Fiction · unedited · Prompt

Hell’s a lonely place

Underwater, a hollow feeling, and blackness all fade away with thunderous claps. I come to and spit up water on myself. The room is dim, but not entirely dark. The ground in carpeted, warm, and smells of sandalwood.

 

The claps continue, each throwing my conscience forward past the water, past the darkness.

 

“Bravo,” A smokey voice calls from somewhere. “Bravo indeed. Charles, right?” I’ve never heard this voice before. Powerful, yet I’m lost within. I can trust this person. They already know who I am. I cough more and sit up feeling my cold face and wet hair.

 

The room is elegant. A rich dining table dominates the room. To the right a fireplace, above a chandelier. There are two chairs, one’s occupied. Windows face me on the opposite wall. Outside is… fire. Unrelenting flames lick the windows threatening to break in.

 

“Please, Charles. Come sit beside the fire, and warm your weary bones.” The man in the chairs says, gesturing to the other open chair. “I’ve been waiting for quite some time for a bit of company.”

 

I cock my head, sure this is a dream. Some last stand of the frontal lobe fighting off the finality of death. I approach, noting how real the carpet feel on the soles of my feet. Well done brain, I think, you’ve really outdone yourself this time.

 

I make out more of my host as I get closer. Middle-aged, salt and pepper sideburns, a handsome face. There’s something in his eyes though– they’re off. He smiles as I take my seat.

 

“I do believe a congratulations is in order, Charles.” He says, patting his smoking jacket down.

 

“Who are you?” I say, accepting the cigar he’s pulled from his jacket.

 

He turned and looked towards the window. “Isn’t it obvious?” He laughs “They don’t make fire like that, where you’re from. You’re dead. And I’m Satan. The Devil. The fallen one.” He paused, and reaches for my arm. “Don’t be alarmed though. I’m not evil nor am I malicious in any sense of the word. That’s all just poppycock that your black-robed ‘men-of-god’ spread.”

 

His hand on my arm feels warm. Almost electric. He clips my cigar and lights it effortlessly. I puff watching the glow down the ridge of my nose. The scene is just so that I take him at his word. I relax and drink in the heat from the fireplace behind me.   

 

“So if you’re Satan, I’m dead,” I say. Satan nods along. “Then this is hell. I’m in hell?”

 

“That’s a bingo.” He says. A devilish smile spreads across his face. “This is hell. It’s warm. It’s fun. And it’s all mine. No. Scratch that. It’s all ours.”

 

“What do you mean our’s?” I say, squinting.

 

He throws his head back and cackles. “Well Charles. You’re the first person that’s ever come to hell. It’s just you and I, pal.”

 

Faces of the immoral swim through my mind. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pot. Each one smiles flying past my mind’s eye. “But what about–”

 

Satan cuts me off. “No, I can see what you’re thinking. Perks of being me, I s’pose. And none of those assholes ever got in here. There all up,” His eyes roll up, “there.”

 

“Heaven?”

 

“Well yeah.” Satan says. “Another common misconception about my relationship with God. They say that if you’re good you get to go see him in his endless kingdom. Funny enough, that’s a mistranslation.” Satan smirked. “It really says that to be good you must see his endless kingdom. So Hitler and all those fuckers are repenting their sins and living out their eternities becoming good.”

 

I nod and puff. The shadows cast by the flames in the window plays rhythmically off the walls. “What then. What happens when they’re good?”

 

He pauses. “Well,” Satan says, stroking his chin.”When they’re good they’re recycled and thrown back into the great wide world. A rebirth if you will. You, on the other hand.” He says, regaining his grin. “Are the first to ever show up on my doorstep. What does that mean?” He pauses and claps. “It means that you get to do whatever you want forever. This is your playground. But first, I implore you to join me for dinner.”

 

I accept. Satan claps twice more and a suited man zips in from around the corner, ice waters in hand. He looks surprisingly like Al Capone.

 

I turn to Satan. “I thought–”

 

He cuts me off. “Work release program.” There’s that devilish grin again.

 

 

Prompt: You die and go to Hell only to find out that you’re the only person that has ever entered. Satan is clapping.

Fiction · Prompt · unedited

Secrets

Dale yawned, scanning the files splayed out in front of him: foreign military operations, politically-motivated assassinations, and the ever so common infidelity. Keeping secrets wasn’t as glamorous a job as one might think, mainly because the fun of secrets was divulging them. Dale, on the other hand, had never crossed a client– in this business reputation was everything.

 

He was sipping his room-temperature morning coffee when the bell above his office door chimed. Now this was quite a change of pace. Most of Dale’s clients held high offices and adorned themselves with military medals. Not her though. She was as plain as a Jane could get. Auburn hair, glasses awkwardly shaped for her face, long black sleeves, and acid washed jeans.

 

Dale cleared his throat. “Er, can I help you miss…”

 

“Evelyn. Just Evelyn.” She said, straining to overcome her small voice.

 

“Miss Evelyn.” Dale nodded. “Are you in the right place?” Dale cleared his desk of folders and brought his clasped hands to kiss the underside of his chin.

 

She stood behind the chair opposite of Dale, afraid to look him in the eye. He motioned Evelyn to take the seat. She did. “I hope so. You’re Mr. Carnegie. Dale Carnegie?”

 

Dale smiled reassuringly. The first step of secret keeping was building a rapport with the client. “That I am. Dale Carnegie, keeper of secrets. At your service.” He extended a hand and Evelyn took it meekly. “Nice to meet you Evelyn.”

 

“Likewise.”

 

“Now Evelyn, what secrets can I keep for you today? Personal, political, sexual? Whatever it is, it’ll be safe with me.”

 

Evelyn shifted in her seat and picked at the skin of her left thumb. “Er, personal, I guess.”

 

Dale opened the metal cabinet at his side and thumbed through manila folders until he reached “personal.” He reached in, grabbed some paperwork, and handed it to Evelyn following it up with a pen.

 

“Here,” Dale said, pointing with his pen. “And here, are my privacy statements and rates. You’ll just want to read those over quickly and sign at the bottom. Then we can get started.”

 

Evelyn took the paper, wordlessly. Her eyes darted across the page and after a moment scribbled a signature and initials at the bottom of the page. “Okay,” she said, handing back the page. Next she produced a checkbook and made one out to Dale’s Keepers LLC. for $2,000. He took both and scanned each.

“Okay,” Dale began. “Now that the paper works done, in record time I might add,” he added as an afterthought. Evelyn’s icey stare didn’t change. “We can get started.”

 

Dale pressed a button underneath his desk parting the top. The transfer machine, Dale’s name for it, extended from the belly of the desk with a mechanical hum. Four diodes extended from the machine, two red, two black. Dale took his, one of each, licked the plastic, and stuck them to his temples. Evelyn followed along, preferring to exhale on the plastic instead of licking.

 

Dale looked at Evelyn, wires dangling. “Ready?” He asked. She nodded. “Alright, Evelyn. Now, when I flip this switch,” Dale pointed at the red switch at the base of the machine. “Just think of the secret you wish for me to keep and let go. Got it.”

 

She nodded. “Mhmm.”

 

He flipped the switch and the two sat staring at eachother for what seemed like hours. Evelyn’s face slowly drained of her nervous tension while Dale’s filled with horror. When the transfer completed, Dale ripped the diodes off, and dove to his wastebasket, choking back vomit. Evelyn sat on the other side of the desk, contented. An almost morphine-like calmness had washed over her.

 

Dale pulled himself back to his chair. There were tears in his eyes and specks of vomit on his tye. “Please…please don’t.” He pleaded with Evelyn.

 

She turned to look at Dale, her eyes half shut. “I’m sorry.” She stood, gathered her checkbook and briskly walked out of his office.

 

Dale scrambled for his phone and dialed home. After the first two rings his wife answered– a momentary lapse in his panic. “Honey, listen, listen,” he said sinking to the fetal position on the floor. “I love you. I love you. Tell Danny I love him. No. No. I have to go now.”

 

 

Prompt: You run a secret keeping business. You keep the secrets your clients can’t handle themselves. A new client might be the most challenging yet.

Fiction · Prompt · unedited

R.I.P. Donald

The little yellow preacher stepped before the crowd and cleared his squeaker. The casket laying in front of him looked almost regal, adorned with a smattering of roses and plenty of tears. The crowd half hidden under handkerchiefs looked up expectantly.

 

The preacher pushed his rubber wing to the bridge of his gold aviator reading glasses– the ones that made him look somehow more distinguished, his wife said. “We are gathered here today to remember Donald, father, adventurer, and squeaker.” The preacher paused for a moment then set his gaze towards the ground. A slight breeze rushed past, inducing some low-toned hums from some in attendance.

 

“Donald was a ducky loved by many, and will be missed by many more. He leaves behind a wife, Rina, and two little squeakers, Trombly and Pique. He’ll leave an even bigger hole in the community–”

 

Rina let out a wail. Unable to contain her anguish any longer, she leapt onto the casket, rocking it on it’s chains. Tears streamed down her face– a face twisted in anger.

 

“Donny,” she sobbed. “You can’t leave me you fucking idiot.” She flapped her rubber wings against the wood and brass. “What about the kids?”

 

The preacher stepped back, overwhelmed by the emotion and stood with his wings folded in front. Rina’s mother came to her daughters side and was trying to pull her off the top of the casket.

 

“Rina, c’mon. Get off there. Donald’s gone. He needs you to be strong for the kids.” Her mother was crying now. After some more pulling and embarrassed looks from some in attendance, Rita’s mother successfully removed her daughter. They walked towards the shade of a nearby oak, Rina still wailing under her mother’s wing.

 

“He was a fucking idiot mom! He left us with nothing, that drunk asshole.”

 

Her mother all the meanwhile shushing and pleading with her to not make a mockery of the funeral. It wasn’t working; most of the guests had turned to rubberneck the scene, squeaking a soft harmony in the process. Even the preacher looked up from his hands to watch.

 

“No, fuck him mom,” Rita shouted, pointing at the casket. “He blew his fucking head off with a firecracker when he had been drinking. He’s an asshole.

 

The preacher noticed a stifled laugh from the guests and decided this was getting out of hand. He waved over to the attendants and whispered to them. He stepped forward and addressed the crowd. “Okay, let’s continue, so that we may get on with the grieving process.”

 

A loud crash from the grave made the preacher jump nearly out of his rubber. The casket, he saw, had broken off the chains and fallen.

 

“For Christ’s sake,” the preacher muttered under his breath. “I’m surrounded by idiots.” He turned to the guests again. “The reception will be at the Donahues in an hour. God bless.” He turned and took off his glasses. More distinguished he laughed in his head.

Fiction · Prompt · unedited

Full Retreat

Sgt. Maple studied his bloody hands in the midst of the artillery crater. That’s strange, he thought, they’re not even shaking. His life-long relationship with the bottle left him with constant tremors. He wondered whether it was the sheer force with which he gutted that young german boy, or trying to catch and stuff Pvt. Miller’s intestines back in his shredded stomach that had set his hands straight.

 

The sky was weeping now, a dull gray had rolled overhead. Which side does He weep for, Maple wondered. Perhaps all of us, he decided as he patted his pockets for smokes. Where were they? Oh, that’s right. He’d finished them last night on watch.

 

The dirt felt cold and slick under Sgt. Maple’s palm. Cold made sense. This far down the ground ought to be cold. Wet made less sense, he pulled his hand up and noticed tinges of rust smeared on his palm. The sight between his splayed fingers now came into focus. It was Pvt. Charlie Santorini. He was dead. His legs below the knees were gone and his face was the shadow of pain. Maple patted Charlie’s breasts and found some cigarettes, took one, and lit it.

 

“Thanks Charlie,” he said, through the Marlborough filter. He stared at Charlie’s stumps and thought about how the army could save money on the casket. He was a good foot shorter now. A shell whistled overhead.  

 

Then there was a tumble of dirt on his neck and down his shirt. The skidding of boots on the slope behind Maple. He didn’t turn, he couldn’t. A cigarette had never tasted so good. And then it was gone– shaken out of his mouth by a frantic jerk of his shoulders. Time sped up. Shells whirred by more frantically. Tracer rounds soared through the graying sky.

 

“Sarge.” Pvt. Yancy’s boyish face was a few inches from his. “Sarge, we gotta go. Damn Nazi’s are all over. They’re rolling through the streets with tanks.” Another shake. “Sarge let’s go.”  

 

Sgt. Maple said nothing and stared at the Private. Flashes of awareness fired behind the Sgt.’s eyes. They were in France, in some god forsaken city far away from home. Too far. Maple blinked and one by one looked at the faces before him. Not like Charlie, distant and cold, but real live faces. Privates Yancy, Holloway, and Wishbone. Just kids; no older than boys. Just out of highschool most like. They should be in school right now, Maple thought, not here halfway across the world fighting somebody else’s war.

 

Maple shot awake. “Yancy, Holloway, Wishbone. Status report.”

 

Wishbone was nursing a hand, Maple saw, and was rifle-less. Yancy’s eyes mimicked dinner plates as he frantically surveyed what he could from down in the crater. Holloway spoke up, his southern drawl the only sweet thing for miles around.

 

“Well Sarge, we’re retreatin’. We need to go four blocks a-thataway.” He nodded back. “The only way out of this fuckin’ town is over a got-damn bridge.” Another shell whirred into the building across the street and showed the boys with rubble and dust. “We should get goin’.”

 

Maple heard Holloway out and felt a spark of pride in his chest. They’d come far since he laid eyes on their sorry asses a few months ago. Wishbone, he remembered, hadn’t even known how to shave when they first got to Europe. Maple had to show him late one morning, stooped over a candle and makeshift polished silver mirror. He’d cut himself twice.

 

Maple reached for another smoke and lit it. The sounds of treads and crunching rubble started gaining, shaking the pebbles lining the crater.

 

“Sarge, we gotta go. C’mon,” Holloway said, reaching for Maple’s arm.

 

Maple shook him off. “No, you boys go. I’m gonna stay right here. You go.”

 

Each looked at him as if he’d sprouted another set of legs, Charlie’s legs. He puffed from the cigarette and thought about his own son. The folded flag and silver star. Send it home, he’d said, send it to his mother. Maple just realized he hadn’t cried for his son yet. He didn’t have the time.

 

He took another look at the boys around him, patted his side arm, and spotted the smoke grenade on Yancy’s belt. “Yancy, gimme that,” Maple said, pointing a ragged finger. “I’ll need it, if y’all are going to make it out of here.”

 

With the smoke grenade in his left hand, a pistol in his right, and another full cigarette, Maple stood. “When I say run, you boys make a mad dash for that bridge.” He half turned and stopped. “Make sure you go back to school when you get back stateside.”

 

Sgt. Maple vaulted over the edge of the crater towards the rumble of the approaching war machine. The huddled privates heard the pop of the smoke grenade then a frantic “Run.” They did and didn’t look back.

 

Prompt:

In the midst of a full retreat, one soldier decides to do the unexpected, and charge the enemy, giving comrades time to escape.

Prompt · unedited

Dramatization

They say a good foundation is everything. Who are they? Who’s to say. But that tidbit about the foundation is valuable no doubt. Whether you’re scraping at the vibrant baby blue of the sky with a magnificent tower, or constructing the most delectable of cheesecakes, foundations are everything. Today, though, we’ll be talking about the latter.

 

Now for the purposes of accuracy we’ll call our foundation the crust; because that’s exactly what it is. Your crust is important. It will be flakey, golden, delicious, and most importantly hold the rest of your sweet cheesey goodness together.

 

You’ll need a few things of course. One does not conjure perfect crust from mere air. You’ll need 9 graham crackers, 4 tablespoons of melted butter, one fourth cup of sugar, and undying faith in yourself and your culinary abilities, the latter of which cannot be bought, but cultivated through sweat and perseverance.

 

The first thing you’ll need to do is visualize anyone that annoys you, boils you, enrages you. Good. Now harness that power: a seething pulse running down your forearms into the tendril muscles of your fingers. Take that package of graham crackers and beat it. Utterly and completely pulverize them into a fine powdery consistency. From dust we came, and to dust we shall all return. Or something or other. Let no pieces of whole cracker remain, lest your crust be tainted with inconsistency.

 

Now in the mixing bowl add your melted butter. It’s the liquid gold that will act as the glue for your foundation. Without it you just have powders dry enough to choke on. Decant your cracker dust and your sugar into the bowl and become the alchemist. Mix the ingredients, carefully infusing love and precision, until you have a crumb consistency and the foundation crust is malleable.

 

There you have it. Now your crust is ready to be pressed into the foundation that will become your cake. Now press and knead it into your pan until the crust crests on the sides as would a wave at high tide. It is beautiful, is it not?

 

Prompt: pick a very mundane topic and write it as dramatically as possible.

Fiction · Prompt · unedited

Russian Connection

“Hey,” Stan, the other closer, said looking up from the espresso machine. “I need you to go tell the guys on the patio to beat it and bring in the tables.”

 

I hunched over my broom and cocked an eyebrow. “Uh, you sure you can’t do it. Or can we get, like, a supervisor to do that.”

 

He sighed and turned to the hulking stainless steel machine. “Can you just do it? It’s part of the closing tasks.” He yawned and flicked the hot water switch, sending steam up.  

 

I put the broom to the side, untied my apron and tossed it over the counter. I could feel layers of sweat caked on my forehead. My day of learning designer latte’s and avoiding eye contact with indifferent customers came down to this: the good ol’ heave ho.

 

I pushed my way through the double glass doors into the dry night air. It felt good on the undersides of my arms. The air smelt like, well air, instead of grinding dark roast and heat. I saw the group at the end of the patio, flanked by the shrubs, illuminated by a single floodlight. Multiple coffee stirrers, espresso mugs, and a half-finished pack of cigarettes splayed out on the table. Only one looked up from his phone.

 

I tried to avoid confrontation, often stealing glances while I noisely dragged the metal furniture across the pavement. Several trips later, all that was left to collect were already occupied.  

 

I cleared my throat. “Er, hey guys, sorry about this but I need to put these chairs up. You’ve got to go.” It was the first time they all looked up at me. Who dared intrude on their night of chain smoking and fidgeting with plastic coffee stirrers?

 

The eldest of the three looked up and grinned. “No,” he said with a Russian inflection. “Is okay, I know the owner.” He waved me off as one would dismiss a ball boy.

 

I headed back inside to my broom to pick up where I had left off. Stan looked up from the register and peered outside. His tired eyes swept from the window to me. “Did you tell them they need to leave?”

 

“Yeah, but one guy said that they know the owner.”

 

“And?” Stan’s gaze fell back to the stack of ones he was thumbing his way through. “They, need to leave.”

 

I mechanically put the broom down unable to fathom why this responsibility fell to the new guy. Wasn’t this a manager’s job? I pushed my way through and approached the table. All three looked up once again. The eldest was still grinning, but the other two looked annoyed. “Sorry guys, but you really got to go. I just got word from my supervisor.” Perfect, I thought, diffuse responsibility. Go have a word with him if you want and leave me out of this.

 

“Listen, er…” The grinner said with a heavy inflection.

 

“Tom.”

 

“Listen Tom, the owner is a good friend of mine. We’re business partners. We go way back. You do what you’re told, and I like that. You go far this way. But, please. We finish our espresso then go, okay? I tell owner you took good care of us.” He turned to the two flanking scowls and said something in Russian and they softened, turning back to their cellphones. I internally shrugged and headed back inside.

 

Stan was waiting with his arms crossed. “Dude, what’s so hard about getting them out of here. Tell them you’ll call the cops.”

 

I thought of the two scowls flanking that devilish grin. “I don’t think that’s a great idea. Let’s just finish our stuff and leave them alone for now.”

 

Stan sighed, clearly disgusted with my lack of spine. We finished up and closed half an hour later. Outside, tucked under the corner of one of the espresso cups was a note for me. Thanks for the hospitality Tom, –Marco. I didn’t think much of it, tired as I was from my first full day.

 

I woke up the next morning to a buzz of my phone. Shit, I’m gonna be late, I thought. Nope. A message from the owner? My stomach dropped.

 

Hey Tom, I heard you met Marco last night. Thanks for taking care of him. Him and I go way back. He said that you have a good head on your shoulders. I know you’re new here, but I wanted to bump you up another dollar in pay. We’ll do that today.

 

I could feel the tension leave my shoulders. Weights upon weights had been lifted. Looks like the world was coming up Tom for once.  

 

Prompt: You just got hired at a hipster coffee shop, that just so happens to be a laundering front for the russian mafia.

Fiction · Prompt · unedited

Gin Nap.

Photo Prompt: courtesy of redditor u/boravsbora

 

The time for kid gloves had come and gone. Mary refused to see me, John Straker had bested me once again, and the bottle had kicked me to the curb once again. The city was wide awake, hopped up on speed and nightlife, when I came to behind the dumpster in that little alley. A small chinese man, dressed in white and a smeared apron prodded me awake.

 

“Must go,” he said, motioning with his hands. “You,” his index finger jabbed at my chest. “Must leave,” his arm swept around towards the rift in the buildings.

 

I nodded, stood, and steadied myself against the slick brick wall behind me. A chilly breeze blew against my bare chest as I staggered towards the lights and sounds. I wondered what had happened to my jacket and wallet; probably up and walked away during my gin nap.

 

First things first, I thought, where am I? I looked right then left, seeing nothing but the fleeting floods of headlights against the wet sidewalks of passing taxis. I decided to head left and started pounding pavement. A pain shot up my leg. Another reminder of my meeting with Straker and his boys. Best not let me catch you snooping around this club again Dale. Next time you won’t be leaving.

 

Twenty feet ahead, a man was hailing a cab. I tried projecting myself before he could be whisked away; another shadow in the night.

 

“Say, pal” I said. “What street is this?”

 

I must have been worse for ware. He looked at me like one looks at spoiled meat. Had he not had his hand up he might have pinched his nose. “38th and 17.” He said stepping off the curb.

 

I thanked him, still staggering forward. He nodded and vanished into the steady traffic. 38th and 17th, I thought, half a kilometer ‘till the office. I crossed my arms in front of my chest trying to fend off some the colder gusts. I would be no use to Mary if I got pneumonia. One foot then the other, I started to retrace the money, the lies, the rumors. Synapses started firing like the neon lights reflecting off billowing manhole steam. Straker and Mary, the poor girl. There was no time to waste, Straker knew I was on to him. The trail was hot. White hot.