“Can you kill the whole army?”
The question rang through my mind while I approached the permanent trench works leading to the HQ dugout at a gallop. We hadn’t faced a serious attack in a generation, but we stayed vigilant. I slid off my mount, a bay quarter horse who sometimes tried to nip at strangers, and handed the reins off to the orderly without even stopping. Someone was dead. Another orderly called the staff sergeant who came out to greet me. He was a stiff dwarf whose uniform — khaki jodhpurs tucked into knee high russet boots and hunter green field coat over a khaki tunic complete with matching ascot — remained spotless in the dust from the trenches. His red beard was carefully groomed and the brass hilt of his sword gleamed in the afternoon sun. There was no time for protocol, but I clicked my heels and saluted and he returned the gesture.
“Private Asbury, your report?” He demanded.
“Sir, you need to give the alarm! Corporal Fitzgibbons and I were patrolling about twenty miles out. We were searching the valley by the old mine when we saw them.” I gestured toward the old mine. “They’re coming down the old service road!”
“Take it easy, private; where’s the corporal?” His eyes pierced me.
I wiped the sweat from my brow. “We saw the advance guard for an army. They had a platoon of orcs on worgs, and they had a machine gun set up to cover the advance. . .”
“An advance guard?” he scoffed. “We haven’t seen orcs in any number in almost thirty years. I asked a question, private. Where’s the corporal?”
“She didn’t make it, sir. We were spotted while scouting out the machine gun nest. A squad of worg gave chase…” I took off my khaki kettle shaped helmet in frustration.
“The advance guard of an army? Not a mounted raiding party?” He crossed his arms over his barrel chest. I wanted to shake him.
I stiffened and answered like I was in boot camp: “Fitzgibbons caught them talking, sir. They had a couple of other machine gun nests set up, said they had three divisions of foot, troll support, and a division of goblin boar cavalry.”
“Do you have your field notes, diagrams of their positions?”
I looked down and said quietly, “Sir, she had them.”
“I see. You not only abandoned your superior in the face of a single platoon of orcs, but you failed to get specific, accurate, and timely information back to base. How was she taken?”
“We were on the west ridge of the valley. Fitzgibbons had dismounted and was scanning the area when she saw the advance guard. I was still mounted behind the ridge, holding her horse. She called me and pointed out the enemy, ordered me to stay put while she got closer to see what they were saying. I was twenty feet back from the edge, but I kept watch on the opposite side of the valley in case they had some sort of guard posted. After a few minutes I saw a goblin come out from behind a bush. They had a machine gun hidden behind the leaves. They must’ve seen the glare from the lenses and figured the rest out. The machine gun opened up on us. I returned fire with my carbine and covered for Fitzgibbons. When she caught up, she leapt onto her mount and said, ‘Can you kill the whole army? That’s the advance guard.’ We fled perpendicular to the gun fire, but they sent a squad of worg after us.”
“Then what happened?” The dwarf, looking incredulous, asked.
“The mounted orcs opened fire behind us. We fired back with our revolvers, but they gained on us. Fitzgibbons was hit and fell off her horse. I stopped for a moment and reached to pull her onto my mount, but she just said, ‘Can you kill the whole army?’ She unslung her carbine and scattered them with covering fire and commanded me to leave.” I swallowed — hard.
“I see. Private!” He called to the orderly. “Check his weapons. Has he fired them recently?”
The orderly put on a white glove, pulled my revolver from its holster, broke it open at the top, and ran a finger along the back plate. The fingertip came back smeared gray with residue. I unslung my bolt action .30-06 carbine that hung diagonally across my back and handed it to him. He loosened the bolt and ran a fingertip along the edge. Again, gunpowder residue. He nodded to the sergeant, who shook his head.
The sergeant turned on his heel and motioned for me to follow. “I have maps inside. You can show me where the enemy machine gun nest was and the likely route of the army. Of course we’ll have to send out a squad of horse to verify your report.”
“Sir, the area’s crawling with orcs!”
“We have a squad of elves that’d be perfect for that.”
Buddy Shay has always had a love for words. Previously, his work has appeared in The Wisteria Review, and he has had several articles published on Yahoo! Voices and ehow.com. He lives in Michigan with his wife.
Margie jabbed the button for the walk signal. She thought of the filet she splurged on, wrapped tightly in white butcher’s paper.
She thought of the flourless chocolate cake and the candles shaped like a four and a zero.
She wondered where to find the perfect Bordeaux, not too expensive, to tie the meal together. She was not thinking of Volkswagens. Or the color blue.
And she was definitely not thinking of Harold Gober III, whom she didn’t even know existed until his blue Volkswagen ran the light.
“What the hell?” she said, followed by, “My leg!”
For the first time, she thought of Harold Gober III; not particularly, with a name or a face, but generally, as in, “That fucker!”
Her leg throbbed; her forearm burned. She saw blood and muscle smeared on the pavement and feared the worst until she glimpsed the shredded butcher’s paper. She cursed her indulgence on such an expensive piece of meat.
Harold Gober III was a slender man, dressed in corduroys and a cashmere cardigan. He chattered in a high-pitched, nervous way that could have been caused by the accident but wasn’t. He alternated between his cell and Margie, repeatedly asking if he could call someone.
Finally, he understood her “no” was not a refusal of help, but a confession there was no one to call. She wanted to mention she was new in town and didn’t know her co-workers well enough to impose, but it sounded false, even in her thoughts. Back in Ohio, she’d have been hard-pressed to get someone to come, too. After all, isn’t that why she’d made this desperate jaunt across country, to reinvent herself as someone who could be loved?
The paramedics loaded her onto the gurney. She reached for the cake, but it was just out of grasp. No one heard when she asked for it. Perhaps that was best. Only last week the doctor said to cut back on sweets and lose fifty pounds.
The ER was crowded, but arriving with lights and sirens raised Margie’s status.
Her leg was broken, but her arm did not require stitches. As she was wheeled to her room, Harold Gober III trotted beside her, prattling apologies and carrying the largest bouquet she’d ever seen.
She didn’t understand the blooms were for her until he set them on her bed. She’d thought they were some prop he always carried, like a briefcase or a water bottle.
She’d never been given flowers before.
“Is there anything else I can do?” Harold asked, looping a curl around the arm of his glasses.
“I need chocolate cake,” she said. “The flourless kind.”
“Cake,” he said. “Um, let me see what I can do.”
As he slunk out of the room, she realized his question might not have been sincere.
Oh well. She’d gotten flowers, at least. That was something.
She fingered the velvety petals, bent one fragrant blossom to her nose and sang softly to herself.
Happy Birthday to me.
Georgene Smith Goodin’s work has appeared in “Alligator Juniper” and “Tryst Lit Magazine.” She recently won the Mash Stories quarterly flash fiction competition. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the cartoonist Robert Goodin, and their two dogs, Toaster and Idget. When not writing, she is remodeling their 1909 bungalow with obsessive attention to detail. If you would like to be vicariously covered in paint, check out her blog, Goodin’s Folly.
Mickey opened the freezer, removing some center-cut pork loins. Behind him he heard the door open and close.
“Eddie, you’re late,” he said, grabbing a bag of frozen vegetables. “That’s the third time this week. If you don’t start getting here on time, I’m going to have to let you go. And I know you have those two little girls to think of. Not to mention your wife.”
He put the pork and vegetables on a counter just outside of the freezer door. He reached in and grabbed another couple of loins.
“Speaking of Dana, how’s the couples counseling going? Did you ever find out what she was hiding from you? I’m telling you, I think she’s gonna leave you. I would just cut the broad loose, and let her fend for herself, and get custody of those two little gems of yours. God they’re cute. I remember when Alyssa was bouncing around the front of the restaurant in pigtails and her Sunday best after church that one time. You remember? She was skipping and humming that church tune. You know the one. He loves me, this I know, or whatever. She’s what now? Fifteen? Almost ready to start driving. That busted up Chevy of yours isn’t gonna be good enough for her. That’s why you need to start coming on time. You’ll need the money to get her a car.”
Mickey turned, and noticed the kitchen empty behind him. The garbage was gone, and the rear door was open.
Something banged outside, sounding like a solid object hitting the metal dumpster.
He only heard the sound of the freezer’s motor.
He walked outside. The wind began to chill his skin. There was no sign of Eddie, except for his car. That Chevy pick-up of his was sitting in the nearest parking spot. The hood was still warm.
Mickey moved over to the dumpster, and looked inside. All he saw were trash bags. He shivered and went back inside. The pantry door was open.
“I don’t know how you got back inside without me seeing,” Mickey said.
The pantry was an odd design. It was curved into an L shape. In the very back of the pantry was the rear entrance to the freezer. He followed the L, and saw the door was open. He gave the open door an aggravated look and closed it.
“Ed, damn it, I already have the other door open. You need to look before you—”
The door behind him slammed closed.
He started to shout, but the words evaporated from his lips as he noticed a picture taped to the back of the door. It was something printed off an Inkjet. Little Alyssa in her Sunday best. In the background, Mickey was standing with Dana. Her eyes were lowered, focused on his hand. His hand, which was on her hip.
He ripped that photo away, to find another underneath.
It was of a Motel 6. Mickey and Dana’s cars were snuggling under a lamppost.
Underneath, Eddie had written: Goodbye, Mick.
Kristin Lea Berry is a graduate of The Ohio State University’s creative writing program. She has a passion for writing fiction and poetry, the stranger the better.
From his perch high above the flight deck, the sailor watched two big helicopters circle a growing column of red and green smoke that poured from flares there in the massive wake of the ship — back there where the jet had gone over the side. He waited for the carrier to turn, to circle back to where the choppers were cutting in and out of the smoke. But the boat did not slow, did not alter its course; it did nothing, really, except drive relentlessly forward into the slate grey of the afternoon. It seemed that everything that day — the water and the sky and, of course, the ship — was grey. It was only the smoke from the flares that gave the scene color and life.
He had seen it all: The pilot snapping a salute to the flight deck crew chief, the catapult failure halfway through the launch and then the plane — robbed of sufficient power to clear the deck — disappearing over the side of the ship.
Sometimes, the sailor knew, a pilot would have time to trigger the ejection mechanism and the jet’s canopy would pop off and his seat would be blasted far enough into the air for a parachute to deploy. But that had not happened this time and he knew that the ship had either struck the plane and the pilot was dead or he had lived long enough to explore the special terror of a man trapped beneath the surface of the ocean with no hope of escape.
It was the fall that the pilot had loved best. Walking through the forest with his old single-shot .12 gauge at port arms, hoping to jump a covey of grouse. Proud stands of quaking aspen set amidst massive armies of tamaracks. When he came upon the birds, they would erupt from the brush with an explosive force that always startled him. His right thumb would rock back the hammer and he would raise the ancient weapon to his shoulder, lead the first bird and squeeze the trigger. When the shot hit the bird, the animal would fold and tumble through the air and fall silently to the ground.
Then he would pick up the grouse and slip the lifeless body into a game pouch in the back of his vest that had once belonged to his father. And then he would continue on his way through the forest. Sometimes, it would rain, and he would always pause and look skyward and let the raindrops pepper his face. He loved how that felt and how the rain made the air fresh and all things good.
When he got hungry, he would stop at a good spot and sit down on a log or prop his back against a tree and sit on the ground. He always brought two sandwiches with him — one ham and Swiss with onions and lettuce, and one roast beef and cheddar. Both sandwiches were made with homemade white bread, which had been smeared liberally with mayonnaise and mustard. He would eat the sandwiches slowly and wash them down with hot black coffee that he kept in a small thermos.
Later, when he got home, his wife would greet him at the front door and his two boys would demand to see the birds that he had killed that day and which would be eaten by his family later that evening.
He was almost there, now, with his family. Could smell his wife’s perfume and feel the loving embrace of his boys. But he was being pulled back, too, back to this reality, this moment — dazed, in shock, and his chest hurting from something.
The pilot ripped the oxygen mask from his face and tore at the seat harness. He looked up through the canopy at the light on the ocean surface and raised his arms to push in vain against the glass. Then he reached down between his legs and grabbed hold of a looped cable that would eject him from the plane. He pulled hard, but nothing happened. A malfunction. And, now, looking up again, the pilot could see that he was drifting down and away from the light. Darkness was swiftly closing in on him and he knew he was finished.
And then the pilot was flashing again to the woods and the grouse and the thumbing back of the hammer on the shotgun. But he wasn’t quite there. Not totally. One moment, he was alone in the forest; and then suddenly he was back inside his sinking plane, struggling with the reality of these last few moments beneath the surface of the ocean.
The pilot unzipped his flight suit, somehow unsnapped from its holster the .38 that he and many other pilots carried as some small measure of self-defense in case they were ever shot down. But it was also a tool with which he might end this undersea nightmare.
Flashing now, yet again, to the forest: The smell of rain and how it felt on his face, the sound of a twig snapping beneath his boot, the easy touch of grouse feathers and the warmth of blood leaking timidly from each hole in the bird’s tiny body.
And now the pilot in one moment was rocking back the hammer on the .38 and in the next instant was cocking his shotgun as another family of grouse broke from safety beneath a chokecherry bush and rose beautifully into the mountain air, their wings madly pumping away until the roar of the gun ended everything.
Tim Hanson lives in South Carolina with his wife and two children.
“I’m glad we could get together,” Mike told me. “It’s been too long since we did this. You know. Just hung out, like the old days.”
It was true. It had been far too long since I saw my older brother. He and his wife had moved out of state. A happy coincidence of a business trip had brought him back to my neck of the woods. Thus, he was staying with me for a couple of nights until he had to head back out to his wife and my nephew.
The bartender handed us our beers and we returned to our table. Mike flipped through the menu.
“So what’s good here?” he asked me.
“It’s Applebee’s, Mike. Don’t they have Applebee’s in Ohio?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but Friday’s is closer. Believe it or not, the nearest Applebee’s is probably a good hour and a half away from me. That’s part of why I suggested this place. I don’t think I’ve been to one since I moved. And we used to come here all the time back when we were home from college, remember?”
I smiled fondly. “Yeah,” I replied. “You, me, the girls. Sometimes Brian and Todd would join us. Todd used to always bring that chick with him whenever he came. What was her name again?”
Mike chuckled. “You know, I don’t think I ever bothered to learn it. I knew she wouldn’t last, so I just thought of her as ‘temp’.”
“Come to think of it, you may have called her that at one point,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, probably,” Mike agreed. “That sounds like me. Can’t imagine Todd appreciated that too much, if he wasn’t too blitzed to catch it. Man, I miss that old S.O.B.” He closed his menu and placed it on the table.
“What can I get you two?” a voice to my left asked.
I turned slightly to see that our waitress had arrived. She was beautiful. Long blonde hair, deep blue eyes, bright white teeth. Couldn’t have been a day over twenty-five.
I ordered the three cheese penne pasta. Mike ordered the steak with Jack Daniels sauce.
“I’ll have that right out for you,” she said, flashing a toothy grin. She put her notepad back in her pocket and headed for the kitchen.
“Wow,” muttered Mike. “The waitress is a real looker.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “She’s pretty hot.”
Mike nodded. “Speaking of lookers, you seeing anybody these days?” he asked cautiously. He fidgeted with the label on his beer bottle. He knew that he was treading in potentially dangerous waters.
“No,” I replied softly. “There really hasn’t been anybody since Samantha.”
Mike continued to fidget more with his bottle, clearly trying not to ruin our rare visit by opening old wounds. “Well,” he finally admitted, “I’m sure eventually someone will show up. You know. Not to take her place or anything. But to keep you company at least. Nobody deserves to be lonely. And Samantha wouldn’t have wanted you to be lonely. Certainly not for this long. She loved you too much for that.”
I took a swig of my beer and shrugged. I didn’t really have a verbal response to that and Mike understood my silence.
After a moment and another drink from my bottle, I replied, “I don’t know. Dad never remarried after Mom passed. And Samantha was just as much of a ‘one and only’ type. I’m not sure that I could ever really convince myself that she’d be okay with it.”
It was Mike’s turn to not have a verbal response ready.
Luckily, our waitress chose this moment to return with our food. She placed Mike’s meat in front of him and my pasta in front of me.
She asked us if we needed anything else.
“I’ll take another beer, please,” Mike told her. “So long as Logan here doesn’t mind me crashing on his couch later.”
“Pretty sure that was the agreed upon plan,” I reminded him. “Otherwise you’re sleeping outside with the raccoons.”
The waitress giggled. “And how about you?” she asked me. “Can I get you anything else?”
I looked up at her. Her dark blue eyes caught the light in a way that made them sparkle and her smile was warm and inviting. Without thinking, I responded, “Yeah, your number.”
Mike’s jaw dropped as she smirked. “Okay then, I’ll have that all ready for you in a jiffy,” she said. She put her notepad back in her pocket and walked away.
Mike laughed at me. He couldn’t believe I had just done that. Frankly, neither could I. That just wasn’t something that I did.
A few minutes later, she brought Mike another beer and placed it on the table, along with a scrap of paper. She gave me a coy smile as she walked away.
I read the piece of paper and showed it to Mike. It contained her number, along with the scrawled name Amy.
“You sly dog,” laughed Mike. “Look at you! Picking up a waitress at Applebee’s! I didn’t know you had it in you!” He slapped me on the shoulder. “Good job!”
Amy came back later during our meal to bring us the bill. “I expect you to call that number,” she told me. “And how that call goes will be entirely influenced by how well you tip!” she teased. Mike stared at her exceptional behind as she walked away.
“You better call her,” he told me. “She’s really cute and you know Samantha’s not gonna be mad at you for trying to be happy.”
“I will,” I promised.
But I never did.
I have never dialed those numbers in my life.
And I doubt I ever will.
I can’t do that to Samantha.
C.M. Gabbett lives in New Jersey. He has previously been published in Trillium, In Parenthesis (online), Section 8 and Black Lantern Publishing. He has also published several political articles and is the former co-writer of the webcomic MandMPancakes.