The Dead Man

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This is a story about a dead man, although he’s not dead yet. That part happens later.

No, at the beginning he was driving his new Porsche down the Florida Turnpike and I was sitting next to him. We’re really getting after it. I mean we were weaving in and out of cars like Dominic Toretto. We were going so fast, I could barely hear Journey over the sound of the wind. The palm trees dropped out the rear view mirror like Paul Bunyan was working. That fast!

Now, I’m from Idaho. We don’t drive like this. Even when I lived in Miami, I didn’t drive like this. I fit in with all the other snow birds going 65 in the middle lane. So here I am in the passenger’s seat, just clutching the ‘Oh Shit Handle’-begging the Dead Man to slow down. But he laughed and kept on cruising. Hey, that’s the Dead Man for you.

We met years back at a car show when I lived here. I held an unlit cigarette in my hand while I scoped out this GTO. It was a gorgeous machine. The dead man came up to admire and asked me if I have a light. We talk about the car for a few hours, and the next thing I know, we’re meeting up for drinks once a week. I meet his family, and he gets invited to my wedding. Sometimes you just click with people.

Anyways that day in the Porsche, I was just visiting. The dead man really wanted me to come down. He said he had to see in me in person for this one. Needless to say, I was shocked when he showed up in the 911 Porsche at the airport. That was his dream car! I couldn’t believe he bought it! I jumped in and we took off down the Highway.

“So you hungry Jeff?” the Dead Man said.

“Yea, I’m starving,” I said.

We exited the highway and I finally let go of the roof handle. I guess I felt safe with the slower pace of traffic or something. We drove around looking for a good spot when I saw a Halal Guys. I couldn’t wait anymore. We had to stop. At that point, I was way past the stomach growls. The Dead Man just shook his head and we pulled over.

Now at the restaurant he started acting a little funny. It’s like he’s got something to say but there’s a clog going on upstairs. His blue eyes start shifting around and he starts using his hands a lot to talk. Finally I say something.

“You doing okay man?”

“Not really, I got something to tell you.” He took a deep breath.

“I have stage three lung cancer.”

Wow. I mean talk about out of left field. The Dead Man and I talk a couple times a month. This never came up once. It’s like I didn’t even know the man, and he gave the toast at my wedding! I wanted to ask him all the usual worry questions, but what came out wasn’t anything close.

“So, is that why you bought the Porsche?”

He laughed. He had that kind of laugh that made it okay not to answer the question. We finished our lunch but it was quiet. I don’t even think the fans in restaurant were on anymore. We got back in the 911 and took off down the highway. Hauling ass of coarse.

This time on the Turnpike was different . I didn’t grab the overhead handle like before. The speed was just an afterthought. I didn’t even flinch when a little custom Civic tried to play with us. I mean I should’ve. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t say anything. It’s completely unlike me. Maybe if I did, the scene would’ve been different. But then again, maybe not.

The Civic pulled up to our left and honked. The driver flipped us off and juiced it.  The dead man just smiled and the 911 chased after him. I flew back in the seat. I’m pretty sure my eyes were glued open. As we caught up to him, the Dead Man started flipping him off. And that’s the last thing I remember before the crash.

After that, I woke up in hospital bed wearing a gown and covered in stitches. My wife was beside me. She grabbed my hand and told me everything. How the semi truck in the left lane next to us blew a tire. How it fishtailed into our lane. How the custom Civic driver saw the whole thing and called 911. And finally, she told me how Jerry was thrown from the driver side window,

and was pronounced dead.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

 

I was six beers deep on that Sunday, a common site after my break up. I’d get off my short morning shift at the restaurant, and drink until my head stopped pounding from the night before. The process was simple, just one bud light at a time. The amount it took never mattered since I road a twelve speed Schwinn everywhere.

The new server worked that morning too. She was recently divorced with two boys. I pegged her age at 46 -double mine at the time- but I never clarified with her. She got the job as a waitress after the separation. Before that she was a stay at home mom, so it’s only fitting that she fell into this industry. On that morning, she told me her husband got the seven year itch, which was term I never heard before. That’s why she got short when I asked what it meant.

The Cubs got their ass kicked by Cincinnati that day. I’ll never forget because she wore a Reds T-shirt instead of her uniform. She sat down after her shift and pretended to ask the score. Even though I was already four beers deep, I resisted the urge to punch her in the tits.

She was very handsy, and always had to touch you when she spoke. You know, a hand on the back for a secret, or an arm grab when she got excited about something. Everyone hated it, except me. I think, I just enjoyed anyone who enjoyed me. But that’s typical during a break up.

After her first drink, she told me she had to pick up her kids. She also said that she had plans with her new boyfriend, a tall, dark, and handsome type with a motorcycle. Yet she still ordered another Vodka Sprite. And another after that one. It’s funny how quick plans change when drinks and good conversation is involved.

On the 8th inning, we stopped watching the massacre and quizzed each other over the bar music. I was good. Within the first guitar riff, I knew the answer. She didn’t stand a chance until I finally got stumped. It was that one famous 80’s song, I know you’ve heard it before. It says something about mother nature and ruling the world. I couldn’t think of the name, but I knew the song because my Ex played it all the time.

Anyways, she was shocked that I couldn’t answer, and punched me in the arm. I smacked my bud light and it flew into the air. The bottle shattered against the mirror behind the bar. I don’t remember who the bartender was but she kicked us out right after. Some bullshit right? I mean, we made a mistake sure, but we worked there. I made a joke that I’d been kicked out of nicer shit holes than this. She grabbed my arm and walked out.

We stood by the side of the building and I lit up a cigarette. I’m not sure if she smoked but she accepted it when I passed it over. She took a drag and started talking about her new Boyfriend. She said he was great, and told me she liked him, but paused. I blew out smoke and she went on.

“I don’t know, I just don’t think I’m ready yet.” She said.

“Ready for what?” I said.

“You know. He just gives me this look, like he knows his future or something. And, I don’t know, I guess I’m somehow apart of it.” She said.

“Sounds kind of heavy” I said.

“It is. But at the same time, it’s not. I know none of that make sense but maybe you’ll understand when you get older.” She said.

“Nope, I’m staying 23 forever.” I said, smiling before I continued.

“But I get it. You just had your plan just get rocked by life. Sounds like you kind of want to hang out a bit. Maybe just take it slow, smell the roses, get lost in an adventure of the day. Have a drink with a cook and get your ass kicked in song trivia.” I said.

“You didn’t even know that last song.” She said.

I was going to take the joke further but she kissed me. I didn’t see it coming. I was so drunk I don’t think I close my eyes. I was going to ask if she wanted to get another drink but there was an interruption.

A guy pulled up in a Suburban and started yelling. He ran out and left his door open. He was a shorter guy, about my height and he just kept screaming at her. She tried to play it off like she had to stay late, but her words slurred at every vowel. I couldn’t tell you what was said, but I remembered him pointing to the two boys in the back of the SUV. Tears rolled down her face and she ran to her car. The guy flipped me off as he got into the Suburban and drove off.

I took a step back until I hit the building. My back slid down the wood until I hit my ass on the cement. I dug in my pocket until I found another Camel. I sat there quiet and kept my eyes down on the white parking lot.

The next day she put her notice in, but it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I saw her again. She popped in on a Sunday for her last check. I was at the end of the bar, nursing a Bud Light by myself. I said hello, but the conversation didn’t go far. She has a motorcycle helmet in her hand and said her fiance was waiting outside.

She left and I ordered another Bud Light. I looked in the cracked mirror behind the bar and gave myself a toast.

She was finally ready.

Chapter 1: Maria Diaz

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Chris cranked the dial and Jerry Garcia’s guitar rang out into I-95 wind. Bob Weir sang over the loud Challenger engine.

“Me and my uncle went ridin’ down
To South Colorado, west Texas bound…”

Chris’s boot kept time, stomping Florida mud all over the black mat. He put one hand over his cowboy hat as he stuck his head out of passenger window. The wind held his red bandana in his nose. Spit soaked into the cloth as he sang along.

“West Texas cowboys, they was all around,
Wheat liquor and money, they loaded down”

He felt a punch on his leg and fell back into the leather seat.

“Would you knock it off!” Mark said, “You’re going to draw attention to us!”

Mark turned down the music and slammed the Challenger into fourth. They passed a Chevy with a “Make America Great Again” bumper sticker.  The driver nodded. Chris smiled back. Texas boys always know their own.

He pulled down his bandana and lifted his hat. His fingers slid over his greasy blonde hair and he dropped the Stetson back on.

“I’m Sorry man, it’s just all this. …you know, the music, what we just pulled off in this Stolen Challenger! I don’t know about you, but I feel like a real outlaw!”

He grabbed the volume again. “Woooooooohhhhhoooooooo!” he yelled out into the Atlantic. Chris banged his hand outside the door. He halted again to another shot in the arm.

Mark turned the dial and then popped the knob off. “Well we ain’t out of the woods yet. It’s still a hell of a drive back to Ft. Worth.” Mark said. “Plus, we still have to make the drop at Jimmy’s slaughterhouse.”

Chris’s smile left his face. He was right. His cowboy boot stopped tapping, even though Jerry kept wailing on his guitar. Chris turned his head to Mark.

“That guy gives me the creeps. Kerry told me once, he watched Jimmy string a guy by his ankles. I guess he owed him some money or something. But apparently, he sliced his caff skin to the bone and started pulling the skin down until the guy gave up something.”

“Yea. I heard that too.”

They both got quiet. Mark pounded on the gas as they jumped into the left lane. They passed a green sign signalling 15 miles until Jupiter.

“Isn’t that where the Turnpike is?” Chris said.

“I think so.” Mark slid his hands down the wheel and stared at the dash. “Shit, I gotta stop and get some gas. We won’t even make it to Orlando. Look around. Did she leave a credit card any where?”

Chris pulled down the visor. A business card for MAC cosmetics fell down. He examined it.

“What are you gonna get a make over?” Mark said.

“No I just didn’t know what it said.”

“Sure.”

Chris rolled his eyes. Mark kept smiling and continued.

“For the record, I think you would look good with some blush. It would really bring out the outlaw look.”

“Shut up”

Chris bent down and opened the glove box. He shifted papers around. There was nothing but old registrations and insurance slips each made out to Maria Diaz. Chris slammed the vinyl door and looked around the gear shift.

“Wanna check the trunk? I bet there’s one in there,” he said.

“Probably not a bad idea.” Mark said.

Mark signaled and they turned off at the next exit, Blue Heron. Mark cut a few turns past a Walgreens and down an alley. He pulled up the parking break and bend down to hit the trunk latch. Chris grabbed a water bottle and stepped out of the car. He stopped to kick some more mud off his boots.

Mark kept the door open and paced over. Chris waited until he arrived before opening the trunk. The sun lit up and there laid the Cuban girl.

She bound wearing nothing but her matching bra and panties; both labeled Pink. The flower bed sheet peaked through the wrapped duct tape and sweat flowed off her like a fountain. Her brown eyes squinted at first but grew large once they adjusted to the light. On the opposite side, in a glass fish tank held a Red Coral snake. It hissed at the light.

Chris grabbed the girl and pulled her up. He removed the duct tape from her mouth.

“HELP!!!” She creamed.

Chris placed his hand over her mouth. “Do you want this or not?” He said, shaking the water bottle.

She held still. He removed his hand and fed her the Smartwater. Mark started rummaging near the glass tank. The eyes of the snake followed his arms as unzipped the Lois Vuitton. He pushed around a few empty prescription bottles, make up containers, and a tide stick, before he pulled out a small matching clutch. Cards lined the inside of the Italian leather. The snake’s head stood up, as he slid the bag back.

The girl almost finished the entire bottle, when Chris pulled back. He poured the rest over her head and body. The girl breathed hard and tried to say something but Chris put the tape back over her noise maker.

Her eyes got real wide again, and mirrored sadness. She tried to resist laying down, but he forced her shoulders down. He slammed the trunk shut, muffling her murmurs and turned to Mark.

“We can’t leave her in there. She’ll die of heat stroke, or worse, that fucking snake will kill her”

“Yea I know.” Mark shook his head and gripped the designer bag. They both walked around the black racer and got into their seats. Mark stopped and looked back over at Chris.

“Look, it’s about 9 am now. Jimmy wants her and the snake by tomorrow night.”

“Right,” Chris said.

“So, we’ve got to stop for gas anyways, keep your eyes open for a Walmart. I’ve got an idea.”

“Alright”

They both slammed their doors. Mark shifted into first and the Challenger bolted back towards Blue Heron.

 

…To Be Continued

The First Time I got Laid as a Writer…

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The first time I got laid as a writer, she smiled when I asked to smoke outside. I don’t think she heard me over the bar chatter. She just saw me leave into the patio and came with. I lit a Newport in-between October wind gusts while she filled the silence.

“So what have you been writing about?” she asked.

“Well, I applied for a non-paid writers position at a satire magazine on campus a few weeks ago. My friend told me about it. She gave me her editor’s contact and told me to send a sample of my work. Right now, I’m managing/designing a protection scheme for the school’s solar car. It’s my senior project, one of the most difficult Senior Engineering projects in the school’s history. Between that, not missing a game of the Cubs historic 2015 playoff run, and getting yelled at by my restaurant manager who hasn’t been laid in 20 years, I found time to write the sample,” I said.

The cherry on my menthol lit up my face as I took a quick break from my speech. I exhaled and continued.

“I showed it to every one I knew. I mean EVERYONE. My roommate, my lab partners, my fellow engineering nerds, my friend that worked at the magazine, the girl I had a crush on at work, the girl I had a crush on in my History class, and etc. I got a lot of notes. Some I implemented, some I didn’t. I re-wrote the damn thing four times. Waited to the last minute to send it over,” I said.

“Wow” she said. A piece of grey ash smeared on her blue dress. “So what happened?” she asked.

“Well, days went by. I’d check my email but nothing. I’d hear a ding on my phone, only to read flights from Chicago for only 79.00! Orbits bastards. I got asked by everyone that helped me if I heard anything yet, but I had to give them the same lame answer.

Then a week and a half later, I saw an email from an address I didn’t recognize. I quickly pulled it up and read it.

Dear Darby,

Although your piece was entertaining, we don’t feel you’re a good fit here.

Take care

“Oh I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, ” I know writing can be tough thing to get into.”

The wind from the maple leaves rustled and almost blew out my half smoked cancer stick. We took a couple steps back behind a side of the bar.

“You’re not kidding, I ran into my friend who works there. I asked her what the editor thought about it. Now we’d been friends for a while, but she didn’t come clean with me until later in the conversation. Apparently, they spent the first 20 minutes of their meeting talking shit about it. The word choices, the grammatical errors, the sad attempt to be funny. I became a running joke, ” I said.

“Oh my god!” she said. “Did they really?”

I slammed my butt on the ground and looked at her brown eyes. My head slightly nodded.

“Yea they did. I guess one guy kept calling me a no talent ass clown. He even got up and drew a picture of his interpretation of said ass clown. He scribbled the face with red marker and the hair with green. She took a picture and showed me.” I said.

“Wow,” she said. She swayed back and worth trying to keep warm from the chill fall weather.

“Yea I was pretty hurt but what can I do? I just need to get better. You know, work a little harder. I decided to open up a shitty blog. I’m also reading articles about the craft and asking questions daily on a forum.

So as of right now, that’s what I’ve working on,” I said.

She looked back at my wide eyes. Her words hesitated to exit but I already knew what she was going to say.

“Do you still have the piece? Like, do you mind if I read it?” she asked

“Not at all,” I said.

I grabbed her hand and we walked two blocks to my apartment.

Things I have a Better Chance at than Winning the F(r)iction Flash Fiction Contest

-Meet a sane woman off Tinder

-See MSU win the NCAA Tournament

-Have Greg Graffin pull me on stage at the Bad Religion concert next month and let me yell out the “Yah Yah Yah” part on 21st Century (Digital Boy)

-Meet DT and have him not be a dick

Run into Dirk at 7-11 again

-Meet my neighbor at 303

-Move back to Florida

-Actually meet a real person off kik.

-Win the Powerball on Saturday

-Tell everyone to fuck off at work on Monday when I win the Powerball

-Beg for my job back on Thursday when I realize they pay a Million Dollars in increments that make the amount to be less than what I make now

-Actually learn the grammar and spelling rules I should’ve learned in 3rd grade when instead I daydreamed about playing Jimi Fender Strat

-Write a bunch more stories because I actually enjoy it

-Submit those stories to other contests, thus starting a never ending cycle

Flash Fiction Fridays: The Wake

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Engrid buzzed the intercom telling me Mr. Hoggins is in the lobby and would like to sell his coffin back. I spit up my coffee. I’ve been in the funeral business for 20 years and never heard anything like this. A family member changing their mind from metallic to Wood, sure. But never anyone wanting to return their OWN coffin. I started wiping the spit and coffee off of the stack of invoices below me as I told her to send him in my office.

The steel knob turned and in walked a healthy Sam Hoggins, without his usual green oxygen tank in tow. This was not the same man I had met several months ago with terminal stage four lung cancer. My eyebrows raised to show off all the whites of my eyes, as he took a seat.

“Hello Sam. How are you?” I said, trying not to laugh at how confused I sounded.

He smiled put his palms out in a ta-da fashion around his face.

“I’m great! Actually Beyond great! My cancer is all gone!”

I stood up in my chair listening intently. “How?”

“About a week after I purchased this coffin, I drove into the city to for an experimental procedure. At the time it was a long shot, but if there was a chance I’d promised Martha that I would take it for her!”

He continued on with the complicated medial jargon of the operation. I was in utter awe. It was one of the most miraculous things I had ever heard. This man was a goner, but fought tooth and nail to live. Eventually he changed the subject.

“As you can tell I have a new lease on life! I want to surprise Martha by taking her down to live in Boca Raton. Will you buy my coffin back? It’s never been used.”

“Of coarse!”

I began drawing up the paper work, while I had one of my staff get the coffin out of his Dodge and place in back in the showroom. We both signed and I shook his hand.

“Good luck on everything Mr. Hodgins!”

“Thank you! But could you do me a favor?”

I leaned in close.

“I have to run a few more errands before heading home. If Martha calls, could you not mention this? I would like it to be a surprise.”

“Absolutely!” I answered.

He got into his Dodge and roared down the drive way. I sat down at my desk and got back to work on the invoices.

A few hours later Engrid buzzed again saying Martha Hodgins was on the line. I looked at myself in the reflection off the window. Remembering what to do, I picked up the black Cisco phone.

“Mrs. Hodgins how are you?”

There was a giant sniffle before the voice spoke. “I am as good as I can be, John.”

I smiled as I played along. “Understandable, what can I do for you?”

“Well, I’m still at the hospital and they are about to the pull the plug on Sam. His brother Bobby said he would take the coffin over to you for prepping of the wake. Did he make it there yet?”

My jaw hit the floor.

 

Hold Me Closer

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The outside smell of urine oozed it’s way into the stained hardwood floor below me. All the other restaurants I’d been in seemed to have a way to keep it out. Puzzling, considering how the Glenlivet bottles glowed over the glossy black piano. The Woman in the red dress was playing her ass off.

“Sing us the Song of Piano-man!” She belted.

The entire twelve person crowd went wild. Amazing they were still functioning at 3 am. Shit, it was amazing I was still awake but I couldn’t help it. The energy I got from this city was like a shot of cocaine.

“I bet yours is next,” Maria said.

We’d met earlier in the night when I asked if if she’d knew where a bathroom was. She said it was the worst pickup line she’d ever heard. I laughed because it wasn’t one and danced my way into the bathroom.

“I hope so. I have to hear it once before I go to bed,” I said.

DUH DUH DUH DUUUNNNNNHHHH

Just as the skeleton crowd began to cheer, the bright lights fired up, exposing everyone’s facial flaws. It’s the brightest thing I’ve seen since stepping foot in New Orleans. The Pianist waved to the crowd exiting the stage.

“What?” I said. “That’s it?”

“I guess so,” She said, standing up and fixing her jet black hair.

“No, it can’t be! I’ve got to hear it. I’ve just got to!” I yelled.

I looked around, most of the staff were picking up beer bottles. The closest one walked a giant black bag down the isle towards the entrance. “Screw it,” I thought, “I need a good story.”

I ran up the cracked brown steps to the small stage and took inventory of the instruments. “HEY!” I heard someone shout but there was no time. I removed the velvet strip over the seat in one fatal swoop, like a movies when a waiter yanks off a table cloth. The wooden protection cover flipped up, relieving the gold plated Yamaha lettering above the keys. I glanced at Maria, who let out a nervous laugh as I began to play.

“Blue Jean Baby. LA Lady. Seamstress for the Band.”

“OH Hell Yea!” someone in the back shouted and began singing along.

The keys hit like a sharp knife in hot butter. Due to earlier hand grenades, I expected to be screwing up somewhere but I didn’t. It was as if the late night audience wouldn’t allow it. I looked over and saw the trash bag waiter making his way up the stairs. Not now. At least let me get to my favorite part.

“Oh how it feels so real, Lying here, with no one near!”

More people started joining in, even the annoyed bartender cleaning the glass hummed along. I was almost there, one line away.

“When I say softly, SLOWLY!”

I felt to hands grab my shoulder back and two more grip my side. My hands slapped several notes making disdain come out the Yamaha. “Knock it off! That’s a $10,000 piano,” one yelled. They carried me down the stairs, but the song wasn’t over.

“HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY DANCER! COUNT THE HEADLIGHTS ON THE HIGHWAY!”

The full 12 person crowd came to life singing along and cheering as I tried to kick my way free. Their noise grew louder and louder as we went past the bar. One dark hair man with a trucker hat stood up clamping his hands at me.

“LAY ME DARLING, SHE’S SO BLANDLY!”

The two men tossed me threw the door and slammed it behind me. My elbow hit the aged brick sidewalk below. Faintly, I could hear the crowd still singing behind the door. I looked to my left and there stood Maria.

“Well what do you have to say for yourself, sir Elton?”

I glanced down at the dirt on my Levis, then looked at her pretty brown eyes and spoke.

“So… You wouldn’t happen to know where the bathroom is, would you?”