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Topics - TheLawliet10

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1
   I had never asked to come back to my home town, but my mother was so persistent that I couldn’t say no. The woman lured me in with the promise of my favorite dinner, lasagna, at least once while I was staying with her, and told me anything in the storage unit was mine. The only thing she wanted was the china cabinet at the back of the unit. I drove into town on the 11th of October, after my mother told me about the email she received, went to my mother’s house, and then headed to the Flemming place to open up unit 39. I showed my papers to one of the cops there, a big guy with one of those thick moustaches that I thought cops only had on old 80’s crime dramas, and headed past the gates. It was freezing out, reminding me why I moved down to Nevada, and the thick leather coat my mom gave me when I started to leave the house was now very appreciated. I stopped in front of the large, metal door of the unit and unlocked it, lifting the roll-up door while being greeted with the smell of dust and old boxes from inside.
   The light from the outside filled the garage-like cove, my eyes catching small boxes stacked on larger ones, sets of old tools that my mother had replaced a year after we moved, and the large, tan colored china cabinet in the very back that my mother wanted so badly that she asked me to fly out to get it for her. My mother wasn’t an old lady, she was barely forty and had muscles like Wonder Woman, but years of working construction jobs had caught up with her. She had a slipped disc, and her knees were almost completely bone on bone from the heavy lifting she did for most of my life, so she wasn’t exactly in the best shape to try and get this hunk of wood herself. I was on almost the opposite side of the spectrum from my mother, I was a bit chubby and worked a desk job for a news blog in Vegas, but I could still carry the cabinet out with a little help from someone else. I had three days from then to do it, so I figured I could take my time and look through some of my mom's’ old things. The flight to Great Fall International from McCarran was long and boring, and the drive to Havre wasn’t a picnic either, so I was hoping to find some old books or maybe an old Gameboy of mine to take on the flight back home.
   I was surprised at how light most of the brown U-Haul boxes where, I had expected them to be filled to the brim with pots and pans, but as I opened up the first one my eyes met at least twenty Marvel comics. It was mostly stuff from the nineties: Clone Saga Spider-Man books, Cable, and a ton of X-Men spin-offs. I looked at a few of the covers, recognizing a few of them from when I read them as a kid when my grandma babysat me. I closed up the box and carried it to the back of my mother’s pick-up. She had let me borrow it just incase I had a few more things I wanted to bring, and considering how small the trunk in my rented Ford Fusion probably couldn’t hold a gallon of milk let alone three or four boxes of junk. The rest of the boxes were pretty much exactly what I expected, most of it where kitchenwares and my grandma’s knickknacks. Granny Abigail loved elephants, so it didn’t surprise me when I found a box being taken up by a small elephant plant stand with a glass table top.
Time flew as I rummaged through the cardboard cells, and my stomach was starting to protest going without food for five hours. I stood up and cracked my back, about to leave until a box to the right of the roll up door caught my eye. The box was sealed with two thick lines of black duct tape on the top, and in faded black Sharpie the word ‘Trash’ was scribbled on one of the lid flaps. When we moved, I remembered mom had packed up a lot of things from our old house in Illinois, and when I had asked her she told me ‘It’s trash baby, don’t worry about it.’ As a kid, I never really questioned my mother on this, but I had always wanted to know why she would take nice looking shirts and photo albums and toss them into trash bags and cardboard boxes. I picked up the box and carried it over to the tail of the old F-150, my keys acted like a poor man’s knife to cut through the black tape of the box. The box was full of clothes and old fantasy paperbacks, a photo album that was wrapped in a white dress shirt lined the bottom.
I smiled as I saw the paperbacks, there were a couple of Wheel of Time books and even an old, yellow paged copy of The Sword of Shannara. Of course they went into the box with my old comics, and then I went back to the photo album. It was a simple, grey covered album with faded white polka-dots speckled across the front and back, and in the middle of the front cover was window with a picture of a baby with a tuff of blonde hair and a pair of green eyes. My mom had shown me pictures of myself as a baby, so it was easy to recognize myself on the little window. I cracked open the old thing, hoping to find a few pictures to surprise mom with. As my fingers flipped through the pages, I settled on a picture of my mother and a man I didn’t recognize. Mom was easy to recognize with her firey red hair and emerald eyes, but with less wrinkles than I wa used to; however, the man was big and bulky, with thick blonde hair and a pair of cold, emotionless eyes.
I flipped through the rest of the book and in each picture of the man his smile seemed sharp and angry, and his eyes were always cold like he was a hunter stalking his prey. It made me uncomfortable, like he was judging something just outside the photo. I closed the book and pushed it back into the trash box, then tossed the box back into the storage unit. I really didn’t care who the man was, whether he was an uncle or my father or a cousin, but I knew I never wanted to see his face again. My eyes went to clock on my phone before I closed the tail of the Ford’s bed, and got into the driver’s seat. It was already four, and there weren’t as many boxes in the unit as mom said. In all honesty, I was probably going to just take a few of the pulp novels from the trash box, but for now I was hungry and mom had started getting the lasagna ready before I headed out.
Dinner was good, the lasagna was just as cheesy and delicious as I remember. I didn’t say much to mom, mostly because she kept going on and on about how Thomas Johnson was ruining his wife’s life with their ‘stupid booze shop’. I really didn’t care about local stuff, I never cared as a kid either but that was because I cared more about beating Oracle of Seasons, but tonight the picture of that blonde man kept jumping into my mind. Mom noticed, she always did, and asked what was bothering me.
“I found a box in the Unit today,” I started, pushing a bit of pasta to the side with my fork, “and I found a picture album.” My voice trailed off, and my mother stood up fast enough to knock her chair down. She hobbled over to me, her teeth biting into her lip in pain, before she wrapped her arms around me.
“Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry.” she said, her voice muffled by my shirt, “I never wanted you to have to see him. Just… Just forget him, Jeremy.”
I had to ask her who he was, and my mother told me. His name was Johnathan Harris, and he was part of the plumber’s union. Mom had met him on a job site, and they wound up hitting it off. After a few years, they got married and I was born soon after that. At this point my mother was tearing up, and I did the only thing I knew I could do, I apologised for asking about it. She sobbed for a while, and I helped her into her chair and hugged her close. After a while, mom said she would be fine and that she was tired and going to bed. I had screwed up, but my mother would never say I would. I cleaned up dinner for her, washed the dishes, and headed up to the guest room.
That night, I had a dream about being a kid. I’m not sure how young I was, but I was shorter than the doorknob to the room I was in. I walked through the door and headed down the stairwell just outside the room, the whole room seemed to grow around me as I headed to the bottom. Once my feet hit the hardwood floor at the bottom, I could hear whimpering. After a little bit it became crying, and I could tell it was an older kid though I wasn’t sure why a big kid would be in my home at night. I followed the noise through my back door and towards a small shed in the yard. A line of light pushed through a slit between the doors, and I peeked my eye through it. Inside I saw a bunch of wood barrels, and I reeled back as I smelt the thick chemical scent assault my nose. Even as a kid I couldn’t stand the smell of chemicals, my mother was the same, it was something to do with the sensitivity of my nose. I fell back on my ass as I tried to keep from throwing up from the smell, and that’s when I heard the crying again. I looked back to the shed, the doors were flung open, and one of the barrels had lost its top. The acidity in the smell of the chemicals got worse, and my head began to spin as I saw a hand pop out of the barrel. The skin was red from chemical burns, bits of it were missing and I could see bleeding red muscle along the fingers and wrist.
My eyes shot open as I gasped awake, the numbers 02:00 burned from my phone’s lock screen as I turned to check the time. I didn’t want to go back to sleep, and my mom’s internet was good, so I pulled up Netflix on my phone to pass the time watching episodes of Bojack Horseman. At six I headed downstairs and had a simple breakfast of toast and eggs, mom was already awake and had made a pot of coffee. As we ate, she asked me how I sleeped. I told her I slept like a baby, I had learned to lie to my mom a long time ago. It was colder that day than it was on the 11th, and the leather jacket was becoming my new favorite piece of clothing ever made. I got to the storage place around the same time as the day before, and I realized how little progress I had made the day before. It didn’t matter, at this point I had all that I wanted of this place and just wanted to get to the china cabinet and go back to Vegas. I started pushing boxes to the side, but after a while I started to hear something squealing in the unit next to me.
Unit 40 looked more like a guy’s garage rather than a place to store his junk, at least from what I saw of it. I’m sure the guy who owned it was a good guy, but whatever he was doing sounded like a chihuahua bark being pitched up and played over and over again. I never really had an opinion on jazz music, but I can honestly say after hearing that I never wanted to listen to it again. For the most part, I ignored the screeching saxophone and just kept moving boxes and totes out of the way of the cabinet. It wasn’t until about three that I got a text from mom saying how it was going to be a fend-for-yourself night for dinner. I texted her back that I’d eat out, and closed the unit before heading over to the plaza next door.
As I parked in the lot of the strip mall, I looked over to Inspector Moo Moos. It was an old theme restaurant that served pretty good shakes, and burgers sounded good, but then the chinese buffet caught my eye. Mom had always had a peanut allergy, so I had never eaten there when I was a kid, and chinese food sounded amazing at that moment. The place was tacky looking once I got inside: vinyl seats, old yellow menus, and dust all over a ficus near the front door; however, the smell of the food cooking was incredible. I took my seat in a booth away from the windows and grabbed a plate for the buffet. The food even looked heavenly, and I grabbed a bunch of sushi and some small dumpling looking things labeled as gyoza before I started back to my table. The voice of a very angry asian woman echoed as I passed the door, and I hoped that the food wasn’t undercooked considering how pissed off she sounded. I sat and started to chow down, when another customer caught my eye. The waiter must have sat her a little bit after I got in, and it looked like she was waiting for her drink. She was a redhead with a cute pixie cut, a small mark under her lip, and a determined look in her eye as she quickly stood and dropped a twenty on the table. The woman ran out the door, as if she was chasing after someone she recognized. It wasn’t any of my business, so I just kept eating. I considered myself a buffet expert, considering the amount of casinos that offer buffets in Vegas, and this Lantern place was probably the best chinese place I had been to in the past few months.


2
   Back in 1998, I was in fifth grade and my school was hit by what I could only describe as ‘Pokemania’. Honestly, it didn’t surprise me at all, considering how little happened in the small, Illinois countryside town I lived in at the time. I was swept up with the rest of the kids in this sort of Pokemon fever, I collected the cards and watched the anime, but I was never able to play the original Gameboy games. My friend George had Red version, and he let me watch him play every day at recess. Whenever I asked him if I could play, he told me it only had one save file, and if I started a new game I’d erase all of his progress.
   
I remember begging my mom for a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Blue, so that I could trade with George, but the answer was always the same, ‘Maybe you’ll get it for your birthday’. It was like that for a whole year, until my birthday finally rolled around. When I opened my presents, I had this feeling in my stomach that what my mom had promised me wouldn’t be in any of the brightly wrapped boxes, and I was right.
   
Pokemon slowly got pushed out of the limelight by other fads from Japan, I still watched the anime from time to time, but I gave up on the card game a few months after my birthday after trying to learn the rules to properly play. However, I still wanted to play the games, if only to say that I had. My chance would finally come after a couple of years, when my mom placed a small box, wrapped in red and blue polkadotted paper, in front of me.
   
I smiled up at her, asking her what the present was for. “Let’s just call it a late birthday present, sweetie.” she said, and it took me a few seconds to fully understand what she meant. When it finally hit me, I tore the paper off the box like it was full of jewels. As I pulled the lid off the gift, I saw a Gameboy Advance with a copy of Pokemon: Gold Version.
   
“I know it’s not exactly what you wanted,” my mom said as she took a seat next to me, “but I figured you’d want the new version.” I hadn’t even realized that Gold and Silver had come out, and the new Pokemon in the show had been written off in my mind as ones that only existed in the cartoon, like Togepi. My mom laughed as I snatched up the clear plastic GBA and Pokemon cartridge, and quickly ran up to my room.
I sat on my bed right as the game booted up, and the small jingle noise of the Gameboy Advanced logo echoed from the speaker. I skipped the opening scene of the game and got right to the title screen, before starting my very first Pokemon adventure. I’ll spare you some of the more boring details of the game, like the opening of the game that most fans would know, but I’ll tell you I decided to name my character George. He had moved away last year, and told me he was starting a new game on his Red Version before his last day of school.

“I’ll name the main guy after you, Mark.” He told me, and I felt like I was going to cry. I hadn’t cried since my grandpa’s funeral, but this was a different type of crying I wanted to do. I had held back my tears and pat my best friend on the back hard, and watched as he deleted his main file and kept to his word as he restarted. So, it only felt right to name the main character in my Gold Version George, and I picked the fire-type, Cyndaquill, since he had always started with Charmander in Red Version.
 
Most of the game went really good in the beginning, I named the rival Buttface (as most of the kids in my school did back in fifth grade), I had beaten Falkner, Bugsy, and Whitney, and I figured out I had to talk to Whitney again to get her badge after ten minutes of walking around Goldenrod City. I had made it to Ecruteak City after about an hour of playing, and went to challenge the gym leader Morty in his invisibly maze gym. It was an easy battle, all of Morty’s pokemon where ghost/poison type, and I had caught a Sandshrew in Union Cave after beating Falkner, and ground types are strong against poison so I didn’t have a lot to worry about. I beat Morty with a little bit of a hiccup when my Sandshrew fainted.

After going through the usual dialogue all the gym leaders said, where they give you their badge and their favorite T.M., Morty took a step back and the lights in the gym faded off and on, off and on, until he took a step forward, looking right at my character.“George,” the gym leader said through speech bubble, “beware of the water.” I had no idea what he meant, but I assumed it was just part of the game, since he just said it again when I went to talk to him. I moved on right after healing up my team at the Pokemon Center, heading straight toward Olivine City.

Most Pokemon fans know what I was in for by this point, the climb to the top of the lighthouse, and the sidequest with the Ampharos that needs the special potion from Cianwood City. I checked my map once I got the sidequest, and I noticed something that made me shiver. Cianwood City was on an island, surrounded by water, with no bridge to get there. I had gotten Surf earlier from the Kimono Girls in Ecruteak, but I forgot about it until now. I felt uneasy when I stepped up to the edge of the beach of Olivine, and told my Quagsire to use Surf.

Route 47 was all water, with bits of islands and Swimmer trainers dotting the blue waves, and it seemed like it was the same calm water I had seen George’s Pokemon swim through in his Red Version. I smiled to myself, my worry being replaced with the possibility that Morty had been programmed to warn me about some legendary Pokemon I might encounter, and then the sound of lightning cracked from my GBA’s speakers. I jumped, and in an instant the screen went black, and a speech box popped up, “George has blacked out, and drowned.” I turned off my game, getting a ticked off since I hadn’t saved since Ecruteak.

The next day, my mom called me down from my room, She handed me the phone, and I asked who it was. “Mark, honey, it’s George’s mom. George went swimming last night in their pool, and… Well, he dived in and hit his head. It knocked him out, and… I’m sorry honey, but George is dead.”

3
Story Critique / Mr. Greater
« on: 03:31:49 PM 09/26/17 »
   I was about ten years old when my brother, Greg, was born, and I honestly hated him. My parents always gave Greg the most attention, and to my underdeveloped mind this meant they loved him more than me. I grew out of this mindset when I turned fourteen, when it finally dawned on me that Greg was a little kid and I could take care of myself for the most part. I will admit it did help that I had broken my leg while riding my bike down a huge hill in town, and my friends rushed to my house to get my mom. That was the first time my mom had carried me since I was nine, and even Greg seemed to understand something was wrong in his toddler mind.
   
Once I got into high school, I had become accustomed to helping Greg get ready for school in the morning. I packed his lunch and mine at the same time, got him breakfast (usually peanut butter Captain Crunch), and sat him down to watch Sesame Street before my mother woke up to get him dressed. However, aside from that I didn’t spend much time with my little brother. I was more interested in the usual things a guy my age was like playing Halo 2’s multiplayer and Magic the Gathering with my friends, or my girlfriend and her obsession with weird anime like Boogiepop Phantom and Paranoia Agent. If it’s not obvious I was kind of a nerd, a lucky nerd because of the already mentioned girlfriend, but still a nerd.
   
Greg, on the other hand, loved to do one thing and one thing only, and that was drawing. He would sketch out chunky bodied cats, people with egg shaped hands, dinosaurs that he loved from the Land Before Time series, usual little kid stuff that most people draw when they’re around six or seven. I remember when Greg showed me his drawing of Mr. Greater, it was summer and I had just gotten back from swimming at the local public pool with my friends. I was walking into the house when Greg rushed up to me like an SUV trying to cut off the person in the next lane.
   
“Joey! Joey!” my little brother was jumping up and down, excited to the point of my being worried he was going to pee himself, “I gotta show you somethin’!” Before I could say a word, he ran off to the kitchen and flew back to me with a piece of paper in his hand.
   
I took the page, expecting the usual Garfield-like cat with a joke written on it that only a six year old would get, but instead I saw a jumbled mess of what looked like arms and legs plastered together. The shape in the middle of all the legs looked like a glob of strawberry jelly, and I could see what looked like hundreds of eyes and teeth drawn all over the page with strings of the jelly connecting them to the main body.
   
“Greg…” I began, still staring at the page, “What is this?”
   
“It’s Mr. Greater,” my brother replied in a bored tone, like I had just asked him what sound a cow makes, “does he look cool?”
   
I nodded, it was really the only thing I could think of doing aside from asking Greg if I could keep the picture. I knew our mom would freak out if she saw my little bro drawing stuff like this, she’d probably send him to a shrink or something. I thought that maybe the movies mom would watch with us, stuff like Poltergeist and Beetle Juice, had just made my little brother feel like drawing some weird shit from a nightmare or something.
   
Greg died when I turned twenty-three, while I was living in another town with my girlfriend from high school. I had been working as a clerk in Barnes and Noble when I got the call on my lunch break, my mom was crying when she called me. It got to the point where I could barely understand her, when my grandmother took the phone from her gently and told me that Greg had been driving home from school when a drunk driver crashed into his car. Neither of them were wearing seat belts, and the driver and the passenger of the car along with Greg got tossed out of the car like a baseball from an MLB star pitcher.
   
When I got off the phone with my grandma, my phone buzzed with a new text. My friend, a guy who worked just down the street from the school, saw the whole thing and told me that he was sorry for my loss. I asked him what the bodies looked like, I wanted to know if I’d be able to see my brother one last time before they put him in a fucking hole. My friend did his best to describe it without throwing up: arms and legs everywhere, blood and bone and muscle looked like chewed gum, eyes and teeth all over the street. That’s when I remembered the picture of Mr. Greater, and that’s also when I doubled over and began to vomit on the red and blue carpet of the Barnes and Noble.
   
It’s been ten years since I watch my brother’s casket be lowered into the ground, and not a day goes by where I don’t think about that picture. I still have it, I can’t get rid of it… It’s the only picture of Greg's’ that I kept from back then. My girlfriend, now my wife, didn’t leave my side until she knew I would be ok. I love her with all my heart, to the point where we had a child.
My daughter, Gina, is seven right now and she loves to draw. Just like her uncle she makes the same chunky cats and people with egg shaped hands, but instead of dinosaurs she’s more into Pokemon (her favorite is Meowth). The other day, when I got home from work, she rushed up to me like a rabbit and gave me a hug. I picked her up, as usual, and carried her into the kitchen to see what she had drawn. On the table was a picture of some sort of lampre thing with huge teeth, the mouth seemed to be ripped around the edges and there was a hole in the back of the mouth like you could see right through it.
   
“Which Pokemon is that, sweetie?” I asked, expecting some name I hadn’t heard yet from the anime.
   
“That’s not a Pokemon daddy,” my little girl giggled, turning to me with an adorable smile, “that’s Mr. Greater.”

4
Story Critique / Made Love
« on: 06:52:35 PM 03/03/17 »
   Andrea and I met at Westlyn University during our freshman year, she was going for her Psychology doctorate and I was looking to get an Art History degree so I could get a teaching job to fall back on if my paintings didn’t sell well. What drew me to her was her hair, it was a beautiful golden blonde that made me think of honey. We started dating about a year later, and after we got our bachelor's in our respective fields we got hitched. Her parents hated me, but we didn’t care. We had a pretty happy life, until Andrea got into the accident. My love had been crossing the street, she was focused on her phone, on the music in her ear buds, so Andrea never saw the truck barreling down the road. The doctors said she wouldn’t make it, but I still took her home instead of leaving her in that cold, uncaring hospital room.

   My beloved has been bedridden since then, so it fell on me to be the only bread winner for the two of us. I took a job at a local middle school, and I took up sketching during my lunch period, and took up smoking to try and cut the pain of knowing my wife… knowing that our family could never be complete.

     It was Wednesday when a coworker of mine, an English teacher named Doris, announced in the break room that she was getting married next month. She showed us the ring on her finger, and I gave a smile and a nod while the others congratulated her through hugs, handshakes, and the Home Ec teacher, Mrs. Laurel, offered to bake the sweets for her reception. Doris had been a good friend over the three years I had been the Art teacher at West Bank Middle School, and she had become my smoking buddy when she found out I liked the same brand of cigarettes that she enjoyed. Our free periods lined up on Wednesdays, we always took a break outside the school, hidden from the security cameras and the principle. This day wasn’t any different, and we definitely had a lot to talk about during the thirty minutes we had.

     “What was it like when you and your wife got together?” Doris used that question to begin a barrage of questions about married life. I answered each of them between puffs of my Marlboro Light 100, my eyes on the small gold ring accented by three nice sized diamonds, not too large but not small either.
It took a few questions for Doris to finally calm down, a large, glowing smile on her face. I remember when my wife could smile like that, that’s the reason I asked to see my coworker’s ring, and that’s why I took her finger off her hand. Doris screamed like I had stabbed her shoulder, I had to get her to quiet down, so I slammed her head on the concrete wall next to the dumpster. The dumpster was a good spot for the body, and I had an old necklace jewelry box from my anniversary last month. The rest of the day went as normal, only the vice principal asked me what had happened to Doris. I told him she had felt sick and left early, and he bought it.

     I knew we would have to move, I had never gotten that angry at someone just for being like my loving Andrea. I pulled into the driveway, my old Chevy giving out a few clunks as I turned it off. After that I rushed up to my one and only, smiling as I saw that she was awake. Her blue eyes were cloudier than when I met her, and more color had drained from her lips from that morning, but now she had her finger back. All I needed was a couple of staples and the finger looked absolutely perfect on her. I stroked my beloved’s hair and kissed her deep, and gave her a smile.

      “After the move,” I said, looking into her eyes, “I think we should try for twins.”

5
Your Stories / Red Roses
« on: 09:31:09 PM 02/06/17 »
   I first met Mrs. Patricia Wilkinson a few weeks after my parents and I moved to Mazon from Joliet, and a few days after that she became my favorite, and only, babysitter. It’s not like I was a bad kid, I didn’t cause more trouble than any other nine year old, it’s just that the town was so small that there weren’t a lot of people with free time after their jobs or school. I don’t remember too much about when I first met her, but what I do remember is that Mrs. Wilkinson had a huge garden in her backyard. Being a boy in second grade I didn’t really appreciate the beauty of all the different colors of the flowers, and would’ve rather had been watching Rugrats or playing my Genesis back home. I have a feeling Mrs. Wilkinson knew this, mostly because she would bribe me with a slice of freshly baked cake or a trip to McDonalds if I helped her with tending to her plants.
   
     Over the years, I learned a lot about the grey haired lady who lived just down the street from me. Patricia Wilkinson was married to a man named George in 1967, just before he was sent out to Vietnam. They never had any children, which she blamed on the war turning her husband into a completely different person. When he came back he was cold and more cynical about life. George became a heavy drinker, and in 1975 he left Mrs. Wilkinson in the middle of the night after telling her that he loved her.
   
    By the time I had hit eighth grade, around the time my parents had decided that I didn’t need an adult to stay with me until they came home from work, I had started to actually enjoy working with Mrs. Wilkinson’s roses. She had taught me exactly where to prune, how much water to give each plant, and when the right time was to cut them and place them in her favorite green glass vase. Instead of going to a club or getting into sports, after school I’d grab my bag and head to Mrs. Wilkinson’s every day after class for her special ‘Botany Classes’.
   
     Around high school was when I started to go to Mrs. Wilkinson’s a little less, I still visited her once a week, but I had started to take an interest in other things than flowers, namely girls. Patricia understood, telling me that she was young once too, and that a good kid like me better find a nice girl to spend time with; however, being the stupid teenager that I was, I started dating Becky Reeves.
Becky was beautiful to say the least: long blonde hair, hazel eyes,and a smile that made me melt the second she flashed it at me, but I’ll admit that she was a fucking horrible person. She was a gold digger, but I honestly didn’t care at the time, since she made it up to me in… other ways. I really thought Becky and I were meant to be, but once again I was a stupid teenager, and it took me until my senior year to find out she was cheating on me. I was in a pretty dark place after that, and my parents really had no idea of how they could help me, but Mrs. Wilkinson tried to help me take my mind off things by asking me to tend to her flowers like always.
   
     The rest of my high school career went smoothly, thanks in part to Becky going to California for Spring Break that year and deciding not to come back. Her parents had called me a few nights before classes were back in session and asked me if I knew where she was staying, but I had no real way of helping them since I had left her before December and I really didn’t care.

     Graduation came, and my parents had offered Patricia a ticket to the ceremony. She was delighted, and I could see her beaming from her seat next to my father. It was at this point that I realized that I was more than the snotty kid from down the street to her, between the advice about moving on after I left Becky and when she gave me roses to give to a different girl who had asked if she could go to prom with me, I finally figured out that sweet, little old lady who taught me about gardening was a real grandmother too me. The last time I saw Mrs. Wilkinson and her red roses was also the last day I spent at my parents house. I went over to tell her about how I was going to Northwestern University, and how I was going for a Doctorate in Botany. I’ve never seen an old lady actually get up and jump for joy before, and I was honestly scared she would break her hip. Thankfully, the only thing she broke out was a bottle of wine for a toast to me and my future as Dr. Jonathan Grant, Ph. D. in Botanical Science.

    After my first year of college I got a call from my mother. It wasn’t surprising to hear that Mrs. Wilkinson had died, she was at least eighty-seven by the time I left my home town, but I would never have thought she could take her own life. I broke down crying when my mom told me they found her in her garden, near the roses that she loved, with a pair of weed clippers lodged in her throat. The thought of what she had done to herself made me numb, and I told my mom that I’d be heading back home as soon as I could. It took me about a day to get back, both my parents telling me how sorry they are that this happened, and that they were there if I needed to talk. I couldn’t talk about it though, I couldn’t think of what to say. Patricia was my friend, the closest thing to a grandma that I had, and she had taken herself out of my life.

     The funeral seemed to go by so quickly that I can barely remember it at all. My parents and I were the only ones there aside from the priest, Mrs. Wilkinson was apparently an only child, with no living relatives. Her last will reflected that too, since she left her house to me. As much as I wouldn’t loved to keep it, it was honestly all too much. College loans aside, I couldn’t live in a house within a few feet of where that wonderful old lady had taken her own life. Selling the place was my only choice, which meant spending more time in town, and more time in that empty house.

      It was a few weeks in that I saw the dead rose bush, the flowers were shriveled up and black as wet dirt. I went into town, bought a pair of gardening gloves and a shovel, and went to work prying the dead flower bush from the dirt that it clung into. It felt like it took hours, the roots seemed to be deep down and thick in the hard dirt. Finally, I gave one last tug with my gloved hands, ripping the wood and dead flowers from their bed, along with a dirty, soil caked human skull. I threw it to the ground, and ran inside to call the police. The cops spent days pulling out each and every bunch, bush, and bed of flowers out of the dirt, but only the rose bushes near the back porch marked the graves. I remembered planting one bush with Mrs. Wilkinson when I was helping her,and that’s where the officers found Becky Reeves. She had never made it Cali that Spring Break, and George Wilkinson never left that night in 1975. There were all here, all under the red rose bushes that lined the back porch where Mrs. Wilkinson and I ate her favorite German chocolate cake after helping her water them for the first time.

      I live in Braceville now, in a house with a nice, big backyard. I have a loving wife, and a beautiful nine year old daughter, and a quiet, large garden with a single red rose bush. My wife asked me once why I only planted one bush near the fence, rather than two or three. I told her the truth: I don’t have the right fertilizer. After she asked her what kind I needed, all I could think about was the night I found her with my best friend, and how nine months after my little girl was born.

      “You’ll see baby,” I answered, “I’ll get some next week.”

6
Story Critique / I Believe Again (Santapasta Contest Entry)
« on: 09:48:26 PM 01/10/17 »
   I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was ten, when I found my father placing presents around our family tree. My dad, being the good father that he tried to be, told me he was ‘helping out old Saint Nick’, but I knew better and I think my father knew that. After that day, he and mom stopped asking me if I wanted to write a letter to Santa every year, and opted to just openly ask me what I wanted that year. This, of course, came with the condition that I not tell my younger cousins the harsh truth that there was no jolly, fat, red and white clad man who snuck into their houses to give them free toys. I agreed, and this went on until I moved out and went to Saint John's University on a football scholarship.
   
             St. John’s is where I met Tracy, my future wife, and we both decided to move out to the country after a few years of living in a cramped apartment in Brooklyn. The fact that my wife was pregnant pushed the decision, and in a few months time my son, Caleb, was born. It was because of Caleb that I started to do the very same thing my father did for me, I ‘helped’ Santa Claus by taking care of our house for him. I was thankful that Tracy could bake amazing cookies, and that she would secretly replace the milk Caleb left out for me with a bit of spiked eggnog and an extra note saying that she had a ‘special gift’ for me in the bedroom when I was finished.
   
            When Caleb turned ten, I loved ‘helping Santa’. I loved the joy on my son’s face every morning, and guessed that was why my father did this for me. Unfortunately, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and as I finished putting the last present under our tree, I heard my son gasp.
   
         I turned quickly, wanting to give him the same speech my dad gave me about helping out jolly Saint Nick, but as soon as I opened my mouth, Caleb ran up to his room and slammed the door shut. I felt a pang of guilt, and rushed up the stairs to try and find some way to apologise to my boy. Tracy had apparently fallen asleep waiting for me, she came out of our room wiping her eyes and asking what happened. I told her everything, from the shocked and sad look on our son’s face, to how I felt like this was all my fault for not telling him the truth in the first place. We both decided that we needed to talk to Caleb now, so I walked over to the oak door of my son’s room and knocked gently on it.
   
        “Caleb,” I called out, “can I come in, hon?”
   
        “Leave me alone!” he cried out, almost screeching. I some how knew that would be his response.
   
       “Son, please.” I said, before reaching for the brass knob and twisting it. As I pushed the door open, my eyes widened, and I rushed toward the open window of my son’s room. Caleb was nowhere in sight, Tracy had the idea to check the closet, but it only held shirts and old toys packed in boxes. I turned towards my son’s bed, hoping to see him hiding under the covers. All I found was a note, written on fine white parchment, with a red and green border around it. It read as: ‘Do you believe now?’

7
Story Critique / Black-eyed Child (Black-eyed People Redux)
« on: 09:39:02 PM 10/11/16 »
   We met in December, three days before Christmas Eve, which made our anniversary a pretty easy date to remember. It was at a holiday party my brother, Greg, was having at his apartment. Greg had gotten into SIU on a football scholarship, and I was proud of my little brother for getting into the same school as me. My little bro had always been the more popular of the two of us, he was the brains and I was the brawn, but I was ok with that. However, being the smart one came with being labeled as socially awkward, and the worst part was that I was. High school had been more uncomfortable than anything, but college was pretty good. I had a few friends, went to strategic games, science club, and things like that, and Greg had taken the entire semester to spend time with his favorite (and only) brother.

    The party started out small, but quickly got bigger and bigger as Greg’s friends texted and called their friends, which turned our kiddie pool of a party into a tidal wave, and that’s when I first met Julia. My little bro introduced her to me, probably hoping to hook me up, saying that she was a bad ass Debate Team captain. I had to laugh, wondering how much Greg had chugged to use the words ‘bad ass’ and ‘Debate Team captain’ in the same sentence. Julia’s raven black hair framed her face, and made her sparkling green eyes pop out like the star on the top of a Christmas Tree. The debate captain must’ve caught me staring, she giggled and held up her half drunk Screwdriver.

    That’s about where our conversation started, we found our way to Greg’s half destroyed couch that he picked up off a curb before winter, and we started talking. We had a lot in common, amazingly, we both loved the anime Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, when I mentioned how I used to watch Bill Nye as a kid, Julia started drunkenly singing the entire theme song. Hell, we got the entire party shouting out ‘Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill!’ at one point. Eventually, Greg got a call from his super, and the party was over. I asked what his superintendent said to him, and Greg gave a nervous smile before saying “I might have to move into your place after next semester, big bro.”

    The wild party goers slowly migrated out to their cars, their friends and partners crowding into the cold, metal boxes on wheels. I was about to head out to my own Sedan, feeling more tipsy than drunk, when I felt a warm hand on the shoulder of my coat. I turned to face Julia, she’d sobered up a little after having a few cups of Greg’s favorite coffee. “Hey Derrick,” she started, her voice a little nervous, “I know this sounds kind of weird, but do you mind taking me home?” When I asked her why, she revealed that my little brother had taken her car keys after she told him she was going for a beer run… after we had just watched her toss almost a half a bottle of vodka in Screwdrivers a few minutes before. Being the gentleman, and hopeless romantic, that I am, I told Julia I’d drive her back to her place.

   It was cold that night, almost below zero, as we sat in the car and waited for it to heat up. Julia was wearing a big, puffy jacket, but I could see her shivering like she was completely naked in the middle of an endless tundra. I pulled out of the parking lot as soon as I felt a blast of warm air come from my car’s vents. We pulled onto Main Street, and Julia became my navigator as I drove my own, personal ship through the white, snow filled streets. More of the fluffy flakes came down, faster and heavier than it was that morning, and soon the only thing cutting through the darkness was the headlights of my car.

    “Almost there,” Julia said, “just a little…” My navigator covered her mouth quickly, and I knew this was a good time to pull off to the side of the road. The raven haired woman pushed open the door and quickly rushed out to the snow covered curb. The sounds of her tossing her cookies make me realize my own stomach was starting to tie itself into a square knot, and that’s when I noticed the girl. The girl’s hair was like a dark curtain in front of her face, her face was pointed down at her small, bare feet in the icy snow. The light from my car’s headlights put her into an eerily bright spotlight, and I swear to god the poor thing’s skin was blue with frost bite.

    “Hey,” I said softly, taking a few steps toward the poor girl, “what’re you doing out here?” Maple Avenue, the street we were on, was a back country road, there wasn’t a house for the next few miles up until an intersection, and from the look of the girl’s skin she had been out for the last few hours. She didn’t have a coat on, or shoes, or anything other than a long sundress, the kind a mother would give to her daughter to play dress up in.

    The girl’s voice broke the silence that has surrounded me, and it made me shiver in my leather jacket. “Mister,” the young girl’s quiet, sweet voice seemed to echo like a gong, “can you take me home? Please?”

    I could feel Julia’s hand on my shoulder as we both looked at the girl. I knew the right thing to do, this poor girl was just standing there facing us with her eyes pointed straight at her frozen feet. “What’s your house’s number, kid? I’ll call your mom and tell her we’re on our way.”

    “I don’t know my mommy’s number. Please mister, let me into your car.” she said as she took a step forward,her feet dragging in the snow like a ship through the ocean. “I can tell you where I live.”

    My passenger pulled at my coat sleeve, and I turned to look at the raven haired woman I was taking home. “Derrick, I think we should take her to my place first. She looks like she’s freezing, and we can call the cops and tell them once we get there.” At the mention of the police, the sound of a body falling into the snow hit up like a truck. I rushed towards the girl, hoping she was still conscious, that her heart was still beating. 

    Her eyes… Her eyes made me stop in my tracks. The entire eye, including what should’ve been the white, were completely pitch black. Her eyes were so dark that they were like mirrors, reflecting my face down to the curve of my ears. The girl began to scream at the top of her lungs, but it sounded as if she had the voice of a full grown man. The girl’s screech was like a runner’s pistol to me, and I rushed back to my car. Julia had started to ask me something, probably what that sound was, but all I did was tell her to get in the car. After that, Julia would call me her hero in public, saying that I saved her from some sort of mugger that tried to trick us into giving him a ride. We both knew that was a lie, but we also knew that no one would believe us, even Greg said I must’ve been drunker than he thought when I told him about the girl with black eyes.

    Julia and I had been together for a year when I finally decided to pop the question, and we hadn’t seen that girl or anything like her since that night.It had been four years after I asked Julia to marry me when our daughter was born. We named her Alexandra, after Julia’s grandmother. She had her mother's black hair, and she looked beautiful as I held her in my arms, like a little cherub from those Renaissance paintings they show you in art class in middle school. I still remember the day I got that call from my wife, and she had told me about how our eight year old daughter had been killed by a hit and run driver. She was wearing the sundress I had bought Julia on our honeymoon in Hawaii.

    When I finally got to the hospital, Julia ran into my arms with tears pouring down her face. Later on, I asked the doctor where exactly the accident had taken place. He told me it was on Maple Avenue.
     (Based on the short horror story Black-Eyed People by an anonymous author)

8
Story Critique / The Road
« on: 01:47:09 AM 09/13/16 »
(Formatted for an easier read.)
I used to work as a security guard at a polyester manufacturing plant. It was an easy job, the plant was pretty quiet most of the time, and my shift was one of those afternoon shifts. Sunday through Thursday, for eight hours a day,  I would look over a few camera monitors and watch Youtube. Needless to say, it was incredibly boring after the first two weeks, and even the over reaction of my favorite Let’s Play Youtubers started to make me yawn in the middle of my shift. When my shifts finally finished, and my relief signed in and asked me the usual ‘How was your shift?’, I bolted out the door, got into my car, and drove as fast as legally allowed to get home and sleep.

   Last week was nothing different, the same eight hours of internet, the same ‘How was the shift?’, and the same sound of my 2001 Chevy Impala turning its’ engine over as I turned the key. I pulled out of the parking lot and flipped on my brights, the gravel road stretching in front of me like a trail of breadcrumbs leading me to my home, my mind focusing on nothing but the thought of getting into my warm bed. The voice of the late night call-in radio show I had on was saying the lines to phone in where open, and to ask any questions you had about the theme for the night: How to improve your night life.

   I had to laugh at that a little, wondering how much money this guy was making to basically say ‘don’t stay up listening to the radio all night.’ Once I hit pavement, the voice of the radio mixed with the sound of my tires on the road. It had been three days since I’d gotten a good night's sleep, and the long, dark road combined with the monotone sounds of the radio and my tires were making my eyes heavy. I turned the AC on full blast, trying to chill myself to force my eyes to stay open for the last twenty minutes of my drive. The next couple of minutes of the drive where a mix between trying to focus on the road, turning the air conditioning up and down, opening the windows to get some fresh air, flipping from radio station, to radio station, to radio station.

   My heavy lids closed, and I swear I only closed them for a minute, but I guess that’s all it takes. I don’t know how long it had been before I felt the front of my car smash into something, and there was a sound like when you break a chicken bone accidently that forced my eyes awake. My foot slammed down on the brakes, my tires squealing as I pulled to the side of the road.

   “Oh shit… Holy fuck, what was that?” I said to myself before grabbing my phone. I tore off my seat belt and pointed my makeshift flashlight in front of me, the light from my screen barely able to even show the road. The night sky was cloudy, and I remember the moon was barely brighter than a glow stick through the tree leaves, so it wasn’t until my foot tapped against the black, leather dress shoe in the middle of the road did I realise what I had done. My heart pumped like the motor of the Impala, I swear I could barely feel the phone slip from my hand and shatter against the road, but I didn’t care about my cheap flip phone… Not after realising I’d just murderer a man. My brain started to scream at me, a voice in my head scolding me like my mother would for coming home too late when I was a kid.

   “You killed a man,” the voice echoed through my head, “you killed a man, you fucking monster!” In the moment, I did the only thing I could think of doing, I grabbed the shoe from the ground and ran to my car. The blood pumped to my ears as I pulled a U-turn, the spotlights that where my Impala’s brights cutting through the dark night and showing only a large, red spot in the road, like a juice stain on a grey-white carpet.

   The voice in my head stopped, like I had run over it too. I jumped out of the car again, shouting at the top of my lungs, “Hello?! We’ve gotta get you to a hospital! Hello!” There was no answer. How? How the hell did he crawl into the forest?! I had heard his bones break, the guy must’ve been in fucking agony! I must’ve searched for at least an hour, every time I yelled for whoever it was to answer me the only thing that answered by the sound of the wind moving through the leaves above me.
      
   My mind raced as I rushed back to the road, the voice in my head yelling at me at the top of its’ lungs. That could be why I didn’t notice the sound of tires on pavement, or the light from the brights of the car that slammed into me. The sound of bones cracking filled my ears again, right before my world went as black as the sky was.

       The warmth of the hospital bed surrounded me as I woke up, the beeping of the machines and the sounds of footsteps made my head pound as I looked around the room. I’d been found by the sheriff on the side of the road, my body bruised but no worse for wear. He had said that it looked like someone tried to run me off the road, and when I ran for it they tried to drive my car into me. I told the sheriff my story, from heading home from work to the brights of the car, and the feeling of it hitting me, but he brushed it off as a nightmare from the painkillers, right before informing me that whoever tried to kill me had stolen my car.
 
       A few days later, the doctor released me into my own care. My mother, who I lived with at the time, came to pick me up and take me home. The whole way there she scolded me for getting out of my car in the first place, between saying she was happy I was alright and telling me that my boss had been worried as well. She also told me that the hospital had given her the things I had on me at the time of the accident.

       She said they found almost everything, the only things missing were my car… and one of my black, leather dress shoes.


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