Let’s Make a Deal

“I’ll pay you fifty million dollars,” Angela Burk said, her sharp gray eyes boring into Mark Pearson’s. “And all you have to do is give me a little nudge so I can die.”

The old lady was serious! Mark couldn’t believe it. He had agreed to have lunch with Mrs. Burk prior to her surgery on Monday, something the anesthesiologist had never done before with a patient, but she had been insistent; though, her asking this of him was the last thing he thought she may want to talk about. Questions about the operation, yes, but never this. It was just a simple operation—a vaginal hysterectomy for fibroid tumors that had enlarged, which was an uncommon occurrence for women of Mrs. Burk’s advanced years, but not unheard of.

I can’t be hearing her right…this is crazy. Or maybe she was senile. She couldn’t be asking him to kill her. “Mrs. Burk, do you know what you’re asking of me?”

“Yes, young man, I know perfectly well what I’m asking: I want you to help me pass on.”

Mark took a big drink of the expensive wine, started to set the glass down, changed his mind, and swallowed another big gulp. He studied her face for a moment, noted the set of her jaw and the astute intelligence in her steady gaze. Though her shoulder-length silver hair hinted at her age—ninety-five—the rest of her spoke of a much younger woman. Makeup expertly applied, a shocking red dress that skimmed her slim body, and red pumps to match, she could have passed for someone in her fifties. Truth be told, he wouldn’t mind having a look under that red dress and maybe even tapping the old broad.

Continue reading “Let’s Make a Deal”

Thomasina Tull

Thomasina Tull clomped down the school bus steps, head lowered, books clutched tightly to her chest, and waited for Mr. Earl to lever open the door. She always hated these few beats of time that seemed to last forever before she could escape the yellow monster filled with mean grins and even meaner eyes.

On the ride to and from school—as well as on the playground—the other kids’ relentless teasing, contemptuous looks, and sometimes shoves or kicks had lessened as she and they had gotten older but had never stopped. Only in the classroom was she free of harassment. She was always assigned the front desk in the center row so she could see the blackboard. All the faculty at Blackburn Elementary knew she couldn’t see worth a flip.

The doors whooshed open, and Thomasina quickly stepped to the ground and strode away. She knew she shouldn’t look back, but she did and saw Jackie Carter’s fuzzy face hanging out the window, making those disgusting smacking noises before yelling, “What’s up, doc?” his top lip poking out and his bottom lip pulled back in a bad Bugs Bunny imitation.

The bus pulled away, trailing hoots of laughter and a swirling cloud of dust.

Thomasina sighed, well past the point of being hurt—or told herself she was. After all, it was nothing she hadn’t experienced a thousand times before.

She grabbed the mail from the listing, rusty mailbox and started the quarter-mile walk down the little-used lane to her home. She stuck to one of the two parallel tracks that were bisected by tall Johnson grass and crowded on both sides by thick trees whose limbs twined their leafy fingers across the road, keeping it in perpetual shade. Wouldn’t do to brush against any stray stalks; though it was mid October, there hadn’t yet been a hard freeze to kill off the seed ticks and chiggers that clung to grasses and brush in shady spots, laying in wait to transfer to some unlucky warm-blooded host.

So, Thomasina stepped carefully, bunching her long, faded skirt in one fist to keep it from touching the grass, remembering her first run-in years ago with chiggers, the scratching and misery. When she had told Daddy about the itching, he had rubbed the wide scar that parted his dark hair on the left side, frowned, and studied the small red bumps on her legs for a time. Then his sky-blue eyes, which she had inherited, brightened, and he’d grinned. “Them there are chigger bites, Tom.” And in his limited way, had told her about chiggers and seed ticks—she had already known about regular-sized ticks—and smeared her legs with calamine lotion.

Sometimes, Daddy knew things, and sometimes he didn’t, but all in all, she knew more than he did. At one time—and this was so long ago she barely remembered—he knew everything, but the accident at the sawmill had stolen the bigger part of that knowledge. And it had even stolen Mama, who’d slipped away in the dead of night after Daddy came home from the hospital, leaving four-year-old Thomasina with a daddy that had trouble even tying his shoelaces. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

Continue reading “Thomasina Tull”

You Are What You Read

Jane Hitchcock twitched the feather duster over the shelf of old books, stirring up years of dust that had settled upon their frayed tops. Wonder why they’re hidden away in here where no one can see them, she thought. A treasure they are, so old. And worth a lot of money, I’ll bet.

Her nose tickled. She sneezed, the sound as loud as a thunderclap inside the small closet. The flailing duster snagged one of the books, knocking it to the floor where it lay open, its fragile insides exposed. Jane bent over—no easy task for her two-hundred-pound-plus frame—and reached for the book. But then she noticed something. Strange. The lines upon the yellowed pages squiggled, wiggled, jiggled.

What in the world…

With a pained grunt, she dropped to her arthritic knees. She pushed back wisps of graying brown hair that had escaped its tight bun and peered at the dancing letters. Something was there, on the page beneath the words. She leaned forward for a closer look. Her belly shoved upward against her ribs, demanding room for itself, almost cutting off her supply of air and causing her to breathe in fast little pants. “What…is…that?” Her chubby fingers splayed over the brittle paper.

And she was falling. Arms waving, hands clawing futilely for something to hold on to, Jane Hitchcock pitched headfirst into a sepia-ink nothingness. She tumbled head over heels, a muffled scream spiraling out behind her. The long skirt of her full, flowery dress puffed out and wrapped about her shoulders and head. Cold caressed her dimpled thighs. Her scream turned into a wail of panic. I can’t see! Expecting any second to feel her body slam onto the bottom of whatever she’d fallen into and splat red like an overripe tomato, she tore at the twisted cloth, I must see! She yanked the dress tail, heard the growl of its rip, and didn’t care, and jerked it away from her face. And she was still falling. Sepia brown all around, sepia brown above, and below…

Continue reading “You Are What You Read”

The Vacation

“So, you want to go back to the beach this fall,” Michael said, his eyes on the bright brochures spread across the breakfast table between him and Elise. “Did you even give any thought to the mountains?”

“Well, a little,” Elise answered, her hands clenching into fists in her lap. “But you know what the cold does to my arthritis, and I thought…”

Michael’s icy, blue eyes lifted, bored into hers. “You thought what?”

Now it was Elise’s eyes that dropped. “I thought you’d want…er…me to be…” She swallowed the growing lump in her throat. “Comfortable. And I can’t…” Tears filmed her eyes. “I can’t be when all my joints ache.”

Michael stood, swept the brochures and his half-full cup of black coffee from the table. “You know what’s wrong with you, Elise?” he asked, a sneer twisting his lips. “All you think about is yourself.” He stalked to the door leading into the garage, yanked it open, and said over his shoulder, “Take an aspirin, you’ll be fine.”

When Elise heard the garage door closing, she rose unsteadily to her feet. “I can’t go on like this,” she muttered under her breath. “I just can’t.”

Pixie slunk into the kitchen, her grizzled head hanging low. Whining, the old spaniel looked up at Elise.

“I just can’t,” she repeated to the dog.

Elise squatted and began picking up the cup shards, her hands now steady and her fear gone. “I guess I’ll just have to kill the son-of-a bitch.”

Pixie yipped her agreement.

“Now, where did I put that book on poisons…”

©2021 KT Workman

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Faces R Us

“What do you think about this one?” the face tech asked Skyler and Hudson. “The skin tone is a perfect match, cafe au lait…mmm…and that adorable smile…” The tech echoed the smile gracing the small mask’s face—though his with teeth, of course. “Sets the dear little one off on the right path.”

“I don’t know…” Skyler fingered a green-tipped, black cork-screw curl, turned her dark eyes to her husband. “What do you think? Is it too girly?”

“Well, she is a girl, Sweetums,” Hudson answered. “And well…uh…” He felt the heat of an unbecoming blush—thankfully hidden beneath his pale mask—at the unintended faux pas. “Well…uh…for now, that is.”

Skyler’s perfect lips strained slightly downward as her eyes turned back to the tech. “Can you whip up something a bit more gender-neutral? We wouldn’t want the mask to influence how they might develop.”

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It took several days, but little Domino became accustomed to their face and stopped fussing when Skyler smoothed it back on after removing it to clean the bare skin beneath. Skyler hated the daily ordeal, revolted by the imperfections on her infant child’s face…slight, yes, but still ugly. More and more she had turned the task over to Hudson, who seemed unaffected by the baby’s unmasked face. She was so ready for Domino to be able to do the daily cleaning for themself, but the child was only seven months old, so that was a couple of years away. Why, Skyler could barely stand to see her own under-face, let alone anyone else’s. Continue reading “Faces R Us”

Flying

When we left the city, there had been seventy-three of us. Now we were nineteen.

And the armadogs were closing in.

The armadogs were silent stalkers. They didn’t howl or bark like their biological counterparts, and unless they were close, you couldn’t hear them. Their big, spongy footpads absorbed sound on both grass and dirt. They communicated with each other and their controllers via Service-Web, and humans had never had access to Service-Web. Why would we need or want to know all the mundane details that kept our workers working?

Darcy fell into step beside me. “Jimmy says they’re less than four hundred meters behind,” she said. “We need to find a place we can defend, Shelia.”

I glanced at her face, a pale smudge in the grey, early-morning light. The bandage around her head was seeping blood again. But no time now to stop and change it.

“How much firepower do we have left?” I asked, not breaking the fast trot we had been moving at most of the night.

“Two flame pistols still have a charge. And one scrambler, but it’s low. A few grenades. We have tons of bullets, but well, you know…”

Yes, I knew. Bullets rarely stopped an armadog. “Be on the lookout for a place to take cover. And tell Jimmy to let me know when they’re within two hundred meters.” Then we would have to make a stand regardless. Continue reading “Flying”

Cargo

Martin took the squirming bundle from Mrs. Kenny and balanced it on top of the others in his wagon. It was a good thing that this was the last house on his route since his wagon was full, overfull in fact. He would have to go easy to keep from losing any of his cargo.

“Thank you, dear,” the old woman said, ruffling his hair. “I have something else for you…hold on.” She hobbled back inside, emerging moments later holding out two cookies. “They’re chocolate chip, except there’re no chips. I ran out, and well, you know…”

Yes, Martin knew—when the town’s supply of something ran out, if they couldn’t make or grow it, there’d be no more. “I’m sure they’re fine, ma’am.”

“Take one home to your little brother,” she said.

“I will, ma’am. And thank you.” He slipped the cookies into his shirt pocket. “I’d best be getting on, not long till dark.”

“You do that, Martin. And be careful.” Continue reading “Cargo”

Pearls Before Swine / Part Three

Part three of three…

When I stepped into the house after returning the handsaw, a bolt of pain stabbed my lower belly. I crammed the hurt into that dark, crowded place deep inside that Mama couldn’t see, and tended to Sissy. I stripped the smelly clothes from her body, washed her as best I could, then pulled her favorite pink nightgown over her head, all the while talking slowly and softly. I knew she heard me. She stood when I told her to, held up her hands when I said so, but not one word passed her white lips.

Meanwhile, Mama fed thin slats of wood into the cookstove until the thing danced with heat. Sweat ran down her face and soaked the white collar of her dress, turning it pink.

“Put your sister to bed,” she said over her shoulder. “Then come get yourself cleaned up.”

I led Sissy into the little room off the kitchen, and tucked her into the bed we shared. “I’ll be back soon.” No answer from my sister. She rolled over and faced the wall, and I knew if I had looked, her eyes would still be open. “Everything’s gonna be all right. You’re just having a bad dream, and when you wake up in the morning, you won’t even remember it. Just a dream, that’s all.”

“Clara!” Mama yelled.

I wanted nothing more than to crawl into the bed next to Sissy and sleep for days. I was worn out, and my belly hurt real bad. Instead, I patted her shoulder and walked back out into the nightmare. Continue reading “Pearls Before Swine / Part Three”

Pearls Before Swine / Part Two

Part two of three…

“What’s going on here?” Mama said, running her hand over Sissy’s fat belly.

Sissy shrugged her shoulders. “I et too much, I reckon.”

“Don’t sass me, gal.” The back of Mama’s hand cracked across my sister’s face. The blow had a lot of power behind it, knocked Sissy on her butt.

“I’m sorry, Mama.” Sissy cupped her red cheek. “I won’t do it no more.” There hadn’t been any sass in Sissy’s words, but she knew better than to go against Mama. I did too. Since Daddy’d died, Mama had gotten mean and hateful.

“Now I’m gonna ask you one more time—who did this to you?”

Tears trickled down Sissy’s cheeks. She trembled. “I…I don’t know wh…what you mean.”

Mama planted her fists on her ample hips. She looked down at Sissy and shook her head. “Are you that ignorant…you really don’t know?”

Sissy said nothing, just sat on the floor with her head bent, wisps of corn-silk hair sticking to her wet face.

“Get up,” Mama ordered.

Sissy bolted to her feet, a mess of scared-shakes and sniffles.

“You’re pregnant, got a baby in your belly,” Mama said. “Now what I wanna know is what boy put his pecker inside you and got you that way.” Continue reading “Pearls Before Swine / Part Two”

Pearls Before Swine

Part one of three…

I woke in the dark to squeals and yells and thumps and bangs. From somewhere inside the house, Daddy rattled off a string of cuss words, then hollered: “Get the shotgun, Lizzy, something’s got in with the hogs!”

The awfulest commotion was going on outside. It sounded like every pig on the place was pitching a holy fit.

“What is it, Clara?” Sissy asked.

“I don’t know…” I turned back the covers.

She grabbed my arm. “Where’re you going?”

“To see what all the racket’s about.”

Sissy’s fingers dug deeper. “What if it’s the boogeyman?”

I pulled my arm away. “There ain’t no such thing, and you know it.”

My feet hit the floor, and I made a beeline for the slash of light knifing in underneath the closed door, Sissy’s night-breath a hot prickle on the back of my neck. My fingers curled around the doorknob, twisted and pushed.

Light blazed from the 100-watt bulb dangling on the end of the thick, black wire snaking down from the kitchen ceiling, briefly catching Mama and Daddy as they rushed out the back door. I chased after them, Sissy on my heels.

The lantern held high in one hand, the tail of her nightgown in the other, Mama ran neck and neck with Daddy across the back yard and through the gate.

Dewey appeared inside the bouncing circle of light. Mama let out a startled “Oh!” and Daddy a “Jesus Christ!” and we all skidded to a stop.

“Don’t you be going down there, Mr. Primrose,” Dewey said, his eyes all big and wild looking. His oily brown hair stuck out this way and that. Only one gallous of his overalls was fastened; the other flopped down over his scrawny belly. “It’s dangerous. There’s demons loose tonight.” Continue reading “Pearls Before Swine”