Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mandy- Part 1

    The papers got it wrong.  They usually do. This wasn’t a hate crime…at least not in the traditional sense of the word. I didn’t care that he was a cross-dresser or that his sexual preference was “anything goes”. Those things don’t matter to me. What people do in the privacy of their own bedroom is their business, not mine. No, my motive had nothing to do with his slinky dresses and wigs; it was all about the person under the mask. Sometimes, no matter how much makeup a person spackles onto their face, they can’t hide the ugliness inside.
    To help you understand why, I guess it would help for you to understand me. For most of my life I’ve been an outsider. Growing up, we moved around a lot because of my dad’s work (or lack thereof).  Usually, it was the fellow outcasts, oddballs or geeks that sought me out; after all, there’s safety in numbers.  Everyone needs someone to watch their back. Even though I was small for my age; I could hold my own on the school yard. One thing was the same no matter where I attended school; bullies always singled out the new kids. It was almost as if they were staking their claim but I learned fast. Usually, all it took was landing one good punch- give them a bloody nose or a busted lip and they’d back off. My grandmother always used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” but, personally, I don’t think that applies to tormentors. None of the bullies I’d ever met responded to anything other than brute force. We moved in with Grandma when I was just starting tenth grade, right after dad died. That’s when I met Cory Randolph. 
    He lived right next door and neither of us were what you’d call ladies’ men. Where I was short and scrawny, he was tall and lanky.  Grandma called us “Mutt and Jeff”; though I never understood what that meant. Cory and his kid sister, Sherry, were kind to me and we hit it off right away. They let me walk with them to school and at lunch they introduced me to all their friends. From that day forward, we were inseparable. I’d never had any siblings so they became my family, especially when mom met someone new and moved out to live with him. Even after high school we stuck together. Cory convinced me to take courses with him at the community college.  He finished quicker than I did, lack of funds prevented me from taking a full course-load but each semester Cory continued to encourage me.
    I was still stocking shelves at the neighborhood grocery store (flexible hours and health insurance even for part-time employees) when Cory landed a real, grown-up job. Monday through Friday, nine to five, paid lunch and breaks, with his own little cubicle; I was both proud and envious. I couldn’t wait until I graduated too so I could join Cory in the real world. 
    With a little extra financial boost from both my grandmother and Cory, I managed to graduate the same year as Sherry. Cory’s company was in the midst of a growth spurt and they were looking to fill ten new positions so he put in a good word for us. Sherry and I both applied and were accepted. It seemed too good to be true, all three of us working together.
    The first few days on the job, Sherry and I were in training sessions so we only saw Cory at lunch. We were surprised to learn he sat alone. In a break room full of people, Cory was stuck in the back corner, all by himself. It was just like being back in high school, no wonder he wanted us to come work there. I’d only had time to take a few bites of my sandwich when a raspy, cruelly sarcastic voice carried over the dull hum of multiple of conversations.
            “Well, well, look at this. Cory kiss-ass has recruited some friends.”
Cory’s face blanched. I hadn’t seen that expression since we graduated. Furious, I turned around to confront the jerk but my words froze on my tongue. I don’t know exactly what I’d been expecting but that wasn’t it. I’m not sure if it was the riot of carrot-colored curls, the inch-thick layer of makeup, or the size twelve pumps that threw me off first. Pinned to a snug fifties-style sweater-set was a name tag reading Darren Mann. Those broad shoulders and Adam’s apple belonged to a man named Darren but the pouty, red lips and dramatically long eyelashes lined in smoky charcoal didn’t. 
            “What are you gawking at, loser?” Darren sneered at me.
I stammered, trying to insist I wasn’t staring but everyone knew I was. Out of instinct, Sherry looked down at the floor. She slumped down low in her chair, making herself seem so small and lost. 
            “And who is this little wallflower? Could it be? Does Cory kiss-ass have a girlfriend? Let’s have a look-see.”
 The only thing worse than Darren’s screechy-high falsetto was the eerie sing-song tone he used to taunt us. Meaty hands lifted Sherry’s chin for a better look as Darren’s talon-like metallic red nails curled around her face.
            “Oh-Em-Gee! This is just tragic. Girl, you need a complete overhaul. Do you even know what concealer is? And that hair, ugh, and your nails…if you’d fix yourself up a bit you could find someone better than him.”
            “Leave her alone,” I blurted out. “She’s his sister not his girlfriend.”
            “Honey, I’m guessing in his family that’s the same thing, am I right?”
Darren looked around the break room with sheer malice in his eyes. Nervous twitters of laughter broke out under his harsh glare. I opened my mouth to say something in their defense but Cory nudged me and shook his head no.  Seeing he wasn’t going to get a response, Darren hurled a few more insults at us and left. 
            “Whatever you do, just avoid all contact with Darren. I’ll explain tonight on the way home.” Cory whispered.
I was so angry I could barely pay attention to our training seminar. At the end of the day, we all piled into Cory’s car. Sherry and I were anxious to get an explanation.
            “So, what gives?” I demanded.
            “Well, I didn’t know it at the time but apparently Darren and I were up for the same promotion. When I got it instead of him, he threw a fit. Our company prides itself on celebrating diversity and being a safe, accepting place to work. People don’t have to hide who they are inside because all are welcome here.”
            “Really?” I scoffed. “What’s safe and welcoming about being bullied by a two hundred pound gorilla in makeup?”
            “Just hang on, I’m getting there. Anyway, when Darren started carrying on about being discriminated against for his….um, fashion sense; management got scared. They had just been featured in nationwide magazines as being one of the best places to work in the country. A scandal like that would really hurt them. As it turned out, they ended up promoting him too, just to keep the peace.  Our HR director asked me to make the first step and try patch things up with Darren.” Cory sighed and shook his head. “It was a complete accident but he made me so nervous that instead of calling him Ms. Mann I said Miss Mandy. Everyone started saying he should change his name ‘cause he’s more a Mandy than a Mann and now he hates me. I’ve apologized a million times but he won’t listen. HR won’t do anything because he’s still playing the discrimination card so I just have to suck it up. Eventually, he’ll find someone new to bully and he’ll forget all about me.”
            “You sound like Mom,” groaned Sherry. “She always used to say that crap when we were in school.”
            “She was usually right.”
That night, as I stared up at the ceiling while trying to fall asleep; I imagined avenging my friends.  

**Be sure to return, Monday, June 2nd for the next installment of Mandy**

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New Title

    I have great news to share! I have been invited to be a contributing author for the Zombie Response Team's blog. The ZRT's main focus is teaching survival in any situation.  "If you could survive the zombie apocalypse, you can survive anything!"
    Never fear, this will not prevent me from posting stories. I have a new one in the works that will start tomorrow. I just wanted to share my ZRT post with you and encourage you to check them out.

Until tomorrow....sleep well, my friends.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ocean- Part 40

    Within two weeks of Kline’s dismissal, Barker was gone too. The few remaining members of the Town Council/Chamber of Commerce had quietly sold their homes to Harold Martin. Eventually, the only people left in the entire town included “acting mayor” William Sterling III, Harold Martin, Chief Grady and Sharon Grady. Though he had tried to send Sharon to stay with her mother, she refused to bail on her husband. 
            “Besides,” she insisted. “Someone has to pack up our stuff. We need to be out of here long before the first snow. I’m not driving nearly an hour just to get groceries when the weather gets bad!”
    The Grady residence had been part of his contract when he was named the Chief of Police. Technically, the home belonged to the Council so he didn’t need to worry about trying to sell it himself. His days consisted of wrapping up the remaining paperwork and organizing files in the event people ever returned to the beach-side community.
    Harold Martin was fully engrossed in the Herculean task of tearing down many of the old, sprawling, homes to make way for cheaper townhouses and apartment complexes. It gave him great delight to turn Dale Farmington’s exclusive beach-front community for the wealthy into an every man’s, blue-collar town. He paid no attention when the fleeing townspeople warned him that no one would return; no matter how cheap the sales prices on his renovated homes.  Harold spent hundreds of thousands, not just on the homes but setting up a community boardwalk.  Yet, no matter how much money he sank into advertising, no one, not a single soul inquired about the homes.  Nursing a wounded ego and finding no one else around to offer solace, Harold Martin wandered into the police station. 
            “Chief Grady? Hi, I’m Harold Martin.” He declared, extending his hand to the harried lawman.  “Listen, I’m trying to drum up some sales. You know, bring new blood to our community and-”.
            “New blood, huh? You’ll probably want to rethink that statement going forward, Mister Martin.” Grady scoffed. “It sure as hell won’t help you sell real estate here on ‘Suicide Beach’. In fact, unless you can find someone to hunt down and kill whatever is out there; you’ll never unload these properties.”
            “What do you mean…out there? Out where?”
            “You don’t watch the news much do you? Not to pry or anything but don’t you believe in researching before you delve into a huge land purchase?”
    Harold Martin’s face paled and his stomach sank. He’d attended the town meeting where his old nemesis, Dale Farmington, tried to throw Chief Grady under the bus but he’d always assumed that the killings on the beach had been a shark attack. Harold was sure that the grainy video had been some kind of scam. It was becoming obvious now that instead of swindling all those rich people out of their homes; he had been the one who was swindled. The painful reality that he owned acres of worthless beachfront property hit Harold like a ton of bricks. He sank every last penny he owned into refurbishing, renovating, and building the town of his dreams only to learn it was a tragic nightmare. 
            “Look, Chief; you have to do something, here. I-I-I mean, it’s your job, right?”
            “No, I don’t have to do anything, anymore. Back when there was a chance at getting something done, no one listened to me. Instead of getting me more help, they cut my staff. One man could not possibly fix all these problems and now it’s too late. Even if there was any funding to hire some deputies no one in their right mind would take the job because no one wants to live here. Face it; this entire community is dead!” Grady growled.
            “Well, that’s a crap attitude for the Chief of Police.” Harold whimpered. “Perhaps you’re not the right person for this job. Maybe I’ll just have a little chat with Bill Sterling and see about releasing you from your position since you think so little of our community.”
            “Too late,” Grady laughed, taking a swig of whiskey from the bottle on his desk. “Mister William Sterling the third just left.” He chuckled while imitating Barker’s exaggerated emphasis on ‘the third’.  “There is nothing left in the municipal account so I have been relieved of my duties on the basis that my paycheck is going to bounce. Therefore, I am packing up my personal belongings, and anything that can be sold to replace my non-existent paycheck, and then I’m getting out of this God-forsaken death trap. So…good day to you, sir.”
Harold stood there gaping as Grady hauled boxes out the door and loaded them into his car.  Without a word, ex-chief of police Thomas Grady tossed the station keys to Harold Martin and waved goodbye. 
    Grady spread an old police department windbreaker over the sand and sat down. He watched the sun shimmering off the waves as they rolled in one by one. Between the sea gulls and the crabs, any lingering human remains had long since disappeared.  Even the rank stench had blown away and left behind clean, crisp, salty air with a chill of late autumn settling in the breeze.  With his winter coat zipped tight and the collar flipped up against the chilly air, Grady sipped his whiskey in silence.  Overhead, fluffy white clouds warmed to a pink tinge and a lone gull cried out.  The pristine beach had once been a source of joy and tranquility but now it only held sadness. Grady blinked to fight back the tears threatening to spill over. 
            “Hey! You almost ready?”
Thomas Grady turned to acknowledge the voice. His son, Tommy; no longer the little boy who begged to stay in the water “just a little longer” despite chattering teeth and pruney fingers, strode toward him. Nostalgia again prickled Thomas Sr.’s eyes with moisture and left his throat parched and tight. 
            “Mom said you might be down here. The car is all packed up and ready. We’re just waiting for you.” Tommy extended a hand to help his “old man” up and smiled.  “I’m gonna miss this place too, Dad. C’mon, Mom’s probably getting antsy.”
Tommy draped an arm across his dad’s shoulder and gave a little squeeze. For the last time, Thomas Grady looked out at the water and sighed. He reached into his pocket, fished out his badge and tossed it down onto the sand.
            “Let’s get out of here.”
The Grady men had departed from the beach long before sunset. As if bidding them farewell, an explosion of vivid colors burst across the immense expanse of sky, even more breathtaking than normal. When the last hints of pinks, purples, reds, and oranges melted together into a deep pool of inky darkness, kissed by sparkling diamonds and a full, round moon; the ocean stirred once again. From the depths, the tide churned and waves swelled higher, crashing violently onto the sand. Black, soulless eyes scanned the beach, settling on a lone object glinting in the moonlight.  A shapeless, almost snake-like form, dark and clammy, inched across the hard-packed sand. It slithered through the powder, settling on a metallic gold badge with engraved wording “Chief of Police T. Grady emblazoned across its center. It coiled around the trinket and pulled it back into the murky water of the OCEAN.  The End. 

*Ocean may be over but a new nightmare begins next week. Be sure to join me*

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ocean- Part 39

After Kline departed, Chief Grady and Deputy Barker left to patrol around the entrances to the beach. They were pleasantly surprised to find the entire beach nearly empty. Between the two of them, they had only discovered three people- one of which was Sue Taylor.  Grady was forced to cuff her when she tried to claw and scratch her way out of his grasp.  The smell of liquor and vomit clung to her like a toxic cloud.
            “Just let me go,” Sue slurred. “You said I was a monster so why should you care if I off myself?”
Refusing to get into an argument, Grady said nothing as he fastened the cuffs around her thin wrists. He started to pull her along but stopped, realizing her bag had fallen onto the sand. When he reached out to grab it, Sue shrieked.
            “No! Leave it!”
Curious, he lifted the bag. It was heavier than he had expected.
            “Please tell me there isn’t a camera in there,” Grady scoffed as he opened the bag. “Seriously? Did you think it was worth risking your life to get your job back, Sue? You need help!”
She unleashed a torrent of profanities; cursing the chief, his staff, and his entire family. Grady couldn’t help laughing. Wow, and I thought she was nasty before. Who knew there was a worse side to her? His inner voice made him laugh even harder which only made Sue angrier. Still, he felt a certain satisfaction in having the infamous Sue Taylor committed to the psych ward. After dropping her off in Dr. Garrett’s custody, Grady and Barker decided to call it a night.
            “Hey, Barker, if you don’t have any other plans, would you want to stop over at my place and have a drink?” Grady asked.
            “Other plans? Nope, I don’t have any other plans. I think we’re the only ones still here…well, us and William Sterling, the third.” He joked. “He’s finally mayor; he’ll never leave!”
            “Why do you do that, put so much emphasis on the third?” Grady questioned, imitating Barker’s tone.
            “I’ll tell you over drinks,” he answered, laughing. “Are you sure your wife won’t mind?”  
Chief Grady woke to the shrill beep, beep, beep, of his alarm. Groaning, he rolled over and slapped the off button before straining to haul his body to an upright position. The room spun at an alarming rate and he was forced to close his eyes until it passed.
            “Oh, God! How much did I drink last night,” he slurred to no one in particular.
Finally able to open his eyes, he noticed Sharon was not in the bed next to him. The rich scent of coffee permeated the air and Grady realized how blessed he was to have a wife like her.  After a quick trip to the bathroom and a thorough scrubbing of his teeth, he went off in search of coffee. 
            “Good thing I didn’t watch The Walking Dead last night. I would have mistaken you for a walker and bashed in your skull,” Sharon laughed.  “Here, you look like you could use this.”
She pressed a huge mug of black coffee into her husband’s hand and laughed some more.  Already slumped over the kitchen table, Deputy Barker was working on his second mug.  Grady had to blink twice to be sure he wasn’t seeing things. 
            “Hey,” Barker muttered. “Hope you don’t mind, your wife took my keys. Said I was too drunk to drive and she put me up in your son’s room. Kinda digging these flannel pajamas of his, though.”
            “I’m glad she had the sense to take your keys,” Grady yawned. “Honestly, I don’t even remember going to my room.” He took a large gulp from his steaming cup before continuing. “Even if we are the only ones here, it wouldn’t do to have a deputy of the law cruising through town drunk as a skunk.”
            “So, how long do you think it will be before we both get canned too?”
            “Honestly, I couldn’t say. It probably wouldn’t hurt for you to start sending out your resume. You’ll get a good reference from me, that’s for sure. Listen; if you get a good offer…take it. If you can give a notice, fine. If not, I consider this conversation your notice.  I’ll tell anyone that asks that you gave more than two weeks- even if you don’t.”
            “You’re a stand-up guy, Chief. Now, any chance I can call in sick today?” Barker laughed. “Ha! Just kidding! But I might be a little late. Gotta go home and shower first.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ocean- Part 38

    Grady could hear the rustling of paper and the ripping sound of a mail opener slicing through an envelope. He sat on the edge of his chair, the anticipation was torture. Hooper’s letter simply stated that they had been unsuccessful in determining the origins of the residue coating the bodies and that they had unanimously decided the cause of death for all victims was not a shark attack. He continued on to explain that he had consulted several experts in the field and none of them had encountered any type of ocean dwelling creature that could mutilate multiple humans at one shot like the phenomenon at their beach. The rest of the letter was on a personal note: thanking Grady for his hospitality and apologizing for not being more helpful in the case.  In closing, he explained about his grant and his expedition before wishing Chief Grady all the best. 
            “Did that help you any?” The receptionist asked.
Through gritted teeth, Grady thanked her and hung up before he lost his temper. Did that sound like it was helpful, you dingbat, he wanted to scream. His wife, Barker and Kline looked on expectantly, hoping for a miracle.
            “Just taking a shot in the dark here but I’m thinking our game is back on.” Barker quipped, nudging Kline with his elbow.  “Ready?”
            “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot!” The two deputies shouted out.
Unable to bear it any longer, Grady stood and walked outside. Sharon followed her husband as the boys continued to play. 
            “I’m so sorry, babe. I know you were hoping for a miracle but I think you owe it to them to-”.
            “I know I owe them, Sharon! I owe them the job they were hired for and I owe the whole damn town a safe place to live. I owe you and Tommy and…and I’ve failed all of you.” Grady interrupted.
He raked his fingers through his hair that seemed thinner and grayer with each passing day.  It wasn’t until he looked up again that he saw the tears welling in his wife’s eyes. He muttered an oath under his breath, internally kicking himself for lashing out at her.
            “I’m so sorry, Sharon. Sweetheart, please, don’t cry. I’m a jerk. You’ve been knocking yourself out to help and I had no right to take all this out on you. Come here,” he murmured while pulling her into an embrace. He lifted her chin and looked deep into her eyes. “If you want, you can string me up and feed me to Cthulhu or Leviathan or whoever.”
            “No way! You’re not getting off that easy.” Sharon laughed and squeezed her husband tight.  “And for your information, you haven’t let me, Tommy, or anyone else down so cut that out right now. No one blames you. Now, c’mon, let’s go back in there and make sure the boys don’t decide to battle it out in a rousing game of tic-tac-toe.”
Laughing, they nodded and together they walked back inside, arm-in-arm.
            “She’s right, Chief; no one blames you. We can’t…you’re an Independent. According to the Republicans, it’s the Democrats’ fault and the Democrats have laid full blame on the Republicans. See, there’s no room to blame you.” Kline insisted when Chief and Sharon Grady returned. 
Barker sharply elbowed his fellow deputy and shook his head. 
            “What was that for? It’s not my fault the window was open and we could hear them.”
            “You could have kept your mouth shut though,” Barker hissed through clenched teeth. “Geez, sometimes you are thicker than Poole.”
            “Oh, way to go,” Kline sneered. “Pick on the nutcase.”
            “Okay, that’s enough out of both of you,” Sharon Grady commanded. “Don’t make me call your mothers.”
Her outrageous threat offered just the right amount of levity to ease the growing tension in the room. Their laughter started off as a chuckle and escalated into a full-fledged guffaw.  They laughed so hard and for so long they’d forgotten what they were laughing about in the first place.  It wasn’t until the sun’s brilliance started to fade that they began to wind down.
            “Well, Chief,” Barker muttered.  “I lost…so…”
            “Oh man! Steve, I’m so sorry,” Grady replied gravely.
            “Me too! Loser had to stay so you’re stuck with me.” Barker laughed.  “This lucky SOB gets to collect unemployment while he lounges at some posh ski resort with his girlfriend and her insanely hot co-workers. Some guys have all the luck.”
            “Well, when you put it that way, I guess I should say congratulations, Ed, instead of I’m sorry.” Grady quipped.
He shook Edward Kline’s hand for the last time and wished him well.  Though the chief was filled with sadness, he was glad Kline was leaving still intact. That was more than he could say for poor Poole.