A Flower in a Hospital Room

It was a forgettable room, Lev thought. Maybe that’s why it was difficult to remember things. The hospital staff were making him more dependent after his fall. Getting his own coffee while he read his books was never more valuable. Now he couldn’t get out of bed. Lev preferred isolation to the nursing staff who only saw his body and not who he was. His family came to visit and they kept moving things around. If he complained, they got hurt. His sister and niece were due to arrive any moment. It was an odd feeling of wanting to talk to people, while dreading every second until they got there.

“Lev, you have visitors,” the wait nurse said.

“How are you brother?” His sister asked.

“I’ve been better; it’s difficult to remember things.”

“Stacie caught the attention of some boys in the lobby; she’s just driving them crazy.”

“I bet she is,” Lev said.

“Do you need anything?”

“A beer, a beach, and some beautiful women would be nice.”

“Well, you’ll just have to settle for this beach calendar I bought you. Here’s a non-alcoholic beer. The wait staff say it’s not good for you to drink.”

“I’ll be okay; you can hang the calendar on the wall. Any babes in it?

“Lev, your niece will be here any second; control yourself. Don’t you feel sad for objectifying women?”

“I just like to look at them.”

“This is why your relationships don’t last; you don’t see women for who they really are? I’ll get your beer ready. If you keep drinking this stuff, you’re going to get fat and unattractive.”

Stacie walked in. “Uncle Lev!” She gave him a big hug.

“How are you darlin?”

“Just fine. Mom’s taking me horseback riding after this and if I do well, she’s going to buy me an ice cream.”

“That sounds nice. Are you doing good in school?”

“I’m the class president and I made honor roll.”

“Wonderful. Do you still practice fly casting the way I showed you?”

“Lev, she’s too old for that. She’s in 7th grade. Girls don’t fish.”

“I don’t know… maybe if you let her explore things she liked, she might go for them.”

“Well, she has other things to do and so do I. You’re still a young man Lev, but 38 is close to 40, and after that, you’ll have serious trouble finding a woman without kids.”

“If Hugh Hefner did it, I can do it,” Lev said. It was the right thing to say to get her to leave.

That afternoon past slowly. Lev didn’t know if it was the drugs or the trauma or the loneliness, but he started to cry. There was no way out. When the nurses paid attention to him, he knew they were doing it because they were paid. Facing life without love is worse than death, but people do it all the time. Lev looked at his flower on the windowsill. Its yellow petals were turning brown in the sun.

Passion

Passion

is in your blood

floating to your fingertips

flushing your face

changing currents

and

catapulting you to dizzying rage

circulation low

under the dreary sky

then circulation high

above the hurricane

it escapes

in unpredictable ways

an argument

when you were too tired to speak

or a drawing

when you didn’t have the will

to sign your name

its moving inside

like a river

that flows upstream

or a rainstorm

that rises

when the grass is too green.

No Exit

Jimmy exited the 4th floor elevator, making his way to the vice president’s office. Writing for a men’s magazine was not what he envisioned. He believed he was a poet; he wanted to be a poet; at a time when most dream of money, Jimmy wanted to write words that couldn’t be unwritten. He was skinny; dressed in a cheap suit that was too big for him. Dress at Maximum Magazine was a part of company regulations and a way of measuring the worth of employees. He was worthless by their standards but he had words inside. He opened Mr. Bills’ office. It was shiny, the way mahogany and silver look when they’ve been polished.

“You’re late,” Bills said. “You’ll arrange copy for our magazine so we can distribute.”

“I thought I was going to write something.”

“You’ll write your resignation if you interrupt me again. My assistant will help you with the particulars.”

Jimmy felt anonymous; it was the kind of invisible feeling one gets in the presence of others. He left Bills’ office a little bit weaker than before. Jimmy walked to the elevator and got on. Before he pressed the button, Bills shouted, “Wait; hold that elevator.” The big man put his hand between the doors and squeezed in. His suit was shiny, like it had been polished; it was really expensive; you could tell, just by looking at it. He stank of expensive cologne and a lingering cigar.

On the third floor, the doors opened and an attractive woman got on. Her blazer covered her obvious curves, and Jimmy looked at the back of her head in the way boys do when they dream. She was a magazine model. On the second floor, the janitor pushed his cart in.

“Don’t they have corridors and freight elevators you can use?” Bills asked.

The janitor didn’t say anything. Halfway down the first floor, the elevator stopped.

“This is just great, I’ve got a meeting to be at in 15 minutes,” Bills said.

The blonde turned around. She looked like she hadn’t slept in two days.

The janitor shrugged his shoulders and Jimmy picked up the emergency telephone. “It doesn’t work.”

Then the lights went out. “Oh God, really?” Bills complained. “This can’t be happening. It was blacker than black.

“Let’s hope the air conditioning still works,” the janitor said. “Nope; that’s out too. It might get really hot in here.”

Somebody will find us. Wait… do you smell something?”

“It’s burning plastic; probably an electrical malfunction,” the janitor said.

“Can you fix it?” Bills ask.

“I can try, but I’m not an electrician.”

“What good are you if you can’t fix it?” Bills complained.

The janitor ignored him.

“I’m just going to sit down for a bit; I don’t feel well,” the woman said. She was invisible in the dark and Jimmy thought her voice sounded different; it was vulnerable.

“To override, we have to cross the wires,” the janitor said. He started stripping off plastic with his pen knife.

“What happens if you cut the wrong wire?” Bills asked.

“We’ll be stuck here until someone breaks through the wall.” CUT. Nothing happened.

5 hours later…

“I can’t breathe,” the woman said.

“There’s smoke in the elevator.” Jimmy couldn’t see it in the dark, but the smell was unmistakable.

“You suffocated us, you damn fool,” Bills yelled and then coughed.

Jimmy was light headed.

Bills was angry.

The woman was unconscious.

The janitor failed to save them.

And moments past. Suddenly, light shifted above them. “Anybody in there?”

“I’m here,” Jimmy said.

Everybody else was dead.

The Man Without a Name

The river trail snakes through the city and washes out into the country. It’s deserted; the type of place girls avoid. After sitting in meetings all day, I look forward to my long walk; it gives me something to follow. The October sun sets, and I make it onto the trail. Black trees are painted in orange and Evergreens are even greener at night. I don’t expect to see anyone. It gets cold and the homeless move where the ground it warm.

A Chocolate Lab is wading near a make-shift campsite and the owner is sitting on some logs drinking a Budweiser.

“Goin for a walk?” He asks.

“Yeah.”

“Gettin out in nature is a good way to clear the head.” He takes another drink. The middle-aged man is wearing a construction shirt and torn jeans. He’s got an unintentional beard and a happy-go-lucky demeanor. I guess that’s the alcohol working and I know he’s harmless.

“You must be in construction?” I ask.

“Yeah; I do jobs when I can get them, but I try not to work. I might have to pick up a few more hours on account of my dog though. He needs surgery.”

“What for?”

“Look at that tumor.”

Its tail was the size of a small football.

“I thought about cutting it off myself, but I don’t want Charlie to feel any pain. There’s a cost to not working, but there’s also a cost for trading your time for money, as I’m sure you know.”

I was taken aback; he seemed to know me.

The alcohol started talking. “Yeah, I’ve been working construction sites since I was in high school. It’s not meaningful work, but I enjoy shooting the shit with the guys. How about you? Do you like Education?”

“I don’t think I told you I work in Education.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Sometimes that happens. I let things slip and I don’t realize it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ever since I could remember, I’ve known things about people that I shouldn’t; believe me, it’s a curse.”

“Can’t you make money with that?”

“People do, but I’ve never been able to control how it makes me feel.”

“Do you live around here?”

“I’ve been livin out of my truck for a couple of weeks and I’ll be movin on soon. I go where the work takes me.”

He was only a shadow in the dark when we stopped talking. “Maybe I’ll see you around sometime?”

“No, you won’t; and that thing you’ve been thinkin about doin; don’t do it. Take your time and enjoy the river. It’ll take you where you need to go. He toasted me with his beer and walked off.

I forgot to get his name.

Chapter 6 The Creature Cometh

As Darla transformed, her painted nails became talons; sensuous skin cracked; pouting lips became poison; and blue eyes washed into white. She was blind, sniffing the air, searching for meat. Darla aspired to be a fitness model and years of repressed hunger was unleashed. Her claws opened the refrigerator and she ate three steaks.

McMasterson inched towards the stairway. He hoped his infrequent bathing made him undesirable, but dogs will eat anything, and lizards… well lizards will eat their own kind. Darla turned to McMasterson. “Yes, I know you are there. You really should keep your chemicals locked up.”

“You’re not going to eat me?”

“Look at you… skin and bones, old and too tough. No; I have a taste for that PI who stopped by. What was his name? Gregson?”

“Would you prefer beef or pork?”

“No; I want a man who eats daily donuts. He’ll have sweet meat.”

Darla walked out of the house on two legs; her back expanded. Two enormous wings erupted from her scales and she sailed off into the mist.

MEANWHILE…

Gregson and Murphy swapped jokes at the bar, pretending there weren’t monsters in the fog.

“What do you call a man with no arms and no legs floating in a swamp?” Gregson asked.

“Bob,” said Bob. “That’s a good one.”

Creature noise rang out, silencing their laughter. Everybody took another drink.

“If I’m going to die, it won’t be sober.” The fat man said. “It sounds like there is more than one monster out there.”

“It’s just your imagination,” Murphy replied.

“Perhaps you’d like to go for a walk and check?” The fat man asked.

Murphy rolled his eyes. “Pour another. The police will be here in 30.”

The Body

The Body

wants to lie in bed

and listen to the rain

Digesting

is too much work

It’s browsing

to consume

It doesn’t want more

it wants less

It’s not impressed

with normal food.

“You’ve lost weight.”

“You’re looking good.”

But that wasn’t my goal

I want to eat something

that feeds me

Otherwise, starvation

will go on

My body seeks comfort

under thick blankets

reading things that have not been read

in 20 years

It longs for a word and a moment

waiting for the rush of warm air

and the silent satisfaction

from the storm.

Chapter 5 The Monster

Gregson’s brain was digesting the facts of the case like a hungry stomach. “Kate’s brother will speak to us at the bar.”

“He’s dead,” Murphy said.

“I know; a dead body says more than a live one.”

“Whatever you say.”

When they got to the bar, it was just a hole in the wall with a pasture out back.

Gregson opened the door.

“What could have done it?” A fat man asked. “It came in the fog.”

“Who are you?” The room asked.

“Show them your badge,” Gregson mumbled.

Murphy showed his identification and the room relaxed.

“About time law enforcement got here. There’s a decapitated man out back and a herd of dead cattle.”

“A herd?” Gregson asked.

The fat man took them to the pasture.

Cattle carcasses were strewn everywhere.

Then out of the silent swamp came a bone-chilling howl.

“That’s the creature,” the fat man said. “Do you believe in monsters?”

“No,” Gregson said.

“Then you best be believin.”

“Where’s the decapitated man?”

“Behind the refrigerator.”

“That’s him alright,” Gregson said. He compared the head with the photograph. “Looks like a clean cut across the neck and gash marks on the face. You know what Murphy—I might start believing in monsters.”

“I guess we should call the police.”

“It’ll take two hours for reinforcements to get here. By then we’ll all be eaten!” The fat man said.

“Calm down, and have a few drinks. Whatever’s been killing people can’t open doors.

MEANWHILE…

Mr. McMasterson slinked back to his study. His scarecrow shadow flitted across the walls. He wanted the woman downstairs and his lust was howling inside, but when he looked for his potion, it was gone. “I mislaid it. That’s right, I put it in the refrigerator.”

McMasterson walked downstairs. His assistant was growing hair in all the wrong places. She had a bottle in her hand. “I thought this was Gatorade—not quick-grow body hair?” Then her butt began to expand and her back blew up. A beast erupted from her tiny frame until it filled the kitchen.

Chapter 4 Murder Again

“Did you say murders?” Murphy asked.

“Yes; but I’m the one asking the questions here,” McMasterson said. He raised his shotgun at Murphy again.

“Sir, remember? I’m the police?”

“Oh, that’s right. I probably shouldn’t point a gun at you. So, you were wondering about the other murder?”

“Yes.”

“Young man, terribly tragic, looked like he was on his way home from a wedding when the beast got ‘im.”

“That must be Kate’s brother,” Gregson said.

“Oh, you know him?” McMasterson asked.

“Yes; the victim is who I’m supposed to find.

“You found ‘im. Now, why don’t you leave me in peace.”

“But sir, the fog hasn’t lifted.”

“I don’t care! If you’re a real man of the law, you won’t let a little fog bother you. Here, I’ll draw you a map where I found the body. Just be sure not to eat your lunch before you see it. The corpse has been horribly mutilated.”

McMasterson sketched with the confidence of Michelangelo, but a kindergartener could have done a better drawing.

“It’s on the southern end of the swamp. A curious place to go for a walk if you ask me. There isn’t much there but a bar and 13 head of cattle.”

“You’ve been most helpful,” Murphy said.

“Always glad to help the police; you guys need as much as you can get. Gregson, it’s been a real pleasure.” McMasterson shook his hand. “Now I need to get back to my library. If you boys need anything, call first; otherwise, you might get a bullet in your head.”

Gregson and Murphy walked out the mansion doors into the semi haze.

“He was a charming fellow,” Gregson said.

Murphy looked back through the window. McMasterson was in the downward dog position next to his attractive assistant. Murphy tried to shake the image out of his mind.

“These directions say it’ll take 20 minutes to get to the bar. What do you think about the fog?”

“Let’s risk it,” Murphy said.

They got into the black Porsche and turned on the fog lights.

Sailor’s Warning

Peter checked his heading. He was a ship’s captain–someone who mattered on the sea, but was a nobody on the land. It is the way things ought to be. A boat means so much more to a man than something that floats. It drops anchor where it wants to. Peter’s ship had a galley, a library, sleeping quarters, crow’s nest, wheel house, and a deck. Like most worthwhile things, it was imperfect. The paint was chipped, the engine needed repairs, and the windows were cracked, but Peter saw its potential in the same way a woman sees the potential in a house.

“What’s our heading?” I asked.

“There’s a ship pinned against the reef about three miles out. Have you swum with sharks before?”

“No. And I don’t want to.”

“Well, you probably won’t have much choice on this trip. White tips are harmless enough, but you have to watch out for tiger sharks. They’ll go after anything they can’t figure out and scuba divers make their list of edible eats.”

Suddenly, the red sky lit up the morning clouds like they were on fire. “How does that saying go again?”

“‘Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning; Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.’ But, we’ll be fine.”

“I’m not so sure.”

There were dark clouds on the horizon.

Chapter 3 Mr. McMasterson’s Attractive Assistant

Murphy celebrated his victory by buying Gregson lunch. They ate their hamburgers and walked to Murphy’s black Porsche.

“Is this company issue?” Gregson asked.

“If it was, the force wouldn’t need to recruit young blood.”

Gregson noticed his friend wince in pain when he got in.

“I was chasing a suspect a few days ago and caught my leg on a wooden fence,” Murphy said. He turned the ignition and before Gregson knew it, they were cruising down rolling hills diving into deep valleys. 

“We’re almost to the mansion grounds where the killing happened,” Murphy said. The air was getting think with fog. They drove in silence for a few minutes, trying to stay on the road when out of nowhere an enormous hound ran in front of them. Murphy slammed his breaks. “That’s my suspect!” He shouted. Murphy got out and ran after the dog.

“I lost him; looked like a land gator! Wait a second, where am I? Gregson?”

“I’m here; follow my voice.”

“Anyone could get lost in this fog. Gregson?”

“I’m here.”

“Gregson? Oh, I found you.”

“Let’s find the mansion before this fog makes us invisible. I could go for some rum and modern comfort right about now,” Gregson said.

They drove slowly down the road, looking for a graveled driveway.

“That looks promising,” Gregson said. And Murphy turned down the lane. It ended in front of a dark mansion. “This must be it?”

“I hope so, but I don’t recognize anything. I’ll ring the doorbell; the owner is a bit eccentric.”

RING…RING…RING

FOOTSTEPS…The door opened.

Standing in front of them was a blonde girl in her early 20s wearing a white spandex outfit. “I was just doing my butt exercises. Do you have an appointment? I’m Mr. McMasterson’s assistant.”

“I bet you are,” Gregson said. “We don’t have an appointment and we were hoping to look around the grounds before the fog rolled in, but now we just need a place to stay.”

“Mr. McMasterson’s last assistant was murdered in the mist by a hound from hell. I’m Darla.” She shook their hands. Now I need to get back to my body. Darla went into the downward dog position.

“I can’t believe I’m a bachelor,” Gregson mumbled.

There was a CLICK behind them. “Strangers… I don’t know what to do with you. McMasterson pointed a double-barrel shotgun at them. “I’ll mount you on my wall unless you talk!”

“Sir, don’t you remember me?” Murphy asked.

“No, and I would remember someone like you. You have an annoying quality. I can’t put my finger on what it is.”

“We spoke last week…about the murder…”

“Oh, yes. Now I remember. Police, right? Still haven’t caught the killer? Well, that’s not surprising. What do you want to know?”

“I brought Gregson along. He has talent.”

“Gregson…where do I know that name. Oh, you’re the fellow who solved the Chessfield Park Murders. Glad to meet you.” McMasterson lowered his gun and shook Gregson’s hand. Murphy held his out, but McMasterson ignored it. “What do you want to know?”

“For starters, is there anything strange that’s been happening? Anything out of the ordinary?”

“The howling is different. Can’t get any sleep. But Darla takes care of me. She dances on the weekends and studies for her nursing exams. Knows a great deal about anatomy.”

Murphy and Gregson exchanged looks.

“Sir, about the murder?”

“Oh, yes; but don’t you mean, murders?”