Flying

When we left the city, there had been seventy-three of us. Now we were nineteen.

And the armadogs were closing in.

The armadogs were silent stalkers. They didn’t howl or bark like their biological counterparts, and unless they were close, you couldn’t hear them. Their big, spongy footpads absorbed sound on both grass and dirt. They communicated with each other and their controllers via Service-Web, and humans had never had access to Service-Web. Why would we need or want to know all the mundane details that kept our workers working?

Darcy fell into step beside me. “Jimmy says they’re less than four hundred meters behind,” she said. “We need to find a place we can defend, Shelia.”

I glanced at her face, a pale smudge in the grey, early-morning light. The bandage around her head was seeping blood again. But no time now to stop and change it.

“How much firepower do we have left?” I asked, not breaking the fast trot we had been moving at most of the night.

“Two flame pistols still have a charge. And one scrambler, but it’s low. A few grenades. We have tons of bullets, but well, you know…”

Yes, I knew. Bullets rarely stopped an armadog. “Be on the lookout for a place to take cover. And tell Jimmy to let me know when they’re within two hundred meters.” Then we would have to make a stand regardless. Continue reading Flying

Cargo

Martin took the squirming bundle from Mrs. Kenny and balanced it on top of the others in his wagon. It was a good thing that this was the last house on his route since his wagon was full, overfull in fact. He would have to go easy to keep from losing any of his cargo.

“Thank you, dear,” the old woman said, ruffling his hair. “I have something else for you…hold on.” She hobbled back inside, emerging moments later holding out two cookies. “They’re chocolate chip, except there’re no chips. I ran out, and well, you know…”

Yes, Martin knew—when the town’s supply of something ran out, if they couldn’t make or grow it, there’d be no more. “I’m sure they’re fine, ma’am.”

“Take one home to your little brother,” she said.

“I will, ma’am. And thank you.” He slipped the cookies into his shirt pocket. “I’d best be getting on, not long till dark.”

“You do that, Martin. And be careful.” Continue reading Cargo

Pearls Before Swine / Part Three

Part three of three…

When I stepped into the house after returning the handsaw, a bolt of pain stabbed my lower belly. I crammed the hurt into that dark, crowded place deep inside that Mama couldn’t see, and tended to Sissy. I stripped the smelly clothes from her body, washed her as best I could, then pulled her favorite pink nightgown over her head, all the while talking slowly and softly. I knew she heard me. She stood when I told her to, held up her hands when I said so, but not one word passed her white lips.

Meanwhile, Mama fed thin slats of wood into the cookstove until the thing danced with heat. Sweat ran down her face and soaked the white collar of her dress, turning it pink.

“Put your sister to bed,” she said over her shoulder. “Then come get yourself cleaned up.”

I led Sissy into the little room off the kitchen, and tucked her into the bed we shared. “I’ll be back soon.” No answer from my sister. She rolled over and faced the wall, and I knew if I had looked, her eyes would still be open. “Everything’s gonna be all right. You’re just having a bad dream, and when you wake up in the morning, you won’t even remember it. Just a dream, that’s all.”

“Clara!” Mama yelled.

I wanted nothing more than to crawl into the bed next to Sissy and sleep for days. I was worn out, and my belly hurt real bad. Instead, I patted her shoulder and walked back out into the nightmare. Continue reading Pearls Before Swine / Part Three

Pearls Before Swine / Part Two

Part two of three…

“What’s going on here?” Mama said, running her hand over Sissy’s fat belly.

Sissy shrugged her shoulders. “I et too much, I reckon.”

“Don’t sass me, gal.” The back of Mama’s hand cracked across my sister’s face. The blow had a lot of power behind it, knocked Sissy on her butt.

“I’m sorry, Mama.” Sissy cupped her red cheek. “I won’t do it no more.” There hadn’t been any sass in Sissy’s words, but she knew better than to go against Mama. I did too. Since Daddy’d died, Mama had gotten mean and hateful.

“Now I’m gonna ask you one more time—who did this to you?”

Tears trickled down Sissy’s cheeks. She trembled. “I…I don’t know wh…what you mean.”

Mama planted her fists on her ample hips. She looked down at Sissy and shook her head. “Are you that ignorant…you really don’t know?”

Sissy said nothing, just sat on the floor with her head bent, wisps of corn-silk hair sticking to her wet face.

“Get up,” Mama ordered.

Sissy bolted to her feet, a mess of scared-shakes and sniffles.

“You’re pregnant, got a baby in your belly,” Mama said. “Now what I wanna know is what boy put his pecker inside you and got you that way.” Continue reading Pearls Before Swine / Part Two

Pearls Before Swine

Part one of three…

I woke in the dark to squeals and yells and thumps and bangs. From somewhere inside the house, Daddy rattled off a string of cuss words, then hollered: “Get the shotgun, Lizzy, something’s got in with the hogs!”

The awfulest commotion was going on outside. It sounded like every pig on the place was pitching a holy fit.

“What is it, Clara?” Sissy asked.

“I don’t know…” I turned back the covers.

She grabbed my arm. “Where’re you going?”

“To see what all the racket’s about.”

Sissy’s fingers dug deeper. “What if it’s the boogeyman?”

I pulled my arm away. “There ain’t no such thing, and you know it.”

My feet hit the floor, and I made a beeline for the slash of light knifing in underneath the closed door, Sissy’s night-breath a hot prickle on the back of my neck. My fingers curled around the doorknob, twisted and pushed.

Light blazed from the 100-watt bulb dangling on the end of the thick, black wire snaking down from the kitchen ceiling, briefly catching Mama and Daddy as they rushed out the back door. I chased after them, Sissy on my heels.

The lantern held high in one hand, the tail of her nightgown in the other, Mama ran neck and neck with Daddy across the back yard and through the gate.

Dewey appeared inside the bouncing circle of light. Mama let out a startled “Oh!” and Daddy a “Jesus Christ!” and we all skidded to a stop.

“Don’t you be going down there, Mr. Primrose,” Dewey said, his eyes all big and wild looking. His oily brown hair stuck out this way and that. Only one gallous of his overalls was fastened; the other flopped down over his scrawny belly. “It’s dangerous. There’s demons loose tonight.” Continue reading Pearls Before Swine

Love Hurts

John Parker stepped into his pants, glanced back at the woman sleeping in the bed he had just vacated. And the guilt hit him. Why did he do it? Why did he have to nail some bimbo he’d just met when he had a beautiful, willing wife at home?

He never failed to question his actions after the fact. But never before. When he met a pretty young thing, every thought in his head was crowded out by the one imperative: get her in the sack. And since he fit all the prerequisites—tall, dark, handsome, successful—most A-list women had tucked away in their minds when eyeing a potential hookup, he seldom struck out. It was just so damn easy.

He left three hundred bucks, cab fare plus a little something extra, on the bedside table, and after looking around to see if he’d left anything behind, slipped quietly out the door. He hated goodbyes, some more than others. That’s how he’d ended up married to Liv: he couldn’t tell her goodbye.

Night had slipped over the city while he and Tanya…Tonya, something like that, had played beneath the covers. Liv would be home by now. But he always had the old standby of working late; it had never failed him. She knew his job sometimes required long or odd hours. And she loved him, trusted him.

He felt the guilt niggling at the edge of his thoughts again, pushed it away. After all, he didn’t love those other women, it was nothing, just sex. In his heart, he was true to Liv.

She was waiting when he got home, a smile on her face and his favorite, a dry martini, in her hand. She took his briefcase and jacket. “Working late?” At his eye roll and nod, her red lips curved into a luscious pout. “Poor baby.”

His appreciative eyes followed her as she glided down the entryway. Tendrils of her thick, black hair had escaped its artfully arranged messy bun, brushing the tanned shoulders visible through the diaphanous, white dressing gown that did little to hide her long, lithe, perfect body.

She placed his jacket and briefcase on the small table near the bottom of the staircase, turned, and beckoned with a crooked finger. John recognized that look, the saucy smile, and knew what she wanted. The question was, was he up to the task? But as he strolled toward her, then stepped into her arms, that worry was put to rest.

He nuzzled her neck, breathed in the exotic, musky scent that was all Liv. Slowly, deliberately, he eased aside the white fabric, kissed the small, red birthmark at the base of her throat. “I’ll take a quick shower…” His hand covered a breast. “…then we can get down to business.”

Her hands moved over his back. One glided up, tangled in his hair, turned his head. Lips brushing his ear, she said, “There’s no need for a shower, love.” She nibbled the lobe. “Just like the others, I’ll still smell her stink after you wash.”

He started, pulled back. “Wh…what?” How could she have known? No, no, she couldn’t have known. No way. He was too careful. He relaxed, grinned. “You’re such a tease.”

She looked up at him, eyes heavy with desire. “Am I now?” She leaned into him, kissed his jawline.

John closed his eyes, his sigh turning into a moan when he felt her teeth rake his skin. Then she bit down. Hard. “Ouch!” He jerked away, his hand going to the side of his neck and coming back smeared with blood. “What the hell?” He took in her flushed face, glittering eyes, and blood-smeared mouth, and at that moment, he wanted her more than he ever had before. “Wanna play rough, do you?” He grabbed her arm, yanked her hard against him. “I can handle that.”

Using a fistful of her hair, he yanked back her head, ground his lips against hers. Her arms circled him, clawed at his back. Through a fog of lust, John idly thought how exceptionally strong her arms were, and how rough they felt, and how they reached everywhere—his head, shoulders, lower back, butt cheeks, thighs…calves. Calves? Calves!

He pushed weakly against her, swayed, and would have fallen if she hadn’t been holding onto him. He tried to back away, but his legs refused to cooperate. Nothing on his body wanted to work. Except for his vision. And when he saw his wife, horror rose inside him, squeezing what little breath he had left from his lungs. If he had been able, he would have screamed. And screamed and screamed.

Liv wasn’t Liv anymore. Two additional sets of bristly arms sprouted from her sides and hips that had bloated obscenely. Eight blue eyes instead of two stared back at him. Her face had rounded, her nose had disappeared, and her mouth was much smaller. Which was why he couldn’t understand how it could open so wide…so wide it easily snapped over his head.

He could no longer see as Liv pulled his headless corpse up the stairs and down the hall to their bedroom. He felt nothing as she opened the closet and flung him onto her web. He knew nothing as she injected digestive juices into his cooling body, and her babies eagerly swarmed over the collapsing husk that had once been John Parker.

Liv knew he had been a terrible husband. But to his credit, he was a tasty meal.

©️2020 KT Workman

The Village of Useless Women

“You no longer please me,” Tarik said. “Gather your things and go.”

And with those words, I was banished.

I did not cry. I did not beg. All that would have gotten me was a beating, and in the end, nothing would have changed. My husband no longer desired me, so I was of no use to him. I could either walk away with my head high or be dragged from the village with the promise of Sobro if I returned.

Mosie stood behind and to the left of Tarik, as was proper for a wife. Her smooth round face held nothing but scorn as she watched me. I wondered if she would remember this day when she was standing where I was now, when she had lost the blush of youth and was turned out. Probably not. When I had been brought into Tarik’s hut six summers ago to replace one of his aged wives, I am sure the same contempt had shown in my eyes.

Head down and lips pressed together, I shoved my few dresses and leggings, my combs and spare boots, into my pack. Then I turned to Kaia, who was nursing my son and hers, tears running down her cheeks. She did not look up at me. I no longer existed. Continue reading The Village of Useless Women

Yon Side of the Canes

Sheriff Tackey drove by a while ago, eyed me sitting out here on the front porch, drinking, watching the sun going down. I saluted him with Mr. Wild Turkey and yelled out a “howdy.” He acted all casual-like, pretended he didn’t see me.

But I knew he did.

He’s been watching me. He thinks I was the one who did it. I tried to tell him what happened, but him or nobody else believed me. Mayhaps if I’d been in their place, I wouldn’t of either.

Let me tell you how it went down…

Last Sunday morning, Merle and me went hunting down along the slough where the rabbits and skeeters are nigh on the same size. Most folks were in church, but since God had let the cancer take my Lisabeth last year, me and Him had parted company and I’d become real good acquainted with Mr. Wild Turkey. Continue reading Yon Side of the Canes

Red Rover

Avery saw the small door on the back wall of the chicken house. It hadn’t been there yesterday evening when she’d gathered eggs. Or at least she hadn’t noticed it then. It was so dark underneath the roosting bars, she might have overlooked it. But she didn’t think so.

Had her daddy made the opening between the coop and adjoining shed where the feed corn was kept when she was at school?

“When did you put the door in the chicken house, Daddy?” she asked him at supper that night.

“What door?” he said around a mouthful of cornbread.

“The one in back under the roosting bars.”

He washed down the cornbread with a big drink of buttermilk, and turned his full attention on Avery. She squirmed under the gaze of his narrowed blue eyes. They always seemed to see right through her and not like what they saw: a girl, not the son he had wanted. His only child, and there’d be no more since her birth had messed up Mama’s insides so bad she couldn’t have any more kids.

“You’re seeing things, girl, there ain’t no door. Why in hell would I put a door there anyway?” Continue reading Red Rover

My Way

Not long after I pitched the last of Ted’s fingers out the Winnebago’s window, I saw the mean man and the sad woman.

Still on I-10, I had stopped to fill the gas tank when they pulled in beside me at the pumps. Now, I’m usually one to mind my own business, but they made it kind of hard, screaming and carrying on like they were. You could hear them even though their windows were rolled up. Him, at least. His voice was loud and pissed and carried a ways.

I tried my best to ignore the goings-on in the dusty red car. I had always figured what went on between a man and his wife-or whatever they were to each other-was their business, and nothing good ever came from sticking your nose in. So I stared out over the desert, thinking about Ted, while the gas went glug glug glug into the tank.

The slamming of a door pulled my attention back to the car. The man, a banty rooster runt of a thing, stalked around the front of the car and grabbed the nozzle on the other side of the pump I was using. He screwed off the cap, shoved it inside, then palmed his sweaty dark hair back from his forehead. His eyes met mine, narrowed. “What the hell are you looking at?” he growled. Continue reading My Way

The Right Way

“You’re not doing that right,” Ted said, crowding up against my side at the sink, using his considerable bulk to nudge me out of his way. He opened an upper cabinet, swinging it so wide it almost hit the side of my head.

I moved a step to my right, pausing the round and round motion of the paring knife circling the potato in my hand. Taking a deep, calming breath, I stared out the small window at the distant mountains. The sun was sinking behind the jagged peaks, painting the sky in swaths of red and gold and orange. A hot puff of desert air found its way between the two panes of roll-out glass, riffling the sweaty tendrils of fading auburn hair sticking to my cheeks. I sighed.

He thunked down a cup on the countertop, then snagged the carafe brimming with fresh brewed coffee, sloshing some onto the Formica I had wiped down not five minutes ago.

“You need to use the peeler like I do…”

And just when’s the last time you did that? I thought. Continue reading The Right Way

The Faded Woman

Martha was a ghost of a woman. She disappeared into her surroundings, blending in as if she were no more than a sheet of wallpaper, sporting bras, hose, and socks, pasted behind the pegs of merchandise she stocked. Like a chameleon, her form merged with her environment.

Day after day, her soft, pasty body trudged up and down the lingerie aisles of the superstore, pushing a shopping cart bristling with a flashy array of leopard-print panties, bright red teddies, and other exotic intimate apparel; but unlike the garments she put out for sale, Martha was anything but colorful.

Thin, straight hair the shade of week-old coffee hung dull and lifeless to her shoulders. Stringy tendrils obscured her downturned face. Pale and rounded and malleable, she was kneaded dough, punched down and waiting for a rise that never happened. When she spoke to a customer—and she only did that when forced to—Martha’s eyes stayed on the wood-laminated floor. Even her “May I help you?” and “Have a nice day.” were smothered things spoken barely above a whisper on good days, and on bad days, a tired, almost-inaudible sigh of sound.

And there were plenty of bad days, days when her head felt as if it were a ball of unmitigated pain that had been created for no other purpose than to punisher her because she wasn’t a good enough daughter, a good enough wife, but most of all, a good enough mother. Martha endured the frequent migraines without complaint, a firm believer that her suffering was atonement for past mistakes, and when God thought she had paid enough, the attacks would cease. And though she told none of her coworkers when she was in the throes of a migraine, a glimpse of her features told the tale—red-rimmed eyes sunk into dark hollows on an otherwise skim milk face.

But regardless of how she felt, Martha plodded through the days, doing her job and doing it well so that at the end of the week she could collect her meager paycheck. Not for herself, but for her two grown daughters and their children. She was determined that her daughters would never do without as she had. Yes, she would always be there for them, paying their rent, buying their groceries, providing whatever their respective husbands didn’t for as long as she had a breath left in her body.

Martha’s children and grandchildren were her life. Only in their presence did her eyes sparkle, her lips curve in a smile, her round shoulders square. Other employees took note of Martha’s transformation when her daughters came into the store; it was like seeing her for the first time. One worker said, “You know, I never realized it before, but Martha’s kind of pretty.” And another remarked on the lovely green shade of her eyes.

Then her family would leave, and Martha would fade away once more, becoming as translucent as the pantyhose tucked inside the packages she placed neatly on shelves. A see-through woman. Barely there at all.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay