Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Flash: Easter Surprise

Easter Surprise
by Clara Zane

Hannah watched Kayla run up to the potted plant where the green plastic egg lay and snatch it. A little boy, probably no more than three years old, two years younger than Kayla, reached for it seconds too late. He and Kayla looked at each other, and Kayla handed him the egg. The boy beamed at her, and they raced off in different directions, on the hunt for more. In that moment, she couldn't have been more proud of her daughter.

A few seconds later, a man came up to her. A man, she had to admit, who had ruggedly handsome down pat. Short brown hair, smoldering brown eyes, and what looked to be a chiseled chest and shoulders under a neatly pressed blue dress shirt. No doubt a six-pack also hid under there. She couldn't help but peek at his left hand and see no wedding ring.

"Hi," he said. "Is that your little girl that gave the boy the egg?"

"Yeah, that's Kayla."

He gave her a smile that had her biting her bottom lip. "I figured by the way you're watching her. That's my son, Chase. This is his first Easter without his mom, and he wanted to find as many eggs for her as he could."

Hannah let out a gasp. "I'm so sorry. It must be so hard on you both."

"Oh, no, no," he said, holding up his hands. "She's not dead. We're divorced. Chase usually spends holidays with her, but she couldn't take him this year, and asked him to get as many as he could and send her a picture."

"Oh, that's good. I mean, not that you're divorced, but that … that she's not dead."

He laughed, a magical sound. "Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you. I'm Rick, by the way."

"Hannah." They shook hands. She couldn't help but notice how his was that nice mix of rough but gentle. Like he not only worked with his hands, but knew what he was doing. Despite trying her best to not let men get to her since Dan left, she couldn't help but wonder how gentle but rough Rick's hands could be on her. She felt a blush rise to her cheeks, and hoped he didn't notice.

They watched their kids for another minute or so before he asked. "So, is Kayla's dad somewhere getting this on video?"

"Is that your clumsy way of asking if I'm single? I am, by the way." She nudged him lightly with her shoulder, which he gave her another of his breathtaking smiles.

"I didn't think it was all that clumsy."

"It was." They laughed, and she watched Kayla outrace another girl her age for an egg on a low branch of a tree. She didn't hand that one over.

"Do you and Kayla have big plans for the rest of your day? A family party?"

"No. Family is on the other side of the country. This is our big shindig today. How about you and Chase?"

He gave her an eyebrow wiggle, which was beyond corny, but he actually pulled it off. "I'm taking him to Blueberry's Waffle House for brunch. How's that for fancy?"

She laughed. "For a kid that age? Believe me, I know what a biggie Blueberry's is."

"What do you say you two lovely ladies join us? I'm sure Chase will be all for it." They looked over and found Kayla giving him a boost to reach an egg just out of his reach.

How could she say no? The kids had basically made the choice for her, right? He then leaned in close, and said, "In fact, the egg hunt will go on for a few more minutes. Are you interested in sneaking off somewhere a bit more private while they finish?"

"Yes" rushed to her lips and escaped before she knew what she was doing. How in the world had that happened? She wasn't like this. Sure, she wanted to go to breakfast with him and see where that led, but she couldn't do anything else so soon. Before she could come to her senses, he had her hand and led her towards the nearby restrooms. She knew there was a family restroom built in, so they could have some real privacy.

Once the door closed, and he locked it, she reached for him to kiss those magical-looking lips, but he instead grabbed her by the throat and pushed her hard against the wall. Her head hit the concrete with enough force to daze her. Before she knew what was happening, he put a plastic bag over her head and punched her in the stomach so hard that she couldn't scream out. He slammed her head against the wall again, and she didn't know much else. As Rick, or whatever his real name was, ripped off her dress, her last conscious thought before she ran out of air was of what would happen to Kayla.


Someone blew a whistle, signifying the end of the Easter Egg Hunt. The little boy ran over to her and gave her a hug. "Thank you for helping me."

She smiled down at him and said, "You're welcome."

He then turned and ran towards two adults who could only be his parents, getting picked up high into the air by his dad, while his mom kissed his cheek. Kayla smiled, clutched her Easter basket filled with 22 plastic eggs - she'd counted - and looked for Mom.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Flash: The Carousel

The Carousel
By Clara Zane

She wandered into the empty field and let out a harsh breath at its stark emptiness. Her life all but ended here, and only dirt and weeds remained. Tears, ones she didn't think she still had, stung her eyes. What did this prove? He was gone. He was gone and would never be back. She couldn't do anything to change that.

But she couldn't leave. Not yet.

She wore thick boots, but the ground felt ice cold as she crossed the field. She shivered, but pushed past it and continued towards the middle, towards the spot. She couldn't help but notice the grass hadn't grown back. Would it ever?

Any sign of his demise had been dashed away with the carnival. She stopped and closed her eyes, letting the past wash over her. The memories, the sensations, the smells, and the sounds bathed her. Unseen crowds pushed around her; the scent of popcorn, fried dough, and grilled meats wafted through the air; the excited screams and laughs coming from the rides and games erupted through the field. It all seemed so real that her eyes flickered open, and she fully expected to find herself in the middle of the busy carnival, just as it had been last summer. But of course that didn't happen; it existed only in her mind, her memories.

A shimmer blossomed from the dead grass where the carousel had sat, where David had died, a victim of an unfortunate slip from too much beer sloshing in his gut. She stared at the spot and watched as the rainbow-colored circular contraption, packed full of plaster zoo animals, solidified in front of her. She blinked a half-dozen times, rubbed her eyes, but found it still standing in front of her.

The recorded music, like an old music box, sounded on the breath of a breeze. The colorful horses, zebras, camels, and all the rest began their constant undulation. She stared, transfixed. Nothing else in the empty field moved. She wasn't sure if she wanted to step forward to check if the carousel really was solid, or stand still and believe it was only a part of her imagination, her grief.

And then she saw the hippopotamus David had fallen off of. It bounced around the edge of the carousel, empty as all the others. She kept her eye on it until it disappeared around the back. When it appeared again, she gasped and crumpled to her knees. David sat on its back, waving at her, just as he'd done that fateful evening. When he floated around the back, already starting to slip, she wasn't sure if she wanted him to continue around or not. He'd fall this time. She'd see it all again, and she wasn't sure she could handle it.

She didn't have to. When the hippopotamus emerged from the back, he wasn't there. She choked back a sob, and whispered his name. The slight breeze returned, and this time his voice tickled her ear. A moan left her lips, and then she saw him, standing where he'd fallen. He looked just as she remembered him. She couldn't fight her first instinct, which was to rush at him. He opened his arms, and she knew she'd pass right through him, as he was nothing but a memory, a figment of her overactive imagination, hyped up by this setting.

But she didn't. He was as solid as ever. And he still had his wonderful scent of menthol cigarettes and Aqua Velva. She tried to say something, anything, but no words would come. He, too, uttered nothing. All she could do was silently sob in his arms for days, hours, minutes, seconds. She had no idea which, but however long it was, it wasn't enough.

She had no idea what would happen next. Would he disappear? Would he remain here with here forever? Could she go with him wherever he was headed? She looked up into his face and saw his phantom tears, but also a smile. He tilted his head, and gave her a crooked smile she knew well. It spoke of a coming adventure, and if she wanted to join him. She tried to scream "Yes!" but again she couldn't get a sound out. He would have no problem understanding her emphatic nod.

She felt light-headed for a few seconds, and then the carnival, more grand than she remembered, rose around her. David, no longer a ghost, at least not to her, still held her in his arms. "I missed you," he said.

She found her words at last. "I missed you, too. What happened?"

"I don't know. But you're here with me now."

She smiled. "I am. I'm never leaving you, and you have to promise me you'll say the same."

He kissed her forehead, said, "I have no problem with that," and then moved his lips to hers.

They dimmed away with the carnival, leaving only her mortal coil behind. She didn't miss it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Friday Flash: A Night Alone

A Night Alone
by Clara Zane

I turned off the light, missing Sandra already. She'd only been gone half a day, and would only be gone this weekend, off to a bachelorette-slash-baby shower in Vegas, but I hated sleeping alone. It wasn't the cuddling and (sometimes) sex, but the actual sleeping next to her. She didn't exactly snore, but she breathed loud. It didn't bother me; on the contrary, that was one of the major things that lulled me to sleep on a nightly basis. Not at first, at bedtime, but those times I woke up in the middle of the night for whatever reason. I hadn't slept alone since before we were married six years ago. So could I do it now? I debated simply forgoing sleep this weekend until exhaustion tore me from consciousness - playing video games, watching bad movies, things like that - but I decided to give it the ol' college try, as my grandfather was keen on saying. That's where I was at eleven that night.

I shouldn't have had any problem drifting off at first, as we often went to bed at different times, but my mind wasn't working properly. Sleep wouldn't come. It was probably a half-hour after lights out that I knew I was in for a long rest of the night. I lay there, wondering if she was still out partying (I trusted her completely, so my only worry was that she was having fun, not cheating on me), when the footsteps thudded out in the hallway. Lightly at first, and then loud enough to get me to sit up and snap on the lamp next to the bed.

"Who's there?" I called out. No answer. Had I drifted off to that light slumber where you don't realize you're actually sleeping? I might have heard the footfalls in some distant dream and attributed them to real life. But when they came again, this time further down the hall, I knew it wasn't my imagination.

I didn't think, simply leaped out of bed and ran into the hallway. It was an intruder; it had to be. If I hit him fast enough, tackled him and pinned him to the ground, this could work out. No way would he expect that. But when I sprinted into the hallway, no one was there. I stopped and listened. Whoever it was couldn't have ducked into any of the rooms - we kept the doors shut, and I hadn't heard any open or close.

"Hello? Listen, if you just fess up and leave, I won't call the cops. I just want you out of my house."

And I meant it. Hell, fear had begun to trickle down the center of my back, and I just wanted this night to be over. If Sandra had been here, I'd have been amped up on adrenaline, my manly instincts ready to protect her. But with her gone, I still had that protection gene thing going, but it wasn't as strong. I took a deep breath and began searching through the house. After fifteen minutes and three trips around our small home, I realized that if anyone had been here, they were gone now. There were no open windows or doors, and in fact they'd all been locked from the inside. I shook my head and headed back to the bedroom.

It wasn't five minutes before the footsteps returned. This time, however, they didn't stop in the hallway, but continued right through the bedroom door. I'm not superstitious, and I don't believe in ghosts, but tell me, when you hear footsteps - and there was no mistaking them for anything else but footsteps - and nothing is there, aren't ghosts the first things that pop into your mind? I wanted to bolt from the room, from the house, but I stayed put. Fear and curiosity wrestled with each other, and though it appeared curiosity won out, what actually happened was that the two battled to a stalemate and I remained frozen in place.

The footsteps moved again, stepping over to the bed, not to my side, but Sandra's. They stopped, and I not only watched an indentation form on her side of the bed, but I felt the mattress dip and heard the bedsprings squeak, as if someone had actually lain down. This time I did jump out of bed, and before I knew it, I found myself in the kitchen, shaking uncontrollably and sweating profusely. I don't remember picking it up, but my cell phone sat in my hand. I activated it from sleep to call Sandra, needing to hear her voice, when I noticed I had a voicemail. It was from Debbie, one of the girls Sandra had gone with. I dialed my number and listened to her message.

"Pete, oh god, I wish you'd pick up your phone, I don't want to tell you this in a message." Her voice was brimming with fear, with sorrow, and I could feel myself go lightheaded. "Sandy got hit by a car. Someone knocked her off of the curb while we were waiting for a red light, and a taxi hit her. She ..." A sob wracked Debbie's voice, but she continued. "She didn't make it. She was gone before the ambulance arrived. Call me as soon as you get this."

And that was it. I didn't cry, not then; I was in shock, too numb for anything. I checked the time of her call (I'd forgotten to take my phone off of silent) and found it was right about when I heard the footsteps for the first time. No. It couldn't be. I walked back towards the bedroom, looked in at the bed, which still had the indentation, and whispered, "Sandra?"

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Friday Flash: The Green-Eyed Monster

The Green-Eyed Monster
by Clara Zane

Ingrid stood on the balcony, surveying the backyard. That hunk of a pool boy had cleaned the pool, and it shone like a blue crystal. She relished the slight cool breeze that cascaded around her, drying the beads of sweat she'd worked up in a vigorous love-making session with Max, who still lay content in bed. As always, it had been a cathartic experience for her, erasing the memory of last night's one-night stand, and for him, wiping the slate clean from a tryst with his mistress.

Both knew the other wasn't faithful, just as they knew they still loved each other completely. As long as they didn't bring up their shared infidelity, that ugly Green-Eyed Monster wouldn't strike. Besides, their unspoken make-up sex, which always took place late the next morning, was too damn hot, and neither wanted to compromise that.

Her gaze shifted from the shimmering pool to her tree-lined rose garden. Maybe she'd stroll through later that afternoon after the sun sunk a bit. For now she'd simply enjoy being on the balcony.

"Ingrid, who's Jeremy?" Max called from the bed. "Was he your lay last night?"

She froze. He was. How would Max know? Why would he ask?

Something moved in the rose garden. Something big, though she couldn't tell what. It staggered through the bushes, coming towards the house. The thorns had to dig into its flesh, but it didn't make a sound, at least as far as she could hear. What the hell was it?


"Why do you ask, Max?" Though she was sure she didn't want to know the answer.

He didn't answer right away, and when he did, she sensed his hesitancy. "That's what you called me. Jeremy. When you were deepest in your throes."

Crap. She'd never done that before. Jeremy had been good, but not the best. And certainly not better than Max, not by a long shot. He certainly hadn't been worth calling out for, so why had she done it? But the damage was done; she heard the hurt in Max's voice.

The thing in the rose garden burst through, and Ingrid's breath froze in her chest. A big, hairy beast, tinted green, sprinted towards the house. Saliva dripped down its oversized jaw onto its chest. It turned its misshapen head up to her, and she gasped at the bright emerald eyes. The thing dashed around the back patio towards the side of the house, where she knew the garage door was unlocked, not to mention a few open windows. Nothing would stop the thing from getting in.

"Ingrid?" Max called. "Talk to me." A tiny dose of anger joined the hurt.

She sighed and walked into the bedroom. They needed to hash this out. She didn't know much about the Green-Eyed Monster, but she did know it would eat them alive. If they didn't get rid of it right away, it would be the death of them.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Friday Flash: The Hot Guy in Line

The Hot Guy in Line
By Clara Zane

The line for Space Coaster shuffled forward again, and Hannah had another clear view of the boy. Yeah, he definitely was a hottie. If only Jess and Zoe were here to check him out. It was always more fun to scope out guys with them. Too bad they both had plans today. She hated coming to Super Fun World without them. Okay, that was an overstatement, since she wouldn't be here if that were the case. Even though she felt a bit silly waiting in line for the awesome rides by herself, the thrills once she got on more than made up for it. Plus she could watch the boys while pretending to look at her phone.

Well, pretending might be a bit of an overstatement, too, as she was on her Twitter and Facebook apps in between texting with Jess and Zoe. They tried to get her to snap a stealthy pic of the hot boy, especially since he was a few line-turns away, but she didn't have the guts. Zoe would have, but Jess would have chickened out, so Hannah didn't feel bad. Besides, he was with a girl. They weren't holding hands or anything, but maybe it was a first date. The way they talked to each other, she could tell they weren't strangers. Oh well, didn't mean she couldn't look.

As the line for Space Coaster moved again, she got a better view. He was wearing a Doctor Who shirt. Oh, goodness, his hotness factor just went up to another level! It was a shirt she'd never seen before, one with a big DW shaped like the TARDIS in the middle, and a bunch of tally marks around it, signifying the Silence, her favorite group of monsters from the series. Now she'd totally have something to talk about with him, instead of simply gazing into those gorgeous eyes.

Which, goodness-goodness-goodness, were looking right at her. She tried to smile, hoped she did, before the line moved again. He smiled at her, of that she had no doubt. Then the girl whispered something in his ear, and he shrugged and blushed. Busted! Hannah giggled, pleased she'd been the reason for it. Guys hardly ever looked at her. Zoe and Jess always got the stares, even at school. That was another plus of being here by herself, she supposed.

She got one more clear view of her mystery hottie before the line took him into the main building of Space Coaster, and she couldn't be sure, but she thought he looked disappointed at moving out of sight. She grinned and typed into Twitter. "Hot guy in line at Space Coaster totally checking me out. #feelingfine" That was too important to only share with Jess and Zoe via text.

The rest of her wait took another twenty minutes, but it might as well have been hours. She tried to focus on the fun of the coming ride, but her mind kept drifting to how she'd probably never again see her mystery boy. There would be other guys to scope out later, there always were here, but there was no way they'd look like him. With a Doctor Who shirt, no less! And there certainly were no boys like him at school. Sure, some liked Doctor Who, and some even looked good, but they didn't have that smile or those eyes. She decided she should push him from her mind, or she might start regretting coming today.

When she finally boarded the ride, her thoughts of the boy vanished as she twisted and dipped through space. Well, the thoughts mostly vanished. She did catch herself wishing she had his hand to hold during the first rise to the top of the track. But the acceleration down the track took full control of her thoughts.

As she walked out of Space Coaster, she planned what to do next. The mine car ride or the log ride would both be fun. A quick stop for a pretzel and soda would also rock. She pulled out her phone to check what Jess and Zoe had texted her while she was zipping through space or if anyone had said anything new on Twitter or Facebook. With all her attention there, she didn't even notice him at first. Only when she felt someone looking over her shoulder did she turn and see it was him. She wanted to chastise him for spying on her personal stuff, but those eyes, that smile, sent that complaint sailing away. Besides, at that moment, it had just been Twitter, so he hadn't seen any big secrets. Good thing she hadn't been texting Jess and Zoe.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey," she said right back.

That heart-stopping smile melted her. "I couldn't help but notice you in line. I hope you don't mind me waiting for you."

Her heart skipped a beat or two. Oh, who was she kidding - it skipped a half-dozen at least! He'd waited for her. "No, that's cool. I noticed you, too."

"That's what my sister said. I didn't think a girl as pretty as you would look twice at me, but she insisted. Then she ditched me, so I had to wait."

The girl was his sister, not a date. And he thought she was pretty. He said it! Hannah had to take a deep breath (discreetly) before she spoke again. "I'm glad you waited."

"Yeah, me, too." She'd never get over that smile. "Since I'm here alone now, would you care to be my date?"

Date. He said date. It took all of her willpower, but she didn't let out an earsplitting squeal. She also didn't dive right into her phone to inform Jess, Zoe, Twitter, and Facebook. Instead, she gave him a smile of her own and took his arm when he offered it. They headed deeper into Super Fun World, ready to have a super fun time of their own.