Friday, May 11, 2012


What had been so effortless in little league suddenly became awkward, painfully mechanical. My arm was hungry for eyes cocked my way from under dark hair and a shy smile. Should I be cool, confident? Should I flex my bicep? My hands wrap a little tighter around the plastic bat. Was I making too much of this? Did my best friend, standing like a statue on the "mound" (marked by a paper plate) know or care that I needed a hit?That I needed, like a salmon needs to charge upstream, to make the plastic swiss cheese pill dissapper into the trees? But no. Better to earn it. Better for it to curve through space, defying me to swing hard, my arms betting against the pitcher, against the ball, against her indifference toward me, that my swing wouldn't be in vain.

Could it be as simple as it looked, the way the spinning blur of the ball floats to me like a gift? I'm almost dissappointed. I draw it in, as though controlling it with a beam from my eyes, and gloriously, defiantly, swing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I hadn't been out long. Less than a month. The chrome on my bike and the plastic on my name tag were both new and untarnished. Lindquist, my trainer and I, went into a grocery store. It was Monday—P-day, or preparation day—the closest thing we ever got to a day off. It was our day to do laundry, clean the apartment, buy groceries. If we were lucky we squeezed in some recreation, but mostly it was a day to do the bare minimum required to continue living and doing our work, the Lord's work. It was easy to forget that sometimes—easy to get caught up in the details and forget that we were there to save souls.

Lindquist's bike, it couldn't have been more different from mine. Patched together from this and that, tattered, used, lots of miles on it. (It was the Millennium Falcon of bikes without being fast, famous, or in any way cool.) Mine, a brand new Liahona—a bike made for missionaries like me, named after something from the Book of Mormon. Forgive a missionary for quoting from scripture:

“And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it a , which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it. And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness. And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day. Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey; Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions.”

--Alma 37:38-42

I must have pulled something out of my pack. I must have tied my shoe. I don't know what it was, but I must have done something that convinced my brain that I had locked the bikes. But I hadn't.

It was a hot July day. Lindquist and I had agreed to splurge on a big bucket of ice cream to share.

My bike was gone.

Lindquists bike, of course, had gone nowhere. Mine was gone. So I broke out the phone card, called our Zone Leader—a missionary like us, but who also helped us stay on task and got us things we needed. As such, he had the profligate of resting his bike and using a church-owned car. He said he would come and pick us up.

We waited.

We waited forever, afflicted with hunger and thirst. Any time now. Any time. I had time to pray. Standing there in my white shirt, tie, and slacks, a bag of groceries at my feet, including a bucket of ice cream melting in the Sacramento valley's hundred degree weather, I asked God to bring me my bike back, knowing full well he probably wouldn't. I asked God to help me forgive whoever took my bike for doing this. I followed up that request asking that the ZL would show up soon. How long had it been? A half hour already? He didn't live that far. We called, no answer. We tried a few more times, same result.

Then he answered: “Hey Elder Gunn. You, uh—you want your bike back?”


“We got it back for you. We were just about to leave the pad when we saw this kid riding down the street on a bike with “Liahona” written on the side. We stopped him. We'll come get you as soon as we can, okay?”

I was too glad to get the good news to ask for any more details. In due time he picked us up. The bucket of ice cream was big enough that it probably wouldn't be a total loss. The ZL took us to a sidewalk out in front of their place. My bike was laying on the ground by a police car. The kid who took it was nowhere to be found. I got out.

The cop said “Is this your bike?”


“Well, it's yours again. The bad guy's in jail. You can go home now,” as though this kind of thing happened every day. The kid who took it, I was told, was a Hispanic kid who claimed the bike belonged to his friend. The ZL and his companion kept him company until the cops could arrive. I wondered if he would try it again. I wondered if he would respond to the message we were there to share in the first place.

Everyone was happy for me, surprised. I'm sure it got told around the mission, as all kinds of stories do among entertainment-starved Mormon missionaries. I certainly got some mileage out of it. But I wondered about that kid—child, really. I wondered what his name was. God knew. I wondered why he had stolen the bike, what he had planned to do with it, and what he would steal next. God knew.

It was then that I realized two things: first, that God wanted me there. Second, that he wasn't going to stop anyone from making their own choices. It was sad, but like so many other things at that time, I knew it was true in a way that felt truly permanent.

There was little more we could do for that kid other than pray for him, I told myself. What else was there to do? We had this miracle, and many other miracles, wrought by the power of God day by day. But I often wonder if the next missionary pointed at this kid would learn his name, would offer him something more.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Saint Nick

This is a special guest post by Amy Gunn

There has always been a Rose in my family, for as far back as any of us can remember. It’s one of those family names that keeps cropping up, and it’s almost like we don’t even have a choice in the matter anymore. The firstborn daughter is always named Rose.

My life had always been completely ordinary before Nick. It had been early December when we met; I was just finishing up my first semester as a freshman in college. I hadn’t dated a lot through high school, so when Nick came along and swept me off my feet I was positive that it was true love.

We met at a party. It wasn’t one of those cool parties that you see in movies or anything; it was actually pretty boring. People were sitting around, some of them holding hands, and everyone was listening to loud music. Okay, now that description just made it sound even cooler than it was. The loud music was classical music, since it was a symphony Christmas party. Yeah, I was the embodiment of the phrase “band geek.” Anyway, Nick introduced himself to me with Bolero blaring in the background, and it was love at first sight, at least for my part. I had never seen him around before, but I was in the woodwinds and he told me he was in percussion, so that sort of made sense to me.

Nick was a looker, so I couldn’t believe he was even talking to me. He was over six feet tall with glossy blond hair that had just the right amount of wave in it, and his eyes were a piercing color of electric blue. He was like the Ken doll of college sophomores.

I left the party with him that night and never looked back. I don’t remember where we went – which is weird I guess – but we went someplace and talked until it was almost getting light outside. The knowledge that I had been picked up by this totally amazing guy sort of filtered down to everything else in my life to make it all seep pretty great.

We saw a lot of each other over the next couple of weeks. I’m sure my dorm roommate wondered where I was spending all of my spare time, but we were all pretty stressed about finals so maybe she didn’t even notice. I’m not sure what Nick and I did those nights; more talking, I guess. But suddenly I had my happy thought to get me through finals, of which I’d been terrified since I started school that fall.

Nick was always giving me presents. Every morning when I woke up I’d find things resting on the foot of my bed. I wondered how much he had paid my roommate to put them there, but somehow I never got around to asking her. Once there was a nice pair of earrings that I swear had real diamonds in them, but it was mostly little things, like candy and a note that said “sweets for the sweet” or something equally corny. I loved corny, so it made me fall for him even more.

I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened, but sometime after Nick found out I was going home for Christmas at the end of finals week, we were suddenly planning to make the trip together. I had never brought a guy home with me before, so this was a big step for me. I decided to keep him as a surprise for my family, although I wasn’t sure why. Nick was like the best thing to ever happen to me, but I didn’t want to share him just yet.

The last day of finals was just a few days before Christmas. Somehow I survived everything, and then it was finally time to get off campus and head for home. My parents lived a couple hundred miles away from the school. It was close enough that I could visit them without breaking the bank, but also far enough away that I felt like I could have a little space.

We both crammed into my ancient Volkswagon Rabbit. I had family Christmas gifts packed into the hatchback next to my dirty laundry and suitcase. Nick had packed pretty light; I couldn’t even see any of his stuff under the mountain of my own. He was great company. I don’t remember much about the trip home except that I was enjoying spending the time with him.

The trip seemed to take no time at all, but then there we were, suddenly driving down the street I had grown up on and I could see the familiar white house with the swing on the front porch. I was getting a little anxious, but in an excited sort of way. I parked a couple houses down, because I wanted our arrival to be a surprise to my family, who weren’t actually expecting me – let alone Nick – until late that night or the next day.

Nick was helping me pull my luggage out of the back of the car. There was a dizzying instant where I blinked and the tiniest fraction of a moment passed before I reopened my eyes, and when I looked at him again there was another gift perched on top of my duffel bag.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Open it,” Nick replied, smiling. He was closing the top of the one bag he always seemed to have with him. I wondered for a moment if this was the only piece of luggage he had brought with him, but then I got distracted by the gift under my nose. I opened it and was shocked to see a necklace that matched the diamond earrings he had given me before (which I was wearing, of course). “Nick,” I argued, shaking my head, “I can’t believe you got this for me. It’s too much!” But my fingers were itching to pull it out of its box and put it on.

Nick’s teeth still gleamed behind his smile, “It’s just a little something to remind you of me,” he shrugged, “do you want me to put it on for you?”

There was weight and some deeper meaning to his question that I didn’t quite catch, but my feeling of guilt disappeared and I just nodded. Something flashed in Nick’s eyes as I watched him pull the necklace out of the box. Triumph? I figured he was just pleased I was accepting his gift after all.

I had to hold my breath to keep from squealing when he put it around my neck. It felt heavier than it had looked in the box, and somehow when I looked into Nick’s eyes again I knew that something had changed in our relationship forever. I couldn’t help but wonder if a diamond ring might someday follow this gift.

The rest of the day went by in a blur. Nick was a huge hit – especially with my mom – and things couldn’t have been better. My little brother Trevor didn’t seem to care much for Nick at first, but then Nick went to his little magic bag and suddenly there was a gift there for Trevor as well. Nick was like that – always thinking about others. Things went better with Trevor after that.

The next day was Christmas Eve – the day my extended family got together for a huge dinner. I was excited they were all going to meet my new boyfriend. I helped my mom get ready for the dinner – even though I was a terrible cook – partly because I wanted to impress Nick by doing something all homey, but also because I wanted everything to turn out perfect this year. Nick stayed out of the way but was always there just within sight when I started to wonder where he had disappeared to. Then it was time for people to start showing up. I didn’t want Nick to feel
overwhelmed by my large family, so I took him back onto the covered porch in the back
of the house, and the place started to fill up.

He stood there staring into the trees in the backyard, and I thought he seemed tense. “Hey,” I greeted him, walking over to put my hand in his.

“Hey,” he said, grinning when I took his hand. “Sorry, I don’t really do crowds,” he confessed. “I thought this was just going to be you and your family.”

Okay, now I felt really guilty. “Sorry,” I apologized, “but this sort of is my family.” I gestured weakly toward the back door. I realized just then that I had no idea what sort of family background Nick was coming from. He had never been interested in talking about himself and it hadn’t seemed odd to me before that moment. I heard the knob turn as someone on the inside of the house was coming out, and I felt Nick stiffen next to me. I looked over at him curiously, squeezing his hand just in case that weird look on his face was discomfort at being subjected to my extended family. I turned back to the house to find my grandmother standing in the open doorway staring at the two of us with her mouth hanging open.

“Hi grandma,” I said, thinking she was just overreacting at seeing our clasped hands. She didn’t look at me; just continued to stare at Nick.

“You!” she finally said after a quick moment, pointing a long, gnarled finger at him. “You are not welcome here.”

I sucked in a deep breath, nearly swallowing my own tongue. “Grandma!” I choked in disbelief. I turned to Nick, hoping that my muddled brain could come up with an acceptable apology, but I realized he was still smiling.

“Hello, Rose,” he said, calling her by her first name. I was confused, thinking at first that he was talking to me, but he was still watching her. Neither one of them was paying me any attention.

“You are NOT welcome here, Nicholas,” she said again. How did she know his name? This was getting weirder all the time. Nick was still grinning, not troubled by her rudeness.

“Rose, Rose, Rose,” he said again, still sounding pleasant, “I said I would be back; you just hoped I would forget. But you should know I never forget to call in a debt.” His words sounded cruel, but I had no idea what he was talking about.

“What?” I finally said out loud, flabbergasted. “What’s going on, Grandma?” I looked back over at her, pleading. Somehow even though Nick was talking to my gran like she was an old rival, it didn’t occur to me to wonder about him. Looking back, I realize this was pretty ridiculous, but it didn’t seem like it at the time. Grandma was the only part of the equation that didn’t make any sense at the time.

“No, Nicholas,” she said bitterly, spitting his name out, “You’re wrong.” She ignored my question completely. “I knew you’d be back, though I must admit I thought it would be sooner.” I thought she chuckled, but it was so soft I wondered in the next instant if I had imagined it.

Nick flinched a little, but I had no idea why her words had bothered him. “I’m here now, Rose – dear one –” he smiled cruelly as the pet name rolled off his tongue, “and you’re too late to save this one.”

And then I realized he was pointing at me. I started to feel weird; the world was swimming, everything covered in a haze. Then the necklace Nick had given me earlier felt like it was burning into the sensitive skin of my throat.

“Take it off,” I begged, reaching out towards Nick, but when I fell to my knees he didn’t reach to help me. My hands were clawing at the necklace, but I couldn’t find a clasp to open and remove it. I heard an awful rasping noise but I was so distracted by trying to take off the necklace I
didn’t realize at first that I was hearing my own breathing.

Grandma yelled something indistinguishable beneath all the noise I was making and her hand flew up to the skin above her own collar. In an instant that lasted for an eternity, I remembered the pale burn scar I had often noticed around her neck when I was little, and I wondered again why she had always refused to tell me where it had come from. As I watched, suddenly the scar lit up to the hot orange of glowing lava.

My grandma laughed again, and it was exultant. She was ignoring the glowing ring around her neck completely. “I’ve felt you getting close for years and I knew you’d return soon. That was why I brought this with me.” For a split second she held something out in front of her that I couldn’t quite see, and then she reached her hand up over her head and threw whatever it was at Nick.

“No!” Nick screamed, and in the middle of the scream his voice changed to something else – a gurgling that was both inhuman and terrifying. “I will be back,” he gurgled before the noises coming from him stopped altogether. I stared in horror as my boyfriend shrank into a shapeless lump on the back porch. The burning slowly faded away as the world around me came back into focus. I was still crumpled on the floor clutching at my neck. I couldn’t feel the chain wrapped
around it anymore, but I could still feel the pain of it. Something heavy was in one of my clenched fists; I opened it to find the diamond pendant that had hung from the necklace. I
was shivering and I thought I was going to start sobbing at any moment. For some reason I tightened my hold on the pendant like it would save my life, even though a part of me just wanted to throw it as far as I could away from me.

Grandma stepped closer to me and I saw that she was limping. “That’s it, honey,” she said. “Pick yourself up and help these old bones get sat down on that chair.” She pointed to a pair of metal patio chairs several feet away and I got to my feet, letting her hook her elbow through mine as we went to sit down. The metal was cool beneath me and I shivered again. I looked around, dazed.

“What happened to Nick?” My overworked brain still couldn’t wrap itself around anything that had just happened; I was half expecting myself to have a complete meltdown. Grandma sighed and reached up to pat my hand.

“Same as always,” she said sadly. “He’s gone for now; don’t you worry.”

My head was spinning. “What do you mean ‘same as always’?” I asked.

She stared into my face, her mouth tense, and then she nodded. “I guess you’re old enough now – he just proved that. You deserve to know.” She leaned back, her usually excellent posture forgotten as she slumped against the metal back of the chair. I wondered for a second if she would ever be able to get up out of the chair, she looked so frail.

“Nicholas has always been there – at least as long as any of us can remember. They say the first Rose in our family made a deal with the devil – eternal beauty for the price of her soul. She tricked him, though, when he came to collect. Rose had fallen in love right after she made the deal, and she regretted selling her soul like that. Somehow she was able to slip past him and run off with the man she loved. She thought she could hide from Nick. She was right, at least at first.

“She got married and they had a couple of kids, and she mostly forgot about the deal she had made. Then one day when her daughter – another Rose – was all grown up she said she had met the man she was going to marry. Her mother realized that the mystery man was none other than Old Nick himself.

“She was almost too late to save her daughter; she showed up at that last moment when Nicholas was the most vulnerable (he had used up most of his power giving the
daughter nice gifts to seduce her) and Rose saved her daughter.

“Nick wasn’t finished, though; he was patient and kept coming back. No matter how often they moved, every woman born into the family was found and seduced one by one.” Grandma looked down at her hands, clenching and unclenching her fingers.

“I was the last one before you, and I never believed the stories either. My mother came to help free me, but not before I got this,” She was fingering the angry red burn at her throat, and I wondered if it was as painful as it looked. My hand went up to my own throat where I was sure I had a matching burn. She saw my gesture.

“Yes, I was almost too late to help you too, my little Rosie.” She shook her head. “No matter how often you try to convince yourself this never happened, you can’t let yourself forget this day,” she paused, “because there’s another part to it that I haven’t told you yet.”

She went silent and I didn’t think she was going to continue, so I asked “What’s that, Grandma?”

My blood ran cold when she looked up at me again and said “The devil always comes back to claim his own, and he knows that one of these days we won’t quite be fast enough.” I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck. “Each time he gets a little bit closer. Don’t you ever forget, Rosie,” she said again. She was wagging a finger at me, her face stern. “He’s like the family saint: always coming with a smile on his face and gifts to win everyone over. But we can’t forget that Old Nick and Saint Nicholas are one and the same. He’ll go to no end of trouble to claim what he thinks is his own.”

I’ve shoved my memories of that night ten years ago into the far corners of my mind because they were much too terrifying to be real, but today everything changed with the birth of my daughter. Now my whole life revolves around the fear that someday I might be the one who will get there just a little too late to save my Rose from Old Scratch.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Silent Killer, Part II

It took some money, but they found him. It had not taken long to convince Gennie of the need to find Scott, Gennie's old boyfriend that had been, and still was, a private investigator.

Neither of them had the patience to be content with a simple Google or Facebook search.

Omar was living about a thousand miles away. He had served in a tour in Iraq, one in Afganistan. He had a blog that he had set up, mainly for his family, but Scott couldn't determine if he was doing any other writing worth mentioning.

Reading the blog, let alone finding it, would have been out of the question since it was locked with a password. Getting a hold of that would have cost too much extra to be worth it.

Dust kicked up and clouded behind their car down the long drive to the place they were told was Omar's home. He lived on a peach orchard in the cheerfully hot Sacramento valley.

Michael felt a little tickle of nervousness in his chest the closer they got, tightening his grip on the Jeep's steering wheel. Gennie looked over at him from the passenger seat.

"You going to be okay?"

"I'm not thinking about me."

She looked out the window a long time, watching the trees pass in neatly regimented rows. "I'm going to be okay," she said.

"Omar may be the only person who knows that for sure."

They continued slowly down the drive. Michael would accelerate impatiently only to hear gravel ping the steel plates protecting the undercarriage. Michael slowed down in response, bringing the car down to an agonizing crawl as the farmhouse in the distance grew larger behind the brown fog of dirt and dust.

"Maybe he isn't home," Gennie said.

"He's home. See the car in the driveway?"

"Whatever he knows or doesn't know, honey, it's going to be okay. I'm going to be okay."

No, Michael thought, it wouldn't be. The thought of Gennie's death was like cup of briney olive oil, impossible to swallow and keep down.

"There's a difference between knowledge and power," she muttered, almost to herself. Michael figured he must be giving off a "let's end the conversation" vibe.

A man came out of the house holding a cell phone to his ear. Michael thrilled at the idea that this might be Omar. It was strange, he had learned, to see people he had known after a very long time, even if he had known them well. Somehow there was always something about them foreign, strange, and off-putting at first. After all, he mused, you don't really know the new person they've become. You have to start all over again.

He took a good look at the man. He looked to be about the right age. If it was Omar, his stocky frame had grown a little, mostly in horizontal directions. The man hung up his cell phone and put it in the pocket of his dusty jeans.

Michael parked and made to get out of the car. This close there was no mistaking his old friend. The thrill of seeing him bubbled up in his chest and he felt an overpowering desire to shout and run to him and give him a big hug. He resisted, but still wore a big smile on his face, suddenly forgetting why they were there.

He got out of the car, smiling big, and holding out a hand in eager greeting. But Omar's look slowed him down. Whatever enthusiasm Omar might have shared at seeing an old friend was hidden behind a look of meloncholly that threatened to set panic loose in Michael's chest. His eyes were fixed solidly on Gennie, his mouth slightly agape.

The moustache was a little off-putting too.

It took Michael only a moment to piece together the reason for the look. What he couldn't place was the feeling behind it, staring at her as he was as though he were looking into the face of death itself.

Omar, it's Michael. Do you remember me?"

Omar said nothing, only looked at Gennie, winced, and then rubbed his face. Michael thought he heard the man mutter something to himself, though he couldn't make it out. When his brown face peered out from behind his hands he looked them both over. He smiled politely.

"Michael!" he said. The two men clasped hands and then embraced. They laughed together.

"This is my wife Gennie."

"Of course," said Omar. He shook her hand. At this, Michael's stomach dropped into a bottomless pit in his heart. Everything went quiet.

"You remember," Michael said.

"How could I forget. That was the first time. Come in, both of you. It's hot out. I have some limeade inside. It's too bad Lori isn't here. I'd introduce you."

They followed him into the farm house. It was built small and tight, for a time when smaller mortgages had more value than a few extra square feet.

"What have you been up to these past few years?" Omar asked over his shoulder as he stuck his nose in the fridge.

"Things have been, well, difficult."

"Yes," he said, pulling out a pitcher of lemonade. "Yes. Life kicks you in the ass."

Just then Michael noticed something strange about Omar's arm. It didn't exactly seem to be his, though he used it well enough that he carried the illusion off rather well.

"What happened there?" Michael had to stop himself from mentioning the war or anything they had learned about Omar before coming to visit him.

"Iraq. IED. You know the story." Omar talked about amputation like it was just another item he had seen in the news; something that didn't impact him in any direct way.

Omar sat down accross from Michael at the table, looking him square in the eye for the first time since there arrival. There was something both cool and sad in the man's look that made him seem older. Strange, Michael thought, that I had ever gone to school with this man, old before his time.

"You came here to ask me something," said Omar.

Michael looked at Gennie, nodded, and took a deep breath.

"Gennie has cancer. I hoped . . . We had hoped, you could tell me something about . . ." Was he really going to bring it out, admit the insane theory this entire visit was premised on? Michael reached into his back pocket, pulling out the folded pages of the story Omar had written all those years ago.

He put it out on the table in front of Omar, spreading it out and smoothing the corners. Omar picked it up and furrowed his brow, looking it over it while his guests allowed their limeade to sweat in the summer heat.

"I came, Omar, because I wanted to know how this ends. I have to know why you refused to finish the story. Could you finish it?"

Omar passed the story back accross the table, taking a long drink from his own glass. He nodded. "I could finish it. I don't suppose it would do any good to tell you that you don't really want to know how it ends, that knowing won't help you change the result."

Michael exhaled, realizing that his friend wasn't about to accuse him of being mad, but was nevertheless resistant.

"I won't argue with you Michael. I've spent enough time fighting my enemies. Life's too short to fight my friends. I know how it ends, Michael." He gave Gennie a long, sad, look.

A cold, tight feeling took hold of Michael's chest, taking his breath.

"You will miss him," he said ot her. "You will ache for him. But you should know that he loved you before he had any reason to believe you existed. You will move on after he is gone, and be happy."

Michael tried to stand, but could not. His arm burned with pain. He could hear the sound of sirens moving towards the house, and realized that Omar had been on the phone with 9-1-1 when they arrived.

Omar turned to look him in the eye, and grabbed him affectionately by the neck."This is how it ends, old friend."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Handle Time

Miles had just enough time to register that his friend Jill was suddenly on a call in the middle of their conversation before his headset beeped in his ear, telling him that he had a call of his own to handle.

A moment after the beep, in a well-conditioned pavlovian response, he began:

"ThankyouforcallingRiseWirelessmynameisMiles. How can I help you today?"

"I need to go over my bill. It looks like there were some roaming charges that just don't make sense. I was hoping you could help me clear it up," the woman on the other end answered distractedly.

"Certainly. I'll be happy to help you with that today. Can I get your name and the last four digits of your social?"

"Yeah. Lily Haber. Last four is 9046." A few breaths later she said "Hello? Are you still there?"

"Yes. I'm sorry. Just one moment."

Miles struggled to reorient himself. He rubbed his eyes and nodded.

"Yeah. I'm here. I'm sorry, something just distracted me here. What were those last four digits again?"

She sighed. "9046."

"Right." He swallowed and tried not to shake as he brought up her account information. It was her all right. Right name, right place, right age. He knew quality control could be listening. He knew he was supposed to give this one to a supervisor. But, after all, there was no need to mention how or why he knew this person.

"What can I help you with today Lily? Oh, right, excuse me, the roaming charges. Let me just bring your bill up here."

Five years experience had its advantages. He managed to bring up her latest bill without losing track of what he was doing.

"Do you have your bill out right now?"

"Yes. By the way, you guys have got to do something about the hold times. That was just ridiculous."

"I do apologize, ma'am. We do try to serve you as quickly as possible. Now, uh, can you tell me just where the problem is?"

She walked him through the bill. He followed along. The charge didn't make sense, but it was a problem he had seen once or twice. They had sent out a memo about it last week; a bug in the billing system easily remedied by a credit to the customer. No need to call for a supervisor. No drama. Just a few clicks and he would be done.

"Okay. Ma'am I see what the problem is here," his heart raced as he considered his next words. "Unfortunately it's going to take some time. Can I take a moment to handle this and I'll give you a call right back?"

"Uh, sure. I guess that's fine."

"Should I call your wireless number or do you have another line you'd like me to call?"

"Uh, yeah. I have a dead spot in my apartment, so you better call me back on my landline. It's 503-555-7046."

Miles struggled to keep up with the numbers as he jotted down her home address from the information he was seeing on the screen.

As he closed the call he made a point of skipping the part of the script that dictated that he remind the caller of his name.

"Thanks so much for calling Rise Wireless. You'll be hearing from me soon."

QC would probably not look twice at that since this was an unconventional call. Then again, they would wonder why he didn't simply resolve the issue.

As much as he tried to evade the fact that he was playing roulette with his job, that's precisely what he was doing.

He tucked the small note into his pocket, looking around as though he had just pilfered a candy bar.

The rest of the shift passed in a blur of call after call, and he nearly forgot about Lily. But just the presence of her name and number written down and in his pocket brought back the old feelings, good and bad. On this particular night it turned out that he and Jill got off their shifts at the same time. He trailed her out of the building. Her dark hair brought Lily back to his thoughts and suddenly the tiny piece of paper in his breast pocket glowed and warmed up in his mind's eye.
Driving home in the dark his mind stayed hypnotically fixed on her. A familiar cocktail of feelings and thoughts rushed through his brain and his body like a drug he'd been sober from since high school. She was back in his system.

The heady mix was a blend of the thrill activated by her proximity to him and the sick feeling of desperation and fear that had kept him from talking to her before she moved away and it was too late.

He only knew what city she had moved to from eavesdropping. She was still there, in that city. And now he knew precisely where she was.

He thought of getting rid of the paper. After all, it had been a relief when she had left and he had a chance to move on. She had been a terrifying obsession for him since the sixth grade.

And why shouldn't he have been obsessed? Can't fault me for my taste in women, he thought to himself. She was pretty in such a way that he could almost convince himself he was the only one who thought so, but it was more than looks that he had watched. She chose good friends; nice people he was nevertheless terrified to talk to because of their mere proximity to her. She had many developing talents, doodling beautiful landscapes during bored moments that found full flower in the painting class he had cooincidentally taken with her. She liked to wear flowers in her hair, and her smile made him want to weep. She wore white keds that she had personally decorated with stars and stripes.

When he arrived home and his room mate had not yet returned, he flipped on the television to forget her and had a drink. A few more drinks later, and after the room mate had gone to bed, he pulled the paper out and looked at it. Just a collection of numbers scrawled in his own frenzied hand. He thought of calling her, but realized it was too late.

He thought of moving to her city. He thought of putting himself on her street from time to time, hoping for a glimpse. No, he assured himself, she still had her name, so she was unattached. No boyfriends. No children. No exes. Only her waiting for him.
"Why didn't you say anything?" she would ask him after he worked up the nerve to talk to her.

He would smile and push back her hair and kiss her softly in reply. And she wowuld yield to him. And he would be happy, and get a new job in the new city and take care of someone.

He fished out a lighter from the spare kitchen drawer and went to the back porch. He simply stood there in the dark cold, holding up the lighter and the tiny note in a long hesitation, like a suicidal man contemplaying a long jump from the side of a bridge.

The flame almost surprised him, leaping from the gas vent and licking at the edge of the note. He dropped the flaming thing and Lily burned on his back porch.

He was half way to work the next day when he realized that he had promised to call her back to resolve her issue. He would not and she would grow frustrated and lose confidence in the service provided by Rise Wireless. She would call again, exasperated, and talk to someone else, another stranger, in another call center far away.

She would threaten to break her contract, cancellation fee be-damned, and they would transfer her to retention where they would bribe her and woo her and butter her up. But she would say no and hang up and that would be that.

He had let a customer down and might lose his job, but nothing could be done.

It was much too late.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Giulieta wiped the grease from her cheek with a saturated grease rag and turned to see Ty, the boy she had crushed on for weeks, losing a finger in a fan belt. Later, as she wrapped the tourniquet tight she idly wondered if Ty liked gourmet Italian cooking, and if his girlfriend would be very vengeful for what she was about to do.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Silent Killer, Part I

Michael woke he looked over at his wife. Sleeping. Present. Breathing. Warm. He gently stroked her golden brown hair in an effort not to wake her, and wondered how she would look when it was over, if it would soon be over. He wondered if he would be able to look at all, and if she would look beautiful to him if the worst of what the doctors had said were to come true.

His cousin, a beautiful girl of sixteen, had been killed in a car accident. Her fair features were bloated, somehow set awry in death. Her familiar warm colors had been changed to something startling, like a black-and-white photo with painted-in accent colors. There had been no beauty there any more, only a husk that had once been a person’s body.

He had no tears for Gennie yet: only a wild fear that ran through his blood and made it beat faster. He felt himself go cold, a pale feeling crawling up from the tips of his toes, up the back of his calf, then creeping up his spine like a leak in icy water bed.

He wanted to hold her tight, as though it might save her, but did not want to wake her. He rose, knowing that there was work to be done for the day. An early start, things to do, things to put in order.

Gennie’s mother’s visit brought with it boxloads of junk from their old place, and it had sat like unfamiliar furniture across three Saturdays in which neither of them had had the time to tackle it.

Michael found the folder in among Gennie’s old school papers she had insisted on keeping all these years. He had already dispensed with all of his long ago, or so he thought. Whatever he hadn’t thrown away he thought for sure had been forgotten in his dad’s attic in the decades since he moved out.

He had told himself that he wouldn’t open it--the yellowing manila folder with decayed, photocopies of hand-written pages of college ruled loose leaf. He feared making a mess far bigger than he had the strength or will to clean up before the weekend expired and forced him back to work.

He knew he had some of his old stories in the folder. These had been his means of escape in the hell of junior high school and had, in a way, become a career.

He had to escape now, but this was not a conscious decision on his part--only a whim that he felt he couldn’t resist, and which he never gave himself the time to challenge.

The vaguely familiar handwriting grabbed his curiosity. A few words in, and Michael was hooked.

“Silent Killer” was the title scrawled in precise-yet-awkward cursive letters, and the name of his old friend Omar Jiles.

The name brought up a face which he hadn’t seen since their third year of high school: the year when Michael and his dad had moved away.

This copy had been one of six passed around the room during a session of a weekly writer’s club meeting held after school. Michael had almost been too embarrassed to hear Omar read the story out loud in front of everyone else. He felt that he was being watched--a paranoia that had been shared by all his classmates, he was now sure, but which had been acutely intensified by the fact that this particular story of Omar’s had him, Michael, as the central character.

The story was not long, only a ten to twelve hand-written pages. Omar had been changed, unimaginatively, from Michael to Mike.

The wording was awkward in most places. The characters felt a little bit flat and ordinary. Some of the spelling was horrendous.

What kept Michaelf frozen in place as he sat alone on the living room floor, awash in a sea of cardboard, old paper, and bits of junk, was not the story’s quality, but it’s content.

Michael, in a fit of narcissistic boredom, had asked Omar to write a sci-fi story about him: a story that would take place in the future. “Silent Killer” was the result of that challenge. Parts of it had riveted his attention: the details about his wife in particular. Michael had searched in vain among the girls at school who might fit the name and description of his future wife in the slightest way.

But over all, Michael had been disappointed by the result. It hadn’t described the adolescent fantasies of his future quite the way he had hoped, and now he knew why.

It had accurately described his life in the present day with chilling accuracy: an argument he had had with his editor only yesterday, the color of his wife’s hair, and the heartbreaking news concerning Gennie’s health. He had gotten her name wrong, however, spelling it “Jenny.”

Numbly, Michael read it to the end. Omar had not really finished it--a work in progress, he had said. Michael remembered that he had asked Omar to get on with it, wanting to know what happened next. Omar had said he had lost interest and was working on something new.

When Gennie came home from therapy she found Michael sitting still, holding the story in his hands, a tear staining his face.

She came over and immediately embraced him. She had been crying herself, and had no more tears left. She held her husband as he sobbed silently. Soon his breath slowed and he held her close to him. He whispered into her ear.

“Hey honey.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“That old boyfriend of yours--do you happen to know if he’s still a private investigator?”

To Be Continued