The Phantom Lady

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The Phantom Lady

            Unnoticed, the lady came quietly into the store and stood in front of the counter. She had about her an ethereal quality, dressed in a soft burgundy and gold outfit. Her face professed a youthful beauty, yet, mystical and serene with a quiet mysterious attraction.

            It was some seconds before the store owner became aware of her standing directly across from him.

            When he looked up, she simply uttered one word with a stoic, “Thanks.”

            The store owner looked to his left, to his right, and spoke to the woman across from him: “How can I help you?”

            “Thanks.”

            “Yes, I heard you but I’ve yet to do anything for you.” He smiled amiably. “Are you alright?”

            The store owner squinted and stared at the woman across from him. She was beautiful! Her eyes were fixed steadily on him, and he began to get a creepy feeling, like the woman was under some sort of emotional distress. She appeared dignified along with her beauty and without any outward sign of physical injury.

            “Thanks!” This time her voice was more strident, more impatient.

            The store owner was in an unknown territory, not able to think beyond ‘weird’ and ‘odd-ball’ but was sure this lady definitely had some sort of mental condition. The owner saw ‘hop-heads’ all the time, could see their glazed over eyes and their stupid behavioral patterns. This lovely lady gave no indication of being on drugs. She was more prim and proper than most people who came into his store. There was also an inexplicable quality about the woman he could not identify.

            The owner opened a counter fridge and took a bottle of water, and spoke, “Here, lady, drink some water. You could be dehydrated. Come, sit for a spell.” He pulled a straight-back chair from behind the counter and gently guided her to a sitting position.

            “Thanks.” The lady never blinked, her eyes locked in one position. The bottle of water she loosely held fell from her hand to her lap to the floor.

“Lady, can you tell me what’s wrong with you? I don’t understand what your ‘Thanks’ is saying to me. Can you say more than ‘Thanks’?”

            “Thanks!” The lady was back to a more forceful, yet, perfect enunciation.

            The store owner shook his head, frustrated with this turn of events. ‘Yes, the woman was enunciating perfectly’ but there was no context. ‘What am I supposed to do here?’ he mumbled.

            It was afternoon slow time so the store thankfully was empty. The owner knew most of the people in the small town of Green Valley, but this lady apparently just got off the bus heading to Macon.

            “Are you hungry, lady? Can you nod your head if you are?”

            “Thanks.” She was back to the low-key ‘Thanks’. There was no nod of her head.

            “Hi, Ken,” it was the town sheriff’s deputy walking his beat. He noticed through the store window in passing that Ken was seemingly carrying a worried expression. The deputy walked into the store and asked, “Things going okay?”

            Ken sighed, “Hey, Cliff, I’m glad to see you, darn happy to see you, actually.”

            “What’s up?”

            “This nice lady, Cliff, she’s in some kind of trouble. She comes in, stands across the counter and says, ‘Thanks,’ rather matter-of-factly, and every time I try to offer help, she says the same thing, ‘Thanks’, and at times she’s a bit more forceful the way she says it. I can’t figure it out. She looks physically fine, very pretty, but must have something going on in her brain…you know her?”

            After carefully eying the woman, Cliff said, “I think I saw her get off the bus at the Drug Store Stop. A cute lady like her, you can’t miss noticing. She seems to be ‘out of it’, like walking in her sleep, or, hypnotized.”

            “Did she have any baggage? All I see is that purse she’s hanging onto.”

            “Nope, didn’t see any baggage… You have no idea what she means when she says, ‘Thanks’?”

            “Not the foggiest, Cliff… Excuse me, I have to wait on Mrs. Barnes.”

            Ken gathered a few articles for Mrs. Barnes. She gave a ‘You’re welcome’ to his “Thanks” and left. Ken ‘smiled’ at the parting exchange and went back to Cliff and the puzzling woman.

            “So, what do we do, Cliff?” Ken asked.

            The woman began to tremble and her purse fell to the floor, as though she was nudging it to fall.

            The two men looked at each other, shaking their heads with wrinkled brows

            “Maybe we need to look into her purse, Ken… I don’t know what else to do – other than take her to the Sheriff’s office and see what ‘Sheriff Goose’ has to say. I mean, this is crazy, she seems well enough within herself, more or less calm about her presence here… It’s like someone has hypnotized her to say ‘Thanks’ over and over.”

            “Maybe that’s a reasonable assumption, but, for goodness sake, why? Why would someone do that?”

            “Gee, I don’t know, Ken, just thinking off the top of my head.”

            “Thanks.” The stiffly aberrant lady spoke again the familiar word that was now cryptic and out of place. She uttered the word sternly, almost in the form of a rebuke, her face showing no strain, her body perfectly erect and proper, almost surreal in her burgundy and gold outfit.      

            “This is nuts, Ken!” said Cliff as he grabbed her purse from the floor.

            “Wait, Cliff, don’t open her purse yet. We could be opening ‘Pandora’s Box’. You know the World today. It’s got a lot of ‘Crazies’, people angry with the government, fearful, frustrated, out of work, ugly mass killings by illegal immigrants or just bad people. I’ve never seen the country with this blind kind of runaway madness. This woman could be part of a plan, like, we could be one of those ‘soft targets’ that the newscasts are always reporting. Maybe she’s been programmed or hypnotized strictly for that purpose…”

            “Ken, listen to yourself! This is quaint little Green Valley, Georgia. We know everybody in town…”

            “We don’t know her, Cliff!”

            “Well, right, Ken, but come on! Who’s going to get off a bus in Green Valley, Georgia, particularly a neat looking lady like this and just start killing people? She’s simply got a bad mental problem of some kind.”

            “Hope you’re right, good buddy.”

            “Thanks,” now a steady monotonic stream from the trance-like woman in the chair, at five-second intervals, her stare, her body in a more sustained tremble.

            “Cliff, don’t open that purse! Let’s get out of here now! I’ve got a really bad feeling!”

            Cliff dropped the purse on the lap of the chanting and robotic-like lady, allowed Ken to pull him out the front door of the store onto the sidewalk. Ken slammed closed the door behind him, took a final look through the plate glass and saw the woman’s mouth still moving in a mechanical-like way.

            Both men ran across the street to the other sidewalk.

            There were a dozen people on either side of the street but they sensed danger and all ended up near Cliff and Ken. They knew only that something was happening outside their understanding. They instinctively followed the deputy’s and store owner’s actions.

            Across the street, the crowd was growing slightly as people emerged from other stores and offices and saw the anxious deputy and store owner. They waited and no one spoke. There was a fearful anticipation of some awful event about to happen at Ken’s store. The people followed the eyes of the deputy, could see the depth of his own fear, and made it their own.

            Cars slowed near the crowd and sped away with the rapid waving of Cliff’s arms. The car people could read the distress gathered on the sidewalk and considered it their best decision to be away from that location.

            The seconds ticked away and became long minutes of stress. Cliff finally spoke to the crowd: “All of you stay where you are. I’m going across the street to assess the situation. This could be nothing more than an odd moment in our town’s history, but we have to be safe and err on the side of good judgement.”

            Cliff crossed the street and tentatively stepped to the plate glass window. The sun caused a white-out glare, and Cliff could not make out anything. Carefully, he edged to the door, slowly opened it, and stepped inside.

            There was no one in the store! The mystery woman was not there. The chair was back in its normal spot. There was no purse on the floor, no A/C or electric equipment sounds in the store at all. It was eerily still and darker than usual, even with the sun splashed all across the plate glass window.

            Cliff searched every square foot of the store, and the silence became deafening. The backdoor emergency and employee exit was key-locked by Ken, could only be opened and locked by him. There was a steel bar across the door for added security against robbery or vandalism.

            When his search was completed Cliff returned to the small crowd gathered on the opposite sidewalk.

            The crowd was sent home with the announcement that all was secure. When asked of the crowd what had happened, Cliff and Ken never told the exact nature of the alarm, only dismissing the incident as a misperception.  

            Later, Cliff and Ken re-entered the store, confident that there were no explosive devices, just the unnerving bafflement of the mystical and mysterious woman.

*

            When the dream ended, his body was covered in sweat and cold to the touch. His wife hovered over him with worried words and sympathetic frowns.

            “You were turning and tossing, honey! Are you coming down with something? You’re all sweaty!”

            A full moon from a clear night shone through the bank of windows of the master bedroom and provided light enough to show agony on his face.

            Ken shook his head several times before answering. “Just a bad dream, Dixie…a bad dream that was so very real. I’ve never had a dream so real in my life.”

            “You want to talk about it?” Her blue watery eyes showed concern and love.

            “Not now, Honey. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning. You go back to sleep. I’m going to get a glass of water and try sleep again without riding a nightmare.”

            Over coffee and pancakes the next morning, Ken told Dixie of his strange and mystifying nightmare in vivid detail. Nothing was left out of his accounting. At the finish, he was sweaty again. “I just can’t believe the reality of that dream. When I see Cliff, I’ll find out how and if his sleep was interrupted last night.”

            “Dreams can be weird, Kenny, but you can’t believe Cliff would have the same dream?”

            “Yeah, I know, Dixie, but this one…this one took a lot out of me. I’m left thinking, this one just had to mean something, and I’ve got the gnawing feeling that I need to talk to Cliff.”

            At the store in mid-morning, Cliff stopped during his ‘beat’ walk, wearing a harried expression on his face.

            “What’s up, Cliff? You have a dream last night?”

            “What? You kidding me? How would you know that, good buddy?”

            “So, you did have a dream last night?”

            “A ‘lulu’, an off the wall nightmare! Don’t tell me you had one as well?”

            “Like you said, Cliff, a ‘lulu’…”

            They were stunned! Their dreams were discussed and found to be identical!

            Thus, an ‘urban legend’ was born…and sanctified by strange occurrences in the small town of Green Valley, Georgia.

            Not only occurrences but identical mystic dreams by the citizens as well.

            Green Valley became a virtual ghost town with very little stirring of its people…most stayed closed in and did not stray very far from home.

            The most beguiling effects of the Green Valley anomaly began occurring when other small towns across the country reported disturbances of a pretty lady in a burgundy and gold dress who communicated in strange monosyllabic utterings, then disappeared not to be seen again.

            Soon, the national media picked up the story and ran a steady stream of possible scenarios…’The Phantom Lady’ is reported by ‘Space Mysteries Network’ as a robotic machine sent from an unknown planet to create chaos on earth as a prelude to an outer-space attack’.

            The prime-time TV networks ran various three-part and five-part ‘Strange Cosmic Events’ highlighting an all-women planet invading our country with identical clones’.

             Magazine and major Newspapers ran serial issues suggesting Secret Projects of the United States Supreme Court in collusion with the United States Government.

            Of course, there were some people in the political ranks issuing reports of Political Chicanery, producing elaborate and outlandish reports that staggered the mind even beyond ‘The Phantom Lady’ incident.  

            The year of 2029 was becoming an alarming amalgam of Progress and Uncertainty.

 {Short Story by Billy Ray Chitwood – March 2, 2017}

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Ripples

 

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Ripples 

      The lovely lady squinted as she stood on her penthouse balcony, grasped the iron railing and looked at the distant clouds hovering above the horizon.

Standing there in her long powdery blue night gown, her image portrayed a classic Princess-like profile with all the voluptuous and titillating curves that brought men to their knees. Her face was to cherish: lips full of the sweetest imaginable wine that gave kisses long lingering promises of other delights; magical blue eyes that mesmerized and projected a strange mystical sadness.

The sun she gathered from some days on the beach made her glow with some wondrous and nostalgic essence, her long silky auburn hair not bothered by the slight breeze that moved it gently across her face.

She watched the wave ripples shifting the sand and bringing ashore sea glass and ageless plant debris. Two tears appeared, spilled over the lower lids, and fell down her face. A small trembling smile came as her thoughts mixed with the sea glass and plants on the shore…

“Oh, Jessie,” she whispered as a zephyr carried her words out upon the ripples. “Why, why, why?” she implored of her Deity. “Why has the world gone crazy? Why did they send you to Afghanistan? I can’t make it without you. Here at our favorite retreat I hoped to find some semblance of sanity, but there is nowhere to go that will bring peace, a reason to go on without you.”

She sighed a small surrender.

She placed her left foot on the lower stretch of balcony iron and tightened her grip on the top railing. She looked again at the clouds on the distant horizon, at the ripples coming to shore with their cargo. She pulled her body upward on the railing and gave the horizon one more poignant gaze.

From some silent place inside the penthouse came the words: “Cut! That’s a take!”

Flash Fiction by Billy Ray Chitwood – October 1, 2016

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Darkness and Fog

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Darkness and Fog

The darkness and fog are palpable like a viscid sweat crawling all over the body, and my eyes cannot be trusted. Keen concentration is not all it’s made out to be. These dumb-ass images keep popping up all over the space in front, sides, and back of me…and, okay, I admit it – I’m a big boy scared. ‘There’s no moon in the sky – stormy weather’ (ring a bell?). I mean, there is no way this world can be this dark and foggy.

“Why,” Someone might ask, “are you so stupid to be standing where you’re standing?”

The reason is really simple but I’m going to make it as complicated for you as I can.

When I was a little boy, my crippled cousin had to have the light on during his bedtime dark hours. Now, I didn’t tease him about that but if I just mentioned it he chased me up one country road and another. If I didn’t have a pretty good lead he’d catch me. Then, we would end up wrestling until one of us said ‘Uncle’ – usually me! We were best pals and I loved my club-footed cousin-buddy, but he got madder than a frigging copperhead on LSD if anyone brought up sleeping with lights on.

That’s really not part of the complicated story, at least, not in a major way. This darkness and fog just made me think of him. He turned out to be a scratch golfer. He’s gone now, died too damned early in his life. His damned cheating wife was screwing the next door neighbor, and my cousin beat the shit out of the neighbor and threw all her clothes – and her – out of the house. He was club footed but he was no yellow-belly. Nobody gave him any crap, that’s for sure.

Well, again, that’s not part of the complicated story either – but I won’t lead you on any further.

It all starts with my sister, Sarah Lou. She’s fourteen going on twenty-four, if you get my drift, built like a brick shit-house, big boobs, long silky brown hair, great figure, really pretty, and she reckons she’s the ‘cat’s meow’. It seems she knows early on she wants to taste some parts of life she is no way ready to taste.

I’m convinced Sarah Lou is the genuine product of her – and, my – dad. He gets madder than hell and beats up on her…and, Mom.

Dad has this fiery temper, and it’s his way or the highway, so to speak. This is when he’s visiting us. He and Mom are divorced, and Dad seems to have these demons inside him that make for crazy flip-outs at any moment. I’ve noticed his behavior changes when Mom mentions her side of the family – they don’t like him and he doesn’t like them. Of course, the corn whiskey could have something to do with it. He likes his hooch! He’s also tall, good-looking, and has a thing for the ladies. How can I know that? Well, that’s a whole different story.

Well, anyhow, the genes running through Sarah Lou have got to be identical to Dad’s.

Moving the story along, Sarah Lou turns sixteen and elopes with an army corporal, runs off to another state when the corporal gets transferred. Mom is heart-sick and scared because she knows she’s got to tell Dad the news.

Mom and I, my now older club-footed Cousin and his big sister (on my Dad’s side of the family) go to the hotel where my Dad is now living to tell him about Sarah Lou’s elopement. In his hotel room, my Cousin and his sister take the two chairs in the room and I sit under a window on an old radiator…you know, those ugly heavy metal rods all in a row as one unit. Now, the heat isn’t on during this visit, but those units are a might uncomfortable to sit on. I just keep alternating my butt cheeks and somehow manage.

Now, Dad knows right away that something is up, and, he knows it isn’t good news – guess our faces and body language give us away.

When Dad hears the news about Sarah Lou, he stomps around the room in a fury, and, abruptly stops in front of Mom who is sitting on the bed. My sweet hard-working, lovely Mom sits there very still with her hands clasped on her lap with a blanched and pitiful look on her face.

My tainted-gene Dad gives Mom a hard looping open-hand slap to the face, so damned hard it knocks her over. My immediate fear is that he’s knocked something loose in her brain or upper body…and he’s getting ready to do more hitting.

I’m petrified and watching it all from this hotel room radiator and l reckon something snaps inside me. I’ve watched this kind of madness too many times before as a younger kid. Now, I’m not a lot bigger now but I rush him and tackle him onto the bed. Crying and mumbling something stupid, like, ‘I’ve seen you do that to my Mom too many times’. I’ll never forget – he’s got this look on his face like a slight smile and surprise all at the same time.

I grab a bedside table lamp and begin hitting him with it. Pretty soon, he’s not moving. I must have connected with a vulnerable spot on his head. It’s like he just turns his head over to the side and goes to sleep.

Only seconds pass and I tell our little group we likely should leave. So, we hustle out of Dad’s room and loudly close the door.

Mom cries all the way down the elevator, and we go unnoticed out a side entrance in the lobby. I drive my Cousin and his sister home, and, except for the sound of the car engine, no one makes a sound. Only tears flow down our faces. We all hug and kiss each other.

Next, I drive Mom to her folks’ place some forty miles away.

We give Grandma and Grandpa all the news about our visit with Dad, and they’re madder than hornets in a wild wind, ‘Is he dead?’ ‘Is he alive?’ I make Mom promise me that she’ll stay with the grandparents until she hears from me. There’s no way Dad, assuming I didn’t kill him, would go around Grandpa because the latter gave Dad a whipping some months back.

After a few more tears are shed, I take off. Mom insists I take the car when she can’t talk me out of leaving.

My blond head is churning with thoughts as I drive back to the hotel. The closer I get, the more tense I become. There’s this need to know about my Dad, whether he’s okay or dead. I’m a sturdy young man now, 175 pounds, playing quarterback as a freshman at Garden View University. It’s difficult to calculate how hard I hit my Dad with that lamp – I feel like a part of me was holding back.

There is no way to forget what happened, and just go back to my grandparent’s house. I have to know, one way or the other about my Dad, Is he alive? Is he dead?

I park Mom’s car down the street from the hotel and walk to the side entrance of the lobby.

The elevator is on the lobby level as if waiting for me. On Dad’s floor, the elevator doors open and my heart jumps into my mouth!

My Dad is standing in front of me, his eyes blinking like he is trying to clear his head.

“You coming out, young fellow?” Dad asks in an impatient and impersonal tone.

He notices the apparent surprise on my face. “You alright, boy?”

“Dad, it’s me!”

He did a fast look behind him like I was talking to someone else.

Dad blinks some more. “You’re mixed up, boy, I don’t have a son. Now, stay in the elevator or get out. I fell and cracked my head…have to get it taken care of.”

“But, Dad, I hit you on the head with a lamp because you hurt Mom. Let me help you!”

Dad grabs my arm and pulls me out of the elevator onto the hallway carpeting. “Told you, boy, I’ve got no son.” He pushes the lobby button and is gone.

I can’t say how long I stand rooted to that spot in front of the elevator. I am aware enough to know that other people enter and exit the elevator while I’m standing there.

Finally, I take the stairs down seven floors and walk out the side lobby entrance. My befuddled mind is on automatic pilot and leads me down the street to Mom’s car.

When I pull away from the curb, confused and frightened, I drive aimlessly, turning here, turning there, my mind going over and over the events of the day.

I drive for miles not mindful of where I’m going. Tears flow until my eyes get all watery. Finally, my brain tells me to pull off the road.

I’m out in the ‘boonies’ somewhere. There is an old rutted country road, and I turn onto the dirt and gravel, drive a quarter mile and notice that suddenly I can’t see.

The weather changes suddenly and I take the time to think, ‘What the hell am I doing? Out here in nowhere land?’ The reality of the situation makes me ease to the right off the old road, feeling my way as the darkness and fog come together – seemingly all at once.

I get out of the car, touching the metal, holding on to the only reality given me at the moment.

My Dad’s face is flashing at me in the darkness and fog…along with snakes, dinosaurs, crocodiles, and other beasts of the world.

There comes some recalls of life with my Dad in it, not long after the divorce.

Much of those times are rough, but there are tender moments as well – farther back in youth, when he bought me a little boy’s grey suit with a bibbed hat, took pictures of me with a cigarette dangling from my lips, train rides, car rides to visit his folks and grandmother.

His grandmother was almost blind and sat on an old wooden porch in a rocking chair, frail and beautiful like a picture in sepia tone, with a corn cob pipe in the corner of her mouth. She was in her nineties, and Dad had to get within inches of her face before she recognized him and got a sweet smile on her face and hugged him. She made over me as well, and I felt a sense of history – the events, all the things she had seen in her lifetime. Her time was almost up, but she was going to keep rocking and smoking her corn cob pipe for a while yet.

A few happy times flashed by, those times when we played at being a family, without the tempestuous flares of raw emotions: the Saturday movie matinees; Mom and Dad smiling happily when my sister and I danced, when I attempted to write a poem; the endless questions I asked of them both – the insatiable curiosity of a little boy’s mind.

I love them both so much, and, now, my father has no son.

The tears do not stop until the mind reminds me of where I am, in the middle of proverbial nowhere with only the scary flashes coming from too much eye concentration and the memories that are both keepers and throwaways.

So, the world can be dark and foggy, and, maybe, reasons for standing in the darkness and fog are not so simple.

With measured steps I walk a few paces, pivot, return to the car, get in the back seat, and lock the doors.

Assuming a fetus position on the backseat, I try desperately not to think anymore. I can wait out the darkness and the fog.

Tomorrow will come, and the sun will replace the dismal thoughts with hope.

I love my Mom and Dad.

Perhaps I still have both of them.

Billy Ray Chitwood – 8/28/16

*

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A Parable of Sorts

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Because so much is happening in the world today, I thought I would get 2016 started with a short story I wrote back three years ago. It conveys the ugliness in the world but it has faith and love as well. Hope you enjoy:

It’s curious how the mind can wander off into a story.

During a ‘time out’ from working on my WIP (a new book) my mind began its wandering and somehow settled on some of the world’s more problematic issues – at least, from the perspective of someone living in the USA and being bombarded each day with unsettling news from far away places, news of Syria’s internal devastating turmoil, of Iran’s new leadership, plus a ‘new treaty’, and how it might hold little promise for relieving old angers and hatreds, news of a North Korea that seems always deleterious and scary…

I reached for my laptop and began to type this rather small piece that became a fanciful story. I decided at its conclusion that it had some ‘nuance’ here and there and decided to give it a title, “A Parable of Sorts.” I’m posting it here because I’m a writer who can hardly ever let anything I write, good or bad, go to waste. Hopefully, this little tale will not be too disconcerting to the senses. With this said, here’s the tale…

A Parable Of Sorts

Sasha begged him not to go. “You belong here with me, Leonid. The battle is within you, not with North Korea. What of us?” She tugged at his tattered coat.

He smiled benignly, “You’re a lovely and silly girl. You do not understand the reality of our time. To stay would be to defy my beliefs, my convictions, and, yes, my anger and hatred.”

“You would die for these beliefs and convictions, this anger and hatred?”

“We all must die, Sasha.”

“You brought me here to be left alone in a strange country?”

“Hong Kong is not a strange country, foolish one. We’ve been here sometime now. You know many of our native people. Go to them when your money runs out. Stay with them. Should something go wrong, I will return for you.”

“Please, Leonid, you go to die and you know it. You’ve told me of your plans. You go on a suicide mission. I’ve begged before and I beg of you, now, please stay!”

At the door of the small efficiency apartment, Leonid paused with his hand on the door knob. His dark eyes and handsome face held a strange and wistful look. He removed his hand from the door knob, returned to Sasha where she stood by the tiny dining table. “You are so beautiful, my blue-eyed wonder.” He embraced and gave her a long passionate kiss.

He then quickly twisted her head until he heard the snap. The lips were still in a half-smile as her head dangled and fell to his right shoulder, her blue eyes large and vacant in their death stare. In a whisper, he spoke, to the face he had loved, “Better you go this way, my dear Sasha, than to linger in life’s pain. You cannot know but I did love you.”

Leonid gently lowered her body onto a soiled stuffed chair just a few feet from the dining table, gazed upon her splayed form for some seconds, then slowly left the apartment. Tears welled but he willed them away, a final and essential part of his being had snapped and was forever lost to him.

*****

Night, reluctant to shed its vagueness, was slowly showing its lightened eastern clouds as the sun gave way to earth’s perpetual orbital pattern. Leonid walked in the shadows along streets leading to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. It was still quiet in this city known as ‘Flat Land’ in its translation. In his backpack he carried explosives with timer mechanisms that he would plant at key buildings. The explosive carefully strapped to his body he would save for the KMP.

His thoughts were well focused on his morning’s mission but he could not deny the flashing memories that brought him to this point in time…

His father, mother, and brother had been ruthlessly killed here in Pyongyang in 2012 by a squad of government gangsters of the ‘People’s Republic of Korea.’ His family was shown no mercy as they were chopped to death by machetes, labeled spies against the state. Four hours later his older brother and sister were pulled from their lodgings, beaten, and then chopped to death. The government squad had no ears to listen to his family’s protests of innocence, their legitimate reason for being in the ‘Flat Land,’ their labored cries of mercy.

Pyongyang’s government never wavered from their ill-gotten information about his family. Never mind that his mother had pleasantly refused to cater a special luncheon for the squad and their friends, the sole event and motive that brought the hatred and the killings. Never mind that his sister would be raped before she was chopped. The killings were all justified, each query quashed and forgotten by the government.

His marriage to Sasha prior to the family murders made home life an hourly ebb and flow of emotions. When sleep would come there were the hellish nightmares, waking, screaming the names of his dead family, his body slick with sweat and tears, Sasha clinging to him, sobbing, trying desperately to slay the night-dragons that possessed him.

Then came the job loss and it was as though the people of Hong Kong could see the rage in his eyes, the stench of hatred from his body. He became a man avoided and feared. Sasha tried to get him help, would set an appointment for him to see someone who might be able to help him, but he would not arrive at the set time. Sasha was the only person in the large city who could give him moments of relative calm, but then those times of surcease became fewer and fewer.

He would not bathe nor shave, only when Sasha would run his bath and physically pull and push him to the tub and wash and rinse him. For those few precious moments Sasha could almost sense some warmth come to him…but it never lasted long. The strange hatred that occupied him never resulted in personal damage to her. She did the talking, asking questions of him, and he bluntly answered the questions – until the fateful day he killed her! It was only some modicum of revenge that would fulfill what was left of his putrid life…

As he walked in the shadowy stillness, a voice came to him from an alleyway just a few feet away: “Leonid, I must talk to you. Come walk with me in the alley.”

Leonid stopped, momentarily startled…no one knew his name, knew that he was here in Pyongyang. “Who speaks my name?” He braced himself against a building corner near the alley, moving his hand near a detonator that would vaporize him and much of the immediate area.

“A friend, Leonid. Please come these few steps and talk to me. There is no harm intended. We will talk, and you can do then what you will.” The voice had a calm and soft cadence, and Leonid knew that the man spoke the truth.

Leonid walked a few feet into the alley until he saw a man’s form. What struck him were the man’s eyes. They glowed in the semi-darkness, matched the tenor of the stranger’s voice. Oddly, Leonid was not afraid of the stranger and walked some fifty feet further down the alley, stopping when the stranger sat on a wooden crate. The stranger bid Leonid to sit on another wooden crate nearby.

“How is it that you know me and what do you want?”

“I’m just a man who knows the pain you carry within you and the mission that you are on.”

“How could you possibly know such things?”

“I have been with you all the way from Hong Kong, Leonid, mourning with you the loss of your beloved Sasha.”

“I killed her! With these ugly knotted hands, I killed her. How can you know this, Tell me who you are and why you are here, or, I will…”

“Leonid, just a few questions I have and you can be on your way.” The stranger’s voice was mesmerizing, measured in softness and tone. “Why is it, Leonid, that we are here on this spinning orb we call earth?”

There was rapture in the stranger’s voice that commanded a response. “We are here to live in parables and to die and be no more.”

The stranger’s eyes seemed to glow more brightly and the long beard he wore was a pellucid whiteness that seemed somehow unearthly. Leonid quickly considered whether of not he was awake or in a dream.

The stranger spoke. “So, why is it that the moon falls from the sky, the sun does not bring us daylight, and birth has no precise process to follow?”

Still taken by the stranger’s soothing voice, but a bit nonplussed, Leonid responded. “But you know that is not so. What is your motive here?”

The stranger seemed not to hear the question. “Why is there no evil and good in the world?”

“Stop confounding me with your Socratic silliness. Of course, there is evil and there is good in the world.”

“And why do you think that is so?”

“God only knows.”

“You speak His name as though you know him, Leonid. Do you know God?”

“There is no God!”

“Yet, you say He knows about evil and good.”

“Look, your aura wraps me in some kind of spell and I seem compelled to listen to your words. Please tell me what it is you wish me to know.”

“One last question, your response, and I will say my final words to you. “Did you truly love Sasha?”

“Of course, with all my heart I loved her, but my heart and soul is heavy with grief and hatred.”

“Like the hatred of Jesus’ enemies as they crucified Him on the cross? Like the hatred of the Americans for the Japanese during World War Two? Like the psychotic hatred of serial killers?”

“Yes, yes! How else can I answer such questions?”

“You can answer such questions by having Faith that there is more to come beyond this life, by believing that evil only spreads when good people are paralyzed by anger, fear, and hatred. To Love is to have Faith. To have Faith is to have Love. These noble elements of living decide our ultimate destinies. People have choices to make all their earthly lives. They will not always make the right choices, but Faith and Love will make all the wrong choices bearable and inconsequential when the last grain of sand is gathered.”

As more light came to the alley Leonid thought that he understood what the stranger was saying to him. He wanted to say something but no words would come.

The stranger lifted himself from the crate and stood in front of Leonid. “May I touch your head, Leonid, so that it might bless you?”

With tears now flowing, Leonid merely moved his head downward. The stranger touched his head. Leonid sensed warmth on his head and a coursing flutter through his body. Then, the hand left his head.

When Leonid raised his head, the stranger was gone and daylight streamed throughout the alley.

*****

When Leonid awoke, his head was on his own pillow. He was gazing at the adjoining pillow into the wondrous blue eyes of his beloved Sasha, a sweet smile upon her face.

“You look different somehow, my love. Do you still intend to carry out your vendetta against North Korea? Please say that you will not.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled her face to his chest.

“No, my precious love, there will be no vendetta, not ever…” Leonid tightly wound himself around Sasha and gave her a long and tender kiss. “I’m torn,” he said, “making love to you, or, bacon and eggs?” He paused only briefly, “Oh, to hell with the bacon and eggs…”

[END of ‘short story’]

Billy Ray Chitwood – January 2, 2016

Bill Chitwood

(Story was first written in June of 2013)

Please follow me here on my blog and at http://twitter.com/brchitwood

See my main website and blog at: http://brchitwood.weebly.com – I hope you will read my books…there is definitely entertainment value and clarity of style. Amazon reviews are always helpful to purveyors of books.

There is a short bio sketch and further links at: http://www.about.me/brchitwood

My thirteen books can be previewed at the above mentioned site:

http://brchitwood.weebly.com (Go to ‘books’ menu and scroll down the page).

I’m proud to have been nominated for eleven-+ blog nominations. 

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Millions Do It – Why Should I?

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Millions Do It – Why Should I?

Look at the blank pages!

I’ve looked at blank pages for many years, even managed to fill enough of them to write thirteen books, books of mystery and suspense, some inspired by true-life events, even filled some of those blank pages with romance and books about myself. You can find those thirteen books on http://goo.gl/nWMXm3. While I’m at it, I lay claim to roughly 250 blog posts, many tracking emotional events and moments, serving up comments on some of the world’s crazies. There are flash fiction goodies and short stories. My blogs and archive appear on Goodreads and on https://thefinalcurtain1.wordpress.com. I’ve been very gratified in receiving eleven blog nominations. Hopefully, some of you will find reading pleasure in these blog posts.

There are a few book sales, some great amazon and Goodreads reviews, and, humble as I am, I believe the books should be reaching more readers. One of the big problems is my ineptness in the digital world, how to extend the reach of my blogs and books to a wider audience. I rely on Twitter tweets, promos added to my posts, Amazon, and Kindle KDP. I’ve never been adept in electronics, mechanics, and have a problem keeping up with the social media flow. Another problem is I’m ‘cheap’, don’t want to spend thousands on advertising and/or a publicist. AND, with millions of writers across the globe, I’m a needle in the proverbial hay stack.

(Yeah, I know, you’ve heard all of this in previous blogs and private conversations…there are great numbers of us!)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love to write and consider much of the social media a distraction to filling more blank pages. If truth be known, the writing is enough for me. But, there’s a small selfish part of me that would like to see some monetary rewards for my efforts. Now, notwithstanding my humility, I know my books, blogs, stories, have an entertainment value and a clarity of style. Sure, the process is long with the first draft, the editing, rewrites, the proofing, and the re-reads. Even with all involved in the writing process, I can almost guarantee, after one of my books is published, there will be a minor typo or errata. From Indie writers to traditionally published authors, one generally can find errors in some of their published pages.

Well, venting-time is over… I just wanted to share with so many of my writing friends that making money on those blank pages you fill up is wonderful – and you likely go the extra mile, spend much of your time and energy in the promotional stage…not to say you have not written a beautiful book that deserves the big payoff. Indie or traditionally published, I’m happy for you.

If this sounds self-serving, well, it is! I checked the KDP report and saw my modest sales. I would like more sales, but I’ll keep writing, regardless. It keeps me active and alive…and, when I write on those blank pages the particular phrases that bloat me with delight, well, those are the game winners for me.

Now, will all who read this start a viral event and buy my books!!!

Hope springs eternal!

Billy Ray Chitwood – November, 2015

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Breaking Up

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Breaking Up

Jan Cowper was a bit late in her arrival at the restaurant for a dinner date with her live-in boyfriend.

“Sorry I’m late, Tony…had some things to do after work.” She sat opposite him at the table for two and placed her purse on the floor beside her.

Tony eyed her… She was a knockout! Beautiful blue eyes and face framed by golden tresses… He hated what he was thinking.

“No, you’re not!” Tony spoke, three martinis up on his dinner date and his mind working at its peak.

“No, I’m not, ‘what’?” She responded, as the waiter took her martini order.

“You’re not sorry about being late…just words.”

“Just ‘words’, huh? Got it all figured out, do you, Tony?”

“You know what they say!”

“They, being?”

“The smart people of the world…”

“And, how would you know them, Tony?”

“You do that a lot!”

“I do what a lot.”

“You put me down a lot, Jan… It’s okay. I’m used to it, but it does get old.”

“I put you down a lot?”

“You do that a lot, too… Why are you always repeating everything I say? Do I have marbles in my mouth?”

“Why do I repeat what you say?” Jan chuckled. “Yeah, guess I do…just a dumb habit. It appears I’m irritating you a lot, Tony. You have any more observations?”

“As a matter of fact, I do… Your eyes wander all over the restaurant we might be in. You stare into the cars we pass on the road.  You watch people walking along the streets. It’s like you’re always thinking and planning something when we’re together. It’s not just annoying…it’s stupid! I’m not a jealous man, and you’re not going to make me into one. So, are you just bored with our relationship or are you a short-term commitment person?”

“Where’s all this coming from, Tony? I’m the same dame you met and gave a moronic pitch at Madison Square Garden a year ago. Maybe it was the Knicks that brought us together, though I admit you got me hot and bothered with your phony come-on and your ‘bulge’…you had that black curly hair and Dean Martin look that turned me on. Everything was great until you got too controlling and possessive…”

There was a short pause as the waiter delivered Jan’s martini…and Tony ordered another.

“Me, ‘controlling and possessive’, with you. You’re nuts! I would never attempt to control a woman, or, anybody for that matter. I thought we had something going when we decided to share living space. You gave me every indication that was so – your little pecks on the upper cheeks and your hands roaming on the lower cheeks… Now, for the past six weeks or so, you’ve changed big time. What is it, Jan? You got a new lover? Got all you want from me? What? Want to trade me in? Is that it?”

“Hey, Tony, lower the decibels! The other diners are looking at us. You trying to get us kicked out of this nice joint?”

“There’s the Jan I know these days! Skirting the questions, bringing it all back on me… Tell you what! It’s all so obvious to me what you’re doing, I’m going to make it easy for you. I mean, Jeez, I’ve seen this coming for weeks – an excuse here and there, working late, or, drinks with the girl-buddies, too tired for any fooling around, all the signs were there. Old ‘Jerk-water’ Tony, too easy on the patience and not wanting to believe what I instinctively knew…”

Tony rose from the table, tossed a fifty-dollar bill on the table. “We never got to dinner so that should handle the tab. If not, you get the rest. Enjoy the martini I just ordered…one of the guys at the bar will likely have the lack of good sense and approach you. I’ll have your clothes neatly packed in boxes for you to pick up outside the apartment door… This train is leaving the station.”

With that, Tony was gone, and Jan showed a half-smile to the other staring patrons and waiters. The smile was not a ‘poor-me’ smile, but more of a ‘victory’ smile. She finished her martini, left the fifty bucks on the table and exited the restaurant.

Jan walked several blocks down Fifth Avenue and entered another upscale restaurant. She was ushered to a nearly hidden table in the rear of the large room, in an area most lovely decorated with exotic plants and special pictures of notable people.

“How did it go?” the handsome and smartly dressed man stood and pulled out her chair.

She smiled and spoke, “Just as anticipated. The doofus is packing my clothes in boxes and putting them outside the apartment door. He will be a bit shocked when he notices my clothes already gone… Hope your end is all set. He will definitely be checking his floor safe in the master bedroom closet sooner or later.”

“It’s all set…don’t worry. Tony will likely booze a bit before going home and won’t have time to think about anything. You’re sure he knows you are not aware of the safe?”

“There is no way he can know…”

The couple smiled sweetly at each other and sipped their martinis.

***

Tony stopped and had a few more drinks before going back to his plush apartment. He was in a strange mood, not eager to eyeball the pretty ladies in the bistros, just mellow and somehow content with the decision he made relative to Jan. No question he was easy going, but he knew when he was being played. He bought her some beautiful gifts but that was his way…he did not second-guess himself, and, for a while, all went very well. Now, it was over, and he was glad it was over. He might feel some remorse in the next few days, but, tonight, he was in a good mood and happy to be free again.

When he finally made it home, he was not so tight with booze that he failed to notice Jan’s clothes all gone. Perhaps she had gotten the clothes during the day or this evening. In any event he was happy that all vestiges of Jan were out of the apartment. He turned on his stereo for some soft jazz, had a nightcap, and went to bed…still fully sober and content.

It was three days later when he discovered the robbery of his safe. Jolted by the discovery, losing a major portion of his financial fortune caused a great wave of distress to settle within him… Oh, he still had funds elsewhere and he would not be forced into great hardship like so many before him. Still, the effort and time to accumulate such wealth could not be simply accepted without some anger and anxiety.

The theft brought immediate rise to thoughts about Jan and her possible involvement. He spent days trying to locate her but she no longer worked with the same company. He visited restaurants and night spots they had frequented but no one had seen her or heard anything about her.

Time moved on – three weeks passed, a month, two months…

It was in the third month that he saw her in one of New York’s finest gourmet restaurants.

She was sitting in a lush leather and gold cloth booth across the opulent room. With her were two men and another woman. They were engaged in an animated argument about something, arms and hands waving in frantic gestures. Jan’s companion appeared really irate, his voice reaching a level that brought the maître d’ to the booth and diners to stare.

Whatever the disturbance, Jan and her companion rose from the booth and left the restaurant in angry haste.

Their dinner at an end, Tony and his business associate separated, the associate moving to the piano bar, and Tony leaving the restaurant. Tony was eager to follow Jan and her angry friend if it were possible to do so…he still felt Jan was somehow the instrument used to rob him of his floor safe finances.

Outside the restaurant Tony was only able to see Jan running after her companion’s car…it was obvious that he decided to leave her behind. She quickly hailed a cab and went into pursuit mode. Tony’s guess was that Jan would not catch him. Tony stood for a moment watching the cab become a tiny twinkle in the night…he felt no urge to hail his own cab and follow her. Instead, he was close enough to walk to his own apartment where he found it difficult to fall asleep – his mind was busy reliving the entire evening. For his part, the night had been successful with a business contract which would during its course give back all the finances lost in his safe robbery.

For a few moments more he remembered some of his good times with Jan, and, in some ways, he felt sorry for her. In her own way she was trying to cope with the challenges of living in one of the most eclectic and electric cities in the world – she loved Manhattan, and as the song so beautifully proclaimed, she was ‘caught between the moon and New York City’. He was no longer angry at Jan. Aside from feeling sorry for her, he wanted her to succeed and be truly happy – without the constant manic urges from life.

Two nights later the late night TV news carried a story about the body of a female found in the East River, later identified as Janice (Jan) Cowper.

Tony Peterson felt a range of emotions with the TV announcement and allowed the tears to flow unabashedly… Sleep was again difficult to attain.

At his office the next day two NYPD detectives visited and asked many questions, indicating to Tony that he was under heavy scrutiny in Jan’s homicide, the cause of death already determined by autopsy and forensic evidence.

Tony answered honestly all of the detectives’ questions and was crushed that they were considering him as a suspect in Jan’s death. They told him not to leave town and departed his office.

For several days, Tony was unable to maintain his ongoing business dealings and stayed home to meditate on possible scenarios for Jan’s killing. He figured it had to have something to do with the night he saw the outburst at the swanky restaurant, saw Jan and her companion leave abruptly. He remembered Jan chasing after the companion, hailing a cab and giving chase. Had she caught up to him? Had the companion killed her? Had the two of them conspired to rob him? Had perhaps Jan’s new lover and killer somehow connected him to her murder?

It was late when Tony retired for the night, restless, unable to sleep, his mind relentless with its pounding observations and questions.

Just when sleep did come, through the fog Tony heard a persistent ringing noise, then loud voices…finally fully awake and aware of his doorbell and the yelling.

Tony put on his robe and answered the doorbell and shouts.

“Tony Peterson?” one of the three policemen asked.

“Yes, I’m Tony Peterson,” came the soft answer from a man who knew that fate was about to take him down some precipitous and unknown pathways.

“You’re under arrest for the murder of Jan Cowper,” said the tall handsome officer.

Handcuffed, read his Miranda Rights, Tony was taken away.

Tony’s heart sank as he was led to the patrol car. Tony suddenly noticed that the arresting officer was the man he had seen with Jan Cowper at the swanky restaurant.

Short Story by Billy Ray Chitwood – November 14, 2015

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If you liked the above story, please try one of my full-length novels…actually, please try one of my full-length novels even if you don’t like the above story.  I’m thinking you might like THE RELUCTANT SAVAGE. This novel is a fast-paced ‘noire-type’ read that has a lot of action, a love triangle, murder, romance, and suspense. Please give it a read and leave an amazon review – reviews can be the life blood for authors.

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