“Riding the Rails.” Friday Flash Fics by Jeff Baker, April 13, 2019.

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Riding the Rails

By Jeff Baker

 

I’d ducked into the freight car thinking the train was headed west. By the time I realized we were heading north there was no way to jump off. But I was seventeen that year and had nowhere else to go. We, meant me and the older man I found hiding behind a row of boxes in the train car.

“You really shouldn’t be here, kid,” the man said. His clothes looked shabby, including his jacket and worn shoes. His felt hat looked like he’d slept on it.

“I know,” I said. “I hadn’t expected to be on the road. But my parents split and I didn’t want to be sent off to a boy’s home, so I hit the road. I’ve been on the road for about a year. I turned eighteen last summer.” Except for the reason I cut out most of that was a lie.

“George Peters,” the man said, not extending his hand.

“Bryce Going,” I said. That was a lie too but I was protecting myself.

“I know how you must feel, kid,” Peters said. “I was about sixteen in the early thirties when my folks lost everything they had and I spent the Depression bumming across the country, riding the rails, working to earn my keep and some food along the way. Keeping an eye out for bulls when I hopped a freight. Learning to read the symbols we riders would carve in people’s fences, learning which ones were warnings. It could be rough, but there were moments I wouldn’t have traded. Riding on top of one of these cars as it stretched and travelled across the country with the sun setting.” He shook his head and smiled.

So far, I didn’t have any memories like that. The last year or so had been hectic and unpleasant. I had no problem with running away across the country but I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I got there. Wherever there was. I had planned just to go west, maybe to L.A. but I did not have any specific plan. I probably should have. Or maybe I should just stop the wandering.

“Where’s this train going anyway?” I asked.

“I think up to Canada,” George said. “It depends on its mood.”

“Okay,” I said. I’d learned not to push when someone started sounding a little crazy.

We rode on for several more hours, hiding behind the boxes when the train stopped, so, as George put it, “the bulls” wouldn’t find us and throw us off the train. Or worse. It was past ten in the evening by my watch when George said that since the train wouldn’t stop until next morning I should try getting some sleep. I sat down in a corner with one hand on the knife I carried with me. I was taking no chances.

Light shined in my face, waking me. I saw blue sky, felt hard ground and saw a man standing over me. I about jumped up. But I realized I was caught, wherever I was.

“Hold on there fella,” the man said. He must have noticed me tensing up. I was tense, I didn’t know where I was—had I fallen off the train?

“Mind telling me where I am?” I asked cautiously.

“You’re just outside Hawkes, Wisconsin,” the man said. “Mind telling me how you got here?”

I didn’t seem to be hurt. I rubbed my head and decided to come clean.

“I think I got thrown off a train,” I said.

“Train?” the man said. “There’s no train around here, not since they built the airport over in Deadstone.”

“What?” I managed to say. “I got on a train about, well down in Missouri.” I was trying to remember my geography.

“No railroad line has run up through here in almost twenty years,” the man said. “Look for yourself.” He pointed over to where I could see what looked like an old depot building. I could see peeling paint and shattered windows and a caved-in roof. “Storm got the building; they had no reason to repair it.”

I got up and walked over to the building. What caught my attention were the railroad tracks, or what was left of them. They were overgrown with weeds in front of the depot but they trailed off into nothing a few yards away where they had been removed.

“There’s talk of putting in a highway where the tracks were,” the man said, “but for now there’s a bus that comes by once a week.”

I kept staring at the overgrown tracks, and thinking of George. I almost imagined I could hear a train whistle.

 

—end—

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“A Gentleman Dapper…” Friday Flash Fics for April 5, 2019 by Jeff Baker.

Had a bit of trouble posting the picture prompt; Suffice to say it was a shot of a woman in a red outfit with a red hat topped by a red rose. So, I put my author photo up.013 

A Gentleman Dapper Stepped Out Of The Phone Booth

By Jeff Baker

 

I knew the Lady in Red was trouble when she stepped into my office. Ladies in red are usually in trouble when they go see a private eye.

“I need your help,” she said. “My husband is cheating on me.”

“You want me to follow him or something?” I asked. “I really don’t do that sort of thing.”

“It’s more than that,” she said. “My husband is dead. Or, he’s supposed to be dead. He faked his own death. Six months ago. There was a car crash, fire, an explosion. And in his will he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered. But if he’s still alive, it means we’re still married, and I have reason to believe he’s moved in with a woman. Do you have anything to drink?”

I had a bottle in my desk drawer but it was full of spare change.

“What exactly do you want me to do?” I asked.

“Mmmm maybe something like this,” she said. She leaned over my desk and pressed her full lips against mine. After at least a full minute, we pulled apart, both of us grinning.

“Thank you for finding my husband,” she said. “And happy anniversary.”

“What anniversary?” I asked.

“You moved into this office two years ago, remember?” she said with another grin.

“Oh, yeah, right…” I said. I’d been busy and it had slipped my mind. “Where did you get the outfit?” I asked, looking at the flowered red hat, the feathered red boa and the slinky red dress, oh that slinky red dress…

“This old thing? I hardly wear it anymore,” she said flicking the boa in the air. “Theater wardrobe room. I’ve done favors for them; they did this one for me.”

“I think I may close up early,” I said. The Lady in Red grinned again.

As we walked into the hallway, she was singing a tune I’d never heard before:

“Then a gentleman dapper

Stepped out of the…phone booth

And…”

“What is that?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, “but it’s the only other song I know that mentions a lady in red.”

 

—end—

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In a Fog with Friday Flash Fics for March 22, 2019 by Jeff Baker

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                            McGuffin and the London Peril

By Jeff Baker

 

Delmar and I were waiting on a cab and made the mistake of going back into the clubroom and old Plunkett asked about the fog.

“That fog out there is nothing,” the voice came from the far chair. “The fog some years ago caused people to disappear.”

McGuffin sat in his regular chair and sipped his whiskey. We couldn’t stop him from talking so we sat down and listened.

I was a much younger man (McGuffin said) and eager for adventure. So, when the third man, this time and MP vanished in the fog, the authorities called me, based on my work with Intelligence. There were no signs of foul play, except three people were gone. The MP had been seen last just a few blocks away from the Houses of Parliament, umbrella in hand. No trace had been found. I realized three other things the men had in common: They were male, they were unmarried and they were alone at the time they were last seen. There was another man, Kensington, who had said he had, well, felt something when he was out in the same area at the same time in an earlier evening. As I remember we had quite the time questioning him. Kensington was deaf as a post and too vain to use his hearing aid.

And that was when I realized what was happening.

I outlined my suspicions to the other investigators; one of the legendary Sirens, such as Jason and the Argonauts had faced. This one only seemed to affect the unmarried, but the solution was simple; no unmarried male should go walking in the area except in the company of a married man or a woman. Small marching bands were placed around the streets to drown out the Siren’s song. And we needed do this only until the weather changed.

McGuffin paused and finished his whiskey.

“The weather?” I asked. “What about the weather?”

“The same unseasonably warm currents that had helped bring the fog had brought the Siren with it from the area of the Pillars of Hercules. When the water cooled, the Siren left. Ahh!”

McGuffin’s reaction was to the waiter bringing a plate of sole and another whiskey.

“This fish,” McGuffin said, “is far less dangerous.”

 

—end—

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“Nothing Annoys Them So Much,” Friday Flash Fics by Jeff Baker for March 15, 2019.

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Nothing Annoys Them So Much

By Jeff Baker

 

The tree was still there at the edge of town and whenever I saw it, the memories would come back, memories of a summer afternoon when I was ten years old in 1882.

It was early summer and not too warm for Kansas and so the men were playing their weekly game of base-ball and watching this was my own weekly fun. We had the usual group standing (and in some cases sitting) around and watching the play of the game and I was standing in the shade of the big tree, wishing I was old and big enough to play with my father, my oldest brother Samuel and Dillard Jellicoe who everyone said was built like a bull. There was one newcomer to the audience for the game, the man who had stayed at Mayor Everett’s house after giving some talk at the church the night before. He was supposed to be famous but I hadn’t heard of him. He was wearing a long black coat, pressed black pants (Sam told me he had worn knee-breeches at his talk the night before) and a white shirt. He had a longish nose, black hair down to his shoulders and he carried an umbrella which he was using to protect himself from the sun. I crept closer, wondering why he simply didn’t stand under the shade of the tree but I overheard him say he wanted to see what he called “the new spectacle.” He was watching intently, however.

Someone pointed Dillard Jellicoe out to him and he nodded referring to “the loud young man who had been asked to leave” during the stranger’s talk the previous evening. I saw Jellicoe eyeing the stranger and his face reminded me of an angry bull.

The game had reached the height of play when Jellicoe suddenly ran across the field, directly at the stranger, the other players being occupied at third base and home plate. Jellicoe let out a loud yell and jumped at the stranger and I closed my eyes.

I heard a loud thud. Two of them really.

I opened my eyes. Someone was lying there in the dirt, and the stranger was standing over him, his feet spread, his arm outstretched, fist clenched.

“I boxed a bit while I was at University in Dublin,” the stranger said.

I made sure I was there that evening when the stranger caught the train. He bowed to the small crowd on the railway platform (Dillard Jellicoe conspicuously not among them) and then announced “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.” He turned to where I was standing and winked. “Except maybe a fist to the jaw!”

 

—end—

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The Library Dancer—Friday Flash Fics by Jeff Baker (On Saturday again!) March 9, 2019

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The Library Dancer

By Jeff Baker

 

The young woman pirouetted around the tall bookcases in spite of wearing high heels, her dress flowing around her legs like an upside down flower.

Crouched behind a low bookcase, the two men stared and the one whispered to the other.

“There, Basil,” said the shorter of the two. “Perfect specimen of a Library Dancer!”

“And a female!” Basil replied, whispering. “Note the newsprint pattern of the dress.”

“Notice something else,” Willie replied. “She’s in a bookstore, not a library. That’s rare!”

“Almost unheard of,” Basil said.

The two men watched as the Dancer moved from one section of the bookstore to another, executing one graceful move after the other; now a pas de dux, now a swirl, now something bringing to mind Pavlova’s Swan.

“Remember the one we had to run out of the Brooksdale Library?” Basil whispered. “A male exotic dancer!”

“Oh, yes!” Willie said. “Half the men were titillated, the other were jealous!”

“And then there’s the pair in the Notre Dame Library. Not many places have a pair.”

“Rather incongruous having a pair of square dancers, but they don’t seem to bother anyone,” Willie added. “Oooo! Look what she’s doing now!”

The Dancer was balanced on the tall ladder the employees used to reach the high shelves, hopping from one rung to the next, ever higher. Then, she looked down and realized she was being observed. There was a sudden whoosh of air and Basil turned his head just in time to catch a last glimpse of the Dancer zipping behind the books on a high shelf.

“Some of them,” Basil observed, “are shy.”

 

—end—

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A Caged Bird (Way Late for Friday Flash Fics, March 3, 2019) by Jeff Baker

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                          I Know Why The Caged Bird Stings

By Jeff Baker

 

I had been in minimum security about two months and it was a big change from being behind the walls. In minimum it was more like a dorm. We had a room furnished like a motel room which we had to share with somebody and the doors were almost never locked. We had to have a pass to leave and we had to be back at a certain time but we could leave, which was a big change. Some of us had jobs on the outside, some of us just went in town to see a movie or eat real food. Plus, we could wear our own clothes, which was a nice change from a “state blue” uniform.

My cellie Pete actually had a girlfriend.

I should explain. The facility just outside of town was made up of two minimum-security dorms, one for guys, one for girls. They both shared the same exercise yard, and while the yard and some of the classes they offered were co-ed, the rest of the facility was not. The no fraternization rule was strictly enforced. I kept to myself; I didn’t even know Pete’s girlfriend’s name. (No, Pete and I didn’t talk that much.)

Anyway, I figured Pete and his girlfriend were meeting up somewhere in town when they were supposedly working and got tattoos on their hands. One was a cage with its door open; the other was a bird flying free. Yeah, real subtle. Especially when you weren’t supposed to get any tattoos while you were in prison. (Yeah, I know, every prison I’d been in looked like a tattoo convention.) The guards would have figured it out except Pete and the girl broke up. Like I said, they weren’t supposed to be together, but they met around the back of one of the buildings when we were all out in the yard. I didn’t see them go but soon everybody heard them arguing and then they heard a crash and a lot of shouting. The guards started running towards the noise and I thought about it too for a second, but I didn’t need the trouble. Besides, I figured I’d find out what happened later.

Which I did.

Apparently, Pete had told her it was over and she proceeded to knock the crap out of him.

I guess she spent some time in the hole and Pete spent a week in the infirmary and then a week in the hole. Me, I had my room to myself for two weeks. Pure bliss.

Or, as close to bliss as one of those places ever gets.

 

—end—

Author’s Note: “The Hole” is prison slang for solitary confinement. 

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A Flash Fiction Fragment for Friday Flash Fics, by Jeff Baker (Feb. 22, 2019.)

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The Shadow From Khem

By Jeff Baker

 

My studies at University having finished, and thus having been given a clean bill of health from academia, I went into the wide world to seek my fortune. If I had known that I would have encountered Madame Pyrrah I would have stayed home.

She seemed exotic and mysterious when I first saw her at the museum. She seemed to know as much about the artifacts as I did and she mentioned the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, (Mind you this was in the year 1897.) I complimented her on her curiosity and introduced myself as Arthur Ward, “Artie” to my friends. I encountered her several times and that was when the dreams started.

They always involved her.

In one, I saw here on the prairie, kneeling and summoning a whirlwind. In another, I saw a vast, starlit expanse of desert with a lithe figure walking towards me. Knowing what I know now, I must assume the dreams were a portent of some kind, for I always awoke in a cold sweat, and to the certainty that for a moment there was someone else in the room with me…

 

Author’s Note: Only got around to writing a beginning this week, inspired by my recent reading of some of Sax Rohmer’s Egyptian-themed horror stories.

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