Friday, December 26, 2014

Our Operators are Standing By ...

Image by SimonInns via Wikimedia Commons
Author's Note:  Here at Black Coffee Fiction, we celebrate the holiday season by posting depressing stories about Christmas to make our readers feel better about their own holiday experiences. Know that while writing this story, I was laughing the whole time.

The telephone sat before him, lit only by the glow from his laptop’s screen. Jordy Lestrange had decided that as the only employee in the building, he could throw caution to the wind and turn on the overhead fluorescents that his fellow service techs kept off. After five minutes under full illumination, Jordy turned the lights back off, unable to bear the revealed dust bunnies, candy wrappers, and unidentifiable carpet stains. Two hours into his shift, and the phone remained silent. On any normal day, he would have fielded at least five questions from irritated customers, perhaps kicking one over to one of the engineers or a manager if the customer started shouting obscenities. But on the day after Christmas, the technical support line was dead as old Marley.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Blind Date - Part IV

By Bettyann Moore

“Pretty lousy day, huh?” Mr. Bowen said.

“Understatement of the year,” Kathie mumbled. She’d spent the last period of the day lying on a narrow cot in the nurse’s office, though she certainly wasn’t sick. Upset maybe. Appalled, yes. If she thought about what had happened to that girl’s sister, her stomach churned. Scared, definitely.

She wasn’t even going to stop in to talk to Mr. B, but he’d seen her as she passed his open door and motioned her inside. This way, at least, she wouldn’t have to hear the snickers and see the stares in the corridors. She was certain she’d forever be known as “the girl who threw up in study hall” … until someone did something worse.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Blind Date - Part III

By Bettyann Moore

Kathie was pretty sure Marie had put him up to it, but Jim offered her a ride to school the next day, which she gladly accepted. It pissed her off, though, that she was changing her routine all because of Peter Johnson. She was in a crappy mood when she got to school and, naturally, had a hard time opening her locker.

“Piece of shit,” she cursed, kicking at the bottom, which often helped.

“Miss Hudson, I’ll ignore that for now,” Mr. Bowen, her first hour teacher said. He was standing right behind her with a pink hall pass in his hand.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Blind Date - Part II

By Bettyann Moore

Kathie’s week started out well. She’d aced the English exam she’d taken on Friday, a good thing for someone on academic probation. The best part, though, was being invited to go down to The Tap, the local after-school hangout, by a group of kids from her sixth period study hall. She could only stay long enough to eat some fries and drink a shake because she’d promised Marie she’d watch the kids while she did some Christmas shopping, but it was long enough to tell that she liked them and that they liked her.

The phone was ringing when Kathie sailed into the house, still chuckling to herself over a story one of the boys had told about the varsity football coach.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blind Date - Part I

By Bettyann Moore

“You know, maybe if you fixed yourself up a little … some makeup, a haircut … maybe wear a skirt once in a while …. Pass the peas, would you, Jim?”

Kathie Hudson glared over the top of her granny glasses at her sister, but the look was lost on Marie, who continued to jabber on.

“It’s a new life, a new place,” Marie declared. “You can reinvent yourself! With the right look, the right attitude, you could make new friends.”

“The right friends, no doubt,” Kathie said, even though she knew the sarcasm would be lost on Marie. Her brother-in-law, Jim, gave her a look, but went back to shoveling food into his face.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Battle for October Sky – Part Five



They ran up the hill’s path pushing a cart laden with gas cylinders, disarmed rockets, and a crate of weasels. Sweat stung Beaumont’s eyes, and his gums throbbed as Ives cursed them for laggards. Beaumont’s pocket watch, secured to the cart by its fob chain, swung before him. The sweeping second hand told him that no matter how his legs burned, or his lungs ached, he would need to keep running for thirty more seconds. They needed to make it another hundred feet, and then he could rest.

Chevket pushed beside him, seemingly at his ease apart from casting nervous glances down the path behind them. Beaumont hoped his first officer’s luck would continue to hold. The man escaped the explosion that both knocked out Beaumont and Ives and claimed the lives of his crewmen, ironically, by hiding in the cave filled with hydrogen cylinders. In the ensuing chaos, he secured a fully-loaded hand cart from an unwary deliveryman, and circled back when he realized Ives and Beaumont were being held in the main building.

The cart hit a rock in the path and bounced, the cylinders jostling with heart-stopping clangs, but thankfully no sparks. The weasels chittered and snapped in their cage, which also mercifully remained latched. Beaumont was hunched forward as he pushed, and his face mere inches from the cage. It would be a particularly horrid experience to be swarmed over by their rancid bodies and sharp teeth should they escape. The weapons’ inclusion went against Chevket’s wishes, who had a heated, whispered argument with Ives when the agent insisted on including them. Chevket urged for immediate escape, citing the remaining crew of the October Sky relying on them all for getting the ship back to port, while Ives argued that bringing home this evidence of a new weapon of paramount importance. Beaumont reluctantly agreed with the agent only because the cold calculus of strategy placed this new weapon’s importance over the safety of an airship’s crew.

And so they ran, heedless of the shouts and rifle reports behind them, hoping that Ives assertion that they get to the top of the valley with their cart in eight minutes and not a second less was correct. The rifle fire fell off, and an ornithopter’s engine whined as its pilot prepared it for launch, doubtlessly with a rifle squad on board. Within minutes, they would be caught in the open.

“Fifteen seconds,” Beaumont hissed.

Ives cursed their collective legitimacy and speculated on their mothers’ improbable indiscretions with the animal world.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Battle for October Sky – Part Four



Beaumont woke up on hard-packed earth next to Ives, in the only cage not filled with weasels. To his left and right, the mangy creatures scratched and chewed at the wire mesh separating their enclosures from his own, their rancid musk adding to his blooming headache. Ives huddled in the cell’s middle, wiping at the dried blood at his ears and nose. From somewhere beyond their cage, the thrumming and buzzing of machinery filled the air.

“How long?” Beaumont asked.

“About an hour,” Ives said a bit louder than necessary.

“Any ideas as to where are we?”

Ives pointed to the cage’s door, where someone had obviously and hastily nailed boards to reinforce their enclosure to withstand escape attempts from larger occupants. Beaumont moved to peer through a gap to find that they were in a dark corner inside the wooden building housing the electrolysis plant. The true scale of the operation made Beaumont blanch.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Battle for October Sky – Part Three



False dawn’s light blotted at the darkness. The October Sky listed to its port side, weighed down by its flaccid envelope. Crewmen scurried over the craft’s superstructure like ants on a dying whale, shouting out reports of battle damage to their section chiefs below. Beaumont paced the ground from bow to stern, allowing the crews to see him as they went about their jobs. Agent Ives trailed behind him, saying nothing.

They had been fortunate to land in a pocket canyon; the enemy would have to be directly overhead to spot the October Sky. However, their hidden berth would only buy them a few hours extra should the Caliph’s airships discover the battle-wrecked ornithopters and begin an organized search. With steep walls lined with loose rock, the canyon would become an unescapable killing ground once under attack. Captain Beaumont checked the riflemen at the canyon’s rim, braced against the scree and ready to call out should anything approach.

“Captain,” Chevket said.

“How bad is she?” he said.

His first officer ran a hand through his hair and glanced back at the ship. “A dozen injured, but thankfully no lives lost. We have twenty cells holed beyond repair, twice that need patching to become airworthy again. The belly turrets are inoperable, and we have numerous twisted struts and popped rivets.”

Beaumont had feared as much. “And our helium?”

Chevket blew out and shook his head. “Mister Wallace is still making his estimate.”

“You’re quibbling, aren’t you?” Ives said. “You know, but you don’t want to be the bearer of bad news. Just spit it out, man.”

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Battle for October Sky – Part Two



Beaumont climbed the bridge ladder with Ensign Charles and nodded at Helmsman Docks, who stood from the captain’s chair and held it for Beaumont.

“Report.”

Docks looked nervous, and glanced at Agent Ives, who was studying the navigation table. “Craft secure, all sections nominal. We are tacking across a four knot wind along a heading of three-zero-four at five hundred feet.”

“What?” Beaumont roared. “What’s our speed?”

“Nineteen knots.” Docks steeled himself and shifted his gaze to Agent Ives.

“I see,” Beaumont said. “Very well, Mister Docks, you are relieved. Go find some supper.”

The normal murmuring of the bridge crew was missing, and all seemed abnormally focused on their stations. Beaumont composed himself and swiveled his chair around.

“Mister Ives, I imagine you dictated this course and altitude?”

Ives looked up, unconcerned. “I did, Captain. Did you have a nice dinner?”

“We’re heading into the heart of the Caliphate.”

“We came across a supply column heading back along the deaders’ path. They’re winding through a narrow pass that will take them most of the night. We’re going to be waiting for them when they emerge.”

Beaumont turned to the man at the damage control panel, Airman Tooley. “Battlestations. I want the gunnery crews ready to fire in two minutes. Helm, take us to altitude one-triple-zero and put her abeam the wind.”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Battle for October Sky – Part One


Author's Note: this story takes place in the same world as my fantasy/steampunk world featured in a previous story:  Badlands Journal

Captain Reginald Beaumont stared out over the sea of dunes searching for signs of life: a dot suggesting a head, natural oases, a line of tracks in the sand, fresh kills, man-sized shadows. In short, anything that could harbor a threat to his airship. One loony with a rifle would be all it would take. One lucky shot to deflate the wrong air sac, or jam an elevator, or the rudder, to consign his airship and crew to a slow death upon the sands. Damn the desert heat! Beaumont reached up to his collar buttons but stopped short. No, better to wait until he was out of the crew's view. Let them see sweat, not weakness.

A faint cough sounded behind him, more as an announcement of presence than actual need to expunge the lungs.

"Yes, Chevket?" Beaumont said.

"Sir," the younger, taller, and much thinner man said, "the engine room reports that our powerplant will need changing within the hour."

"Have we lost the capability of hot-swapping deaders?"

Chevket turned his head and gave an apologetic bow. "The engineer feels it would aid the deaders' recovery if we did not subject them to the undue stress of swapping while under load."

"Duly noted. Inform Mister Wallace to proceed with the hot-swap."

"Sir." Chevket moved to the brass tube and began relaying the order to the engine room.

Engineers, thought Beaumont, must have fears of becoming deaders themselves the way they coddled their charges. More interested in their unnaturally-animated husks and the precious engines they powered than for the integrity of the of the October Sky's gleaming silver envelope floating the airframe and all the truly living souls aboard. Such was the luxury of a ship’s engineer, but not its captain.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Letter to Colleen

Over the last couple of weeks, I've tried and tried to write a fitting memorial to my old friend Colleen. I failed. Everything sounded like an obituary. Fact is, I still can't believe she's gone. When I left Colorado two Fridays ago to see family and friends in the Midwest, my plan and hope was to visit with Colleen, provided she was up to it. I'd be in the area for three days and kept my plans loose, hoping that on at least one of those days I'd be given the go-ahead by the Powers That Be to stop in. Instead, I had lunch with another one of our friends and got a chance to hug her tightly.

Every time I think about Colleen, it's like I'm talking to her in my head and because there were things I wanted to tell her, my good-bye won't be a good-bye. It'll be a letter, a letter I should have written long ago.

Hey Colleen,

In the 35 years we've known each other, I don't think I ever told you how much I admire you. Yeah, that sounds way too sentimental and let's change the subject and all that, but it's true. And here's the thing, that's exactly what you are: true. True to yourself. True to the ideals you've held all your life. True to the friends you've gathered along the way.

I think I was a bit intimidated by you when we met, but you know how my memory is. You were so damn sure of yourself, so amazingly smart and perfectly at home in the world. I could tell just by watching you walk. Your loose-limbed amble belied your sharp eye, taking in the stories that surrounded you. And, for you, everything and everyone had a story, even if you had to make it up. Of course those were the best stories, but it took me a while to figure that out.

Still, you befriended me and I count myself lucky to be included in the posse of characters that pepper your life. I wish I'd recorded some of our marathon phone sessions from the early days. What the hell did we talk about for hours at a time day after day? Our kids? No, too mundane, unless they'd done something off-the-wall. But I do have every one of our party invitations for the Winter Solstice One-Size-Fits-All Sing for Your Supper parties you so loved to host. Every once in a while I take them out and read them, always ending up with tears of laughter streaming down my face. I can hear your voice; I can see you sitting at the typewriter(!) pounding them out as we tossed off ideas. It was easier, though, if I did the typing because you liked to pace and wander about the room.

Wandering has always been your specialty, one of the things I most admire about you. (I know, I know, stop with the praise already!) In my own travels I was never as mindful as you about how important the journey is as compared to the goal. The journey, after all, is fodder for new stories and introduces you to countless interesting folks that you can either turn into the heroes of your stories, or kill them off. Killing them off is so much fun!

We lost touch for a while, but when we reconnected, I was sad to know that you had a place on the city council and that I was no longer there to dutifully document its foibles for the newspaper of record. How much fun that would have been! I can see the worst of them rolling their eyes and gritting their teeth every time you called them out for a stupid idea. And there, right there, is one of the best parts of Colleen Sutherland: your ability to point out flaws in someone's reasoning with calmly stated logic. Often, they don't get it and while you never suffer fools gladly, you often choose not to waste your time. The patented Colleen shrug and a mumbled "idiot" have to suffice.

Misfits, though, misfits always have a friend in you. Anyone who has been deemed too odd, too complicated, too scary to be taken seriously can count on your advocacy, if not your friendship. And if some sacred cow needs to be slayed, you're always there to pick up the knife. Remember how we took a bottle of wine out to the cemetery to watch the Perseid meteor shower? I was all for just lying on the top of the car, but nope, it was a grave or nothing for you. I forget now whose graves you chose, but we spent a few giddy hours lying side by side in the dark, sipping wine and watching the skies.

Then there was my 30th birthday party. It was back in your old house and you even made a cake; cucumber-shaped with sickly green frosting. Only a few of us knew why. One of my relatives showed up and completely ruined the party, at least for me. You rather liked that relative at first, found her stories fascinating. But you saw how distressed I was and wasted no time asking the woman to leave, politely, but pointedly. Later, you took me aside and asked me why in the world I would allow such a person in my life. That was long before the phrase "toxic relationships" was part of the lexicon, but you knew all about those.

You also knew I wouldn't listen. Not then anyway, but some months later I excised that particular poison from my life and have had 30 years of peace. You're the only person I never had to explain it to. Thank you for that. Thank you for making me crazy with your logic and your honesty. Thank you for teaching me how to shrug and walk away. Thank you for pushing me to write, to do what I love and how to push through fears. And thank you most of all for your love draped like a loose arm around my shoulders, never too tight and always ready to set me free ... and to let me back in.

With love,
Betty

This week's story Lightening the Load

- Bettyann

Friday, October 10, 2014

Colleen Sutherland, Storyteller


This week, we lost our friend Colleen.

In the almost eight years I knew her, Colleen was the bohemian writer and provocateur that I aspired to be. Her life was like a series of short story hooks: getting married on a lunch break, waiting out a riot in a bar, living in a house cut in half, or living through the Summer of Love. She was woman whose only regrets were never having been arrested, and not writing her stories earlier.

She was my greatest cheerleader, and often said that our writer’s group meetings were important because while family and friends could be sympathetic, they could never truly understand the maladies of the daily writer. We celebrated getting our stories published by magazines no one knew existed, thumbed our noses at rejection letters from even more obscure publications, held book sales in supermarkets, and challenged each other’s boundaries. I consider getting Colleen to kill a dog in a story to be one of my supreme accomplishments as a writer. She taught me that a writer’s voice develops naturally from writing, and writing, and writing some more.

She told me she used to be afraid of death, so she started hospice volunteering and got over it. I like to believe that at the end, she stared at the reaper and was not scared, only curious. Maybe she flipped him off. The cancer took away her words first, so I will never know. She didn’t want a funeral; she said that when you’re dead, that’s it. I urge you to keep that in mind when you read her story this week and know that while she was writing it, she was laughing the whole time. 

This week's story:  The Funeral

-Wade 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Element of Doubt

By Bettyann Moore

“Darn it, here he comes,” Kitty Nesbitt said, peering through the living room blinds. She let the slat fall with a shuddering clatter.

“Oh, you don’t know that he’ll stop here,” Pete said. “He could just as well pass us by and go to the Johnson’s or Muriel Flat’s.”

Kitty snorted. “I know for a fact,” Kitty told her husband, “that Muriel Flat hides in the laundry room where there are no windows or doors. I admire her for that.”

Friday, September 26, 2014

Royal Puppet – Part Two

Image by Richard Schofield via Wikimedia Commons


They had taken him in the night, and thrown him in an old well. His bare feet slipped in the mud and loose gravel, so the young prince had to brace his elbows against the crumbling stonework to keep himself up. He hurled threats and insults up at his captors, who laughed and dropped offal on his head. Rotten slops found ways down his clothes, slid into his ears, and threatened to slide into his mouth.

“What do you want?” he cried.

The faces pulled away, and a man in black came to the well’s edge.

The man asked questions that the prince had no answers for, and at each failure, more refuse was tossed down the well. Within an hour, the prince was shoulder-deep. He tried pushing himself higher by bracing against the walls, but his limbs found no purchase on the slick rock. The questions continued from the man in black and the garbage was replaced with loose mud, weighing down his arms.

He was going to die. His lungs would fill with mud and rot. He would never rule. He would choke and gag and die alone in a pit. He screamed.

“Oh, your’re no use to us like this,” the man in black said.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Royal Puppet

Image by Richard Schofield via Wikimedia Commons


Lord Turlough twisted at a golden signet ring. Across from him, behind a heavy desk sat Adrian Sigmund, the Master of the Wardrobe, who smiled blandly as Lord Turlough stuttered on.

“I just cannot see His Majesty agreeing to such a move,” Turlough said. “He is, after all, Vorali on his maternal side, fostered in King Mathis’ court up until–“ he looked up at the Master of the Wardrobe, who indicated for the man to go on.

“Well, up until the unfortunate events,” Turlough said.

“Yes,” the Master of the Wardrobe said, brushing a piece of invisible lint from a diamond pin at his jacket collar, “I am familiar with that fact.”

Lord Turlough reddened. “Of course, of course. My point, Master Adrian, is that I have suffered for supporting you in the past with the railroad tax, conscript levy, and procuring repeating rifles from foreign interests. My position in parliament would be in utter ruin, not to mention my own personal investments should this gambit fail.”

Master Adrian let the silence stretch for uncomfortable moments before speaking.

“My Lord,” he said, “We are caught between two great powers and war is inevitable. Our kingdom will be swallowed up by one or the other if we keep to this so-called path of neutrality. Our only hope of survival is to ally ourselves with the winning side.”

“The Sandurians, you mean.”

Master Adrian brought his palms together. “It is within our power to tip the balance between the Sandurians and Vorali. We have secured certain concessions that will put your investments at ease should we throw our support behind the Sandurian Empire, my Lord.”

“And yet we are set to host both powers across the courtyard, in the motions of peace. Moreover, His Majesty seems quite serious in his pledge for a diplomatic solution. Forgive me if I find your ability to speak for His Majesty suspect.”

Master Adrian leaned forward, pinning Lord Turlough to the chair with his gaze.

“His Majesty and I have differing opinions on domestic issues of late, but when it comes to looking outside our borders, he and I are of one vision.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

Snapshots

Image by Mohylek via WikiMedia

By Bettyann Moore

Snapshot #1: Ichabod, who begins and ends this story.

It’s the only shot we have of him from that summer. From ever. He’s in the galvanized tub we rigged up as a bathtub, his bony knees drawn up to his chin, one long arm dangling over the side. His hair is wet and water sluices down his face as if he’d just dunked his head. He opened his eyes as I clicked the shutter, his look not quite surprised and not quite angry, even though no one ever touched his camera. Ichabod never got angry. Maybe he should have.

Friday, September 5, 2014

All Jokes Aside

Image by Traci Hall via Wikimedia Commons


Dan hadn’t been listening much to Sara and Teri’s discussion, but he took an interest when Teri blurted, “I’m so horny.”

“Oh, you can have Dan.” Sara replied. “I’m done with him for now.”

Both girls began laughing. Dan raised his eyebrows and looked up over his textbook. They stopped laughing for a split second, and then began laughing even harder. He looked from one girl to the next, then his eyebrows shot back down. Dan gently put down his textbook and mid-term notes, then got up from the ratty couch he had been studying on. He held out his hand to Teri. “Well, you heard her, let’s go.”

Friday, August 29, 2014

Memory's Keeper

By Bettyann Moore

Libby read the same paragraph three times before she realized that George’s snoring was interfering with her concentration. She knew, though, that trying to slip out of bed and move into the living room would be impossible. He was a notoriously light sleeper. He could sleep anywhere, it was true, but at the smallest sound, he’d jolt awake, have a devil of a time falling back to sleep and be crabby all day. It wasn’t worth it.

He was drooling again. A long string of saliva hung from the corner of his mouth and pooled on the pillow. Libby sighed, quietly. George had ruined numerous pillows with his drooling until she doubled up on the pillow protectors, and added two old pillowcases beneath the good one on top. It added to her wash load – she bleached them like crazy, but they were a lot easier to clean than a pillow.

Friday, August 22, 2014

President of the Board

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Miles got the call at 6:25 in the morning, five minutes before his alarm was set to go off. He checked the number, and considered tossing his phone across the room, except that would just bring the caller to his front door. His wife, Katlin, stirred beside him but did not wake. A buzzing phone she could sleep through, but a doorbell? Miles chose the lesser of two evils and answered.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Trading Up

By Bettyann Moore

This was how it was supposed to go:

To Richard, it would be like any other Friday evening. He would come home from a long day at the office doing whatever it was that he did there, and JoAnne would have martinis waiting. She, of course, would be dressed to the nines; she always was. They would chit chat a bit while they drank one or two cocktails, then Richard would go in to shower. Ava, their housekeeper (JoAnne hated the word “maid”) would have Richard’s clothing laid out for him, though JoAnne had picked them out, choosing something a tad less casual than usual. Richard wouldn’t notice. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Jason Wants to Go Fast

Image by SORG Rollstuhltechnik GmbH+Co.KG via Wikimedia Commons


The thing my mom doesn’t understand is that Jason wants to go fast. She’s always yelling at me to slow down because I’ll tip Jason over or get in an accident or something. She always pushes him slow, like they’re at the museum. She says he likes it, but she can’t tell, not really. She’s like forty years older than Jason, but I’m his sister and only two years older, so I should know what a kid wants. A kid wants to go fast.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cool Cat

By Bettyann Moore

In this age of instant communication, are we really listening to each other?
 
The cat showed up on the day that Marsha Lyons was going to commit suicide. It was hard to tell exactly what color it was, so matted and filthy its fur had become. It was big, but skinny, that much Marsha could tell when she went out to feed the birds for the last time. It was hungry, too; it went right for the little pile of bread Marsha had put out, even though several birds flitted nearby.

“Too tired, huh?” Marsha said. “Yeah, I understand, trust me.”

The cat looked up at her with one green eye and one blue eye and meowed pitifully. Marsha started backing away.

“No, no way,” she told it. “I don’t need that kind of heartache.” She made a shooing motion with her hands and kept walking backwards. The cat sat down, but it didn’t run away.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Campfire Song

Image by Lukas Riebling via Wikimedia Commons


Walt fed the campfire with twigs and dead pine needles, though it had taken a can of Sterno to get it started. Earlier in the hike, Marlin had pointed out a small hawk on the other side of a clearing that Walt couldn’t identify. The brochure’s rustic lunch tuned out to be PB&J. Whatever inherent mystique a Yukon trail guide might have, Walt was destroying it.

Marlin hummed a tune, watching for Walt’s reaction. The guide had to recognize the song. He had to.

“Cut that racket out,” Walt said.

Ah success. “Don’t you like the song?” Marlin asked.

“You’ve been carryin’ on with that nonsense since the trailhead. Christ himself would have told you to knock it off by now.” He tossed more needles in the fire and searched around his feet for more.

“I heard that singing or talking in the woods will keep bears away,” Marlin said.

“They’ll stay away just fine with or without you making jibber-jabber.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Life Partner Part IV

By Bettyann Moore

Sleep never comes that night. I have been asked to think about two very large things and have no idea where to begin. Thinking belies the words that echoed throughout the Pleasure Dome: Don’t think, do. They served me well there.

First off, Boone can’t be right about Breeders never conceiving. There was Maya. Her belly had gotten big and round. Everyone was so excited … but then she had been taken away for a time and brought back, her belly flat once more. A false alarm, she told us. No matter how hard I wish it not to be so, Boone is right. At least during the 10 years I occupied it, the Pleasure Dome never produced a child.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Life Partner - Part III

By Bettyann Moore


The worst part about being interviewed by a humbot is having to make eye contact. It’s also necessary, or they’ll keep repeating the question or statements until you do. I’ve never been good at eye contact. The interview would have gone on for hours and hours if I hadn’t finally gotten the hang of it. And, taking my cues from Boone on the first day, I never lied. I also never volunteered any information … unless I wanted to lead them to a conclusion. Let’s face it, my sleep hadn’t been troubled for over 10 years. It was easy for me to figure out why, all of a sudden, I’d had a bad dream, but there would be real trouble if anyone else knew why. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Life Partner - Part II

By Bettyann Moore

That night, I have a dream, the first one I’ve had since the Nursery.

I am back in the Pleasure Dome. I feel hemmed in, surrounded, as if on a crowded dance floor, but I’m alone. There is a door, one I’ve never seen before, far off in the distance. I move toward it, my bare feet quiet on the cool surface of the walk. I see myself in one CU-Screen after another as I pass them. As I near the door, I hear footsteps behind me, rapid, loud and echoing. The door swings open and there is light beyond. The footsteps draw nearer, but the door seems to have gotten farther away, not closer. I increase my pace, but on the screens I appear to be moving in slow-motion. Now running, I see the door begin to shut. The footsteps behind me have increased in number. I reach the door just as it’s about to close. I push through it and slam it behind me.

Again, I am alone, but breathe deeply, freely. I take a step. The door reopens, an arm snakes through, grabs me and pulls me back. I scream and I scream, but no sound comes out.
That night, I have a dream, the first one I’ve had since the Nursery.

I am back in the Pleasure Dome. I feel hemmed in, surrounded, as if on a crowded dance floor, but I’m alone. There is a door, one I’ve never seen before, far off in the distance. I move toward it, my bare feet quiet on the cool surface of the walk. I see myself in one CU-Screen after another as I pass them. As I near the door, I hear footsteps behind me, rapid, loud and echoing. The door swings open and there is light beyond. The footsteps draw nearer, but the door seems to have gotten farther away, not closer. I increase my pace, but on the screens I appear to be moving in slow-motion. Now running, I see the door begin to shut. The footsteps behind me have increased in number. I reach the door just as it’s about to close. I push through it and slam it behind me.

Again, I am alone, but breathe deeply, freely. I take a step. The door reopens, an arm snakes through, grabs me and pulls me back. I scream and I scream, but no sound comes out.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Life Partner - Part I

By Bettyann Moore

I only have 12 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds of freedom left and I feel utterly paralyzed. Though I have never met any, the Old Ones say that the last 24 hours are the worst, that the paralysis sets in and there’s nothing you can do about it. I believe it now. I always swore that it would be different for me, that I’d be Partnering with somebody – or several somebodies – up to the last second. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There are those who whisper that our last vaccination, always given at puberty, contains a drug that keeps our minds and bodies ready and open for Partnering and that its effects wear off exactly 24 hours before our twentieth birthdays. I believe that now, too. It was as if a light went out in my head and between my legs. The very idea of Partnering makes me sick to the stomach. If it is a drug wearing off, it’s damn timely and effective.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Neutral Ground

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Author's note: this story features characters introduced in Carne Fresco.

I stare at my number. It is printed on a thumb-sized slip of paper in the kind of ink that gets all over your fingers but never wants to wash off. My number today is G106. Yesterday it was H55. I wonder if the guy who replaces the roll of tickets in the take-a-number machine each night is trying to be funny, going backwards through the alphabet while time moves forward. Maybe he just grabs a roll at random. But then I think that can’t be right because the red LED display behind the counters has to read the same thing as the tickets or the system all falls apart. If there’s one thing the DMV values, it’s a system.

A man in a ripped-sleeve denim jacket stares at the ceiling. He’s mouthing words silently, tilting his head this way and that as if weighing them in his head. The words are short, single syllables all, but his head sloshes from side to side as if they weigh tons. The reason the DMV needs its systems are for people like him.

“The word of the day is …” he says out loud.

The younger woman sitting next to him taps at her phone’s screen. That’s what most people do while waiting for their number to be called. It used to be magazines or books, but now it’s all hand-held idiot boxes. Stimulus, response. She pops the gum in her mouth and sighs when she realizes the guy is waiting for a response.

“Is what?” she asks.

The man holds up a finger. “Boobs.”

“Boobs?”

He nods with a smile. “Ding.”

The woman shakes her head and turns back to her phone.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dance For Me

By Bettyann Moore

Panic was starting to set in as Lynne Gould erased the last brainstorming ideas from the chalkboard. If the Silverman-Gould Agency didn’t come up with a blockbuster ad campaign for Cheesy Pizza Noodles, she – and the rest of the team – could find themselves in the unemployment line. She put the chalk back in the tray, resisted the urge to wipe her hands on her black slacks and faced the group.

“What’s up, people?” she said. “We’re getting down to the wire here and we’ve got nothing.”

No one on the small team met her eyes. Ben Young scribbled on a legal pad. Barb Poston had a compact open and was re-applying mascara. Sylvie Brown was methodically crushing the contents of a bag of Cheesy Pizza Noodles into powder on the conference room table by using a pencil as a rolling pin. Half a dozen bags of the product lay open on the table. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Corncob and Michael Visit the Old Folk's Home - Part 4

Photo by Thomas Wolf via Wikimedia Commons




Corncob stood in Archie’s doorway with his arms folded, doing his very best imitation of a CIA heavy. It would have helped if he was wearing a suit with shiny leather shoes rather than torn work pants, muddy steel-toes, and a t-shirt with the Abbey Road album cover on it. He thought even a pair of sunglasses would have helped if only to armor himself against Archie’s narrowed eyes as Michael poked about. If the geriatric actually had the morphine stashed away, it was nowhere to be found in his room. Thankfully, Archie didn’t seem to have any weapons either because Corncob was pretty sure the old codger wouldn’t hesitate to use one right now.

“You ain’t never going to find it, so just piss off,” Archie said.

Michael went to the closet for the fourth time, listening with one ear cocked as he rapped on the walls.

“If you come clean now,” Michael said, “Special Agent X and I can make sure you won’t get sent to Guantanamo.”

Archie made a rattling noise with his mouth that sounded like a set of dentures getting in the way of a raspberry. “Now I know you two Nimrods aren’t with the government. Gitmo? The spooks only put towel-heads there. Citizens get put under Yucca Mountain with the Nazi rocket scientists.”

Friday, May 30, 2014

Corncob and Michael Visit the Old Folk's Home - Part 3

Photo by Thomas Wolf via Wikimedia Commons



The linen room’s lighting was more yellow-gray than white, and the same could be said for the linens. Carts of sheets, pillow cases, and towels lined one side of the room next to a bank of washing machines built into the walls. Dryers on the adjacent wall leaked enough waste heat and humidity to make the room a bleach-scented sauna. The room’s only recommendation was its lack of staff and its location across the hallway from the medical supply room. Corncob wiped his forehead and tried to focus on the problem at hand.

“It’s one of those card reader locks, the easiest ones to fool,” he said.

“Yeah, if we weren’t trying to fight with both arms tied behind us,” Michael said. “I’m never agreeing to dampen my magic for even five minutes if we get out of this.”

“Big if. Tommy’s probably calling the cops right now.”

“Maybe he’ll figure we left on our own.” Michael tugged at the front of his t-shirt a few times, trying to coax in some cooler air.

“When did you become the optimist?” Corncob asked. Michael glared, but didn’t have any other response.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Corncob and Michael Visit the Old Folk's Home - Part 2

Photo by Thomas Wolf via Wikimedia Commons



“Get away from there. That’s very expensive stuff. Expensive,” Tommy said.

“What’s he on morphine for?” Michael asked.

“Can’t tell you.”

Michael raised a hand to his eyes, getting as far as looking between the middle and ring finger before he remembered that he couldn’t scan Tommy’s thoughts.

Tommy scowled. “That some kind of fancy way of flipping me the bird? You flipping me the bird?”

“It’s a nervous tic he has,” Corncob said. “We’re Erasmus’ nephews. Can’t you tell the family why he’s on this stuff?”

“You got a POA?”

Corncob looked at Michael, who seemed as perplexed as Corncob felt.

“No you don’t,” Tommy said. “If you did, you’d know.”

“What’s a POA?” Corncob said.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Corncob and Michael Visit the Old Folk's Home



Photo by Thomas Wolf via Wikimedia Commons




Black grease coated Corncob’s hands, forehead, and now his neck as he rubbed at a spot just below his hairline. He looked at the broken Chevy as man would a rabid dog. The car’s grille lay scattered across the trail like broken teeth, fluorescent green liquid puddled underneath the radiator. Michael sat on a stump and arched an eyebrow at his friend.

“Weren’t you a car mechanic for twenty years?” Michael said. “Can’t you fix it?”

Corncob scooped up a glob of mud and chucked it at the smaller man, who had already sensed his intention and leaned left as soon as the mud left Corncob’s fingertips.

“Maybe if I had a full shop with tools instead of being stuck out here with nothing but rocks, sticks, and a skinny moron, I could do more,” Corncob said.

“Would it help if the skinny moron gained weight?” Michael leaned to his right as another mud clod sailed past his ear. “Well now that we’ve got that out of the way, I suppose we’ll have to go on foot.”

“We should call a wrecker. I can fix this.”

“It’s a rental. We’ll leave it and let ‘em know where to pick it up.”

“You going to tell them about the deer?” Corncob asked.

“I won’t if you won’t,” Michael said.

“You were driving.”

“Me? Drive? I should hope not. The judge took away my license long ago, my friend. That’s why I reserved this car under your name.”

Corncob’s jaw worked. “Mine? But you had to show the girl behind the desk an ID.”

“I did. Yours.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

Should've Seen That Train Coming - Part II

By Bettyann Moore

Despite all the information and questions swirling in her head, Andra actually fell asleep after going just a few miles. Her dreams were peppered with images of faceless beings trying to drag her off, but every time they tried, Desiree pulled her back. She awoke when the soothing rhythm of the road noise stopped. Another potty break, Andra figured.

“Hey, sleepyhead!” Desiree said. “We’re here.”

“Here? Here where?” Andra sat up and rubbed her eyes.

“We made it all the way to Council Bluffs. I’ve stayed at this hotel before,” Desiree said, nodding at the double glass doors they were parked in front of. “I am so in need of a shower, a drink, some dinner and a bit of gambling. In that order. How ‘bout you?”

Friday, May 2, 2014

Should've Seen That Train Coming - Part I

By Bettyann Moore

Andra Lewis stood patiently at the car rental counter. All the paperwork was done; she just needed the key and she could be on her way. Her clerk, who was also the manager as it turned out, had been pulled away and was engaged in a heated discussion with another woman. Andra tried not to eavesdrop, but there was something about the woman’s voice that kept drawing her attention, a certain cadence that sounded vaguely familiar.

The woman was old, like Andra, though Andra’s daughter kept insisting that at the age of 57 she most definitely was not old. Since turning 35, Sophia didn’t like to be reminded that she had an aging mother. That’s what Andra figured anyway. And maybe she wasn’t that old. After all, here she was getting ready to drive across three states – alone – to attend her 40th class reunion, something she both dreaded and looked forward to. Andra was afraid of flying. Sophia insisted that her mother rent a car, though, and not chance driving her 1994 Toyota all that distance. It was fine for tooling around town, she said, but not all the way across the barren Nebraska landscape. Since Sophia put her money where her mouth was, Andra didn’t argue.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hero of Car Seven

By Bettyann Moore

You’ve probably seen the video. It went viral within hours, though I don’t quite understand why. It had like a gazillion views in the first week, second only to the opera-singing 2-year-old. You know the one. Then came the one where that foreign princess denounces her husband, crown and country – in that order – at her own wedding dinner and that topped them all for at least a couple of weeks. That’s a long time in Internet fame terms.

Of course, you can’t really tell it’s me, which suits me just fine. All you see is the inside of the packed subway car and people jumping up on their seats or holding their legs straight out so as not to touch the floor. Then you see the rat, doing what rats do, scurrying along the side of the car, under the seats, then out in the middle, confused. People are either laughing, crying or screaming. And there’s one who’s mouth is wide open and if you’re watching the video, you think there’s something wrong with the sound at first. Her face is red, her neck muscles taut; tears stream down her face. This is some serious screaming, you think, and you’d be right, except there’s no sound coming out of her mouth. I wondered if maybe she’s a deaf mute. It’s eerie and unsettling, and that’s why I stepped in when I did.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Night at the Theater – Part Two


I consider sending my boss out to get help while I make my escape. Unfortunately, my disappearance would only fix a memory of me in his mind. I look at my partially ruined jacket, 100 percent virgin wool, still salvageable if I get it to my cleaner on time. I sigh and close my eyes as I place it on the floor and use it as a shield to shimmy my way back under the stall’s door, virgin no longer. My boss stares at the jacket as I walk past him.

“Aren’t you going to pick it up?” he asks.

“No.”

“That jacket still has value, are you going to let that go to waste? I can give you the name of my dry cleaner.”

I can give you the name of my janitorial service, I want to say. I should be thankful he’s distracted, but I want to throttle him. When a board member’s shoes stick to his theatre’s bathroom floor, he should have better things to do than lecture someone on dry cleaning costs. He’s always missing the dollars floating above his head while scrambling for pennies on the floor.

“It was fifteen bucks on clearance,” I lie. “Don’t worry about it.”

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Night at the Theater - Part One

Image by yiftah-s via Wikimedia Commons


The ballerinas wear gas masks, and I wish for one too. Someone sitting near had hit the garlic too hard, and tried covering it with cologne. A rotten spiciness mingled with peppery flowers causes my eyes to water. I can’t decide whether it is worse to breathe through my nose or mouth, and I wonder if I can get the usher to throw the offender out, or at least douse them with a bucket of something less offensive, like fish heads.

Of course, it could be a plant. Any director that would attempt interpreting trench warfare through ballet, with the prima wearing the spiked helmet of a Prussian officer would not be above gassing the audience. Then again, the production budget and meager cast can’t waste a warm body in the audience. Perhaps there are packets of garlic oil and gutter-quality Chanel under our seats. This is off-off-Broadway after all, dear. Kiss-kiss. Can you handle it?

I am the only accountant in the room. White hipsters living in the former ghettos sit in front of me, arguing if Samuel Adams is really a craft brewer or mini-Budweiser. Two haute couture designers to my left with gravity-defying asymmetrical haircuts whisper  to an immaculately groomed black man so small that I believe him to be a Pygmy. To my right, three Eurotrash gay men in summer-weight scarves hold hands and twirl their feet in synchronicity. The masses of malnourished actors in black sit in either the front or back rows according to some pecking order I cannot fathom. I feel the collective gazes on me and the unspoken question: what’s he doing here?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Losing Game

By Bettyann Moore

“Jesus, Dorkshire, where the hell you been? I’ve been freezing my ass off out here!” Chuck Copiski ground out another cigarette with the toe of his shoe and blew on his fingers. The sidewalk at his feet was littered with butts smoked down to the filter.

“You said 7 o’clock, right? I just heard the church bells ring.” Doyle Dormeyer hobbled up to his friend, out of breath.

“That was 15 minutes ago, Dorkus.” Chuck hocked up a wad of phlegm and spit it onto the walk, just missing Doyle’s shriveled left foot in its built-up shoe.

“Sorry, sorry,” Doyle said. “My ma needed help with Petey. He ain’t feelin’ the best.”

Chuck knew better than to challenge anything to do with Petey. “Yeah, well, don’t let it happen again, Dorkmeister. Come on, we gotta meet The Wop over by the pool hall.”

The two set out, one reed-thin and limping, the other short and stocky, leading with his jutting chin.

“Why do you call him that?” Doyle said, struggling to keep up.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Trip to the Bazzar

Image by Ensie & Matthias via Wikimedia Commons


Author’s note: This week, I ran out of story ideas, so I’m substituting this travelogue. Enjoy!

I walk through the bazaar, the air filled with coffee and spices, while stands of every color and shape assault my senses. Silhouettes of femme fatales gyrate on the wall of one tent, pixies and leprechauns play dice in front of another. At an outdoor cafe, a knight sits with a man in a tuxedo and a woman in an aviator helmet sharing coffee and cigarettes. Another man sits alone at another table, casting furtive glances at the trio and whispering into his sleeve.

Normally, I'd hang out at the cafe and see who I'd meet, but today, I'm in need of something quick, a plot driver. Something to take back to the office where my characters are sitting around on set, complaining about their motivations. (Ugh! Characters!)

I stop at a stand painted green where a short bearded man looks up at me expectantly.

“Welcome to Macadoo McGuffin’s, sir! Please come into my humble stall and find the solution to all your plot problems!”

I thank the man and browse around the shelves and barrels. Macadoo hovers around me like a shadow, making comments of the obvious.

I look at a barrel filled with black falcon statuary.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cooking Up Trouble - Part II

By Bettyann Moore

Many times Maggie had heard Porpoise say “They don’t call it the web for nothing,” but didn’t realize what he’d meant until now. After reading and rereading through the recipes and jotting down notes until she felt a bit more comfortable with them, she clicked on a highlighted link for Family Recipes. Then on a link for Pot Pies, which led her to the HappyGrumpyChef. As far as Maggie could tell, the HappyGrumpyChef (such a name!) was just a grandmother in Kansas who liked to cook and put up a recipe Web site. Nonetheless, Maggie spent a long time looking at the woman’s pictures and videos and reading stories about her family. Maggie had been ensnared in the World Wide Web. She didn’t surface until she heard the clomp of John’s boots on the back porch.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cooking Up Trouble - Part I

By Bettyann Moore

Porpoise McAllister was the only boy at Dailyville High who elected to take cooking class instead of auto mechanics in his junior year.

“Always knew you were a freak, McAllister,” Troy Jones, the captain of the football team scoffed.

“Gonna make tiny cakes for tea parties?” a kid in chemistry teased, miming sipping tea with his pinkie in the air.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Porpoise always answered with a mysterious smile.

The fact of the matter was that there wasn’t much more for Porpoise to learn about vehicle maintenance. He’d been taking apart cars, tractors, mowers and combines on the family farm since he was big enough to hold a wrench – and putting them back together again. When he wasn’t working on the farm, he was working on the things that kept the farm working. The thought of spending part of his time at school doing the same held no thrall. Cooking, though, that was different.

Friday, March 7, 2014

City of Wonders

Photo by By lafleur, via Wikimedia Commons


My name is Michca, and I live in a city of wonders. I live in a flat on the highest floor of my building. It looks down on the mansions, ski lodges, and expensive shops across the river. Some days, I watch the little people ski down the mountains right to the edge of town, and dream that I am a queen surveying my subjects. To either side, identical flats in identical blocks to my own form a kind of castle wall. I wonder sometimes if in the hundreds of families lucky enough to have a view like mine, if there is a girl that thinks she is a queen too.

My cousin came to stay with his worn suitcase and old person’s clothes, reeking of animals and diesel. I wondered if we could find him something else to wear before we went out to meet my friends. He almost looks Roma, his clothes are so worn. The Roma pick through rags and live like peasants. The city makes them live away from us, which is good, because otherwise they would steal from us all the time. Every year, the Americans and British come to give them food and toys at Christmas. Why, I do not know.

We have fine Western clothes, with the names and logos of many American sports teams. My cousin looks like he is from the country, but I look like I could have just come from New York City, or been in a hip-hop music video. Someday I will be a famous model in the magazines and I will live on the other side of the city. My cousin will never be this; he will always be a pig farmer.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Stalker - Part II

Read Part I here.

By Bettyann Moore

It took him a while and he had to use the flashlight in the darkening gloom, but Digg’s heart raced with joy when he saw Bo lying on the porch as he approached the house.

“Hey boy, hey Bo!” Digg hollered. The dog raised his head and Digg could see his tail thumping, but the pit bull didn’t get up. Digg rushed to his side, unsurprised to see a large, bloody gash in the dog’s side.

“Oh, Christ. Oh, God,” Digg moaned. “My poor boy.” He sat down next to the dog and scratched him behind the ears. He poked a tentative finger into the wound, but Bo snarled at him.

“It’s okay, buddy, it’s okay,” Digg soothed. “Fucking lion, fucking cat! Bet you put up a good fight, huh, boy?”

It was 15 miles to the nearest vet and Digg hated doctors of all sorts, but he gathered the dog into his arms as gently as he could and carried him to the truck, which he’d left parked on the culvert. By the time he climbed into the driver’s seat, though, he knew Bo was gone. Digg never cried and he didn’t cry now. He pounded on the steering wheel and screamed for the blood of that big cat. And her brats, too.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Stalker - Part I

By Bettyann Moore

Bo and Cleo watched in anticipation as their master pulled his Browning from the top of the refrigerator. When the Browning came out, it was time for their walk. Their tails thumped, thumped, thumped on the kitchen linoleum as Digg Dunham sighted down the short barrel cop-style, gun resting on his left arm, right trigger finger ready, feet wide and hips pivoted.

“Ready, kids?” Digg said as he straightened out and holstered the handgun. Cleo’s huge front paws clicked a tap dance while Bo stretched and started pawing at the corner of the door.

“Hang on, hang on, you two!” Digg commanded. “It’s frickin’ wet out there.” Digg grabbed a rain poncho from the rack on the wall and pulled it on. It was September in the Rockies, for Pete’s sake, he should be worried about smoke coming up the ridge, not about keeping dry.

The rains had pounded down for almost two weeks now. Not all day, but every day. Like clockwork, by 2 pm the clouds moved in and began the night-long soak. Colorado’s dryness was one of the reasons Digg had moved there; that, and the ethnics that peopled the streets of Baltimore. His neighbors in the canyon, though, were all white as far as he could tell and few and far between.