Hidden Message

The following post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:  You or your character find a forgotten letter or card from someone important in your life–whether good or bad.  What does it say?  How does it affect you or your character?  What is done with it?
* * *
He was following me.
I ran. 
I ran up the hill and behind the house that Jonathan had told me years and years ago never to go into.  It was too dangerous, he told me.  I could get hurt.
But the danger behind me was far, far greater. 
I used the key I found in Jonathan’s dresser drawer. 
It worked.
I slipped inside. Locked the door behind me and leaned against it.
I held my breath.  I heard footsteps; saw the beam of a flashlight cut across the window and discovered that I was in a kitchen.
The footsteps continued up the hill and into the woods. 
I didn’t move.
* * *
The sunlight and the birds and the gentle sound of the wind caressing the trees woke me.  I sat still, listening.  He wouldn’t be out there now; he was too much of a pansy to sit in the woods all night.  I stood, stretched.  Looked around the old house.
There was the kitchen, of course.  A dining room.  A mudroom and a tiny half bathroom.  All in good condition.  Up the rickety stairs, I found one bedroom.  Empty.  A second bedroom.  Also empty.  A third bedroom.  Furnished.
There was a single bed there.  A shelf of books.  Football trophies adorned a dresser.  There was a light and an old telephone and dusty posters of football players.  Who lived here?
I looked around and pulled a yearbook from the shelf.  1993.  There was an envelope sticking out of the top.  I slid it out.  The envelope had my name written on it.  It was sealed.
I tore it open.  Pulled out a birthday card.  Pink and flowers and a giant sixteen on the front.  Inside, there was a folded piece of paper that crinkled too loudly as I opened it.
Ellie,
I know you’re sixteen and you think you’re all growed up now, but to me, you’re still a baby.
I like that.
 I like that you know how to sit in the stillness of a day, to breathe in the quiet.  I like that you can sit next to me in the diner while Jonathan delivers his chickens and his eggs and Annie brings in her pies—pumpkin and apple and peach. 
I like that you do not judge me.
People ‘round here, they think that just because a man is quiet that he has nothing to say.  People think that just because a man is mute, that he must be dumb as well. 
You would not believe the things I hear setting on this stool all day long.  People tell me everything because they think I’m too stupid to understand.  They tell me all their secrets, Ellie, but they don’t know that I have the biggest secret of all.
Don’t listen when your momma tells you your father is dead, Ellie.  Or when Jonathan says your daddy run off somewheres. Your father is here, Ellie Jackson. 
Look around.
Can’t you see him?
–Howard
Shivers ran up my spine, the same shivers I felt the night before.
I tucked the letter back inside the yearbook.  Put the yearbook back on the shelf.  Let myself back out of the house and shut the door tightly behind me before locking it up again.
Jonathan was right: It was too dangerous here.
 I could get hurt.

The Life in Their Eyes

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:
Flash Fiction can be fun and a real challenge. This week focus on the words and the strength of each to contribute to your story. Write a 300 word piece using the following word for inspiration: LIFE.
* * *

There’s a sign at the entrance to Bitsy’s Diner.
“She’s selling out.” Spank waves his spatula in the air. 
“This diner is your future, El.  The money I got invested in this place will get you out of Medford.”
“But…”
“You got your whole life ahead of you, child.  This is your opportunity to go and live it.”
“You know how she’s always going on about the city,” Spank says.
Years ago, Bitsy took me to New York.  The people crowded on the sidewalk regarded one another with eyes of indifference.  There were lights and noises and people.  Everywhere, people. 
“City’s full of life, Ellie.”  Bitsy’s eyes gleam.
Life.
* * *
Annie once said babies grew on trees.  Told me I sprouted from a pink blossom in the apple orchard over yonder hill.  Told me she watched me grow fat and red before plucking me from the branch to bring me home.
Jonathan once told me that babies came from potatoes.  “Cut one into pieces and you got babies.  Just be sure an’ plant ‘em with their eyes looking towards the sky.  The life is in their eyes, Ellie.”
Bitsy once said that Annie and Jonathan were full of shit; said a girl oughta’ know her birds from her bees.   But I took their meaning:  Life surrounds me in the country.
* * *
“A body can’t fit into the city,” I say now and the gleam in Bitsy’s eyes fades to hopelessness, reminding me of the homeless man at Penn Station with fingerless gloves and a tattered Starbucks cup full of nickels and dull, lifeless eyes.
“I choose to stay, Bitsy.  I choose the farm.”
And in so choosing my life, I fear I have destroyed Bitsy’s.

Howard Snickered

This posting was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:
Physical beauty.

It can open doors – and can also shut them.

Write a scene in which a physically beautiful character is somehow impacted by that trait.”

Of course, I probably broke the rules again. 
I also rushed it a bit: Filibuster is home and I’m off to pick her up.
Howard Snickered

Lilly Jean Jacobs plopped herself down right next to Howard Heacock and flipped open her menu.  “I’m not even going to say good morning to you, Dumbass.”

Howard swiveled slightly upon his stool to acknowledge his stepmother, a woman three years his junior, and was accosted by her bosom.  He turned away quickly and added three packets of sugar to his coffee.
“Lilly Jean, must you store your drink there?”  Bitsy nodded towards the plastic sports bottle tucked neatly in Lilly Jean’s ample cleavage.  “You’re nauseating my customers here.”

“I don’t think so, Bitsy Barnes,” Lilly Jean returned, reaching into her oversized purse and withdrawing a hair pick.  “Word is, ever since I came to town, business has picked up for you.”  She fluffed her hair then whipped out a giant bottle of hair spray. 
“You’re not spraying that shit in my diner.”
“What, you gonna’ have me arrested?”  She grinned and depressed the button.   
“You’ll require a tornado to take that hair down tonight,” Bitsy observed, grabbing a couple of menus and directing Ransom O’Neill and his wife to a two-top.
Lilly Jean pulled a bottle of red nail polish from her purse and shook it violently.  “I don’t think Daddy Sheriff brought me to Medford for love, Howie.  I think he brought me here to fix you.”  She started with her pinky, lining up the bristles of the tiny brush with the edge of her cuticle and moving towards the tip.  “Truth is, I don’t think you’re the fixable type.” 
She moved on to the fourth finger.  Howard eyed her wedding ring.  “You know your daddy never told me nuthin’ about you when he proposed to me.  I didn’t know you existed until Daddy Sheriff carried me across the threshold of my new home and there you were, sitting by the window, staring at the stars.  “I never woulda’ married your father, had I known you’d be part of the picture.  I don’t need to be tied down, taking care of some freak show accident.”  She made her hand into a loose fist, turned it over and began blowing upon the nails with pursed lips.
“Fact is, Howard Heacock, had I known what a dump Medford is, I never would have agreed to have come here.  I was on my way.  I was going somewheres.  Did you know, I was…”
“Runner up in Miss Tennessee.   Yes, Lilly Jean, you may have mentioned that once or twice.”  Bitsy returned to the breakfast bar and grabbed a pot of coffee from the warming plate.
 “I was also in a television commercial.”
“For shoes, Lilly Jean.”  Bitsy refilled Howard’s cup, all the way to the rim the way he liked it.
“And I was called back for that television pilot…”
“Cancelled before it got off the ground.”  Bitsy leaned her massive body over the counter.  “You ordering today, Lilly Jean or did you mistake my restaurant for a beauty parlor?”  
Lilly Jean sneered.  “This ain’t no beauty parlor.  Coffee, black.  And toast with a smidge of butter.  Don’t be letting that cook of yours butter it so much I have to wring out the bread.  I got an audition coming up.”  She spread the fingers upon her right hand.  “No one understands, me, Howard.”  She paused to blow on her pinky.  “I been here eight months and not one woman—not one—has made any effort to get to know me and you know why?”  Lilly Jean leaned towards Howard, made to whisper in his ear.  “They’re all jealous of my beauty.”
Howard stole a glance at Lilly Jean, a late-model thirty year old acting as if she were straight off the lot.
For the first time in eighteen years, Howard snickered.
Hearing this, Bitsy screamed and dropped the pot of coffee.

To Speak Again

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club: “This week’s prompt is all about character development. We’d like you to write about what your character wants most.”  Posting my fiction online is not easy for me!

Daddy Sheriff told me I had to hold my tongue; told me that he’d kill me if I ever breathed a word about that night to anyone.  He told me he was just trying to help me to get ahead; to get me the hell out of Medford before the town rolled over and died.  Said he didn’t mean to kill Duke Ellis anyhow, just wanted to roughen him up a bit, and shouldn’t that count for something?
Daddy Sherriff told me to hold my tongue.  I guess I been holding it ever since.
They say a woman likes to fill herself up with gossip; to arm herself with tidbits of information that can be exchanged or even banked for some future trade.  Well, a man just don’t act like that, leastways, not this man.  A man don’t want all these pieces of other people’s lives jangling around inside his head. 
They said the shock of losing my best friend was just too much for me to handle.  They said I needed time.  And they gave me time, time they deemed sufficient.  But after three months of my silence, they stopped talking to me; told their children to stay away.  Told them Howard Heacock had turned strange.  My friends and neighbors, yes, even Daddy Sheriff with his fancy new wife, said I was touched in the head.  Maybe that night had affected me more than they figured on, and wasn’t it time to take Howard to a specialist, Daddy Sheriff?
Eighteen years on and I haven’t said a word.  People still think I’m touched.  But they’re no longer afraid.  They come into Bitsy’s Diner and plop themselves down next to me on an antique stool.  While they fill their bodies with runny eggs and buttered toast they fill my head with their problems.  I know Flossie Wren is cheating on her husband.  Andee Miller won’t meet her mortgage payment next month.  Ransom O’Neill is overdrawn on his bank account.  Two weeks ago, his son stole a brand new Buick off a lot in Wheeling.  For eighteen years, people have stuffed me with their secrets; all except my Bits.  Bitsy Barnes has stuffed herself, growing fat on her own cooking because she has no one left to hear her.
Have you ever looked at the stars?  I mean, really, really looked up at the heavens?  Stars have personality, the way people do.  There’s them that are so shiny and bright they nearly blind you.  Those are the Bitsy stars.  There’s the ones that, despite their shine, are long past dead.  I call those stars the Daddy Sheriffs.  Then there’re those shooting stars, the ones that streak across the sky so fast you wonder if it’s time for another trip to the Pearle Vision down at the mall.  Those stars are the Ellies.  All those stars…the Bitsys and the Eillies, even the Daddy Sheriffs…play their roles in silence without our notice.  But I been playing the wrong role far too long.  After eighteen years, I’m so full of secrets, I can’t hold no more.  I want to tell Jonathan Ellis to stop waiting at the mailbox for a letter that ain’t never coming.  I want to tell Ellie Jackson that her father is alive.  I want to tell Daddy Sheriff to go to hell. 
I want to hold Bitsy Barnes in my arms again, before I roll over and die, just the way Medford did, eighteen years ago when this whole mess started.
I don’t want to hide anymore.  I don’t want to listen.
For once, I want to speak.
I want to speak again.