Friday, July 22, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday #2: Indecision



Ben Singleton sat idly in his car, only yards away from his home. So far, the only elements of his plan that he had managed to execute were packing a bag, walking out the door and driving away. And yet, Ben couldn’t even bring himself to drive to the end of his street, especially when a torrent broke loose in his mind. Almost as if by instinct, he pulled over and parked just a few houses down.
            He didn’t want to leave, but he also felt like if he didn’t he would lose his mind, maybe even take it out on those he loved, all of whom were conveniently out of the house: his wife at work and his daughter and young son at school. In any case the leaving wasn’t meant to be permanent—it was only going to be for a little while; some time away to decompress and think. His parents had a cabin in the mountains about an hour away. It was secluded, out of the way—the perfect place to hide out and let go of a few things that had been mounting on a mental and emotional level.
            It was at the thought of hiding that Ben hit the brakes, literally. The idea of hiding implied that he was running away, which Ben wasn’t trying to do, or at least that’s what he told himself. Aside from his slipping away in a clandestine fashion he had every intention of letting his family know where he was and when he would be back, even though he had no real definitive date on the latter. He just needed time—time to himself and time to breathe. Everyone needs that every now and then right? There wasn’t any harm in escaping when things get a little too intense.
            There it was again—another word that implied too much in the negative.
            “Damn it!” Ben said aloud, cursing the thought as though he had shot himself in the foot. He wasn’t even having a conversation with a real live person wherein he might have to correct, explain or brush over his words. Instead he was having a silent argument with himself, a mental point and counterpoint.
            You said escape…
            “Yeah, but I didn’t literally mean escape…”
            So what did you mean?
            Ben had to pause for that one, which he knew was fruitless since the imaginary counterpoint had the same access to his thoughts as he did.
            “I just…I just need to get away.”
            How is that different from escaping?
            Ben swore again, this time using a more unprintable word, and one that he’d never use in front of his kids. Mr. Counterpoint ignored that and continued with his inquiry.
            Are things really that bad?
            Ben groaned. “Yes…I mean no…I mean…I suppose things aren’t that bad.”
            So…why leave?
            “Because…” Ben began, but then faltered a little. “…because things are just too complicated alright?! I can feel it everywhere, it’s so…”
            Intense?
            “Yes—exactly.”
            Alright. So again—why leave?
            Ben slammed his hand on the steering wheel, almost honking the horn. “Because! I just need time!”
            Time for what?
            “To breathe,” Ben sighed. “I feel like I’m suffocating.”
            You can’t breathe around your family?
            Ben froze once the word family sounded in his brain, resonating in the recesses of his conscience. As he had stated to his imaginary counterpart, things weren’t bad…per say.
            However, Ben couldn’t say they were good either.
            The atmosphere had been changing over the last few months, slowly becoming thicker in tension, choking the joy and lightness that had once been standard. Ben wasn’t sure what had brought it on, but he supposed it was when finances became tighter than usual. It was something that happens to everyone, but for some reason it became an impossible hurdle for Ben. Amy, his wife, was gracious, understanding and seemingly without worry, which at first came as a relief to Ben. Knowing that Amy wasn’t stressed gave him less reason to feel the pressure, making him feel that he could breathe easier.
            Sadly, it didn’t last long.
            The financial burdens mounted—if it wasn’t one thing it was another. Amy was content to drive an older car while Ben owned a newer one with possibly one too many unnecessary features. But it wasn’t long before Amy’s vehicle decided to give up on life in one form or another (the first being a leaking radiator, the other being a fried cylinder head). Then it was suddenly discovered after a visit to the dentist that their oldest, Felicity needed braces; costs kept rising, Ben began working longer hours.
            First it was just a means to an end, then it became necessity—then it practically became obsession. Even when their financial woes died down, Ben felt the compulsive drive to be at work more in order to “provide” for his family.
            The less he was at home, the more it wore on Amy and the kids—that’s when the fighting started.
            On the outside it didn’t appear as fighting, but the discussions were heated. The more Ben tried to explain that he needed to work more in order to “get things back on track,” the more irritated Amy got; the more irritated Amy got, the angrier it made Ben. Amy worked full time as well, and she was more than willing to pick up the slack, but the truth was Ben didn’t need to work that much anymore in order to cover bills and other necessities. Weeks of bickering finally brought Ben to this realization and reluctantly, he went back to normal working hours.
            Adjusting back to a normal schedule proved to be more of a challenge than Ben anticipated. Although he wouldn’t admit it to himself, working the insane hours had become normal and comfortable; being at home on the evenings and during the weekends became odd and uncomfortable. In twisted flip, Ben began craving the more controlled environment of his workspace, the demands of home giving him anxiety the likes of which he couldn’t remember having. Between the polar opposite sides of the spectrum that were his twelve-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son, Ben found himself wanting to run and hide when his children wanted his attention for anything more than a simple question or request, which was odd. From the day they were born Ben could remember being devoted to his kids to the point of feeling like being away from them too long was a necessary evil he was forced to endure. Now the thought of more than basic interaction made him flush with anxiety and short tempered. Where he had once been long suffering and understanding with his children Ben, at times, found them insufferable and irritating. He was curt with both Felicity and his son Grant, sometimes snapping at them for no reason. Amy took notice and gently confronted her husband to no avail. Ben slowly started to allow himself to work longer hours again in order to avoid being at home. Once Amy realized what he was doing the fighting began again.
            The straw that would break Ben’s back was the less than subtle ultimatum issued by Amy one afternoon following a hellish day at work:
            “We need to get counseling…”
            Whatever else Amy might have said, Ben didn’t hear, if only for the fact that his wife actually had the gall to suggest (or outright insist on) counseling. Ben secretly despised the idea, quite possibly because he always assumed that anyone with the level of problems required for marital or family counseling probably didn’t have what it took to manage their lives to begin with. It was a cruel and audacious judgment, which is why he never voiced it before, but now Ben had half a mind to let every single one of those judgments bubble up to the surface. Amazingly, he managed to keep them from doing so, and instead flatly refused altogether.
            “I’ve already made an appointment,” Amy stated. “First for you and me, then us and the kids together.”
            Ben’s face turned beet red. He couldn’t keep his reservations back any longer. “Are you kidding me?! Who in the hell do you think you are just setting this crap up without even seeing if I was willing?!”
            Amy fought the urge to yell back, her voice shaky but firm, “I’m your wife, that’s who I know I am. And I didn’t run anything by you because I knew you would shut it down before I even got off the blocks. We are doing this Ben—we need this.”
            Ben could feel his pulse firing hard, a maddening pressure building in his skull, unable to wrap his mind around what he was being told. His fist shot fast and hard into the wall to his right, the adrenaline surging through him numbing any pain he might have felt. The sizeable concave dent startled Amy, and for a moment she felt afraid. Ben didn’t advance, but his eyes looked threatening.
            “I am not going to some crackpot counselor and letting them tell me how to be a husband and father, and damn you for thinking I would need one. I thought you had more faith in me than that.”
            Amy could feel the sting of Ben’s words in her blood, their venom rushing straight to her heart. She vacillated between anger and hurt, still unsure of where she stood once she finally spoke. “I do have faith in you Ben, but even the strongest of faith gets shaken sometimes. And the coldness you bring home with you every day now has left us all shaking for a while now.”
            Ben’s desire to let his anger smolder some more was derailed by Amy’s words. Coldness? How could she say that? Ben had been called many things, but never even in his worst moments had he been referred to as being cold, especially by his wife and children. His initial anger boiled beneath his now cooling exterior, the rage in his face replaced by confusion with a pang of heartache trailing behind. Ben took a step back, and felt the heat in his blood cool, as if the coldness finally was making itself known. Shaking his head, he turned and walked away, at first slowly, then quickly grabbing his keys and leaving without another word.
            That had been yesterday. After a night walking on eggshells and a sleepless night in the guestroom, Ben decided that he needed to be away from everything. For how long, well, he’d figure that out when he was ready to figure that out. Once the house was quiet, he quickly packed a bag and took his wife’s clunky vehicle (at the very least he could leave her a dependable car) and left, hoping that the weight on his shoulders would drop away the further he drove.
            And here he was, unmoving, not even half a block away from his own home.
            The argument with his own psyche had led Ben back through the last few months, and what had felt like a simple decision—get out of dodge and decompress—had now become a tug of war fraught with indecision. Examining the past had brought him no more clarity than he thought he had, save for one inescapable truth:
            All strain upon his family—other than financial—had been brought on by none other than himself.
            Much like the revelation of his apparent coldness from Amy, Ben could feel his normally warm exterior cool to a frigid temperature, sending a shiver up his spine and making his breath quiver. His teeth clenched involuntarily, his jawline going rigid as the memory of the past six months replayed, but faster this time, with his every step being highlighted as the original roots of the discord that was to follow: becoming a workaholic, distancing himself, disconnecting, etc. Whatever pressure he felt beyond their initial woes was something he created himself, the means no longer relevant to the need, especially when the need was for Ben to step back into his rightful place at home, as a devoted husband and father; providing their truest needs in the form of love and affection, encouragement and support. The revelation that the last half a year may have been one largely of waste was a stark one, and Ben leaned into the steering wheel of his wife’s car, back hunched in defeat. Tears pooled in his eyes no matter how hard he fought them, determinedly springing from them as if to remind Ben to feel, especially since he had neglected to do so for so long.
            Denial threatened to creep in, and Ben was almost willing to let it happen. He had allowed it to devour him for months, but now it hurt too much to let it continue. Inhaling deep, Ben breathed out everything with a shudder, letting it all go, hoping that nothing of that same denial was left once he inhaled again. Shame lingered over the release of his pride, but thankfully didn’t linger for long. While Ben still felt like he’d had enough, it wasn’t the same as when he walked out the door that morning—he’d had enough of the cold, and he was ready to step back into the warm space he’d once occupied with his family.
            Ben reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed his phone, at first eager to call his wife and just hear her voice, but then suddenly fearful. They hadn’t spoken since the night before, and Ben wasn’t sure that Amy would want to talk to him. It only took a couple seconds of deliberation for him to be willing to chance it.
            The phone barely rang twice. “Ben?” Amy responded.
            “I’ll do it Amy,” Ben said.
            A pause. “Do what?”
            “Go with you,” he replied hoarsely, emotion thick in his throat. “To counseling. I don’t want you all to be shaken on account of me.”
            Another pause, but Ben could sense the relief on the other end. “Okay sweetheart. We’ll talk about it more when I get home—I love you.”
            Ben smiled, then felt it twist under a crumpling lip. “I…I love you too.”
            After hanging up the phone, Ben closed his eyes and breathed deep again. On a whim, he said a brief prayer, something he never did, but couldn’t resist the urge to do.
            “God, if You would, help me be the man I was, only better.”
            The drive back home was short, just like his absence. And yet Ben was never more glad to be home.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday #1: Wrong Car



It was cold that night. The air was damp enough to suggest rain, but the rain never came. It was quiet, with hardly a car on the road.

                Victor Penry drove through the night after a quick run to the grocery store. His wife had one of her rarely indulged sugar cravings, and tonight she decided to cave and make a run to the market for some ice cream. Victor volunteered to go instead, and even to take their restless three-year-old Baker with him, hoping the trip would wear him out enough for bedtime once they got back. After a quick kiss (and a slight hint of romance for later as a thank you), Victor lugged Baker out to the car. He excitedly leapt into his car seat and even tried to buckle himself, grateful to be getting out of the house. After a brief hand tussle trying to buckle him (Baker barely letting Victor help), the two were off into the misty evening to grab a frozen treat.

                The ride to the market wasn’t long, but further than a regular quick run. While not isolated, Victor and his family lived a few miles outside of town. The closest supermarket required a good ten-minute drive. Victor didn’t mind in all honesty, even if his lovely bride hadn’t hinted at getting lucky after Baker went down. Cold as it was, ice cream sounded good, and after having had such a good day he figured: What the hell?

                Almost halfway home, father and son came to a stop at a lonely intersection. The red light seemed a bit odd since he and Baker occupied the only car on the road, but Victor wasn’t surprised. This part of town didn’t get much traffic as it was and it wasn’t the first time he’d sat at an unnecessarily long red light at this particular junction. Baker was quiet in the back and it was cold enough that there wasn’t much chance of the ice cream melting. He was content to wait.

                Slam!

Distracted by observing his rarely quiet boy in the back, a sound from the passenger side of the car jolted Victor alert. The door had been opened, and getting into the car was a young man, wearing a dark green hoodie, his face obscured partially, only his mouth and thick goatee visible. The thing that Victor noticed more than anything was the Glock trained on him.

                “Okay Pops,” the green hoodie said immediately. “Here’s how this is going to go: The second that light turns green you’re just gonna drive. Don’t think I need to go into what’ll happen if there’s any funny business.”

                Victor eyed the creep, then took another glance at the weapon, held in a surprisingly competent fashion in the punk’s right hand. He looked back up at the hoodie, his jaw tightening. His eyes conveyed nothing that the punk could read. He kept his hands tight on the steering wheel, not even willing to flinch should his unwanted passenger have an itchy trigger finger. As if reading his mind, the hoodie cocked the hammer back on the Glock.

                “Not gonna have a problem now, are we?”

                Before Victor could respond, a voice softly chirped from the backseat. “Daddy, who dis?”

                The hoodie snapped his head around, gun still trained on Victor. Oddly enough, Victor took a mild amount of comfort in this. At least the hoodie didn’t set the sights of the Glock on his toddler. The stony young man in the passenger seat regarded Baker for a moment or two, then swore, clearly not realizing there was a child in the car. Victor wondered if he would reconsider and tried to see if he could push things in that direction.

                “Light’s still red son—you could get out now if you…”

                The hoodie didn’t even let him finish. “Shut up and drive Pops.”

                As if on cue, the light turned green, Victor noticing in his peripheral vision. His jaw clenched once again as he released the brake and hit the gas. He only turned his eyes back to the road once he was sure the hoodie was keeping his attention on him and not his son.

                The tension in the car grew thicker by the millisecond, Victor unsure as to where he was supposed to take this young man, concluding that he would be given directions on the fly. His mind raced with the various outcomes that might take place should he do what the hoodie asked. None of the conclusions were to his liking in particular. A shift in the pecking order was what he needed, although he couldn’t say with one hundred percent confidence he could manipulate events exactly the way he wanted. However, concern for his precious boy in the backseat compelled Victor to at least try.

                “Ain’t too late to reconsider kid—nothin’s happened yet that can’t be easily forgiven.”

                The green hoodie stared ahead at the road, his weapon still steady. “What part of ‘shut up and drive’ didn’t come across as clear Pops?”

                “Oh you couldn’t have been clearer my friend,” Victor responded, trying and almost failing to not antagonize him. “But I may have a solution for you that could benefit everyone here.”

                The hoodie continued to stare ahead, a sneer threatening to form on his upper lip. He didn’t respond or reject the idea, silently watching the road as the car advanced. Victor took the young man’s silence as an open window to continue.

                “See, this car is dependable enough—gets me from A to B. But all in all? I could do without it if need be. Could even do without my phone if necessary—hell, even my wallet if it came down to it.”

                The hoodie gave a narrowed glance out of the corner of his eye, then back to the road. “You gettin’ to a point sometime soon?”

                “The car, my phone and my wallet,” Victor replied, “all yours if you let me and my boy out, right here, right now. You get a free carton of ice cream as a bonus.”

                Green hoodie took his eyes off the road, eyes incredulous, gun still steadily aimed at Victor. He glanced back at the quiet child in the back whose eyes were becoming increasingly curious. Looking momentarily back at Victor and then the road, the hoodie scoffed. “Just drive, alright?”

                Victor’s eyes narrowed, then returned back to the road. In all honesty he expected that might fail, although he couldn’t comprehend why this foolish boy wouldn’t take a deal as sweet as what he was offering. Before he could pitch it again, someone piped up.

                “Daddy, wha happening?”

                Victor looked into his rearview, his eyes meeting those of his curious child. The muscles in his arms tensed as Baker looked almost pleadingly at him, yet Victor knew that his boy likely wasn’t afraid—he just wanted an answer.

                Again Baker chimed: “Daddy, wha happening?”

                “You want to tell that little maggot of yours to shut up?”

                Victor felt his pulse spike, forcing him to silently draw a deep breath that kept him from doing something stupid. He looked back over at the hoodie who, at first glance, seemed calm. However, Victor observed a slight tremor in the hand holding the gun, no longer as steady or confident as before. Another glance saw the hoodie’s breath quickening for a moment, as if nervous or getting impatient. Baker asked the same question again making the hoodie twitch—if the tension was high before, it was skyrocketing now.

                Ignoring the vulgarity of the question, Victor answered: “I could, but he’s three—you’d be hard pressed to keep him quiet for longer than a few minutes.”

                The hoodie shifted, agitated. Victor still had no idea where this punk wanted him to go, but wherever it was he knew that any open window of opportunity that included him and Baker walking away unharmed was rapidly closing. He decided to pitch his offer one last time.

                “You can lose this baggage right now—my original offer still stands.”

                The perp continued to fidget, and Baker continued to repeatedly ask the same question, along with voicing whatever else he happened to be thinking. Victor could sense the escalation, and knew that he only had moments. Before he could extend the offer one last time, the hoodie growled, “Make him shut up or I will do it for you!”

                Now Victor was beyond his limit—he could tolerate being threatened and held at gunpoint, but threatening his son? The status quo was beginning to shift, and Victor knew the time to act would be very soon—he could almost hear the seconds ticking in his head.

                By now the hoodie was visibly agitated, hand holding the gun a shaking mess, finger quivering around the trigger. Baker continued to talk and wouldn’t stop, and as much as Victor wanted to shush him and insist that he be quiet, his attention was focused on the hoodie as the punk’s calm and confidence deteriorated fast, eroded by the innocent inquiries of a toddler. Victor filed through the possible scenarios once again, rapid fire, ready for anything but hoping for just one opportunity to diffuse the situation fast.

                Baker made one more inquiry: “Daddy, wha happening?!”

                The hoodie finally had it—the final question from the boy was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He spun to face the boy only this time, the gun was no longer remaining trained on Victor. His arm extended, the weapon pointed at a new target.  The action unfolded in slow motion and at the speed of light simultaneously, time having no meaning or depth. The flash and bang were sudden, without warning. Even the hoodie was in awe of how quickly it all happened.

                Only the flash wasn’t a muzzle flare, nor the bang from the bullet exiting the chamber.

                The hoodie stared into a blinding white, his eyes unable to see or perceive anything around him; his breath came in choked, and he couldn’t breathe at all. When the thug’s eyes adjusted, Victor was still driving, calm and holding his weapon with his left hand while driving with the right. A click and thud sounded as the clip was quickly ejected, past Victor’s leg and onto the floor.

It had all happened in a fraction of a second. Once the hoodie’s arm was extended, Victor quickly grabbed his wrist with his left hand. His right hand quickly tucked into his torso then flying into the hoodie’s throat in a swift chopping motion, all while keeping the wheel balanced with his knee. Even though the perp couldn’t breathe he appeared shocked that his captive could have possibly accomplished such a feat. It was then that he saw it. Peeking out from under the sleeve of Victor’s t-shirt the criminal’s eyes read the tattoo on Victor’s arm clearly:

SEMPER FI

                The hoodie’s eyes widened big as saucers, from shock as well as still being unable to choke in adequate amounts of air after what Victor had done to him. Victor wondered if the boy was cursing himself for just happening to pick the car of a United States Marine and then threatening his child. 

“Don’t worry,” Victor said, slowly pulling the car to the side of the road. “You’ll be able to breathe again momentarily. Until then…” Victor reached across the young man, opening the passenger side door. “…you can think about how you should have taken my deal. That, and how stupid—and dangerous—it is to threaten a child when his daddy is within earshot.”

                With that, Victor grabbed the hoodie by the shirt, shoving him hard out the passenger door. He tumbled hard onto the gravel and then rolling onto the dirt shoulder. Victor closed the door, then quickly drove away into the night. The hoodie lay there sputtering and coughing as his airway finally opened up. He cursed and screamed at the Marine with all he was worth then collapsed back onto the pavement, resigned to his predicament.

                Victor looked over his shoulder once more to make sure the hoodie remained on the side of the road. Satisfied, he pulled out his phone and dialed 911, knowing the hoodie wouldn’t be on his feet for at least a few minutes which would give the police enough time to respond. Baker asked a final time, “Daddy, wha happened?”

                Holding the phone to his ear as he drove, Victor looked in the rearview at his curious boy. He smiled. “Nothin’ bubba,” he replied. “Just a foolish boy that got in the wrong car.”


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

No Man Is An Island...Unless You Are


I'm a people person-- I love to talk and interact with others. So naturally, I don't really like to be isolated or cut off from that, however in my current phase of life I am in isolation the majority of the time. So how do I deal with it?

No idea-- still in process.

I pray, but my mind is a beehive; a cacophony that is extraordinarily hard to quiet. I try to slow down, but sometimes slow down to the point of lethargy and demotivation in the process. Sometimes I burn with creativity and passion, but also would rather numb my mind being distracted and entertained.

So where does balance take place? Like I said, still in process.

Procrastination and inconsistency are among my worst enemies and yet my almost constant companions. A quote that I stumbled upon recently comes to mind that applies: Procrastination is the assassin of opportunity. Knowing this, why would we ever procrastinate? I think the simple answer is (if we are being honest with ourselves): Well...because it's easy, and I can do it right now with little to no effort with instant results. If we knew what procrastination robbed us of we would seldom partner with it, and yet when you spend an excess of time in isolation (like myself), you'd be amazed at how, even when you have an abundance of time on your hands, it's so easy to spend it doing nothing (or at least nothing constructive).

I'd love to offer an innovative solution to overcoming this particular habit, but the truth is (odds are, like you) I'm still figuring it out and attempting to execute an effective plan that will cause creative and constructive efforts to abound. While I don't have that figured out just yet, I still have this going for me-- I'm not about to give up and stop trying. And, if that's the overall takeaway in this whole rant you've volunteered to read, then I daresay it's a successful one.

So let's keep going, keep planning, keep trying-- we'll find our momentum and balance yet. Just know that you're not alone-- I'm right there with you, pushing forward, fumbling at times, but never quitting even when it sounds like a good idea.

Are you in?

Writing On,
KDG