FORCED FUN

What the hell am I doing out on a night like this?” Glenn grumbled to himself, his mood worsening with every passing minute. “Freezing rain, my feet are soaked and I don’t even want to go to this damn office Christmas party!”

No one at his company knew that Glenn was planning to quit on New Year’s Eve. He was sick of his dead-end job, always being passed-over and stuck in a little cubicle all day. There’s got to be more to life than that!

Running into the little gift shop located in his company’s office building, Glenn spotted a small lapis lazuli ornament near the cash register and decided it would make a fine Secret Santa gift. As he reached for it, his hand bumped into a lovely feminine hand with sparkling fuchsia fingernails.

Hold on, buster! That’s mine! I just left it on the counter while I went to get a gift bag.”

Turning his head sideways Glenn encountered a familiar face; it was the receptionist at his office. He always thought she was pretty but tonight she looked particularly fetching.

Carrie, isn’t it? Well, I’m sorry but the rule is if you put something down before paying for it, it’s fair game. Besides, I’m in a hurry and I don’t have time to look around for anything else.”

Carrie recognized Glenn immediately. He reminded her of a dreamy Hugh Grant in his younger days – handsome and charming – just not at this particular moment.

Glenn, right? Well, I’m in a hurry, too. The office Christmas party is tonight and this is my Secret Santa gift. You’re probably here for the same reason.”

Guilty as charged” Glenn quipped. “Come on, Carrie. It’s been a crappy day. I just want to buy this gift, make an appearance at the party and get the hell out of there.”

I feel the same way. These office celebrations are the worst! The last place I want to be is at that party but it’s mandatory, as you know. Nothing like ‘forced fun’!”

Glenn had to chuckle at that.

Look, Glenn. There’s a bunch of other ornaments right over there. Just pick something and let me buy this one, alright? I did see it first, after all.”

Oh, alright! It’s all yours, Carrie” Glenn conceded and dashed off to look for something else. He quickly found a small gold star ornament, grabbed a gift bag and returned to the register just as Carrie was finishing up her purchase. She gave Glenn a little smile and headed out into the lobby. He couldn’t help noticing her shapely legs as she walked away, heels clicking on the marble floor.

So, we meet again” declared the voice beside Carrie as she waited for the elevator. She felt a slight rush knowing it was Glenn.

Or maybe you’re following me” Carrie replied coyly, hoping she wasn’t blushing. She and Glenn never really spoke to each other at work but he always caught her eye. Glancing at him Carrie was struck with how intensely blue his eyes were. At the same moment Glenn was thinking how very kissable Carrie’s lips looked in the shimmering light of the lobby’s chandelier.

They stepped into the elevator, the only two occupants as it made its slow ascent.

Mind if I ask why you’re dreading this party so much?” Glenn inquired.

That’s easy!” Carrie replied. “I hate my job! The people are unfriendly, all I do is answer the phone all day and give directions to rude visitors. I’m bored to death and capable of so much more. If I tell you something will you promise to keep it a secret?”

Glenn nodded and gave her the ‘zipped lips’ sign.

I’m quitting on New Year’s Eve” Carrie whispered.

No kidding! So am I! I hate my job, too. But mum’s the word, OK?” Glenn whispered back conspiratorially and they stared into each other’s eyes for a lingering moment.

Any idea what you’re gonna do?” Glenn asked.

Not really” Carrie sighed “but I’ve always dreamed of running a bed and breakfast in Maine.”

Sounds delightful” Glenn replied wistfully. “We used to vacation at my grandparent’s lake house in Maine when I was a kid. It’s gorgeous up there – a really great place to settle down.”

The elevator door opened to the office party in full swing. Glenn and Carrie groaned and deposited their little bags on the Secret Santa gift table. He went one way, she went the other but every few minutes they found themselves staring at each other across the room.

After a short time Carrie casually made her way to the elevator. She was just about to make her escape when she heard that familiar voice cry out “Hold the elevator!” and Glenn rushed in breathlessly.

I was wondering…..” they said at the same time and laughed self-consciously.

You first” prompted Carrie.

I was thinking perhaps we could get a drink somewhere and talk about Maine” Glenn suggested.

My thoughts exactly” Carrie replied. And when they stepped outside they discovered the freezing rain had changed to snow.

Looks like one of my Christmas wishes came true” Glenn remarked, delighting in the sight of snowflakes kissing Carrie’s hair.

Carrie smiled up at Glenn. “Would you .. um .. like to go to my place?” she asked, her eyes twinkling. “We could start a fire, decorate the tree …..”

I’d like that very much” Glenn replied and slipped his fingers between hers.

NAR © 2020

BETWEEN CONSENTING ADULTS

Horizontally is the traditional position, Tom. I’m not sure how I feel about this. And you springing it on me after all these years!”

I know this may seem a bit out there, Laura, but honestly – people have done weirder things.”

Maybe so, Tom, but standing up? Let’s face it – this ‘thing’ is really huge and you know it! How will we keep from falling over?”

You’ve never been a scaredy cat before, Laura. You’ll be well protected, wrapped in my loving arms just like a fuzzy little caterpillar in a cozy cocoon.”

But Tom, what will other people think? I can just imagine the look on my sister’s face when she hears about this.”

Other people, Laura? Who cares what they think?! Why should the things we do and the decisions we make in the privacy of our own home matter to other people? Donna and Joe will probably be jealous they didn’t give it a whirl themselves.”

You’re right, of course, Tom, but let’s consider Donna and Joe for a minute. They’ve been in our lives forever. Don’t you think theyll be rather shocked?”

Only if you tell them, Laura. And by then the deed will be done! Hell! They might even want to join in. Donna IS your twin sister, after all; I kinda like the idea of that! The more the merrier! Lord knows, we have plenty of room. Let’s step out of that damn box and throw caution to the wind.”

Thomas Hastings, you’re such a devil sometimes!”

And you love it! What do you say, Laura? You ready to give it a go?”

As usual you’ve talked me into it. I can’t resist you and your wild ideas. Let’s do it, Tom!”

Fantastic! You will not be sorry, Laura. Just get yourself nice and comfy. Hang on, baby. Give me one little second. OK, I’m in!”

Hello. Thank you for using the live chat app at Tower of Memories. This is Melissa. How can I help you?”

Melissa, this is Tom Hastings. Laura and I have talked about your proposal and we’re ready to take the plunge.”

That’s exciting news, Tom! You won’t regret choosing vertical burial plots here at Tower of Memories.”

NAR © 2020

EXTRA X CHROMOSOME

CHIMERA TORTOISESHELL KITTENS
AVAILABLE FOR ADOPTION!
MAKE SOMEONE VERY HAPPY THIS CHRISTMAS!
COME IN – ASK FOR LEAH

Gary did a double-take when he saw the sign on the marquee outside Redemption Ecclesiastical Church. He’d always been fascinated by those distinctively mottled cats with an extra X chromosome. Gary supported humane societies, not pet stores. He knew people paid a lot of money for pets, especially the designer dogs some breeders ‘manufacture’ such as Labradoodles and Yorkipoos.

Not hesitating for a second, Gary walked inside and knocked on the open door of an office marked ‘Communities Outreach Program’. A pleasant voice rang out “Come on in! I’ll be right there.”

Glancing around the room Gary noticed a large bulletin board full of colorful flyers about the church’s events: the weekly Advent wreath candle lighting ceremony, the upcoming Christmas pageant, a clothing drive for the homeless and a sign-up sheet to volunteer at the local soup kitchen.

Hi! You must be Sam. The delivery is all ready for you.”

Gary found himself face to face with the most adorable woman he had ever seen. She was casually dressed in jeans, a Christmas sweater and a Santa hat; her short blonde hair barely reached her shoulders. Dark-rimmed glasses couldn’t hide her luminous green eyes and her infectious smile displayed sparkling white teeth. Even without makeup she was radiant.

Somewhat dumbstruck, Gary said “Um, hi. I’m Gary, not Sam and I don’t know anything about a delivery. I’m looking for Leah.”

I’m Leah. Sorry, there appears to be a mix-up. I’ve been waiting for a guy named Sam to deliver a truckload of groceries to the soup kitchen. I thought you were him.” Leah frowned.

Actually, I’m here because I saw the sign about the kittens for adoption” Gary admitted rather sheepishly, wishing he was there for something more altruistic – like making a soup kitchen delivery.

Oh, shoot! I forgot that sign was still up!” exclaimed Leah. “I’m sorry but the kittens were all snatched up except for the runt of the litter. Poor little thing – I took her home. She’s keeping my cat Othello company – not that he’s thrilled about it.”

Gary was visibly disappointed. “Oh, man! I was excited about adopting a cat. Well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I’ll get out of your hair now, Leah … unless I can help with something.”

Leah checked her watch; it was getting late and it looked like Sam was a no-show. Gary seemed like a trustworthy guy so she took a chance. Besides, he was wearing a Santa hat, too; if you can’t trust a cute guy in a Santa hat, who can you trust? “Well, if you wouldn’t mind I could use a hand delivering those groceries.”

Why not!” Gary answered – a bit too quickly. “I don’t have anything else to do now anyway.”

Great!” Leah answered – a bit too quickly. “You’re a lifesaver, Gary! And I’m really sorry about the kittens.”

On the way to the soup kitchen, Leah and Gary chatted non-stop and discovered they had a lot in common. They were both decent people who enjoyed doing volunteer work, they loved animals and they were hopeless romantics. What could have been a boring night turned into a wonderful evening and they thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

When the delivery was done, Leah said “Gary, I want to thank you for all your help tonight. I know you were really hoping to adopt a kitten. How about we make that happen?”

Gary was blown away. “Leah, I didn’t help you because I hoped to be rewarded with a kitten. I really like you and was happy to help. But if you’re serious, then yes – that would make my day!”

I really like you, too, Gary.” Leah blushed. “I just have to warn you: watch out for Othello. He doesn’t like strangers and is pretty territorial. In fact, he barely tolerates me and that’s because I feed him!” Leah laughed.

To Gary’s ears Leah’s laugh sounded like crystal bells.

Arriving at Leah’s place, Gary was too excited to worry about Othello. He was enchanted by the tiny chimera kitten and gently picked her up. He sat on the sofa, cradling her in his arms. Leah’s heart melted watching the two of them.

I’ll go make some coffee” Leah suggested. “You be nice, Othello!”

Out of the corner of his eye Gary saw a large cat in the hallway giving him the evil eye. “Ah, you must be Othello” he whispered. “Look man – please don’t blow this for me, dude. I’ve really fallen for Leah and just between us guys, I think she likes me, too.” Othello crept closer and sniffed Gary’s shoes. Placing his front paws on the sofa he stared intently at Gary, then nonchalantly jumped up and made himself comfortable leaning against Gary’s leg purring contentedly.

Well, how do you like that!” Leah declared in pleasant surprise. “Othello’s taken a liking to you, too, Gary. I think we made a match here tonight.”

Yeah, I think we really did, Leah. And I have the perfect name for this little lady. Leah, say hello to Desdemona.”

Ah, Othello and Desdemona, Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers – but this time with a very happy ending” Leah sighed as she snuggled close to Gary.

Othello

NAR © 2020

TRYPOPHOBIA

Coroner? What do we need the coroner for?” asked Police Sergeant Jefffries. “It’s obvious this poor slob jumped off the roof. Just look at him!”

Not so fast, Jeffries” snapped Police Captain Russo. “Take a close look at the extensive amount of pimples on this guy. There’s something very strange about them.”

Averse to showing fear but knowing his boss was expecting him to man up, Jeffries crouched down and examined the various array of pustules. God, how he hated those disgusting zits!

You know what I think, Cap? This guy was some sort of perv into kinky sex and weird stuff. Maybe this is some rare case of an STD.” Jeffries looked up at his superior hoping to have made a good impression.

Jeffries, sometimes I wonder how you ever made it onto the force” replied Russo sarcastically. “If you hope to be Lieutenant someday, you better prove you have what it takes. There’s something nefarious going on here and I can see it with my own two eyes. Have this entire area cordoned off and call the coroner pronto. I’ll bet you a week’s worth of doughnuts he’ll agree with my assessment.”

Humiliated again, Jeffries was beginning to think he really wasn’t cut out for this line of work – always tripping over himself and looking like a fool in front of the captain.

When Dr. Rusikoff, the coroner, arrived he took one look at the body and started barking orders: “Get this man in a body bag ASAP! Hold on … make it two bags; I want this guy double wrapped and hauled off to the morgue! I’m gonna call ahead. This body needs to be incinerated immediately. Jeffries! Make yourself useful and get a crew to scrub down this sidewalk with the strongest disinfectant you can find.”

Jeffries felt like a lackey but did as he was told. After the street was cleaned up he asked the coroner “Dr. Rusikoff, what’s going on here?”

The coroner looked at Jeffries as if he was an idiot. “Isn’t it obvious, Sergeant? Those aren’t pimples; they’re sacs and they didn’t appear naturally. These ghastly things were caused by some sort of aggressive virus manufactured in a lab. Both Russo and I could clearly see organisms moving around inside just waiting to bust out. I heard about this same thing happening in Gongabu in the Kathmandu Valley. Believe you me, Jeffries, it was a nightmare of epic proportions.”

Captain Russo ordered everyone back to the station. “Not you, Jeffries. You’re done for tonight. Report back tomorrow.”

Talk about getting cut off at the knees! “I’m such a loser! I need a drink, a decent lay and some excitement in my miserable life” Jeffries thought.

He began walking aimlessly about and found himself outside ‘Bar Kathmandu’, the sleaziest dump he’d ever seen. Jeffries drank way too much and woke up the next morning with a killer hangover and a stabbing pain in his neck. That pock-marked hooker must have slipped him one hell of a mickey. Stumbling to the bathroom, he looked into the mirror and let out a blood-curdling scream; he was completely covered in throbbing pimples. Just before his head erupted Jeffries saw thousands of tiny grotesque creatures breaking through their sacs and scurrying off.

Who will their next host be? They may be heading in your direction! And for fuck’s sake, stay out of ‘Bar Kathmandu’!

NAR © 2020

ACROSS ANNISQUAM RIVER

Settle yourselves, sinners, and be silent!” bellowed Roderick, vicar of the Olde Annisquam Church. “Prepare to hear the word of the Lord!”

Bearing a strong resemblance to the smarmy, reptilian Uriah Heep with his pointy hawk-like nose, long chicken neck, stringy faded red hair and spindly legs, Roderick was far from the image of a kindly and jovial clergyman. The menfolk detested him, the women shied away from him and the children were frightened of him but he was the only pastor assigned to the villagers of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In fact, the vicar established a mandatory attendance policy that forced the faithful residents to row across the Annisquam River to the church every Sunday – an act that did nothing to improve his popularity or likability.

The vicar continued: “A reading from the Book of Judges. The Lord God madest man to have dominion over the work of his hands and by this you shall have enrichments in everything; blessed are you who believe and act accordingly.” Roderick closed the Bible loudly and preached for the next hour about the “lazy, disreputable and ignorant wretches of Gloucester.” Then like a man possessed he screamed “Repent, ye sinners, lest ye perish!”

No one ever left Sunday services feeling good about themselves. The villagers rowed back across the Annisquam, relieved they had to see the vicar only once a week. He was reprehensible but they were stuck with him. Why he chose to live in the small annex house beside the old church was a mystery; there was a perfectly good church with an attached rectory in the village but Roderick preferred to keep his distance. He didn’t even have a boat to get across the river and he never visited the village, which was quite acceptable with the residents.

The story that everyone heard was that Roderick had a woman who cooked and cleaned for him. Her name was Chenoa, the last of the Agawam Indian tribe; all her clan had succumbed to the plague. Chenoa lived in the forest behind the old church where she hunted and often fished in the Annisquam River. She raised goats and chickens, grew vegetables and maintained a small crop of barley, corn, rye and wheat from which she made bread and whiskey for the elbow-bending vicar.

People talked as they are wont to do; all agreed the relationship seemed particularly strange. Was Chenoa employed by the vicar? He certainly didn’t seem the charitable type. Late one night a few boys decided to paddle across the Annisquam to see what they could find out. Hearing shouting, they crept up to the annex house and peeked in a window.

Roderick was obviously drunk and yelling at a frightened Chenoa; she had overcooked his evening meal and had to face her punishment. The boys were startled when the vicar threw his glass across the room and reached for a birch cane by the hearth. He grabbed Chenoa and ripped the front of her tunic from neck to hem, leaving her standing naked and trembling. He wrestled out of his waistcoat and began whipping Chenoa’s breasts as she whimpered. Purple welts appeared on her chest and bloody droplets trickled down her belly. The vicar dropped the whip and began licking the blood and hungrily sucking Chenoa’s breasts, all the while roughly shoving his fingers inside her. Sweating and breathing heavily, Roderick twisted Chenoa around and entered her from behind, fiercely plunging into her over and over until he cried out like an animal. When he was done he pushed her to the floor.

Scared out of their wits and afraid of being caught, the boys rowed home as fast as possible and told their parents what they had witnessed. The next morning the men reported the night’s horrendous events to the sheriff. They rowed out to investigate, shocked to discover the old church and annex house burned to the ground, still smoldering. Roderick was dead, sprawled just outside the door. An arrow stuck angrily out of his back and he had been scalped; there was no sign of Chenoa. No tears were shed for the ungodly vicar. The sheriff announced he wasn’t going to bother searching for the woman. As far as everyone was concerned, judgement had been served.

On a warm June morning the village women went berry picking by the river. They cried out in horror at the tragic sight before them: a despondent Chenoa had hanged herself from an oak tree across the Annisquam River. The papoose on her back cradled a sleeping infant with reddish hair and a tiny hawk-like nose. A scribbled note tucked inside read: “God forgive me. I cannot bear to look at him.”

Chenoa and Vicar Roderick

NAR © 2020