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The Fast Food Wars

Randy Beechman looked every inch the Westside Regional Director for McDonalds that he was. His belly swelled in direct proportion to the shrinking of his hairline. His arms were round and beefy, capable of hefting a fifty-pound bag of frozen fries and yet wobbling if you poked them like so much jell-o squeezed into the shape of a bicep. Even his clothes spoke to his job: button-up white short sleeved dress shirt with the red-and-yellow of the company colors on his tie. His pants were black, polyester, and roomy even on his bulk. His belt was cinched tight around his ample waist, pouches and pockets holding the gear of his profession in easy reach.

The day was warm, and Randy pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket to mop at his brow for the fifth time. The air conditioning was bombed out, and it was summer in Los Angeles. Or as he liked to think of it: the pit of Hell.

The door chime beeped, and from his seat behind the manager’s desk, Randy could see that pimply-faced teen cashier (What was her name? Oh yeah, Angela) look up from behind the counter. She gasped, then turned towards Randy’s door and nodded. “It’s them, sir,” she said in her whiny, nasal voice.

Randy returned the nod and hoisted himself to his feet. “Them,” would be Phillip, the manager for this particular store, and a couple of the burger jockeys. Randy poked his head out of the door, checking to make sure the coast was clear, then he stepped out fully and his eyes sought Phillip. At first, he couldn’t see the man, only the two minimum-wage burger flippers. He hadn’t bothered to learn their names, and mentally he just called them “the white teen” and “the latino teen.”

Randy started to frown, to ask them where Phillip was, when the burger jockeys shifted and he spotted the manager. He was laying on one of the larger ‘family style’ tables. He wasn’t moving. His face, what there was left of it, was frozen in a rictus of pain. The rest of it was clearly the source of the pain. Randy was no doctor, but he’d seen enough casualties in his life. That was a third degree oil burn over 72% of Phillip’s face.

“What happened?”

The two burger nukers looked at each other. The latino one spoke. “You were right sir, KFC is having a sale on chicken nuggets, $.10 less than us for a 10-piece. We did it by the textbook: Tim and I,” he gestured at the white teen, “we flanked Phil while he went from car to car on approach. We never saw it sir. We never saw it.” The skinny boy began to blubber, so Randy turned his attention to the other one, Tim.

“What happened?” Randy repeated.

Tim cleared his throat, glanced at Angela, and then turned his attention back to Randy. “They has those radios for when you take drive-in orders in the parking lot, sir. Like In-n-Out does? And they had someone up on the roof, with what we assume was a spare fry cooker. We got near the door and suddenly we heard a sound from above. We looked up, and that fat bastard was dumping oil on Phil. We fired off a couple shots, then retreated. Philip stopped moaning around the time we were passing the 99 Cent Store. We figure that’s when he bit it.”

Randy was silent for a moment. Suddenly, he slammed his meaty fist on one of the tables. “Parking lot radios! I TOLD Corporate we should invest in those. No one has been able to touch In-n-Out since they started using them! Damnit!” He continued to fume for a minute or two before noticing that everyone was staring at him. He forced himself to relax, to adopt a normal tone of voice. Management Training 101. “All right. Not your fault guys. You couldn’t have known. Phillip should have been more cautious. It’s a manager’s duty to think of these things. Put your guns back in the walk-in and hang up your aprons. You have the rest of the day off.”

The two teens grinned and hurried to obey. No one likes losing a manager, but a half-day off is worth its weight in gold. They left Randy to contemplate Phillip’s body in silence while Angela hid back behind the counter. There was no doubt about it, Randy was forced to admit. The annual summer fast food wars were getting worse each year.

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The Castle of the Sultan

In response to Ozlem Yikici’s Triptych Turkish Delights flash fiction challenge.

Sabiha sits primly on the edge of the couch in her room, waiting.

Two days prior, Davran and the American, Sam, are shaking hands. The bet is decided, the prize and conditions set. The of sundown two days hence, they will leave the hotel at the same time. Then, anything goes. The first one to reach Sabiha wins her hand. Listening to all of this, Sabiha wonders if she has a say in the matter. Her eyes stray to the handsome American, Sam, with his shaved face his hot, eager eyes. She needn’t look at Davran, she has known him all her life. For the first time she can remember, there is the possibility that she will not marry him. She wonders at how hard her heart is racing.

The sun has been down for half an hour. Davran made his way to the base of the cliff wall. The trees have long been cut away some six meters from the wall, giving the guards atop a clear view down. Still, the bends in the wall allow for occasional blind spots, spots Davran well knows from his days as a boy. Above him, he can hear the sounds of music and people talking. It sounds like a party.

Davran dips his hand into the bag of chalk hanging from his belt. He rubs his fingertips together, finds a grip, and begins his ascent. He has timed it carefully, knowing from long experience exactly how long it takes the guard to make a circuit. He knows the times where he will be vulnerable to detection, when he must stop and wait, clinging to the side of the wall like a tick on the ear of a goat.

The guard has passed. Davran climbs again. He smiles to himself, knowing that there is no way that the American, Sam, could possibly make this ascent at the same speed. Davran has the advantage of location knowledge, and of experience doing this exact thing. Granted, it has been over a decade and he has put on a few pounds, but the upstart American, Sam, with his shining teeth and his shaved chin, does not know the way.

Davran breathes hard at the top. The way was long and difficult, and he schools himself against looking down. He will not fall. He has done this before. The guard’s footsteps retreat, and Davran slips over the top. Now it is a simple matter of staying in the shadows, behind the trees until he reaches the house proper. There, he blends in with the serving staff as they rush too and fro delivering drinks and food and warm, damp towels to the party guests.

Sabiha’s door is in front of him, and he pushes it open in triumph. His grin fades. Sabiha sits primly on the edge of the couch in her room, waiting. And with her is the American, Sam.

Sam’s perfect white teeth gleam as he smiles at Davran. “Let me guess, you went up the wall?” He makes a vague gesture towards the rest of the house, the music and the food and the people. “I just asked Sabiha for an invitation to the party.”

Davran’s head hangs in defeat. His hand inches back to where he keeps a pistol tucked into the waistband of his trousers.

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Демон

The Monster Inside saw its prey from across the playground and smiled. It began to stalk the sweet, tender morsel.

Donald saw the little angel as she jumped off the swing, the petticoat of her little frock billowing sweetly around her thighs. He licked his lips nervously, glancing around out of habit. A bad one, that, it made him look exactly like the pedophile he was. He would have to break that habbit, he told himself and not for the first time. But the girl was moving, crossing the playground and waving bye-bye to her friends. It was time to hunt.

Donald slowly stood, giving the little blond-haired moppet plenty of time to pick her direction. East, she went, and East he followed. He was careful to keep a good distance, half a block or more. Enough to keep her in sight, but not so close that he actually looked like he was following her. This technique had worked successfully six… no, seven times before. He almost forgot that one in Seattle. She had been so lovely, how could he nearly forget her?

He wondered if they had found her body yet. Not that it mattered, there was nothing to connect him to her. He picked his little playthings at random, and never near his hotel. Just like this little angel.

She turned North and he followed her. His pulse was beginning to quicken, he knew. He tried to keep himself calm. Sweaty, nervous-looking middle aged men in rain coats following little girls tended to stick out in people’s minds. He raked his thinning hair over his pattern bald spot, ordering himself to calm down. As extra insurance, he pulled out his cell phone and pretended to talk into it. Pedophiles never discussed business on phones while hunting, right? Everyone knew that.

The blonde darling skipped a few steps, and then turned and walked down a flight of stairs to the lower level of a tenement. He heard the door shut behind her. No sound of a lock being thrown, and she didn’t call out to anyone. A latch-key kid then. They were the best.

Donald glanced around to see if anyone was looking, and then followed the girl down the stairs. He eased open the door and slipped inside. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the substantially dimmer light inside. The room had clearly once been a laundry room, long since abandoned to that purpose. Graffiti covered the walls. The paint was faded and peeling. A perfect place for the hunt to end.

His little blonde angel was standing near the far wall, facing him. He smiled his most reassuring smile. “Hello little girl. Can you help me?” he edged closer.

“You can help me,” she replied. The lights dimmed and some… thing… emerged from the girl: smoke and shadow and cold, with long claws and teeth like the Reaper’s Scythe.

Donald screamed.

Angie watched impassively until the Monster Inside was done and back within her. She dipped a finger in Donald’s blood and added vertical line to the twelve already present on the wall behind her.  Her dimples appeared as she smiled.

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(Week) Night of the Living Dead

In response to my own flash-fiction challenge, Sunday in the Park with Freddie.

“Hey, deadboy, isn’t it past your bedtime?”

The jeers mocked me as I shuffled down the street. I slowly turned my head to look, and as I suspected, it was Bret and his football jock buddies. They were hanging around outside the coffee shop on Main, looking all clean and neat in their letterman jackets and copious hair product. I tried to avoid looking down at myself in comparison, but it was inevitable. Old jeans with more holes than fabric, sneakers a size too small that only fit because my big toes had fallen off last summer during the school camping trip, a moldy tee shirt with faded print reading Bite Me. Yeah, I’m so ironically hip it hurts.

They knew they were safe, mocking me. They were right, it was a week night and I was late getting home. I didn’t have time to chase them down. Mom was already going to be mad at me. The only silver lining was that, since her larynx had rotted away, she has to write out her complaints. Hopefully she’ll accidentally chop off her fingers soon.

Stupid Bret and his stupid friends. Just because they still had pulses, they thought they were so special. Part of the ‘clean,’ as the living liked to style themselves. As if we could help being dirty. YOU try living your life with maggots in your nostrils and gangrene slowly eating away at your limbs and tell me how clean YOU manage to stay after a few years.

The worst part was that these jerks used to be my friends. I used to be on the team, till that damned cheerleader from Penn Hills bit me. Now, all they did wa

Still, sometimes you have to put in appearances. As they hooted and laughed at me, I turned suddenly towards them. Well, as suddenly as I could. My left leg had been feeling fairly fragile lately, I didn’t want to risk snapping an ankle. Getting to homeroom on time was hard enough as it was, I didn’t need that kind of complication.

There was no way I could possibly catch them, by myself, at my speed. Still, it was gratifying to see the smug expressions vanish as they scrambled to their feet. The table clattered over, spilling their drinks as they struggled to get clear of the roped-off dining area with the signs declaring that it was for ‘Breathers Only.’  The alarm on their faces was almost worth the price of admission as I opened my mouth wide and pantomimed biting them.

They bolted. I smiled gingerly and continued on my way home. It was a week night, and I had to study for that algebra test tomorrow.

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The Windows, My Eyes

In response to Haley Whitehall’s October Flash Fiction Horror Contest.

The killer took shelter in the old, abandoned Whitehall house. The police gathered in the overgrown weeds outside to discuss an entrance plan rather than simply rushing in. After all, the killer was still armed with the knife he had used to murder his partner.

The house looked haunted and decripit in the moonlight, every window long shattered and what paint remained was colorless and dull. No one had entered the house since the last owners killed themselves twelve years ago. The police fingered their guns nervously.

Caution was thrown to the wind when someone inside the house screamed, high pitched and shrill. “Crap, someone lives there?” Officer Armstong found herself running forward with the rest, bursting through the door sagging forlornly on one hinge. “Spread out.”

The police fanned out, weapons at the ready. Floorboards creaked and broken glass crunched underfoot as they searched for the killer and the source of the scream. Armstrong took the surprisngly intact stairs to the second floor, followed shortly by Harrison.

In the second room, they found the body. It wore the clothes of the killer, and even held the same knife, although the body was years old: desiccated and bony. Before Armstrong had a chance to process this, another scream came from downstairs.

She and Harrison rushed back down, to find Hamilton in the doorway of the kitchen. Just beyond was another body, similar to the first. Only this one was wearing a police uniform. The service weapon was clearly visible in the light spilling in through the delicately-paned French window.

“What the hell?” Armstrong whispered softly, crouching down to turn the body over. The nametag said it was Officer Mayer. Everyone stared at the body in mute horror.

Behind them, the front door quietly shut. No one had entered the house since the last owners killed themselves twelve years ago, and it was hungry.

#

Detectives Lansdale and McCoy met up at the car. “What do you have?” Lansdale asked his partner.

“A bunch of liars,” McCoy snorted, looking at two empty police cruisers parked in front of the Whitehall house. “The neighbors keep claiming that place has been abandoned for years. If that’s the case, who has been mowing the lawn? Who has been washing the windows?”

Lansdale nodded, looking at the house. “For that matter, if it’s abandoned, who is that little girl waving at us from the second story? I think she wants to tell us something. Let’s go inside.”

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The Creature Over the Bed

Billy tried to ignore it for as long as he could. The shuffling, the breathing. It was the Creature, he was sure of it. The Creature over the Bed. He had heard it every night for going on three weeks. Always the same. The night would start off well enough, sometimes he was even able to grab a little sleep. But then it would start. There would be a stomping sound, then a loud groaning creak. Harsh whispers he couldn’t quite make out would issue from thin air. Finally, the shuffling and the breathing. The horrid, horrible, ghastly breathing.

Billy was too old to believe in monsters, or so he told himself night after night. And  yet he would lie there, wide awake with is eyes screwed shut. Maybe if he didn’t look over the edge of the bed, then the Creature couldn’t get him. This was his only solace, the only hope he had to cling to during those long, lonely nights.

There was tangible proof, also. Sometimes when Billy woke up in the morning, things would be moved around. Sometimes it was an old pair of shoes, or sometimes it was an old, splintery Louisville Slugger, but things would not be where they were left the night before.

Billy tried speaking to Sioned about it once, but she was too busy with the laundry. “Oi, lad, these clothes’ll nay wash themselves!” she teased him, and he never spoke with her about it again.

He tried talking to Angus about the issue. He found Angus at breakfast, eating his usual bowl of honey-laced porridge, and his mouth was full and somewhat sticky, so he could do naught but shrug helplessly. He tried to talk to Angus again later, but found him busy with his tools, too intent on resoling an old boot to be of much help.

Billy thought about trying to talk to Old Man Jake, but if he had to be honest with himself, Billy would admit that Old Man Jake scared him almost as much as the Creature did. So there would be no help from that angle.

In the end, he talked about it with Alice, as usual. She was his closest confidant, despite being only a girl. She was the only one in the house who had time for him. When he asked her about it, she smiled shyly and told him she had all the time in the world for him. So he told her about the Creature and his restless nights and the horrible heavy breathing.

Alice listened closely, toying with the hem of her white nightshirt. As he finished his tale, she thought for a moment and then whispered, “You must confront it. It is the only way you’ll ever be safe. Bring a flashlight, and just… confront it.”

Billy struggled with this advice for a couple of days before snapping. He brought the flashlight, and lay there, waiting. Once he heard the voices and then the shuffling, Billy leapt out and shone his light at the Creature.

“Mo-om!” the Creature yelled, “Come cuick! The Thing Under the Bed has a flashlight!!!!”

In response to my own Flash Fiction challenge, Sunday in the park with Freddie. Come on folks, let’s see what you have.

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Il Masque

In response to Sonia G. Medieros‘ October Flash-Fiction challenge: Masks.

I remember the first time I saw her. We were walking in opposite directions along Dearborn. She was going north towards Harrison, and I was going south towards Polk. I saw her through the ocean of lunch-time pedestrians. She shone like the sun, red and gold and radiant.

In a world full of Bautas, Donna Gattas, and Medico Della Pestes, she was a brilliant gold Luna Lux with crimson filigree and feathers.

The richness extended to her dress, a low-cut, off-the-shoulder scarlet affair that stopped just an inch above her knees. Stockings, heeled sandals, and full-length opera gloves of gold lame completed the ensemble.

I stopped and stared, awestruck by her beauty. She nodded politely but sweetly as she passed by, evidently well aware of her effect on men. I turned to follow her, but the press of bodies around me slowed me down and she turned the corner. As if someone had flipped the switch that controls the sun, the color and light went out of the world in that instant.

I spent every lunch for the next six months on that street, looking for her. There was no question of me simply missing her; with a face like that, she would be impossible. She was too vibrant, too colorful in a city of drabness, to miss. Six months I spent looking for her every lunch break, to no avail.

At work, I would search the internet for her. Surely she must be unique, I thought. The filigree, the tiny little ruby cluster dangling from from the gentle curve of the top of her face, the crimson feathers. Surely there couldn’t be another girl out there with a face that incredible. Looks like that were fairly common in Brazil and some of your larger Columbian cities, but all my searching turned up nothing in the States.

After a time, I began to despair. Then I grew angry. What right did she have to walk around just once, setting my heart afire, and then vanish. I stopped looking for her at lunch. I stopped searching the internet for her. In time, I was able to convince myself that I had forgotten about her. In more time, I was able to start looking at other women without comparing them too negatively to my phoenix-colored Luna Lux.

I began to date. Casually at first, but then I began spending more and more time with Susan, a cute little black-and-brown Gatta. After two years, we married. Another three years passed before we had our first child, and by that time I was a junior Senior Editor. We had moved out to the suburbs, and I took the L in to work each day. Our child was born in April, a sweet little Volto/Moretta in gray and silver with blue highlights.

Today, I had to pick my daughter up from kindergarten, as her mother was busy late with a client. And I saw her again, my brilliant Luna. She was a teacher at my daughter’s school. A few of her feathers had begun to droop, but she was still as beautiful as I remembered.

And that, officer, is why I may have had a little too much to drink tonight.

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