Peeling Back

It’s been a while. My contribution to this week’s Inspiration Monday.

* * * * *

Peeling back the cover was the easy part. It was the thin sheet that concerned him. Cold air settling on bare flesh would be a wake-up call to the deepest sleeper on this ship, with everyone programmed to fear the cold like his kind were prone to fear the heat.

The ceiling ducts clicked, slowly at first, gaining tempo before the cabin heat blasted against his back. Now was his moment. He had to work fast or he’d melt before he got out of there.

Index finger and thumb of each hand pinched the top of the sheet. The sleeper shifted her legs. Her limp arm dropped from her side to the cot. She rolled onto her back, and he used the distraction of her motion to jerk the sheet down to her knees. And there it was. Not even strapped down. Waiting for him.

There was something else–a tension on his leg. His eyeballs burned in the sockets. That heat. It was shutting down his sight, his lungs. He’d discarded his suit outside the cabin to gain agility, but he’d underestimated how quickly their heat would affect him. He reached to free his leg but his fingers met the hot skin of an EF-19 human fist clutching his pant leg. One merciful moment of regained sight showed him her outstretched arm, her open eyes, her hardened glare. Just before he fell to his knees.

Infinity in Pieces

I didn’t intend to contribute to Inspiration Monday this week, but this one just popped in there without my consent. Can anyone find the word with the double meaning?

* * * * *

I was inspecting the puncture in my chest armor when something slammed me from behind. My body joined the others on the ground, and I rolled until I found the hard flat surface. I grabbed the side of my helmet–a reflex, to fling it off. To breathe free air.

Your world is your suit. Anything outside your suit will bring death until proven otherwise.

This air was not free, and I couldn’t afford what they were charging. On my back, through the dust on my helmet’s visor, I watched the largest moon’s moon, its visible spin, its tarnished brown surface rolling to brilliant pink. Moons of moons. I wanted to go home, to my single, unencumbered moon, my one reliable piece of the infinity of space.

My head swam when I braced my elbows against the ground and pushed up, and wet heat crawled down my arms and back. I moved my eyes to Suit.Status on my helmet’s control panel. Status normal. No breach. All strength left my arms and I fell back, into a slough inside my suit.

My training officer had warned of death outside my suit, never of one inside it.

How Did You Get in Here?

My contribution to this week’s Inspiration Monday.

* * * * *

I round the fender of the car and power on my scanner. Just a chick fumbling with her keys. Nothing to see here. The car chirps twice, disarmed. I get in and push the ignition button. The dash lights up all around me like a miniature city at night. The engine growls–a surprised grizzly woken early from deep slumber. Easy, boy. And all this in less than ten seconds from the bushes to the driver’s seat. I owe Shayd for his new program. How I’ll pay him? TBD.

Shove into first, and the car squeals out of there. Let them hear. At zero to sixty in three point five seconds, it’s far too late for them anyway. I check the rear view mirror, and that’s when I see it hunkering in the shadows surrounded by tinted glass. A bent form. A shoulder. Human hair. Buzzed short, like a man’s. I have no weapon, not even some lousy pepper spray. Be cool. If he was supposed to be here, he wouldn’t be hiding. If he was going to attack me, he already would’ve.

“How did you get in here?”

Clothes rustle against the seat. His eyes appear in the mirror. “Same way you did.”

“Yet I’m the one driving it away.”

“I thought you were the owner.”

“How do you know I’m not?”

He reaches to the front seat and picks up my scanner. “This doesn’t look like the factory key.”

I snatch it from him. “Where do you want me to drop you off?”

He laughs. “Not so fast. I was here first.” Arms, head, and torso shove between the headrests and into the front passenger seat, then legs, too long for such a maneuver but he does it anyway, all without kicking me in the face. “Seems there’s one thing we both want.”

“No, there’s something I have, and something you want.”

He doesn’t answer right away. He’s waiting for me to look at him. I shouldn’t, but I do.

He raises both eyebrows. Smiles. “Are we still talking about the car?”

Point System

“Spelunking sounds fun. And a good excuse to get out of the house often.”

He motions to the bartender for another round. “Yep. I try to go every weekend.”

Every weekend? I bet the gear is expensive, too. Buying accessories for a hobby is almost as fun as the hobby itself. All points forfeited. You lose, buddy.

I grab my purse. “Do you know where the ladies’ room is?”

He points, then picks up our drinks. “Should I get us a table?”

“Sure.” I head in the direction of the restrooms but take the stairs instead to the second floor bar. After five minutes of looking wistful with my strawberry daiquiri as my only company, a tall-blond-and-handsome elbows his way next to me against the bar and orders something on tap. The foam clings to his upper lip with the first sip, but he notices quickly and licks it off. One point. Oh, and what’s that? A tingle in my stomach from the sight of that skillful tongue? One extra point.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hi.”

He offers his hand. “Daniel Rivers.”

Another point for an easy to spell last name. I take his hand. “Rebecca Robertson.” And I could keep my initials. One more point. Plus one extra point for a straightforward greeting with no pickup line. “Do you go by Daniel?”

“Since I was eighteen.”

“Can I call you Danny?”

He smiles. Good smile. Good teeth. And that stomach tingle again. Three points. “Depends on the circumstance.” And two more points for a sense of humor. “Can I get you another drink?”

“If I have another, I might need a ride home.”

“No problem. I can take you home.”

Let’s kick this up a notch. “I might have some friends joining me. I’m usually the designated driver.”

He smiles again. Wow. Five more points. “Well, that might be a problem. I drive a pick-up.”

Oh. A truck. Even better than a sports car. He’s practical, and probably handy. And can deliver that chest of drawers I’ve had my eye on. Ladies and gentleman, we have a winner.

The Devil’s Throne (My Brother’s Descent, Part 6)

Part 6 of the series. The full series is here.

* * * * *

“Do it,” you say again.

This end is too perfect. Too deserved. And if this ghost of your brother is the real deal this time, then this end is poetic justice.

You open your eyes. The gun has tipped slightly, so it now aims, lazy and uninterested, at your upper lip instead of your forehead. Your brother’s attention is fixated on the ground next to you.

The kid you used to know would pause, wouldn’t have the courage to pull the trigger. He’s not that kid anymore. He’s not any kid you know. He’s a young monster with a big gun. An adolescent Tyrannosaurus Rex–wild and impulsive and more frightening than the adults of his species. And you know it’s not his fear tipping that gun down because you can taste the power in the air around him. You recognize the flavor–it’s the dirty kind, gained from squashing others. Causing suffering. Taking souls. It’s a power not granted by that gun, or those two-hundred-dollar sneakers, or the gang of guys behind him. It comes from inside him.

You did send him to hell. You sold him to the devil, and he ripped out the devil’s heart and took the devil’s throne. He doesn’t see what he’s become. And you are the only one who can save him.

Cubs Fan (My Brother’s Descent, Part 5)

Part 5 of the series. The full series is here.

* * * * *

I could shoot him in the back of his head right now and he’d never see it coming. I could make this quick and painless.

Why would I want to do that?

He’s still on all fours when he looks up at me. In seven years, he’s aged twenty. His new life in god-knows-where must not have been as cushy as he expected.

“Get up,” I say.

The bastard has the balls to smile at me. And as he stands, I see a flicker of our dad dressed in my brother’s clothes. Forget this.

“Somebody hand me a gun.” I put my hand out. A gun slides in, front-heavy with the silencer attached.

He closes his eyes. “Do it,” he says, and drops his baseball cap.

I chew the side of my tongue and stare at that damn baseball cap lying in a oily puddle on the asphalt. He’s a Cubs fan now? What the hell?

My Brother’s Descent

Sorry to regurgitate these, but I want to put them all in one place so I can update this as I add to it, refer to it as I write more, and link to previous parts more easily. No need to reread unless you want to… move along… nothing to see here, folks…

* * * * *

I waited for you. I watched that army green door on the back of 511 North 19th Street as the Earth turned and the shadows grew and the night slid over the city. You said you’d look different, but none of those people who came out of that door could have been you. There are some things you can’t change.

When the sweaty hand clamped over my mouth, I thought it was you, playing a joke on me. I had been careful. They couldn’t have found me. But this duct tape is not a joke. Neither is the man with the sledgehammer, coming back after his dinner for the information a bloody nose and a broken elbow could not extract. Now that they have me, they won’t need you. You’re probably across the border now. I hope you are.

Because you’ll never guess what I’m about to tell them.

* * * * *

You’re at that Chinese food place again–the one with the streamers on the ceiling fans and the battery-operated candles trying to illuminate Buddha in the sunlit front window. You’ve paid the skinny Korean boy at the cash register and you’ve just sat down with your Moo Goo Gai Pan when you notice them. They’re eating in an innocent, almost weary silence. A break from their daily routine. A reprieve. You know it too well.

You consider switching to the chair across from you but decide against it. You don’t want your back to them. You slide your baseball cap around so the brim is in the front and tug it low on your forehead. You turn your spoon upside down on the table so you can see their movement in the reflection if they get up. Then you bow over your plate and eat. You don’t want to finish before them. You want to chew each individual piece of rice so you can remain a fixture blending into the restaurant and not the person they’ve been looking for for seven years. If you still recognize them after that long, they’ll still recognize you.

Two of them finish, take turns using the restroom, and leave. You hear their car start up and speed away. One remains at the table, engrossed in his phone. You like these odds better. You’ve been back in the city for two years, and he’s the first person you’ll have to confront. Not bad, you think.

He pockets his phone and looks at you. You turn your baseball cap backward again. You’re no coward. In here, or out there? you think at him. You don’t know he’s only there to stall you.

You don’t know it’s the second person, the one coming down the street toward that Chinese food place right now, who should really worry you.

* * * * *

I’m sleeping off a late night when I get the message. Only that could have penetrated my dead man’s slumber. There must be something to the sixth sense. Add seven years of bloodlust and it’s a sixth sense on speed.

I untangle myself from Billy’s girlfriend and hunt for my clothes. Shit. Billy’s girlfriend. But what the fuck’s he gonna say to the guy who catapulted through the ranks as fast as I did? He answers to me now. He may not know that yet, but I do. That’s all that matters.

I take the train so I can think. A guy in my position would bring some help, but I don’t want to clue him in until I’m ready. Fingers is still there and probably has guys lined up at every exit. The Great Wall of China just went up outside Lucky China Buffet, and my big brother is tucked away inside, enjoying his last meal.

He shouldn’t have come back. He knows he’s an endangered species in this town. What he doesn’t know is now, I’m this town’s wealthiest poacher.

* * * * *

He jerks his head toward the back door. You want to give him the finger–you know what’s waiting for you out there. But there aren’t many options. He’ll handle any opposition from you with force, and they don’t call him Quarter Pounder for nothing. He’s grown bigger than you remember–whether through stuffing his face or working out, it doesn’t matter when you’re in between him and the concrete.

You shovel another forkful of rice into your mouth even though your whole plate has gone sour. He laughs at you and settles into his seat. He can wait. It’s only proper to give a man his last meal.

You’re buying time you can’t afford. You’re only prolonging your punishment. You know the only way out of this is a quick break through the front door, then running like hell. Lady Luck has been on your side before. She may come to your aid again. It’s worth a shot. It’s your only shot.

You stand and dump your trash. Over the curtains on the front windows, you can now see heads. Attached to loitering bodies. They could be regular people. Chances are they’re not. You’re going to need more than Lady Luck to get out the front alive–too bad every other powerful force abandoned you long ago. Can you blame them? And now Quarter Pounder’s up, his meatball hand has merged with your neck, and you’re out the back door on your hands and knees staring at a pair of white sneakers just like the ones your baby brother used to wear. Only newer. More expensive.

What a strange moment for a wanton thought to pulse through your brain. You thought you had sent your brother to heaven. What if you had sent him to hell?

* * * * *

I could shoot him in the back of his head right now and he’d never see it coming. I could make this quick and painless.

Why would I want to do that?

He’s still on all fours when he looks up at me. In seven years, he’s aged twenty. His new life in god-knows-where must not have been as cushy as he expected.

“Get up,” I say.

The bastard has the balls to smile at me. And as he stands, I see a flicker of our dad dressed in my brother’s clothes. Forget this.

“Somebody hand me a gun.” I put my hand out. A gun slides in, front-heavy with the silencer attached.

He closes his eyes. “Do it,” he says, and drops his baseball cap.

I chew the side of my tongue and stare at that damn baseball cap lying in a oily puddle on the asphalt. He’s a Cubs fan now? What the hell?

* * * * *

“Do it,” you say again.

This end is too perfect. Too deserved. And if this ghost of your brother is the real deal this time, then this end is poetic justice.

You open your eyes. The gun has tipped slightly, so it now aims, lazy and uninterested, at your upper lip instead of your forehead. Your brother’s attention is fixated on the ground next to you.

The kid you used to know would pause, wouldn’t have the courage to pull the trigger. He’s not that kid anymore. He’s not any kid you know. He’s a young monster with a big gun. An adolescent Tyrannosaurus Rex–wild and impulsive and more frightening than the adults of his species. And you know it’s not his fear tipping that gun down because you can taste the power in the air around him. You recognize the flavor–it’s the dirty kind, gained from squashing others. Causing suffering. Taking souls. It’s a power not granted by that gun, or those two-hundred-dollar sneakers, or the gang of guys behind him. It comes from inside him.

You did send him to hell. You sold him to the devil, and he ripped out the devil’s heart and took the devil’s throne. He doesn’t see what he’s become. And you are the only one who can save him.

White Sneakers (My Brother’s Descent, Part 4)

My Brother’s Descent is the new name of the Set Up, Second Person, Firebrand series, thanks to Debra.

Read the whole series here (be sure to start with the first, “Set Up”, and go in date order).

And I’d like to take a vote on this one. Would this piece be better if I had ended it with the white sneakers and cut the last paragraph? Please answer the poll at the end, or leave a comment with your thoughts. :)

* * * * *

He jerks his head toward the back door. You want to give him the finger–you know what’s waiting for you out there. But there aren’t many options. He’ll handle any opposition from you with force, and they don’t call him Quarter Pounder for nothing. He’s grown bigger than you remember–whether through stuffing his face or working out, it doesn’t matter when you’re in between him and the concrete.

You shovel another forkful of rice into your mouth even though your whole plate has gone sour. He laughs at you and settles into his seat. He can wait. It’s only proper to give a man his last meal.

You’re buying time you can’t afford. You’re only prolonging your punishment. You know the only way out of this is a quick break through the front door, then running like hell. Lady Luck has been on your side before. She may come to your aid again. It’s worth a shot. It’s your only shot.

You stand and dump your trash. Over the curtains on the front windows, you can now see heads. Attached to loitering bodies. They could be regular people. Chances are they’re not. You’re going to need more than Lady Luck to get out the front alive–too bad every other powerful force abandoned you long ago. Can you blame them? And now Quarter Pounder’s up, his meatball hand has merged with your neck, and you’re out the back door on your hands and knees staring at a pair of white sneakers just like the ones your baby brother used to wear. Only newer. More expensive.

What a strange moment for a wanton thought to pulse through your brain. You thought you had sent your brother to heaven. What if you had sent him to hell?

Firebrand

Another continuation. Am I stuck in a rut? Maybe, but it’s a nice rut–the crickets sing to me at night and there’s a little puddle of water fed by some kind of underground spring.

To get the whole story, read Set Up then read Second Person.

This one is also my entry for this week’s Inspiration Monday. I used the prompt in a predictable way, but it fit so nicely I had to use it.

* * * * *

I’m sleeping off a late night when I get the message. Only that could have penetrated my dead man’s slumber. There must be something to the sixth sense. Add seven years of bloodlust and it’s a sixth sense on speed.

I untangle myself from Billy’s girlfriend and hunt for my clothes. Shit. Billy’s girlfriend. But what the fuck’s he gonna say to the guy who catapulted through the ranks as fast as I did? He answers to me now. He may not know that yet, but I do. That’s all that matters.

I take the train so I can think. A guy in my position would bring some help, but I don’t want to clue him in until I’m ready. Fingers is still there and probably has guys lined up at every exit. The Great Wall of China just went up outside Lucky China Buffet, and my big brother is tucked away inside, enjoying his last meal.

He shouldn’t have come back. He knows he’s an endangered species in this town. What he doesn’t know is now, I’m this town’s wealthiest poacher.

Second Person

This is kind of a continuation of Set Up, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s do this again: find something about this one you don’t like and tell me in the comments. Come on! It’s fun!

* * * * *

You’re at that Chinese food place again–the one with the streamers on the ceiling fans and the battery-operated candles trying to illuminate Buddha in the sunlit front window. You’ve paid the skinny Korean boy at the cash register and you’ve just sat down with your Moo Goo Gai Pan when you notice them. They’re eating in an innocent, almost weary silence. A break from their daily routine. A reprieve. You know it too well.

You consider switching to the chair across from you but decide against it. You don’t want your back to them. You slide your baseball cap around so the brim is in the front and tug it low on your forehead. You turn your spoon upside down on the table so you can see their movement in the reflection if they get up. Then you bow over your plate and eat. You don’t want to finish before them. You want to chew each individual piece of rice so you can remain a fixture blending into the restaurant and not the person they’ve been looking for for seven years. If you still recognize them after that long, they’ll still recognize you.

Two of them finish, take turns using the restroom, and leave. You hear their car start up and speed away. One remains at the table, engrossed in his phone. You like these odds better. You’ve been back in the city for two years, and he’s the first person you’ll have to confront. Not bad, you think.

He pockets his phone and looks at you. You turn your baseball cap backward again. You’re no coward. In here, or out there? you think at him. You don’t know he’s only there to stall you.

You don’t know it’s the second person, the one coming down the street toward that Chinese food place right now, who should really worry you.