Change of Season

The first morning rays were breaking the horizon, illuminating the scattered clouds as if the world was on fire. Lynn shielded her eyes and checked the clock on the dash for the third time in the last five minutes; Jordan was almost half an hour late now. Wishing she had hit the snooze button a few more times Lynn leaned back in her seat, nobody deserves to be woken at five o’clock on a chilly autumn morning only to be stood up.

There wasn’t much for scenery at the timeworn roadside truck stop. It was on a flat stretch of land just outside of the city. Most likely built in the fifties, the plain cinderblock building with flaking white paint held a family restaurant and a small convenience store tucked off to one side. Four tired fuel pumps sat out front of the shared entrance. In a world of marketing and brand recognition it was truly just a place to stop because you needed fuel or a quick bite to eat. Not having much else to do Lynn passed the time by speculating about the lives of the other highway travelers as they came and went.

Currently sitting at a window seat in the restaurant was an older gentleman hunched over his breakfast special. His leathery face hidden by an unkempt silver beard, tired eyes keeping watch over his Peterbilt sitting out by the exit. What if he was a poet, creating works that would rival the masters, but too insecure to share with the world? On his way back to an immaculate BMW was a well-dressed business type, a double-double in one hand and a smile on his face. What if he had just told his boss to shove it and left his nagging socialite wife the keys to their downtown apartment so he could run off and start over with his high school sweetheart? It made Lynn ponder briefly what someone would think of her, a young woman sitting impatiently behind the wheel of her little Mazda, a stone’s throw from the middle of nowhere.

Lynn had recently accepted a job at Hemmett Supply Co. as support for the out of town sales group. It was grunt work but for the most part she enjoyed it, and with one exception everything was going well. Lynn’s first solo project was a proposal for a newly acquired customer. Due to incorrect information submitted by one of their vendors Hemmett lost the bid. Lynn’s boss, John, was upset but understanding. Jordan on the other hand, who had championed the account, was furious. He screamed at her over the phone for almost five minutes straight. Lynn felt terrible about the situation but there was no way to fix it. After a couple of weeks things seemed to get back to normal though, to the point recently where Jordan had insisted on Lynn coming out for a ride along. John thought it was a good way to “mend some fences”. How could she disagree?

Any hope of escaping the day’s adventure vanished as Jordan’s Acura barreled into the parking lot at a reckless velocity. Lynn exited her car and locked the doors as he pulled up beside.

“Hey buddy!” Jordan called from his open window.

“Hi Jordan.”

“You ready to go? Big day ahead of us, I’m really excited to have you out here!”

“Happy to be here.” Lynn said with a forced smile. Excited was definitely not the word she would have used.

Lynn opened the passenger door of the RDX, dropped her laptop bag in the foot well and her water bottle into the door pocket. The cold leather seat creaked as she sat down and buckled up. Even with the window down the aroma of last night’s intoxication still lingered. The oversized sunglasses Jordan wore concealed them but Lynn could imagine heavy lids with blood shot eyes beneath. Immediately Jordan accelerated out of the parking lot and on to the highway.

“Big day! Thanks again for coming out, been waiting a long time for this. Here, I got you a coffee.”

Jordan grabbed a to-go cup from the center console and forced it into Lynn’s hand. Not wanting to be rude she took a swig. The coffee was bitter and had a strange aftertaste but Lynn did her best to hide any misgivings.

“Do you like it? It’s my special blend.” Jordan said.

“Nice.” Lynn said, not wanting to cause any undue tension.

Even on a good day Jordan made her feel uneasy. While she hoped it was just the hangover there was something different about him today, something that didn’t bode well.

As they drove on Jordan explained who they would be seeing and what issues might be brought up. They briefly discussed office politics but it was mostly Jordan complaining about how terrible everyone was. After a short time they ran out of things to say so instead sat quietly as the landscape rolled past.

The sun was creeping higher in the sky, flashing in and out of view between the trees that lined the road; Aspen’s with their changing leaves signaling the new season, slender Pine trees pointing tall towards the heavens. Lynn was watching the tree line, hoping to see some of the local wildlife, when Jordan broke the silence.

“So what made you come out here anyway? You’re from the coast right?”

“Most recently, but that’s not really where I’m from. I like to move around, experience different cities and their culture.”

“You’re not running from anything are you?”

“No. Just trying to find myself I guess…”

Lynn paused, suddenly feeling light headed. She shook her head gently and blinked a few times, trying to drive the sensation away.

“Just in time.” Jordan said with a satisfied grin.

Lynn’s vision began to blur. She tried to move or speak but her body refused to respond. Without warning the car quickly slowed and made a sharp right hand turn. As everything went black the only sound to be heard was of car tires on a gravel road.

Lynn forced her eyes open, trying to focus. The room was cold and dimly lit. She was laying on a tarp which covered an unforgiving wood floor. Her coat and boots had been removed, her hands tied behind her back and legs bound at the ankles. The rope was coarse and tightly wrapped, the pressure was uncomfortable. Immediately in front of her was a worn leather recliner and next to it an old lamp with a large Bear figure at the base situated on top of a simple looking end table. There was a window above the recliner but it was obscured by plastic and faded curtains which gave only an impression of the trees beyond swaying in the breeze.

Lynn began to shiver, her breath ragged. Trying to get herself under control she became aware of someone, or something, rustling around just out of sight. Suddenly Jordan ambled in front of her with a brief look back, checking for signs of life. Lynn’s first instinct was to shut her eyes, to buy some time, but instead she quietly held Jordan’s gaze.

“Oh good, you’re awake. Can I get you anything? Another coffee maybe?” Jordan laughed low and continued on his way.  “That was rhetorical by the way.”

“You’re making a mistake.” Lynn said.

“Shut your mouth. I know what I’m doing.”

Fumbling to attach a sheathed hunting knife to his belt, Jordan came back to Lynn and knelt down inches from her face.

“Let me explain something to you. Things are hard out here. My customers are struggling to stay in business which means more pressure on me. I bust my ass twelve to fourteen hours a day just to keep up. And then to top it all off, I get people like you coming in and making the whole situation that much worse!”

Lynn turned from his harsh gaze, “I’m sorry. It was a stupid mistake.”

“Shut up!” Jordan roared, standing once again. “You’re useless! A waste of space! It’ll be the last time you cause trouble for me though.”

As Jordan moved back across the room Lynn swiveled her head to follow his path, he stopped in front of a large metal cabinet and threw the doors open. Straining to see the contents of the cabinet it became clear to Lynn how serious of a situation she was in. Assortments of rope, chemical containers, and tools were stacked inside. The tools were ugly, implements of torture no doubt built with purpose by Jordan himself.

Lynn started sobbing quietly, she pleaded with Jordan. “Please untie me. I promise I won’t fight. Please…”

Jordan paused for a moment, then turned to Lynn with an unpleasant smile and said “Maybe… Yeah, maybe I will untie you. That could be even more fun.”

Jordan unsheathed the hunting knife and knelt down to cut the ropes from Lynn’s wrists and ankles. Lynn flinched and a whimper escaped her lips.

“Oh I’m sorry, did I get you a little there?”

Jordan returned the knife to it’s sheath and moved back to the cabinet. He began whistling an unusually chipper tune as he gathered items in preparation for what was to come.

Suddenly there was a dull thud followed quickly by throbbing pain and vision awash with stars. Jordan fell to his knees, right hand covering his cracked skull, blood seeping between his fingers. With his left he fumbled for purchase on one of the cabinet shelves to stop from collapsing completely but only succeeded in scattering most of the shelves contents aimlessly on the floor.

Lynn dropped the heavy cast Bear lamp, now bloodied, bits of scalp and hair sticking to it like a grotesque fungus. With Jordan crumpled on the floor, barely conscious, she bent down to grab the hunting knife from his belt.

Lynn stood back and scanned the room. It appeared to be a small log cabin; rustic might have been the word if the situation was different. To the right of the recliner and now empty end table was a small room, door slightly ajar, an old army surplus cot and some discarded clothing on the floor. Beside the room was a makeshift kitchen. On the crudely built countertop sat an old camp stove along with a few well used cast iron pans and cooking utensils. Empty whisky bottles were piled up in the corner. A large water container mounted to the wall had a hose hanging down into an enamel basin. Just off of the kitchen sat a compact table and single wooden chair with Lynn’s coat draped over the back. As she moved toward it she was abruptly pitched forward by Jordan as he fell into her, arms around her waist.

“Bitch…” Jordan said.

Lynn screamed. Struggling to remain upright she swiveled quickly and plunged the hunting knife into his upper back. Jordan cried out in agony and dropped to his knees. Lynn immediately followed up with a powerful kick to the groin, as Jordan folded to the floor he exhaled sharply and then was still. Grabbing the lengths of discarded rope Lynn quickly bound his hands and legs to ensure there would be no more surprises.

Exhausted, Lynn staggered to the kitchen chair and sat, watching Jordan while she caught her breath. After a moment she leaned forward and pulled her coat onto her lap. Digging in the front right pocket she quickly retrieved her cell phone. A single bar on the service indicator danced in and out of view so she took a chance and dialed, after a short pause it began to ring.

“John speaking.”

“Hi John, it’s Lynn. Listen, I’ve been trying for almost two hours now to get ahold of Jordan and I haven’t been able to get through, cell reception is brutal out here so I’d like to make my way back if that’s all right with you, maybe work from home for the rest of the day.”

“Jesus. Lynn I’m really sorry, I’ll touch base with him and find out what the hell is going on. I know he’s had a lot of pressure on him lately but that’s no excuse to leave you stranded. I appreciate you making the effort, head home and we can talk in the morning.”

“Thanks John, I appreciate it.”

With that the phone fell silent. Lynn walked back beside Jordan and knelt down in much the same way he had only moments before.

“Well Jordan, I’m sure this didn’t turn out quite the way you expected, did it? You made the whole process too personal and that made you reckless. I don’t know where your anger comes from, but it was your downfall.”

Lynn put the exposed tip of the hunting knife to Jordan’s side, he recoiled slightly but gave no response save for a low groan.

“On the other hand I am anything but reckless. I learned from the best and was a very keen student. They’re never going to find your body Jordan, soon enough your feeble existence will all but be forgotten.”

Lynn stood and surveyed the cabin once more, taking inventory of anything that would prove useful for the task ahead.

“Well, guess I’d better get to work.”

99 Words #25 – Take My Hand

The sound of an organ pushes through the silence. Elvis starts singing. Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on, let me stand.

I hear something in the background. It fills the empty notes. I try to explain it away as a bad download, but I listen closer, just to be sure.

There’s something under the noise. It’s visceral, angry. It scratches at the back of my eyeballs. The more I focus on it the closer it comes. A voice, whispering terrible things. I’m scared but I can’t turn it off. It’s too late for that. Much too late.

 

99 Words #24 – Thankful

Where you headed?

Falls Church.

What’s taking you down there?

Family stuff. It’s home. Used to be anyway.

That so? Well, I’ve got a second cousin lives out that way, maybe you know her? Esme Whitmore?

Sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.

Really? She’s run a dance school out there for years.

Sorry.

Well, that’s alright, you been gone I guess.

Yeah.

So, you’re goin to see family then?

I… Yes. My mother, she had an accident.

Oh my. That’s terrible. She gonne be alright?

Yeah. She will.

Something to be thankful for at least.

Yeah. I guess you’re right.

 

99 Words #23 – Goodbye

“So that’s it then.”

“I guess so.”

Jess was doing her best to hold it together, but she couldn’t stop the tears from breaking through.

“Do you need a ride home?”

“No. I’ll be fine. Thank you.”

The Head of HR waited by the door, eyes watching each piece as it was placed in the cardboard banker’s box. Marilyn was shocked by how fast everything had happened. How cold it made her feel. And she wasn’t the one being walked.

“I…”

I don’t know what to do, Marilyn wanted to say.

“It’s okay, really. Take care of yourself Marilyn.”

 

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Written in response to Carrot Ranch Communication’s August 31, 2016 flash fiction challenge prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a goodbye.

August 31: Flash Fiction Challenge

 

99 Words #22 – What is Love?

Baby?

Hi sweetie.

Hey there…

Umm, what are you doing?

I just wanted to say, I loves you…

Oh God, please don’t.

But I loves you…

Stop it.

I eats the ends of the banana bread loaf so you don’t have to.

Why do you have to be such a dork?

I never leaves you an empty toilet paper roll.

Knock it off right now or I’m going to smack you.

Don’t be angry, I Ioves you!

You make me angry, because you’re a dork!

But baby…

I said stop it.

I…

Don’t do it.

LOVES YOU!

Smack

Ow.

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Written in response to Carrot Ranch Communication’s July 13, 2016 flash fiction challenge prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the emotion of anger. Hey, it’s in there…

July 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

99 Words #21 – About a Cat

The Jaguar hasn’t moved in awhile. I watch him, while he watches me. Every now and then he flicks an ear on his broad head, or blinks in a way to suggest I’m of no real interest. Still his eyes stay focused on me, and mine on him.

We seem to share some sort of connection, though it isn’t from any sense of being alike. This magnificent beast, once wild and without equal, sits humiliated in his cramped cage. I stand before him, alone in a room full of people, completely lost in what I am told is freedom.

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Written in response to Carrot Ranch Communication’s July 6, 2016 flash fiction challenge prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a cat.

July 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Homework Gone Awry: Song Titles

This is How it Goes

You & Me

A Story No One Told

 

Falling Faster Than You Can Run

Everything Changes

Heart in Two

 

Nothing to Say

Nowhere to Go

I Just Don’t Understand

 

My Broken Heart Belongs to You

When It’s All Said and Done

I Don’t Want You On My Mind

 

Don’t Worry About Tomorrow

Close Your Eyes

Let it Go

 

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This came about as a challenge to write a piece of poetry using only song titles. I don’t claim to know what I’m doing as far as poetry goes. But then again that’s pretty much the case with everything I do in life.

How many titles do you recognize?

 

The Stag

The stag is just standing there staring at me. I don’t take my eyes off of him either. He only fades as wisps of my own breath rise and disintegrate in front of me. I’m too scared to move, not that I have anywhere to run.

“Git!” I shout at him, but the only response I get is the twitch of his nose.

“Go on now!” Nothing. Eyes as deep and dark as an empty well are locked on me, waiting. “Beat it ya wretch!”

I shift my stance to ease the pain in my feet. The stag levels his head at me, and takes a single step forward. I feel warmth running down my leg as I drop to my knees and start to pray.

 

99 Words #20 – Smile

I’m sitting here thinking about cancer, and I’ve decided that life isn’t fair.

Celebrities get shout outs and hashtags, while our friends and family are taken from us and nobody knows. Everyone is talented. Everyone is important. Right?

I’m lost in thought, when the boy pops up in front of me. He’s grinning ear to ear, tongue sticking through the space where a tooth used to be.

“Hi dad.”

Just as quickly, he disappears. I realize that maybe I’ve got it all wrong. It’s not about recognition, it’s what we do with the time we are given that counts.