Snow Day—Monday Flash Fics

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                                          Shadows and Snow

                                                By Jeff Baker

 

            Steve ran in and slammed the door shut behind him before we could yell at him to stop letting in the cold. The blizzard had hit right before noon and the College had already cancelled classes. Steve must have walked from the school cafeteria where he worked the lunch shift, back to our frat house. He looked like he’d been body surfing in Antarctica.

            “I’m f-f-f-freezing,” Steve said. “And my shadow’s after me.”

            Johnny B. sat on the couch by the unlit fireplace (we had a furnace); Kevin looked up from the trig textbook he was studying. We all stared.

            “Well, if you don’t believe me, look!” Steve said, pointing at the front window.

            I Study Nada, as we called ourselves, was in an old brick building that had been a girl’s dorm in the 1950’s. Two stories, bathrooms on each floor, storm windows and our charter were up-to-date.  The closest to a wild party any of us had held involved a movie night where we lost one of the library’s DVD’s. As stereotypical fraternities go, we were pretty placid. Until that afternoon when we crowded around the front window and saw a dark figure walking down the tree-lined street in the blowing snow.

            “See! That’s it!” Steve said.

            “That’s not a shadow, that’s somebody,” Johnny B. said.

            “Anybody would look like a shadow out there,” Kevin said, making a spooky “oooooooo” noise.

            “Guys,” I said my throat dry. “Look.”

            On the floor, in the light from the lamp over the table, I could clearly see our shadows. Mine, Kevin’s and Johnny B.’s. But not Steve’s. I moved the lamp. Nope. No shadow.

            “See?” Steve said.

            “Woah!” Kevin said.

            “Just like Dracula,” Johnny B. said.

            “Or Peter Pan,” I added.

            “How did that thing get loose?” Johnny B. asked.

            “I dunno,” Steve said. “I was walking through the back hallway, under all those lights, and all of a sudden my shadow started bouncing around the wall and waving its arms at me. I grabbed my hoodie and ran. Hey, could you guys turn up the heat or something?”

            I was staring out the window again; the shadow or whatever it was had been obscured in a blast of swirling snow.

            “I think it’s gone,” I said.

            “I’m going to my room and curl up under some blankets,” Steve said. “I’m still cold.”

            About a half hour later I went upstairs to get something from my room and I noticed Steve’s door (which was across the hall from mine) was open. I peeked in, his desk light was on and he was asleep in bed, blankets pulled around him. And standing at the end of the bed was his shadow.

            It spoke, in a deep, shadowy voice, like when you try to talk underwater.

            “We are not whole apart,” it said. “I am lost without you. And you are always warmer with your shadow.”

            It was gone in an instant, but the shadow of Steve in his bed suddenly stretched across the floor. In his sleep, Steve smiled and rolled over.

            I shut the door quietly and went back downstairs.

 

                                                 —end—

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A Summing Up Of Sorts

For the last twenty years or so I’ve written down what I did on New Year’s Eve and a reflection on the ending year, maybe to keep a record or spur myself ahead. I always thought of publishing them and may some day. But here’s my rumination on December 31, 2016 and before.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Words of gloom, pessimism and deception with an end result that confirmed a lot about what H.L. Menken said about the American people. Personally, it was a better year for me; my productivity rate on the writing increased, I actually published two regular-length short-stories, wrote a lot more and began writing one flash fiction story a week for the “Monday Flash Fics” Facebook page. Ray Bradbury encouraged writers to write one short-story a week and that’s what I’ve been doing. I also started a monthly column on Queer Sci Fi (Thanks, J. Scott!) and am planning to start the year by writing a novel. We went to the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August where I got to meet and thank some of the authors who influenced my decision to become a writer in the first place.

Best of all, Darryl and I were married on November 14, 2016, in what I call a “shotgun wedding” down at the courthouse to stave off any changes in the laws about who can marry whom.

And on New Year’s Eve, both of us planned on staying up, but I knew better. I hit the sack sometime after 10:30 p.m. and the end of the Carson rerun on MeTV. Darryl sacked-out with me about fifteen minutes later, but I was out like a light. We’d heard an occasional firework popping but they woke me up around 11:40. I thought about getting up, but instead, I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Happy New Year! The future lies ahead.

——-Jeff Baker, January 1, 2017, 10:37p.m.

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Spooky New Year’s Eve, Everybody!

Something to end the year with! Happy New Year!

                                 At The Stroke of Midnight

                                            By Jeff Baker

 

            “Aw, come on, Uncle Billy! Please?”

            “Let us stay up! Pleeeeeeease?”

            “No deal, guys,” Billy Gonzalez said. “I told your Mom and Dad I’d get you to bed by 10 P.M.”

            “But you’re staying up!” Billy’s younger nephew Tyler said.

            “Yeah, but I’m twenty and I have to study,” Billy said, holding up a textbook. “Besides, there’s nothing really to see. New Year’s Eve is just another night.” 

            “We wanna see Old Man New Year,” his older nephew Alex said.

            “Who?” Tyler asked.

            Billy laughed.

            “The old man isn’t the new year, at least not anymore. The little baby is the New Year.”

            “What little baby?” Tyler asked.

            “Not mine,” Billy said with a grin.  “Well they say that if you watch really close at the stroke of midnight, you can see an old man leaving the room and a little baby walking in. Now, bedtime for you two.”

            “Awwwwwwww!” they said in unison.

            “Tell you what; if you head off to bed right now I promise I’ll wake you up around midnight, okay?”

            “Okay,” they said a little glumly as they walked off to their bedroom.

            “Nite-night guys,” Billy called after them. “Oh, and no texting in there or I’ll let you sleep through the New Year.”

            Billy checked the fridge. Lunchmeat and one bottle of beer, way in the back. Good. He’d save the beer for after midnight. He made a sandwich and plopped down on the living room couch, munching on the sandwich as he opened the textbook and started to read, keeping an ear out for sounds from his nephew’s bedroom. He caught himself dozing a couple of times and thought about turning on the T.V. Finally he set the book down and stretched out on the couch and closed his eyes.

            Billy woke to the sound of fireworks popping outside. He checked his cellphone; not quite midnight, yet. He stood up and looked around. The room was dark; he only had the light by the couch on.

            And then there was something moving in the shadows of the room.

            Billy froze. The figure in the corner was tall and wearing what looked like a tattered bathrobe with a hood. Something glinted in the figure’s hands; a sharp, metal blade at the end of a curved pole. Billy realized what he was seeing; someone dressed up as Old Man New Year. He could just make out a banner wrapped around the figure with the year written on it, the last number trailing into a smudge. Billy could barely make out a large, dark hourglass hanging from the figure’s belt.

            But how had he gotten in here? Then the figure stepped into the light. Its arms were almost skeletal and its face was frozen in an open-mouthed expression, skin withered making the head look like one of those dolls with the head carved out of an apple. This was the face when the apple went bad. And as Billy noticed the figure’s cheek twitching, he realized it was no mask.

            The figure advanced on Billy and raised its scythe. Billy backed up, stumbled over the edge of the couch and fell on the floor as the figure swung its scythe point down at Billy, who closed his eyes and choked on a scream. Nothing happened. After a moment, Billy opened his eyes. The figure and his scythe were gone. Billy could hear the popping of fireworks in the distance. He checked the time; 12:00 midnight. He could hear his nephews stirring in their bedroom. He headed to the fridge, he needed that beer.

            And then, from farther off than the fireworks, he heard a baby’s cry…

 

                                                     —end—

 

Author’s note: The Billy Gonzalez stories (There are about three by my last count) owe a lot to L. Sprague De Camp’s stories about Willy Newberry, who likewise got involved in the spooky and weird.father-time

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“The Mystery of Pere Noel,” Monday Flash Fics for Christmas, 2016

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(For my Christmas story, I decided to give myself a present—I’d always wanted to write a story about Edgar Allan Poe’s great precursor to Sherlock Holmes, C. Auguste Dupin. While there have been many Holmes pastiches, those of Dupin are few and far between. So, here is a macabre Christmas mystery. Not every Christmas in Paris is a white Christmas, but this one is. And it brings death…)

The Mystery of Pere Noel

(A Tale of the Chevalier Dupin)

By Jeff Baker

Le monde est un livre dont chaque pas nous ouvre une page —Alphonse de Lamartine

It was the chilly December of 184_, and Dupin and I were in our rooms, close to the fire happily engrossed in our books. Myself in Stendhal’s “Le Rouge et le Noir,” Dupin in “La Mare au Diable” by the remarkable George Sand, worlds away from the unaccustomed snow which had blanketed Paris. The buildings were topped in white and even some of the canals, having frozen over, were covered in snow. Some brave or foolhardy soul had even walked across the canal, leaving footprints as if it were merely another street, not a trap for the unwary. There was none of that in the room to break the reverie of firelight, shadow and the smoke from Dupin’s pipe. Nonetheless, when there was a rapping at the door, Dupin did not seem surprised.

“That will be G—–, the Prefect of Police,” he said without looking up.

“What makes you believe it would be G—–?” I asked.

“Only someone with pressing business would come here on a day like this,” Dupin said. “Anyone else standing outside in such bitter cold would rap on our door persistently, but G—– of course, is used to being attended to immediately as befits his authority. Others would knock repeatedly, the knock of a worried man. The business he has with us must be dire indeed for him to venture forth today, thus G—– is our visitor.” Dupin was soon proved correct as we heard the sound of snow being stamped off boots and quickly G—– was ushered into our presence, complaining about the weather.  After greeting our visitor, and offering him smoke, Dupin went straight to the point of the matter.

“I believe you bring grim news, if I am not mistaken,” Dupin said.

“Indeed Monsieur Dupin,” G—– said, his face set. “Murder, brutal murder. There have been three. One upon each of the last three days.”

“Mon Dieu!” I gasped.

“The victims stabbed,” the Prefect said. “In their own rooms.”

“Where,” Dupin said. “And at what time of day?”

“Early each evening,” the Prefect said. “In three different homes, each at the end of their streets. With one other odd similarity.”

“Which is?” Dupin asked.

“Each time, the figure of Pere Noel was seen standing in front of the house where the killing was to take place. A figure not terribly uncommon so close to Christmas. But here it seems to be a premonition.”

“Has no one stopped this apparition?” Dupin asked.

“No one thought to,” G—– said. “The last sighting this morning was after the snowfall and the witness to the apparition swore that it left no footprints in the snow.”

“Do you have the locations where the killings took place?” Dupin asked.

“Right here, Monsieur Dupin,” G—– said, withdrawing a folded paper from his coat. “It is the only other thing we have to go on.”

As Dupin quickly read through the paper, the Prefect explained that the three killings had taken place on streets not too far from one another in the same area of town.

“The first killing took place at Number 79 on the Rue de H—-. “The second at Number 83, Rue de P—-.”

“And the one this morning?” I asked.

“Rue de P—–,” the Prefect said. “At Number 89.”

“Mon Dieu!” Dupin exclaimed suddenly. “I do not know the motivation behind the killings, but I can tell you there will be another, and I know where the killing will occur!”

“Seriously, Dupin, do you know who is behind these atrocities?” G—– asked.

“A killer with an intellect almost, perhaps, as brilliant as myself!” Dupin said. “By all means, position watching officers around the residences of homes numbered 97. Make haste! And this time, instruct them to apprehend any lurker in the area garbed as Pere Noel! By then it will be too late, his appearance does not forecast the killings it postdates them!”

By now all of Paris knows the outcome; the Prefect and his men apprehended the killer as he was scaling the back wall of Number 97 on the Rue J—–, dressed of course like Pere Noel. The murderer was obsessed with mathematical progression and each address number was one of a series of specific numbers; in this case, the prime numbers, 79, 83, 89, 97 and so on, if he had not been stopped, if Dupin had not seen what should have been clearly visible to our eyes. And the uniform chosen by the madman, as Dupin explained to us later, was not meant to forecast a killing but to conceal one.

“No one, Mon ami,” Dupin said grimly, “would give a second glance to a man garbed in the familiar red costume, a costume selected to conceal the blood of the victim of a murderer.”

 

—end—

 

——- For Helena Stone and the people on the  Monday Flash Fics site. And in memory of Edgar Allan Poe.

 

 

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Christmas Story; “Christmas at Demeter’s Bar”

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(Author’s note: I owe ‘Nathan Burgoine for this idea, of posting some Christmas stories using characters we’ve written about. I haven’t done a lot of blog hops, so it seemed like fun! About a year and a half ago I started writing sci-fi stories told out of a bar in the mode of DeCamp and Pratt’s Gavagan’s Bar stories and Clarke’s “Tales From the White Hart.” To my surprise, I placed one of the stories in an anthology and have posted another online. There are five written so far, with more on the way and several plotted out. So, here’s a story that brings some of the various characters together. Happy reading!)

Christmas At Demeter’s Bar

By Jeff Baker

 

Demeter’s Bar closed up early the Wednesday before Christmas for their annual Christmas party. The lights were hanging over the side of the bar and around the big, round mirror behind it that Mrs. DeLeon said had come with the place, somehow making it look bigger.

Zack, the young-looking bartender with the shoulder-length red hair, grinned as he hoisted a crate onto the bar.

“Found these in the back, Mrs. Deleon. Under the box of napkins.”

“Good,” she said. Hang the plastic ones on top of the tree.”

“On it,” Zack said, rummaging through the box.

“Careful with those,” she said. “They’re plastic, but they were my Grandmother’s. I have her glass ones at home.”

The little Christmas tree had been set up at the corner of the small dance floor right next to the DJ’s booth.

“Hey, here’s mine,” Samuel said, handing her a small ornament. “You did this last year, didn’t you?”

“I do it every year, inviting all my friends and having them bring a decoration,” she said. “This is my family, so I have them come and decorate the party tree.”

The tree was festooned with a couple of plastic oranges, a little nutcracker, a model of the Golden Gate Bridge, a tiny spaceship whose lights twinkled and a stuffed bear in a Santa Claus suit.

“The bear is mine,” Regina said in a husky voice.

Likewise Mrs. De Leon knew Scotty, in his San Francisco sweatshirt, had brought the bridge.

“Hey, this eggnog’s wonderful, Mrs. DeLeon,” said the man in the suit and tie sitting in a booth with a sweet-faced middle-aged woman. Mr. Ross, who came to repair their ice machine usually every couple of weeks. He had become as much of a regular as some of their regulars. Vicki, who worked at the bar during the evenings, was laughing with Mr. Ross.

In the next booth, Miss Parker and Miss Anne were quietly holding hands as they glanced around, the lights reflecting off their gray hair. In another booth, three other women, considerably younger, were giggling like they were on a High School date. Brandi, Megan and Allison were about the same age as Day, Raven and Vicki who worked the evening shift and were trying to remember that Mrs. DeLeon had told them this was a party, they weren’t working and to help themselves to the eggnog.

Two other men were laughing with Zack as they wrapped a large garland of golden tinsel around the tree. One of them was Scotty’s husband and the other was Paco’s current boyfriend but Mrs. DeLeon wasn’t sure which was which. She glanced at the wall behind them where someone had pinned a Santa hat on a poster of a buff young man in a g-string. Christmas everywhere, she thought.

The line from A Christmas Carol kept going through her head: “Wonderful party, wonderful games, won-der-ful happiness!”

“You want some Christmas music?” That came from Stewart in the D.J. booth. “I got some Ralph Vaughn Williams.”

“That’ll be fine,” Mrs. DeLeon said with a smile. “Hey, did you put the little spaceship on the tree? It’s cute.”

“Nope, not mine.” Stewart said. “I brought the little train.”

“Nah, that little spaceship’s mine,” Paco said looking up from the pool table. “I found that in my backyard the other day, little lights and all. Guess it’s from a movie. Not sure which one.” The last word came out as a grunt as he aimed the cue ball towards a ball in the corner of the table and it went in with a clack.

“Oh, well,” she said, walking towards the bar. “Zack, where’s that box? I know I had the star for the top of the tree here somewhere.”

There was a sudden whistling whine which rose over the music. The twinkling lights of the little gray spaceship shone brightly as it rose from the tree, circled it once and then darted across the room. Zack ducked as it flew over him and crashed through the small upper window to the side of the bar.

Everybody stared for a moment.

“That fits in with some of the stories I’ve heard around here,” Scotty said.

“Yeah,” Zack said. “I’ll get that window.”

“Who wants more eggnog?”

 

—end—

 

Wishing everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, hopefully with plenty of good things to read!——-jeff

 

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Oh, Stately Bird—November 24, 2016, Thanksgiving

Note: I wrote the original version of this a number of years ago. Here’s a Thanksgiving feast. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

                                   Oh Stately Bird

                                      By Jeff Baker

 

            Oh stately bird

            Who is there that does not love you

            Our family gathered together, you the centerpiece of the table altar

            Old Ben Franklin, I am told

            Wanted you as the symbol of our fledgling nation

            Not the Eagle.

            If things had gone the other way, I cannot imagine us sitting down

            To a meal of tough, sinewy Eagle.

            Wild, bred, captured, fighting, wandering, independent, forever free.

            In many ways, our national symbol you may yet well be.

 

                                    –end–

 

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The Forest—Monday Flash Fics, November 21, 2016

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Note: Actually had trouble getting the “voice” in this one down, then all of a sudden I had it and I also have an additional page—this may develop into something a bit longer although this type of fantasy setting is hardly original with me. ——Jeff

                                              The Forest

                                              By Jeff Baker

 

            I jumped down to the lower branch and watched the men approach. When they were closer, one of them burly with a sword in his belt, called up.

            “Ho, boy! I am Andiak of the Oaiod. What place is this?”

            I nearly took offense; I was fourteen, no longer a boy.

            “I am Ezidiah,” I said. “And this is the Great Forest.”

            “We are cut off from our people,” Andiak said. “We seek refuge.”

            “Only the one who lives in the Great Tree can offer refuge,” I said. “Follow me.”

            I leaped to a branch of the nearest tree, heading deeper from the outskirts into the forest.

            “Wait!” Andiak said. “We can’t climb trees like that. Come on down here!”

            I laughed.

            “I have only been on the ground twice before in my life,” I said.

            “Then move slowly, so we can follow you,” Andiak said.

            I smiled to myself, at the same time taking my role as guide seriously. One day I might be selected to be named In Care Of the Owl and to inhabit the Great Tree. In that light, I took my time as the two strangers on the ground followed my progress hopping from tree to tree above them, heading deeper into the forest.

            Even in midday, the deep forest was dark and I could see the men reacting with surprise to the lights in the trees and people looking down from their homes amid the branches and thick leaves, staring with equal astonishment at the strangers walking on the forest floor. The men stopped and pointed at the system of pulleys and swings that we use to move items from one tree to another. We kept moving and I passed the familiar big lit branches of the shop where I bought nuts and occasionally fruit. In fact, I felt the money I had been saving in my coin-pouch for my next visit. For an instant, I let myself breathe in the shop’s smells but then I caught a glimpse ahead of the ancient oak, festooned with streamers, glittering in the light from the carefully pruned branches of the canopy of leaves stretching above it. I waved at the men below and pointed.

            “The Great Tree,” I announced.

           

                                                —end—

 

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