Squirrel Song

Wrote this a decade ago, but still come back to it… my homage to those suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia.

*****************

The thunder of the storm roars and shudders its way into her room.  When it stops, the woman hears the quiet patter of rain against her window but doesn’t look to see the gray shade of the afternoon, knowing she sees it clearly enough in her mind.  Unlike the muddy silence she usually fills around her, a slight sound escapes her lips and she lets herself follow it into a hum; the hum then becoming a song.

In the dullness outside, a lone squirrel stops its forage under the cover of trees to listen. It hears without understanding, but hears with an attention that humans once knew.  With the rain slowing into a whisper and the song of the woman falling back into silence, the damp squirrel surveys the network of trees ahead and begins to move on.

The day draws into dusk with the twilight somehow seeming brighter than the previous overcast of the early afternoon.  It becomes enough light, mixing with the awakening of city lights as people collide.

There is a lag in the stream of bodies where a squirrel sits defiantly on the sidewalk. People slow here for just a moment, staring at this animal whose trek began earlier this day perched on a tree miles away to listen intently to a song that now fills these pedestrians with the ripple of joyous hope. It was a song of newfound strength and spirit so powerful that it echoed into this small creature. These people move on, smiling as they take in the ghost of the woman’s song.

A woman who only sang for the joy of making it through another day.

images

Emails from the Dead

I had a story idea once about a teen girl who hacked old email accounts of deceased people.

Her purpose for hacking these accounts — besides the IT-driven creed of ‘because I can’ — was to read through the old emails of these people no longer among the living. She’d sift for hours upon days reading the back-and-forth personal correspondences of these emails that belonged to the dead, trying to understand their use of verbiage and strange writing tics so she could better convey who these people were in life and what type of personalities they had.

When she was confident of her mimicking, she would send emails out from these hacked accounts, pretending to be the deceased sending messages from the afterlife. She would get in touch with the dead’s closest acquaintances (names and email addresses gleaned from contact lists and inbox histories). Her messages included telling widows to find companionship; parents to not mourn; and children to grow up strong.

She would part her messages with, “I’ll always be here for you if you ever need to talk to me.”

Many of her attempts failed as email accounts were shut down, many of her messages blocked or left unanswered. Sometimes she’d get a reply from someone outraged, dejected or horrified: Is this some kind of sick joke? A lot of responses left brick walls she could not climb: If this is really you, what’s our son doing right now in Afghanistan?

But on the rare occasions where her fruits were answered properly, her reward came from those that wanted to believe they were talking to their lost loved one. Their replies back to her, timid and reluctant at first, had become hungry for more communication with each send. She’d respond eagerly, appeasing her audience. Perhaps there was a mutual ruse, but she felt good about herself and what she was doing. She was dishing out closure, be it false closure.

I chose not to write this one because of the big hero flaw and the fact that it really had no plot, but it reminded me of something I did while toiling social media the other day.

I knowingly sent a ‘Happy Birthday’ Facebook post to an old friend I knew that had died a few years ago, his page still active, however. I had no immediate explanation for why I did it. I just felt compelled to do it. Was I expecting this person who had passed on to check his Facebook page and go: Cool. Thanks?

Not really. But I had to send it anyway. Maybe this act has evolved into a form of cyber-shrine visit, for I wasn’t the only one that wished this dearly-departed a Happy Birthday. Nor am I the only one to engage in this type of act for just this one person. This is a common occurrence, an accepted behavior. Several messages go out daily online to or on behalf of the dead-long-past for the sake of loving remembrance.

The motives might be pure or for show, but it brings me back to that girl-hacker and what was pulling on her heart-strings when she’d read those messages to the departed, and how she’d taken on the other side and had become a virtual speaker for the dead, like Orson Scott Card turned Ender into later on. She wanted to give closure, peace and a validation of an afterlife.

Maybe we want to believe some or none of that, but something definitely pulls many of us in and makes us want to reach out and say to our lost loved ones: I am thinking of you right now, and I’m taking time out to remember you. I hope and wish you could hear me right now.

Imagine if we get an answer back.

Shoot me an Email
Like your post!

 

The Pause Button

Just before sleep hits, there’s a space of time.

It might be in the few seconds the proverbial head hits the pillow. Maybe it’s longer, a few minutes, hours, or all damn night till right before the alarm goes off.

Your body goes through its ‘shutting-down-now’ process.

Like the No Cars Go song says: Between the click of the light and the start of the dream.

Just before letting go of consciousness, there’s opportunity.

Revisit good/bad memories.

Seethe over all enemies and plot to destroy the world.

Mentally create a grocery list.

And dammit why won’t that barking dog shut the hell up!

 

Sometimes in this moment I’m guilty of making up stories or writing tunes in my head, all of which will have been forgotten by morning light. Some of those stories/songs got pretty interesting, until I realized I was bastardizing the TV shows I watched earlier that night.

And now it’s 2am? Geez!

But there is a point of clarity right before that shift to sleep. I often wonder if it’s the same feeling just before drifting off into death (the non-head trauma kind of death). You get a moment to reflect. To visit your mind and see the nice and ugly things stuck there.

Perhaps that why a lot of people meditate (I should, and probably would be happier for it). It’s going to that small bridge between wake/sleep and taking control.

Fill it with peace. Fill it with happiness. Fill it with clips of the Three Stooges.

In the end, I guess it’s just about pausing and being in the present. That whole live-like-you-are-dying dogma seems to mostly work if you are aware you are actually dying. Unfathomable to some, and maybe unfortunate to those who fathom. But ‘being in the present’ is a slogan easier to chew.

If that’s the case, then why wait till the pause before sleep. Visit the mind right now. In the present.

And remember that you’re still alive.

pause-button-icon-77731

Mojo Bag

He was the gangly Karate Kid back in 1980-something, but Ralph Macchio struck an equally nostalgic chord (pun intended) as Eugene, the wannabe-blues guitar player from Long Island. This was in the movie Crossroads, a flick that burned out those VHS heads from overplay in the Taylor homestead.

Those who’ve seen this oldie (well it’s an oldie where I come from, McFly), will remember Eugene hitchhiking the road with his yellow Telecaster, bland fedora and blazer getup, walking the sun-baked miles next to his mentor Willie, aka: Blind Dog Fulton (beautifully and unsettlingly played by the late Joe Seneca).

The movie was far from perfect, and I still swear all that fast guitar filming was sped up a half-step to sound Paganini fast (no disrespect to Steve Vai, who is awesome), but there was a scene right before the final showdown where the elderly Willie passed on a bag of Mojo to young Eugene. “I’m giving you all the magic I got,” Willie exclaimed. This is the part where a seriousness passes between the two where Eugene, who previously called ‘bullshit’ to all this devil/crossroads folklore, starts to feel that he is about to face down a real monster.

The mojo bag.

I looked it up. There are a lot of variations, but the typical mojo bag is small and can fit in one’s hand. It’s usually velvet-like in texture, with a drawstring to close up the magical contents inside. You can buy one conveniently through your Paypal account or go the YouTube route and DIY. What you put inside the bag is supposed to be magic. For some, that can be animal bones, hair, Xanax, the dung of ancestors, cat vomit, or voodoo-god-knows-what-else.

Years ago, I had a mechanical pencil that I took with me for every test during the hundred years I spent in college. The pencil was nearly falling apart by the time I graduated, held together by scotch tape and crazy glue. It’s now somewhere in a toolbox of forgotten things, but, man, did I need that pencil to cope with test-stress back in the day.

Then for a short time back in the 90s (because they were in style), I carried around a miniature, plastic troll on a key chain. It served no purpose, but I had to make sure it was with me wherever I went. If I left it at home, I was convinced something had shifted in the universe against my favor.

And for a while, index cards ruled my pockets. I had to have one everywhere I went. I didn’t always write useful quips on them like Anne Lamott suggested, but – dammit – the index cards had to be in my pockets or else I felt something was missing in my life.

There’s this three-year-old that lives in my house who swears by his blankie. It’s not just a security blanket that Linus Van Pelt would approve, but it has magic powers. It keeps the monsters away at night, and it adds an invisible shield of comfort and protection everywhere it goes. And if the magic fades, one simply passes the blanket through the washing machine to restore its powers.

Ironclad confidence, peace and security, when found, are forms of magic — especially for children. Maybe it will take a special coin, rock, or doll to help the kids along as they grow up and become adults to continue searching for new magic. Maybe it’s a lie that we tell children that eventually becomes the truth on the chance that we make them believe in themselves, like the bits of confetti we put under their pillows at night to make the next day at kindergarten tolerable.

Maybe the mojo bag is a bag filled with lies inside. And if you don’t believe the lies, the magic won’t work. You can fill it with pencils, trolls, and index cards, but what good will that do if you don’t believe in their power. It surely won’t help you beat the devil at the crossroads.

But maybe the person giving you the mojo bag has the real magic, and maybe that magic does work when it’s passed on to you. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a small bag you can buy at a gift shop in New Orleans. It can be encouraging words, a hug, a moment of quality time, or a feeling of nurturing support. And this all doesn’t have to come just from someone else; it can come from within. That’s the real mojo, right there.

In the meantime, it’s okay if we personify an object and make it house our confidence and self-assurance. Sure, let’s bottle it and sell it to ourselves. After all, it’s never about the object anyway. It’s about releasing what’s already there inside us the whole time.

Magic.

I'm giving you all the magic I got!
I’m giving you all the magic I got!

 

Words Help

Words help.

That goes without saying.

See what I did there?

I don’t either.

It’s been awhile, filled with long days and pleasant nights (and Valentine cards).

Anxiety still rears his ugly, little head once in a while, that bastard. Reading Scott Stossel’s book on his life with anxiety really keeps one from bitching too much about it, though.

Some excitement is in order. What else to do with all this excess cortisol and adrenaline?

New gig dates for 2016 those who keep up with my music toiling.

More trickling words on the page. It has been slow, but my sci-fi novel writing continues. Looking to have the first draft completed before I die year-end.

Actually, there are some exciting news that make my writing muse proud.

One of my stories, Clay Baby, will appear in this year’s volume #32 of the long-running (and newly revived) WeirdBook Magazine. I’ve already read issue #31 and loved it.  WeirdBook #31       I am deeply honored and excited. Many thanks to their editor Douglass Draa for diggin’ the tale.

EMP Publishing has accepted one of my cheery stories (they’re actually all the opposite of cheery), Pigtails. It should appear in the 2nd quarter run of their Creepy Campfire Quarterly publication. Thanks to managing editor, Jennifer Word.

More updates will be posted as dates are confirmed.

Thanks to each of you that continue to support and encourage. Not just toward me, but toward each other.

Love. Love. Love.

The Dangers of Checkout Lines

So this ten-year-old boy was fidgeting in a Zayre’s checkout line. For those not in the know, Zayre was one of many ill-fated discount stores precursor to the now ubiquitous Wal-Mart. This kid was toiling about in that line during a time Mr. Walton had not yet fully exploited the Chinese manufacturing connection.

One thing grocery and discount stores has stayed crustacean on these days are the magazine rack brimming with tabloid rags, Cosmo and People, waiting for you at check-out to gawk at or even to do the aw-what-the-hell impulse buy.

But this kid lived during a time where Marvel and DC had a little more clout in nudging their fine works into the racked combine of magazines and tabloids. Not rare to see today in some store check-outs, but not as common as back in 1980.

And there it was, the savior to this kid’s boredom while his mother continued to goat-butt the person in front of her with a shopping cart in hopes of pushing the line forward.

This savior was giant-sized, to boot. A Marvel Super Special Magazine adaptation of Empire Strikes Back, with Darth Vader’s huge black face on an orange-red cover staring the boy down. Hey, this kid thought nimroddely, I haven’t seen that yet.

Giving in to his sad, demonic curiosity (okay, the kid was bored and held prisoner in a check-out line), he pulled the large comic book from the chicken-wire rack, doing so without the cautious, creepy touch of a comic book collector, and he flipped through the pulpy, colorful pages, taking in the newspaper smell. As if by fate, the kid landed on the very page of Darth Vader’s confession to ole One-Hand Luke.

If you’ve ever seen a teardrop fall and land on cheap pulp, you would see it nearly melt a hole through the paper. This kid only intended to view a tidbit of action, drawn pictures that posed no spoiler threat. Yet, it happened, the ruination to the secret that shocked the fan-people’s world.

The kid had eventually seen that morose installment in the Star Wars saga a week or so later, watching Empire Strikes Back with fresh awe and fervor, but the big punchline he already knew about came out onscreen like a forced belch: satisfying, but without surprise. (Spoilers suck: https://jackleetaylor.com/2015/08/19/spoiler-alert-everyone-dies/)

Decades later, this kid (grown fake-adult) is now in a different war beyond the dangers of spoilers dressed in magazine racks. A flick of the finger on Facebook or Twitter and the kid is toast. But he is going to go up to the challenge of waiting a week after opening day to watch The Force Awakens (yes, this is madness, indeed).

This brings on an interesting challenge of staying off the social network grid, avoiding the blabber-ass at work, and well… living like an information hermit. Sadly, this kid feels impending doom like the failure in the tree, but he will try to unlearn anything he has learned in the meantime.

This kid wants the impossible. Maybe that is why he will fail.

To those of you having to wait as well, may the force be with you.

Whatever our fates, Happy Star-Warlidays!

Solitary Laughter

That laugh-out-loud-when-you’re-alone-moment.

It’s one of the hidden gifts of life. When you can be alone and for whatever strange stirring in the brain, you laugh out loud. And not in spite of yourself. Who all wants to spite themselves anyway for laughing? That’s just stupid.

Anyway, if you’ve never experienced the unexpected laugh fairy visit while alone, then you should order a lighter version of yourself. Step down as CEO. Quit working at the DMV. Whatever you can do to open the laugh gates once in a while. Certainly if your brain is capable of processing at least one thought a second, by the law of randomness even an old dirty joke long years forgotten will resurface to your short-term memory sooner or later.

The mystery of a true, good-hearted laugh is that it can’t be forced. It comes out like a sneeze, a knee-jerk ejecta. You let it out in a stifled huff or a full series of bellowed guffaws (best done inside your car while sitting in traffic). We watch comedies, pay comedians and, unless you have coulraphobia, hire clowns to manufacture the laugh for us because we can’t seem to do it on a whim.

Except we can. Laughter is infectious. We can surround ourselves with others that like to laugh. If you’ve ever been accused of laughing too much, avoid the accuser at all costs. Because laughter is a rarity, a biological commodity that runs out if we don’t tap into its reserve. Laughter has helped the beaten, the weary, and the sick. To die laughing wouldn’t be a bad way to go. (I could float up in the air laughing like old Mr. Dawes Sr. from Mary Poppins, rising up to the ceiling laughing my head off until my heart seized).

But social laughter aside, it’s the laughter in solitude that is the real magic. To be able to just be alone and laugh. I’m not talking about the crazy, mustache-twisting insane type of alone-laughter. I mean when you’re just sitting there by yourself and you suddenly remember that time when Larry tried to slip a silent fart at the last meeting and failed. Or while you’re alone in the bathroom brushing your teeth, you recall that one time a passing stranger tried to give you the sexy smile just before he walked into a wall. It’s okay if you just sprayed toothpaste all over the  mirror from laughing just now.

Sometimes the laugh trigger is strange. It was funnier reminiscing in private the idea of Steve Martin juggling cats instead of actually watching him do it. The other day I snickered loudly to myself after arbitrarily recalling Orlando Jones talking about fearing spiders on the football field, a line from a movie that as a whole really wasn’t that funny.

Whatever the laugh trigger is, enjoy it. It is your rare gift to yourself. The world is mad, but not mad with laughter. In this time of ours, more than ever, we need a good laugh. The equation to fix all of our problems may never be solved, but be assured laughter is in there somewhere in the solution.

Spoiler Alert: Everyone Dies!

Ever feel like you are in on a secret after reading a story?

You proudly walk around knowing how a book ends, what happened to this character and that one and all of those silly plot twists here and there. If there’s a movie or TV series out there based on the story, you would gladly cite the differences (maybe with pride or arrogance). And, ultimately, you hold power over those not in the know.

There’s a wonderful and dangerous drug in writing where the writer may hide (or lie about) a story morsel and then later reveal as things start unraveling. Whether it’s from ironclad outlining or plucked blindly from Never-Ether-Land, those well-placed story bullets can literaturally blow a reader’s mind.

Then it comes down to the payoff. It’s the writer’s promise to the reader. It’s your reward, or lack thereof, as a reader for following the bread crumbs to the last word of the story.

So why the hell would something so heinous as a spoiler t-shirt exist on our home world? You! Take that off now!

There is no such thing as statutes of limitation on spoilers. Let our children find out for themselves who the hell Rosebud was. Let them find out if the top of Roland’s Dark Tower is empty or not. Let them understand why M Night Shyamalan could only yell Surprise! for so long. And yeah, it’s common knowledge — perhaps taught in kindergarten– who Luke’s father was, but at least I showed the movie first to my kids before blabbing about it.

These spoiler t-shirts should be abolished, especially those homemade ones spun together like less-than-stellar meth Walter White would mock (yes, there are people out there who don’t know what happened to Mr. White).

Okay, there are more damaging things a person can do in life to others. We do live in a world where random acts of violence occur almost non-randomly. Spoiling a story for others is definitely not the same as shooting someone.

But it is about spoiler-folks being assholes.

It’s about them bastardizing a writer’s work and stealing away the magic of the story. The spoiler-folks laugh it off because the concept is so simple; it takes trivial effort to share spoilers with others with merely a quip, some keystrokes or wearing a stupid t-shirt. You don’t even have to have read the story. Just pass along the ruination to others, weakening the power of the story until it is dead. Only assholes would do this.

Spoiler-folks use public toilets and they piss on the seats. They walk around in the summertime saying ‘How about this heat.’

At least spoiler-folks are limited to what they know (Lisbeth Salander is safe for a while).

If you of the non-spoiler types see these mongrels, perhaps at a book signing, wearing their spoiler t-shirts stating ‘[Character name] Dies,’ stay away from these people. Maybe if you ignore them, they will go away completely. They are not cute. They are not cool because they know something you don’t. They do not impress the author with their sense of boldness or originality. They are there just to piss you off.

With great power comes great responsibility. If someone hands you apparel that can spoil 100 books at once, please, I beg you, put it away. Hide it from the children of our future. In the meantime, continue to read what you want to know about. Watch what you’ve been waiting to see. Only then will you take away the power of the spoiler-people.

 

 

 

 

Playing Dodgeball (Why I Write)

(in response to Chuck Wendig’s question:  Why I write)

Two third-graders remained, back-to-back survivors outside on the basketball court during a sunny day at recess. Only, it wasn’t basketball these two kids were trying to endure. They were surrounded by their squabbling classmates bounded only by a painted yellow line on the asphalt. I, through no amount of athletics, had been one of the two kids that lasted this long in a sadistic version of dodgeball.

Some call it ‘poisonball’. The rules are simple. No teams. Players outside the square try to hit the players inside the square with a dodgeball. Players inside dodge, and if an insider player can catch a ball thrown from a player outside, then the outside player has to come in the square. Last player standing inside the square wins after successfully dodging or catching a ball.

I remember the other kid next to me took it hard on the face, and then all eyes fell on me with brutally-honest looks of disbelief. This guy? The last one? He never makes it this far. I’m even bewildered. The fatass coach from faraway is whistling the kids back in, time for next class, but Hell No! I’ve made it this far. And the crazy thing is, the other kids don’t leave. Let’s just see if this loser can win. They defer to the gunslinger to throw the killing blow — the one that took out the girl just before me. All I have to do is dodge it. Don’t even try to catch it.

I tried to catch it.

Next class was English. I sucked at English like I sucked at catching a ball. There were the other kids from recess with their disapproving looks. “Why did you even try to catch it?” one of them asked. “You know you can’t catch anything.” I think he might have been my best friend.

The assignment for the class was to read out loud whatever creative drivel a third-grader could muster from the night before. Mind you, this was during the 80s, and we had no inkling we’d be part of the aged pop-culture stereotype of neon-colored shirts, Pac-Man and Sony Walkmans.

I remember being so damned nervous (an anxiety that stays with me today). That night before, I wrote four pages of scribbly long-hand about what? Skeletons? Skeletons in caves? Why did I write about that?

Then I remembered that when I was writing the piece, I had such fun with it — a painful kind of fun. The story came out haltingly at first and then gushed out into a swashbuckling romp about a kid that gets lost in the woods and finds a cave full of reanimated skeletons. Fighting ensues. Bones get broken.

I read that story to the class, voice quavering. This was the failed dodgeball survivor. I never looked up from the pages, reading out loud and telling the story to myself (and strangely enjoying it from afar). When I was done, I felt like I was zapped once by an electric cattle-prod because kids were clapping. Loud applause. Genuine. Suddenly, I’m not that kid who tried to stare dodgeball fate in the face and lost. I had transcended that, and all of this from words I plucked from my mind and put on the page. It was magical. Not everyone clapped, my best friend among those looking at me like I came from another planet, but that writer-spirit that had revealed itself to me that day was too powerful to deny. It said, “Finally, you’re listening to me. Now get your shit together and start writing more.”

Years passed. I tried to rekindle that school-day magic and found myself too distracted and aloof, periods of my life without putting words to story. Youth excuses a lot, but the muse stuck with me somehow. Even during those periods of my life where other talents and events took over and tried to quiet down the writer inside, the nagging itch to write remained.

College was more than confusing. So confusing I didn’t even try to improve my writing through academia. One semester my writing is loved and heralded by an English professor. The following semester an English professor is beheading everything I write with a sea of red ink.

I cleverly tried to destroy my writing urges by hanging around those that had no business or interest in fiction writing. It’s pretty easy to find people waiting to throw rubber balls at you (real or imaginary). Then I realize I’m that kid again in the middle of the square waiting to get hit. Do I dodge or get hit? Don’t even try to catch the ball.

But that’s what writing became.

I tried to catch the ball because it wasn’t part of my logic. Writing can be something SO difficult and improbable, I shouldn’t even try to attempt it. Yet, here I am, still doing it, wondering if I can actually catch that ball this time and put something amazing down on paper.

I’ve spent countless hours recording music, creating entire fully-produced songs lone-wolf style. It’s as exhilarating as it is exhaustive. You create as a god. First there is nothing, then there is something: an intangible thing spawning from neurotransmitters traveling across synapses. The end result, whether good or bad, is something that is tangible, sonically, at least. It’s here and it’s real.

As much of a rush that may sound like, it compares nothing to the feeling of the writing process for me. It’s a mad thing to do, and yet it’s what I want and continue to do. There are so many great writers and great works, known and unknown, everywhere, fueling and goading me on.

After decades of aimless writing and wallops of rejection, I am now a published writer, but I’m still just breaking the surface. And though they are still out there, along with my dangerous self-doubts and time constraints, dodgeballs in hands, I’m still crazy enough to stand there waiting for them to throw.

Complimentary Basin

I park in front of the half-opened motel door, my headlights blazing on the tarnished bronze room-number nailed over peeling red paint: 105. Even with the brights on, the opened mouth of the door is a cavernous black, revealing nothing inside.

I turn to the woman in the passenger seat. “Is this okay?”

For a moment she doesn’t answer. Her face is hidden in darkness, but moonlight shines on the top of her tangled hair. She shakes her head and asks, “Why this place?”

I fan out a hand toward the motel room like a game show host. “Well, it comes with a lavish complimentary basin.” Though I can’t see it in the dark, I feel the heat of her frown. “Seriously, though,” I say. “I could really use a bed right now.”

“I’m staying in the car,” she says.

Sarah or Sharon. She had told me her name, mumbling it when I first picked her up two hours ago and refusing to repeat it when I asked her to tell me again. She doesn’t ask for mine.

“It’s probably not safe,” I say, scanning the empty parking lot. Through the red glow of the taillights I see the weather-beaten marquee sign behind us proclaiming F-O-R-S–L-E, an impotent arrow perched on top of the sign, pointing at me. Beyond the sign is the road and beyond that I make out dry earth and cacti. And beyond that… darkness.

“It’s safer than being trapped in some room,” she says.

I don’t argue with that because she has a point. But I’ve only seen a few of the dead lumbering about in the last fifty miles, scattered and baking in the desert heat. Plus, this abandoned motel would be too remote for a massive onslaught. I realize I’m tapping my right hip, feeling the hardness of the Glock in my jean pocket.

“I know what this is really about,” she says. She leans forward, her face now more visible from the headlights reflecting off the motel wall. Though she looks weary, her eyes shine like the surface of clear water, her lips full despite her frown.

“You really think this is going to happen, Mister?” she asks.

I sink back in my seat and then stiffen when I realize what she means. “No-no,” I say. “I’d — we’d be in separate rooms.”

“Look,” she says, her frown turning into a sneer. “You saved my life, Mister. I’ll give you that. You could’ve just drove on by, but you stopped and helped a lady in distress. But just because you helped me out don’t mean you get to sleep with me.”

There had been three of them, I remember. I had slowed down the car to watch them attack her on the side of the highway. All three were men. All three dead. Two of them were spread out a few yards behind her, flanking her from escape as the third approached her head-on. Instead of falling back, she pushed forward and managed to get past the third man unscathed and made a dash toward my car, beating on the windshield and yelling for help. I had opened the door to let her in and then gunned the car into one of the approaching dead men. It took a couple of miles from there before I told her she might want to fix her skirt because I could see her bare thigh and the white of her panties.

“I’m not trying to take advantage of you,” I say. “Two separate rooms, I swear.”

Something shifts in the headlights and I look to see the motel door moving, opening slowly.

“Drive,” Sarah-Sharon says.

I hesitate. I’m two people now: one that wants to peel away and the other that wants to see what’s behind the door.

“What the hell are you doing, Mister? Get us out of here!”

I pull out my Glock and Sarah-Sharon gasps, moving away from me. “It might be one of us,” I say. Before she can protest I see something skitter from behind the door, young eyes locking onto mine for a split-second before the shape runs into the darkness deeper inside the motel room. It moves fast, unlike the dead.

“It’s a kid!” I yell.

Something pops and flashes. The world goes half-dark as the left headlight goes out.

“Get down!” Sarah-Sharon yells. It doesn’t register until there’s another pop and a hole dots the windshield like chipped ice. Something punches me hard in the upper chest, a burning sensation in my shoulder blade. I drop the gun, my right arm useless for a moment and then it’s grabbing the gearshift, my foot jamming the accelerator pedal. I hear the car screech as I thrust in reverse and then something crunches from behind and lifts the rear of the car upward. I have time to curse the marquee sign before another pop smacks dull into the front of the car. I’m shaking. Why am I shaking so much?

Everything becomes a shade blurrier. A dream world filled with a throbbing ache.

Sarah-Sharon’s hand is reaching between my legs; the arousal is a strange mix with my pain. She gets the gun laying on my crotch and then pushes her door open. I want to tell her about the trigger safety, but she’s already shooting, two shots. Silence.

I blink and then Sarah-Sharon is gone, no longer kneeling behind the open passenger door. I blink again. Slow blinks. The car is quiet now. Still. Maybe it’s dead.

Sarah-Sharon is standing over a quivering body lying on the parking lot in front of the room I wanted to share with her. The boy on the ground is older. Much older than I thought. A teen. He has a large rifle in one hand. She kicks it away, kneels to say something to the boy and places a hand over his head, stroking his hair. She then stands back up and shoots him in the head.

Blink.

She’s sweeping through the motel door, peering inside like she’s a cop or something. Maybe she is. Or was.

Blink.

She’s over me now. Pressing the wound. Her breath is soft, her sweat almost flowery.

“Hey, Mister,” she says. “Stay with me. Keep your eyes open.”

She’s tearing my shirt open. I love her.

“I love you, Sarah…Sharon,” I say.

“Shannon,” she says with mild annoyance. She works on the wound near my neck, telling me I’m lucky that the bullet went all the way through.

I am lucky.

“You saved my life,” I say. “That doesn’t mean you can sleep with me.”

She doesn’t reply. We sit in silence inside the car as she patches me up, but I see it there briefly in the moonlight. On her face. A smile.

Just for a moment.

“What’s your name?” she asks.

I can’t wait to tell her.

THE END

© Jack Lee Taylor 2015