BEYOND THE PALE

Chloe’s wedding was planned for the end of the month. As she was being fitted for her gown, she noticed how washed out she looked; the white crepe fabric and her dark brown hair against her pale skin made her look anemic. Chloe decided she would get some highlights in her hair and build up a tan before her big day and honeymoon in Barbados. This was going to be her one and only wedding and she wanted to look stunning. 

Chloe heard about a new tanning salon called “Beyond the Pale” which had opened in town and she stopped by to check it out. When she arrived, she was surprised to see a high-tech device attached to the exterior wall; there were buttons, a speaker and a monitor which was flashing a neon red message:

THIS PROPERTY IS PROTECTED BY
AN ELECTRONIC SECURITY SYSTEM. 
TO SPEAK TO A RECEPTIONIST,

PRESS THE BLACK BUTTON BELOW.”

Times have certainly changed!

Chloe pressed the black button and was surprised when the message on the screen disappeared and was replaced by the image of an attractive young woman. Her voice came through the speaker: “Welcome to Beyond the Pale. I’m Nicole. Please press and hold the green button while speaking. So, how can I help you?”

Chloe pressed the green button. “Yes, hi. I’m Chloe and I’d like to talk to someone about your tanning packages.”

Sure! I’ll beep you in. You’ll hear a buzz and the door will slide open. Take the elevator to the 2nd floor.”

After the door slid open, Chloe entered the tiny hallway, jumping slightly when the door snapped shut behind her. She took the elevator to the 2nd floor and was greeted by the same woman she saw on the screen.

Hi, Chloe. Sorry about all the security. It’s the way of the world these days. So, you want to hear about our tanning packages?”

The two women discussed the various packages available and Chloe told Nicole about her upcoming wedding. Chloe chose a package suitable for her and Nicole showed her around the salon. She was surprised to see she was the only customer there. Nicole explained that Mondays were always slow and Chloe had picked a good day to come by; she could have her choice of any of the tanning beds. Chloe looked forward to her first session and was excited to have a deep golden tan for her wedding.

Chloe chose the futuristic Masterson 360 tanning bed; she entered the room and the door closed behind her. She noticed the keypad on the wall was flashing a red “5”; Nicole told Chloe during their tour that meant she had five minutes to undress and apply lotion before getting into the bed. Nicole further explained that Chloe had to say “Start” when she was ready to begin tanning; the lights would turn on and the cover of the bed would automatically lower and lock in position for ten minutes. At the end of her session, the tanning lights would turn off and the cover would open by itself. If Chloe needed to end the session at any time, all she had to do was say “Stop”; the lights would turn off and the lid would disengage and open. Chloe loved the easy, hands-free system; it was unlike any tanning salon she’d been to before.

Meanwhile, back at the reception desk, Nicole answered another call from the front door. Checking the video monitor, she saw it was her boyfriend Dean. She beeped him in and pressed a different button which changed the message on the screen in case any customers showed up. The message read: 

“NO ONE IS HERE RIGHT NOW.
THE SALON WILL REOPEN IN 15 MINUTES.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.”

Dean sidled up to the front desk, smarmy as ever. Nicole couldn’t resist the slick and fawning type of guy.

“Hey, baby! You’re looking fine today. You gonna show me how happy you are to see me?” The words practically slithered out of Dean’s mouth.

“I sure am, babe! I’ve been fantasizing all morning about getting it on in the massage room. You ready?” Nicole replied.

Dean grabbed her hand and placed it firmly on his crotch.

“Do I feel ready, Nic?” 

Nicole giggled as Dean followed her into the massage room, fondling her ass on the way. Nicole playfully pressed her finger against his lips saying “Ssh” as she listened for the sound of Chloe’s tanning bed starting up. Confident that Chloe would be occupied for at least 10 minutes, Nicole pressed a button on the wall keypad which electronically locked every door in the salon.

“There! Nobody can interrupt us. Now, show me what you got, baby!”

Dean and Nicole started going at it hot and heavy, the heated vibrating massage bed adding to their pleasure. They were really getting down to business when there was a sudden muffled “WOOSH” and the room went black.

“Whoa! What was that?” Dean whispered.

“Must have been a power failure. No worries, babe. It’s all high-tech stuff but I know how to override the system” Nicole answered. She tapped her iPhone flashlight app and padded over to the keyboard panel on the wall. She began pressing one button after the other but nothing happened. Nicole tried repeatedly to bypass the system with no luck.

“Shoot! It’s not responding. I’m gonna have to call for help; get dressed, Dean” Nicole commanded. To her dismay, she discovered she had no cell service. Getting dressed as quickly as she could in the darkened room, Nicole told Dean to try his phone. He also had no service. They soon learned the salon phones were not working either.

“Okay, no reason to panic. The salon is connected to a main security facility. I’m sure they’re getting our alert right this minute. We just need to sit tight and wait for them to reset the codes. This is a foolproof system. No worries.”

The duo sat on the massage bed waiting for the power to come back on. Nicole elbowed Dean saying “Listen! Do you hear that?”

“I don’t hear nothing” Dean brusquely replied, annoyed that their sexcapade had been cut short.

Well, I do. It sounds like a tanning bed is running.”

“How can that be if everything’s shut down?” Dean asked.

“Well, it shouldn’t be. But listen. Can’t you hear it?”

“Yeah. I can hear it now.”

“Oh my God!” Nicole cried out. Her hands sprung to her ears trying to block out the sounds. “I can hear her!”

“Hear who, Nic? What are you talking about?”

“Chloe. Our new client. Dean, she must be stuck in the tanning bed. Oh, God. Why didn’t the bed turn off? We have to help her!”

Dean tried desperately to open the massage room door; it wouldn’t give. There wasn’t even a window in the room they could try to open or break. The air conditioning had shut down and they were both now dripping wet. Nicole was starting to become frantic.

That was nothing compared to how Chloe was feeling.

☀️   ☀️   ☀️   ☀️   ☀️

Fifteen minutes earlier Chloe was oiled up and ready for her first tanning session. She slid onto the bed, said “Start” and chuckled a little imagining herself on an episode of Star Trek. The lights turned on and the cover slowly came down and locked in place. As the warmth enveloped her, Chloe smiled thinking what a great decision she made coming to Beyond the Pale. She relaxed.

Chloe thought about getting a new hairstyle for her big day and how fabulous she’d look walking down the aisle. And, of course, her mind drifted to her honeymoon in Barbados. She was so content, so happy and certain nothing would get in the way of her perfect wedding day.

The temperature in the tanning bed started getting pretty hot; this was only Chloe’s first session and she didn’t want to get burned. She had lots of sessions to use to build up a nice deep tan. Remembering what Nicole told her about turning off the bed at any time, Chloe said “Stop”. The bed did not turn off. Chloe squinted and tried to locate the speaker system thinking perhaps there was a button she could press. The glaring lights were too much for her eyes; even wearing the eye protectors, Chloe couldn’t locate anything that felt like a speaker. Her vision was obscured and she became more agitated.

The tight quarters of the tanning bed left no room for her to move around but Chloe managed to bend her arms until her hands reached the cover above her. She pushed on the lid to open it but it wouldn’t budge. She tried again, more forcefully this time, but nothing happened; the lid was securely locked in place. “Okay, calm down” Chloe said to herself. “The session is probably almost over and the door will pop open any second now. You can do this; it’s just a little heat.”

Chloe started doing her deep breathing exercises, slowly counting off each breath as she went along. She began to relax and was even able to ignore the heat, but then she realized she had counted to 75 and the lights had not turned off. She was definitely in the tanning bed longer than the allotted time and it was getting dreadfully hot. She pushed against the lid once more; no luck.

Chloe panicked.

She began pounding on the tanning bed, screaming for someone to let her out. She was acutely aware of her delicate skin beginning to burn. She was in pain now and could feel her skin sizzling like bacon in a microwave. She began hearing little crackling noises and her face was incredibly hot. Wriggling her arms up to her head, she recoiled in horror when she realized her hair was singed. Oh God! If she didn’t get out of there soon she’d burn up!

Chloe turned into a madwoman as the pain reached new levels; her skin began blistering and oozing. She could smell her body and hair beginning to burn. Her eyes throbbed and felt enormous in their sockets. Chloe screamed like a woman possessed and reached up to cover her face with her hands. Overcome with excruciating pain, Chloe passed out. 

🔥 🔥  🔥  🔥   🔥 

The emergency alert from Beyond the Pale reached the security facility almost 15 minutes earlier. When their attempts to get through to the salon failed, they called 911. The police and fire department arrived quickly but were faced with tremendous difficulty gaining access to the building. Since the salon was a free standing building with no other businesses nearby, there was no access other than through the salon itself. The door was made of industrial strength metal; the fire fighter’s axes didn’t even leave a dent and because it was a sliding door, there were no hinges to remove. There were only a few windows consisting of thick impact-resistant lucite cubes. The fire chief paced back and forth, trying to figure out how to get inside. As far as he could tell, the salon was in violation of many building safely codes; it was a horror show waiting to happen. In a last-ditch effort, the chief and a small crew climbed up to the roof and began carefully chipping away at the tiles. The last thing they needed was for the roof to cave in.

After what seemed an impossibly long time, a crack appeared in a section of the roof. Painstakingly making the opening larger, the team lowered a ladder into the opening and climbed down. Others followed and found themselves in the salon’s reception area; it was dark and hot and there was a low humming sound coming from one of the rooms down the hall. They also heard faint voices coming from the far back area of the salon.

Tubes of tanning lotion had burst in the heat, emitting a saccharine Tropical aroma, but there was no mistaking the smell coming from the tanning room; it was one first responders never forget – the stench of burning flesh.

One group of fire fighters followed the voices which led them to the massage room. They could barely make out the sounds inside and when they called out, no one responded. The door to the massage room was not a sliding door so the fire crew removed the hinges but it took an additional ten minutes to open the door wide enough for someone to squeeze through. Inside were Nicole and Dean; they were alive but overcome by the intense heat and suffering from dehydration. They were carried out by EMTs and transported to the hospital. A police car followed; once the patients were able to talk, questions needed answering.

Another team followed the smell to the Mastersun 360 tanning room; the door was searing hot and a bright glow was visible from under the doorframe. A fire hose was snaked in through the hole in the roof and the tanning room door was sprayed with water in an attempt to cool it down. It sizzled and crackled like fajitas in a Mexican restaurant. It took a long time for the door to cool down but at last the fire fighters were able to remove the pins from the hinges and pry the door open. To their disbelief, the tanning bed was still running; clouds of smoke billowed and sparks danced across the room.

There was no discernable way to turn off the bed. A risky decision was made to cut the thick cables with a giant bolt cutter. Everyone took cover as the fire captain started attacking the cables. They spit and hissed, sparks arcing, but eventually he cut through and the tanning bed ground to a halt. Now that the room was quiet, the feeblest of murmurs could be heard coming from the bed. Grabbing a crowbar, the fire captain went to work on the latch which kept the lid locked in place. With a loud SNAP the latch detached. It took four people to lift the lid.

What they saw made even the most seasoned veterans among them cringe; a few became physically sick. Lying on the tanning bed was what remained of Chloe; her body was seared and oozing, taking on the heinous appearance of a massive slug.  With excruciatingly slow movements, Chloe managed to tilt her head a fraction of an inch in the direction of the fire fighters, made a low gurgling noise and died.

A specialized detail was called in to remove Chloe’s molten body. The salon was cordoned off and an investigation would begin immediately.

Poor Chloe. All she wanted was a golden tan for her special day. She wanted to be a beautiful bride, something all women hoped for. Was that too much to ask? How could Chloe know her simple wish was unattainable, something beyond the pale?

NAR © 2022

THI

 

   

T“TTHIS PROPERTY IS PRO

   

 

THIS PROPERTY IS PROTECTED BY
AN ELECTRONIC SECURITY SYSTEM.
TO SPEAK TO A RECEPTIONIST,
PRESS THE BLACK BUTTON BELOW.”Times had certainly changed!

“NO ONE IS HERE RIGHT NOWTHE SALON WILL REOPEN IN 15 MINUTES.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.”
Dean sidled up to the front desk, smarmy as ever. Nicole was always attracted to the slick and fawning type of guy.“Hey, babyoDean’s mouth.

HORSE SENSE

What does this picture inspire you to write? Another challenge from my friends at “What Do You See?”.

“Hey, Charlie! Phil! Get a load of these jackasses!” neighed Daryl as he stared over the fence onto the country road. “Do they really think they’re capable of winning a race? On two legs?? This takes the cake!”

“Daryl, I’m pretty sure they’re not actual jackasses” whinnied Charlie. “They just look like jackasses!”

Phil kicked up his back legs and snickered loudly. Tossing back his glossy black hair, he gave out a hearty laugh. “That was hysterical, Charlie! ’They just look like jackasses!’ Absolutely priceless!”

“Well, they’re sure acting like jackasses! What the heck are they doing?” asked Daryl.

“They’re jogging – people run around all bandy-legged with arms flailing getting all sweaty going nowhere in particular and looking pretty dumb while doing it.” Charlie explained.

Phil trotted over. “Yeah. I read about these idiots in Horse Beautiful. It’s some kind of craze, far as I can tell .. some sort of asinine exercise routine.”

“Yeah” agreed Charlie. “What a total waste of time! And there’s even more of them running around the city.”

“OMG!” laughed Daryl loudly. “Check out these two in their matching his-and-hers outfits. Look at the shape they’re in! They gotta weigh 600 pounds combined. Can you imagine them riding us? Oh, my aching back! My screaming knees!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Look at what we got here, boys. Now that’s some fine-looking little filly!” exclaimed Phil as he moseyed nearer to the fence. “Oh yeah. I’d like to see her in a wet t-shirt contest!’

“She sure is something else, alright” Charlie agreed. “Check out those tiny shorts she’s wearing. She can ride me bareback any time she wants!”

“Man, now that’s one stacked number! I could watch her jog and bounce around all day!” Daryl smacked his lips.

“Hey! What are you three flea bags doing all this way from the barn? Farmer Brown’s gonna have a cow if he hears you jumped the fence again!” It was Barkley, the yellow lab who lived on the ranch. “Best get yourselves back home before someone notices you’re gone. C’mon! Giddy-up!”

“Race ya!” snorted Phil and the trio took off leaving Barkley in their dust.”

“Bunch of jackasses!” Barkley yowled indignantly. “Well, good riddance to them and woof to you, sexy lady. You jog by here often? Have I got a bone for you!”

NAR © 2022

#WDYS

SINGING HIS PRAISES

This weekend our challenge is to write a poem or story
in exactly 95 words incorporating the word “opera”.
 Please see the challenge link below the video.

About 20 years ago I discovered my son David could sing. He had been out at a karaoke bar and I heard he “blew the roof off the place” singing an Iron Maiden song.  

Well, that was enough for me. When I heard him sing I was stunned. I convinced him to join me in our church choir. He soon became lead tenor and joined several opera companies.  

Since COVID, David has not performed. You can be sure once he’s back on stage his dad and I will be right there in the front row.

NAR © 2022

🎶 🎶 🎶 🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶   🎶

NB – David is The Wandering Minstrel. This is the entire operetta starting at David’s entrance point. Please do not feel compelled to watch the entire show; however, if you do, I hope you enjoy the renaissance version of Il Mikado!

Thanks to my challenging friends at https://sammiscribbles.wordpress.com/2022/08/27/weekend-writing-prompt-274-opera/

SALTY TEARS

My life-long friend sat beside me, holding my hand as I lay crumbled in bed. Her eyes were rheumy from too many tears, very uncharacteristic of her; I was used to her carefree, bawdy laugh – just one of the many things we had in common.

“Is there anyone you’d like to talk to … besides me, that is?” she asked, already aware of what my answer would be.

“If you mean a priest, you know better than that” I whispered in reply. “No. I’m ready to go. And you’ll be on my heels, toots!” My friend cackled; she knew I spoke the truth but it did not frighten her. Like me, she had enough of this mortal coil.

We’d been through a lot together, she and I. We thought of each other as sisters, not just best friends. There was only one secret I never shared with her or anyone and I would take that to my grave. I knew I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

We had both lost our husbands a couple of years earlier; hers went first and mine followed shortly after. We were there for each other through it all. Part of me was relieved my husband went before me; he had always been the stalwart in our marriage, a steady rock who cared for our family without complaint. He was stronger than me; I always knew that and at times it made me feel ashamed because I doubted I could do for him what he did for me. He cared for me even when he was exhausted and ready to drop. How he cried seeing me in pain; he thought I didn’t know but I could hear him weeping late at night. He loved me with all his being until his last day; he slipped away in his sleep without a chance to say goodbye – perhaps the kindest way for both of us. It would have killed him if I’d gone first, leaving him alone.

“I’m so pissed off” I said, making my friend laugh again.

Tell me about it!” she replied colloquially. “I feel your pain, sis.” And I knew she truly did.

Damn this arthritis, this crippling disease that turned me into a twisted dried up old vine! “Remember when I was a hot number a thousand years ago? My melons were nice and firm back then!”

“Haha!! They called us ‘The Honey-Do Twins!” and we both laughed again, happy memories of our once supple bodies dancing around in our brains. 

“What the fuck happened?” and again we cracked up. Our laughs turned to coughs and gradually we calmed ourselves. I strained my eyes to look at my dear friend; at this point, my mouth and my eyes were my only body parts that moved on their own without pain.

I’ve got one regret” I whispered. “I should have fought harder. I let this damn crippler control me. I should have pushed myself, done more with my family and friends. I pray they understand and forgive me. I wanted to spend more time with them, live a fuller life; I just hurt too damn much.”

Tears ran down my face and my friend wiped them away. “Do you want me to call your sons?” she asked.

No, not now. Wait till it’s over. I can’t bear to look at them.” Even now I’m thinking of myself. What a coward! “Kiss me goodbye, sis. I’ll see you on the other side. I love you very much, you know.”

My friend leaned over from her wheelchair; she gently pushed my hair aside and kissed my cheek, our salty tears mingling. 

“Goodbye, my dearest friend. I love you” she murmured, even though she knew I could no longer hear her. “I’ll be right behind you.”

NAR © 2022

IGNOMINY

“MINOR ATTRACTED PERSONS”

Stop the pandering, the protecting, the outpouring cries of “civil rights” and call them what they are:

PEDOPHILES!
CHILD MOLESTERS!!

Where were the civil rights of the children they raped? Who protected the minors? Who heard their cries and screams?

My God, does no one see how hellacious this is? Does no one have a conscience? It would appear not.

Stop it! Just stop this disgusting pandering.

NAR © 2022

THE LONG SHOT

In response to my friends at Fandango’s One-Word Challenge,
today’s word is “gambler.”

“So, kid, your ma says you wanna work on my horse ranch. Is that right?” Micah asked Billy Bob.

“Yes sir. I love everything ‘bout horses and I asked my ma if we can get one and she told me we couldn’t afford one so the only way I can be around horses was to come work on your ranch” Billy Bob answered, feet kicking up dust as he shuffled around nervously.

“What is it you love so much ‘bout horses, kid?” asked Micah.

“They’re the most beautiful animals I ever seen. I like the idea of taking a wild horse and workin’ with him every day, getting’ him to trust you” replied Billy Bob, his eyes lighting up with excitement.

“Breakin’ in a horse is one of hardest things I ever done, kid. Everything ‘bout being a horse rancher is hard. You ready for that?” Micah asked the kid.

“I reckon. All I know is I need to learn everything there is ‘bout horses, what makes ’em tick, how to train ’em to be the best horses ever. I can’t think of anything more excitin’ … except getting’ rich, that is.” Billy Bob answered. He had a burning in him that Micah saw clearly now.

Micah removed his Stetson, pulled out a bandana from his back pocket and wiped his brow. “Well, kid. You sure got the desire, needin’ to know everything ‘bout horses. But you gotta understand one thing ‘bout workin’ on a horse ranch: it ain’t gonna make you rich. That’s a real long shot!” Micah waited for Billy Bob’s reaction.

Billy Bob didn’t hesitate. “That’s ok, sir. I’m smart; that’s what everybody says anyway. I’ll learn right quick. Besides, I don’t plan on workin’ on a horse ranch forever. No sir. Once I know everything there is to know ‘bout horses, I’m gonna follow my dream.”

“And what’s your dream, kid” Micah asked, his curiosity aroused.

“I’m gonna be the smartest, most famous and richest gambler that ever was” Billy Bob replied with proud determination.

NAR © 2022

TV OR NOT TV

Just like the bighorn sheep of North America who shed their wool in the summer, I’m about to do a bit of shedding of my own. I’ll be lightening the load, taking out the garbage, so to speak.

Does anyone else think there’s a whole lot of crapola on TV these days? Seriously – what do people watch all damn day long? I have to be sick as a dog in bed to even think of putting the TV on during the day. 

I know some people love to watch their game shows and others are hooked on the news. That’s fine. They can have it! I can’t take more than 30 seconds of that Mike Lindell guy screaming about his freaking awesome pillows or the endless stream of bobble heads on 24/7 news yelling at each other nonstop. They’re literally sitting two feet away from each other; why all the yelling?

And that’s just daytime TV; prime time is even worse, especially if you have to put up with commercials. Why is it everyone on TV ads has “moderate to severe plaque psoriasis” or “suffers from the embarrassment of IBS”?

By now you’ve probably figured out I don’t watch much TV; I’d rather write stories, listen to music or work on my plants than sit in front of the TV while my brain cells shrivel up and die.

Now I’m not talking about ball games or movies; they are the exception to the rule. I enjoy kicking back to a good move and will watch just about any baseball game that happens to be on but in my opinion everything else is garbagio.

I know nothing about Game of Thrones, The Good Doctor or La Brea. And what the hell is the point of Naked and Afraid? Why do the people have to be naked AND afraid? Can’t they just be afraid? I know I am!

I’ve never seen one minute of any reality show such as The Karadashians (gag me with a spoon!) or The Bachelorette (kill me now!). I watched about ten minutes of Jeopardy! with the new host whose name I can’t pronounce … you know, the one who loves to tell anyone who will listen that she has a doctorate in neuroscience. Who gives a rat’s ass? I’d rather watch Naked and Afraid.

Let me give you a rundown of the shows I watch:

  1. Days of Our Lives (which Bill and I record and watch in the evening)
  2. General Hospital (which Bill and I record and watch in the evening)
  3. America’s Got Talent (I like talent shows despite the over-the-top Terry Crews)
  4. Grantchester (a fantastic BBC show)
  5. All Creatures Great and Small (another fantastic BBC show)
  6. Outlander (yet another fantastic show from the UK with lots of men in kilts as a bonus)

NB – Quality shows like 4-6 usually take two years or more between seasons; why it takes that long to film 10 episodes is beyond me but we patiently wait for their return because they are bloody amazing shows. They’re also commercial free; gotta hand it to the Brits!

That’s all folks! Pretty short list, I know.

So, what did I mean about taking out the garbage? After way too many years of watching the mind-numbing Days of Our Lives and General Hospital, I have cut the “soap on a rope”. Why? Because they are stupid, insipid, a huge waste of time and an insult to my intelligence. My 13-year-old granddaughter could write better storylines. And you know what else? I won’t even miss them.

GOOD RIDDANCE!

One thing’s for sure: in the world of soaps very little changes. If I decide to tune in to either of those soaps five or six years from now, Lulu will still be in a coma and somebody in Salem will be possessed … again. Oy! Now that’s just stupid!

NAR © 2022

ODE TO THE MOSQUITO

How can such a little thing
Be so damn annoying?
Flying round my arms and legs
It’s bothersome and cloying.

Who would think that little guy
Could be such a bloody sucker?
When he sticks his fangs in me
I scream “You Motherf*#+er!”

Go away, you vile thing
I’ll swat you with a stick.
You’re not welcome in my home
You nasty little prick!

You get me every time I’m out;
My blood is extra sweet.
Come and get me, little twit!
Tonight I’m packing DEET!

The end. 🦟

NAR © 2022

DON’T BLINK

Lucan then, Lucan now.

We all grow up. We age. It’s inevitable, a fact of life.

Over the past few months I’ve watched all my grandchildren blossom into bigger versions of their mini-selves. They are a beautiful batch, every single one of them.

But this kid, my second oldest grandchild. Lucan, age 11 going on 21. Ah, how I remember those early days with his Norman Rockwell all-American look. A little fuzzy towhead with bright blue eyes and a cute-as-can-be babyface.

Now his eyes are beguiling with crazy long eyelashes. His face is chiseled, full lips. And that pin-straight blonde hair with his own unique style. This kid’s a real looker, a charmer.

I just have one question: when did my grandson turn into Jonathan Rhys Meyers? 😎

JRM

NAR © 2022

SOMEWHERE THERE’S MAGIC

For this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday, we were asked to “find a word that starts with the letter ‘u’ and use it however you’d like.” Someone wrote a piece about the ‘ukulele’ which got me thinking. Here’s my stream of consciousness:

How many people do you know who play the ukulele? Unless you’re from the glorious state of Hawaii, I bet your answer is the same as mine: None. 

Oh, I’ve heard people playing the ukulele. If you’re old enough you’ll remember Arthur Godfrey’s ukulele playing and his signature greeting of “How Ah Ya? How Ah Ya? How Ah Ya?”. And let’s not forget Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles”. Hell, even George Harrison mastered the ukulele; he played the instrument for at least 20 Beatles songs; bet you didn’t know that. I have no idea how many ukes George owned but you can be sure it was a lot; he didn’t just like the instrument – he was obsessed with it.

Still, I never gave the ukulele much thought. I had nothing against it; I just never thought about it until one day I heard something so wondrous, so ineffably sweet and touching, I sat mesmerized by the magic coming from the radio. It was only after the song was over that I realized I was crying.

Give a listen, won’t you? Don’t worry if you cry; it’ll be our secret.

NAR © 2022

NB – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole suffered from obesity throughout his life, at one point weight 757 pounds while standing 6’2” tall. He endured several hospitalizations because of his weight. With chronic medical problems including respiratory and cardiac issues, he died at the age of 38 in the Queen’s Medical Center on June 26, 1997, from respiratory failure.

PS – I read recently that some readers outside the US, especially in the UK, cannot view the videos I post. That’s a shame because they are relative to the story and make for some damn good viewing. If you are unable to watch these videos, please drop me a line in the comments section. I think there’s a way around it; how easy it is I have no idea but I want you all to get the full benefit of my stories. Thank you!

SIGHING SIGHS

Story challenge by my friends at NopeNotPam  – Letter of the day: S

SALVATION!! Can you say it along with me, brothers and sisters?

SALVATION AND SATISFACTION!!

Since venturing out on our long-anticipated vacation, I have discovered so much more than the sultry sun, the salty sea, the scrumptious seafood and the sinfully sleek and sensual satin sheets.

I have found salvation from stress, suffering, stiffness, strain, stenosis, sciatica and sleeplessness. And contrary to what our dear Sir Mick sings while strutting sexily on stage in all his sartorial splendor, “I CAN GET SOME SATISFACTION!”

“How?” you inquire suspiciously? Well, at the risk of sounding like a super-store salesperson, it’s all due to the soothing stress-relieving qualities of the Sidney Slider Power Recliner. 

Seriously. I shit you not.

Since we arrived at our secluded, solitary and secret get-away location, I made a startling discovery: I am living a pain-free life for the first time in several years! Yes, I’m de-stressed simply being on sabbatical but I know without a scintilla of doubt my pains have subsided significantly because of this sensational sprawling supersonic seat at our seaside suite. Keep your sardonic comments to yourself; as a self-proclaimed scholar of recliners and a reclining specialist, I know what I’m talking about and speak nothing but the truth, so help me Stickley Furniture World.

How can something so simple as this recliner make me feel like a new woman, a renewed and improved supple design of the feminine species? I have no idea! Someone seriously smarter than me designed a lounger with superb supine capabilities. All I know is something shocking happened, something so spectacular that I am singing its praises while simultaneously shedding tears of shear joy. I am in seventh heaven – so much so that I have placed an order for my very own Sidney Slider Power Recliner (since I cannot bring this one back with me). Sadly, it’s not in stock at the moment BUT in less than two very short weeks it will be on its way to my home. Stupendous!

This is no small thing and I mean that literally. Sidney (we’re already on a first name basis) is a big boy, significantly larger than what I’m accustomed to.  I shall have to find a way to make him fit but make no mistake – this scintillatingly smooth suede stunner will fit! The only question I struggled with was which color I should select – the sensual sable or the shimmering sand?

I’ll have to wait just a scant few days after my return but it will all be worth it. If you could only see the sheepish smile of satisfaction on my face.

Ah, Sidney! How sweet it is” she sighed.

NAR © 2022

 

HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF

For the first time in more than five years, Lydia was beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. After struggling through a failed business venture and the misery of a toxic marriage, she was back on her feet and ready to start over. But first a little R&R was in order.

Lydia’s longtime friend and former business colleague offered her the use of her vacation house in Punta Cana. Having never been to the Dominican Republic, she jumped at the opportunity to get away to a place where she was anonymous; it would be the refuge she needed to relax and reflect on getting her life back.

The house was tiny and secluded – perfect for Lydia. Her plan was to shut out the world and do nothing but eat, sleep and swim in the large pool which took up most of the back yard. With the exception of a tall locked wrought iron gate in the front of the house, the property was totally surrounded by a high, impassable bamboo fence. Lydia felt very safe alone in the house.

After breakfast on her first day, Lydia grabbed a towel, a book and a bottle of water and headed out to the pool. The day was glorious with brilliant sunshine and she sat under a thatched umbrella reading her book. The sound of the water swirling around the pool was too inviting and Lydia could resist no longer. Spying a nearby float, she waded into the pool and gingerly climbed on.

“Ah” Lydia sighed. “I’m never getting off this thing.”

The only sounds were the gentle splashing of the pool’s mini waterfall and an occasional bird calling out to its mate in the dense gardens beyond the house. It was idyllic and Lydia silently blessed her friend for the use of her home.

After about 20 minutes of bliss, Lydia’s reverie was interrupted by the barking of a dog; however, it sounded far enough away for her not to be terribly put off. The barking stopped for a while and Lydia relaxed but it started up again. This time the dog was closer and a little more persistent. “Great” Lydia murmured under her breath. “Just what I need. Maybe he’ll go away and stay away.”

But the dog did not go away and Lydia quickly became impatient and annoyed by the intrusion. “Excuse me” she called out to no one in particular. “Can you please bring your dog inside?” 

No response and the dog kept barking. It got closer and louder and Lydia became increasingly pissed off. “Hola! Please take the dog inside!” she yelled, a little more forcefully.

Again, no response. By now the dog was barking and growling with a vengeance. Lydia was fed up and she lost her cool.

Hey!! Shut your dog the fuck up!” she shouted in the direction of the barking. Soon after Lydia heard a man yelling in the distance: “Perro! Ven aquí!” 

The dog barked once in response, his yelps becoming more and more distant. At last, peace had been restored.

Lydia must have dozed off on the float. Rubbing her tired eyes, she became aware of deep-throated growling sounds on the other side of the fence. The dog was back but this time he wasn’t barking. It was impossible to tell through the thick bamboo but it sounded like he had a bone or a chew toy and was gnawing away. Well, at least he wasn’t barking; she could live with the gnawing.

Lydia was lost in her thoughts for the future, the dog next door forgotten, when she was startled by aggressive scratching and burrowing noises near the fence. She glanced over and noticed the bamboo was shaking. She looked down and froze. Her blood ran cold and the little hairs on her arms stood straight up.

Panic set in as she saw the dog’s nose break through the bottom of the fence. Suddenly a huge, drooling mouth with razor-sharp fangs became visible. In the next second the lupine-like dog crashed through the bamboo barrier, heading straight for the pool. 

Lydia let out a blood-curdling scream and flailed frantically in the water but she couldn’t get out of the pool fast enough. She was no match for the hungry wolf dog. The image of huge teeth and piercing yellow eyes inches from her face was the last thing she saw.

NAR © 2022

ALONE TOGETHER

Listen to the waves as they kiss the shore, the rustle of the beachgrass in the gentle breeze. The golden hues of sunrise pirouette gracefully on the terrace and across the bed. The start of another day, as blissful and serene as the one before it. Summertime.

Is that my heart beating deeply or yours? Both, you say. You caress my shoulders. Hold me in your arms as if it’s our first time, our last time. I feel free. I feel ageless. I feel more cherished than any other woman.

You are my one, my soul, my heart. I watch your profile as you gaze out the window, peaceful and content. My fingers curl through the hair on your chest, now grey. That does not matter. Only we matter.

How long have we been alone together? A thousand summertimes, you say. How long will we be alone together? For a thousand more, I reply.

You pull me closer, eyes dancing in the morning light. Let the world go on without us. We are here where we belong – alone together. 

NAR © 2022

SCREAMING IN THE NIGHT

In January, 2021 I wrote a story with an unresolved ending called “On the Way”. It was one of several which I recorded and submitted to the BBC Radio show called Upload. When my story was broadcast on the air, the program host William Wright commented that he hoped some day I would write a follow-up. That comment stayed with me and fourteen months later I decided to do just that. That story was called “When the Fog Rolls In.” Recently I thought it would be interesting to combine the two stories by creating a new beginning and ending and tweaking sections within the body of the stories. Since then, I had the opportunity to enter a fiction writing contest; the call was for a 1,000 – 3,000 word mystery story. I decided to submit my reconstructed story. The word counter on my Microsoft Office page said the story was 2,654 words – not too shabby. I don’t enter many contests but every time I do I’m shocked by the number of writers who also submit stories. My stuff better be damn good if it stands a chance of winning against 400+ entries. Well, my story did not win but that’s okay; I tried my best and had fun creating this compilation. I am not deterred. The winning story was a masterpiece and deserved to come in 1st place so kudos to the author. Here is my story; I hope you enjoy ‘Screaming in the Night’.

I can see it now! I can see it! Got to get it!!”

David Stapleton screamed in his sleep. He flailed about on his bed, entangled in a mass of sweaty sheets and blankets. David slowly started to come out of his stupor, stuck in a surreal and frightening dimension between sleep and wakefulness. His eyelids felt stuck together and his mouth was parched. His body was stiff and leaden, his breathing heavy, his heart beating rapidly. David wasn’t sure of his surroundings; was this real or was he reliving his worst nightmare?

Gradually David became more aware. Yes, it was as he feared – the uncontrollable, unstoppable dream, his nightly companion. He sat up in bed and reached for a cigarette. Flipping open his old, beat up lighter, he lit a Marlboro and inhaled deeply. He sat in silence, smoking and thinking, his thoughts spinning like a Vegas roulette wheel. Each night he crawled into bed exhausted, desperately in need of sleep yet terrified that the dream would come again.

David glanced at his alarm clock; 4:17 AM – ridiculously early but he knew he would not be falling back to sleep. He slipped on his sweatpants and shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee. While the coffee brewed, David stared into the oh so familiar fog. He lit another cigarette and thought about that night four years ago.

Four Years Earlier:

David drove home that dark and foggy night barely able to see the road ahead of him. An electrical storm that evening wreaked havoc with the streetlights on Route 718 causing them to flash at indiscriminate intervals. Even though his was the only car on the dimly lit road, the strobe effect from the lights was haphazard and dangerously distracting. There were shadows looming everywhere; David never saw the cyclist cross his path.

The impact was powerful yet made only a quiet thud like the subtle reload of a gun’s magazine. The visual impression, however, was appalling. The tableau switched to slow motion; David watched in horror as a mangled body performed a ‘danse macabre’ across the hood of his car while musical passages from “O Fortuna” screamed in his head. The cyclist soared through the air like an acrobat and landed in a twisted heap 20 feet or so away.

David sat motionless in his car; no other living creature was anywhere in sight. “What to do? What to do?” raced through his mind. He’d never had a car accident, not even a parking ticket. Now he had run someone down – an innocent cyclist. Was it a man or a woman? Surely this person would be missed by family and friends, perhaps his or her parents or – God forbid – their children. What a terrible fate, a horrible accident. Yes, David had a few drinks after work, just a few; the alcohol had to be out of his system by now. But wait; the cyclist wore no reflective clothing, not even a warning light on the bike’s handlebars or wheels. Out cycling in the night, alone; wasn’t that tempting fate? Maybe they got what they deserved.

Slowly David opened the door and looked around; the deafening silence was pounding in his brain, the absence of people other-worldly. With measured steps he approached the crumpled body. A gentle push of his booted foot confirmed what he already suspected: the cyclist was dead. A battered helmet sat near the edge of the road; the bright orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of the bicycle manufacturer in Austria stared at David accusingly. The longer he looked at the emblem the more he realized he had two choices: he could report the accident to the police and face the consequences or he could clean up this mess and get on with his life.

As he walked back to his car David knew what he had to do. A look at the front end showed very little damage, a small inconvenience he could deal with later. More pressing matters prevailed; first he had to extricate the bicycle from under his car. David sat in the driver’s seat, shifted the car into reverse and gently backed up. After a couple of seconds he could feel the car and the bicycle disengage.

The bike was a wreck but there wasn’t much debris on the road. Retrieving his leather jacket, David wrapped it around the top tube bar of the bike and carried it back to the dead cyclist. Taking a few steps away from the road he realized it would be easy to throw the bike over the edge, making it look like the cyclist had swerved off the road – if the body was ever found at all. He gave the bike a hefty toss and it disappeared into the woods below. With his foot David then rolled the cyclist’s body and helmet down the hill.

David walked back to his car and broke off a low hanging branch from a tree which he used to sweep the road clear of any pieces of glass or metal. Getting back into the car, he turned on the radio and cranked up the volume; his adrenaline was pumping.

Ok” David murmured to himself. “It’s all gonna be ok. Just one last thing. Got to take care of that little dent in the hood of my car.” David kept driving until he reached a busy gas station. As he drove up to a pump, he intentionally smashed into a metal barrier; witnesses could attest to the fender bender.

David’s decision to flee the scene was fueled by fear and self-preservation. Now as he drove home he felt much more relaxed and confident. He reached for his jacket but it wasn’t there. His face went pale and he broke out in a cold sweat. Closing his eyes he could clearly see his jacket wrapped around the bicycle, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods.

Four Years Later:

Tom Delaney sat alone at his favorite bar sipping his third bourbon. Life had quickly gone down the shitter a few months ago when he bet big time on a “sure thing” that didn’t pan out. That was one of Tom’s biggest faults; he was always looking for the quick fix, the money angle, whether legit or not. Now here he was, a 38-year-old washed up ex PI with a huge chip on his shoulder, a failed marriage and no money.

When the bartender announced closing time, Tom begrudgingly slid off his stool and made his way to his car. He took Route 718 toward his parent’s cabin which they left to him in their will. With no other known relatives, Tom was totally alone trying to get his life back on track. So far he wasn’t having much luck.

The weather was changing and when the fog rolls in, driving on 718 gets hairy.

He wasn’t on the road very long when he found himself in pea soup conditions. Suddenly a deer appeared out of nowhere and Tom swerved, coming to a screeching stop. After a brief standoff, the deer gracefully bounded down the steep edge and disappeared into the thick woods.

Shaken, Tom settled himself in his car. The glow of the headlights picked up the reflection a shiny object in the thicket below. Being a curious type, Tom drove his car closer to the edge and grabbed a flashlight from the backseat. Gingerly he made his way down the side of the bluff landing on a heavily overgrown outcropping about 15 feet below. He walked around for a few minutes before his foot came in contact with an unknown object; whatever it was rolled a couple of feet away. Tom walked over and crouched down for a better look; the item turned out to be a battered helmet with the weather-beaten orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of a bicycle manufacturer.

Disappointed that his find wasn’t something valuable, Tom stood up to leave. He took a few steps and heard a strange ‘crunch’ under his Doc Martens. Shining his flashlight on his boot, Tom couldn’t believe what was buried under the leaves and debris.

“Holy shit! A human skeleton!” Tom immediately remembered the helmet. “Poor guy must have ridden his bicycle off the road. Wonder where the bike is?” Tom panned the area with his flashlight. He was about to give up when something caught his eye. “Well, well, what have we here?” Tom moved some leaves out of the way and discovered a fanny pack which he took, clipping it onto a loop on his jeans. Maybe he’d get lucky and find some money in the bag.

Deciding to investigate a little more, Tom eventually came across the bicycle caught up in a large bush. It was a mangled mess, certainly of no value to him; nearby was a moldy leather jacket. Tom snagged the jacket and went through the pockets; nothing. Noticing a zippered inner compartment, he found an iPhone inside. Slipping the phone into his rear pocket, Tom slowly pulled himself up the cliff to his car and drove off. He left the scene with that uneasy, suspicious feeling he’d get while working on a case. Old habits die hard.

Once home, Tom reached into his rear pocket and retrieved the phone he found in the leather jacket. He emptied the contents of the fanny pack onto the kitchen counter: assorted crap, a wallet and an iPhone. “Hmm. Two phones. Why would one person need two iPhones? Maybe two people were there that night. What the hell happened? Was this the scene of an accident or a crime?” Tom’s PI sixth sense was working overtime now.

Both phones were wet. Drying them off, Tom placed the phones and SIM cards into two separate Ziploc bags filled with silica gel packets he had stockpiled. They’d have to dry out a day or two. Next he went through the wallet: $47 which he immediately pocketed, an expired debit card and a driver’s license. The license was issued to Joseph Barnes, 312 Ogden Terrace, Sparta, NJ. – a 90-minute drive from Tom’s cabin.

Tom broke out his own iPhone and Googled ‘Joseph Barnes, Sparta, NJ’; it took a little while as he scrolled down then BINGO! There it was – a missing person flyer dated January 2018. Last known location was Bethlehem, PA – a few miles from the cabin. There was a phone number to call. A picture of Joseph Barnes on a bike holding a KTM helmet smiled at Tom; the same face was on the driver’s license.

While the phones dried out, Tom spent most of the following day at Wind Creek Casino in Bethlehem playing the penny slots with Joseph Barnes’ $47. He was on a roll and left the casino with $100 in his pocket. Tom couldn’t wait any longer and anxiously drove home to see if he could get the iPhones up and running.

He took the phones out of the bags, inserted the SIM cards and turned them on; both phones started up. To Tom’s amazement, neither phone needed a passcode. Checking ‘Settings’ on both phones, he found what he suspected all along: one phone belonged to Joseph Barnes and the other belonged to someone named David Stapleton from Allentown, PA.

David, David, David. Why were you on Route 718 that night and what did you do to Joseph Barnes?” he thought. Tom realized that after four years David Stapleton could be anywhere with a different identity, job and phone number but there was only one way to find out. After his win at the casino, he was feeling lucky. This could be the big break he was waiting for.

Slipping the two phones into his pockets, Tom drove to his favorite bar. On the corner was an old phone booth with a pay telephone – the untraceable kind. Tom opened David’s iPhone; there were two different phone numbers for him. Tom hesitated for a minute thinking about his days as a PI.

Instinct took over, suggesting he ignore the first number on David’s phone and go for the second one. Tom reasoned that the first number was likely David’s cell number; there was a chance the second number was for a business or a house for David – anything that might provide a clue. It was worth a shot. After all, Tom wasn’t looking to talk to David just yet; all he wanted was a lead.

Tom dropped two quarters into the public phone slot and dialed the second number on David’s cell. The call was answered on the third ring. “Hi. This is David at Stapleton Plumbing and Heating in Allentown. We’re closed now but will reopen at 8 AM. Please call back then.”

Pay dirt! Tom Delaney may be down but he wasn’t out! He’d head back to the cabin and Google Stapleton Plumbing and Heating for an address. But first a little celebration – some pleasant company at the bar with his old friend Jim Beam.

Sipping his drink, Tom could practically smell the shakedown money he’d be raking in. As he drove home from the bar, the ubiquitous late-night fog rolled in. Tom was momentarily blinded by a pair of oncoming headlights and swerved right to avoid a collision. He turned the steering wheel sharply and his car plowed through bushes, bounced off trees, rolled over itself down the steep hill and crash-landed upside down in a ravine at the bottom of the cliff before it burst into flames.

Poor Tom. Just when things were starting to look up. Karma’s a bitch.

A few hours later David Stapleton once again found himself in the clutches of his bedtime companion – the ever-present nightmare. He woke up drenched in sweat and bolted straight out of bed, his heart racing. He felt nauseous and dizzy. Staggering into the bathroom, he grasped the edge of the sink staring at his sweat-soaked face in the mirror.

How could you have been so callous leaving that cyclist? How have you been living with yourself the past four years?” This wasn’t living, he realized, knowing every day would end with the same hellish nightmare.

David stood in the bathroom and closed his eyes; he could clearly see his leather jacket wrapped around the bicycle he threw over the cliff four years ago, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods – the same dream that left him screaming in the night, every night, for the past four years. “I can see it now!” he sobbed. “I can see it.”

Overcome with fear, exhaustion and remorse, David walked out the back door of his apartment above the plumbing business. Barefoot and shirtless, he was unfazed by the cold and dense fog rolling in. Blindly he went down the damp rickety steps and walked deeper in the woods behind his apartment – unseeing, uncaring.

Suddenly David felt a searing pain in his chest. Gasping for air, he clutched his arm and fell to his knees, rolling down the wet, moss-covered precipice in the woods. Ten seconds later, David Stapleton was sprawled out in the shrouded morass 30 feet below, dead from a massive heart attack.

Was it a heart attack that killed David Stapleton or overwhelming guilt? No one will ever know for sure. David never knew that with Tom’s death he was completely in the clear of any crime; the only evidence – the phone that tied him to that horrible accident – was now in the jacket pocket of Tom Delaney’s incinerated body.

Tom and David – both dead on the same night a few miles apart – one hunting and the other haunted.

Oh, the irony.

NAR © 2022

THE SHELLS

The poem below is the second one I wrote for the book “Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women”. There were many submissions for the book, which became a #1 bestseller on Amazon in just one day; I consider myself very fortunate to have been among those selected to appear in this important and timely anthology of the challenges and adversities women face and how they overcome them. I hope you enjoy my poem “The Shells”.


Shells scattered along the shore

Some glittering in the golden sunlight

Lapis lazuli kisses of blue and green upon the water

So wondrous in their radiant beauty

Delicate as the blossoms of a dewy lilac tree

Day and night the waves wash over the shells

Yet they retain their brilliant resilience 

Trodden upon by eyes bewitched by shooting stars

In the blackness of the night

Some are picked up and tossed into the sea

Only to return upon the next wave

Those trampled into the sand do not sink

They are not swallowed up by the sea 

Nor do they disappear

For as fragile and tenuous as they may appear

They stand the eternal test of time

Ever rising as an Easter Morn

For they are the She Shells

They are women

NAR © 2022