Believers: Fiction

vo

It was early in the still-black morning when I awoke with a shriek. The numbers on my wrist watch floated like a glowing orb above my face as I held my arm up and tried to determine the time. Time was a part of the living world and knowing my place in it meant I belonged. As I made out the numbers, the dream image began to slip from my mind and like smoke, it was gone.

Yet, I still felt it. Long after a fire burns out, the smoke lingers. Likewise, I had a chill and felt a sickness in my stomach, something was wrong. I grabbed for my sleeping husband out of instinct as my lifeline to the living; he would surely ground me. I found his hand and did not feel calm, instead, a slow panic started. It felt strangely cold and stiff.

Then I opened my eyes and screamed for the second time of the morning.

I held the skeleton hand of my husband. His smooth, cool wedding ring slipped off into my hand. The cat, startled from my cry, leapt from the foot of the bed and scrambled to hide behind the curtain. A ray of bright moonlight streamed into the room, illuminating the bones resting on the pillow next to me.

When I stopped screaming, I didn’t wonder long at what happened.

This was vodou.

Earlier the day before, he balked at the cost of admission to the Field Museum which included a pass to a special exhibit. This special exhibit had come straight from Haiti and was an immersion into vodou (also known as voodoo, but not to be confused with Louisiana voodoo).

There was no way for him to have known that the cashier not only practiced vodou but had also mastered the darker side of it.

The cashier looked back and forth between us as we discussed the cost, listening big with her small ears. Large hoop earring swung with each turn of her head, tugging at her brown earlobes, lower and lower. I sensed an ally in her. Female intuition.

“Think of the cultural experience,” I reasoned.

“You will take more away from it than you know,” the cashier added with a nod.

She looked at the line behind us and gave an impatient grunt. She began to drum her long, natural nails on the keyboard of the cash register, clicking against each key. Our connection was wearing thin, quickly.

When we finally decided to check it out and bought the tickets, the cashier gave me a wide smile of forgiveness. We had clearly made the right choice and it didn’t take so long. On handing the tickets over the counter, her face fell into a scowl when my husband reached for them. Silently, she watched us walk away and muttered something when she thought we were out of earshot. Apparently, he was not included in the alliance.

“Next,” she yelled out behind us for the couple behind us to come forward.

I looked back to give farewell wave of appreciation and she was gone. The ticket line remained but the cashier was nowhere in sight. She must have gone on break, I thought. Good for her.

We walked off to explore the museum, forgetting about the cashier and her words, in our shared tourist joy.

It took a few hours, but the cashier delivered on her promise. She conjured up the help of a mischievous skin and organs snatching spirit and sent it over state lines to punish, perhaps, and to send a message.

Point proven, it was worth the admission fee, but I didn’t need to be convinced.

We are all believers, now.

Image:http://theculturetrip.com/caribbean/haiti/articles/vodou-flags-between-the-terrestrial-and-the-spiritual-/

Additional sites about vodou:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Vodou

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Post Christmas Puke

elf

There is nothing quite like running late for work the day after Christmas.

Everything was a mess from the holiday hustle bustle with rogue boxes on the couch, batteries rolled under the rug, abandoned sheets of tissue paper, and half-finished laundry on the table. Bags and opened packages were dropped in the hallways from coming back late on Christmas night and remained as cheery remnants of December 25/trip hazards in the morning.

Perhaps, most off putting of the morning, we were out of bananas for breakfast. Grocery shopping had not made the to-do list with all of the other shopping and preparations. The only option to save me from starvation was left-over Christmas cookies and old almond milk, the breakfast of champions and night time snack of hipster Santas.

Needless to say, I was not seizing the day. I was stumbling towards my one and only goal for the day: make it to work before my supervisor noticed I wasn’t there.

Fortunately, I had enough foresight to lay out my least wrinkled sweater, scarf and pair of socks the night before to save time in the morning.

After aimlessly shuffling around and getting nothing done, I mustered up the strength to take a quick shower, feasted on cookies and milk and pushed the X-mas junk into a pile for later. I just had to get dressed and head out the door. The sweater was in my hands, a millisecond away from going over my head, when I noticed it was wet. In fact, it was more than wet. There was also a massive hairball and several perfect circles of bright, yellow bile on the sweater. I suppose I should mention that the goo wasn’t contained to the sweater only, it also found its way to my scarf and socks that were meant for the day.

After a quick sweep of the room, I found the guilty party. She was sticking half way out from under the bed skirt watching me cry out in disgust as I stepped into another pile of goo. If she could have giggled or snickered, she would have at that very moment. Her whiskers quivered and her little cat face smirked at me without a hint of remorse.

Just eight hours earlier, I called her my white princess and hand fed her snacks while she purred on my lap. I struggled to understand how she could do such a malicious thing to me a few short hours later.

“Why?” I cried out, partially expecting an answer.

It felt personal, this attack of biological warfare.

Still trying to get a grip on the situation, I cleaned up the mess, found another sweater, and hurried to the office considering what a mean creature shared a pillow with me at night. Maybe it was time that she got her own pillow, I mused vindictively.

When I finally made it and settled into my cube for the day, I looked down at what I was wearing. Stripes and spots, great. I was glad that everyone else had taken off the day to spare them the confusion of my outfit. I cursed the name of my white princess again and shook my fists in the air.

Before I could really start the day, I needed to get ahold of myself. I needed to take a tour of the internet news and check my horoscope and any other links that popped up demanding to be explored to get my mind off of the mess and the sweater saboteur living in my home.

At the bottom of a random page, it said, “It is best to err on the side of compassion…”

I think there was more, but I was already considering the implications of this message for my day. Of course my white princess wouldn’t intentionally sabotage my work outfit. So what if she did, it was probably so we could spend the day together after being apart for Christmas.

Kitty logic, go figure.

Erring on the side of compassion is a mistake that I can afford to make with my darling cat.

Oh hard heart, how fast a well-placed quote can soften your edges.

I’m just not sure if I have enough reserve to do the same with humans.

The Office Stand-off

stand off

“Elise, we meet again. How unfortunate,” the woman said through gritted teeth.

She narrowed her eyes as she surveyed her adversary.

Both women wore dark suits and heels that clicked with importance when they walked on the tile floors of their office building. Six floors and different schedules was still not enough to keep the two from the occasional encounter.

“Rebecca, it’s been too long. How have you been?” Elisa smiled: white and flashy, with the easy schmooze of a salesperson.

Not long enough, Rebecca thought.  She swallowed down the bile that rose in her throat. She felt nothing but hatred which caused a rather unusually strong physical reaction in her body. Her stomach churned and her chest burned from the seething, hot hate. Rebecca stopped for a moment of clarity and considered that her current symptoms might actually be from acid reflux. In any case, this woman had no business on the fourth floor.

“My key doesn’t work on this floor, anymore. Not to worry, I didn’t have to wait long. One of your kind colleagues let me in.”

“I warned you to stay away from my employees,” Rebecca said, clenching and unclenching her fists at her side.

Elise pushed a pair of cat-eye shaped glasses higher on the bridge of her small nose and raised her eyebrows, “Are you talking about Fresh Meat and Easy Pickins’?”

Blood rushed to Rebecca’s face; she felt a vein start to pound against her temple. She took a deep breath and willed herself to remain calm. Breathe in, breathe out. She practiced the breathing exercises from a stress management class that she just attended. Blood began to pound in her ears; the calming exercise was not working.

“They already told me what I needed to know,” Elise said. She looked down at the files in her arms and flipped through a few pages from a note pad on top.

“There isn’t much I don’t know about your operation now. Tell those two dummies, thanks for the meet and greet,” Elise snickered.

Rebecca stepped in front of Elise, “Whatever happens now, you have brought onto yourself.”

The tension was so thick in the air that after a file clerk scampered past the two and she had to schedule an appointment with her therapist for a mental health tune-up as she started to feel a breakdown was imminently on the way.

They stood like that motionless for a second, directly in front of one another; it was an old fashioned stand-off that would almost certainly end in death and/or serious injury. Rebecca was on the edge of lunging at the other woman to throttle her skinny neck while Elise felt and looked smug. She stood back and crossed her arms, knowing that she was safe. After all, they were professionals in a professional setting.

Rebecca dropped her hands to her side and Elise did the same after setting her paperwork and files down, they both suddenly understood how this would be resolved. It would depend on who had the fastest draw and most accurate dial.
They both grabbed at the only weapons they knew how to use, their Blackberry cell phones. Elise struggled with the clip at her belt and got past the passcode lock. She glanced up to see that Rebecca had already placed the call.

“Yes, I need to report an unethical employee.”

Her smug face fell and her spirit deflated. That was not the call she expected Rebecca to make.  Everyone knew about the report first, report early rule. It wasn’t written in any handbook or on a list of procedures. It just was.

Elise was defeated. She never thought that Rebecca would go to HR.  She didn’t think she had it in her, especially after the last time.

Rebecca covered the speaker of her phone and whispered, “You might want to put in a transfer request. I hear the Michigan branch needs help.”

Laughing quietly, she thought of the skinny woman dealing with the freezing temps and heavy snow.  She tried to imagine her in a snow suit with her perfect hair and heels sticking out of either end.

Rebecca whispered, “Good luck with the lake effect.”

Christmas cookies and strangers

coo

I was warned of the dangers in accepting baked goods from strangers, like most kids. Likely a pin or a toxic pill would be stuffed inside of an otherwise innocent looking brownie or cookie, waiting to kill the foolish ingestee. I missed out on a good number of bake sales and had to throw out many hand packaged goodies from trick-o-treating. Whenever a kid found a needle or piece of metal in a Snickers on Halloween and it made the news, usually after an unfortunate intervention at the ER, we had to watch the broadcast. I think it was our mom’s way to make us remember the constant and real danger of candy/cookie terrorism; perhaps the most unfair fighting tactic of all and least utilized by the military. Go figure.

To be fair, I was also warned about other normal childhood dangers, such as getting into vans with strangers and falling for the promise of a puppy, or of going to exotic places like Florida with girlfriends for fear of being sold into the human traffic trade. The warning also included going to the mall, public parks, and generally any other place that humans might be lurking. In the cautionary stories that ensued, taking the risk with any of these menaces always ended with untimely death or kidnapping and torture.

Needless to say, I did not travel far from home until I left for college, but I also was not kidnapped or sold into the sex trade. So that’s a big win for fear mongers everywhere by almost certainly proving that in avoiding all risk, strangers and strange places, no harm or misfortune can occur.  However, since that period of fearing all living things, I have traveled to many places and faced many threats. I’ve weighed risk with reward and stretched as a human with each experience. Yet, there has not been a single encounter that went more directly the warnings of my childhood than what happened this weekend.

The day was unusually warm for December, yet no one was out. My husband and I were strolling through the neighborhood admiring the decorations, if that’s what you call inflatable Santas, orange and blue lights and a pack of electronic grazing reindeer.

A strange figure approached us from the opposite direction with what appeared to be a triangle on her head. She made a bee-line for us carrying something in each hand. A meeting seemed unavoidable as she locked her eyes on us. We felt an unsolicited sales attempt was seconds away from being made and started to size up the would-be saleswoman.
She was a teenager that much was clear from her purple glittery sweatshirt and tennis shoes. Her curly red hair was indeed cut into a triangle, which made sense in a Miss Frazzle and the Magic School Bus kind of way. Her glasses were purple, of course, and it appeared that her lenses were in the process of transiting into sunglasses as they darkened and obscured her strange eyes.

As she prepared to speak, I took a breath and prepared to say, We don’t want any, but stopped short when I noticed that in each hand, she carried a plate of beautifully decorated Christmas cookies.

“Would you like a free cookie? We made them for the neighborhood and I’m delivering them.”

What? I stepped back in shock and wondered just how much a free cookie really cost? What kind of trick was this? Cookies filled with poison, perhaps? More likely pins, I decided, based on the research of my dark childhood. And who is this we? I couldn’t help but wonder what drug pusher or psychopath had roped this young girl into working for him. Yes, I am assuming it was a male.

Then I heard a voice in my head, reminding me, “Never, never, never take cookies from strangers.”

I could practically hear my husband thinking the same thing. Taking a cookie from a stranger on the street would be crazy, right? An unnecessary risk to ongoing life, right?

He cleared his throat to tell the girl what I am guessing was, thanks but no thanks, when I stopped him. This girl was strange but she didn’t seem to be a stranger, not the kind that I envisioned would go to the trouble of baking and decorating the most adorable cookies, only to have them laced with arsenic or whatever is used in cookie terrorism.

So I did what is clearly an impulse control issue that needs to be worked on, and said, “We’d love to split one.”

I grabbed a cookie snowman and bit its lovely head off in a good will gesture and expressed our appreciation. Then, I broke off the arm of the snowman and held it out to my husband/partner in unnecessary risk, “We’ll either make it or we won’t. At least we do it together.”

It was kind of like a Christmas cookie pact. We broke from the habit of making automatic decisions based on fear and the negative side of the what-if question. We made a decision in the moment based on a feeling that this girl was only offering good tidings and accepted the consequences of whatever was to come. Still, there was a brief time when we considered calling someone to let them know what we had done, just in case we collapsed on the street, convulsing and foaming from our mouths, as there were no witnesses and soon to be no evidence, either.

Guess what, the cookie was delicious. The icing was amazing. No seizure activity or foaming from the mouth resulted from the decision. Perhaps best of all, we lived to tell the tale with a new type of ending that sometimes it really is ok to take a cookie from a stranger.

The Spirit of Christmas

The man with the golden hair heard a pencil scratching across a pad of lined paper. His eyes had just fluttered shut when he looked up with a start. He brushed a single strand of tinsel from shirt, a remnant from the day’s activities. After a quick scan for more tinsel, he glanced at his wife, checking to see if she noticed.

“What are you writing? You aren’t writing that letter, are you?”

She stared intently at the paper as she wrote fast and furiously. He wondered if she had noticed anything that he had done that night: the twinkling lights, the tree, the presents or the snowflake cut-outs taped to the ceiling. He was most proud of the snowflakes, each one was different. His hand ached from the careful cutting.

He watched her purse her red lips and continue with her task.

There were only a few people left on earth who still communicated by letter and his wife was one. Instinctively, he knew for whom the letter was intended and what it would likely say.

“Come on, now, what are you writing? I have a right to know, don’t I?”

He continued to wheedle the unrelenting writer for confirmation of what he suspected, perhaps in hopes of stopping her or changing the contents of the letter. Surely, he had done enough to make up for whatever wrong she had imagined. He pulled his body the rest of the way up from his resting spot on the couch and felt his heart pounding.

Of course he was nervous; he had a lot riding on this exchange of information. Yet still, the pencil continued to scrawl out letters and words without stopping.

He glanced towards the corner at the tiny tree with twinkling lights and lumpy presents at its base. Its cheery glow reminded him of the reason for the season, the joy of giving, and then of the thing that he never forgot, the bribe.

In a few days, he would make a batch of his famous cookies. From the baker’s dozen, he would pick the most perfect cookie, with chocolate chips evenly spaced and plentiful, not too chewy or crunchy and leave it out on a plate with a cup of milk. Perhaps this year, he would leave out a few more cookies and a bigger glass of milk.

A greater investment should yield a greater return, he reasoned. That is, unless that letter gets to him first. He began to worry again.

“You promised you wouldn’t write,” he said.

The scratching suddenly stopped and the writer looked up. Her pencil remained suspended in midair, filled with endless graphite potential. She pushed a pair of heavy glasses higher on the bridge of her nose and prepared to speak.

“He has to know,” she said. As though he doesn’t already, she snickered. He knows everything, including who is naughty and nice.

She stared out the window as white flakes of snow fell from the grey sky and as paper flakes hung from the ceiling, only thinking of what to write next.

Cyber Monday

I’m not a doctor, but I do have a knack for diagnosing myself with rare medical conditions.

It’s a gift, more or less, that runs in the Bones family.   As far as I know, this sixth sense that teeters between hypochondria and medical genius, started way back with Granny Bones.  Many unusual diseases and disorders such as the blue finger syndrome, slappy foot, and rot nose were discovered and termed by my very own mammy and pappy Bones without them ever receiving their due recognition.

As for me, being a less “medically” gifted member of the Bones family, I take plenty of guesses at the cause of a stomach pain or headache but can only confirm the condition after extensive Google research.  WebMD is generally the final authority.  Forget about conferring with a White Coat when the internet is free in most places and available with the right device.  There is no appointment needed to double check with Google on a deep cough to find that it is definitely tuberculosis.  Why sit in a germ filled waiting room for a doc when you can search ‘bleeding from the eyes’ to find out you have Ebola?

I have just had the misfortune of diagnosing myself with a new condition, perhaps the gravest of all of my imagined conditions, brain mush.  There’s no information online to support this disorder, so I hope WebMD looks into this phenomenon and recommends a non-invasive, non-physician involved treatment.  If I had to guess the cause of brain mush, it would certainly be from hours of staring at a small screen looking for deals.

I wonder what I was thinking wasting so much time online before my grey matter started to deteriorate into the consistency of day old oatmeal, and I was left with only the promise of a box of thin t-shirts, a copper pot and a pair of distressed pants to be delivered within the next seven to ten days.

Before Cyber Monday, I was decisive and motivated.

I had big thinks.

Now, only mush.

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