Quartz, Part 2: Flash Fiction Friday Post

All, this is a continuation of my Zeke Stanford western story. The first part, Gold Dreams was posted in 2015, part 2, Ambush, was posted in April 2016, and the last part, Unexpected Guests, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, posted in July 2016. Part 1 of Quartz is here. I plan on putting the whole thing together with some editing, and publish it as a book. It’ll be a short book, less than 40,000 words as I see it. But that’s okay. It’ll be like the old dime thrillers of yesteryear. I hope you enjoy it.

Quartz, part 2

“Thank you! I was just going to see if there was some buttermilk and go sit on the front porch.”

“So you should. You’re thin as a rail. Pia!” she shouted.

Pia came running into the parlor.

“Get Zeke some buttermilk.”

Pia grinned and disappeared back into the kitchen.

“Now go on out there and have a seat. I’ll get your mail while Pia gets your milk.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Zeke gave her a bow, same as the dude did.

Mrs. Estrada laughed and shoo’d him out the front door. “Go on with you, then.”

He went out and selecting one of the rocking chairs, sat down and looked out over Mrs. Estrada’s little farm. He couldn’t hear the creek from here but the tree line revealed where it was. Her milk cows were in the pasture, between the house and the woods, slowly munching their way across the grass-covered lot.

Again he thought about the kind of ranch he wanted. Bigger than Mrs. Estrada’s five acres but not so big that parts of it were out of reach in a day’s ride. Turkeys, like she had, maybe ducks and geese, too, if there was a pond or something on the land. Horses, like his dad, that didn’t need to be driven to Flagstaff or Phoenix to be loaded on the train. Though that wasn’t far. He’d heard that in Texas, they were driving their herds all the way to St. Louis. No. Horses seemed much more sensible. Some nice spot with water for a garden. For Mary.

That was another worry. Mary’s folks were pressing her to marry some lawyer. That brought to mind his mine and the sale of it if Mr. Markum could find a buyer. He wondered how honest these mining companies were. If he’d get a good price. He’d need one if he were going to send for Mary. Even so, would she come?

Pia interrupted his thoughts when she came out onto the porch and handed him his buttermilk. “Dinner almost ready, Mr. Zeke. We all eating in the kitchen. Just like the old days.” She beamed with happiness.

He raised his glass to her. “Thank you, Pia. Can’t wait.”

She hurried back into the house. He’d only had a sip of the milk when Mrs. Estrada came out. “Here’s your mail, Zeke.”

He took it. Two envelopes. “Thank you.”

She nodded and went back inside. He appreciated that she always left him to read his letters by himself.

He opened the one from his father first.

Son,

We received your letter. Sounds like you just escaped with your life. Your ma begs you to be careful. Outlaws. I’ve had my run ins with them myself so I understand what you had to do. Not an easy thing, killing a man, but you had to do it. Don’t bother yourself with it. Everything is in God’s hands. Your ma and I pray for you every day.

Love, Pa

That was a fast answer, Zeke thought after he’d read it through a second time. His letter home and the answer back in just under a month. He shook his head in wonder.

Then it was time for Mary’s letter. Like every time, he smoothed the envelope as best he could, then carefully opened it with his knife.

Zeke,

A gunfight in the street! How awful! I’m so glad you are unharmed. It was very nice for the sheriff and the assayer to come to your aid. I pray to God for them and you each night. The news about your mine is quite welcome. Father, especially, took interest, even though Mother still invites Thomas Drew to Sunday dinner.

After last Sunday, I told Mother and Father both, that I was not interested in Mr. Drew and that I was planning to marry you, as soon as your finances are arranged. I know that was quite bold and brash, but I had to let them know.

So, now I am telling you. I plan on coming to Payson on the next stage. I hope to meet your dear Mrs. Estrada, Pia and Cesar. And thank in person Mr. Markum and Sheriff Colton, for your life. I hope you understand, Dear Zeke. I cannot wait any longer.

Love, Mary.

Zeke was so surprised that he leapt out of the rocking chair. He re-read the letter standing up. Mary coming here! He looked at the date on the letter. Why, that was two weeks ago!

“Mrs. Estrada!” He ran into the house, letter flapping in the breeze of his speed. “Mrs. Estrada!”

Both Pia and Mrs. Estrada rushed from the kitchen.

“Zeke! What is it?” Mrs. Estrada, her voice louder than he’d ever heard it, shouted.

“Mary’s coming!”

Both of the women stopped short, staring at him. “What?”

“Mary’s coming here!”

 

Words: 802

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Quartz, Part 1: Flash Fiction Friday Post

All, this is a continuation of my Zeke Stanford western story. The first part, Gold Dreams was posted in 2015, part 2, Ambush, was posted in April 2016, and the last part, Unexpected Guests, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, posted in July 2016. I plan on putting the whole thing together with some editing, and publish it as a book. It’ll be a short book, less than 40,000 words as I see it. But that’s okay. It’ll be like the old dime thrillers of yesteryear. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Quartz

 

Zeke left Sheriff Colton’s office and after dropping the draft he’d been given off at the bank, went to Mrs. Estrada’s house. Cesar stood, wide-eyed at the string of horses Zeke had with him. Poor little Jenny at the tail end, covered in dust.

“Mr. Zeke! What’s this?”

Zeke gave Cesar a wave, brought the parade to a halt and got off of Butters. “Hey, Cesar. It’s a tale, I’ll give you that. I’ve got three horses for sale. Should I take them to the livery or does Mrs. Estrada want to sell them? I’d have to pay a commission to the livery. I thought I’d give Mrs. Estrada a chance first.”

Cesar nodded. “I ask her, Mr. Zeke.” He went around to the horses and untied the string from Zeke’s saddle. He patted first one, then the others. Running his hand along their flanks and backs as he looked them over. “They look good. Little skinny though.”

Zeke untied Jenny from the last horse. “Yeah. They were owned by outlaws. Probably not cared for as well as you would have.”

Cesar nodded. “I put them in the corral. You put Jenny and Butters in the back stall. Same as always.”

Zeke did that, putting their tack away then bringing them out to the currying pole. He’d already started on Butters when Cesar joined him and began to curry Jenny. Cesar’s wife, Pia, came out to the yard, a mug of something in her hand. “Mister Zeke! I didn’t know you was here!” She hurried over and gave him the mug. “Coffee. I get you some too, Cesar,” she said to her husband. “Why didn’t you say Mr. Zeke was here?” She hurried off to the house.

“Sorry, Cesar,” Zeke said, grinning. “I think this was yours.” He held up the mug.

“That’s fine, Mr. Zeke. You drink it. She bring me one soon.”

It was soon after that Pia came back, another mug in hand. “You have same room, Mr. Zeke. You’re back early.”

Zeke handed her the now empty mug. “A little earlier than I had planned, Pia. I had some trouble.”

Both husband and wife looked at each other, then Zeke. Concern filled their faces. “It’s a long story. I’ll come out tomorrow and tell you all about it. How’s that?”

Pia nodded. “That’s fine. Mrs. Estrada will want to hear too. You’re fine? No hurts?”

“No.” Zeke laughed. “No hurts. Not counting the scratches from cat’s claw.” He gave Butters a few last strokes, then patted her on the rump. “Good girl.”

Pia grinned. “That’s good. Dinner at six. I’ll start your bath water.” She hustled back to the house.

Cesar grinned at Zeke. “Now you’ll have to tell. She’ll have Mrs. Estrada all worked up.”

Zeke didn’t want that. But he didn’t want to share the story with a house full of boarders. “How many here right now?”

Cesar looked at him, confused.

“Sorry. How many boarders?”

Cesar shook his head. “Just one. A gambler.”

Zeke’s eyebrows rose. “Really? Mrs. Estrada is fine with that?”

Cesar shrugged. “He pays good. Mostly he’s at the Oxbow. Comes home in the morning and sleeps all day. Makes it hard on Pia. She has to clean his room after supper.”

“That’s a shame. But makes it easy. I’ll see if Mrs. Estrada wouldn’t mind having dinner in the kitchen, since it’s just us, and I can tell you all about it then.”

A grin stretched across Cesar’s face. “That would be good. Like the old days with Mr. Estrada.”

It was after five when Zeke came out of his room. Bathed and in his town clothes, he was headed to the kitchen to see if there was some cold buttermilk and to sit on the porch in the shade. He ran into the gambler, coming out of his room. Zeke nodded and started to pass him by.

“Hey there. Good to see someone else staying here.”

“Hey.” Zeke eyed the man’s clothing. A fancy black suit with a snowy white shirt, ruffles down the front and lace at the sleeve cuffs with a gold chain leading to the man’s vest watch pocket.

The man stuck out his hand. “Red Talbot.”

“Zeke Stanford.” Zeke shook his hand.

“Dinner’s not till six,” Red said.

“I know. I’m headed to the porch.”

The two men walked together along the hall and to the stairs. “Passing through?” Red asked.

Zeke hated these kinds of questions. What was it to this man? “I’ve got some business in town.”

Red laughed. “Me too. I’m headed for the Oxbow. You play cards Mr. Stanford?”

“Not really.”

“Probably a good thing. Too many cowboys with their pay in their pocket come to a sad end by the end of the night.” They reached the bottom of the stairs.

Mrs. Estrada was in the parlor, knitting by the window. “Zeke! Good to see you.” She got up and gave Zeke a hug. “Welcome back.”

Red eyed him. “Mrs. Estrada.”

Her looked told Zeke that she wasn’t all that impressed with her boarder. “Mr. Talbot. Off to the Oxbow?”

He gave her a bow. “I am indeed, good lady. I’m afraid I’ll have to miss your wonderful dinner again this evening.” Red turned to Zeke. “I take my supper at the Oxbow most nights. Not as good as here, but, alas,” he shrugged, “it gives me time to assess my competition.” He headed to the back door. “I’ll get my horse and bid you all, good-night.”

After he was gone, Mrs. Estrada snorted. “Good riddance.” Then she smiled. “I have mail for you.”

 

Words: 936

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Who’s Next: Part 4 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

 

There were riots outside of Congress. People were upset that the Senators and Congressmen and women, all still had insurance. “Why?” People asked. “Why do they get insurance and we don’t? They’re not special. If it’s good enough for them to cut off people with pre-existing conditions from their insurance, why not them?”

The police had to cordon off several blocks out from the congressional buildings and the White House after several men through molotov cocktails at the buildings. Central Washington DC looked like a combat zone there were so many soldiers patrolling.

In the meantime, I had been asking around about making our own insurance company. Several people I knew were willing to invest starter money and pay a monthly premium. I talked to retired insurance agents. They agreed it was a good idea and gave me tips on how to do payouts. A percentage of what each person paid in, was the gist of it. I felt like I was on a runaway horse. Panic filled my waking moments and nightmares filled my nights. The stress was getting to me.

My own premiums for my company were going to run me twice what my old medicine cost. But it would be a buffer for doctor office visit bills and a cushion for any hospitalization. I had to talk to investment bankers. I couldn’t just shove everyone’s premiums into a savings account. That was a whole other level of stress.

In the country as a whole, congresspeople and senators were trying to back up the pre-existing condition legislation. It was impossible. The insurance companies were failing after people stopped paying their bills. Some people had already been to court and the judgements had been for the consumers. The judges called it a breech of contract, even though the insurance company high-priced lawyers argued that there were clauses that said they could terminate policies at any time.

The number of lawsuits reached record highs. The court system was jammed. The President of the United States appeared on television calling for calm and reason. That’s when a protest group cut the power to the station doing the broadcast.

A year later, things had quieted down. My insurance company, Around the Block Insurance, was doing well. People were very careful about making a claim, knowing that they could run out of insurance resources. The FundMe company was making a fortune as people got on, making pages asking for donations. It seemed to be a thing—donating to people who needed medical care. After all, we were all in the same boat.

Congress was working on bills to implement single-payer medical in the United States, similar to what was working in Canada and Europe. All of the nay-sayers were gone—died themselves or finally understanding what the single-payer movement really meant.

I got ready for work. It was casual Friday at the office so I was in a sundress and sandals. My husband kissed me on the cheek on my way to the garage. “Have a good day, tycoon.”

I laughed. My salary was the same as every other person working in my company. That was another thing happening in the country but a whole different story.

“Thanks, hon.” I kissed him back. “Get the pork chops out for dinner, would you? It seems like it will be a nice night to grill.”

“Will do.” He shut the door behind me.

It wasn’t the only problem in the world, but I’d solved, in a small part, at least one.

The End

Words 586

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Who’s Next? Part 3: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Episode 1 here. Episode 2 here.

Who’s Next? Part 3

I wandered through the house the rest of the day, body on automatic as I did the things that needed to be done, while my brain whirled. Nothing came to me. My sleep was disturbed all night with dreams of giant monsters chasing me down streets, pills falling from the sky but evaporating just before a person could get them.

By dawn I got up, a headache pounding. I made some tea and read a book. The news was too depressing to turn on so early in the morning. By the time the hubby got up, I had his coffee ready to brew and eight chapters of my book read.

He gave me a kiss on the top of my head as he passed by to turn on the coffee maker. “You’re up early.”

“Yeah.” I closed the book and pushed it to the center of the table. “I had bad dreams. It seemed appropriate to just get up.”

“How you feel?”

I shrugged. “Calmer.” I looked in my tea mug, empty. I got up and clicked the hot water maker on. “I don’t have a plan yet. Maybe form a group. I don’t know.” I put a teabag in the mug. “I guess I just need to let it simmer in my head.”

He poured his coffee and sat at the table, hands around the mug. “You’ll think of something.”

He was right. I knew that. But I wanted to do something right now. We sat together while we drank our tea and coffee. It was nice that we could sit together, not talking, just being together.

The day moved on. I read more on-line articles. Looked at groups. But nothing popped at me as an action I could take. I sent more email to my representatives. They should understand how I felt.

It was a week before I found an answer. It was an accident, really. I had wandered onto an article that talked about the origins of the insurance industry. It turns out that insurance has been around for thousands of years but health insurance only since the late 1800’s. I toyed with the idea of going back to the original concept, of people paying premiums into a group pot, getting paid back when required. But the tangle of regulations, the need for portability across hospitals and doctors, and other technical barriers made me drop the idea. I thought about the possibility of the insured being paid directly and they would pay whoever was providing service, but the other problems seemed too much. I toyed with talking to an insurance agent but dropped the whole idea as ridiculous.

Even as the days passed, I kept coming back to the insurance idea. Couldn’t the maze of payouts be simplified. I went over my own contract with the insurance company. There was a provision for everything. So many things were denied outright, or only partially covered. It was all up to some mystery team of actuaries or high school drop-outs or someone. All of whom were being paid not to shell out any coverage. I sighed and put the document back in the drawer.

In the meantime, the news showed people protesting outside of the major insurance company headquarters and at the Congress. People were angry. Death rates were going up and the evening news was interviewing one family after another of dead parents and children, all who had been fine with their meds but were now dead when the insurance companies cut them off from expensive treatments.

People stopped paying the insurance companies. The stock market was going down. Hospitals were also losing money as people couldn’t afford to go to the hospital. The ripple effect through the entire economy was taking every business down as their employees died or stayed home, too sick to work.

“It’s happening so fast,” I told my husband as we watched the news.

He shook his head. “Had to happen. Such a large percentage of people have medical issues.”

That was true. And those that didn’t, were now struggling to take care of family members who did. Over the next few weeks people were shouting at each other on the protest lines and in Congress and the statehouses. Blows were exchanged. International travel dried up as travelers avoided the medical mess in the country, afraid they wouldn’t be able to get care if they were injured or fell ill.

What to do? No one could decide. And the country spiraled out of control.

Words: 751

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Who’s Next, Part 2: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Who’s Next: Part 2

I called my doctor.

“I’ve been hearing that for the last three weeks.”

“What do you mean? You know about this?” My mouth had gone dry. “Other people have had their insurance cancelled? Is that legal?”

“They have. And it is.” I could hear him sigh on the other end. “I can put you back on your previous prescription. That’s a generic and you’ll be able to afford it.”

My mind wouldn’t get off the fact it was perfectly legal to drop paid up people. “How did this happen?”

The doc sighed again. “One of those bills stuck as a rider on another bill. There was some press about it at the time but there was that tsunami in Miami and it was buried. It went into effect a few weeks ago but the media didn’t pick it up when the first few people were cut. Now it’s an avalanche. At least I can move you to something effective and affordable. I have other patients that aren’t as lucky.”

My stomach rolled. I swallowed hard. “Diabetes? Cancer patients? Everybody?”

“Yes. Unfortunately.” He sounded as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. I suppose it was. He was a good doctor.

“Why isn’t this being broadcast by the media? Aren’t people dying?” My hands were leaving damp splotches on the desk.

“People are dying, but not in great numbers. At least not yet.”

Bile rose in my throat. I gagged. “Oh my God.”

“Yeah. I’ll get the new script to your pharmacy. You should be able to pick it up this evening.”

“Uh, thank you, doctor. I appreciate it.” I hung up the phone. The whole thing was too much to wrap my brain around. I sat there for over and hour, doing my best to absorb it. Finally, I did a computer search.

First up was the major media reports. There were links to the actual bill and the congressional and Senate voting records. My jaw dropped when I saw that my own representatives had voted for this abomination of a law. What were they thinking?

I fired off emails to all of them demanding an explanation. Back on the search I saw there were already groups forming to fight this. I didn’t see any in my area but there were plenty of heart-breaking stories already documented. Worse, there where the stories of the children and the elderly. Tears rand down my face as I read them. I think I used half a box of tissue.

Hubby stuck his head in the door. He started to say something then hurried in. “What’s the matter?”

I waved at the screen. “You wouldn’t believe the stories already out about this insurance thing.” I sniffled and wiped my nose again. “It’s just horrible.”

He pulled his chair over and sat, holding my hand as I told him all about it.”

“That sucks.” He rubbed my back.

“Yes. It does.”

“Good thing your meds are affordable.”

I nodded. “We need to do something.”

He shrugged. “Like what? You’ve already written our reps.”

I used another tissue to wipe my eyes and blow my nose. “That’s not enough.” I could feel the aggravation of before turn to anger. “Not by a long shot.” I stood up.

“But…”

“I don’t know, hon. Something. I’ll think of something.”

 

Words: 554

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Who’s Next? Part 1: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Who’s Next? Part 1

I stepped up to the window. “Caren Baker.” I handed the pharmacy tech my ID. She typed the number into her terminal. She tried it again, checking the number as she typed.

I fidgeted. It always seemed to take forever to pick up my prescription.

The tech sighed. “I’m sorry Ms. Baker. This says your insurance has been cancelled.” She looked at me with sad eyes.

All I could do was blink. “But I’ve had that insurance for the last eight years. How can it be cancelled?”

She shook her head. “I’m very sorry. You could pay cash, until you get it straightened out.”

My brain whirled as I tried to absorb the shock of being told I had no insurance. What was going on? “Um. Okay. How much?”

“A hundred and twenty-seven, ninety-eight.” She stared at her keyboard.

“A hundred…?” My words trailed off. I had no idea the medicine was so expensive.

She nodded.

What else was I going to do? This was the newest med for control of my hormonal system on the market. My doc had been so pleased to offer it to me. “It’ll change your life,” he’d told me. And it had, I thought as I slid my credit card into the reader. I’d felt better than I had in years.

She put the pill bottle in the bag, stapled it shut with the instructions and the receipt and handed it over. “Good luck,” she said.

“Thank you.” I left the window and headed for my car. Over a hundred dollars for this stuff. When I got home I complained to my husband about what happened.

“Your insurance is cancelled?”

“That’s what she said.”

“You mean they didn’t approve the prescription.”

“No.” I flopped down in my recliner next to him. “She said my insurance was cancelled. Did you see a letter from them?”

His head slowly shook. “No. Anyway, I give all your mail to you. I wouldn’t toss anything addressed to you.”

“Yeah.” He didn’t, of course, even the stupid catalogs and junk mail. He always put it on my desk for me to decide what to do with it. I got up and went into our office and sat at my desk. I searched my inbox, well, permanent storage of files and projects I needed to work on. I sorted clear to the bottom of the basket, unearthing projects that had settled to the bottom in despair of ever being worked on. Nothing.

I drummed my fingers on the glass desktop. Wouldn’t they send a letter if they were cancelling my policy? They wouldn’t just drop me without a notice, would they? Would that even be legal? Then I searched my files for the insurance company phone number. None. Just the website. So I went to the website, finally found the help center button hidden at the very bottom of the page and of course, there was a contact form. No way to get even a live chat. I sighed and filled it out, asking for a call, then hit send. They’d get back to me within twenty-four business hours. Ugh. Three days? That’s what passed for customer service now?

The next day there was an email. A form letter, if you will, telling me they received my request and were processing it. More waiting. The next day there was an email telling me, after a lot of legalese and butt-covering, that my policy had been cancelled per paragraph, blah, section blah-blah. What? I dug out the policy and flipped through the pages until I found the section and paragraph. In size six font it said they could cancel the policy at any time upon their determination. Furious, I read through the entire section. Finally, at the end, there was a number to call. I pulled out my notepad and dialed the number.

I gave the robo-responder my name and my policy number, then was shuffled through three departments before landing with Gail.

“How may I help you today?” She sounded so chirpy. It was annoying.

“My pharmacy tells me my policy has been cancelled. I sent a contact form and I got back a form letter telling me, basically, that you can cancel my policy at any time. I’ve been paying premiums to you for years. What’s going on?”

“Ms. Baker, let me research your file. I’ll have to put you on hold for just a moment.”

“Fine.” I waited, drumming fingers. She was back in just a moment.

“Yes, Ms. Baker. I have it in your files. Your policy has been cancelled.”

“I didn’t get a letter telling me that. How can you drop a policy holder with no notice?”

“Well, she rattled off the section and paragraph numbers, say that your policy can be cancelled at any time.” She sounded so confident.

“Look. There has to be some reason. I’ve been with your company for years. Shouldn’t there at least be a letter with a notice?”

Again, in her chirpy voice. “I am sorry, Ms. Baker. Let me see if a note was made. I’ll have to put you on hold again for just a moment.

“Fine.” I’m afraid I was short. I paid my bill on time. I paid it in full, every month.

She came back on the line. “I see the note now, Ms. Baker. It says here that you have a pre-existing condition.”

“What?”

“Yes. You use our policy to pay for a hypo-thyroid medication. You’ve been on one medication or another, a new one now, I see, for several years.”

“You cancelled my policy for thyroid meds? More than half the people over forty in the country are on thyroid meds.”

“I wouldn’t know about that. But that’s what it says. Pre-existing condition.”

“But. That’s ridiculous.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Baker. Can I answer any other questions today?”

I couldn’t think of what to say. “Uh, no. Not now.”

I hung up. What was I going to do?

 

More next week.

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The Crib: Flash Fiction Friday Post

The Crib

I watch the stock market feed on the square’s monitor. Three stories tall, the monitor can be seen for twenty blocks. No one can afford private monitors anymore. This is where we get the news. That and the black-market feeds. I wonder, as the rain drips from my broken umbrella down my upturned coat collar, if the feed is right. Or if the black-market is right. Or if it is all a bunch of crap and we’re all being fed a bunch of lies.

More likely it’s all lies.

That’s what ma told me long ago. I believe her. She passed a year ago but she told it true. Always. She had a knack. She could spot a lie a mile away. I wish I had her gift. It would come in handy, it would.

I rubbed my calf. It was hot, and a lump, I was sure. I shook it off. No one could pause for something like a lump. I couldn’t stand around. I had a route and a package. It had to go where it needed to go.

That was another of Ma’s sayings. By way of meaning, do what had to be done. I said I’d do it and by dang, it had to be done. I could feel her hand clouting my head when I’d said one and did another. She didn’t hold truck with that. So now, if I said, I did. Despite the lump.

I run. The monitor news runs through my head. Aliens, they say. Something about aliens. I think that’s a bunch of crap. I think it’s just the posh making it all someone else’s fault. Yep. Why else all the hype. I dodge a youngling beggin’ in the street. More and more of those, and oldsters. But what the hell. They’re no competition to me.

The lump in my leg aches. I ignore it. I can’t make my credits if I’m not moving.

I bound around a rickshaw, then a scooter. They carry people. Ugh. I can’t imagine. What a pain, the people constantly bitching about every damn thing. Better to be a messenger. I just carry small packages, envelopes. Fast! Quick! Snappy! That’s me! That’s until my leg gives way.

I roll. Quick, so no one sees. Like I just tripped on something. The leg aches. The damn lump! But I move on. No one pays a slow messenger. Three blocks to go. A barrier across the street. Criminy’s sake! Another parade? What is wrong with the leaders? Don’t they know what they’re doing? I shove through. I don’t give a crap about who ever I knock down. I need to get this envelope to the address.

Three blocks I shove, elbow, knee. They need to get out of my way. I deliver the message, breathing like my lungs will explode. The secretary gives me a pitiful two credit tip. I push her flowers over and water spills all over her desk and onto her suit. Serves her right. I’ve just run twenty blocks through a parade! She should have more manners.

My comms beep. I have another client, three blocks away. I hurry to the site. Just like every other day.

Six months later I’m in my crib. Bed-wide and two feet longer than the mattress, I lay in pain. I’ve braced my leg up on the top of my crib. My upper neighbor doesn’t’ like it. He’s complained to the owner about the stench, but the owner doesn’t give a flip. What’s it to him? As long as I pay the rent, I can rot in here.

That’s what I’m doing. Rotting. I can’t run. I can’t even walk. On my better days I roll out of this damn cage and pull myself out to the sidewalk. Not an easy feat as I’m three cages high, but I do it. My saved tips won’t last forever.

I make the bandage look extra gross with beet juice but lately that’s not really required. It’s bad enough all on its own. I can just see the neighborhood monitor from the stoop. It’s election season. The monitor is full of the jack-asses claims to help. Damn! What a bunch of crap. Who are they helping? Not people like me. Not people with long-term illness. Not people who can’t pay for medicine. Not people who need a living wage. Damn. I’ve never voted. Never had the chance.

But really. Why would I? Those people aren’t about me. They’re about the rich. The ultra-rich. The people who can buy health. The people who don’t worry about lumps in their legs. The people who I used to run messages for.

I’ll be dead in another six months. The owner will sell off my pitiful belongings and another poor sap will take my crib. And no one cares. Not even me.

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Assault: Flash Fiction Friday Post

I’m no more immune to what’s going on in our country than anyone else.

Trigger warning

Assault

Aaron twisted his hands in his lap. His advocate sat beside him. Silent. Why didn’t the woman say something?

“And then, Magistrate, he rolled over in the sand and on top of me.” Neila shrugged her shoulders. “Totally consensual, Ma’am.”

Neila’s advocate then asked. “When it was over?”

“Well,” Neila gave the jury a smug look, her eyebrow raised. “It was time to go home. I mean, it was fun for both of us, but I had school in the morning.”

Aaron saw the jury nodding. Of course. His stomach rolled.

“Prosecution?”

Aaron’s lawyer stood. “Mistress Tyler. You say Master Wrangler approached you on the beach?”

Neila nodded. “Absolutely. I was taking a moment. University is so busy. I just wanted to watch the sun set and get some quiet time.”

Again, Aaron saw the jury nodding. Yeah. Neila was a bright young woman. Her family was in the courtroom, nodding too. Their darling daughter, being groomed to take over her mother’s conglomerate.

His family couldn’t be in court. They were workers, dad in the steel mill and mom at the garment factory. They couldn’t afford to take a day off from work. It looked bad, his advocate had told him. Like your parents didn’t believe you. What could Aaron do? His family had all they could do to put him through university, even with him working two part time jobs to help out.

“And Mr. Wrangler propositioned you. Out of the blue?”

Neila rolled her eyes at the jury. Aaron could see her body language telling the jury that she thought that not only was this a waste of time but that the advocate was a bit dim. The jury turned stink-eyes at the advocate. “I know.” She put on a demure face. “I was so surprised. I mean, I’d seen Aaron, um, I mean, Mr. Wrangler in a couple of my classes. We’d barely exchanged greetings.”

“So,” the advocate continued, “even though you were out on the beach for some alone time, you accepted Mr. Wrangler’s proposition? Right out in the open on the beach?”

Aaron watched her cheeks color, but it just made her look prettier. She clasped her hands together on her chest. “I know. But,” she shook her brunette curls, “it was the right time.” Then she looked at Aaron, an appraising glance that the jury followed.

Aaron began to blush. Well built, Aaron played for the University on the football team. His phisique showed, even in the cheap suit he had on.

“I was a bit lonely, and, well, there he was.”

“Haven’t you gotten the story reversed, Mistress Tyler? Didn’t you come upon Mr. Wrangler and proposition him? Several of your classmates have testified to that.”

She shook her head. “Not so. He approached me.”

“And isn’t it true that later that evening, in your dorm, you bragged about bagging another football player. Bagging, isn’t that what it’s called in your sorority?”

Neila blushed again. “I’ve heard the term but that’s, well, that’s just uncouth, isn’t it?” Again she made a show of looking at the jury. Every one of the members were nodding again. “And, not to be rude, but he’s, well,” she looked at her hands in her lap, “he’s not really in my league.”

That was the final blow, Aaron thought. She’s rich. Why would she be picking up poor young men on the beach?

His advocate had Neila on the stand for another hour. It was a lost cause. At the end, the judge said that it was a he said, she said and didn’t want to ruin a bright young woman’s future. Neila was found not guilty and released. Aaron sat. Stunned. Neila winked at him as she hugged her mother, no one else in the courtroom saw it.

After that, Aaron received so many calls for sex on his comms, he had to get a new number. After graduation, he lost several job opportunities because of the court records. No one wanted to hire someone who was a complainer. Thirty years later, successful despite the slow start to his career, he saw that Neila was running for office. He spilled his story again. That she’d approached him on the beach, stripping her already scanty swim wear off and placing herself behind him, slowly undulating until he’d tried to roll away. She jumped on top of him, sliding herself onto him before he knew it. Then finished, rolling away, laughing at his embarrassment. Down the beach he could hear laughter. She waved in that direction, then picked up her suit, carrying it in her hand as she sashayed away. “Eight” she shouted down the beach. “Try him out for yourselves!”

No one believed him. After all, he was a poor boy. Wasn’t he appreciative of the attention of such a well to do young woman?

Again, he received calls, death threats, offers of sex, threats against his family. Business dropped off and he had to let two employees go.

A month later they found him, on the beach where he’d been assaulted. Dead. A gunshot to the head.

Words: 850

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The Church: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Adirondack Fall by Randy Cockrell

It was a September, my first Sunday in my new house. I’d cleared enough boxes from the dining room table for me to sit at one end. The sun was just up, and I gazed out of the window, mug of tea in front of me. Maples that bordered the edge of the yard between my neighbor and me were still in shadow but the tree tops catty-corner across the street were in sunlight. The church behind those trees, I didn’t know the denomination, had its steeple bathed in light as well. The church had been built in the early 1900’s and wasn’t large but had that village church look that was postcard pretty.

The belfry was just a square mounted atop the church building. Slats covered the openings. At seven-thirty in the morning, I really didn’t expect to see anything or anyone over there. Too early, even on a Sunday. But just as I was looking away to pick up my tea, I saw something up at the belfry. When I looked back, it was gone. I rubbed my sleepy eyes and looked again. A squirrel jumped from one maple branch to another. The branches dipped and swayed with the squirrel’s weight.

I shook my head. Just a squirrel.

The next morning I was clearing the rest of the boxes from the dining room. It was ten and I was hot, sweaty and dirty and ready for a glass of iced tea. It was a relief to sit down in what I’d established as my spot at the dining room table. The leaves on the maples were starting to brown, I noticed as I sipped my tea. There were already many fallen leaves in the hosta border between my neighbors and me.

I was watching the sunlight dancing on the tree leaves when a movement at the church caught my eye. Again, something up at the belfry. It seemed too big to be a squirrel, but it was hard to tell with all the trees in the way.

The leaves changed, turned orange, red and yellow and fell from the trees. Every day I saw something over at the church. I’d have asked my neighbor, but she only came up from the city once a month for a weekend to check on her house. The neighbors bordering the church parking lot had fir trees on their lot border, so couldn’t really see the church itself. As I got to know the neighbors, I asked about the church.

“Haunted,” Karen Carmichael told me as we chatted in her front yard. She lived four doors down from me on the same side of the street. “The histories say that spot where the church was built was a burial ground. When the colonists pushed the Indians out, they just built over it.” She nodded sagely but I privately wondered.

“Wow. And this is common knowledge?” I wasn’t sure if she was just pulling my leg or not.

“No. It’s in the town histories. If you go to the town historian, it’s all there.”

“Thank you.” I gave her a wave and continued my walk. I’d have to check that out.

A few days later at the historian’s office, I read through the old records. Karen was right, there had been a burial ground there, but the colonists had dug up the graves and transferred the bones to the Indians before they built the church. I thanked the historian and left.

It was mid-November and the whole town was decorated for Thanksgiving. The church was having a harvest festival the week before the actual holiday and had invited everyone on the street to attend. It was a potluck and I came with a casserole.

At the door I was greeted by the pastor’s wife. “Welcome,” she beamed at me. “Thank you for coming. I’m Allison.”

“Hi. I’m Corrine. I live in the white house, two doors down.” I raised the casserole dish. “I brought a ham and scalloped potato dish.”

“Bless your heart,” she said enthusiastically. “Everyone brings pasta and it gets a little old.” She turned to a passing woman. “Elaine, would you show Corrine where to take her dish?”

The woman agreed and we proceeded to a table in the community hall that was packed with food. I mingled, meeting familiar neighbors and others I didn’t know. People lined up and got their food then sat at long rows of tables to eat. The meal was about complete, and I was telling the people around me about how I was seeing something over here nearly every day.

There was a lot of speculation. Ghosts, were, of course, the main topic but many of the men were convinced it was just squirrels running around the roof. The pastor stood up to give a little speech thanking everyone for coming when we heard some sort of noise coming from the ceiling. The pastor drifted to a stop as everyone’s eyes rose to the noise. There were two screams and everyone gasped. A few even stood up. That’s when the ceiling collapsed, and two huge raccoons fell onto the table in front of me. Men were shouting. Women and children were screaming as they jumped up and tried to escape. The raccoons ran in different directions creating even more havoc as more tables of people began to run, screaming, for the exits.

The next day, workers were at the church. I went over to see what was going on. The pastor was in a denim shirt, sleeves rolled up. “A whole nest of raccoons. Several generations worth,” he said as he wiped his forehead with a bandana. We had no idea.”

“I should have said something. I’ve been seeing something up around the belfry and roof since I moved in but never could get a good look.”

He nodded. “Well, thank you anyway.”

As I left, I got a card from the exterminators. I wanted my house and attic checked as soon as possible.

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Water: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Water

I checked the temperature on my phone as I wiped the sweat dripping down my temple. Eighty-six. Not really that hot. But the morning weather report said the humidity was supposed to be at nearly ninety today. It felt like it. I walked on.  I was thirsty. My map listed the next water source as twelve miles away. I had a liter and a half of water left. I took a swallow to moisten my mouth and thought about all of the advice about what to do when you were short of water.

As a hiker it wouldn’t be the first time I’d face a lack of water on this through-hike, but this was the first time since I’d started my trip. One school of thought was to drink sparingly until the next water source was reached. Wetting my mouth was in this vein. On the other hand, some people thought it was better to drink my fill, store the water in my body where it was needed anyway. Camel up, some called it.

I hitched my pack and adjusted the right strap. It was another two miles before I took another drink. Ten miles to go to the spring. Time to make a decision. I took a deep breath, then drank my fill. Cameling up it is, I thought. I just hope this isn’t a mistake. I trudged on, three-quarters of a liter of water left.

The next part of the trail was uphill. Olive Mountain it was called on the map. Halfway up, I was on the south side of the mountain, shadeless, and the trail was a rock scramble. My breathing was heavy and my mouth was dry but I resisted taking another drink. At the top, I told myself as I struggled over the rocks. The trail switchbacked up the mountainside. I never understood why a mile going uphill seemed longer than a mile on the level. I reached the top and took a moment to look around. This mountain was bald and the view was three hundred and sixty degrees of awesome. That was one of the best things about back-packing. It felt like the whole world was mine alone. A breeze helped cool me and I rewarded myself with another big drink. My water bladder was about a quarter full when I finished.

Eight more miles. The trail down the mountain went fast and the next part of the trail meandered through a swamp. The mosquitos were fierce and once past the swamp I stopped in the shade of a tree to dig some hydrocortisone cream out of my pack. The bug bites were already itching. While putting the lotion on, I wished for the breeze that was at the top of Olive Mountain. The sweat ran down my back. I flapped the back of my shirt, trying to dry off. That was a waste of time. There were five miles to go.

I eyed my water bladder. Drink the rest of the water now or wait another mile or two? I reached over and grabbed the bladder. Then drank it all. I was sweating so much, I really needed to drink. It would have been nice if the water was cold but beggars couldn’t be choosers. I packed everything up and pulled on my pack. Five miles would be about two hours. I started hiking. Two hours without water. In this heat. I was going to be thirsty.

As I hiked I started thinking about the water source at my destination. It had been a dry summer. Some of the trail’s water sources had dried up. I sincerely hoped that this one was still good or I was going to be in big trouble. I didn’t even want to think about having to hike without water. Just thinking about it made me thirsty. The trail wound out of the woods and into a wide-open grassland. The mid-afternoon sun beat down and I took off my hat, wiped my face and put the hat back on. Trudging on, the grassland lasted about a mile, then back into the woods. My shirt was soaked and I wanted water but it was gone. I cleared my mind. Forget about the water, I told myself. I hummed a tune, then took notice of all the flowers I passed and birds flying by. Another mile went by. Three to go.

It had been just an hour since my last drink, but I was thirsty. I dug a piece of hard candy out of my pack and popped that into my mouth. That helped. Anything I could do to trick my body into thinking it had water. The next mile went pretty fast. Then the next section was another climb. A deep breath and on I trudged. Up, up, up, a rocky trail that threatened my ankles.

I didn’t have enough spit in my mouth to swallow and my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth as I gasped for breath. I sure hoped the water source wasn’t dried up. The next water was six more miles away and I really didn’t want to have to hike six thirsty miles in the dark and try to find the water once I got there.

The sun was setting, and I was going slower. One more mile I told myself. Then you’ll get your drink. I went down the other side of the mountain, glad for the downhill. The sign post for the camp site was on my left, pointing out the trail. Four hundred feet. I straggled into the site. There were three other hikers already there. “Water?”

“Over there,” a young woman pointed.

I hurried over. A small spring trickled out of the side of the hill. Someone had dug out small pool lined with rocks. I dug out my cup and scooped water into my bladder and added the water treatment. Half an hour to wait for it to work and a nice cool drink.

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