Friday, February 25, 2022

2 Minutes. Go!

Sirens cleaved the air, and the twist of red and blue made shadows jump in the darkened alleyway. He had followed the girl as far as he could. She, clutching that long flower box that seemed heavier than flowers. Pale skin and pretty face beneath flat, black. Her skin had been like a homing beacon, a glowing target to follow. The sirens were the answer to a question, but he wasn't sure who asked it. 

He had time to light a cigarette and take a few drags before it was smacked out of his hand. The cops were both white, middle aged. They had that military haircut that made them look like big kids. Round in the middle. Pants sagging with cop crap.

"What the fuck are you doing? We gave you a chance, motherfucker."

"Chance to do what? Suck cop dick? Kiss the boot while it's on my neck?"

"Your chance was to get free. But you didn't. She's still breathing, and you're going to jail. After we fuck you up a little bit."

He started to answer, but a backhand slap rocked him off his feet. It was fine. It would work out. He was done killing pretty ladies. Done before he'd even started. And maybe that meant prison. Maybe that meant that those heavy flowers got delivered. It didn't matter. He'd known he wouldn't kill her from the moment they said her name. 

Those grade school crushes never die. 

He wondered if she still dotted the 'i' in her name with a heart. It didn't matter. He was done being scared, and he was done doing dirty work for crooked motherfuckers. 

The more he thought about it, the better jail sounded. 

He craved sleep.


  1. The power in this piece is palpable, like a beating heart. Nice. Love this line: "The sirens were the answer to a question, but he wasn't sure who asked it."

    1. I love the tense noir style you've used here. The narrative is highly visual and immediate and the hints at the backstory draw the reader in and make them ask for more. As I do. Very well written, Dan.

  2. The garage door glided shut behind him and, eyes closed, Lucifer sat in the silence, grateful to have finally arrived home. It had been a long, dreary day. The white morning had dulled into a gray afternoon, stretched into the indigo of dusk, and finally, at last, culminated into a night as black as his soul.

    He liked black. It soothed him. Black wasn’t the lack of color, as some believed, but the absence of light. Now wasn’t the time for light. Now was the time for darkness, to retreat, take stock, plan his next move. Analyze his recent failure. His fist tightened in his lap as the debacle again rolled through his mind.

    Never again, he thought. Never again will I be humiliated by that—creature.

    The memory of the encounter sent a chill through him, hastening him out of his sleek car and into the house. Three fingers of single malt in a cut-crystal tumbler waited beside the leather chair in front of a crackling fire. He sank into the cushions with a deep sigh.

    “Will there be anything else tonight, sir?”

    Lucifer lolled his head toward his butler, a timid young man whose father had been with the family for eons, and was about to wave him off, but then he had an idea. It would kill two birds with one stone—this young partridge before him needed seasoning, and the other bird needed to be cooked.

    “Yes, James, there will be one more thing.” Lucifer smiled. “Will you join me for a drink?”

    The butler hesitated the perfectly appropriate amount of time, then said, “Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”

    James took the smaller club chair beside him, perched on the lip of the seat. Lucifer laughed. “For blast’s sake, you’re not a dog. You can sit on the furniture without fear that I’ll swat you with the newspaper.”

    The young man then sat properly, though still gave the impression that he’d left the hanger in his suit jacket.

    Lucifer picked up his glass and leaned back, weighing his words. “I’ve been watching you, since you’ve taken on after your father. He’s trained you well. But I’ve noticed a rather…special quality that you have that’s all your own. You’re quiet, efficient… Perhaps you can be of great use to me, in my business.” James blushed. Charming, Lucifer thought. Perfect. “I will pay you, of course.”

    “Oh, I couldn’t. You’ve been more than generous already. You treated my father like family when we left Ukraine, you took me in like I was one of your own. I couldn’t take more of your money.”

    “But I insist,” Lucifer said. “It involves a bit of risk, which demands reward.”

    James visibly swallowed. He looked left, and right, as if anticipating the ghost of his father. “What sort of risk?”

    Lucifer shrugged. “The usual sort of risk that one comes across in my line of work. Very few of those who bargain away their souls are eager to pay up when the bill comes due.”

    James drew a hand to his mouth. “Oh. But I wouldn’t know how to—”

    “There will be training, of course. You might even grow to enjoy it at times.” The man’s dead-eyed, thin-lipped face came to mind, the man who’d defied him, humiliated him, and a growl came from Lucifer’s throat. “Especially the first case I’ll be assigning you.” He told James about the Russian dictator who’d ponied up his soul for infinite wealth and a return of his country’s former glory with no consequences from the rest of the world. If it could be called glory, but Lucifer didn’t judge motives. He just dealt in souls.

    A vulpine smile sharpened the young man’s eyes. “When do we start?”

    1. Oh Laurie. How the mind wanders gladly towards the conclusion.

    2. This is so very timely. I love the way you use a graduation of colour and shade at the beginning, leading us to the lowest level of darkness. I also love the characterisation you've used and the observational details you've drawn to our attention - the dog-like uncertainty of the butler sitting on the edge of the seat - and the way you like both James and his first 'client' as game birds, hinting at the fact that Lucifer is planning all the time and that they're only playthings (or sustenance) to him. All in all, this is excellently written. Bravo!

    3. I really like this take on lucifer. I think this would work for a long story and there is so much you can do with this. And yes, this is heartbreakingly well timed.

  3. "He'd known he wouldn't kill her from the moment they said her name.

    Those grade school crushes never die."

    The power of the past...

  4. The Talisman

    "They were not wearing seat belts."

    How many times have I read that phrase after a fatal car accident?

    It was the phrase that appeared in the article about the accident that killed my brother Christmas 1981.

    It's the reason I never, ever drive/ride in a car unbelted.

    None of us really like to be told we HAVE to do something, even something we know we SHOULD do. But seat belts are pretty much the law of the land and statistics show it's a common sense law. A good law. I simply don't understand why you wouldn't use a proven safety feature that's available.

    To be 100% honest, after Chris's accident, I went to the site to see why it was taking so long to remove his body. Thomas Tsunetomi Noguchi, "The Coroner to the Stars" had not yet arrived at the site. Why he couldn't send a minion is beyond me.

    Digression from my tale—From Wikipedia—(野口 恒富, Noguchi Tsunetomi, born January 4, 1927) is the former Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner for the County of Los Angeles. He resigned from the office, under pressure, in 1968 over inappropriate comments he was alleged to have made, but was restored soon after. He was forced out a second time, in 1982, over allegations of mismanagement—I have no doubt that one of the mismanagement allegations was the handling of my brother's death. His refusal to sign off on the autopsy to release my brother's body to the family required legal intervention, obviously more bullshit than a grieving family needed. All the facts were known. The driver was drug impaired—as were the passengers. LEO Investigators determined the exact method leading to the rollover. Case closed). Sorry, I'm still pissed at Noguchi. What I have to admit is that the paramedics I spoke with couldn't say with any certainty that Chris would have lived if he'd been wearing a seat belt. During the rollover the top of the Bronco was torn off and he was thrown into the path of the rolling vehicle. If he'd been belted, he likely would have suffered severe head injury so being crushed by the vehicle may well have been a blessing. We'll never know. But it made me seatbelt conscious for life.

    You may be the best, safest driver in the world, but shit that you have no control over happens. I ask you, in memory of Christopher Miles Guttormson, wear your seat belt. Do it so someone you love doesn't spend their life keeping a plant that they were given at your funeral alive for the next 41 years.

    After all these years the plant has become both a talisman and a curse. I almost believe that if it dies, I will too. It's survived my merely semi-green thumb. It's survived 6 days boxed in a dark moving semi-truck from California to Kansas. It's survived my ex-wife's overzealous attempt to rid it of a mite infestation. Recovery from that involved uprooting, a 3 day root water bath and repotting in a new pot and soil by Ms. Merely-green thumb in approximately 2007.

    Recently it was repotted again to a pot better suited to deep root growth as my research showed that was what would suit it best. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about my efforts to keep it alive. Were my brother still alive I would devote just as much effort to his recovery and well being. It is what it is.

    Hope this hasn't been too much of a ramble but feels good to lay it all out of my head and onto the page.

    Just be safe my friends. No matter what. I like you in my life.

    1. {{{{{hugs}}}}} Thank you for writing.

    2. We so often see the facilities provided for our safety as an inconvenience and the instructions we're given to use them as an imposition and a removal of our civil liberty. It's such a huge shame that for the sake of a simple act so many lives are lost or damaged beyond repair. And not only the lives of the injured or killed, but also those of the people who love or loved them. You wouldn't wish a tragedy on these people, but if they could only be made to share your grief for a moment, I'm sure that the problem would halve overnight. Thank you so much for sharing your pain - I hope inspires at least one of us to do a little better and to not resist the common-sense instructions we're given. *hugs*

    3. This is a really strong piece and a message I agree with. I especially was struck by this line: Do it so someone you love doesn't spend their life keeping a plant that they were given at your funeral alive for the next 41 years.

  5. The first minister looked conspicuous as a civilian. Even in his street clothes, he had the air of someone who was accustomed to being obeyed, his displeasure at not immediately being handed his drink when he put his hand out to receive it manifesting itself as a deep sigh and a refusal to acknowledge the server.

    “It was all completely deliberate,” he said, his tone dry and his phrasing curt and waspish. “You can blame it on the Chinese, of course. They were the reason for everything that happened here after ’82.”

    I nodded. I remembered the media files from that time; the imagery of the Uniforms massing in Red Square and then sweeping across the continent. They drove all the indigent people away from their home nations, an irresistible occupying force that rarely slowed, pausing only to gather the materials to reproduce, their numbers doubling every ten days until they outnumbered any reactionary militia dispatched to resist them. It was inevitable that they would win – they were the immeasurable rock that couldn’t be diverted once it had begun to roll. A few small pockets of the displaced remained at large for a few months though, the Uniform army relying on its brute dominance and rate of growth to overcome anyone from the defeated countries’ original populations that refused to evacuate from their homes. The oppressors’ marching androids were suddenly everywhere, sweeping the continent shoulder to shoulder like a vast, implacable sea of red tunics, pushing outward in all directions until there was nowhere else to run but into the sea. Nobody knows what happened to all the people who were displaced; the histories of that time are understandably muddled and vague.

    “It was the Silence that made things worse here in the British Isles,” the minister continued, raising the bone-China cup he’d been given to his lips. He sipped and then scowled after he swallowed, the Earl Gray tea he’d assumed he’d be given clearly not matching up to his expectations. He put the cup and its saucer back together and placed them carefully beneath his chair, frowning when the liquid from the cup spilt and then overflowed onto the rug at his feet. He then sat for a few moments, disengaged, his eyes looking past me and then to the door. The room became quiet and the sounds from outside began to intrude, the sharp cawing of crows from the park and the amiable cooing of the pigeons on the roof echoing down the chimney. In another room, downstairs, a clock began to chime, its bells reminding of England and the Westminster where this minister used to work, adding his name to documents without reading them and following the instructions of the senior officials above him.

    1. “And how did that develop to where we are now,” I asked, keen to break the deadlock he’d fallen into. “The farming laws, the Pesticide Acts, the clearances of the forests; what was it that brought those about? You said there was something you were ashamed of, something you’d regretted back then. You spoke of a mandate from someone at the highest level, higher even the Prime Minister and the Government at the time. You said that the statute of limitations had expired and that you’d be able to reveal something more, give me some hints for the reasoning behind the decisions that led to the Decline.”

      This was it. This was why we were here now. I’d been promised a meeting with the minister who’d authorised the documents that had changed our world. He had been one among many, that was true, but we’d been among the first. One of the first nations in the Western world to break the cycle of agriculture that had sustained us for the whole of our history. There was to be no going back after this decision; the repercussions would be that everyone’s lives would change on these islands, we would step away from a time of variety and plenitude into a future that was uncertain and grey.

      The minister looked up again, abandoning his innermost thoughts, reengaging with me and the present. I’d like to think he continued to feel guilty for the actions he’d set into motion. People like him were always protected, brought up by their nannies when they were children and then eased into a world where no one would refuse them anything they asked for. The family name, the school tie, the connections they made; nothing was ever in doubt. They would live out their lives in wealth, living in a happy complacency away from the people their decisions would affect.

      If there’s a hell, he’ll suffer for eternity there, force-fed until he splits from the avarice and greed he'd enjoyed while he was alive.

      “It was the bees,” he said, his hesitancy making him less articulate and less confident about the promise he’d made to talk to me. “We were in doubt about their being agents for a foreign power, being used to infiltrate and gather information on matters of state, national security, decisions affecting the country’s economy. We decided they’d all have to go, that we would eradicate them all in one fell swoop.”

      I gasped, remembering the collapse of our economy, the country’s farmers at first jubilant when they heard they could use the most potent pesticides available to maximise the yields of their crops. It was only when almost all the nation’s pollinating insects died the next year that they realised how dependent we’d all been on Nature’s most insignificant helpers. The famines that followed that year led to us needing to rely on preparations of fungi and algal pastes to create the food we all ate, flavourless blonde bread and albino steaks becoming the staple diet for everyone in our crippled nation. It seemed impossible we that would have chosen to do this, that we would have considered it worth the risk to change our world with a stroke of a pen.

    2. So chilling. So many haunting images, very visual. I like how you set up the minister and the expectations of how he should be treated. Beautifully done with the cup of Earl Grey. "It was the bees." _shudder_

    3. This is a really strong piece of writing. Chilling, I agree, but there is enough detachment that it can feel clinical, which makes it more or less chilling depending on how you read it. The tone is super interesting.

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  7. seek tranquillity,
    follow the balm,
    still the runaway
    machine that we ride

    unravel the culture,
    throw down the arms,
    licking at salt till
    the healing begins

    today is the first day,
    when the poetry we write
    can resurface unbroken
    with beautiful wounds

    a conservative anguish,
    rearranged and made sweet,
    until the sanctuaries open
    and the helpless find peace


    It was quiet in the city, although I could still hear the drone of tanks’ engines to the west. We were being urged along by a pair of Soviet soldiers, driven by jabs from their rifles. The voices bleeding from their combat headsets were only just loud enough for me to hear that what was about to happen next had been officially sanctioned.

    “Okay,” my soldier said. “Now it’s time for you two to deliver a message to your people.” I heard a click when he released his rifle’s safety, and the other soldier kicked Artem in his chest, sending him sprawling against a wall.

    The wall was one of the few in the city left undamaged, most of the taller buildings in the central square now demolished either by shellfire or by the tanks that followed. It was grey, very tall and almost a block in length. Artem looked small and broken, like a piece of garbage blown against it. I suddenly knew what was going to happen to us both.

    Two more soldiers arrived to watch, one of them an officer, judging by the tags on his shoulders. The other was struggling with a box, one I recognised.

    He’d brought my aerosols and the stencils that they’d seized when they arrested us - when they’d caught us trying to spray our tags onto one of their tanks.

    “Your attention, please,” the officer said. “I need you to paint us some slogans – patriotic ones, of course.”

  9. Damn, this is an awesome piece of flash. So compact, but there is so much in here. And the ending hits perfectly.


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