I Got Up, But Went Back to Bed

I got up, but went back to bed
Cold summer morning, but not as
Cold as the shoulder on the couch
Long shadows, longer rationales
Our truths locked inside hearts and heads

Futures uncertain, the past though
Finally making sense, sure of
Who I am, or rather, what I
Wasn’t.

Her words miss their target, instead
Clattering like arrows off stone
My left hand lighter, minus the
Ounce of white tarnished gold. And so
I got up, but went back to bed

Ghosts of Chicago

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset
photograph by @coco_liu

 

When Morton awoke, he couldn’t recall what his profoundly dark and airless dream had been about, but the panic lingered. Sunlight streamed through the window of his dingy hotel room in Chicago, where he sat upright in bed, covered in sweat, and gasping for air like a newborn.

He continued to lie there for a while, trying to calm his shaken nerves. To focus, he sent his mind back to why he was there in the first place. He was hired by a man named Edgar Marks. The job was simple, he was told: Morton would tail a man whom Marks suspected of having an affair with his wife, send a report each day, and at the end of the week an envelope containing a pre-arranged sum of cash would be left in Morton’s P.O. Box. Something about Marks’ demeanor raised his sense of suspicion, which in his experience, is a feeling worthy of attention. He felt that the wife wasn’t the real story, it was too generic, possibly a red herring, and that Marks had some other agenda. But a job was a job, and so he didn’t press the issue.

After getting a description of the man, Morton was told he worked on Michigan Ave. The hotel where Morton eventually selected to stay was where the man supposedly would rendezvous with his mistress, making it a logical base for operations.

Morton took no notes during this meeting as he had an excellent memory. Names, numbers, places – he always had a talent for recall. And this came in very hand in his line of work as a private investigator. He didn’t waste valuable time writing down notes in the field and could aptly think on his feet, almost like his memories were tangible objects spread out across a table. He need only pick one up and turn it around in his head, examining all facets and angles. It was just how his mind worked.

He left his room and walked the hallway before rounding a corner. To his surprise, there was a group of about 10 people and a tour guide, a young man who walked backwards in front of the group. Morton noticed his jacket, a black satin affair with “Ghosts of Chicago Tours” embroidered in blood red.

“And like I said earlier, here on the 7th floor is where most of the encounters are reported,” he told the rapt audience. They were so focused that they barely gave Morton enough room to slide by.

“There’s several types of hauntings, ok? The most common are residual hauntings. Those spirits don’t really interact with us; they basically just repeat the same actions like a tape that gets played over and over. Well, nobody uses tapes anymore, so think of it like hitting ‘replay’ on the YouTube video!” The group laughed politely.

“Fucking tourists,” he thought to himself. As he stepped onto the elevator at the end of the corridor he could hear more canned laughter at another of the guide’s jokes, probably told on every single tour, as recycled and threadbare as the shabby carpet underfoot.

“I like literally felt a cold draft a few seconds ago!” on excited guest exclaimed enthusiastically.

“Yeah, that was your money being ripped from your wallet, idiot,” Morton muttered as the elevator doors shut.

If the hotel rooms and halls had seen better days, nobody had bothered to tell the lobby, which was immaculately kept up in its original art deco style: marble floors and columns, gold light fixtures, and high-backed red leather chairs for weary travelers. No sign of his target however.

Still foggy from a troubled sleep, Morton spaced out and stared at the floor; the silver train car he boarded after leaving the hotel rattled along elevated tracks, suspended above the city streets. His trance was broken by a young child and her mother seated across and to the left from him. The mother was tending to a missed button on the girl’s shirt, while the girl squirmed restlessly.

“What’s the name of this train?”

“It’s called the loop, honey.”

“Why’s it called that?”

“Because it just goes round and round the center of the city.”

“What happens if we don’t get off? Do we go round and round forever?”

“Hold still please, we’re getting off at the next stop so let’s get ready,” said her mother with a touch of impatience.

Morton liked how the girl thought, even if it wasn’t technically how the trains ran. Being able to look ahead like that seemed advanced for her age. He smiled kindly, trying to appear as non-threatening as he could, but the girl did not notice him at all. He had no children but perhaps someday he told himself.

Soon he arrived at the Randolph/Wabash station where he transferred to the ‘heel-toe express’ and walked the short distance to Michigan Ave., a wide boulevard with the city on one side and the lake on the other. It was a weekday morning, and the nearly cloudless sky was cobalt blue. Cool, dry, air paired nicely with the early autumn sun. Facing south, the buildings on his right stretched right off into the distance like a giant, imposing, wall. To his left was just sky above Lake Michigan which, for practical purpose of size, might as well be the ocean. It was like being caught between two worlds: the expanse of open, Midwestern space and the claustrophobic density of the city.

Then he saw him – the man he was hired to tail. His back was to Morton and he was dressed in a black overcoat over a suit and wore a dark, wide-brimmed hat. He did not seem to notice he had been spotted.

For several blocks the man strolled casually until he came to the intersection with Jackson, where the man turned right and dramatically picked up his pace as he rounded the corner and out of view.

“Shit,” thought Morton. “Has he seen me?”

Faster now, he rounded the corner to see the just tails of the man’s coat slink into an alley. Morton pursued, intent on getting more tangible info for his daily report before the man disappeared completely.

Stepping into the alley, the drone of the traffic was muted, creating an unusual sense of stillness. There was no sign of the man, but a door about 50 feet away slowly swung shut, betraying the man’s escape route.

“Let’s see where you’re running to,” he thought as he cautiously approached the rusted metal door. There was a buzzer next to the door but no sign or anything indicating what was inside. The noise of the city was gone from Morton’s ears. All he heard was the rush of blood in his ears and his pounding heartbeat as he surveyed the door. Something about it felt oddly familiar. But there was no time for that now. He stepped inside.

Morton’s eyes had barely adjusted to the dim light of the stairwell inside when he saw the glint of a silver revolver. A flash blinded him, or maybe it was the pain in his chest as the bullet punched through him. He heard the echoes of the gunshot long after crumpling to the floor as breath and blood escaped his body. He did not, however, hear the final crack of the gun before all went black.

When Morton awoke, he couldn’t recall what his profoundly dark and airless dream had been about, but the panic lingered. Sunlight streamed through the window of his dingy hotel room in Chicago, where he sat upright in bed, covered in sweat, and gasping for air like a newborn.

###

 

#flashfiction

“I see we meet again,” he told a stranger in a strange land. But the old man just stared impassively at the horizon while the desert sky faded orange pink indigo black. In the hazy, distant hills a light flicked, and the creatures of the night began to stir.

Number 43

His footfalls echoed down dark marble corridors as the gilded elevator doors shut behind him. “Good luck…” the elevator man had said with a tinge of sarcasm as they arrived at the 41st floor. Now he was at the massive oak doors, and he paused before taking an apprehensive breath and stepping inside.

His father was seated behind a large black desk, staring out the window at the view across the icy river. “Sit,” he commanded.

“It’s time you lived up to your promise. All the best schooling, the family name, wealth and influence,” he said in a deadpan voice, “and still…here you are.”

“Hello, Father,” he began but his greeting was not returned.

His father spun around in his chair. “Yet another company run into the ground by your ineptitude,” he said with disgust. “Do you know how embarrassing this is? Do you think this is the legacy I intended to leave?”

“But I gave –“

“What do you know about giving? You know about getting. Yes, you certainly know that. You never knew what it is to give all you have to a commitment, to your family, to your country. Never knew the sacrifice I gave by going to war. You were given a ticket out of that quandary, or perhaps you have forgotten?”

“My brother –“

Your ineffectual brother is not the issue!!” he bellowed, slamming a clenched fist down on his desk, rattling the dagger-like letter opener, emblazoned with the insignia of the secret fraternal order known as the Skull and Bones.

“We have something greater planned for you. You will not fail like you have countless times before. Prominence is in our blood, it is our birthright. You will lead, you will do as you are told, and you will become part of history. Is this clear?”

“Yes,” he said, trying to sound as confident and stoic as he could muster.

“You may go now.”

He paused for a second as if considering saying something, but instead he rose obediently from the large, red, leather chair. Just as his hand grasped the knob on the door to make his exit he heard his father say:

“Oh, and George?”

“Yes?”

“Send Jeb in next. I have something in mind for him as well. That will be all.”


 

Written in response to the Daily Prompt on the topic of: Legacy

A Blues Man In Therapy

therapy-Flickr

“Can you remember the first time you felt you were ‘born under a bad sign’, as you put it?”

Ramblin’ Hambone stroked his chin, grizzled and covered with grey stubble, and stared unblinking at the community college certificates on Debbie’s wall. The room was furnished like a living room, with three chairs in the center facing together, and multi-cultural artwork, seemingly picked out without any attempt at cohesion, decorated the walls and bookcases.

“Yuhh….I’ve been down since I began to crawl,” he croaked, and began to turn up the volume knob on the battered Gibson Firebird electric guitar on his knee.

“Mr. Hambone? Maybe no guitar during the sessions, so we concentrate on just talking please?” Debbie patiently asked, her long, straight, salt and pepper hair pulled back. She wore a Sanskrit “Om” pendant around her skinny neck. “Thank you. Now, tell me more about your childhood please.”

“I ain’t nothin’ but a country boy, driftin’ from town to town. Said I ain’t nothin’ but a country boy, driftin’ from town to town, have mercy.”

“Now, do you often repeat yourself? Do you feel that people are not listening to you?” she asked in response.

“Now when I was a young boy, at the age of five. My mother said I was gonna be the greatest man alive. But now I’m a man, way past 21. Want you to believe me baby, I had lots of fun.”

Debbie jotted down a note on the notepad on her knee with a pencil. “The expectations of others can be a trigger for depression, and it’s not uncommon for people to cope by self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, and sexual promiscuity,” she confirmed. “Oh, and please call me Deborah or Debbie. ‘Baby’ is not appropriate for a therapeutic relationship.”

“I got a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for day. Oh, I got a little red rooster too lazy to crow for day. Keep everything in the barnyard upset in every way.”

“Ok, so sometimes you have difficulty getting out of bed? Depression can have a serious impact on our productivity. And do you ever have any feelings of hopelessness?”

“The thrill is gone away. The thrill is gone away for good” Ramblin’ stated bleakly.

“Well you woke up one morning to learn that your girlfriend left you, you have no money or job, and it’s flooding where you live. Those are some major life events,” said Debbie with genuine empathy, nodding her head gently and grimacing at RH. “Why, it’s no wonder you have ‘the blues’!” She added air quotes to that last phrase.

“Next week we can pick up where we left off and maybe go over some coping strategies that don’t involve whiskey, cigarettes, or shooting your woman down? Ooh I almost forgot! There’s the matter of the copay. Who is your insurance provider?”

“Yaw…mmm…lessee what I got down heauh,” muttered Ramblin’ Hambone as he slowly fished through the pockets of his worn-out trousers, finding a flask, a few guitar picks, loose change, and a hound’s tooth in a small flannel bag– apparently a hoodoo talisman – before coming upon a bent plastic card.

He squinted at the card for a moment. “It’s Blues Cross of Alabama.”

“BLUE Cross,” she corrected him, “but that’s fine. I take that.”

The Garden

garden

It was towards the end of summer when Edward awoke later than usual. The morning was already hot, and the air sat motionless like a heavy, hazy, blanket upon the landscape. The drone of a few crickets was the only sound, save for the occasional chirp of a bird off in the distance. Even the beasts of the woods had the sense to withdraw from the heat, waiting patiently for it to break later in the day.

Edward Z. lived on a plot of land on the outskirts of the city. It was of modest size – a few acres, mostly wooded – and he cut out a patch of land for a garden on the edge of his property. The garden performed fairly well and yielded beans, squash, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, and even herbs for several months of the year.

On this steamy morning he had just begun tending to his garden, though he was already looking forward to a chance to relax in the shade. Suddenly a soft voice called to him from the tree line.

“Good day.”

Turning his head, with beads of sweat heavy on his brow, he noticed a young woman of average height, blond hair cut into a bob, walking a small dog along a path that cut through the woods. She was smiling and seemed to be admiring his garden.

“Oh…hello,” he said, trying to mask his surprise at this unexpected visitor. “Hot enough for you?” was the only thing he that came to mind, and he immediately felt silly for saying something trite and unimaginative.

The woman smiled politely and her dog cautiously yipped at Edward.

“Hush, you,” she gently scolded it. “Is that your place over there?” she asked, making a visor with her hand and looking in the direction of Edward’s house through the trees.

“It is,” he said, and paused as if waiting for her to fill the space with another comment, but she said nothing, merely looked at the crop he was tending to. “And…you? Are you new to here?”

“I’m watching over my cousin’s cabin while he is away. Would you mind showing me what you have growing?”

He was hesitant but gave a tour of the garden which took all of 45 seconds, as it was not large. They talked a bit more that day, and the next day she came again and they talked for longer. The conversations became easier for Edward, and soon he learned more about his new neighbor. She had a husband who would be joining her soon, but his work required him to be several cities away. He also learned they shared an interest in several topics, such as reading.

“And the Russian writers?” she queried.

“There is just one name: Chekhov.”

“I much prefer the prose of Tolstoy or Pushkin…and besides, Chekhov writes on such a small scale. Short stories seem at odds with the grandeur and expanse of Russia.”

“Ah, but what of the diminutive scale of the Faberge egg, the delicate passages of a Tchaikovsky etude? Do you dismiss those as being ‘at odds’ with Mother Russia as well?”

“True, true,” she said thoughtfully.

Though she was attractive, kind, and easy to talk to, Edward had a bad feeling about the whole arrangement. He was afraid of what this would all lead to, and was sure he didn’t want to go down a path towards heartbreak. Her husband would soon arrive and that would be the end of that. But still he made time when she visited on her daily walks.

On another hot morning, many of the tomatoes were ready to be picked. In fact, so many that they could hardly carry them in one trip. Anna lifted the front of her shirt, placing several into the makeshift cradle in order to carry them, and exposed her porcelain, flat stomach. It seemed to Edward as though it was the first time daylight ever shone upon that part of her; it was as if the cool, silver moon itself was stolen from the night sky and dropped into the bright, sweltering daytime for him alone to see. That morning turned into afternoon, which turned into night, and by the next morning Anna and her dog were still at his house.

She asked him about a photograph on the mantle of a young child, and if it was his. He grew silent, searching for the words.

“No…well yes, but no,” said Edward with trepidation, as he knew he had started down a difficult path but would have to continue.

He told her of his former wife, though by law they were still married. She was from a well-off family, and their fathers were business partners together. They were not forced into marriage, but it was heavily encouraged. After 3 years together they had a son, and settled into a not unpleasant though rather routine existence. But his wife wanted another child yet they were not able to conceive. So they went to see a doctor in the city.

“I’m sorry to say, but you are not able to have children,” they were informed. The doctor went on to give an explanation of why, which Edward didn’t fully understand as there were many things going through his head.

“So this is a recent development? When did this happen??” He asked, seeking clarity. His wife was uncharacteristically silent during the meeting, which Edward initially took as her disappointment.

“Sir, you have never been able to have children.”

Edward slowly felt a sickness building in his stomach, and in his peripheral vision, saw his wife break down, sobbing. That was then end of their relationship. Though he loved the boy, he was furious and hurt and could not bear to be around neither the woman who betrayed him, nor this child who was not his own. Anna’s green eyes welled up with empathetic tears, feeling the pain Edward had been living with.

Anna’s visits continued, and often lasted until the next morning. A familiar panic started to build in Edward. He feared the moment it would all end and decided he could not take another loss. So without telling her, he left the house and the garden and the plot of land in the woods. He never returned, and trusted the sale of it over to an agent in the city, though it would be several years until it was sold.

Anna’s husband did eventually arrive. When her baby was born, it was an early spring morning, cool and cloudy. She no longer took walks and spent most of her time caring for the child in the cottage, which her cousin had officially turned over to them to live in. Her husband took over the garden which he did not plant, but tended to as his own.

1915