Local man kills girlfriend, self

The attic was clean and tidy. There were neat stacks of storage bins, labeled. Furniture enrobed in sheets, stood virgil in front of the tiny windows. Miranda turned in slow circles taking it all in. She had never been in Grammy’s attic. Even though she stayed here all summer and most weekends. Grammy had shown her the rope dangling from the ceiling of the linen closet. Every holiday Miranda watched Grammy pull the rope loop like a baby noose and slid the hidden staircase into place. She waited while her grandmother brought down Christmas balls or old Easter baskets. But she could never go up. Grammy said it was dangerous.
It was a quiet Sunday. Some sundays were people crowded, cousins romping and rolling, aunts and uncles on the porch with red solo cups. This weekend it was just Grammy and Miranda. PawPaw and Uncle Mike were deer hunting and Aunt Miracle was having “me time.” These quiet Sundays were the best.
Miranda paused at the attic opening listening taut as a bow string. The church station was still blaring in the doorstair parlor. Grammy had her bible, her bible highlighters, her knitting basket, a big glass of sweet tea. Miranda had time. She began opening bins. Miranda was systematic. There was china and quilts, ornaments and decorations. One bin was radium glass carefully separated with tight bundles of newspaper. She was tempted to take out a piece and hold it up to the bright brings from the tiny quarter moon windows. There was one electric green glass pitcher Grammy kept in the parlor. She had told Miranda it was a gift from her one true love. Fighting temptation Miranda covered the bin and continued searching.
Something pulled at her mind. Miranda put one of her long braids into her mouth to chew think. She reopened the plastic bin of glass. Purples, oranges, and greens the glass pieces winked at her. Gently she removed slender vases and squat candy dishes. Beneath the glassware under thick white paper Miranda found what she was looking for.
There were photos of her daddy. No one had to tell her. They had the same smile. All the photos that had be removed from the family albums, all the prints that had once been framed. There was a baby’s bracelet, a letter to Santa, a ribbon from a science fair, a wolverine comic. There was a yearbook. Miranda went through until she found her mother’s photo. The face was scribbled out but the hair was curly like Miranda’s. All of her mother’s photo were scratched out. Her daddy still smiled back at her from his football uniform. Miranda set down the yearbook to think about that.
Next were the newspaper clippings. The headlines screamed. Young Mother Remembered, Bizarre Murder/Suicide. A long story of young love, arguments, and fights; breakups, make ups, and running away; slap, punch, knife. Miranda hugged her knees reading and re-reading. With each page she knew more and understood less.
“Told you, it was dangerous.”
Miranda jumped knocking over a glass chicken dish. Grammy was on the attic stairs. Her grandmother climbed up. Quietly they put away clippings and the photos. As they returned the glass Miranda saw the beak on the glass chicken was cracked. She kissed it and began to sob. Grammy walked Miranda down and lay her across her own bed to weep it out. Grammy returned to the attic putting away all that remained, slipping a too small bracelet in her pocket and heading back to tend the grandbaby.

Incantation For a Rainy Afternoon

Weave me a spell
Of titan tresses and heaving bosoms,
Of muscle laden bad boys with tender souls

Bewitch me for awhile
Betwixt misunderstandings ridiculous
And entanglements easily untied

Swaddled in shopworn cliches and shabby tropes
Embrace my tattered mind inside paperback covers
Enchant me into happily ever after

For a while

Thorns

I toyed with my pink rose, twirling the stubby throned stem in my fingers. I cut this from Old Man Courtney’s yard. I had walked down to my old high school and this yard across the street from my school was a signpost in my memory. He’s probably long dead and the ranch house has most likely changed hands, but the pink roses remain. Beautiful. This one is perfect. I shoved the flower in my laptop bag and return to my coffee. Five minutes later, Kayleigh walked up to the coffeehouse.
She checked her reflection in the shop glass. Looping a stray curl behind her ear, she came in. My body went on alert, my chest tighten, and I fought not to hunch my shoulders. I pretended to type on my laptop. Kayleigh was heavier than she’d been in high school. I surveyed her over my Americano. Her makeup was contoured and skillful, her body softer than her shape during her cheerleading days. She wore a black turtleneck dress and denim jacket, strictly Walmart and cheap knee high boots. I smiled into my coffee, thinking of how long she must’ve took to great ready.
I fake typed and watched her wait. I watched her eyes on the door. I watched until the glow of anticipation dimmed and her eyes were crushed stubs of cigarettes. After her second iced coffee I opened my Plenty of Fish Jordan account and pressed send. They had spent seven months texting. I came up with excuses why Jordan couldn’t call and reasons why they couldn’t meet up. After all this time I was an expert at giving enough to keep my online lovers on the line. I began to pack up as Kayleigh read the last text Jordan would ever send. As I slid my laptop into my bag, the rose from Courtney’s garden scratched my thumb. I squeezed the rose in my fist. I’ve done this so many times that I could feel her hurt gurgle up from the floor, fill the room, and drown Kayleigh.
I worked through most of my yearbook meting out punishments. Spent, I stood up. I listened to Kayleigh stifle a gasp and head for the ladies room. I stepped in front of her and we bumped hard. I’m taller, thinner, and stronger than the pudgy freshman who ran to and from school because the cool girls wouldn’t let me have peace on the school bus. Without seeing, Kayleigh looked up at me apologized and scurried away. I realized I had bled on her denim jacket just a little. I dropped my crushed flower at her table and headed out.

Santa Baby

I lay my hands on the dingy brown paper sack. “The question isn’t where I got it. The question is are you willing to pay the agreed upon price.”
Big Dollar was a six foot four tower of muscle, covered in the Consho Cru tats and scarred from death matches at the Naval Yard. He stared at me radiating menace with hands like baseball mitts. And I would have been scared if I didn’t know he wanted what I had and he needed me for more. Those big fingers flexed yearning towards my sack.
“Deal.” He slid a small cardboard box across the tabletop.
“Deal, Biggie.”
Peeking into the bag, the prizefighter’s face split into a toothy grin. I hid my own grin. I pretended to study the ceiling as the big man regained his manly composure. Big Dollar patted my shoulder as he tucked his precious under his arm. He bent down close to my ear.
“Any update on the Yasmin with the accessories and the holographic poster, Baby?”
I spread out my hands. “Bratz intact complete with accessories are rarer than hen’s teeth. I know a guy with a one armed Sasha hardly played with.”
Big Dollar looked stricken.
“Ok, ok, I can’t say no to those baby blues. Next week I’m heading over to what is left of Jersey to mine the warehouses. I will scour for you,” I said.
The lopsided smile he gave me showed the child beneath the man. He clapped my shoulder hard enough to bruise. Big Clam disappeared in the night. Tequila sent me a bottle of water on the house. I made a few small trades, a few Lego kits, an unboxed My Little Pony, and an used American Girl with authentic outfits. The crowd at Chez Tequila’s was light so I decided to split before the murder gangs rocked the block. I blew Tequila a kiss and she caught it from behind the bar. Kansas and the Other Bob escorted me to EV. I tipped them a couple of Pokémon and they watched drive away safe.
I scanned the streets and sang Dolly Parton to settle my nerves. I had protection wards from all the major and most of the minor street gangs but still. My satchel was empty of toys and full of vegetables, protein bars, and an actual fresh orange. In my secret jacket pocket the bottle of Metformin leaned against heart. I didn’t like to think what would happen without it. Closer to home I back tracked and false turned to throw off any potential tails. I had grown up ashamed of my mom as a hoarder and my dad as a doomsday prepper. Our family was that family, the weirdos.
I parked in the garage, slipped in the door hidden behind tool shelf, and keyed in my passcode. My sister unlocked the release latch. Michaela pushed me out of the way to grab my satchel. There is only the two of us now and I guess we are still the weirdo family.
“Broccoli! Shane tell me you got broccoli,” my little sister shouted. “That pony was mint.”
I let her grab the groceries. I added the prescription medication to her bug out backpack. Laughing we headed back to the kitchen.

The Ascent

As the lemon sun pierced the veil of the sky Godarth knelt to receive the blessings of the fates. He rose his sword Angelus eager to bite. Godarth turned his noble visage and his noble soul to The Ascent.
“Here’s your pack, I put in your ear drops and your special ointment. Don’t forget those drops. The Ascent is notoriously chilly at night,” Vara called out from their tent.
Godarth grunted and returned to the rock laden path before him.
“Did you hear me?”
Godarth grunted louder.
“What?” Vara asked teasingly.
“Yes, I will take your potions. Hand me the pack.”
Petite and heavy with child, Vara dragged the dragon skin satchel from their tent. “Would you like an extra blanket?”
“No need.”
“How about something to read? I have some nice scrolls—“
“Enough!” Godarth’s deep voice cracked like a whip. A flurry of wolravens took to the air in fright.
Vara’s eyes blazed. A small bush behind Godarth caught fire. “Excuse me for caring but your last crusade you got a head to toe rash and your back seized up. I took care of you for weeks!”
Angelus glinting in the sun, Godarth walked through the smoke to the Ascent. A few moments later the warrior of the Great North returned for his pack. With a small shovel Vara buried the bush fire.
“Woman. “
Vara returned to the tent.
“Woman. “
Vara collected the remains of their breakfast.
“Woman.”
Vara returned to the tent. Heralded by the Seven and blessed by Queen Nevah herself, the warrior now stood defeated. Godarth bowed his mighty head. The Zande winds raced down the cliffs and shook his shoulders. He opened his eyes as Vara stood before him on her tiptoes wrapping a scarlet hand knit scarf around his neck. The surrounding air warmed and smelt of hyacinths as the witch and the warrior stood together foreheads touching. Godarth patted Vara’s belly and returned to the Ascent. Each step drew him closer to his destiny. Each step his sword grew heavier.
The Zande carried the floral scent with him. “Don’t forget your ear drops!” floated to him on the mountain wind.

Inside Door

“Girl, you scarin’ me. Come in, come in.”
Within a few moments Tiana was ensconced on Shay’s comfy sofa with a blanket with a huge glass of red wine. Tiana’s hands shook as she held the glass.
“TiTi spill it,” Shay insisted.
Tiana downed the wine.
“It started three months ago when I went to that big commercial furniture convention in Chicago. I stayed at the Hyatt and my hotel room was nice but it had an interior door with a little plaque that read Room 137 Inside Door,” Tiana said. Her voice sounded stilted almost mechanical. She stared into her empty glass. “I noticed this weird door wasn’t on the room map. But I didn’t think much of it. It was just a nice hotel to have such an old looking door.”
“And…” Shay pushed.
“Then in Atlanta for that Color Forecast thing I was at a Wyndham and the door was there again. Standing in the corner like a closet but not. The door, the plaque everything was the same. I took the lift to the lobby and tried to explain to the front desk lady but she just looked at me like you’re looking now.” Tiana broke down her body shuddering in tears.
Shay held her friend brushing Tiana’s tears with her fingers. “We’ve been through too much together. I believe you. I’ve never seen you this frightened. Is there more?”
Shay poured herself and her friend another generous glass. “ What happened when you try the door?”
Taking slow breaths, Tiana drank deeply. “The first door I checked and it was locked. I never touched the second door. I can’t stop thinking about this. I called out sick for the Virginia trip but I’d have to call out dead to miss Lamps & Lumieres. I’m a mess. Then it happened.”
Shay’s eyes widen. “Dude.” She held her friend tightly.
“I was home right watching tv and then I heard something in my basement,” Tiana said, crying on Shay’s shoulder. “I thought it was the heater. Or maybe a window. The lights were out so I grabbed a torch to investigate. And the door was there. Dark oak, brass knob, and a brass plaque Room 137 Inside Door the same as before in my basement. In my basement.” Tiana squeezed Shay. “Something was knocking on the other side of that door!”
Shay pulled out of the embrace slightly to look at her friend’s face. “You’re holding me so tight. You’re so scared you don’t even sound like yourself. You’re suddenly British and crap. What happened next?”
Suddenly Tiana drew Shay back into her arms. Squeezing harder and harder Tiana said, “silly girl, I answered and let me out.”

Be Nice or Else

Mommy and Isabella were in the attic. They were looking for old clothes for the church jumble. Well Mommy was looking. Isabella was helping by wearing an old lady fur coat and a Sunday hat and dancing.
“Careful Izzy!” Mommy shouted as Isabella fell backwards.
Kissing away the tears, Mommy lifted her from the floor.
“What’s dis?” Isabella turned to glare at the box that tripped her. Slowly Mommy started to back away. Isabella wriggled from Mommy’s stiff fingers. “It’s a princess treasure chest.”
Mommy stood in the corner while Isabella explored the chest with tiny eager fingers. It was humped lidded wicker basket with leather straps. A pink ribbon on one strap had a tag that said something Isabella couldn’t read except for her name.
“Is it for me?”
“Leave it. Just leave it.” Mommy sounded funny.
“It’s mine, mine.” Isabella fumbled with the tight buckles. “Help me get it open. Please mommy.” Isabella turned but mommy wasn’t there. She turned back to her treasure chest and the buckles were loosened.
Inside her chest, there was a letter with pretty looping words. With her Sunday hat askew, Isabella studied the letter carefully upside down and then tossed it. Next were lace trimmed squares of fabric with pretty flowers made of thread. She swirled the cloths in the air before tossing them aside. Isabella pulled out a heavy silver mirror with a crack. Gently Isabella set it beside her. Beneath the mirror there was a white leather book with whisper thin pages and a gold cross on the cover. Her name was on the inside cover but there were no pictures. The little girl tossed the boring book behind her. A crystal perfume bottle with a real squeezy thing was in her treasure chest. Isabella pretended to spray the empty bottle and put on imaginary makeup in the broken mirror. Somehow the little treasure chest seemed bigger on the inside. Isabella next took out a bundle of tissue paper. Gently and then less gently Isabella torn at the paper.
It was a dolly, a boy doll. He worn a navy suit with an ivory frilly shirt and an indigo velvet ribbon tie. He was porcelain with shiny blond hair, a serious face, and the most beautiful grey blue eyes with real lashes. Isabella loved him instantly. She hugged him hard enough to break him. The doll didn’t break. Isabella ran downstairs to show off her treasure.
At dinner Mommy and Daddy were not really talking to each other. Instead they are pretending to be polite and spelling things to each other. Isabella talks to her new friend whispering in his perfect ear.
At bedtime Mommy made Isabella put the doll in the downstairs closet to keep it safe. Mommy tucked Fluff Bunny, Blake the Tiger, and Mr. Teddy into Isabella’s bed and told her endless bedtime stories. Through the vents Isabella woke to Mommy and Daddy loud talking. Mommy was mad because daddy had promised he threw away a box and daddy told mommy to grow up and something about mommy’s mother. Next there were bad words. Isabella fell asleep to the soft sounds of crying.
“ Izzy, quit running up and down the halls and go to bed!” Daddy yelled waking Isabella from a sound sleep. Confused she turned to hug Fluff Bunny’s hard body. In the morning Isabella woke up to her new doll nestled in her arms with a smile on his face. She smiled back. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, not noticing the writing in mommy’s lipstick across her dresser mirror. Yawning she headed down to breakfast.

Like Cats & Dogs

You came, I thought as my heart raced.
The silver wolves sliced the velvet of the night. There were only three of them. My breath crystallized as I exhaled in relief. They froze. The smallest wolf growled. Slowly I shifted from my mountain lion form to human form. I slipped from the shelter of the slender pines and stood bare in the clearing. Now all three wolves growled.
Typical, I thought. Legs akimbo, hands on my hips, I stared down the biggest wolf, the shifter at the front of in pack, the top dog. I smiled. That smallest wolf bared his canines. My smile widen.
From fox shifters in the South to the bear shifters of the Far North, all of the tribes from around the globe had been been meeting and talking. It began in the sands of Namibia among the lion shifters. The word was wildfire spreading throughout the big cat prides. The word was consolidation, a coming together of all animal shifters to combine their resources, to protect our community. First hatchets had to be buried and alliances formed. It had been a long, hard slog. Big cat ambassadors criss crossed every continent.
The last holdouts, in the midst of the great conversation, were the wolves. For months the wisdom of shifters tried to enter into parley with the wolves. Finally the pack leader of the wolves reached out to my elisi. She is level headed and considerate everything I’m not. Despite all that, Grandma selected me to make first contact. Now I was here in this circle of scrub pine and darkness naked surrounded by wolves.
Their paws made no sound as they edged closer. I never dropped my gaze from the leader.
“Heel!” I growled back.
The three wolves shifted. They loomed over me.
“What did you—“ the leader said.
I brushed past him mid sentence and began to walk away.
The words, “little bitch,” landed behind me.
I stopped and spoke without turning around, “Technically the only bitch in this situation is your mom. We all know the only reason you haven’t joined in the plan to save our kind is because you’re not alpha. Call me when you’re ready to play ball.”
In a blur two of wolf shifters leapt towards me. Twirling I extended my claws drawing first blood. The leader barked and his subordinates instantly dropped to one knee. Dismissive I sniffed and turned.
“Gee and I thought dogs liked playing ball,” I said before shifting into my mountain lion. I headed back into the forest dark. The woods erupted into howls. I could scent the leader of the pack, smell his anxiety, and I knew he was eager to save his sliver of forest. He was following me. I walked on.

The Punchline

Geoffrey walked down the crowded aisle. Faces turned his way and smiled. Cold sweat beaded on his forehead. Suddenly Geoffrey was back in middle school going to his first high school party. Angela his bio lab partner had invited him to a pool party at her girlfriend’s Joanna’s house. Angela was perfection, flawless tan skin and long wavy jet black hair. Geoffrey was no fool. Overweight with bad skin Geoffrey knew Angela was out of his league but he figured she was buttering him up to cheat off his exam paper.
Geoffrey grew clammy. Desperate for air in this cramped space, he tugged at his tie. Geoffrey told himself he was a grown man that belonged here. More faces turned towards him their expectant smiles. When he was a kid at Joanna’s party Geoffrey arrived in his swim trunks with a bottle of Jack he stole from his old man. He wasn’t planning on being cool just accepted. The high schoolers all smiled at him at that party like these strangers around him now. Big smiles, little giggles, hands over mouths, until Mikey Getz screamed, “ Angie for the win! Look at the face on this loser. Girl you found the ugliest…” Geoffrey remembered running from the house running from laughter.
Geoffrey elbowed his way to the tiny bar. He knocked over a charcuterie board and grabbed a platter of champagne flutes from the surprised steward. He downed one drink after another drowning the raucous laughs. No matter what he did, lose weight, join the military, get a good paying job, Geoffrey was still the punchline. Panting, Geoffrey gripped the bar’s edge.
The flight attendant touched his back, stroking him, worry twisting her face. “Captain, are you okay?”

These Hands

Mrs. Bradley lived in Room 325 of the Lilac Manor Senior Care. As a hospice chaplain I visited her regularly. With translucent skin and delicate bones, Mrs. Bradley reminded me of a baby bird woman. She listened to me politely each week waiting for me to go away. One afternoon I asked, “I know you’re too nice to tell me to buzz off but I don’t want to bother you. Mrs. Bradley tell me what you want.”
“I want,” Mrs. Bradley said tossing her sudoku magazines on the table. “to play poker. The only one who plays here is Midge and she cheats.”
We used to play every week. In the nursing home sunroom with the sunburnt pothos and hostile pet parrot, we sat and played cards. I was good and she was better. Eventually we talked, mostly I talked. I covered going to college, dropping out, returning to college and seminary. I covered my little apartment, my ancient car, my parents, my boyfriend not boyfriend. She told me about winning an art prize in high school and working at the perfume counter at Gimbels. I could picture her elegant fingers showing a fancy bottle of scents.
“I unload my heart to you every week, Mrs. B. I don’t even know about your family,” I said once walking her back to her room.
“Your heart is young and joyful. I’m pleased to listen. I’m old and empty. I married my best friend. We had a good life and two children, so beautiful. Jim died young and my girls well they are focused on their own lives.” As Mrs. Bradley talked her blu veined hands turned upwards holding emptiness.
At two am not long after that I got the call she had had a stroke. I rushed to her bedside. Instead of her neat cardigan with jeweled sweater clips and her tidy bun, Mrs. Bradley was in a shapeless hospital gown unable to talk to move each breath labored. I prayed, contacted her family, made final arrangements, the chaplain duties.
Then I talked about getting a dog and my cousin’s upcoming wedding and the fight I had with my dad. I stroked these empty hands that lived and lost and put my hand in hers.