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All posts for the month February, 2014

Dark Horse

Published February 22, 2014 by Rebecca Martin

Courtesy of Chuck Wendig once again, this week’s flash fiction challenge was a beauty: pick a random song title and that’s the title of your story, 1000 words or less. I got “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry, but I chose not to use the same subject matter. Rather I went in a different direction with the following story. Enjoy!

Dark Horse

Joe opened his eyes. It was still dark out. He looked at the clock: 6:28 a.m. He still had two minutes before his alarm went off and so he closed his eyes again.

Dark, he thought, grimacing. He saw dark in his dreams, too. The dark horse trotting by the window of the café.  Not galloping. Trotting at a pace slow enough for Joe to take a good, long look. Then he woke up. Why was a horse out on a busy street in broad daylight, just passing by a café? He had the weirdest dreams sometimes.

Opening his eyes, he rolled over, turned off the alarm and reached to grab his phone off the night table . He entered “dark horse dream meaning” into the search engine. The first result took him to a website devoted to dream interpretations. It said, “To dream of a dark horse will signify prosperous conditions, but a large amount of unhappiness. Fleeting pleasures usually follow this dream.”

“Prosperous conditions then a large amount of unhappiness,” he repeated. Interesting.  Did “prosperous” refer to material prosperity? Or could it be interpreted as any sort of success?

Out of the corner of his eye, in the small amount of light afforded by the glow of the phone screen, he could see a black shape on the floor, moving toward him, then disappearing just as quickly as it had appeared.

Before he had a chance to sit up, the black shape was in the air, then landed neatly on his chest.

“Gah!” he shouted. It took a moment for him to catch his breath. Finally he said, “Good morning, Sylvester. Thanks for the heart attack.” He would have thought that after a year of living with this cat, he would be used to it pouncing on him before the first light of day, but no. Sylvester meowed at him and he meowed back. They continued their morning ritual of meowing at each other for another thirty seconds until Sylvester stared back at him instead of meowing. “I know, I know,” Joe sighed. “You want your breakfast. Come on.”

He put the cat food in the dish and watched Sylvester wolf down the food as though he hadn’t been fed in a week. Smiling to himself, he started getting ready for work.

While he showered, he thought about the dark horse in his dream again. The subject matter didn’t bother him as much as the frequency of the dream. The fifth time in three weeks had to mean something. Maybe he should take precautions.

As he shaved, he caught sight of the triangular piece that had been missing from the mirror for the last year. He kept meaning to replace it, but never got around to it. The missing piece was in the corner of the mirror, so it wasn’t as though Joe couldn’t see his reflection.

Prosperous conditions, he thought to himself. Today was payday. Maybe he should leave the money in the bank for the time being. It was the middle of the month and no bills were due, so he didn’t need any money right now.

Twenty minutes later, he was dressed and on his way out the door. He paused near Sylvester and gave him a goodbye scratch on the head. Sylvester inclined his head toward Joe, wanting it to continue, but Joe went out to his car to go to work.

He stopped at the convenience store on the way in, grabbing a cup of coffee and a bear claw, just as he did every Friday. The girl behind the counter smiled at him when it was his turn to be served, just as she did every Friday.

“You want your Powerball ticket too, right?” she said. “It’s up to forty million dollars.”

Prosperous conditions, he warned himself. Don’t take any chances.  “Not today,” he smiled back at her. “Just the coffee and pastry.” He fumbled around in his wallet for the cash while the girl put the bear claw in a white, plastic bag for him.

He waited until he sat at his desk at the office before he started munching on his breakfast. He reached into the middle drawer for a packet of sugar, feeling an envelope that hadn’t been in there yesterday. He pulled it out and examined the greeting-card sized envelope while he stirred the sugar into his coffee.

He tore open the envelope and pulled out the card inside. The front of the card read, ‘Happy belated birthday.’ He opened it to read the message and money fell out. ‘Sorry I missed your birthday last week, Dan’ the message read. Dan Wideman from Human Resources. They had been playing basketball together once a week for the last two years. He looked at the twenty-dollar bill that had fallen out. He held his breath. Twenty dollars didn’t count as a ‘prosperous condition’, right? Should he put it in his wallet, or just stick it back in the card and leave it in his desk?

His life was going well right now ― he was happy at his job, he had been on a few good dates with a woman from payroll, he had a good chunk of money put away in savings― and he really didn’t need the ‘large amount of unhappiness’ the dream interpretation warned about.He was being ridiculous, he knew. He wasn’t usually the type to give any heed to superstitions or dream interpretations, but the dark horse had continued to show up in his dreams. He spent the rest of the morning locked in this debate with himself: ignore the dream and continue his life as though nothing happened or take the dream seriously and be careful.

For the time being, he decided to continue taking precautions. He still had ten dollars in his wallet, so at least he still had enough cash to pay for lunch.

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Tainted Love (warning: contains graphic language)

Published February 15, 2014 by Rebecca Martin

This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge was all about twisted love. I took this opportunity to add another layer to my work-in-progress novel, Florentine Tragedy: A Rock Story. Thanks, Chuck! You really know how to help boost a word count when an author feels like they’ve run out of things to say about their characters. xxx

Moe Alvarez stood outside by the stage door and watched the road crew load the instruments into the van. The band brought the house down tonight, the years of polishing their onstage persona culminating in a triumphant end to their cross-country tour. Florentine Tragedy never failed to blow him away with their performance, every time like the first time.

He could still remember that first time, clear as day. The band had performed at a small venue with just fifty people in the audience but they had played as if the place was packed. After that day, he went to see their shows whenever they were within a sixty-mile driving distance. he wanted to see the band more, especially their lead singer.

God he’d never seen anyone like her, a tiny woman with a big voice that sent chills up his spine, belting out the notes she sang. In between lyrics, she tumbled, somersaulted, and danced around on the stage as though she were determined to give those fifty people their money’s worth. He loved the way she would strut across the stage as though she owned the venue and every living soul in it, commanding the audience, holding them in the palm of her hand. She was the queen of that venue and they were her loyal subjects.

After the fifth show he attended, she had walked right up to him.  “Hi, I’m Daisy Carter,” she grinned, flicking her long, dark hair over her shoulder, sticking out her hand to shake his hand. “I keep seeing you at our shows. Thanks a lot for the support.” Her off-stage persona was just as energetic as it was onstage, and twice as friendly. He had let her do most of the talking that night, just so he could keep staring into her hazel eyes. When he asked if she had a boyfriend, her smile froze. Had he said something wrong?

“I don’t have it narrowed down to just one,” she winked at him, and left it at that. After a few months of friendship, he asked again. “I don’t have time for a boyfriend,” she said, “my band’s trying to make it.” Two months later, just before she spent the night at his place for the first time, she said with a half-smile, “Moe, this doesn’t mean I’m narrowing it down to one.” He was okay with that. At least, that’s what he had told Daisy. He would satisfy her in bed and one day she would satisfy his heart.

The stage door opened, interrupting his thoughts. There she was. Fans swarmed around her the moment she emerged from the venue so she didn’t see Moe standing there. That gave him the chance to watch her talk to her fans, which he did until there were two or three people left. He was proud of the way she handled herself in the face of so many requests for photos, autographs, and questions, knowing she hadn’t always felt comfortable with strangers wanting something from her. He smiled every time she threw her head back and laughed. She had such a great laugh; people always joined her even if they didn’t hear the comment or joke that amused her.

Unable to wait anymore, he walked over to her, touched her back and whispered in her ear. “You coming to my place tonight?” He raised his eyebrows, pleased to see her eyes widen in surprise at his sudden materialization, a big smile lighting up her whole face.

“Yeah,” she murmured, making sure only he heard her, “I’ll see you there in about an hour.”

“Can’t wait.” He winked and walked away, running his hands through his long, dark hair. Perfect. That gave him plenty of time to go back to his place, light some candles, and put on some nice music. He wanted the atmosphere to be perfect tonight. After they made love, he was going to tell Daisy he loved her and didn’t want to share her with other men anymore. After all the support he had given her over the years ― the emotional support, the financial support, the massages to any part of her body that was sore after a performance ― she could see how much cared about her.

Three hours later, Moe wrapped his arms around Daisy and kissed her on the cheek. Being inside her always felt fantastic, but holding her in his arms afterwards ran a close second. She usually complained that she didn’t like cuddling after sex, but tonight she lay still in his arms. He smiled at her and she looked up into his small, dark eyes. She put her hand on the back of his head and pulled him closer, with soft kisses, but her kisses became more intense, more heated. They made out that way for several minutes until Moe broke away. He couldn’t resist taking one last little taste of her lips before he spoke. “Hey, you know Divine Condemned is in town tomorrow night?”

“Of course I know!” she beamed.

“Are you going to the show tomorrow night?” Moe asked.

“I wouldn’t miss it. We know the guys in the opening band, so they’re putting our band on the guest list.”

“Oh.” What was he going to do with those two tickets now? He had paid quite a bit of money for them.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, I thought I’d take you with me.”

“How about if you come with me? You can be my plus one.”

“Cool.” He settled her in his arms again and closed his eyes. His plans had changed, but at least they’d be there together. After a few minutes, Daisy tossed the covers back and sat up. He lifted his head up. “Where are you going?” He tried to pull her back into his arms, but she eased herself out of his embrace, got out of bed, and started dressing.

“Babe, I’ve got a lot to do tomorrow before the concert. I’m going to head home now, but I’ll pick you up at five.”

He frowned at her in silence for a few moments until Daisy turned around and saw the expression on his face. “Just once I’d love to wake up next to you in the morning,” he sighed, sitting up.

She bent over to pick her jeans up off the floor, turning her back. “Were you going to make me breakfast?” He could hear the faint sarcasm in her voice.

“Is it so wrong to spend some time with me when we’re not fucking?” He hated that word for the act of love, but when she got up and left in a hurry this way, there was no other word for it. He made an effort to keep from losing his temper, but he could feel his plans for the evening slipping out of his grasp.  

She turned to face him again, smiling. “Don’t be so dramatic, Moe. The band has a lot going on right now, you know that. I don’t have time to lie around in bed spooning all night.” Ah, so her old excuse ‘I don’t have time’ made its comeback. She walked back to the bed and leaned over to kiss him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” She patted his cheek. “Get some sleep. You’ll need it. We’re going to rock our asses off tomorrow night.”

He watched her walk out the door. The moment she was gone, a string of profanities left his mouth. He flopped back down on the bed and punched the pillow where Daisy’s head had just been. How much more did he need to give her before she finally cut him a fucking break and let him into her heart?

I may not be a lesbian, but my Barbies sure as hell were!

Published February 12, 2014 by Rebecca Martin

Yesterday, Chuck Wendig wrote in his blog about the gender divide with children’s toys. His comments opened a discussion among his subscribers.  Some subscribers mentioned that their parents championed their child’s right to play with any toy they chose, whereas other subscribers had been victims of the divide: boys who wanted an E-Z Bake Oven, girls who wanted to play with toy soldiers, but were stopped by an adult and guided toward the “appropriate” toys.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/02/11/boy-toys-girl-toys-and-other-cuckoopants-gender-assumptions/

In an attempt to expose the horrific, social conditioning my own parents imposed on me, I started making a list of toys I had as a child, certain that I would be able to point at my aged parental units and shout, “Aha! Mere humans! Your attempts to turn me into a pink-clothed shopaholic stereotype have failed! They have failed miserably!(Cue laughter, thunder, and lightning as I swirl my cape around me and exit, stage left)

My brainstormed list of toys was short, consisting of Barbies (sans Ken…more on that later), a Cabbage Patch Kid and a few board games. This meager amount of toys perfectly coincided with my oft-told adult tales of the Dickensian poverty of my later childhood in which the birth of my brother compelled my family to accept government assistance.

*edit* When I read this blog entry aloud to my mother, she was quick to point out, “We didn’t get government assistance! You made it sound like we were on welfare!” Let me clarify: the “government assistance” I talked about was WIC, a government-funded program.

Still, I knew I had more toys than what I could instantly remember, debunking my woe-was-my-childhood stories.  I then did what anyone else would do: I took to the Internet. This turned into an hour of me pointing excitedly at my screen, squealing, “Oh my God, I had that toy!”  In total, I had over thirty different toys, many of which began with the words “Fisher Price.” If we could have afforded it, we should have bought stock in that company.

As I looked at my list, it turned out that my Barbie dolls and possibly my Cabbage Patch Kid, Walter, were the only evidence to any kind of conditioning on my parents’ part.  I also had board games such as Hungry Hungry Hippos, Chutes and Ladders, Hi-Ho Cherry-O ―I’m sorry, what exactly was the point of that game?― , Battleship ―worthless if you don’t have an opponent sitting across from you―, and Candyland. Not only were we not as dirt-poor as I recalled, but I was never even a victim of gender-based social conditioning,?  What kind of world is this?

It was a magical world full of musical Ferris wheels, coloring books, Superman trading cards, a lone shark puppet, and Play-doh.  There were, of course, toys that I wanted and never got, such as the Snoopy Snow Cone Machine, Lite Brite, Star Wars stuff (but only after I went to Matty Cepkauskas’ house and saw the toy Millennium Falcon he had) and a Ken doll.

Wait, a Ken doll? Why did I have four or five Barbies but no Ken? I asked my mother about this and the conversation went a little like this.

Me: Why didn’t you ever buy me a Ken doll when I was little? You were trying to turn me into a lesbian, weren’t you?

Mom: I didn’t want you undressing him and checking out what was on the front. (Uh…my mom has seen the non-descript genitalia on those dolls, hasn’t she?)

Well, ha! I found a way around the lack of a Ken doll when Barbie went on a date! I simply took one of my other Barbies, dressed her up, tied her hair back, and turned her body around so her boobs were behind her, but she was still face-to-face with Main Barbie for their kiss at the end of the date.

Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention.

I’ve discovered that I am simply the doesn’t-fit-into-a-gender-stereotype offspring of two people who also don’t fit into stereotypes. My dad spends his free time reading and cares nothing about sports. In fact, he only reads about sports so he can have a conversation with his co-workers. The only shopping my mother engages in is grocery shopping yet she is not what I would call a “domestic” woman.  She cooks, but only because her family needs to eat. She’s not the kind who is always in the kitchen whipping up something just because she felt like it.  There was never a time in my life where I pictured my mother as a June Cleaver type. My mom, though a housewife until I was 17, was more like Roseanne Conner, a bossy working-class wife who had no problem speaking up.

So, for all their faults, they never forced me to be a girly girl-child. And now, I’m off to play The Sims where I can have girl and boy Barbies. I win.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

Published February 3, 2014 by Rebecca Martin

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I can count on one hand the number of deaths of famous people that saddened me to the point of tears. Yesterday, 46-year old actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman died in his New York apartment, becoming one of that small number of deaths to make me cry.

I first saw Hoffman in Twister as a member of the storm-chasing team. I liked his character, a young guy who loved his job and laughed a lot, not taking himself or the storms too seriously. I saw him in a few other films throughout the late 90s and early 2000s. Whenever he showed up on the screen, I always thought, “hey, it’s the guy from Twister and (insert other films I’d seen him in up until that point.)” Watching his films, I realized that, like so many actors, he could play a good guy and a bad guy with equal skill. That made him a good actor.

The film that made me sit up and take notice, going so far as to remember his name, was called “Flawless.” Hoffman played a drag queen-cum-Florence Nightingale to Robert De Niro’s homophobic stroke victim. While this film would not necessarily go down in history as one of the greats, it was the first time I noticed how many layers Hoffman brought to the character he played. That, in my book, made him a great actor. Plus, he got to go toe-to-toe with De Niro, every actor’s wet dream.

(Incidentally, De Niro released a statement on Hoffman’s death. “I’m very, very saddened by the passing of Phil. He was a wonderful actor. This is one of those times where you say: ‘This just shouldn’t be. He was so young and gifted and had so much going, so much to live for’. My family and I send our deepest condolences to his family.” You took the words right out of my mouth, Bob.)

As the years went on and Hoffman appeared in more films, my favorites were the ones where he played a character who was neither good nor bad. He had a knack for locating that darkness that lies in every soul, channeling it, and then projecting it as part of his characters identity. Not all actors can do that. In fact, many actors could not find that deep darkness if you handed them a map, a snack, and one of those miner’s helmets with an attached lamp.

It’s astounding that he played so many memorable film roles in less than twenty years.  I was ecstatic when I read that Hoffman was cast as Plutarch Heavensbee in the Hunger Games series. A great actor would join an incredible cast to tell a unique dystopian story. Now when I see Plutarch on the screen in the next two Hunger Games installments, it will be a bittersweet viewing

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the rest of the day in front of my computer, enjoying a Phillip Seymour Hoffman marathon, and crying.