The Crossing Guard

Posted November 13, 2013 by MJ Brewer
Categories: Life (cereal) and Times (newspaper) of One Woman's Extraordinary Events, Short Stories

Tags: , ,

and she was cross.

and she was cross.


Every morning Veronica wakes up early and pours herself a cup of coffee. She makes twice as much this morning for her big day. For the past seven years, everything has been the same, everything but the depth of the wrinkles and the gray in her hair. She’s also a bit heavier, but everything else is unchanged.

Ryan bursts into the kitchen, his trumpet tucked under his arm. “You got my–?” he asks, but stops short when the waft of oatmeal reaches his nostrils and he pauses to inhale.

His little sister Liberty runs up behind him, giving him a nudge and grabbing her sugar toast from the table. Pulling the crust off and pushing it aside, she pushes her face in the center and takes a bite, leaving greasy sugar on the tip of her nose.

The kids pack their things in the car. Ryan clicks on the radio from the passenger seat. His imaginary drum set pops out and his arms and head are moving synchronously. “Tell him to turn it down,” Liberty says cupping her ears with a crinkled face. “It’s too loud.”

“We do this every day, you guys.” Veronica turns the radio down halfway and instructs Liberty to put her seatbelt on without looking. It’s off every day as they pull out of the driveway.

The kids each lean over to press a kiss on Veronica’s cheek before climbing out of the car, waving, and running up to the school.

When they’re safely inside, Veronica takes a deep breath and exhales, her hands gripping the wheel until her knuckles turn white. She checks the traffic to make sure the entry on the road is clear and pulls out. At the end of the block, orange cones are set up at the crosswalk. On the corner is her daily nemesis, the crossing guard.

This crossing guard isn’t an excited and happy one like the one on the other side of the block; this one is a life form that shouldn’t be out without a full moon. As if they share an epiphany, her head turns and her eyes narrow, piercing a direct ray through the windshield to Veronica’s eyes. Veronica squints under the pressure, but forces her eyes open even wider and glares back.

Time stands still, as if the women are at opposite ends of the street outside a gunslinger’s saloon. They size each other up, hands hovering over their weapons until one makes her move.

Veronica checks the street and then pulls up to turn. A fat hand clutching the handle of a stop sign shoots out in front of her car. A smirk crosses the guard’s pudgy face above her bright yellow vest. Dishwater blond hair dangles in a ragged mess over her collar. A boy walking toward the corner is still minutes away as the guard waddles to the middle of the street, eyeing Veronica’s car, daring her.

When Veronica guns the engine, frothing at the mouth, the child stops for a second and looks at her, in a quandary. But the driver smiles and motions with her hand to cross.

When the child is safe on the other side, the crossing guard yells at him to have a good day with her cigarette-choked voice. Her stop sign waves madly in the air. With a victorious grin, she pivots toward Veronica and remains between the white lines with the matching cone behind her, as if somehow in a bulletproof shelter.

Veronica slightly lifts off the clutch and punches her accelerator to the floor. The squeal of the tires accompany a plume of smoke behind the car. The vehicle lurches forward.

The horror on the crossing guards face is a carnival funhouse entrance. The car slides around the corner, missing her by the width of a gnat’s wing. The sign spins free, up in the air, while the guard stumbles falling to the other side of the road. Her thick body collapses over a fire hydrant like a lifebuoy in the middle of the ocean.

Veronica smiles and peers at her victim in the rearview mirror while she drives away. Today will be different.

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Mr. President

Posted November 6, 2013 by MJ Brewer
Categories: Short Stories

Tags: , ,
Presidential parade of impressive people.

Presidential parade of impressive people.

The weather is unforgiving as Serena steps on the curb, dodging the spray of water from oncoming traffic. She opens her cherry flavored lip balm and swipes it across her chapped lips.

                An elderly man in a gray corduroy coat steps off the curb to the slick crosswalk. His feet fly out from under him, throwing him into the air with peril and dumping him to the wet asphalt. The grocery bag’s contents scatter across the street as he struggles to his knees.

                Dropping her lip balm, Serena makes a mad dash for him, despite the continuous stream of impatient vehicles with blaring horns. Dragging him to safety, she is unable to save his mutilated groceries as they rupture beneath the constant stream of cars.

                “You saved me,” the old man says between gasping breaths, “I must do something to repay your kindness. What do you need more than anything?”

                **************************************** 

                The townspeople gather in flocks chanting and cheering with upturned faces toward the flag hanging boldly behind the microphone. The president gives a final savior’s smile before a wave of his hand signals he’s finished. Approaching the front of the stage, he descends the stairs into the crowd of people waiting below. Mothers with babies, the elderly, and reporters alike stretch their hands out for their brush with greatness.

                The president reaches his hand out and claps it with an elderly man, his eyes locking with the man in the gray corduroy coat. The thin lips pressing hard below his hook-shaped nose and burrowing black eyes connect with the president. The other arm of the gray corduroy coat extends to the side clutching the hand of a beaten down woman with sad eyes. An electric current welds their four hands together in a single band before the woman shakes her head with surprising vigor.

                “Quite the handshake, sir,” she says, removing her hand and wiping it on her pathetic poncho before returning her stare confused. “Wait a second!”

                But the president and the man in the gray corduroy coat are nowhere in sight.

                The president shakes no more hands as he hurries to the black limousine waiting for him with the door hanging open, his chauffeur at the steed. “Mr. President,” the chauffeur says, addressing him as he closes the door and moves around to get into his own seat. The car speeds away with a frantic woman chasing it in the rearview mirror, her gingham poncho flailing with her arms.

                “Everything okay, Mr. President?” the chauffeur asks into the rearview mirror.

                “Everything is perfect,” the president says as he slides the divider up between them. His vice president rests his eyes on his comrade’s face with suspicion. The president smiles and pulls cherry flavored lip balm out of his pocket. Licking his lips, he rolls it over before rubbing them together. “I’m ready to finally do some good for this country.”

               

               

 

Remember Bloody Mary

Posted October 20, 2013 by MJ Brewer
Categories: Short Stories

Tags: , , , ,
Unless you plan on dying, don't call on Bloody Mary. She doesn't bake cookies.

Unless you plan on dying, don’t call on Bloody Mary. She doesn’t bake cookies.

“Too bad he changed his mind. You are sizzling, girl,” Whitney says to her friend, checking out her fairy costume. “His loss, right?” 

Taking a tissue from her friend, Veronica wipes her eyes and sinks back into the couch. “I gave up a killer babysitting job this weekend that would have paid $300 to go to that stupid party.”  

Veronica blows her nose and wads the tissue up in her hand, laughing hysterically. 

“What’s so damned funny?” Whitney asks. 

“I’m sorry, this is a sad moment and I should be crying, but it’s hard when the Queen of Darkness is playing pity-party for me. It isn’t natural, you know?” She giggles and Whitney joins in, giving her a hug and pulling her dark hood up. 

“You’re not natural. Okay, I’m cancelling my date with Justin and hanging with you,” Whitney says with an upbeat snap to her voice. “It’ll be more fun anyway.”  

Whitney tosses her hood back, calls her date and turns back to her friend, “Let’s play that game we used to play as kids. Remember ‘Bloody Mary’?” 

“Yeah, but I didn’t like it much.” 

“C’mon, it’ll be fun,” Whitney says rushing upstairs with her friend in tow to the bathroom. She closes the door. 

“Cool, you even have candles,” Whitney says as she collects them from the sides of the tub and pulls a lighter out of her purse. 

“Why do you have a lighter? You don’t smoke, do you?” But Veronica’s question meets with a let’s not get into that now expression. Instead, Whitney lights the candles. Holding one in front of her, she stares transfixed into the mirror hitting the lights. Veronica’s holding a candle of her own.

“Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary…,” they say in unison, growing louder, thirteen times before blowing out the candles and waiting. A piercing screech echoes and a blood-curdling scream reverberates off the porcelain and glass. Veronica flips the lights on. She is alone. A shuffling downstairs demands her attention.  

“Whitney?” she says, leaving the bathroom. “Whitney?” The fairy moves to the stairs with caution and sees a cloaked figure in the dim lights by the door. “Is that you?” 

Without a response, she descends the stairs. As she draws near, it isn’t Whitney at all, but Justin, her friend’s cancelled date. “Trick or treat, bitch,” he says, his voice cracking, as his hands whisk a hatchet from beneath his cape. 

“No,” she manages to say before the blade divides her eyes vertically in a spray of red across the wall. Her body convulses and crumples to the floor–a muddled mess of blood and mutilated brains. He shakes his head back and forth hard, confused. Prying his hatchet out of her head with a sharp jolt, he dashes out the door. 

“Why didn’t you look in the shower?” Whitney says, laughing as she emerges at the top of the stairs, her mangled friend lying askew at the bottom. “Bloody Mary. Oh my God!”

Red

Posted October 13, 2013 by MJ Brewer
Categories: Short Stories

Tags: , , , , ,
Not all Reds ride the same.

Not all Reds ride the same.

The damp night air clings to her cotton shirt, pushing her nipples through the thin fabric, as she climbs into her Camaro. Her long damp legs exit her leather skirt to squeak against the seats as she puts it in gear. The license plate reads “Red,” disappearing with the roar of the engine, over the rise in the road.

The rainwater kicks up around the tires as the trickles start. She turns the corner with precision, splashing a dark figure walking with a grocery sack in tow. He flashes her one finger shy of a peace sign, but she’s concentrating on her destination scribbled on a piece of paper set on her passenger seat.

“101 Woods Road,” she says. “After this I’m fucking going to bed.”

She gives her boss a call before she faces the now hard-hitting rain and climbs out of the car. Ducking her head, she sprints to the shelter of the porch, her long auburn hair losing some of the curl as it clings to her slender neck.

The rain is pounding down like a hammer on nails when she rings the bell, but gets no answer. She rings it several consecutive times as the rain continues in deafening torrents on the porch’s cover. Thumping on the door one more time, it swings open with a spine-tingling screech.

The quiet of the house accentuates shadows stretching up the walls, greatly exaggerated when the lightning strikes outside. “Hello?” she says, but the only answer is the rain banging on the windowpanes like victims trying to escape a fire.

“Hello, dear,” an old woman says, calling from a room down the hall.

Red nears the entrance and warily peeks inside. “Sorry, I was looking for Hugh.”

“Hugh went out, but he’ll be back any time. Can you come and keep me company until he returns?” the old woman says. Her cough is full of coarse gravel and her swallowing echoes in the dark.

Entering the room, Red detects a strong odor of black licorice. Lightening shoots in daggers across the walls. The old woman’s eyes flash red above the blanket that she pulls up over her face.

Doing a double take Red stares. “What big eyes you have,” she says, nearing the bed and with squinted eyes.

“All the better to see you with, my dear.” The old woman cocks her head this way and that on the pillow like a curious pigeon.

“Oh, and what big ears you have.” Red draws closer with the window to her back. The shadows continue their violent dance around the room.

Red leans in toward the woman, cupping her ear toward the faint gurgles of the woman attempting to speak.

“The better to hear you with my dear,” the woman says again, pulling the blanket away from her mouth.

Red shrinks back against the window as lightening flashes again. “Oh my, what huge teeth you have!”

“The better to eat you with my dear,” the old woman flashes a toothy grin jolting up tall in bed, a disgusting and vile scene with drool exiting her lips. The thunder bursts outside, rattling the windows. Red screams.

The bedroom door slams open wide and a dripping wet man comes inside. He gives Red a curious glance. “Grandma, lie down. I got your soda so you can take your medicine and get some sleep.”

He pulls lemonade out of his saturated grocery sack, opens it, and hands it to the decrepit old hag.

With the slurping and slobbering woman content, Hugh takes Red by the hand, leading her down the hall. “Ow, ooooooow,” he howls.

All in a Night’s Work

Posted October 8, 2013 by MJ Brewer
Categories: Short Stories

Tags: , , ,

firefighter
In slow motion, like a movie, the baby soars through the air. My body moves with agile stealth as I dive toward the target, capturing the crying infant before it hits the ground. I hand him to the medics and turn to my maiden in waiting. “I will catch you,” I say. “Jump!”

When the alarm sounds, I’m having a terrific dream about dating a curvy hot blond with full pouting lips. It figures, any time I’m able to have a decent dream, something has to interrupt it. But my job doesn’t allow for selfish indulgences like dreams–my job is usually filled with nightmares, but that’s the role of a firefighter, and I knew that when I signed up.

It’s three a.m. and the trucks are in high gear, heading across town to the high-end eastside. A typical house in these suburbs boasts a lawn the modest size of a football field with round-the-clock lawn maintenance. I can barely afford water for my grass, much less a personal botanist.

The house is mammoth and a good three stories. You’d think someone like Oprah might own it for a secret getaway. With lattice covering the bottom of the surrounding porch–real old school, I think it’s Victorian. But hey, I ain’t no architect. If I was, I would like to add this to my resume, though. It’s gorgeous, or at least it was.

As the engine draws near, fire blasts through two windows upstairs, one right after the other, raining glass and miscellaneous burning debris across the lawn. The lower portion of the house has flames dancing in every window. If there is anyone alive in there, they won’t live much longer.

The captain is hollering orders as we tumble from the truck, gathering the fire hose and extending it toward the house. The neighbors are rallying with concern, panic, and even curiosity sketched into their faces. The captain pushes them back, barricading them with his arms until we get the pylons set, roping off the dangerous territory.

“Oh my god, there they are,” a frantic woman says, pointing to one of the higher windows. “My baby, please get my baby!”

“Ma’am, we’ll get your baby, just remain calm,” I say with confidence in my voice. That’s when I see her, the bombshell from my dream, standing on top of the first story rooftop in a large nightshirt flapping in the wind and the torment of the heat. But I cannot allow myself to indulge in manly instincts at the moment; I am the only hope to save this pleading woman’s daughter.

Another burst of heat sends the only remaining window between the girl and the fire through the air. She’s screaming something, but I cannot hear what she’s saying until I see her turn with a bundled up object in her arms.

“Oh my baby,” the woman on the ground repeats, more emphatic than before. That’s when it dawns on me the blond is not her baby, but her babysitter.

I glance around the base of the house with the tendrils of fire lapping at the bricks from the lower portion. “We’re not going to use the ladder this time.” I get the captain’s attention and tell him the only option is to catch the survivors. He doesn’t ponder too long before he agrees. I offer my services and get as near to the burning building as possible. “Toss me the baby,” I say to the woman standing above me.


Her platinum hair whips across her face like strands of hay in Dorothy’s cyclone. But with obedience she moves to the edge, pulls back her arm like Dan Marino and lets the infant fly.

With the baby on safe ground, she leaps with the grace of a gazelle, lingering in the air for an eternity. I see our future, our wedding, our own children–a happily ever after, and she lands with the weight of a leaf’s skeleton.

I lower my head to take in those full, voluptuous lips to see Grandma Moses cradled in my arms with long silver locks, blowing in the breeze. She smiles at me with a toothless grin and hugs me very hard.

“And you saved my momma, too,” the teary-eyed witness says.

As I was saying, my job is usually filled with nightmares, but that’s the role of a firefighter, and I knew that before I signed up.

Watch of the Gargoyle

Posted September 24, 2013 by MJ Brewer
Categories: Short Stories

Tags: , , , , , ,


I told myself I wasn’t ever doing this again, yet here I am walking home at quarter to midnight, down the long and dark city streets alone. The shadows loom overhead, almost caressing, perhaps teasing me as if they know something I don’t. Still, I’m fine with my ignorance and home isn’t that far away. Only two more blocks until the shortcut in the chain link fence, allowing access to the other side. Where I am is the city–on the other side of the field is where real civilization starts.

The cars are sparse, only interrupting every so often with bright headlights and the sound of rain splashing the tires, up into the wheel wells. The cars disappear as stealthily as they approach. I hardly notice because the next building is my favorite in a love-hate way; it’s an old cathedral. Unsure of its construction, I only know it’s probably the oldest building in the city. Never having been inside, I always imagine the beautiful glass of rainbow colors reflecting the sunlight during the daylight hours as it shines down on worshipping parishioners. The reason I’ve never gone to see for myself is I can’t stand the glass of my vivid imagination shattering into a million little pieces. Besides the beauty of the glass dulls to the mystery of the gargoyles perched on the ancient edifice as they glower down off the corners. Who knows what stories they would tell if only they could speak?

The doglike figures lean over, lips pulled back threatening with sharp teeth. Taught wings are eager to spread and ride the wind on a second’s notice. Their soulless pupils glare down piercing the dank night air. Watchful eyes observe thousands of people, as they guard their domain through the night.

A menacing stillness sweeps over the tall building in a cloak of anticipation, sweeping kind memories into the closet and locking the door. The leaves stop twirling, the rain subsides, and the wind settles as it dawns on me how truly alone I am. The only sound I can hear is my feet shuffling on the pock-marked sidewalks and my rasping breath. Tiny bellows of steam escape my throat in rhythm with my steps. It feels later than it is when the midnight bell tolls.

Gong Gong

A devious-looking gargoyle on the nearest edge captures my attention. For a second, it appears to stealthily watch, a cat preparing to catch an unsuspecting butterfly.

Gong Gong

“Don’t you fucking move!” a hand shoots out striking the front of my shoulders. The stranger jerks me toward him and drags me in reverse, my feet shuffling to keep from falling. I fight him, wiggling the best I can and his baseball cap topples from his head on the sidewalk.
“I warned you,” he shouts, pulling my chin up with his elbow clamping my throat.

The back of one shoe catches on the step and pulls from my foot as I try to scream. Although the shouts are reverberating through my head, nothing escapes my frozen lips and I hear the last sound I may ever hear–

Gong Gong The bell tolls.

We stop in the shadows against the cathedral wall. His coarse hands tighten around my throat, milking the last bit of air from my lungs, the last gasp of his filthy sweat inundating my nostrils. The cool night air chills me producing a tingling in my legs, as they grow limp.

I’m dying.

I didn’t fight hard enough, and tomorrow morning little Catholic kids on their way to school will find my body in a crumpled heap against the door. The thought sickens me as my world continues to surrender to obscurity. My bowels churn and my esophagus reminds me of the medium-well cooked steak I’d eaten earlier.

An ear-shattering whoosh echoes through the night’s misty drizzle as my body tumbles to the wide steps. Pitch-blackness envelops the night, choking out anything that would normally gleam. The blurring shape of the man stands threatening a mammoth bat-like creature. Amidst a heart-stopping shriek, the air fills with eerie gongs drowning out the screeches of the battling entities. A man grunting as he jabs and spins, and the creature’s low rumbling growl.

Violence ensues as the man’s blade flashes through the night, slicing through shadows, but striking nothing. I hear a shriek of pain and his hefty body thuds on the ground. I find the strength to stand, thinking I will run. The nerves in my legs are frozen solid in fear and refuse to allow me to flee.

All exertion stops. Silence ensues with one tall, ominous shadow remaining. The bottomless eyes manage to flash before it turns away. Tall and life draining, it waits, unmoving. A gesture so deliberate I can see it’s the gargoyle. A new energy fills my body and I turn away, staggering like a drunk toward the sidewalk. Glancing back at the scene, the signs of a struggle are gone except for the remaining baseball cap, mashed and rolling across the lawn.
A large gust of wind picks up the hat, spinning it into the distance until it fades away. My eyes shift up the gray stone building to the markers at the top. I witness one of the gargoyles’ posts is void of its master, offsetting the structure.

Gong Gong the bell rings its final peal–midnight.

A dark cloud closing in with a calm flapping noise takes its spot on the corner of the building. The wings are so wide they smother the moon and most stars in the sky. Its claws dig into the gutter lining the rooftop, omitting the screech of a delivery truck’s brakes. Its wings pose angled behind it, sitting steadfast to ensure no sins can occur on its watch. After all, that’s what gargoyles do best.

Video: Jackson, K (2013, August 23)

Reverend Alan Birss, minister at Paisley Abbey, said most of the gargoyles were replaced during a refurbishment in the early 1990s. He thinks that one of the stonemasons must have been having a bit of fun.

Die, Fly

Posted September 16, 2013 by MJ Brewer
Categories: Short Stories

Tags: , , , , ,

green flyThe apartment window farts a warm waft of air into the room alerting Bernard who struggles at the computer. “Shit,” he says, checking his watch. His fingers move at a hummingbird rate across the keys. A sudden gust rushes in stirring the documents to form a paper ballet that swirls gracefully to the floor.

“Damn it,” he says, rushing to close the window, but not before a fly manages to zip inside. Its sparkling body catches the light as it reflects twinges of green. “Great.” Sarcasm coats Bernard’s voice.

No sooner is he comfortable than the fly flits about his hands, disturbing his rhythm. Bernard swished at the fly and continues to type. It buzzes past his face. “Argh,” he says, slamming his fists down on the desk.

Hanging on the far wall is an old fly swatter. Bernard snatches it searching the room. The vermin lands, tiptoeing across his desk. Grunting, he swats several times but misses, despite knocking a lamp and a stack of books over.

“Too quick for the swatter, eh?” he says. “I got something that will slow you down.”

Holding a small trigger bottle of water, Bernard frowns. “Now I got you,” he says, snarling like a gunfighter at the OK Corral where everything is anything but okay.

The fly zips past him, buzzing its siren as it weaves teasing through the air like a SR-71 bomber. Bernard spins in a circle, saturating everything before managing to nail the fly. It sputters and lights on the ceiling just beyond his reach. It vibrates its saturated wings. Bernard grabs the swatter and leaps at the ceiling. He swings, jumping and batting at the insect until it takes to the air. The fly giggles. It zips past his face in an aerobatics corkscrew, mocking him.

“Time to bring out the big guns,” he says, smirking. Rummaging under the kitchen sink he finds his aerosol Buzz Off. The pest lands on his shoulder whispering obscenities and chuckles. With a swish of his free hand, he sends it swirling through the air into the kitchen.

“I wish I could kill you more than once, you son-of-a-bitch.” The thick spray shoots from the nozzle. It coats the walls, the floor, and the tiny table still holding dirty dishes from lunch in a cloud.

Bernard gasps, fighting for air. The fly perches on the stove’s top in front of him. It washes and licks its hairy little hands, rubbing them together in a sinister fashion.

“Die fly,” Bernard says, gritting his teeth and spraying until the nozzle sputters. He tosses the empty can into the garbage.

The fly claws at its throat standing on its hind legs. Twirling several times, it spits, gasping a final wheeze. It tips backward tumbling beneath the burner, clutching its thorax.

Leaning over the stove, Bernard can see the critter’s tiny legs stirring in the air propelling itself in a useless circle.

“Don’t think you’re getting off that easy,” he says short of breath, reaching up to ignite the burner.