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Bond of Love (VSS)

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

IMG_1917Jurgen and Hans knew that they would receive a lot of scorn for their decision. They had been lovers for a dozen years and from the moment they first met they knew they would be inseparable. It was only a matter of time before they made that more than figurative. Finding a doctor was the hardest part. When they met Dr. Milton thanks to a referral from a friend they were hopeful. They sat in his office wearing the sweater Hans had knitted especially for their post operative life.

“So, how has your test period gone so far?”

Hans answered. “We have gotten more than a few strange looks and no small amount of negative comments.”

Jurgen picked up where he left off. “But that was to be expected. The first transexuals had to go through unimaginable pain and scorn. It will be no different for us.”

Milton nodded. “That is why I wanted you to live as near as you could to your eventual conjoined state. Are you quarters ready?”

“We have worked out all of the bugs well before we met you, doctor.”

“We are ready.”

“Good.” Milton checked his notes. “I have you scheduled for surgery the first of the month. I want you to continue wearing the band that holds you together until then.”

“I can’t help but wonder why you’re so willing to help us.” Jurgen touched Hans’ chest. “We’ve talked about it and I just have to ask. Won’t this cost you your medical license?”

Milton stood, folded his hands behind his back, and walked to the full length window. Stars twinkled in the blackness. Only an inch separated him from the vacuum of space. “There is certainly potential for that to happen. It is a risk I am willing to take. When I took a cyborg as my wife, people looked down on us. They questioned my humanity. There were death threats. We faced it all together. I don’t expect people to understand my choices or agree with them, but if all parties are well adjusted and mature individuals who are we to judge?” He turned from the window and faced the couple. “I want to thank you for trusting me to do this. Recovery will be painful and there will be hurdles that you can’t imagine. I believe that based on your psych profiles and the counseling you’ve gone through that you can come through it all okay. Otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to this.”

The men stood. “Thank you for your faith in us.” The took his outstretched hand in each of theirs and shook. “We will see you in a few weeks.”

A Prickly Fellow

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

IMG_1895 Chip had always been unusual. Even as a boy he’d been drawn to things that others found difficult to understand. The perfect example was the picture his mom kept of him embracing and sniffing a cactus. He didn’t remember if it was the smell or the way that the pressure of the spines against his skins. It wasn’t about pain. He’d never really pricked himself. Still, it was just odd. Or so people told him.

All of his life he’d had a hard time finding, making, and keeping friends. He wanted companionship and even people who could accept him for who he was often didn’t appeal to him at all. Eventually he decided that the best thing to do would be to make a copy of himself. He didn’t have any expertise in biology so cloning was right out. Technology wasn’t advanced enough to make an AI version of himself, so even that was out.

Ultimately, he decided that the only way to make it happen would be time travel or magic.

If there was anything that time travel movies told him, it was that meeting yourself led most often to disaster. That left finding a spell that would do the trick. This was where his oddness came in handy. He didn’t have an opinion one way or another when it came to magic’s existence. People that had strong feelings about its existence were often as strange as he was. He was able to find and make friends with them as a result. After enough networking with the oddments and outcasts, he found himself standing in the basement of an apartment in Turkey. Candles lit the room and a woman in little more than a bathrobe, her skin covered in arcane glyphs, chanted wall passing her hands over an ancient text.

This had been going on for an hour, when he started to feel an uncomfortable tingling in his chest. He would have been concerned, but Morgana, the bathrobe woman, had told him to expect this.

“The process,” she said in her unique and potentially faked accent, “is not easy or comfortable. You might pass out from the pain or from boredom. Don’t.”

He hadn’t been bored. She was attractive to look at and the more she passed her hands over the book, the more her robe opened. He was so glued to watching her at work that he failed to notice the air shimmering in front of him.

“What do you want?” His own voice asked him from beyond the veil rent in space and time.

His head turned and looked at himself. He appeared to be in good health and was of the same apparent age. “I don’t know how things are on your end, but in the process of looking for a friend I’ve never quite figured it out.”

He cocked his head at himself. “So you decided to try and find yourself?”

He shrugged. “I would hardly be the first one.”

“Is your intention to play with yourself, or just get to know yourself better?”

“More of the latter. Maybe if I truly knew myself I’d have less problem knowing others.”

“I can only hold this portal open for a few more minutes. Either you two will need to talk faster or one of you should join the other.” Morgana interrupted her casting for the recommendation.

Chip looked from her to his double. “What do you say?”

“I’m fine with staying on this side of things. I’ve got a lot of friends and my social calendar is full. You could come here I suppose.”

He considered his tone of voice and didn’t think he was being genuine with himself. “No, I think staying apart for now is the best course of action.” As much as he wanted to spend some time with himself, he didn’t want to run the risk of being stuck in a strange place.

He nodded. “Fair enough. Is… Is there anything you can recommend once I go home?”

He stroked his chin.  “No matter how easy or hard a thing might be, there’s always an opportunity to make things better for the next person. You should do more of that and less worrying about how you look to others. That’s always been what’s held us back, more so than the other things.”

The connection between the two halves disconnected.

“Your other self is a pretty smart cookie.” Morgana noted from her book.

“Let’s start here and now.” He extended a hand to her. “I’ll make you some pancakes and then we’ll see how I can make the world a better place.”

Toaster Toast

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

IMG_1885 Helen had been a spokes-model for nearly five years now. She felt certain that anything she held would benefit by her just being in the same shot with it. She never dreamed that she’d face a challenge as great as she did that fateful October day.

“It’s a piece of bread!” She felt her fingernails digging into her palms, but the sensation was distant.

Sully shook his head. “It’s Toaster Toast. The new client feels like it will blow the roof off of the breakfast food market.” He pointed to the white square. “Look, you can do this. I have faith in you.”

“I was patient when you had me sell Instant Water. I gritted my teeth when you put me on the Raisin Magic kit. They were just selling old grapes for crying out loud. I put my reputation on the line when you give me this kind of crap.” She unscrewed the lid from her Smart Water and took a long swallow. She instantly felt smarter.

“If we didn’t trust you then we wouldn’t do this.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “This may seem silly to you and me, but we need to think of the big picture. If you’d come to my grandfather fifty years ago, when he started this company, and told him that there would be a market for powdered juice aimed at kids or that they’d put squares of chocolate in breakfast cereal he would have laughed you out of the room. Our job isn’t to judge our clients or their consumers. It’s to take their ideas and make sure that they sell, sell, sell.”

She looked down at the floor for a heartbeat and then back up. The million watt smile was back on her face. “Okay, I can do this.” Moments later she was in front of the camera, and once again when people saw her face and how much she obviously loved the product, they bought it in droves.

The Element of Surprise

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

enhanced-22319-1400017156-7 Pa had been married to Ma for the last forty-two years and every year was better than the last. She treated him like a king and every year for their anniversary the gifts that she got him were hard to top. It wasn’t that they were lavish or expensive, but they were just perfect. He’d never been able to quite top them. It wasn’t a contest and every year she’d just tell him it was the thought that counted. Still, he wanted to get her something this year that she’d remember. He thought he had just the thing.

They finished their dinner and were sipping irish coffee. “Ready to open presents, Ma?”

She smiled at him. “Sure thing, Pa. I think you’re gonna love what I have for you this year.”

“I always do.”

They moved to the living room where the two packages awaited them. “You open yours first, Pa.”

He smiled and nodded. He’d tried the “ladies first” dodge nearly every year for the first twenty, but that was another battle she always won. He took the long rectangular package from her. There was a good heft to it. The paper was expensive, a dark blue and very shiny. He untaped one end. He’d never been one to simply tear into a present. Once the paper was taken away he held a heavy wooden box. Cardboard wasn’t good enough for Ma. The boxes her presents came in were almost always as good. The cedar smelled fantastic. He lay the box down on the floor and found the catch that held it closed. He flipped the lid open and gasped when he saw what was inside.

“Ma, this is too much.” The shotgun had been broken down into two pieces. The barrel and stock were nestled in velvet the color of the wrapping paper. The metal gleamed. He’d been given the shotgun by his own dad. It was dinged and beat up and he’d often said that he wanted to get it restored. The value was sentimental not just because of who he’d gotten it from. He’d also used it on one of their first sprees.

He took the pieces out and fitted them together. He felt a stinging at his eyes. They fit perfectly. He cracked open the breech and checked all of the moving parts. “Darlin’, I can’t thank you enough for this. I can’t wait to use it.” The person in the basement would probably be as thankful for it as Pa was. He broke it back down and set the parts on the desk.

“My turn, my turn.” Ma clapped her hands.

“Careful opening it. You may want to leave it on the floor there.” Ma’s back was always a bit tricksy.

She knelt down in front of the box and began peeling away the paper. Her brow knitted at the cage it held. “A rabbit? You got me a rabbit?”

Pa chuckled. Sure enough a huge brown hare sat huddled in one corner of the crate. The poor thing was scared, just as scared as many of their victims had been. “No, no. Think of it like the keys to a new car. What I really got you is what’s down stairs. It would have been too hard to wrap.

“Well, I’ll be…”

He could see the tears in her own eyes. She’d only mentioned it once, but he’d been paying attention. “I hope you like it.”

“My very own boa constrictor? How could I not?” She grabbed the barrel of the gun and swiped playfully at him.

He could see by the look on her face that he’d finally done it. “I’ve been working on its habitat for a month. It’ll have its own space down by the kill room.”

“You sweet man. I can’t wait to see the look on our next project’s face.” She motioned for him to stand up. “Thank you so much.”

He did and they embraced. “You’re welcome, my dear.” Years of marriage and scores of victims and he’d proven that he could still surprise the old girl. Evading the police wasn’t enough to keep the spark alive. The element of surprise was even more important to wedded bliss than it was to being a serial killer.

Merry Widow(er)

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

enhanced-6131-1400068422-1Here at Fisher Brothers Funeral Services we know how sad it can be when you die and no one shows up. Granted it’s not sad for the dearly departed, but a person’s legacy has a lot to do with how they’re perceived after they die. That prompted us to start the Rent-A-Mourner last year and that has gone incredibly well both for us and for our clients. Sure, we got some pushback, but hiring mourners is a tradition that goes back thousands of years. All one has to do is look at the services following the passing of author Bill Jones* to see how that tradition pays off in modern times. His sales in life were mediocre, but after his widow hired a crowd from Fisher Brothers and the press covered the event, his back catalog sales went through the roof.

Desiring to stay on the cutting edge of the industry we’ve recently started a new program, The Merry Widow(er). These days people are doing almost anything to re-capture their youth. Sales of the little blue pill are unbelievable. Prescriptions and over the counter sales of testosterone are going gangbusters. People spend tens of thousands on powders, potions, and plastic surgery. What says power and vitality like having a gorgeous ex-lover show up to throw themselves on your casket? Granted, you as the deceased won’t be able to take advantage of the more temporal benefits, but as with Rent A Morner you have to think about how you will look to those who follow in your footsteps. If you divorced your spouse there’s also the joy you get when you think about the look on their face when they meet your younger, more attractive loved one.

As with all of our programs, Fisher Brothers promises complete secrecy. All mourners and widow(er)s will be provided with enough knowledge about the dearly departed to fool family members and lifelong friends. Where needed they will also have plausible stories as to where they’ve been for the last year to eighteen months. We also guarantee that our Mourners and Merry Widow(er)s are cheaper than having spent your predeceased days striving to have actual people you know like you enough to come to your funeral.

So when you think about your final goodbye, think outside the casket. Remember that here at Fisher Brothers we know that your reputation will outlive your embalmed remains if you spend your money wisely.

*Actual author’s name changed due to contractual obligations.

Sticky Business

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

enhanced-2407-1399922427-9 Jeff groaned as yet another termination request flashed up on his computer. He hated being the one responsible for closing down accounts and these days it was even worse given the state of the economy. When he saw the name and date it was even worse. It was his friend Robert Newman and the term date was effective tomorrow. That was Robert’s birthday. He struggled all say with whether or not to tell his friend. Stickeez-R-Us had a very strict policy about such things. It could cost him his own job, but he and Robert had been friends a long time. Maybe it would be better coming from him rather than an impersonal walk to his boss’s office.

From: JHeight@stickeezrus.com
RE: Beer Tonight?

Rob. Thought you might like to grab a beer after work at The Town Pump. Let me know.

From: RNewman@stickeezrus.com
RE: Beer Tonight?

Absotively. See you there.

Jeff smiled. The scientist had always been ready for a good time. He had a great attitude and his penchant for practical jokes was well known throughout the company. Hopefully that would carry him through the next day.

He walked through the door of the local watering hole and saw Rob sitting there. The man was still wearing his bright yellow Stickeez lab coat. The sleeves were rolled up showing the wide, thick band of leather that held his steampunk watch. Reddish gray hair stick out in every direction. He had a mug of beer in front of him already two thirds gone.

“Hey man!” Jeff hoped that his tone was chipper.

Rob turned on his stool and smiled. Big blue eyes made bigger by their thick glasses. “Hey dude! Thanks for inviting me. I’ve been working hard the last couple of weeks and haven’t had much down time.”

Jeff looked around and spotted a booth off to the back. He looked at his friend. “I figured you could use an early birthday present and I’ve got something I want to bend your ear about. Mind if we sit back there?” He pointed at the booth.

Rob shook his head. “Not at all.” He gestured to the bartender and pointed to his beer. “I’ll take another one of these for my friend.” He looked back at Jeff. “Go have a seat. I’ll bring your beer.”

Jeff walked back to the booth, trying to keep his head from hanging. This was the right thing to do. He took a seat and Rob wasn’t far behind him. He took the frosty mug and downed a third of it in long swallows.

“Thirsty?” Rob smiled.

“Hard day at work. Look, I don’t want to put this off any longer than I have to. I saw an email today and I know I’m not supposed to say anything, but you’re going to get your pink slip tomorrow.” The words came out in a rush and he looked up when he was finished.

Rob’s face hadn’t changed. He still had a smile on it.

“Didn’t you hear me? You’re gonna lose your job.”

Rob nodded. “I know. I mean I didn’t know it was coming tomorrow, but I knew it was coming. Hey, working R&D for a company that makes variations on sticky notes isn’t exactly a guaranteed gig. I’ve had a good run. Thank for thinking of me.”

Jeff looked from his friend to his beer and back again. “You still look… Happy? You’ve got something percolating in the back of your mind.”

Rob shrugged. “The company has had me working on a few things that were ultra hush hush. I’ve been stressing out about it and decided that I’d tinker with something on my own. I had a breakthrough and let’s just say that the second I don’t log on to my PC at my usual time that little breakthrough will hit the production line ahead of schedule.”

That made Jeff a little uneasy. “Revenge isn’t a good idea.”

“I wouldn’t call it revenge.” Rob sipped at his beer. “It’s an idea that they’ll love eventually. They just won’t much like how it comes out. Don’t worry, when’s the last time you saw me do anything malicious? I’m not out to hurt anyone, least of all the company that’s been so good to so many people lately.” There was a less than gentle sarcasm in his tone.

Jeff thought about that. If this “surprise” wouldn’t hurt anyone except the company then who was he to tattle. If it did go badly they’d know to pin it on Rob and what did Jeff know, really? Rob could be playing one of his jokes on his friend. “Well I’m glad you’re taking it so well.”

“No guarantees in life, friend.”
He raised his glass and they clinked them together. “When you get your own pink slip, look me up. By then I may have some things you can help me with. I’ll need a computer geek one of these days.”


Jeff enjoyed the rest of their evening and didn’t think too much more about it. Breaking the news had gone better than he could have hoped and he didn’t see how anyone could get hurt.”

Days went past and in the drudgery of work and excitement of family life he had actually forgotten about the whole thing. His family was sitting around the table two weeks later when he heard the name of his company from the television in the other room. He excused himself and went to see what it was all about.

“-recall on all of their products manufactured in the previous week.” The camera pulled back from the pretty anchor and showed a young woman with a beatific smile on her face, what he could see of her face under a layer of sticky notes. “It seems a manufacturing error has led to some unintended effects. Stickeez-R-Us has said that their adhesive, when applied directly to the skin, can cause minor changes in mood. The effect is mostly positive and even the young woman pictured showed no ill effects.”

Jeff chuckled and reminded himself to send Rob a reminder about that job offer.

Fishy Handshake

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

enhanced-buzz-6914-1399908192-5 Sal’s palms were sweating profusely. He hadn’t felt well since he got up this morning. He hoped it was just a bad case of nerves. If this kept up he’d probably sweat right through his suit. He couldn’t blow this interview. He’d been out of work for about six months now and while he got unemployment insurance that was barely enough to put gas in the car and food on the table, much less paying for medical bills or rent. Steph had a job, but minimum wage hasn’t changed in way too long and the S-Mart wasn’t giving her full time hours or a raise.

He laced his fingers together and squeezed until his knuckles were about to pop. The pain didn’t do anything to alleviate his nervousness, but it gave him something to think about other than the knot in his stomach or the damn Mutie Panic that flooded the airwaves. You couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing about some new freak. God knows what caused the changes. GMOs, nuclear waste, corn syrup. Whatever it was, the muties were nothing like the comic books. The changes were all just painful or embarrassing.

The two pieces of advice that Giorgio gave him were “wear your best suit” and “don’t give a limp wristed, damp handshake”. He had the suit. He’d bought it before he lost the job at Chem-Tex. He’d been making good money and splurged. Now he just needed to make sure to make a good first impression. He rubbed his palms on the dark gray slacks. Satisfied they were dry, he looked around the office.

Manson and Reed was nothing to write home about, at least the office. The low end law firm was one step above ambulance chasing and the fake plants and out of date office furniture showed it. Work was work though and they needed a sysadmin. He had the experience and would take whatever salary they would throw at him.

“Mr. Petrelli?” The pleasant tenor voice snapped him out of his funk.

He looked up to see a man that didn’t like much older than the kids that worked with his wife at S-Mart. There were fine lines around his eyes though. The suit he wore looked a notch or two above Sal’s. He stood, holding out his hand. No limp shake. No limp shake.

When Mr. Manson grabbed Sal’s hand, he made a disgusted noise. Then he looked from Sal’s eyes down to where they shook and screamed in a pitch much higher than his speaking voice.

Sal could feel the man gripping his hand, but it suddenly felt like he wore a cold glove. He wanted to look at his hand, but he was terrified about what he’d see there.

“You’re a damn mutie.” The man screamed in his nasally, high pitched voice. “You’re a damn mutie.” He sounded like a broken record.

Sal tore his eyes away from the terrified whites of Mr. Manson’s eyes. He saw that the lawyer still clutched what appeared to be a trout or maybe a bass. The fish, Sal was never an expert, protruded from his coat sleeve. He took his… appendage back. “I hope this doesn’t mean the interview is off?”

He found himself rushed out of the building by a burly and slightly apologetic black man. “This isn’t the best place to work, dude.”

Sal nodded at the security guard’s retreating back. “Yeah, maybe not. But it beats being on the state’s dime.” He looked down at the fish. It was still there. He tried to will it back into a human hand, but he hadn’t willed it into a fish, so he wasn’t sure what to do about it.

He supposed he could join the circus.

“Don’t be silly.” The raspy, thin came from the place where the tips of his fingers used to be. “We’re not showy enough for that to work.”

Sal fainted.

The Fantastic Accountant

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them.

enhanced-22521-1400016682-17 Artemis never thought life as an accountant would be exciting. Still, working for his dad for the summer would be easier than flipping burgers at the Shake Star.

Dad pulled the Cutlass to the curb and nodded. “You go on ahead. I’ll park and be in in a minute or two.” His smile was reflected in his one remaining eye, the other covered by a black patch.

Artemis nodded back to his dad and opened the door. The Texas heat slammed into him. He grabbed the key from his pocket as he closed the heavy car door and walked to the front door of the firm of Gordon and Shumway. Dad’s partner, Allen, had been dead for five years, but he kept the Shumway name on the door. Tradition was very important to him. He unlocked the door and walked into cool darkness. The security system beeped at him until he entered the four digit code.

The smell of damp and old paper filled his nose. In spite of the advances that the early twenty-first century provided, dad still had a love of paper. The walls of the ten by twenty foot office were filled with books from floor to ceiling. They weren’t all accounting books, though most of them were. He’d grown up in this office for the last sixteen years and a good portion of one wall was filled with science fiction, fantasy, and the biographies of his favorite sports stars and political figures. There were also a few ancient history books, ones focusing on the ancient Middle East.

He cut on the lights and moved from computer to computer, booting them up. The two ladies that were dad’s office assistants, and had been since time immemorial, would be here in about a half hour. Dad always turned on their computers for them, so he thought it was the least he could do. Finally he sat down at his. The MacBook was already on and he checked his email. While he was double checking the spam filter he heard the door open.

Dad had taken a little longer than usual. He held a box of Dan’s Donuts in one hand and a battered leather case in the other. It wasn’t his usual briefcase, so Artemis raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Dad was a creature of habit, to a fault. Seeing some new gear, or rather in this case new old gear was interesting. If it was something he needed to know, Dad would tell him.

Dad walked around the counter and put the donuts out for the ladies and his son. He went to the door to his own separate office and fished out a set of keys. He was the only one who had access to the ten by ten office beyond. He unlocked both sets of deadbolts and Artemis heard the chirping of the other alarm system. It’s chirping stopped and Dad called to him. “Come here Arty.”

Artemis was getting to the age where “Arty” was starting to chafe. Mom encouraged him to let it slide. Dad was a lot older than most of Artemis’ friends’ fathers. He was almost old enough to be Artemis’ granddad. His own dad was long dead. Still, hopefully the nickname would fade soon. He flipped the laptop closed and walked quickly to the office.

The lights flickered on and Artemis looked around. The shelves in here were filled too, though not with books. Calculating devices, everything from an ancient abacus to adding machines that were new when dad was a boy, and measuring devices, like sextants and surveyor’s tools, had their places. Dad had ensured that he knew how to use every single one.

“Sit down, son.” Dad scratched at his bare scalp. “We have something to talk about.”

This couldn’t be good. He ran his fingers through his own thick, black head of hair in a mirror image of the motion. The “tell” was a Gordon male’s way of expressing discomfort. “What’s up?”

“You’ve agreed to work with me and we’ve talked about how important this is to me.”

Artemis nodded. “You want to pass the torch.”

He smiled. “Exactly. I know that you think being an accountant is boring.” He held up a hand to stifle any reply. “There are days when it’s sheer drudgery. I won’t lie. I want to show you something today that will inspire you to believe that it can be your future, boring or not.”

Artemis fought to keep from rolling his eyes.

Dad’s eye narrowed. “I saw that.” His voice held some humor. He got up and retrieved the abacus. The counters were made from jade and the wood was almost as dark as Artemis’ hair. He sat is on the desk between them. “I know that you know how to use this, but there’s something I haven’t shown you.” He picked it up with his left hand and held it like one might a violin, nestled against his cheek. With his right hand he flipped a few of the counters, seemed to listen, flipped a few more, and then smiled. His right hand then flew through a series of gestures, almost like sign language.

A breeze began to blow through the room and Artemis could smell flowers. He looked around the windowless office. The sound of birds filled the air. The wall to his left, what would have been the rear of the building started to fade and he could see light filtering through as though coming through a thick curtain. He stood, pushing back the chair. “Dad. What’s going on?” He looked over at his dad.

He’d stood and was now holding the heavy leather case. “Well, son, I’m an accountant in more than just this world. Decades ago, Shumway and I found that abacus and discovered that it could open a doorway to another universe. We explored it and discovered that the king of the country on the other side of that wall was being bilked by his advisors. We showed him the advantages of spread sheets and modern accounting practices. He showed us magic and adventure.”

Artemis blinked, hardly believing it. “So you didn’t lose the eye in a college fencing match?”

Dad ran a finger across his patch and shook his head. “Dragon.” He smiled. “It’s time for this year’s audit and I thought I would take you with me. You game?”

Artemis still didn’t know what to make of the jungle he could now just make out through the office’s back wall. He thought of all of the books on the shelves out there. He wanted to live the adventure he’d read about. “Yes, sir!”

“Well come on, Artemis.” He pronounced his son’s name with the timbre one would use with an adult. “Let’s go see if I can show you that there are a few things about this life that you might enjoy.” He handed his son the abacus and together they walked into the green light of the far off jungle.

Worst Santa

This story was inspired by a photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click here to see them. (I decided to leave this photo off to save your eyes.)

Being a successful thief didn’t get off to an easy start. My first ten or twelve jobs very nearly all ended in disaster. Thankfully none of them landed me in prison, though I have done my fair share of time. The one that sticks out most to me is the third one. It taught me never to break into a place without thoroughly checking it out first.

It was late December. I’d had been living rough for a couple of weeks. Christmas in eastern North Carolina can be a wet and miserable affair, but it’s not as cold as it is up north. I’d managed to break into a beach cottage on my first night in town and while it didn’t have power or water it at least gave me a break from the wind. I had my eye on a big house a bit further up the beach. They would have some electronics and maybe some other valuables I could steal and pawn.

I parked a few blocks away from the house in the battered Volvo wagon I called home in those days. I didn’t know much back then but I knew enough not to park my getaway vehicle in an otherwise empty driveway when I was in the course of my business. I pulled the collar of my navy windbreaker up and my toboggan down. The wind was howling that night.

I broke into a run and soon I stood in front of the big house. It was up on stilts and the side facing the street had a dozen windows. They were all boarded up and I didn’t see a single light. Some of these places got rented out, even during the off months, but I’d kept an eye on this one and there had been no activity. I went around to the side and found that the gate was locked. I grabbed the pickets and vaulted over lightly. I wasn’t that smart, but I was strong and light on my feet. I landed on the concrete pad and saw that this place had a huge pool and a hot tub. They were both covered for the winter.

The windows on the ocean side were also covered, the exception being the four sets of sliding glass doors. No light came from any of them. I went up the back steps, any creaking noises covered by the incessant howl of the wind. I walked up to the first set of doors and pulled out my picks. These locks were always pretty cheesy. The only thing that could really put a damper on picking them would be a wooden bar laid on the door’s track. There was no bar. I set to work and discovered that the door was unlocked.

You’d have thought that this would be my first indication to get lost. Like I said, back then I wasn’t too bright. I figured that maybe some lazy maintenance crew had left the door unlocked. I slid the door open and eased my way in. The air was warm. I smelled cinnamon and apples. Dumb as I was, even I figured that meant someone was home. There were no cars out front though. My greed got the better of me and I guessed that it had been rented, but whoever it was had gone out for dinner. Occupation meant that there would be some portable goodies.

I moved towards the front of the house, keeping my ears open for any noise. My eyes were fully adjusted to the darkness, so making out a light coming from under a door near the front of the house was easy enough. I skulked up to the door and put my ear against it. I couldn’t hear any noise coming from the other side, though I blame the howling wind, audible even inside the house for what happened next.

I turned the handle and pushed the door in. The naked, overweight man sat on the edge of the bed. A Santa hat sat perched on the top of his head and he was tweaking his nipples. Meanwhile the lady between his knees worked south of the border pretty vigorously. Neither of them noticed my presence. I backed out of there faster than a cat who’d had its tail stepped on. The door sat open a bit, but given the noises I could now plainly hear I didn’t think anyone would notice until I was gone.

It only took a few minutes for me to get back to my Volvo and beat it down the road. It took me a number of weeks to erase that mental picture from my brain. What I never erased was the lesson I learned about doing the pre-work.

Candy Man

enhanced-21277-1400016574-8 This story was inspired by this photo taken from a collection of stock photos. Click the picture to see the rest.

“Stanislaw! Stanislaw Kaczmarczyk, you get your scrawny butt back in here.”

Stan’s mother’s voice cut through the neighborhood like a rusty buzz-saw through sheet metal. It never failed to get his attention.

He ran at top speed, having no desire to earn her anger. When he rounded the corner he saw the old man standing there. Dressed in a dirty wife beater, a ball cap turned the wrong way ’round, and holding both a cigar and a massive lolly pop, creepy didn’t even begin to cover it. There was a mischief behind the thick lensed glasses that Stanley could feel even ten yards away. He wanted to veer off course, but the street on one side (DON’T PLAY IN THE STREET STANISLAW LEOPOLD KACZMARCZYK!) and menacing shrubs belonging to Mr. Allman on the other meant that he was like a prize calf in a chute.

He came to a stop at least six feet from the old man. There wasn’t room to pass him without coming within arm’s reach. His muscles couldn’t even twitch.

“S’matter boy? Scared?” The old man’s voice wasn’t at all what he expected. It was deep and gravely, but there was a kindness in it. “Ain’t nothin’ ta be scared of.”

“Ma says not ta take candy from strangers.” His words came out in a whisper. “Please mister, let me by.”

The old man smiled. This time there was a little bit of menace. “Do ya always listen to yer Ma, boy?”

The question stopped his mental processes. Of course he didn’t, but when there were times like these (WERE THERE EVER TIMES THAT WERE EXACTLY LIKE SHE DESCRIBED? NONE OF HIS FRIENDS HAD EVER JUMPED OFF A BRIDGE!) he needed to make sure that he did the right thing.

“I ain’t takin’ yer candy mister.”

The old man scowled. “I ain’t even offered any to ya. Ya ingrateful pup.” He pointed the lolly pop at Stan. “This is my candy. The likes of you ain’t worth it.”

Now Stan was a little offended. How was he not worth it? “Sorry mister. Hey can I get by now?”

“Not before ya make a choice. Ya can either take a bite of tha candy, and I’ll let ya get on home, or ya can cross tha street and go ’round. Either way ya show how brave ya are.”

Stanley looked out into the busy street. If he crossed over, moved down, and crossed back his mother would surely know. If he just took a bite of the candy then there’s be nothing saying to his mother that he’d done anything wrong. But if the candy had poison or razor blades or if the man grabbed him then he’d be done for. He felt the tears start to slide down his cheeks. “Please mister. I don’t want no trouble. Just let me by.”

“Make yer choice, boy.” The old man growled.

Stanley looked at the lolly pop and out into the street. Then he looked right. No one had ever told him not to go into the bushes. He dove through the hedge, scraping his bare legs and feeling them yank on his hair. He ran the eight steps that he felt sure would take him past the old man, took two more for good measure, and then dove back through the bushes. He earned a poke to the eye from one branch, but inside of a breath he was back on the sidewalk.

A glance to his left revealed that no one was there. He panicked and looked right, but the street was empty in that direction too. Confused, he broke into a run, hearing his mother’s second call. He got to his front steps, out of breath, flesh stinging from the bushes, but feeling triumphant.

“Stan, what in the Good Lord’s Name have you been up ta?” His mother had her hands on her hips. She didn’t look angry so much as concerned. Here was her boy, bleeding and out of breath.

“Makin’ good choices, Ma. Sometimes they hurt, ain’t they ain’t always the easy ones ta make, but it’s the right thing ta do.”

She shook her head, bemused, but ushered him inside.