Without Onions

“So ma’am did the vehicle in question come with or without onions,” Ofc. Joseph Lupo asked.

He rubbed his chin to hide his smile.
Andie Shepherd tossed her oily rag at Joey and turned to walk away.

“Ma’am was sauerkraut involved because we may have to bring in interpol.”

His serious tone simmered before boil over into laughter. Joey gave into the ridiculousness of the situation. Holding his sides, he bent over guffawing.

Suddenly Andie was back in high school middle of the year but her first day. Seven schools in three years Andie was always the new kid with thrift store clothes and rundown sneakers. Standing in a crowded cafeteria with a tray of tater tots and Salisbury steak, Andie was alone in a sea of faces. Then Joe was there, all smiles and jokes.

“You scored vintage Chuck Taylors and the last of tots. What’s are you smart or lucky?” Joseph asked.
Andie remembered putting one hand on her hip and countering with, “You’ll just have to find out.”

Thus began their odd couple friendship popular jock and geeky loner. Throughout high school and beyond Andie and Joey were each other’s home base. He was her stability and she, his resilience.
Watching Joey laugh was her favorite thing in the universe. Andie felt her face heat. She headed to the sink to rinse the nonexistent grease from her hands.

“This is serious Joey that Oscar Meyer Wiener mobile has to been in Phoenix by ten am,” Andie said. The bitter citrus of the garage’s pumice soap cleared her head. “I bet they ripped off the catalytic converter and those are a bitch to replace. I’m having the company ship down a replacement tonight just in case but you have to retrieve it.”

“Hey Chucks I promise you I will not miss a 27 foot hot dog shaped vehicle. What do I look like someone who can’t see the biggest thing right in front of them?”

Hands on hips, Andie looked at him and said, “I’ll just have to find out.”

The Last Word

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The Doppelgänger Diary

Achoo! I grabbed my head to keep it from falling off. Barking at my sneeze, Mr Wiggles jumped off my bed and trotted down off to the kitchen.

“Et tu cane,” I shouted after my Yorkie’s fluffy butt.

Ugg, every inch of me ached in novel ways.

Ding.

I turned my congested head on my sore throat to face my phone. It looked like a text from Carla in Accounting. She always texted my cell instead of using the corporate chat.

Thanks again for all your help last week. We already miss you, the text read.

Wincing I lay back in bed. I hadn’t stepped foot in the office in three weeks and I gave up the pretense of working from home two weeks ago. For months I had been exhausted and drained. Cold or flu or ally I needed rest. I sent Carla a confused smiley emoji. Then I noticed my mail app. No new messages. Weird. Had I been checking my mail in my NyQuil addled sleep? I propped myself up on pillows to investigate.

I scrolled. There had been new messages and new answers, answers from me. There were back and forth about interviews and job offers. These were email messages from people I didn’t know who clearly knew me. I recognized my words my phrases. This was me but not. These emails these interviews were the products of a better more confident me. Apparently I gave my two weeks’ notice. Apparently last Monday I’d started a new job as a copywriter for an ad agency!
Suddenly the room tilted. My phone slipped from my hands. On jelly legs I ran to the toilet to vomit. I sagged onto the porcelain cool comfort. Somehow while I was sick in bed another me was job hunting and good at it.
Focus sharpened I shook the mad thoughts away.

Research, I needed more research. I crawled back to my phone. How long has this been going on? I checked my social media. Happy selfies of me not me choked my feed. Day after day I went to museums and nightclubs. I joined a bowling league and took my mom to a drag queen brunch. Seeing myself arms around Mom smiling I was sick again.

Weak I tried to call my mother. I must be hallucinating or feverish. My eyes swam blurring my contacts.

How could I be in two places at once? Astral projection? Time travel? Maybe long Covid’s symptom is witchcraft? And if I could be two places at once why would I choose my messy apartment. Water I needed water then maybe urgent care, I thought.

Ding.

I was downing a bottled water in my kitchen when a voicemail chimed on my Alexa.

“You’ve had your chance, now it’s my turn.” I gasped at hearing my own voice. “And I’m taking Mr. Wiggles.”

Story Time

It was the gathering time. In ThisPlace, there was a time for everything. Times to eat, times to work, times to sleep, and now was the time to gather and share information. They all adhered to the schedule because planning is life. To keep their island going each person had to do their share, each person an important part of the clockwork. Even the babies, the few there were, were all born at the same time during Septem and Octo, the least wet months.

Isley was bone tired. This morning had been sowing time. Twelve hours, Isley prepared for new crops. The earth boxes were nearly ready but there were leaks in the domes. There were always leaks and every part of her ached from the climbing and the patching. She had worked hard today and accomplished much. They all lived off the moss, lichen, and fungi that Isley and her team grew. Usually Isley felt a good tired from all the work she had done but lately the cycle of work had felt endless, pointless. The water always finds a way.

She had skipped supper time because she was too tired to even listen to others talk. It was frowned upon to slip from the cogs of the schedule of ThisPlace but Isley felt too tired to care and willing to hear instructions later after her sleep six. Stomach grumbling, Isley headed for the warmth and quiet of her nook. Her hand was on her curtain door when she heard the running of water. Panicked Isley whirled listening for the leak. Her eyes lit on Patrick 417. He ws peeing in a corner. Isley sighed with relief and then laughed a little. He was taking a leak, she thought with a giggle. Patrick 417 was one of the old ones, nearly 60. Most people died from something or other by fifty. This Patrick was sick and his memories had washed away.

“Jess is that you? Where have you been?” the old man called to her. His back was humped from hard work and falls. His eyes were unsteady. With a patient sigh, Isley took his hand and lead him back to the old folks creche.

“Yes, I’m your Jess. I was looking for you to tell me a story,” Isley said. Her callused hands patted his shoulder as she led him to his area.

“Did I ever tell you about the time your grandma and I went to Vegas. We were just kids looking to blow off steam. I kind of borrowed my dad’s Camaro without asking and we hit the desert. It was so beautiful, an ocean of tan sand as far as the eye could see. It was hot and dry and Mika had her sandals off and her feet out the passenger side,” Patrick 417 said. “that strip of asphalt bisecting the desert was a thrill.”

Isley listened as they walked not able to really picture what the old timer was saying but smiling all the while

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Call Me Red

From the cappuccino machine to the wheezy copier to the big warm window sill, this office is my range. After second nap, I thought this would be a typical five nap day but then I caught the sour whiff of anxiety. Stretching from the sunny patch on the conference table, I leapt to investigate. I headed out of the conference room for an unscheduled patrol. I was born on the streets until I decided to be “rescued” and live off the cream. Despite the treats, I remembered those streets. At 20 pounds I was too big to be quick so I had to be smart. I learned to read for danger.

I am Ripper, son of Clever Girl, grandsire of Slash Slash Bite from the Blue Basket parking lot clowder and this is my range. My people call me Red, Ginger Kitty, Rummy Yummy Tum Tums, and oddly enough Psst Psst Psst. People are weird but so cute. Nonchalant, I headed for Julianne. If you want to get the lay of the land you go to the highest place or the smartest person. I rubbed my round flame head on Julianne, she is the office manager and the heart of my community. Julianne liked me immediately showing she is intelligent and an excellent judge of character. She petted me absentmindedly. I could feel her tension arcing across her fingertips. Not good. I walked a few paces away and watched her eyes. I licked my forehead until she glanced twice towards the kitchen area.

This office, the site of an old tannery and was once a warehouse, a dye works, and an underground fight club, is my range. Now it was a big noisy office where people played foosball and talked to other people on their screens and wished it was quiet. When my human brought me here some people looked up from their phones and complained. I caught a giant rat and held it high during the HR Zoom meeting. Now I am an appreciated member of the team. With quick steps, I walked over to the kitchen. A small gaggle of IT guys were huddled by the protein bars. I weaved between their legs. I could tell something was off. Glenn, my person’s favorite person, had sweat drops of worry. They were concerned about a virus or an intrusion of some kind. Someone was in trouble for downloading malware. Suddenly, the door of big glass office on the second floor opened.

Open floor plan with exposed bricks and 1378 unique scents, theis office at the very first moment I arrived became my range. This office is mine to protect because my human loves it here and I love her. I’m not one to be sentimental but with Cuddles it was love at first sniff. My code is to protect what I love. I saw my person, Cuddles, run from the corner office. Her scent had been dampened by the heavy door. Now it flooded me. I could smell her tears as she hurried to the ladies room. Julianne followed. It took all my strength not to follow too mewing my support. But I noticed a smirk on Neal’s face from his big glass office doorway. I read human. His face held a secret. I hustled to the second floor loft. I watched Neal. I had smelt him, all burnt cologne and cigarette fur, on Cuddles’ computer before. Now I understood. I crouched between a fiddlehead fig tree until Neal went for coffee. In a flick of a fluff tail, I was inside his office. I searched quickly and then tripped Neal when he returned with a vanilla mocha. Fiery drops painted my back but to save my human I ran on.

“Hey Big Red how’s our Amanda doing? What you got there, buddy? Is that Neal’s lucky rabbit’s foot? Did you steal that you silly Rum Tum—wait this is a flash drive. Wait no one is allowed to….” Glenn trailed off.

People are weird and kind of dumb but cute. I waited as Glenn put the dots together and ran the flash drive to the other IT guys. I headed to Cuddles’ cubicle. She was pink and snotty but her head was held high. I leapt into her lap and explained in deep rumbling purrs that everything would be all right and no job was worth tears and most importantly she had me and I would always provide juicy rats. Cuddles understood in her way and hugged me. I took the squish because this office is my range and that was my job.

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Have You Heard

“Have you heard about what happened to Vi?” Ilse’s said in a stage whisper that carried over the chatter of china and din of the usual afternoon crowd at the Inn at Blue Rock.
Renate stiffened. She had her back to Ilse’s table. Without turning Renate could picture Ilse’s table precisely. Snowy cap of sleek hair and a face like a wizened hawk, Ilse’s was at the head of the table regardless of its shape. On the right hand of Ilse, like the good sheep that she was sat the ever patient Dorothea who Renata was sure was worrying her napkins and looking about anxiously. To Ilse’s left, Margit and Harmke, who Renate always called the Mayhem sisters. A crackle lit up Renate’s spine. That could only be Hildegard, Ilse’s oldest friend slash rival, sitting directly across from Ilse. It was the monthly meeting of the George Gardens committee. Renate leaned back to capture every word.
“Don’t tell me she’s married that child! Vi is old enough to be his grandmother,” Harmke said joining in Hildegard’s laughter.
“My girl heard it from Viola’s housekeeper. You stole my dirt, you bitch,” Hildegard said with another head shattering laugh.
“I was there, Hildy meine liebste. The little jump up had arranged the whole thing after one of their dreadful salons. Albrecht made the announcement. They had the license and Pinky performed the ceremony. Good thing I had a tray of Manhattans to brace me or I would have fainted onto the Steinway,” Ilse said with a mouthful of something.
“Well pardon my French but that boy is a light in the loafers,” Margit said. “He makes a lovely soufflé but honestly if you ask me that’s a step too far for crème patisserie.”
“Light, he’s helium,” Hildegard said drily and downed a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Ilse added, “Well there is no fool like an old fool. When it goes badly—and it will go badly—it will just be what she deserves.” There was knowing laughter and agreeing sounds. Quietly Dorothea mumbled into her salad something about Vi being so lonely after Frank and the high price of feeling wanted but no one paid attention.
Renate leaned forward. She thought of Vi, so brilliant, creative, and strong, a formidable academic and hostess. Viola was a proud woman. Then she pictured Albrecht, the handsome, young intern. At the Junior League Gala, Renate had run across him. Witty and erudite, the bow tied young man sparkled under the crystal chandeliers. Albrecht was dazzling her with his tales of his war stories in Iraqi and his knowledge of Persian history. Renate carelessly has corrected his confusion on the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties. His pretty face cracked into rage. Renate remembered backing away in fear. Renate could see through the lies of his facade. She could taste his danger. Renate remembered how the pleasant face shuttered down and Albrecht walked away from her hitting her shoulder hard as he passed.
“Earth to Gran, earth to Gran, come in Grandmother.” Steffi’s lovely face smiled up at her. “You were a million miles away.”
“Sorry, I was thinking of an old friend.”
Renate hugged herself. Laughter clanged around her shoulders as she watched her granddaughter eat lunch.

No Time To Lose

“Wait, time travel are you talking about real life time travel?” Miller said, jumping up from his seat.
“Dr. Gunter, calm down, please calm down, and listen.” Dr. Sanjay Chen spoke in a soothing voice. “I know this is disconcerting. This is not how we typically like to involve our partners in our conversations but time is …shall we say of the essence.”
Miller Gunter paced around his living room adjusting and re-adjusting his Marvel figurines. “Time is of the essence. That’s something one of my characters would say. This is some kind of joke, right? Sammy put you up to this. Wait are there cameras?” Miller asked.
Miller began checking for hidden cameras while Dr. Chen pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Dr. Gunter, please sit and focus. This is a matter most urgent. Lives have been lost or may be lost or are yet to be lost. You need to decide Dr. Gunter,” Dr. Sanjay Chen said.

Petite, with narrow silver frames, and clad in a metallic gray suit Chen was a model of calmness except for the beads of sweat forming on her upper lip. She reminded Miller of the main character from his latest series Milla Scorpion, a sexy scientist who uncovers an ancient teleportation gateway. Her calmness made him nervous and her nerves even more so. Tenting her fingers, Chen watched Miller closely.
“Okay Dr. — I mean Miller, you are not Dr. Miller Gunter the founder of the Pegasus Time Travel Project. You are plain ordinary citizen Miller Gunter, a struggling science fiction writer who runs a successful online website for nerds who play with dolls. that’s all perfectly reasonable. I’m here as an elaborate prank. Now answer my goddamn questions.” Chen stilled his protest with raised hands. “As a writer imagine this scenario. We have had the technology to view the past and the future via Tesla monitors since the 1970s. A team of scientists founded by not you invents a way to send test subjects back and forwards through time to observe major events. Caprese.”
Miller sat down in his easy chair and nodded dumbly.
“An hour ago a van load of chrononauts crashed into a dairy van. All are dead and now the future is, I don’t know, uncertain. The Tesla monitors are blank. Should we save them? I mean in one of your stories would you save the time travelers.”
Miller sat quietly turning a figurine in his hands.
“As a writer no, the story would be richer with those characters killed. The future is always in flux. There is no observation without change. The Tesla monitors being down shows these cro-nuts whatmacallits changed time drastically,” Miller said.
This time Chen jumped up from the sofa. “How can you be so sure?”
“Check the dairy truck driver. Clearly a freedom fighter from the future trying desperately to right a wrong or someone from the past who realizes where the time line was altered. Probably the past. Someone high up who discovered time is too dangerous to touch. Did you have Xavier run DNA on the dairy truck driver?” Miller answered confused by his sudden confidence.
Chen nodded as thought raced accused her features. She tapped on her watch and then her eyes grew wide when the results appeared on her tiny screen.
“Thanks, Doc. I love your little stories. Good to see you again. Keep up the good work,” Chen said absentmindedly. She beelined for his door. Miller chased after her.
“Wait, wait, what is going on here? Save the people, as a writer kill them all, but as a person I say save lives of course.”
Chen gave him a Mona Lisa smile and shook his hand hard. “Thank you, Dr. Gunter. Enjoy your retirement.”
Miller was suddenly woozy and stumbled back to his favorite chair. In a few hours Miller woke up refreshed, with an incredible story on the tip of his brain, and a Wolverine figurine tightly clenched in his hand.

Forty Winks

3:33 am, Hargreaves Institute, Univ. of Western Indiana, Krackow, IN

Hiss! Victoria Boyd awoke with a start. She fluttered her eyes in the pitch darkness.
“Good morning Tory. Or do you prefer good night, dear heart?” The voice, low and hoarse, was right by her right ear. Boyd tried to move each one of her limbs. Nothing. Locked inside her body, Boyd tried to will herself up from from the twin bed.
“Oh my pet don’t strain yourself. We both know how this will end.” This time the harsh whisper was louder and on the left side of her head. Boyd’s heart began to pick up its pace. The voice chuckled. An unnatural sound that reminded Boyd of the worn dryer in her grandmother’s basement. The laughter grew louder and Boyd’s head rang like a bell. Boyd took a steadying breath and checked the digital readout on the ceiling.
3:47 am
The laughter echoed away. Her ears sharpened. Nothing. Time oozed. Boyd tensed. She calculated pi in her head and then switched to Judas Priest songs when the sequence of numbers began to lull her into slumber.
4:23 am
Halfway into “Victims of Changes” Boyd noticed movement in her peripheral vision. With all her might she shifted her right eye slightly. Tall, impossibly tall, dark figures were milling around her bed. The weight of being watched blanketed her. Boyd twitched the fingers of her left hand. The darkness thickened. Liquid night poured over her chest making every breath hurt. She fought hard not to fight.

Hands, hard and china smooth, roamed over every inch of her body. Touch turnt to slap. Boyd counted the punches, noting their severity and location. Its headboard banging against the wall, the twin bed quaked.
“Is this what you wanted? Will it ever be enough, Tory! You’ll never be her, you know that don’t you?”
Suddenly Boyd was lifted from the bed. Higher and higher, she floated. Her forehead smacked the ceiling hard. Boyd let loose a scream and she was pitched into the far wall. Crumbled against the floor finally able to control her body, Boyd laughed into the rising sun.

“Another calm night Ms. Boyd?” Reina asked as she unfastened the sensors. “You looked as peaceful as a baby from the control room. Even respiration and normal range of REM. How are these drug trials treating you?”
Victoria Boyd cracked her neck and rolled her shoulders. A little plaster dust fell from her hair. Tomorrow there would be bruises. “Nothing to lose sleep over.”

Hello, Cat

It had been a pale blue day, almost gray with a promise of sun that never came true. Cat had spent all of that day alone. She liked it that way. Wandering, she walked until she came to the woods and then weaved in between the trees. Tired, Cat napped in an afternoon sunny patch until her stomach grumbled itself awake. She sniffed at the sweetness of apple blossoms and fresh moss. Tired and hungry, Cat lingered in the wisdom of the forest until the sky purpled. Tired, very hungry, and chilled, she shook the sweet sorrel from her head and started to head home.

“Hello, Cat.”
Every hair standing on end, Cat whirled at the sound. The voice shushed. Confused she bristled.
“Down here love. My name is Meridiana and I’m a familiar. Do you know what that is, my pet?” The small charcoal feline pranced out from amongst the ferns. Fluffy and delicate, it appraised her with solemn golden eyes. “A familiar is like a magnifying glass for magical powers. I’ve served many witches, each more powerful than the one before. I’ve searched a rather long time to find my next mistress to guide, to teach, to protect. I’m your familiar and you are my witch. If you will have me?”

Meridiana blinked and waited. Trembling in ribbons of magenta and chartreuse, Cat suddenly picked up the kitten and held her high against the periwinkle sky. A ring of fuchsia splashed coleuses sprouted around them. Amazed Cat laughed and a nearby tree burst into ripe Jonagolds. Meridiana rubbed her sleek forehead on Cat’s cheek as a bough full of apples gently plopped to the ground. Cat loaded her overalls with fruit as the cat chatted about modern day sorcery, witchcraft history, and general magic best practices. In the twilight they walked home together.

Plot Twists

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The front door banged open. With armfuls of groceries, Natty hurried inside and nudged the door closed with her right foot. Pyewacket threaded between her legs as she unloaded her milk, bread, and eggs.
“This isn’t helping me go faster,” Natty said as she took off her raincoat and searched her pockets and purse for her favorite scarf, a silk print of Klimt’s The Kiss. The Siamese caterwauled in counterpoint. Conceding, Natty opened a can of Blue Buffalo. She retraced her steps over her missing scarf over a pot of tomato soup and grilled munster sandwiches.
With a thick quilt and a handful of throw pillows, the corner of her bedroom is made ready. During the pandemic, Natty had gone through a library of audiobooks. Next she dipped her toe in a river of podcasts. But a few weeks ago when she was cleaning out her closet for donations Natty heard voices. Above her unworn but too nice to let go party dress was a small metal grate in the ceiling. Each night starting around eight pm, words rained down from the apartment directly over hers.

The Spinster Innes discovered bodies at the foot of staircase and uncovered the Armstrongs’ blackmailer. Next Iris must locate her missing new companion Miss Troy on a speeding train of suspicious characters. Some nights until around ten, some nights longer plot twisted from above.
Last night, Natty has fallen asleep over a bowl of chips the trials and tribulations of the illustrious Tyler family. Now she listened for the latest story.
Above Ira traced his fingers across his generous bookshelves. Mary Rinehart Roberts, Ethel Lina White, Charlotte Armstrong, his hand marched over thrillers as he considered tonight’s read. Since losing Amanda, Ira couldn’t sleep unless he read out loud. He needed to hear words any words reverberate off his walls and lull him to sleep.

Lately it had been a little easier. Ira felt as if he was sharing a book and dinner with someone special. Then he caught sight of the golden silk scarf he had found on the sidewalk in front of his building. Slender rectangles of goldenrod and bronze, teal and cadium red, two lovers embracing, shimmered from his coat stand. Ira looked for a Clutch of Constables, the Ngaio Marsh mysery featuring an artist and her husband a Detective Inspector. He touched the novel and somewhere below his apartment a Siamese meowed loudly. With a laugh, Ira took that for approval.
Natty dipped her grilled cheese into her soup. The warm sounds of artist Agatha Troy on an inland cruise to murder began to filter down and settle down around her. Pyewacket nestled on Natty’s toes as the mystery unfolded.