But either through guilt or fear, they find their way back on Easter. And as a church usher, I have to heard these feral cats here and there in such a way everything works smoothly, while the clergy on the altar run the show. 
 
I could write a bit on Tax Day. I’ve been an accountant all my career, and I can always count on two rings for that show, The first week in February and the seven days leading up to April 15. You would think with modern technology the process would be more organized. Nope. The first ring wants their money and they want in now! The second group don’t want to pay the money. But unless they are Donald Trump, they got to pay. File the extension and I’ll see you August 15.
 
Ultimately, the three ring circus that I can’t get rid of is Politics. Yes, that clown car of professional fence-sitters and moral trapeze artists promising the world while stealing your wallet. I, sadly, live in the 6th Congressional District of Georgia. As you may be aware, this is the seat held by Dr. Tom Price, who is now Secretary of Health and Human Services. One less of the old guard is a good thing in my opinion. But it does have consequences. 
 
This open seat has been like a dead gazelle on the Kenyan plains. Jackals, hyenas and other carrion eaters are flooding my email and tying up my phone. The television and social media have been the ringmaster for this dog an pony show. Vote for the Democrat (who only lives part time in Georgia and not even in the District). Vote for the Lady (who has a checkered past on holding office to full term). Vote for this gray haired guy (with the reputation of double dealing on the state level). Not to mention the 15 other candidates. PETA and Humane Society succeeded in shutting down Barnum and Bailey. Why can’t they do an expose on this tragedy? I haven’t had an uninterrupted dinner in weeks. 
 
Well, today is the election. There will probably be a runoff. But for at least a week or two, I might get some peace and quiet. 
 
And then we’ll do it again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Pic Guesses: Clown Car (in blog), Smiley, Snowmobile, Wash Me, Cold, Why I don’t live up north.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Wind Woman (Blogophilia 7.10)

The afghan hung loosely, knots struggling to maintain. The gale was relentless, drumming branches in time to the Beelzebub's whim. There was no time here. The sun stayed directly above, never relinquishing a grip to the moon. Shadowy and slight, the Wind Woman leaned in, stumbling along narrow trail. All she sees turns to brown as the Sun burns the ground. The Fugitive's path would be his, now and forevermore.
It hadn't always been this way.
But she hadn't always been a woman, either.
She had started as a boy. In fact, she still was. But the parts never worked. She favored thought over strength, beauty over violence. At coming of age, the other men knew they had received something different in him and saw the threat to their warrior ways. Fearing retribution, they brought him to the Shepherd saying: "He isn't from God, but from the Devil himself, return him to the land of Nod." Without another word, The Shepherd tossed the scapegoat into the desert with only the clothes on his back.
As the gate shut, the southbound gale began. Turbulent, and tossing tearing the rags off him.Naked for and era and and age, he bounced from boulder to stone. No stopping to contemplate his fate or allow for repentance. Repentance for what, though? He could not turn back time to know the Sin that had preceded his birth. It had been unknowable, unforgiven and unforgivable. 
Pushing toward the rising sun, the dress and afghan landed on his face, blinding him. Mourning colors and not beautiful, they were sheltering. With a struggle, his head slid into the skirt opening. Cloth fell in place as if tailored for his very soul. The garments spoke to him as he wandered, commiserating with him on his fate. The bodice filled and his cheeks fluffed and flushed. A long mane of black extended behind him, a rudder to his sail and his wandering laid strictly on the narrow path. Man was now a woman by chance.
Now and again, she would meet another wanderer, always men, and they wished for companionship. Always honest with the story, some engaged willingly, feeding on her misery. Others were repelled, cursing their fate. Either way, satisfaction never was to be. But those left full from her wounds would add him to their prayers in hope that Mercy would not be blind.. And she would return the prayer, halfheartedly, knowing it was in vain.
One particularly cold time, a screech could be heard over the din. A large bird was caught in the teeth of the blow. Powerful wings beat to keep the creature level above her She knew. This indeed was the Mercy his companions had spoken of. A pricking began at her neck. The sharp point of the needle that had stitched the afghan stood proud from the collar. As he pulled,fine threads were freed. Knots frayed as the cloak returned to ashes and dust. The wind caught thread, winding and twisting it into a thin rope.
A loop was fashioned with effort. Casting upwards, she caught the bird and it began to lift. Soon, they were above the horrid gale. In due time,she was set in a garden of flowers. The black dress was tattered and the walnut, wind burned skin was death in contrast to the life around her. Overwhelmed, tears flowed like a river to the ground.
A voice called out.
"Welcome home, beloved one. The Sin you were cast out for was not yours, but your ancestor's. The village knew their time was short when you came to them, child of beauty. They did not know beauty and they feared it. The wrath shown you accepted more willingly and lovingly than anyone could expect. You never wished ill for others, only for yourself. For that, you will receive here what you did not there."
Another wanderer landed beside her. He, too, was in weeds. They rose together and as their hands touched, the rags fell off. But there was no shame.They were now the lilies of the field. The wind still blew, but with the soft touch of a woman tending a baby and they brought forth their own sweetness to God’s garden.
The beauty sought...became.
And all was good.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Topic-Dave Coon
Pic guesses: Lillies (in blog) God’s garden (in blog) colorful, life, beauty (in blog), Sweetness, Love,
Note: this is a double dip with a Goodreads short story group, using the word Turbulence as the prompt. It took me a direction I’ve never really gone before.

#blogophilia #wind #lLillies 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Lake (Blogophilia 6.10)

It had been a wonderful day. The weather was cool, but it didn't keep him out of the canoe. Paddling around the little lake was a tradition with him. There were always neat stuff to see. The girls went with him this time, both of them giggling as Jimmy adjusted the float vests. As he was tightening Emily's, she asked why she had to wear it. Jimmy said he'd throw her out of the boat if she cut up and it help her swim to shore. She giggled at that. 
 
Kathy took the front oar and Emily sat on the gunwale bar. At a hundred feet off shore, Jimmy swung to boat around so everyone could wave back at Karl and Aunt B. Along the way they found an abandoned boat covered with vines, which really fascinated Emily. 
 
She called it Moses Moat after what she had learned in Sunday School the week before. She really did have her mother's imagination. 
 
Everyone jumped when the fish broke the surface going after a fly. Emily asked if she could jump out and see if the vest worked. Mommy said "sure". It only took about fifteen seconds before the cold got her screaming. After a quick laugh, they pulled her back in, wrapping her in a beach towel they had brought and let her drip dry in the sun. 
 
Ol' Sol was now drawing hard against the trees on the opposite shore. Jimmy sat at the table and waited for Kathy and Aunt B to finish cleaning up from dinner. The vegan casserole actually tasted like beef. B mentioned instead of tofu, she was using some kind of textured nut protein and kale and it made all the difference. It didn’t matter really. They were so hungry, they could have eaten raw tofu. 
 
They would need to leave soon. A cool breeze made small ripples along the shore. The breeze and beer made him happy. Maybe Karl was right. He should save up his money and buy a place like this. A spot of refuge in this horrid world.
 
Like a cat claiming its territory, the child climbed in his lap. Still in her swimsuit she smelled of the lake, smudges of dark mud streaked her face and arms. Her hair was frizzy and wild from the day on the water and her skin was almost the color of her hair. Dark rimmed eyes wide with wonder smiled at him. Settling in she took a nibble from a rice cracker in her hand, then fed the rest to Jimmy. 
 
"Daddy?" 
 
"Hmm?"
 
"It sure was nice for Uncle Karl and Aunt B to let us come here."
 
"Yes, it was. Did you remember to thank them?"
 
"Yeah." The little face scrunched up. "Aunt B caught me and gave me a kiss, yuck."
 
The giggle couldn’t be suppressed. 
 
"About as much fun as the Tofu Treat she had for desert, huh?
 
The face turned even more sour. Turning towards Daddy, she wound her hands around his neck and whispered:
 
"Uncle Karl saved me with those jelly beans. He called them carob...but I think they were really chocolate."
 
Then laughing, she turned back and cuddled along his left arm.
 
"Do we hav'ta go home?"
 
Jimmy kissed the top of the sweaty little head. 
 
"'Fraid so. I got to go to work in the morning."
 
Looking, the small hand pointed off to where the sun had disappeared behind the trees.


"Oooh. Look at the sky. It's turning pink."
 
"The sun is going to bed and that's how it turns out the lights."
 
"Ohhh."
 
An upturned crescent moon peeked over the dam to the right. Jimmy pointed at it.
 
"See the moon, Emily? It's coming up to rule the night."
 
"And keep us safe, Daddy?"
 
"Yes, Honey."
 
Breathing slowed in the silence. With a yawn came a question.
 
"Daddy, do you believe in wishes?"
 
"Maybe." Jimmy smiled. "Do you have a wish?"
 
"Yes."
 
"There's the first star."
 
The verse was recited in a whisper.
 
"I wish, I may. I wish, I might. I wish my wish come true tonight."
 
The little eyes closed as the last words came out. He stood up as Kathy came down from the house with a fresh beer. Somebody had said there was only one happiness in life, to love and be loved. Looking at his wife, then his sleeping daughter, he had to agree. Kathy kissed the peaceful little snorer.
 
"Someone had too much fun today."
 
"Yep." Jimmy smiled. "She's ready to pour in to the car seat."
 
"Let me have her and you can pack up. We have to go back to the real world.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Whoops, forgot the guesses.
Pic guesses Table (in blog) Refuge (in blog) paradise, table for two, waterfront, quiet time, mosquitoes,

Friday, March 31, 2017

Too Much Bota (Blogophilia 5.10)

So the topic is “On the Road Again?”
Kind of a tough one, since I just did a road trip story.
But, that means I’ll have to use chance operations.
Maybe my mind will get enriched.
Like noticing the pic for this week
Is the perfect finish to a romantic weekend.
Wine with a shower.
Good loofah action there.
Drinking a cup while drinking each other’s cup.
Maybe I should find an old Olds 98.
A boat anchor
With a bench in the back big enough for two
Run it down to Miami
And get it stuck in the Daytona strand
While a cute blonde looks on.
She’s sympathetic
And she has a box of Bota
For when quantity means more
Than quality.
Steamy scents in bedroom
And bathroom
Until all
Ends in a tangle
Of limbs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Pic Guesses-Steamy (in blog), Drink from each other’s cups (in blog), Steamy scents (in blog), Loofah action, Relaxing, End of the day, Bed and Breakfast, Alone

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Paul


Yeah, he'd skipped last period. It wasn't like he wasn't going to pass History. He'd aced all the tests and reading was done for the semester. Only thing left was the Lit term paper due Friday and he’d be done. Time until summer marked in long, boring hours in little square cells. Newbie idiots wasting time with irrelevant questions. Buzzing drones putting him to sleep. Water torture would be better. Time to go to the woods and chill.

The far gym door was the only one that didn't have a camera on it. A security hole found when Quinn the Quarterback pushed him out of it into the rain. After a little begging, Carly,this fat girl with a crush had let him back in, with Coach Woody none the wiser. They ended up kissing in the cafeteria later. Too bad her Dad didn’t let her date.

Grabbing a ball, he’d shoot hoops in sequence until he could slip out the back, Jack. Jericho High School might be run like a prison, but some inmates knew how to bust out. The route went across the baseball field to the gap in the left field corner. On the other side was the trailhead. The path went down into a pine thicket then left into laurel thick enough to hide anyone. His place was hundred yards further, an old lean-to some hobo built years before. It had a chair and a small bookshelf filled with sci-fi picked up from yard sales. Paul would occasionally play his phone. But the quiet of the woods was drew him there.. No stuck up rich kids making fun of his black shirts and long hair.

It all went away when he saw the leg, the foot hanging on the creek bank. The smell was horrible. Paul didn't ever remember calling 911, just the cops showed up and hustled him back the ball field. Random questions from different officers. One pulled him aside and gave him a pat down. No cuffs, but they did put him in one an unmarked car where a lady asked a few more questions. A man in a suit, who appeared to be the lady’s boss came up and said we needed to go to the office for a statement. But before they did, they called Mom. He begged them not to. But the cops said she had to be there because he was a minor.

The interview itself was easy. Who are you? Tell me about your day? Why were you in the woods, et cetera... Paul answered mechanically. He didn't mention his spot, though. Just that he was walking through the woods. They asked if he knew the deceased.Not really and it was the truth. His name was Barry, but he’d never said his last name. Once or twice, he had panhandled Paul. Mom said he was drug dealer and he should stay away from him.

What he didn’t say was Barry had stumbled into the shelter last week with a six pack. As they split the beers, he talked. Confessed was more like it. Mom was right: Barry had been to prison. A buddy of his asked him for a ride, which turned into a robbery. Wrong place at the wrong time was how he’d put it. Did three years and here he was. He didn’t say where and Paul figured it wasn't smart to ask. Too much information lead to judging happened and Paul got judged too much already.

The interview was winding down when Paul remembered something. He'd walked up to the 7-11 after school Wednesday to get a drink. Barry was talking to an old lady in the parking lot, next to this ancient VW bus. They asked if he could describe her. He hadn't paid much attention, but the van looked like something from a Hippie archive, gross green and covered with flowers. The woman had long curly gray hair done up like a bird’s nest and wore a flower dress that hung down past her knees. It wasn't like they were shouting, but the conversation looked kind of serious. Barry waved and went back to talking. It was the last time he had seen Barry alive.

It was almost 11 when they left the station. The car ride home was quiet, but Paul could tell Mom was going to blow, which is what happened as soon as they got home. He turned over his phone for skipping class. That was fair. But she kept going on about how he was going to end up a worthless drunk like Barry and his Dad. Time to leave.

"I told you not to go back in those woods!"

Those were the last words before the door slammed behind Paul. Mom meant well. But she sure wasn't helping. He pulled the hoodie close to ward off the chill air. Barry had been a weird dude, sure. You weren’t supposed to die out in open and alone. But, when you don’t have family, I guess that happens. At least Dad, for all his faults, had me. Even Mom stayed there to the end.

The night air was cool and helped his mind slow down. And as it did, the questions started. The lady detective said he’d been dead a couple of days. But how about before, a blanket or something? It wasn't like he could have stopped him drinking. Paul thought back on his Dad. Dad was still more or less functioning up to the end, but always with a pint of vodka in him. The threats of death when Mom would pour his bottle in the toilet. And the car trips. How they didn't die in crash amazed him. He would go to work, put in his hours, come home and drink night away.

Barry and Dad were similar in another way. They were generally were calm people. You could tell them they were on fire, Dad would shrug his shoulders, Barry just stared.

Was Barry Dad's ghost? He felt a sudden chill. Maybe he'd been haunted all this time and never realized it. But it didn't make any sense, though. Barry didn't look like Dad. With a shrug of his shoulders, he walked on. He looked up and was stopped dead in his tracks.

The old lady’s vomit rocket was parked not fifty feet in front of him, flashers on and engine cover raised. A time machine glowing in the moonlight. She was sitting beside it, flowing curls dangling over her stocky shoulders and crying. Her body shuddered on each breath.

The hairs on the back of Paul's neck rose. He thought about crossing to the other side of the street, but instead, a pull like a chain drew him in. The scent of patchouli mixed with some really bad weed invaded his nose. A bird like voice floated in the air, repeating something over and over.

"I didn't mean to do it. I thought it had been his time."

The words escaped Paul before his brain engaged.

"What did you say?"

The old hag jumped like she had been shocked. She quickly got to her feet.

"None of your...oh, sorry." She gained her composure. "Just an old friend of mine passed last night and I...well, I wish I had been there."

Barry?

"Yes." The hazel eyes widened. "Did you know him?"

"Sort of." Paul shrugged. "He'd stumbled into my place in the woods a few weeks ago. He was pretty drunk and I let him stay under my shelter until he sobered up."

The broad face became placid. She leaned into him.

“You gave him comfort?”

Comfort? What was she talking about?

“I guess. All I did was sit there. He talked until he passed out.”

The woman smiled.

"Since you are here, can you give me a hand?"

Paul was hesitant. There was something creepy about this woman. But the alternative was back home to Mom and her screaming.

"Sure. What do you need?"

"Have you ever worked on an old car?"

"No. My mom doesn't drive and she sold ours when my Dad died."

"That's O.K." A wicked grinned cracked across the face. "I could tell you had a loss. I saw it when you waved at Barry. Probably not one of my clients', though."

It was Paul's turn to stare wide eyed.

"Clients?"

It was all she could to keep from laughing.

"I guess you deserve an explanation. The wrinkled hand grabbed his and shook it..” My name is Kari, Kari Summers. By day I design and sell jewelry, mostly at craft shows and such. But at night...let's just say I help those who...are transitioning."

This description didn’t help Paul's mind at all.

"Transitioning?"

"From this plane to the next.Those who might be having..."

A sense of rage started deep in his center.

"You help them die?"

"Oh, not actively, Young Man." Kari quickly said. "I know it sounds like I smother them or something, but no. There are folks, broken and lonely ones, who find themselves alone when their time comes. I help them along."

She pulled a travel mug out of the van and took a drink.

"When I was a young girl, I sat with my Grandmother when she passed. My mother couldn't do it. When she was in the room, Grandma would get fidgety and restless. But when I came in and held her hand, she became as calm as a pond. A force put our hands together over her heart. It slowed and stopped. As the last breath came, she smiled in relief and ecstasy."

She offered the mug to him. He shook his head. Putting it back in the cup holder, she continued.

"Mom began calling me Death Angel. Didn’t like it at first. I thought it was creepy, as you probably do. But as I got older, I realized the gift. Over the years, I have helped many take those final steps over the bridge. And this is where your friend comes in. Barry had come to me, begging for money. At the first look, I knew his time was short. But I wasn't sure if he realized how short."

A lightning bolt flashed behind Kari. Paul wanted to leave, but it was like his shoes were nailed to the pavement.

"I decided to stay in town to see if I was needed. Later that night, I was walking in the woods where they found him. He came behind me and grabbed around my neck. He attempted to...have his way with me." Tears came to the old woman's eyes. " I touched his heart and...it stopped."

Paul sunk to the ground as the thunder rolled. Barry was as bad as Mom said. The tears came and he wailed. Kari read his mind.

"Oh, no, Honey." Placing her hands around his shaking shoulders. "I have no hate for Barry. He thought I was vulnerable, but he misread who I was. Yes, I would have lead him over the bridge with a kiss and a hug. It’s the happiest way to go. Instead, he made the choice to crash over the rail."

Paul slowly found his voice.

"You said it wasn't his time."

"No. It was supposed to be tonight. And now, because of what happened, he is between the worlds."

"Any way to get him back?"

"Not from this world, I'm afraid." Kari smiled. "You did him a favor by speaking to him. Your voice will accompany him wherever he goes through the ether."

She closed the engine bay of the van.

"Oh, one other thing. Your Dad was at peace with the universe when he died. So are you."

The hug was unexpected. She slipped her hands under his shirt as she kissed him deeply. The heart turned cold and the taste of bitter almonds filled his mouth. Silently, the shell lay down at her feet, smiling.

“Enjoy your trip.”

Friday, March 24, 2017

Santa Monica Boulevard (Blogophilia 4.10)

Sweat beaded along the wrinkled brow as he hosed off the muck. The temperature gauge on the side of the building read 113."Lo, though I walk the valley of death, I shall fear no evil", wasn't it how it went? It had been so long since he'd with those hypocrites, he wasn't sure anymore. There was something about comfort, nourishment and guidance. 
 
Nothing was comfortable. Dragging a damp cloth along his graying stubble, he thought of all the things he had been told wrong. Fornication was evil. Chloe showed him it was enlightening. Up really was down. It made him think God was Darth Vader altering the deal. Maybe he should pray it doesn't get altered further. He might get crushed in the aftermath.
 
She had left home the week after graduation. The note said she couldn't take the Trumpe L'oeil of the "marriage". Phoniness was the hallmark of those 20 years. The mask of civility on the outside, deceit and mutual loathing in. Yet, the girl had her own phoniness. Ex found a picture of her kissing a girl naked. He had known her orientation but kept the confidence. The girl's name was never spoken between them again. Homosexuality was an abomination to be shunned. The dish cut his face when he brought up her adultery. 
 
The final drive was uneventful. Desert gave way to irrigated fields and golf courses, then to 80 miles of city leading to the beach. No freeway, though. There was nothing to learn from the concrete. Sure, it took longer. Time was all he had now. Redlands, Fontana and San Bernadino slipped silently into the rear view. It was hard to tell which was which. In Azusa, the rain stopped along with the traffic.
As he waited, he noticed the palm and eucalyptus trees placed tastefully outside each fast food joint, office and car lot. A scene so much different than the open scrub lands of the last thousand miles. All happening with the turn of natures kaleidoscope. Mid sized hills and mountains lined the valley creating a tunnel, no a funnel, to deliver him to the sea. 
 
Was her hair still blonde and long? He wondered. The phone call had come a few days after the divorce became final. She was working at an upscale lingerie shop facing the beach and she wanted to see him. In his typical passive-aggressive way, he'd said sure, but never committed to any time line. The job disappeared the next week. The Universe had spoken.
 
The cars eventually cleared. Like a horse heading for the barn, the van plowed though the unfamiliar traffic like it had always lived there. Dodger Stadium came on the right and a game was just starting. Maybe he could stop. It had always been on his bucket list. The van kept going as if it knew there would be time enough to get that.
 
Stopping for gas at Santa Monica and Sunset, the thought of driving those fancy hills floated by. It only lasted a minute, though. He was ready to see his rocking little girl. The street wasn't flashy. One and two story strips nestled against the sidewalk. The standard mix of car washes and bars. Parking always in the back. He should have picked up some Buds to go with the song. Didn't matter though. It was all background noise, really to go with the endless run of buildings. 
 
Hollywood morphed into Beverly Hills and the monotony continued. The cars cutting him off were nicer, but the middle fingers looked the same. A Chili Peppers song came on the radio, giving him a headache. Weren't they all in the end? He turned off the noise. Passing the 405 bridge, Route 66 ended. A mix of anticipation and dread rose out of the tar pit of his mind. He turned right at the light.
Ocean Avenue looked like all the tourist streets. The stucco exteriors were mostly off white, with an occasional pale pink or orange. Boutiques for the rich alternated with tacky t-shirt pavilions. A few high rise apartment buildings here and there. Beach bums of varying sobriety sunned openly on the sidewalks. Shapely girls jogging in fluorescent spandex, busts flying and pony tails constricted by ball caps. It could have been a T.V. show. 
 
Beyond the street and down the cliff was the beach itself, surprisingly not crowded given the weather. The place he was looking for was just past Arizona. Pulling into a gated lot in the next block, he took the ticket and locked up. The lay low on the southwest horizon. The sky had just the slightest hint of pink. A slight breeze came off the water, cooling the parking lot and drying the sweat from his face. Had she eaten?
 
The mannequin at the door was dressed like Betty Page. The set was made of leather, rather than lace. In the hand was a riding crop. Was that really what she was into? The door jammed a little as he opened it, announcing his entry with a loud rattle. His daughter suppressed a scream when she saw him. The one other customer, a tiny black woman with a tiger patterned scarf weaved through her dreadlocks, paid for her undies and left. 
 
The changes were amazing. The head was shaved bald, with a small tattoo of a spider at the crown. A rhinestone horseshoe twinkled on her upper lip, with several other piercings scattered along the face. Faded roses lined the left arm, while a lightning bolt peeked from the right. Her personal map of experience for everyone to see. Being in view made it more honest than his. She would always have that advantage. 
 
The hug went on forever. Touching replaced all the years they had missed. 
 
But she was still his little girl. And this girl rocked his world like no other.
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Pic guesses: Let’s dance, Boogie, Get down, Have some fun, Break dancing, HipHop, World dance, Rainbows.








Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Joshua Tree (Blogophilia 2.10)

A dry breeze rolled down from the hills and across the sands. Grit filled his nose and went under the eyelids. Finally, he slowly opened them. The rim of the valley had taken on the pink glow of sunrise. Stiff, he shucked out of his bag. At least he was upwind of the foul lake. 
 
Riding across Arizona, another force began to pull at him. The trip was all cliches. Winslow had already happened. Chloe was the girl in the Flat Bed Ford. He was now flying down a dark, desert highway, cool wind in his hair. 
 
He laughed. Is this how ear worms start? In Kingman he made the decision. Hotel California was not what he was looking for and Joshua Tree was only a little out of his way. The daughter could wait another day. He'd never told her what day he'd be there anyway. After a quick stop for water and food, the van headed south.
 
US 95 was an proper two lane, like old 66, stretching across the scrub and into the scarlet hills. There were a couple of places he wondered if the van was going to tip, but he persevered and dropped down into the low bowl of the Colorado desert. That ended in the road to the park itself. Spiky trees the park was named for slowly emerged from both sides of the road. Branches raised in supplication to an unknown God, they resembled alien pawns in a celestial chess game. He guessed he was the knight going after an unseen king.
 
A few miles into the park, an arrow pointed to the left. Without thinking, he turned the van down the dirt track, rooster tails falling behind him. It didn't take long before a clump of green appeared. An oasis? As he got closer, he realized it was exactly that. A larger group of trees lining a watering hole about 25 feet across. It stank of sulfur and salt. The remains of a campsite sat on the the far shore.
He pulled the van over and rubbed his eyes. The sun was almost behind the hills to the southwest, there wasn't much choice, this would be home tonight. Only question was: did he sleep in the van or under the stars? Blue skies had the answer, the stars. 
 
Someone was nice enough to leave a stack of mesquite branches next to the fire ring. They lit easily and the distinct scent rose through the air. He quickly laid out a tarp and his sleeping bag. Then he brought out a small camp stool and set it next to the fire. He'd traveled almost 1800 miles and this was the first night camping. He knew everything on this trip had been for a reason. 
 
He thought of the ex. They had known each other in high school, but they hadn't been sweethearts then. She had been someone everyone was jealous of. A daydream believer and the Homecoming Queen. Always looking for the knight in shining armor. They didn't date until after college when they ran into each other at a party. Physically, they were dynamite. But she never was truly satisfied. She had cheated a couple of times before this last time. And he had took her back, knowing she would get restless again. It had been 14 months since he walked in on her last ride. What had she been looking for?
 
Was Chloe a measure of revenge? He thought about it as he stared into the silhouette of one of the trees. Two days ago, he was high on the wild Indian communion. Dead sober and still physically spent, he stared into the rubble of lost days. In a way, the whole trip was revenge. Leaning back, the whole of the milky way lay above him in the moonless night. The smelly, drunken encounter was the expulsion of all of the frustration and it was good. Maybe it was what he had been looking for. 
 
Now, he slowly folded his gear and packed it in van. Just before he doused the fire for good, he knelt and prayed gratitude and thanksgiving to the Great Spirit. He prayed also that Chloe would always find the peace he had found here.
 
One thing he knew. He wasn't never going back East.
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Pic Guesses: Oasis (in blog), Shore (in blog) Shasta, Directions, Trek, Placid, Where now?, Narcissus, reflection.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Great Spirit (Blogophilia 2.10)

The trip was both as a lark and an escape. Route 66 from Chicago to his Daughter’s house in Santa Monica. At 55, he was at loose ends. In the last year, he caught his wife in bed with some jerk and his company went bankrupt. After everything settled, all he was left with was $20,000 from the house and the van they had used to camp at the lake. So, why not run away? The Ex thought he was nuts, but she never liked any idea that she didn’t think of. There was nothing left to lose. She could just enjoy riding the new brute. He didn't have to be there to watch them blow to pieces.For that reason alone, he was going to take long road and take his own sweet time to get there. 
 
As he drove across the red desert into Flagstaff, he marveled at the last few days. 
 
It had all started at the truck stop on Motel Row Sunday morning. It had been an easy trip to that point. A little storm driving up to Chicago and a flat outside Tulsa. But other than that, nothing but the quiet of his own thoughts and whatever bad country music that popped up on the radio. He had always heard of the tackiness that was Tucumcari and he had all the time in the world.
 
The steam from the cup fogged his glasses when first he saw her. Probably another lot lizard, he had to admit she was prettier than most. Crude oil colored hair cascaded down her back, held in place by a bright orange scunci. High cheekbones and slightly red tinted skin, indicated she was Native stock. There was a regal manner that reminded him of Cleopatra as she pled her wares to the truck drivers. Maybe he could be King Tut for her tonight.
 
As soon as that thought passed, the people at the table laughed and they got up. Not enough time for business, he guessed. The men headed outside toward their rigs and she walked down the aisle. Eye contact was made and she sat the chair across from him.
 
"Buy me a cup of coffee?"
 
He couldn't fault her salesmanship, and the price of admission was cheap. Her name was Chloe and time passed with her whiskey tinged voice. Most girls like her asked for a date and he usually refused. She wasn't in a hurry for a transaction, though. She was looking for something else, a ride to Gallup. Why not? 300 empty miles between here and there. The conversation would make a nice diversion. Calling for the check, he paid and they left.
 
The first thing he noticed when she got in was her scent, a mixture of tequila, tobacco and weed. He scanned her face closer. The smile was nice, so he knew she did smoke harder stuff. Age could be anywhere from a hard 18 or a much kinder 30, there really was no telling. As he started the van, their final destination was apparent. They pulled onto the highway and left the ticky-tacky tourist stuff in the rear view mirror.
 
The stark, windswept landscape had an eerie glow in the high noon sun. Random tumbleweeds blew front to back past them in the headwind. But none of it was noticed as the conversation continued.
Chloe had grown up on the Hopi reservation. Her mother was a Navajo, though and she had been looked down upon by the rest of village. Half-breed was they called her. But the truth was most of the tribal elders weren’t pure bloods. They all had white ancestors that took brides in the war. It didn't matter anyway, all of them were dirt poor, living in crappy trailers or hogans.
 
She left for Oklahoma after her mother died to be with a Cherokee man she’d met. He seemed so tall and dignified. It wasn’t until after she got to Tulsa she found he was a drunk like the rest of them. While she was there, she began working with a shaman who took a liking to her. Once a week he taught her old ways of the Eastern tribes. Spirit healing was what he had called it. It was more like wild sex and it wasn’t long before the Cherokee caught them and beat her up. She left that night with just the clothes on her back, never looking back. 
 
She had drifted slowly back west. Stayed a bit in Amarillo, working in convenience stores. Between real jobs, she would use her spirit skills to turn tricks. But she didn't like it too much. Most men were drunk, selfish louts who wanted the spirit to only go their way. But she did have one or two she enjoyed. Anyway, one of her mother's sisters had died and left her a trailer and she needed to get back to Gallup before some meth head trashed it.
 
"And so a free spirited Indian Princess could have instead?" He quipped.
 
She laughed and put her hand on his thigh.
 
"And you, my Knight, will have my healing spirit along for the ride."
 
Smiling, they were silent as they drove through Albuquerque. Traffic was still light and they passed quickly through. The desert on the western side of the state was slightly different, redder, drier and more forbidding. The scene reminded him of a trip he had taken with his family to England. Dad had some distant cousin in Cornwall and they had traveled through the Bodmin Moor. He had been fascinated. Random rock formations sticking out like some ancient God playing jacks in the sand and the rumor of some horrible beast lurking behind them, waiting to devour the unwary. He’d heard of gila monsters and jackalopes. Were they vicious? Uneasiness set in. Without a word, Chloe set her hand again on his thigh and his spirit relaxed and they went on.
 
It was almost sunset as they pulled into Gallup. Without saying a word, he pulled into a truck stop on the outskirts of town. The needle was on E and so were their stomachs. Gas, food, pits and snacks later, they climbed back in.
 
He didn't blink an eye when she said to turn on to 666, The Devil’s Highway. He had heard of it. Oh, why not. He'd been in hell already. Could this be worse? It turned out Chloe’s place was only a few miles north of town, on a small track overlooking the highway. It looked like an old tin can from a distance, all color bleached off the corroded aluminum skin. The windows were opaque with dust and time. But they were solid and the shanty turned out to be a good shelter from the desert heat. It looked like a discard from a better era, when someone had hope for healing in the low hills. Or maybe it was used it as an escape from real life. Both had happened here.
 
Pulling in, they quickly unloaded their things and closed the door. A low stool sat under the front window. Next to the kitchen area a table and two chairs sat waiting. No other furniture was in the room. Chloe reached into her pack and pulled out a cotton blanket and spread it on the floor. She beckoned him to sit with her. As he did, she released her mane from its bridle and shook out across her shoulders. 
 
Energy could be felt radiating from the walls and floor. She became the priestess of the spirit. Her hand disappeared again into the pack and came out with a paten and chalice holding a communion of tequila and peyote. With this, she sanctified him. Time disappeared. A voice from outside the room commanded a kiss.Compliance was mandatory, Soon, laughter screams, and ears came for for all the sin their lives and only they could hear their prayers. Forgiveness filled his mind. As they shared, his ex, his thieving boss, and his pain all fell away. Only this slender woman mattered in this moment.
When they were spent, the ghost of his mother appeared before them. They were still as she blessed Chloe for her service, that she should only find happiness from this point forward. They both fell into a deep sleep.
 
The sun now posed like a phoenix across the ravine, turning the valley from indigo to a soft tan. The black patchy snake of road outside slipped further up into the hills, but no traveler would notice it. It looked like a scene ripped from a Road Runner cartoon.
 
The temperature began to rise inside along with the sun. A single ray of light fell on his naked body, snoring contently on the colorful blanket on the floor. Across the room his clothes lay neatly on a small stool along with a few of hers. Scraps of their debaucheries were scattered about, along with those of the ghosts who had left as their business was settled.
 
Head pounding, he slowly sat up. Man, this place is dark. Grabbing his pants, he couldn't help but think: What day was it? Feeling down, his hand felt the phone and smiled. At least she wasn't a thief. Laying on the table, he finished dressing. He pressed the power button.
 
The screen came to life. Wednesday. Wow. Looking out the dusty window, he saw her dressed in a long t-shirt, drinking a cup of coffee. The black hair was still free and blowing out behind her like a mare's mane. The rickety door slammed shut in the wind as he came out to join her. She stood and kissed him.
 
"You need to go now."
 
"Yes." He stood quietly, taking in the harsh beauty before him. "Do you need another ride?"
 
A wicked grin came across her face and she gave him another kiss.
 
"Great Spirit was more than good to me, and to you. While it is tempting to stay with the moment, it passes and so will we. See your daughter and teach her the Spirit will be with her and all of your descendants. You are a good man. Now, go."
 
And without another word, he climbed into the van and drove back down the butte into town.
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Pic guesses: Cleopatra (in blog), Princess (in blog), King Tut (in blog), Asp, Waiting, Lover, Regal, hieroglyphics.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Circle Around Again (Blogophilia 1.10)

First love or first crush?
Mistake one for the other.
Turning physical.
Was it just play?
Have fun, enjoy the game.
Wearing protection
From the inevitable outcome.
The gestation
Of your first true love.
Circle goes around
Again.

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Topic-Dave Coon
Pic guesses: Help Desk, I.T., On hold, Wired, Hit any key, Over my head, Hacker, Geek Squad, Cable Guy

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Job Interview

The face in the mirror wasn’t too bad for such a quick turnaround. And the outfit was clean, professional and covered the tattoos. Her spiky hair brushed out nicely for once and it was tossed up in a neat blonde bun. A quick check showed only the slightest pink and green streaks. Party Kelly had been  put away and replaced with a professional, responsible young woman, ready to take on any and all public relations nightmares.

This was the first real job interview in a while, six months at least. Yeah, she’d heard all about the slow economy and whatnot. Everyone thought she was doomed to wait tables the rest of her life. After all, it was all she had done since high school.

It was time to prove them wrong.

The job offer was weird, though. And how it came was weirder. The old man wandering in before closing last night. Balding, with grey fringe, he seemed OK for an old guy. There was a twinkle in his eye. Maybe Santa on his day off? At least he wasn’t a drunk. Suchita had finished her side work and offered to take him. But the man had requested her to wait on him. The coffee only order made things easier. Oh, there were a couple of lame flirting attempts. Kelly just laughed. He might be a sweet old man, but no way she was going home with him. She wasn’t that dumb, or that lonely.

But the voice! She could listen to it all night. Morgan Freeman mixed with vodka. It thrilled her  to her core.Since he was the only customer left, there was plenty of time to talk

His name was Luke. He had traveled far and wide Stories of Europe and Asia took her mind to all sorts of places. Never married, though. Said women would just have tied him down, although he hinted at more that  few hot nights. . All this said with a wink and a smile. Kelly spoke of her family and the lack of opportunities in the small town and her loser boyfriend. Her contribution to the conversation made her depressed. But Luke smiled and that made her feel better.

The last hour flew. Last call came and the old man handed Kelly a piece of paper. Said a friend of his had a job needing her expertise and she should be their at 9:00 AM. He turned at went out the door as Kelly’s widened green eyes stared as he disappeared into the night..

Expertise? What expertise? She was the friendly waitress with the rainbow spikes and gap-tooth smile. The only thing she had done since high school really was party, and she had the scars to prove it. But she did admit she had a way with her customers. They were better than her family toward her. Always asking how she was doing and tipping her well.

Without thinking, she looked at the paper. DQ Communications, 666 Dominion Street. Odd, no phone number was included. The street name wasn’t familiar. Must be in the fancy part of town. What if she got lost? She did have the GPS Daddy gave her. It will get her there. She hustled to finish up. Got to get some sleep if she was ever going to escape this place.

The sun was in her eyes while she looked for the address. Traffic seemed really light for a morning rush hour.

"Turn left. Your destination is 100 yards on the right..."

The voice on the GPS always reminded her of fingernails on a chalkboard. She only used it in times like these, where getting there important. To Kelly, getting lost was part of the fun of traveling. How else would you find new places? Waiting for the light, she looked at her destination

Grey glass looming high over the street. 666 Dominion Street was an impressive place. Must be twenty stories or more.  A small sign at the curb noted the existence of DQ Communications. Parking the car, she took one last look in the mirror. No smudges, nothing between her teeth, nothing that indicated she was just another girl with broken dreams. Taking a deep breath, she opened the car door and walked confidently into the building.

The lobby was impressive, paneled in brushed metal and wood. A reception desk was centered in front of two elevator. The red coated woman  smiled in recognition and handed her a visitors badge..

“Kelly, right? We have been expecting you. Please take the car to your right.”

Unlike most elevators, this one only had a scan pad. Passing the badge her hand over pad caused  the doors to snick open, showing a mirrored interior. A feeling of unease came over her as she stepped in. Soft, relaxing music played as the doors closed. The elevator began descending. Descending? The friend’s  office was in the basement? The car come to a halt.

The doors reopened showing a stark white room with a small desk in the center. There were chairs on each side. Luke's disembodied voice called out.

"Good Morning, Kelly. So glad you could make it. Please have a seat and I'll will be out shortly."

Her apprehension grew as she stepped out. Where had the voice come from? No speakers were visible anywhere. This had to be a mistake. Turning back to the elevator, the doors were gone, replaced with another blank white wall. Holding out her hand, it was cold to the touch.

"Don't worry, Kelly. There has been no mistake. Please. Sit down."

As she turned back, there was Luke. He was now dressed in a black suit with a contrasting red vest.

"I'm so glad you could make it. It isn't often I get pretty ladies here."

Kelly's eyes widened.

“An explanation is order. While I did introduce myself as Luke last night, my full name is Lucifer J. Beezelbub. I am the founder and CEO of Devil's Quill Communications. We use the initials DQ to fly under the radar, so to speak."

Noticing the fear on her face, he tried to calm her.

"It's not what you think, Dear. You haven't gone to Hell. That is only for the really bad ones that fail the evaluation. No, we are under contract with The Maker to run quality control on those whose time has come."

Curiosity overcame fear.

"My time has come? You mean I’ve...   Wouldn't I have known something about that?"

Beezelbub laughed.

"Not likely. Not many people know it, but everyone comes out of Maker Industries with an expiration date tattooed underneath the hairline on the back of the neck. Even when you put your hair up, like you have it now, it usually stays hidden. The only ones I have ever known to find it are chemotherapy patients and even then their rarely recognize the date. Since you are here, let me show you yours."

He shuffled around a drawer in his desk and brought out a two piece hairdressing mirror. Putting it up to Kelly's head, she could clearly see yesterday's date underneath mousy brown roots. She began to cry. Lucifer put his arm around her shoulder and whispered in her ear.

"We almost missed you. Now let's get your evaluation started."

           ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The medical examiner wheeled the body out of the restaurant. In the corner, the detective handed Suchita a tissue. Nodding appreciation, she blew her nose and took a deep breath.

"It was so sudden, Lieutenant. Kelly was sitting there talking to this old guy when she just collapsed." Dabbing her eyes. "Like she had been touched, or something."

"What did this old guy look like?"

"Nothing special. Older than you, maybe 65. White with a grey beard. He had on this red cardigan sweater that looked like Hell, but other than that, I can't remember. He was gone even before we called 911."