Friday, July 26, 2013

Ground Control

Miami. South Beach. Back to the beginning.

She brought the car to a stop in front of an arrangement of square boxes with a red tile roofs called the Mallory Seaside Resort. She carefully applied the stage putty to her cheekbones, glued on a bulbous nose, and set a black curly wig on her head. Foundation and blush covered the latex seams, and Jackie Onassis sunglasses finished the ensemble. She looked at herself in the window’s reflection as she got out of the car. She was glamorously mysterious; no one would recognize her now. The image in the window smiled and patted a camel-colored pocket with a heavy bulge.

She threw her shoulders back and walked into the lobby. The mousy receptionist asked her a question, which was only responded to by a wave. Let the staccato of her heels tell everyone she was a woman of purpose. The receptionist reached for a phone, probably calling in a tip to the paparazzi that a celebrity had checked in. After all, what else could she be mistaken for?

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Shrink

By Bettyann Moore

The shrink’s office is pretty fancy: signed and numbered abstract prints on pearl-grey watered silk wall treatments; highly-polished mahogany desk, étagère and bookcases; Turkish carpet on hardwood floors; large, well-placed sculptures, including a hand-carved set of jade miniature figurines – endangered animal species – on the corner of the étagère.

I’ve seen fancier.

A handsome, well-dressed receptionist ushers me into the room where Dr. Jeffrey Young awaits. When he stands to shake my hand, I notice his expensive pinky ring and manicured nails. I’m pretty sure there’s at least one layer of clear polish on those nails. I can’t see his feet behind the desk, but I’m willing to bet they’re clad in Moroccan leather or, worse, alligator.

“Please have a seat, Julie,” he says, waving vaguely in the direction of a corner in which a leather couch and two chairs sit. He will, of course, analyze my seating choice. “You don’t mind me calling you Julie, do you?” I head for one of the chairs.

“It is my name,” I say, settling into the soft leather. “And I’ll call you Jeffrey.”

“As you wish,” he says, taking the chair opposite me. As he crosses his legs at the knees, I note the shoes: alligator-skin loafers.

I hate loafers.

“So,” he says, getting right to it, “what brings you here today?”

“It’s a condition of my parole,” I say, watching his reaction, which is to look down and scribble something in the leather-clad notebook on his knee.

“Yes?” he prompts.

“Yes,” I say, not giving an inch.

There’s an almost imperceptible sigh. I hear it, though.

“Well, let’s start there, then, shall we?” he says, looking up at me.


“You’re on parole.”


“I assume, therefore, that you were found guilty of committing a crime.”

“Yes.” You can’t get anything by Dr. Jeffrey Young. He’s sharp.

“And the crime was ...”

I smooth my skirt over my thighs and cross my legs before answering. “I stole a pencil.” Dr. Jeffrey Young is not an eyebrow raiser. If he were, he would have.

“You stole a pencil ...”

“Yes,” I answer, then give him a little more. “From a blind man.”

“And this blind man,” he says, making another notation, “what was he doing with a pencil?”

Whoa! Nice catch there, doc, I think.

“He was selling it. Them, actually. He had more than one. In a cup. On a street corner. Two for 50 cents.”

“And you stole just one?”

“Well, I took one. But it was for that old lady.”

“Old lady?” Jeffrey asks, cocking his head to one side.

“Yes, she was running down the sidewalk yelling ‘1-2-S-H-H-H!’ over and over again.” I let the shoe on my right foot drop to the floor, ease out of the second and tuck my legs under myself, getting more comfortable.

“1-2-S-H-H? Why?”

“No, 1-2-S-H-H-H. Three H’s. She was trying to remember them. It’s easy to forget that third H.”

“But what were they and why was she trying to remember them?”

“The license plate number,” I say, “of the man who grabbed her purse and took off with it.”

It’s almost like I can see the little light go on over Jeffrey’s head.

“So you took the pencil so you could write down the letters and numbers,” he says, impressing me.

“Oh, no,” I say. “So she could write them down. I try not to get involved in other people’s lives. Besides, I already knew the car belonged to a local librarian. Pretty obvious, when you think about it.”

“And this librarian,” he asks, “you know him?”

“Oh, certainly,” I say, adding, “intimately.”

Jeffrey scribbles furiously on his pad. “Intimately, meaning ...”

“Yes, that,” I answer. “In fact, I had been on my way to meet him at his house when the woman came screaming down the street.”

“So you took the pencil from the blind man and gave it to the woman to write down the number. What then?”

“I hailed a cab. Say, Jeffrey, do you think I could have a glass of water?” I say, nodding to a pitcher and glasses in the corner.

“Certainly, certainly,” he says, rising. He pours me a glass of water and when he returns, I’m settling myself on the couch.

“Thank you so much.” I take a demur sip.

“You’re welcome,” he replies. He sits in the chair I recently vacated as it’s closer to the couch. I sense that he’s a bit surprised, and perhaps a tad uncomfortable, by its warmth. He crosses his legs again, running the razor-sharp crease in his slacks between two fingers.

Razor-sharp creases annoy me.

“And you took the cab to the librarian’s house?” he takes up where I left off.


“Was he there when you got there?”

“Of course. We had a ‘date’.”

“And did you say anything about the woman, the license plate?”

“Well, I tried, but he just pooh-poohed it, poured us a drink, and then we went to the bedroom.”

“I see.”


Jeffrey writes some more, frowning ever-so-slightly.

“But I was curious,” I add. “So when he fell asleep, I did a little checking.”

“Checking how?”

“Aside from a few nightlights here and there, the house was pretty dark, but I’d been there before, so I got up and started opening things … drawers, cabinets, closets. His wife keeps things very tidy.”

“His wife.”

“Yes, she was away that night.”

The pen starts scribbling again.

“Down the hall,” I continue, “I opened an enormous closet, one of those kind where the light goes on when you open it, like a refrigerator?”


“And inside, besides all the coats and shoes, are dozens, maybe hundreds, of purses.”

Jeffrey almost arches an eyebrow.

“So, I slip inside, but I have to keep the door ajar because the light goes out if you shut it.” I stretch my legs out the length of the couch and lean up on one elbow.

“What did you do then?” Jeffrey prompts.

“Well, I opened the first purse I came to and took out the wallet. The picture on the driver’s license was of that old woman.”

“You must have had quite a shock.”

“Not half the shock I got when I looked in a bunch of others and saw that nothing had been taken from them … at least it seemed that way to me. There were keys, wallets, makeup, money, credit cards … if this guy was taking purses, he wasn’t taking them for what was inside, you know?”

The doctor merely nods.

“And since it was obviously his wife’s closet – all the coats and shoes were hers – she had to be in on it, too.

“The biggest shock, though,” I continued, “was when his wife came home.”

“What did you do then?”

“What could I do?” I said, swinging my feet to the floor. “I closed the door and pushed my way to the back of the closet to hide. And I waited.”


“Yes. Obviously, I needed to get out of there … I was pretty creeped out by what I’d learned about this guy, but I had to hope that he would at least take care of the clothes, to save his own skin.”

“The clothes.”

“Yes, my clothes. They were all over the bedroom. I was naked, after all.”

“I see.” Jeffrey uncrossed his legs and recrossed them again.

“But I guess he didn’t hide them fast enough or something because they had a terrible big row. Seemed to go on for hours. I was freezing, so I grabbed the first coat I could feel, which turned out to be a lovely mink. It felt amazing against my skin.”

“How long did you wait?”

“Hours, I think, until the fighting stopped and they fell asleep or something. When all was quiet, I groped around for some shoes, but all I could find were CFM pumps.”

I could tell that Jeffrey didn’t want to ask, but he couldn’t resist.

“CFM pumps?”

“Come Fuck Me pumps,” I said, grinning across at him. “You know, seriously sexy shoes. That’s all the woman had in there, but it was better than going barefoot. I’d be hoofing it, after all. No car.”

“So, at this point you had on nothing but a fur coat and the, uh, shoes.”

“Yes, though for some reason I also grabbed the first purse I’d found, the old lady’s purse.” I didn’t say “the old bag’s bag,” but I thought it. I doubt Jeffrey did.

“Then you left.”

“Yes, then I left. I opened and shut the door as quietly as I could and sneaked down the stairs and out the front door.”

“How were you feeling at this point?”

Oh geez, I thought, analysis time.

“Seriously, Jeffrey, at this point I was so pissed off I could barely see straight. The nerve of that guy! I had a good mind to march back into that bedroom and throw a hissy fit right in front of his wife. It had not been a good day.”

Sometimes, I was a master at understatement.

“So you walked ... in what I surmise are not the most comfortable shoes.” Jeffrey wasn’t bad at understatement himself.

“My dogs were killing me before I’d gone a block!” I said. “And my apartment was a good mile, mile and a half away.”

“Surely you didn’t ...”

“Surely not!” I interrupted. “I got a ride.”

“A friend came by ...?”

“I wish! No, this gorgeous red Porsche pulled up alongside me and this guy – I thought I recognized him, but I didn’t – offered me a ride. I could feel my feet swelling and even in a mink coat, it was none too warm. So I did what anyone would.”

“You took a ride with a complete stranger in the middle of the night.”

Jeffrey could be positively droll sometimes.

“Presumably it all turned out well,” he said, “you’re here now, after all.”

“Yes and no,” I replied. “Yes, I’m here, but as for turning out well … better for me than for him, I can say that at least.”

Jeffrey had long ago dropped any pretense of making notes in his little leather book.

“How so?” he asked, both feet on the floor at this point.

I threw back my hair and slid down the couch, assuming the typical “therapy position,” ankles crossed, hands folded on my stomach.

“The jerk must have thought I was a hooker or something in that get-up I was wearing. He started saying all sorts of crass things and, before I knew it, we were parked in a dark alley somewhere and he was groping me.”

“You must have been extremely frightened.”

“Hell no, I was still mad! Madder! I hauled off and belted him right in the nose!”

“Then you ran away in the, uh, shoes?”

“Not right away,” I said quietly. “He was just a little guy and his nose was gushing blood all over the white upholstery. He was leaning over, holding his hands over his face and I, well, I gave him a karate chop right in the back of the neck. I felt like Bruce Lee or something.”

“And then you ran?”

“No … not yet. I must have hit him in just the right spot and he sort of went limp.”

“He lost consciousness?”


“So you stayed to help him?”

“Not exactly … in fact just the opposite.” I admitted. “He had this car, see, and my feet hurt so bad! So I went around to his side and pulled him out and rolled him away from the car … so he wouldn’t get hurt when I drove away.”

“Julie, you’re telling me that you knocked a man out, dragged him from his seat and then stole his car?”

“Sort of. See, when I was dragging him away from the car, his shirt rode up and his back was showing. It gave me this idea.”

“Which was?”

“He had some sort of presentation case in the back seat (if you call that a seat, it’s so tiny) and there was one of those big, indelible markers in it. I was worried that he’d wake up, so I popped the trunk and found a couple of those bungee things.”

“You tied him up?”

“Just his hands.”

Jeffrey was too professional to roll his eyes, but I could feel him doing it anyway.

“Then what?”

“Then I wrote a little something on his back. I figured a whole lot of people would see it before he did. His wife, I hoped.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the memory. Before Jeffrey could ask, I said, “I wrote: ‘I am an evil asshole who thinks he can get away with rape’.”

Attempted rape perhaps ...”

“Perhaps, my ass,” I cried, sitting up. “The only reason he didn’t succeed was because I was bigger than him and mad. Besides,” I added, lying back down, “he was a small guy – ‘attempted’ wouldn’t have fit.”

I definitely heard Jeffrey sigh.

“So you took the car, drove home and that was that.”

“I would have been,” I said, “except I remembered that Felix was out of food.”


“My cat. Trust me, one doesn’t want to let Felix go too long without food and he was plumb out. There’s a convenience store a few blocks from my apartment, so I thought I’d pull around behind the place, duck in and get some kibbles and just leave the car where it was. What could go wrong?”

“Indeed, what could.”

“First of all, there was this crazy old guy buying lottery tickets. He had ‘lucky numbers’ for every single ticket he bought … he couldn’t just let the machine pick for him. Naturally, there was only one checker.”


“I have to admit, I thought about just grabbing a can of 9 Lives and shoving it into the old lady’s purse, but I didn’t need that kind of hassle in my life.”

“You still had the old lady’s purse?”

“Of course! Mine was back at the librarian’s house with all my clothes. When I looked in her wallet before, I saw she had a few dollars in there – enough for cat food anyway.”

“So, you bought the food ...”

“Well, I was going to. The old man finally had his last lottery ticket and I stepped up to the counter, reached into the purse and pulled out … a gun.”


“I didn’t know it was a gun! I just pulled out the first thing I felt and it was this cute little pistol … you know, an old lady’s gun. It was pink, for cripessake!”

“They still shoot.” Jeffrey’s good at stating the obvious.

“The clerk must have thought the same thing,” I said. “He freaked and threw his hands up in the air and the old guy? He dove for the floor. I figured he’d encountered that sort of thing before.”

“You explained to them ...”

“I tried, really I did! But the clerk kept shouting ‘Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, take the money!’ and the old guy just kept his head covered with his hands. Like that would stop a bullet!”

Jeffrey had gotten up at that point and was pacing.

“The little weasel clerk must have hit a panic button,” I went on, “because pretty soon I could hear sirens. I thought it would be a good idea to get out of there, so I made a run for it out the back.”

“In those shoes?”

“That’s just the thing, Jeffrey! I couldn’t very well run in those shoes, the cops would be looking for someone in a mink coat, and there’s no way I was going to take that car again, so I did what I had to.”

“You didn’t.”

“I had to! I stripped off that coat and those shoes, and left the whole mess in the alley; I didn’t even take the cat food. And I ran.”


“As a jay bird, though I’ve never understood that saying. What’s so naked about a jay bird anyway?”

“I ...”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said, waving him off. “I was just blocks from home, the streets were deserted, so I took my chances.”

Jeffrey stopped pacing and sank into the chair behind his big desk.

“I’m afraid to ask,” he said. “You made it without incident?”


Poor Jeffrey actually did a face-desk. I almost felt like getting up and patting him on the back.

“It was that pervert’s own fault!” I cried. “He’d still be alive if he wasn’t such a sicko.”

Jeffrey raised his head. “You killed someone?”

“Only indirectly.”

Down went his head again.

“Everyone in the neighborhood knew about him,” I went on. “He liked to peek in windows late at night. Most people just kept their shades pulled. It just happened that he was peeking into Mrs. Shaunnesy’s place on the first floor … I think Mrs. Shaunnesy was soft on him. She always kept one shade up a bit. I don’t think he actually ever saw anything … until he saw me, that is. I think the shock killed him.”

Jeffrey was quiet for a long time.

“Jeffrey?” I said, standing. “Doctor?”

“Go on,” came the muffled reply.

“Oh, I’m done,” I said. “I found my key – good thing I always hide one outside opened the door on the apartment that Felix had completely torn up, took a shower and went to bed. And here I am.”

“Because you stole a pencil.”


Jeffrey raised his head and sat back against his chair. For the first time, he looked at his watch.

“Julie, we’ve gone way beyond our 50 minutes. Let’s go back over this from the beginning next time, shall we?”

“Next time?”

“Why, yes! There are several issues I can help you work on. I’m sure that in six, maybe nine months we can have a handle on most of them ...”

“That’s crazy, Jeffrey!” I said, then giggled at the words. “I only have to see a shrink once as a condition of my parole, but it was very nice to meet you.” I reached across the desk and shook his hand, though it was pretty obvious he didn’t want to see me go. I think he had a crush on me. Very unprofessional, if you ask me.

On my way out through the receptionist’s office I heard him tell her to cancel his next appointment. I gave her a little wave, then stuck my hand in my coat pocket; the miniature jade figurine felt cool against my fingers. It was time for lunch; I was starving!


Friday, July 12, 2013


By Colleen Sutherland

The following is based on the third chapter of the novel I plan to publish by January, 2014. It began as a dream sequence exercise and expanded as I learned more about William Arden IV.

The day passeth, and is almost gone,
I know not well what is to be done.
To whom were I best my complaint to make?
What if I to Fellowship thereof spake?,
And showed him of this sudden chance?

William Arden IV caught sight of his face in the mirror behind the Heathrow airport bar where he was drinking coffee and researching morality plays. He teased his neat, white mustache. He trimmed it himself, using a silver mustache trimmer. It was a slow process of snip here, snip there, to prevent mistakes. He should shave the whole thing off or have it trimmed when he got his monthly haircut . . . but he’d read too much medieval history to allow anyone near his throat with a razor. He could think of no way to direct his barber to trim the mustache without getting a shave as well.
He enjoyed his shaves, the ritual of them. He used a porcelain mug his grandfather and great-grandfather had used before him, re-filled with a soap bar purchased on his yearly trips to England. His pride was his brush of badger fur and an Italian polymer handle. He expertly applied the foam to his face is if he were brushing on oils. Then the safety razor, nothing plastic, but safer than a straight razor. He abhorred blood, quite squeamish really. Like Lady MacBeth’s guilt, blood spots wouldn’t wash out. It made him think of death.
He picked up the paper cup with his coffee and left the bar. He had been sitting there for two hours and the bartender was as bored with him as he was with the bartender. But what else should he do? The plane he was waiting for was already three hours late. It had been held up at O'Hare Field in Chicago because of a terrorist threat.
He wandered down the terminal to the place he was to meet the students he was to lead on a tour of England. He found one of the more comfortable chairs and settled in. He put his briefcase on one side and piled some paperwork on the other side to keep people away from him. There weren't that many but he hated making polite conversation with strangers . . . and there were always travelers that wanted to talk.
He held his book on medieval and Tudor drama, and tried to concentrate on Everyman, but distracted by the terminal noise, finally put it down. Surreptitiously, he glanced around and pulled out a popular magazine from his briefcase to read about a current celebrity scandal he had heard about on Entertainment Tonight. A flight arrived with people pouring out of the plane’s silver canister. He hastily dropped the magazine back into his briefcase. No, it was the wrong flight. He watched the passengers pass through, first class, business class, tourist class, finally the people put in wheelchairs, each headed to the luggage area. He fingered the pass that would allow him to join his students there when they arrived, to help them through the process. The arrival board gave no good news. The flight had been delayed another hour.
            He put on his glasses and pulled out his book again to read about the Crucifixion in one of the medieval mystery plays they would see in Lichfield, a village near Birmingham.

My sorrow it is so sad,
No solace may me save;
Mourning makes me mad
No hope of help I have.

           How depressing. He had to bone up on the mystery plays for the upcoming tour but wondered why he bothered. It wasn't like the students would pay that much attention. He glanced at his watch again. What difference did it make, after all? The time wouldn’t make the plane arrive any faster. Soon he would meet the dozen graduate students that he would chaperone in a tour of medieval sites. They had paid a pretty penny for this tour, thus paying for his own trip. All he had to do was get them to the hotel, and next morning, they would all board a bus. The guide would do most of the talking. He merely had to add the informed voice of a history professor to the proceedings from time to time. He intended to take digital photos of the mystery plays at Litchfield to use in his medieval history classes, making the trip not only free but useful. He only took graduate students so he had no worries about their drinking or sexual flings. They were of age so they could do whatever they wanted. This was his fifteenth tour. He had it all down pat.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Planned Obsolescence - Part Two

Image by Crispin Semmens via Wikimedia Commons

At his old job, Bay 11's generator, an old methane-powered unit with a dodgy compressor, would have served perfectly. However, that had been scrapped during the plant's retirement. He had a smaller unit in the apartment, a hobbyist's model that just couldn't provide the amperage he needed. The museums had generators, but he doubted he could sneak past the watchmen guarding the mummies, dinosaur bones, and other exhibits. Then he thought of a place with industrial-grade power with next to no security: the zoo.

The city zoo held all manner of mundane animals for citizens to gawk at and marvel over. They would point and laugh, or shake their heads over the human-caused environmental damage such that only in zoos would the elephant, giraffe, and lion have a chance to escape extinction. The Earth's native children were no longer able to compete with their thaumaturgically modified cousins, experimental escapees, and deliberate cast-offs. Though there was some debate over whether this would have happened anyway with the invasive species slipping into Earth's dimension at places like Stonehenge during solstices. Man-made or not, only humans could adapt to the new reality, the creatures could not.

The irony, of course, was that unmodified creatures could not be held back with thaumaturgic fencing like livestock, the exposure to the trans-dimensional radiation would eventually corrupt their DNA. Prohibited from using thaumaturgic devices and power systems, zoos had to rely on the old-fashioned method of electricity for their needs.

Marco didn't visit the zoo proper. His invention filled a backpack, making it appear as if he were preparing for a week's journey. As lax as the zoo's security was, this would not make it past the front gate. Fortunately, the zoo's method of generating power required placing the equipment a few kilometers away from the buildings. As the moon rose, Marco smiled to himself as he made his way to the the fence surrounding the zoo's power and a field of Tesla trees.

The Tesla trees were spindly metallic columns twenty feet tall with smaller silvered branches and filigree drooping to the ground like weeping willows. Blue-white flashes erupted with sharp popping sounds where the trees brushed against each other. The trees swayed not only in the wind but also to magnetic variations, approaching electrical storms, or solar flares. Cables ran from the base of each tree to a small shack set into the corner of the field, just on the other side of the fence. As Marco approached, the hairs on his arms rose and the air held the dry tang of ozone. Signs featuring a stick figure being attacked by red lightning bolts warned him of danger. Marco thought the sign unnecessary. Running through the Tesla trees was like running though a storm cloud waving a ten foot metal pipe while wearing aluminum foil underwear.