OBLIVION

Liz sat on the edge of her bed in the darkness of her room. It was August yet her body shook with chills as though it was the dead of winter. She wrapped her heavy sweater tightly around her shivering body but the cold she felt was bone deep and she could not get warm. Her bottom lip began to quiver and her teeth clicked noisily. She rocked back and forth as overwhelming pain consumed every inch of her body. She ran her fingers through her scraggly hair, then grabbed her head and covered her ears to block out the voices screaming at her. Every time another wave of pain washed over her, it was worse than the one before. Her brain screamed in agony and she squeezed her head tighter to strangle the voices that were mocking her. Liz rolled onto her bed and pulled the blanket over her but it did nothing to block the cold and the increasing agony she was in. It wasn’t enough that every bone in her body hurt; her skin felt like a million razor blades were cutting into her flesh. She beat her fists against her head and opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out. In an instant she went from freezing cold to burning up. She threw the blanket off and clawed at her clothes, tearing at everything she wore until she sat there naked in the darkness of her room, sweat dripping off her. Now her head felt like it was going to burst and her eyes burned like hot pokers. Her body felt like scorpions were scrambling over every inch of her, their pincers digging deep into her skin. She felt them crawling into her ears and she crushed them hard against the side of her head. Her breathing was shallow and ragged and she knew this time she would surely die. She always wanted to die, to end this hell she was in. Through her excruciating pain she slowly stretched her arm out and reached for the crude nightstand by her bed. Scratching at the drawer she finally managed to open it. She reached in and blindly searched until her fingers came in contact with what she was searching for. Clutching the plastic bag, she dragged it from the drawer and pulled herself into a sitting position. Totally devoid of any emotion, Liz emptied the contents of the bag onto her bed. Her right hand barely had any feeling but she managed to tightly wrap the tourniquet around her arm and pull it with her teeth. She found the pre-filled syringe she scored from some stranger in the building. She slapped the inside of her arm hard until her veins popped and plunged the needle into her arm. The lovely liquid flowed through her body and she immediately began to relax. She slowly fell back onto the bed, the rubber band freeing itself from her teeth. She closed her eyes and melted into oblivion.

NAR © 2022

Flash Fiction Challenge #185,

SECRETS ON MYLAR

Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Free love and hooking up. No strings, no regrets, no jealousy – just consenting adults getting stoned and getting it on. There was a clear understanding: never get romantically involved with someone else’s spouse.

The year was 1973.

Four young friends, Nathan and Brooke and Michael and April, lived in an apartment building in Riverdale. The girls were sexy and fashionable in their halter tops, tight low-rise jeans and platform shoes. The guys were good-looking and cool in their faded jeans, crisp white t-shirts and leather blazers. They had many similar interests and traveled in the same circle of friends.

Brooke and Michael broke all the rules. Their attraction was instantaneous. Everyone else was so out of it they never noticed that the duo always ended up together.

Brooke was one of those girls who was innately sensual and completely oblivious to the power she had over men. She was electric. Michael was handsome, smart, funny, sexy and vain, confident and fully aware of the effect he had on women.

Michael was a photographer; Brooke taught piano. They had the luxury of working locally while their spouses April and Nathan worked in Manhattan. It was very convenient for Brooke and Michael to get together whenever they wanted. He loved taking photos of her – hundreds of erotic nudes. He even let her take one of him, something he never let anyone do. She kept the photo tucked away in an inconspicuous compartment in her wallet.

For April’s 25th birthday she and Michael had a party with a lot of guests which gave Michael the opportunity to display his new photographs. One piece was an intriguing black and copper image on glossy Mylar poster paper. As Nathan and Brooke admired the print, Michael sidled up to her and whispered “That’s you.” She stared intently, tilting her head a bit. Then she saw it – the sultry vision of a face and woman’s body! Brooke was annoyed that Michael would display something so personal but also felt a rush; only they knew about the image hidden on the Mylar.

Time passed as it always does, lifestyles changed and the four friends slowly drifted apart. Brooke got pregnant and she and Nathan moved to Connecticut. Michael and April got divorced. Out of the blue one night Nathan and Brooke got a call from April: Michael was dead; he crashed his Corvette into a tree, dying on impact. The news was devastating, especially for Brooke. She barely slept that night thinking of all the times she shared with Michael.

A few days later Brooke received a package in the mail; a neatly typed address label was attached. Removing the wrapping, she was shocked to see Michael’s Mylar poster and the image of her naked body. Taped to the back of the poster was a large manila envelope full of Brooke’s nude photos and a note: “Consider this a gift; the negatives come with a price. Imagine Nathan’s reaction.”

The note freaked her out. Who sent this? There was no return address but the postmark read “Riverdale”. Brooke immediately thought of April and knew she had to get the negatives from her, regardless the cost. Nathan could never find out.

Brooke gathered everything, grabbed her purse and started driving towards Riverdale, towards April. All she could think about was Nathan and getting the negatives back. Michael promised he would destroy everything and she couldn’t believe he would lie to her. April must have known found the photos while going through Michael’s belongings or she knew about Brooke and Michael’s affair all along. Her mind on the past, Brooke almost missed the Riverdale exit and swerved erratically back onto the highway. She never saw the oncoming truck; Brooke died instantly in the crash.

At that exact moment Nathan sat in his Manhattan office opening a large manila envelope with a neatly typed address label. Stuffed inside were hundreds of negatives.

One must wonder which was more devastating for unsuspecting Nathan – the shocking news of his wife’s death or the gut-wrenching revelation of her infidelity?

NAR © 2020

IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY

Originally the Chelsea Piers evening boat tour was scheduled to depart at 6:00 but was cancelled due to dense fog. Disappointed, Emma consulted her tour guidebook for something else to do. She read:

The Vortex. Not your father’s watering hole. Located at 15 Christopher Street in the heart of Chelsea. Smoking prohibited in accordance with the New York Clean Indoor Air Act. Other than that, anything goes! 

“Hmm. Now that’s intriguing” Emma thought “and it’s nearby.” 

After a brief stroll Emma arrived at The Vortex, a secluded and rather alluring place. Finding a seat at the bar she ordered a dirty martini. Reflected in the mirror behind the bar was the image of a retro-looking poster. Sliding off her barstool she casually walked up to the poster for a better look. She snapped a photo and returned to the bar.

More people were in the place now – gays, heteros, bisexuals, interracials. Emma found it all so exciting and very New York! When the bartender brought her drink, Emma commented on how electric the atmosphere was and asked “Can you tell me something about that poster?”

“Sure! It’s a beauty, isn’t it?” he replied. “The Vortex is a play written by the literary giant, Noël Coward. It premiered in London in 1924 garnering Coward great critical and financial success. It’s a story about a nymphomaniac socialite and her cocaine-addicted son. Many thought the drug was a cover for homosexuality. As you can imagine it was considered pretty shocking back then. Rumor has it that Princess Margaret owned the original poster for a while. She was a free spirit and loved a good lampoon, especially those directed at the upper classes and British aristocracy.”

“That’s fascinating!” Emma exclaimed. “Something tells me there’s more to the story.”

“Oh, there is” the barkeep agreed. “During the run of The Vortex, Coward met an American director and producer named Jack Wilson. They ran with the same crowd where drugs, booze and homosexuality were prevalent. Wilson became Coward’s business manager and lover. We thought The Vortex was a cool name for the bar. My mother recently brought me that poster; there’s a showing of the play this week.”

“Your mother!” Emma remarked with surprise. “Sounds like you might have a personal connection to this story.”

“Yeah, in a circuitous way I do. My great-great-grandmother was once a chorus girl and she got on famously with Jack Wilson – so much so that she and her husband named their first baby Jack Wilson Morrow and asked Jack to be his godfather. The tradition continued through the years; lots of my relatives were named Jack Wilson so-and-so. In fact, my name is Jack Wilson Connors.”

“Pleased to meet you, Jack Wilson Connors” Emma laughed as she extended her hand. “I’m Emma Louise Kennedy and you have officially blown my mind!”

“I like you, Emma Louise Kennedy! Always nice making new friends. How about another drink – on the house?”

Emma blushed a little and said “Yes, I’d love one.” 

While Jack was preparing Emma’s drink all sorts of thoughts were running through her head … he’s cute, friendly, great personality, no wedding ring. I wonder ­– should I?

“For my new friend, Emma. One perfect dirty martini” Jack said with a flourish.

Trying to sound nonchalant, Emma said “You know, Jack. There’s a performance of The Vortex tomorrow night. How about we make it a date?” 

“I’d really love to, Emma, but I’m married and I don’t think my husband would approve.”

“Oh my God, Jack! I’m sorry! I didn’t realize………”

“No worries, Emma. It runs in the family.”

NAR © 2020

GREAT GIG IN THE SKY

I have a burning question. How many of us can honestly say we’ve seen God … not just seen Him but had a full-blown conversation … a religious experience replete with images and epiphanies? One, twenty, fifty, one hundred people, perhaps … unless of course, while under the influence of mind-expanding, hallucination-inducing psychedelic drugs … in which case the number would increase exponentially.

That is exactly what happened one night when a friend of mine emerged from his  bedroom after an hours-long LSD trip … the squeaky clean beaming beacon of a nationally famous televangelist … and announced to all in the living room, “I have just seen God and I now know the Pythagoreans were on to something.”

Being in various stages of synthetic delusion, our reactions ran the gamut from “Heavy, dude!” to “WTF?!” to fits of hysterical laughter. Undeterred … although somewhat unsteady… my friend wound his way through the huge pillows strewn about the room and situated himself in the middle of the floor like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

All glazed-over eyes watching him, my friend went on to explain how God revealed to him that the followers of Pythagoras were extremely superstitious and mystical. They believed that the human soul was trapped in a continuous cycle of death and reincarnation …  that although the body dies, the soul lives on, lying dormant in a constantly spinning dimension of the universe where it patiently waits to be catapulted back to earth, implanted into one form or another of the female species … and is reborn. And this cycle of death and reincarnation can go on an infinite number of times.

Minds officially blown, we all agreed this new-found knowledge was indeed “heavy” and required more contemplation while listening … again … to Dark Side Of The Moon. But I, who was always somewhat preoccupied and frightened by the thought of dying and ceasing to exist for all eternity, wanted to learn more about this amazing concept. I found it calming, hopeful and profound. So my friend and I discussed this astounding, all-encompassing theory which I took fully to heart. Suddenly I was filled with a warm peace … a divine intervention that the soul lives on, returning after mortal death. How ineffably comforting.

Soon I found myself drifting off to sleep as Pink Floyd played softly in the background:

“I am not frightened of dying. Any time will do, I don’t mind.”

NAR © 2018

THE HIGH LIFE

The incessant knocking on our apartment door at midnight did not surprise us. Friends were constantly coming and going at our place, commonly referred to as “Party Central”……or “PC” to our closest friends. 

“Michael!” my husband greeted our friend. “C’mon in, man. What’s with the suitcase?” 

“I got a problem, man”, Michael uncharacteristically replied as they walked straight into our bedroom and locked the door. 

Flashback two years when we first met Michael. We moved into his apartment building and became instant friends. He was the coolest guy we knew…..good-looking, brilliant, confident, irresistible and sexy as hell. He was infectious and we soon started living life in the express lane of sex, drugs and rock and roll.  He was fun, wild and fearless. We went to all the best concerts and got into the hottest clubs. We partied every night, went to work the next day and did it all over again. 

Oh yeah, Michael was also a narc for the NYPD……a fact that saved us more times than I care to remember – plenty of close calls but all he had to do was show his badge, flash that smile, talk the talk and we were golden. 

Yet he always managed to toe the line at work, except for that night when temptation ruled, the night he showed up at our door. Inside our locked bedroom, Michael opened the suitcase to reveal hundreds of plastic bags filled with quaaludes. 

My husband looked incredulously at Michael. 

“It was in the evidence room, undocumented”, Michael explained. “I just picked it up and walked the fuck out. Can I stash it here for a couple of days until I make a plan?” 

“Sure, man. Do what you gotta do.” 

They hugged and Michael said “I’ll be in touch soon.” 

Michael went back to work and nobody….not one person in the precinct noticed the suitcase was missing. After a few days, he returned to our place with a backpack. Taking out the suitcase, he dumped half the ludes into the backpack and gave the rest to my husband. “Here you go, brother……….courtesy of the NYPD!” 

My husband put his arm around Michael’s neck as they walked to the door. He turned, flashed me that amazing grin and blew me a kiss. “See ya ‘round the campus, guys.” 

And he disappeared into the night, never to be seen again. 

NAR © 2017