Don’t You Forget about Me – A Short yet Poignant Dramatic Story

This is my first attempt at the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. The story had to be less than 1,000 words with the following conditions:

Genre – Drama
Location – Copy shop
Random Item – Bottle of maple syrup

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments!
Don’t You Forget about Me

Bess Sanderson put her full weight into opening the door leading into the copy shop and huffed her way inside. “Hello? Hello!” She trudged to the counter, the handles of her black vinyl purse draped over her forearm. In one hand she clutched a school photograph and with the other she reached out to ring a tarnished silver bell. When no employee appeared, she rang the bell again, and then six more times.
A disheveled-looking young man emerged from an office behind the counter, crumbs stuck to a spot of maple syrup soiling his slightly askew, narrow necktie. The fashion accessory leaned toward a name badge bearing the name Ian in capital letters.
“Hello there.” Ian smiled and slid the bell down the counter until it was just out of her reach.
“Young man, I need your help,” Bess blurted. “The police won’t help. I tried the post office but they sent me here.”
“I see.”
“It’s my son Elvin,” she continued. “He’s gone missing. I need something to put all over town.” Bess laid the photo face-up on the laminate countertop and used her fingertips to push it toward the young man.
“This is a recent photo?” Ian asked, studying the sepia-toned image.
Bess nodded. “Yes. He’s seventeen on his last birthday. He’s a few inches taller than his daddy. About five-seven. His daddy, that is. Not him. He’s taller.”
Ian dutifully took notes on a piece of scrap copy paper, “mhmm’ing” and “ahh’ing” where appropriate. Finally he lay the pen down. “I can design something and have the copies for you in about fifteen to twenty minutes, if you don’t mind waiting?”
“Hmph. Don’t have much choice do I?” Bess leaned on her cane and dragged her feet across the floor to one of two chairs against the opposite wall. Settling into the one closer to the window, she hugged her purse to her chest and sighed.
***
Ian ducked into the office and snapped up his mobile phone from the top of the desk, sending last week’s work orders to the floor in a flurry of pinks and yellows. He accessed the device’s contacts screen and scrolled through the names until he reached his sister’s. With more force than was necessary, he punched her profile picture with the tip of his index finger.
When the receptionist answered, he asked for Moira by name and wasn’t surprised at being placed on hold. The strains of a classic rock ballad, slowed down and played by a full orchestra, droned in his ear. He recognized the Simple Minds song from a 1980s movie about a group of teenage misfits spending a Saturday in detention together.
As he waited, Ian collected the rest of his breakfast into its original cardboard container and dropped it into the trash. The French toast sticks, even with the individual serving of butter-flavored maple syrup, was a far cry from his grandma’s recipe, but it wasn’t bad by fast food standards.
“Moira Davenport. Can I help you buy or sell a home today?”
“Hey, Moira. I need you to come down to the shop. She’s back.” Ian winced at his sister’s dramatic sigh. “Please, I’ve taken her back home the last three times. It’s your turn. I can’t keep closing the shop to do this.”
“No Ian,” his sister replied. “I told you, she’s your problem.”
“She’s our grandmother. Have a little compassion.” As Ian presented his argument to his sister, the words tumbled from his mouth, leaving behind an empty cavern of awkward silence.
Moira finally responded, her voice low and strained. “Look Ian, I can’t have compassion for someone who spent her whole life physically and verbally abusing her children. You saw how she treated dad the whole time he was fighting cancer. All that money she has, and she couldn’t give one dime to help get him into that clinical trial.”
“Moira, c’mon. She isn’t like that now. Since dad died she’s really gone downhill,” Ian reasoned.
“No. Just because she conveniently forgets to be a total bitch doesn’t mean I get to forget she was one, and you shouldn’t either. I’m not leaving work early. The kids have little league tonight and it’s my turn for snacks. I have responsibilities, and you do, too. Sign the damned papers so she can go live at Haven Care and we can move on with our lives. Everything’s ready. You just need to make the call.”
Tears sprang to Ian’s eyes. Even if Moira hadn’t ended the call, he couldn’t argue with the facts. Their grandmother’s dementia was taking over their lives, and they weren’t equipped to handle it. Because they had no other family to rely on, they were running out of options. With great reluctance he picked up the phone, dialed the senior living center and arranged for someone to collect his grandmother.
Ian fixed two cups of coffee and carried them into the front lobby. He took the empty seat and passed a cup to his grandmother. “Here you go Mrs. Sanderson. Your copies will be ready soon.”
“Why thank you.” His grandmother sipped the coffee and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she smiled. “Mmm, it’s perfect. My grandson makes me coffee just like this.”
“I’m glad you like it. Can I get you anything else?”
“No, no thank you.” Bess smiled, her expression vacant. She asked, “Do you have a grandmother?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Ian gulped, but the lump of guilt stayed lodged in his throat.
“She sure is lucky to have a grandson like you.” She patted his hand, politely ignoring the spot of maple syrup on his tie.
“Oh, I have your picture.” Eager to change the topic, Ian pulled his father’s photo from his shirt pocket and offered it to his grandmother.
Bess frowned. “I’m sorry. This isn’t mine. Perhaps you’ve confused me with someone else.”
Ian returned the image to his pocket. “Oh.” It was all he could think to say.

Gloria Gossip

This is my entry for Morning Rain Publishing‘s Annual Freaky Flash Fiction contest. Contestants write up to 1,000 words and for an extra challenge, they use four bonus words. This year’s were: axel, metal, dragon, and brimstone.

Last year I won, so it was with high hopes that I went into this year’s competition — a few hours before the deadline.

Edit: On October 26, 2015, Morning Rain Publishing announced the winners. I already knew I wasn’t in the top five — but it turns out I placed in the top eight! Go me!

Here’s the story in its entirety, bonus words in bold. After you read it, please let me know what you think in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

GLORIA GOSSIP
by Becky Muth

Nine-year-old Annie ripped the gift wrap from the box and exclaimed, “Yay! A talking Gloria Gossip Doll!”

“What do you say?” Her mother prodded.

Without taking her eyes from her gift the child sighed happily. “Thank you! I love her so much. Mommy can I take her to my room?”

“Yes, but just until time for supper and then I want you to leave her upstairs.”

Piper Evans waited until she heard her daughter go up the stairs, slowly counting them one at a time, and then race down the hall and slam her bedroom door. She turned to her sister and admonished, “You spoil her, Samantha. Is that the same kind of doll we had at her age?”

“It is, and I can spoil my goddaughter all I want.” Her sister replied, her tone teasing. “It’s cute the way she counts out the stairs.”

“Blake taught her to do that when we first moved in. I’m terrified she’s going to tumble down them.” Turning back to the topic of her daughter’s gift, she asked, “Where did you find it? I looked on eBay last Christmas and the prices were ridiculous.”

Samantha sipped her coffee. “A thrift store in New Orleans, run by this old Creole woman named Axel. Most of what she sold was old clothes and household items alongside fire and brimstone paraphernalia and voodoo tchotchkes. But then I saw Gloria and couldn’t believe my luck.”

“Hopefully you didn’t pay a fortune for her.” Piper grimaced.

“Surprisingly, I didn’t,” Samantha replied with a smile.

#

Piper finished listening to her husband complain about his job as a supervisor at a nearby metal works factory and then turned to their daughter. “Annie, did you tell Daddy what Aunt Samantha brought you from her trip?”

Annie grinned. “A talking Gloria Gossip doll just like Mommy and Aunt Samantha had when they were little girls.”

“Oh yeah? Just what we need around this house, another gossipy woman.” Blake Evans playfully winked at his wife. Turning to their daughter, he asked, “So what’s Gloria gossiping about? Anything good?”

“Daddy!” Annie giggled. “I can’t tell you because you’re not in the girls’ club like me and Mommy.”

Blake pretended to look hurt. “You can’t tell me one little thing?”

Annie looked from her mom to her dad then leaned forward to whisper, “Okay, just one thing. Her name isn’t really Gloria. It’s Josephine.”

Annie’s parents chuckled, amused at their daughter’s vivid imagination.

#

Annie lay in her princess canopy bed, her head on one pillow while Gloria rested on the other. She was supposed to be sleeping, but she was having too much fun gossiping. “I’m glad you’re my friend, Josephine.”

“I’m glad you’re my friend too,” the doll’s mechanical voice whispered. “Since we’re friends, can you help me with something?”

“Okay, sure.” Annie whispered back.

“I want to go home to my mom. Can you help me do that?” The doll continued.

Annie frowned. “I don’t know how. I don’t know how to help you. You’re just a doll. You live with me now.”

“It’s okay.” The doll reassured the little girl. “I’ll tell you what to do. First pick me up and take me to the top of the stairs.”

#

Piper finished boxing up her daughter’s belongings. At the last minute, she added the Gloria Gossip doll.

“Are you sure?” Samantha asked.

“Yeah.” Piper nodded. “Let it go to the thrift store. If I was going to do anything with it, I’d have put it in her casket. Now it’s just a reminder of the night she died. I still don’t understand how she could have fallen down the stairs. She was always so careful.”

“I know. I heard her counting them the day I was here.” Samantha choked back a sob, the grief from her niece’s accident draping like a heavy cloak around her body.

Piper wiped away fresh tears and sighed. “It’s weird, but sometimes when Blake is at work and the house is quiet, it’s like I can still hear her counting.”

#

Cecily McDowell watched Helena, her ten-year-old daughter, pull the Gloria Gossip doll from the reusable shopping bag she used to carry home her thrift store finds.

“Cool!” Her daughter exclaimed.

“I had one when I was ten. Hopefully you aren’t too old for dolls.” Cecily smiled. “She was at the secondhand store where I found you a good ski jacket for winter. I thought you might like the doll since you’ve opted out of trick-or-treating this year.”

Helena beamed. “She’s so cool mom, and no, I’m not too old for her. What does she do?”

“When you squeeze her hand, she gossips with you.” She went on to demonstrate how the doll worked, but frowned when the toy failed to produce the mechanical voice she recalled from her childhood. “Well that stinks. I should have checked that before I bought her.”

“It’s okay, mom. Can I take her outside?”

Cecily nodded. “Sure, but stay in the yard so you can hear me call you in for dinner.”

#

Helena sat cross-legged in the tree fort with the Gloria Gossip doll cradled in her arms. She ignored her younger brothers, who romped about the backyard, dressed in their knight and dragon Halloween costumes, a good ten feet below her. Giving the doll’s hand a firm squeeze, she was surprised when the toy’s eyes blinked open.

The doll’s mechanical voice squeaked out, “Hi, I’m Gloria Gossip. You can share all your secrets with me.”

Helena giggled. “Well, okay. My friend Tonya likes Jason from Mrs. Noland’s class.”

“That’s a great secret!” The doll squealed. “Do you want to hear one of mine now?”

“Um, sure, okay.” Helena nodded.

“First, I have to make sure we’re friends. Are we friends?”

“Yeah, we’re friends.”

The doll continued, “My secret is, my name’s not Gloria. It’s Annie, and I need your help with something. Can you help me get home to my mom?”

~fin~

7 Ways Writers Differ from Everyone Else

Writers are not normal. I know this because I am a writer and my family tells me all the time how abnormal I am compared to them.

I like to think I’m the normal one and they’re weird, but whatever.

However when I get together with my writing group, it makes me realize that they might be onto something after all. Here are some common traits I see among members of my writing group as well as in other friends who are writers.

1. Writers always think about writing.
Whether it’s a character in their book, an idea for a new book, or someone else’s book, writers are always either jotting down or making mental notes about something writing-related.

2. Writers get really excited about writing.
If you really want to make a writer happy, then give them time, tools, and space to write. They will love you for it. My favorite gifts from my family include a journal covered in pink faux leather and a Doctor Who themed ink pen.

3. Writers get more emotional about writing.
They also get more emotional about reading, but that’s a different blog post for a different day. Only my fellow writers understand when I tell them that I cried over something that happened to the characters in my book.

4. Writers surround themselves with writing.
This one is huge. My desk not only holds my laptop, but it also bears host to a pile of hotel scratch pads, a small milk pitcher full of various writing utensils, stacks of journals and notebooks, sticky notes, and a pile of books on topics ranging from romantic fiction to how to organize your next novel.

5. Writers enjoy talking about writing.
If you want to make friends with a writer, then ask them about their book. Really listen as they explain it to you. Better yet, read the things they write, regardless if it is their blog or their latest bestseller.

6. Writers often balance chaos.
Getting lost in your writing means being distracted from things that might otherwise need your attention. Writers are gluttons for slipping into “the zone” and forgetting to do things like eat lunch, stay hydrated, sleep, and so forth.

7. Writers don’t give up.
Writers have terrific highs when things are going their way, and terrible lows when things don’t work out so well. Regardless of how it’s going, they don’t give up.

Are you a writer? Do you agree with the list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Birds of a Feather – A Short and Sinister Romance Story

This is my first attempt at the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. The story had to be less than 1,000 words with the following conditions:

  • Genre – Romance
  • Location – Aquarium
  • Random Item – Jalapeno Pepper

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments!

“Birds of a Feather”

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at quarter-past twelve, Archibald Monroe took a seat inside an auditorium at the aquarium next door to the bank where he worked as a loan officer. The Birds of the Rainforest show was his favorite exhibit and in the past seven weeks, he hadn’t missed a single performance. The show began promptly at 12:40 p.m. but arriving early gave him time to scarf down his lunch – a cardboard container of jalapeno poppers from a food truck parked outside the glass and steel structure.

Archibald preferred the exotic birds over the mysterious sea creatures within the multi-story building, but thought none of them compared to their handler, Deirdre Carlin. Her pouty lips, dark lashes, and mane of glossy, auburn hair captivated him, but he was most impressed with her well-toned physique. She looked the picture of health.

Unlike Vera. Vera also worked at the bank next door. Every day at lunchtime, she and Archibald shared a rickety table in the breakroom. He asked her out over its faded, laminate top. When Vera shared the news of her cancer diagnosis while sitting across from him at the same table, he half-heartedly promised to be there for her.

But that was before he drove her home from her first chemo treatment and she puked all over the inside of his Mercedes. The next day he sent her a dozen roses and a copy of the receipt for the auto detailing service responsible for cleaning the mess.

Archibald avoided the breakroom afterward, which was how he wound up visiting the bird show at the aquarium. He since went out of his way to avoid Vera at work and hadn’t returned to his former lunch venue. Not even when the bank manager mass-emailed the employees to congratulate Vera on the news of her cancer going into remission. He couldn’t risk getting emotionally close to someone that sick.

Right on time in the auditorium, the lights dimmed over the audience and spotlights illuminated the stage. Archibald devoured the last of the deep fried jalapenos, stuffed the container into the pocket of his jacket, and licked his fingers clean.

Twenty-five minutes later, after the meager midday crowd dispersed, Archibald practically bounced to the front of the stage. “Hi Deirdre! Are we still on for tonight?”

“Of course! I wouldn’t miss it.” Deirdre’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and her bottom lip quivered. “I look forward to something to make me smile after…well.” During the show she mentioned the passing of Bryan, her scarlet macaw.

“Yeah. Sorry to hear it. You think you’ll find a replacement soon?”

She glanced up and held his gaze. “Oh yes, quite soon. I have my eye on one which should work out nicely.”

“Great! Still want me to pick you up at your apartment?” Archibald’s smile broadened, dimpling his cheeks when she confirmed her address so he could plug it into his phone.

***

“Losing someone you love is hard.” Archibald covered Deirdre’s hand with his. They sat at the kitchen table in her apartment, empty plates all that remained of the dinner she prepared – steak, baked potatoes, and his favorites, jalapeno poppers.

She gave a deep sigh. “A macaw can live as long as a human. He should have lasted another forty years at least. Did you know they mate for life?”

“I had no idea.” Archibald leaned forward, enchanted by his hostess.

“They do.” She nodded, pulling her hand away. “And they aren’t likely to leave their mate for someone younger and sexier.”

“Did someone leave you?” When Deirdre didn’t answer, he pressed, “What common excuse for a human would leave you? I hope you don’t mind my saying, but you’re the prettiest woman I ever met. I’d certainly never leave you.”

A flush crept into Deirdre’s cheeks and she stood, clearing the dishes away from dinner. Archibald sat back and watched, his eyes taking in her form as she moved.

“So what’s your story?” She asked while stacking the dishwasher. “Surely you weren’t always single.”

“I was dating someone from work, but it didn’t work out.”

“What happened?”

Archibald hesitated only slightly. “She needed time to focus on herself.”

“How very selfish! She must not have been the one.”

“No, no I don’t think she was. You’d think it wouldn’t be so hard, finding the right person to spend the rest of your life with.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” she agreed, turning on the dishwasher. Then she turned to her guest. “Would you join me in the living room? I have a new bottle of cognac waiting for a special occasion like tonight, if you’re up for a nightcap.” He readily agreed, her cologne luring him into the next room like a hummingbird to a fragrant flower.

***

A pounding headache woke Archibald from a deep sleep. He blinked his eyes open and looked around. What is this place? He thought. Jungle? Forest? Where am I?

Just then, Deirdre’s face came into focus. Archibald tried to speak, but his voice came out in a squawk. He looked down at the feathers covering his body and screamed.

“Shh, it’s okay precious Archie.” Her fingers delicately ran over his head and down his back, causing him to shiver. She carefully removed him from the enclosure. “You’re right. It’s difficult to find the one person to share the rest of your life. When you kept appearing in the audience, I knew you were the one for me.”

Archibald stared at his date from the previous night, too shocked to speak, much less squawk.

“And now you’ve replaced Bryan, so we can spend the rest of our lives together! I love you so much, Archie. We’re going to be so happy together.”

Deirdre stepped onto the stage and waved at her audience. “Welcome to Birds of the Rainforest! Today I’d like to introduce you all to Archie, a blue and gold macaw.”