Monday, September 9, 2019

Xcelite deluxe set no 127 by Peggy Rockey

Prompt: Workbench | Word Count: 1800 Words Exactly | Genre: Fiction
Warning: Sexual content
Due August 14


Nathan’s hands, gnarled with arthritis and old age, felt too large and clumsy for the task he’d set for himself. The beloved tool set is old, older than he is, handed down from his father and his grandfather before him. The rust and peeling paint are evidence of a life well lived, yet Nathan had plans to restore it to its original state. Nathan plans to pass it on to his two year old great grandson on the occasion of their next visit.

Handling the tool set had flooded Nathan with a sense of nostalgia. Fond childhood memories surfaced of playing with this particular tool set, the Xcelite Deluxe Nutdriver Set No. 127. As a little boy, he had played out here in the garage, happily matching the colored drivers to their color-coded slots in the metal case, while his dad tinkered with his hobbies. His father had called the drivers spin tights, had used them to fix old radios and televisions.

A strong memory came to him, of being lifted up to sit on the workbench, his short legs dangling in the air while his dad fiddled with the wire tape recorder. Dad and Grandpa Al had exchanged recorded messages throughout most of Nathan’s childhood, sharing little snippets of their lives they found amusing or interesting; preferring to communicate in this manner when a telephone call or a letter would have done the same.

Nathan had uncovered an old box of these recordings just a few days ago, cherished memories of voices long silenced, but not forgotten.

"Say hello to your Grandfather, Nathan," Daddy had held the large, rectangular microphone up to his face.

"Hello Gram-pa," he had replied in his uncertain, little boy voice.

"Tell your grandfather what a good boy you are, Nate; how big and fast you're growing."

"I'm a big boy, Gram-pa."

Nathan smiled at the memory; Dad had gone on chatting into the microphone for a while, his deep voice laughing at his own jokes; until his mother came in to make inconsequential small talk about soaking chicken in buttermilk while oil heated up on the stove.

Nathan feels a thickness in his throat, a longing so intense for his parents that he hadn’t felt in years. It had been such a great thing to listen to those old recordings, but it had been bittersweet as well, and left him in a bit of a funk.

He set the tool case back into the tray of vinegar, the sharp, acrid scent permeating the garage. His Dad had taught him this trick long ago, using white vinegar to remove rust from metal. The aroma tickled his nose and made his eyes water.

Of course it was the vinegar making his eyes tear up. Not the yearning for his long dead parents, nor the more recent memory of Sally, lying pale and shaken in the recovery room following surgery earlier that morning, of his wife’s brave, bandaged face on the drive home from the hospital. She’d said is wasn't painful, but she worried that the scar would mar her face.

“Scar, schmar,” Nate had assured her. “It’ll just add character to your good looks. You are just as beautiful as you were when I first fell in love with you, even now after all these years, with your gray hair and wrinkles.”

"And saggy boobs?"

“Those too," he had teased, reaching across the car to give her breast a gentle caress and a quick tweak of her nipple.

"Oh, you," she swatted at his hand, but her lips had lifted in a tentative smile, and he could tell her spirit had lifted as well.

He had put her to bed, kissed her forehead and stroked her thick hair, until she shooed him away so she could sleep off the last dregs of anesthesia. Nathan had come out to the garage to distract himself from his feelings of helplessness, of his inability to protect his wife and keep her safe.

He plucked the tool case out of the vinegar again and set it on the workbench. Picking up an old toothbrush, he began scrubbin the soft bristles against the largest rust spot. He was determined to remove the blemish from the tool, like the surgeon removing the cancer from his wife. The rust came off slowly, but it was a time consuming, painstaking process. Eventually, he had to stop, to rest his hands from the ache of hard use.

As he placed the tool case back in the vinegar, his eyes took in the heart shaped engraving he’d carved into the lower left corner of the workbench. The sight of it lightened his spirit momentarily. He'd been so young then, but he was just as besotted now as he’d been back then. N.A + S.F. The initials are as clear as they’d been when he’d first put them there. Had it really been sixty years?

He’d been in love with Sally Fisher even when she had been Josh O’Rielly’s girl, back when they’d all been in high school. Josh hadn’t treated Sally very well. More often than not, he would leave Sally with Nate while he went off drinking and hanging out with “the guys.” He’d done this so often that Nathan suspected Josh actually preferred men over women, and had not been brave enough to admit it. Josh’s neglect had had a terrible effect on Sally’s self- esteem, leaving her feeling unworthy and undesirable, when that was so far from the truth.

As a result, she took to flirting outrageously with Nathan in a failed effort to gain Josh’s attention, to make him jealous. And Nathan hadn’t minded that one bit. She was so pretty, with her big blue eyes, and lopsided grin; her hourglass figure, toned from jogging and playing basketball. It had made Nathan so angry to see her pining away for a man who didn’t want her. She’d been sexy as hell. Hell, she still is, Nathan thinks, even at seventy seven.


Sally and Josh eventually broke it off, opening the way for Nate to court her instead. They’d had a whirlwind romance; already in love with each other by the time they were free to do so. They’d married within the year.

Josh had even been the best man at their wedding. He never did come out of the closet. In all the years Nathan knew him, the only serious relationship Josh ever had was with his bottle. Sadly, he drank himself into an early grave at the age of fifty-six.

From the very start, Nate and Sally couldn’t keep their hands off each other; their physical attraction was mutual and satisfying. They made love often and even when they fought, there was always make up sex to make things right again. Time and again she would come find him, tinkering in the garage, and end up bent over the workbench, loving his hands on her hips while her soft moans escaped into the night.

After the twins were born, Nate rigged up a swing for the two girls beside the workbench, where Emma and Ellie would happily play while he tinkered and worked. As babies, they were oblivious to the times when Sally would sashay into the shop, all sexy in her mini skirt and tank top. She’d dance across the floor and sidle up against him, whisper something suggestive in his ear, and bend over in front of him, as if to pick a tool up off the floor, just far enough so he could see her lack of panties.

God, it made him hard just remembering. This, in and of itself, was a minor miracle at his age. At seventy eight, this no longer happened as regularly as it had in the past.

Nathan rubbed a wrinkled finger over the scarred workbench; the texture as rough and gnarled as his skin. The workbench has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. Like the Xcelite Deluxe Nut Driver Set No 127. It had been a wedding gift from his father. Along with the house and the shop and all its furnishings.

Dad had had no desire to live in the house after Nathan’s mother had passed away, so he’d gifted the home to his son and new wife. He bought a shiny new silver bullet trailer and set out on the road to find adventure in his old age.

The trailer was on the side of the house now, no longer shiny, but still in decent condition. His recently widowed daughter had asked if she could borrow it to pursue some new adventures of her own, and Nathan had agreed, hoping it would help move Ellie beyond grief.

That had been before Sally had been diagnosed with melanoma and their lives put on hold. Today’s surgery had been the second and, thankfully, the doctor seemed confident that he had removed all the cancer cells, though she would need to go in for follow up evaluations every six months. This second surgery had not been nearly as difficult as the first, when they had removed lymph nodes from the side of her neck, but Nathan expects she will be exhausted and depressed, as she had been before.

His chest tightens with anxiety. Irrational fears were now forcing their way past the nostalgia that had comforted him just moments before, taking hold of his thoughts. He doesn’t know what he would do without her. She is the love of his life, his best friend, his main squeeze.

A shadow appeared in the doorway, a form silhouetted in front of the brightness of the late afternoon sun. It took less than a moment to recognize her.

His heart quickens as she comes into the garage, her eyes locked on his, walking slowly towards him with a suggestion of seduction in her lopsided grin.

“What are you tinkering with, old man?” She asks, her voice low and husky.

She’s wrapped in a woolen robe, her bare feet making little sound as she approaches. “You better not be out here worrying about me,” she said, “because I am going to be just fine.”

His throat tightens and he swallows reflexively. She lifts up on her tippie toes, places her hands on either side of his face and tugs him gently towards her until his lips settle on hers. He worries about brushing against the bandage and hurting her.

The kiss is tentative at first; but intensifies as her arms come around his neck and her tongue dances with his. A gasp escapes him as she moves just so, with that practiced swivel of a hip, pushing up against him, just so.

She smiles that impish smile that he loves so well, opens her robe and lets it fall to the ground.

Imagine That! Cyber Cafe

Imagine That! Cyber Cafe

Prompt: Men and Women | Word Count: 300 Words Exactly | Genre: Science Fiction
Warning: None
Due July 17


Megan strolls through the store, enjoying the sounds of muted conversations, the click-clicking of keyboards, and the hum of electricity that usually goes unnoticed. It’s the grand opening for her Imagine That! Cybercafe; and Megan is thrilled by its immediate, apparent success.

Men and women crowd the space, chatting in the lounge, or utilizing the twelve computer consoles Megan outfitted with the latest technology.

She peeks into one of the computer nooks, seeing an attractive woman perching on a stool, facing dual monitors. A thin electronic band is secured to her head, transmitting her thoughts instantaneously onto the monitors. Without the privacy screen on, Megan can see the woman’s words, formatted as a poem, flowing onto the left screen, while images appear simultaneously on the right. Megan is shocked and intrigued by the vision, of a woman swimming naked in a moat, under a stormy, starless night, while demons lurk in a field nearby.

Megan wonders if her imagination is playing tricks with her, it feels like something dark and evil has entered the cubicle, the temperature dropping several degrees.

Smelling cigarette smoke, she peers into the next nook, where a man sits with an old-fashioned keyboard in his lap, headband in place. She watches words disappear from the screen, replaced with others. The image, of two men conversing covertly in a smoky bar, remains unchanged. He must be thinking in words rather than pictures, which is common, especially when writing dialogue.

At a third computer, a man has just imagined a story of himself, drinking beer on a beach at the very hour the world is about to end. Suddenly, a surge of electricity runs through the building, the lights dimming momentarily before a blinding flash emits from his monitor. The computer has processed its interpretation; and underfoot a massive earthquake begins to rumble.

That's My Boy

That's my Boy by Peggy Rockey

Prompt: Lethal | Word Count: 1800 Words Exactly | Genre: Action? Suspense?
Warning: Foul language
Due June 19


The boy is beautiful. Tall for his age. Fearless in the way he charges into the skirmish, risking bruised ankles and shins while tangling for possession of the soccer ball. Confidence shines in the boy’s dark eyes and wide grin as he kicks the ball to a teammate downfield, charging after it with all the energy of an active twelve year old.

Of all the kids on the field, this one has captured his attention. The way he moves. The combination of dark hair, tanned skin, lithe athletic body. His breath comes more rapidly as he watches the boy. Saliva fills his mouth and he swallows reflexively. His body tightens deliciously, almost painfully; first time since being released from incarceration.

***

“Come on, Ian, get in there.”

“Way to play, Ian. Nice pass.”

“Block him, Mary, block him! You can do it.”

The energy on the field is contagious as onlookers call orders and encouragement to the players. Cheers of victory and groans of disappointment sound as the ball is kicked downfield, kicked again by a fellow teammate. It soars past the goalie; into the net for the score.

Three to one. Four minutes left to play.

***

Ian intercepts another pass from the opposing team, kicks the ball downfield again.

“That’s my boy!” Sara beams with pride. He’s been the star of the game. May not have scored any goals himself, but he’s been the one to set up the plays, passing the winning scores to his mates.

She scans the crowd surreptitiously to see if anyone else has noticed how well her boy is playing. “Darla, who’s that bald guy over there?” Sara nods towards a shabby looking man sitting off by himself in a lawn chair, sipping from a large cup. “He’s kinda creepy.”

“I dunno.” Darla says. “He drove up in that old van a little while ago. I thought maybe he was someone’s grandfather, but he’s just sitting there by himself. He hasn't spoken to anyone, as far as I've seen.”

The guy's dressed in a faded white tank top, sweat-stained and stretched taut across the flab of his chest and stomach; dirty sweat pants; flip flops. As a parole officer, she’s been trained to interact with hardened criminals, has learned to be observant and suspicious. Sara’s instincts move into high alert as she takes in his ruddy cheeks, the sheen on his forehead. That look of fierce longing should not be on the face of an old man watching young kids playing soccer on a spring morning.

“Get in there, Tony, get that ball away from him.”

“Kick it, Ian! Kick it!”

The shouting draws Sara’s attention back to the game, but not before committing the van’s license plate to memory.

She looks up just in time to see Ian leap, stopping the ball’s flight against his chest.

“That’s my boy!” She yells, again, hugging pride close to her heart, as she would have liked to hug her son, who’s recently become too old for hugs from his mom.

***

"His name's Ed Garcia. He's a damned pedophile.” Sara’s voice is low, clipped. She stabs her finger at the man's picture on the monitor, scowls at his beady eyes, balding forehead, scarred nose.

She and Matt are sitting at the desk in her home office. Ian and Jared have gone to bed. Matthew leans in, nuzzles Sara’s neck, tugging playfully on her ponytail.

“He definitely fits the profile of any one of a dozen guys I’ve arrested over the years.” Matt says, before reading the charges. “Indecent exposure. Lewd and lascivious acts with a child under fourteen years of age. Fuck. I don’t know why they don’t castrate these bastards before they let ‘em out of jail.”

“At least they have to register, so people know where they’re at.” Sara relaxes as Matt massages her shoulders. Suddenly, she stiffens again. “Look, he lives out by Will and Maggie's place."

Sara clicks on the address, zooms in on satellite view. "Yeah, see; here's where Will's brother lives, across the street. Damn! Andy and Gina are just two homes away from the guy. We should warn them there’s a frickin pedophile next door so they know to keep an eye on their grandkids when they come to visit."

***


Sara’s waiting at the bus stop Monday afternoon when the bus bringing Ian home from middle school arrives. Several kids get off the bus, but Ian isn’t among them.

"Mandy," she calls to one of the girls, "where's Ian?"

"I don't know, Mrs. Stefani, I saw him when class got out, but he wasn’t around when the busses arrived.”

Worried, Sara begins making phone calls. She calls her older son, Jared, and some of Ian’s friends, the ones that have phones, or the parents of those that don’t. No one has any knowledge of Ian’s whereabouts.

With increasing concern, she drives to the school. The last time anyone saw him he’d been heading for the bus. The school is too remote for Ian to have just walked off by himself, and Sara knows he wouldn’t have gone with anyone without first asking permission.

Frantic now, she calls Matt while driving home.

“Honey, I can’t talk right now. We're in the middle of a drug sting; my guys are about to take down the suspect.”

“Matt, Ian’s missing. He wasn’t on the bus, and no one knows where he may have gone.”

“Did you call Jared? He’s probably with his brother.”

“He’s not. Jared’s home from high school already, says he hasn’t seen Ian since morning."

“What about Jeffrey, or Daniel?”

“I’ve called them, too. If you’d let Ian have a phone, like I asked, he might have called me, or I could trace his location.”

“He doesn’t need a phone, Sara. I’m sure he’s fine.”

“But what if that pedophile got him,”

“Oh, come on! Why are you jumping to the worst conclusion? This is so unlike you.”

“I don’t know. I just have this feeling. Something’s not right.”

“Listen, I have to go. I’m sure Ian’ll call. Don’t do anything rash, Sara. Be patient.”

But patience is not in Sara's genetic makeup. Not when her son's gone missing.

Sara’s had rigorous self-defense and martial arts training, carries a concealed weapon. If this makes her a bit cocky and over confident, well, Matt’s probably the only one that knows this, and these are traits he loves about her.

Finally, she decides to call Andy. After explaining the situation to him, he reluctantly agrees to help her scope out Ed Garcia’s place, warns her about the guy’s dog.

The sun is just beginning to set as Sara pulls into Andy's driveway. She removes her Ruger subcompact .380 from the glove box; gets out of her car as Andy comes out to greet her. In his late-sixties, he’s tall and in fairly decent shape. She gives him a quick side-hug, raises a hand to Gina, standing in the doorway.

“Still no word from Ian?”

She shakes her head, doesn’t trust herself to speak past the lump that’s formed in her throat.

“Okay. Well. We can hike down to the creek bed over there.” He points to an overgrown trail that disappears down the steep hillside, where the tops of oak and pine trees are seen. "I hike down there often enough,” Andy says, “Garcia won’t think twice if he sees me. We can come up the backside of his property from there; but like I said, he’s got a dog.”

The trees cast eerie shadows as the sun descends below the horizon. They reach the little valley at the bottom of the property, continue up the steep trail, breathing heavily as they crest the hill where Garcia’s house comes into view.

The dog is an ancient German Shepherd Pitbull mix that may once have been quite vicious. It lets out a weak growl, gets to its feet and charges at them in a doddering, limping pace. Sara coolly shoots it with a fast acting tranquilizer and by the time it’s just a few feet away, it falls at their feet. If it whimpered, the sound is lost in the gusting wind that whips through the trees.

It’s almost dark. A single light shines from a window. They creep stealthily onto the porch, peer inside. What she sees causes the blood to pound in her ears. Adrenalin surges through her and she finds it difficult to breathe.

Ian’s head is covered in a dirty cloth. She can't see his face, but Sara would recognize her boy anywhere. His tall, lean frame is so dear to her. He’s obviously gagged; she can hear muffled curses, stifled screams. His hands have been duct taped together and he’s been pushed to the ground where the maggot is trying to tape his legs.

The boy’s arms and neck are bruised. He’s struggling ferociously, and from the blood seeping from the man’s nose and mouth, Ian hasn't made this easy on the bastard. Sara aches for her son, but she’s proud to see him fight.

Freeing her gun from its holster, she gives the nod to Andy. He crashes through the door while Sara sprints across the room, barreling into the pedophile. As they sprawl across the floor, Sara’s phone begins vibrating in her pocket. She supposes its Matt checking on her, but of course she can't take the time to answer. She just wants to kill this fucker for what he'd been about to do to her son.

Sara's thoughts have gone lethal and she has to restrain herself.

She raises her gun, tempted to shoot him straight though his rotten heart, cracks him over the head with a satisfying thud instead, watches him fall to the ground. Andy rushes over and between the two of them they restrain the asshole and tape him to a chair.

Sara realizes it's all been a bit too easy, but surprise had been on their side, the man too caught up in his debauchery to be aware of his surroundings. Perhaps he'd grown careless in his old age, thinking he was safe in the relative remoteness of his home.

Her phone rings again as she frees Ian from his bonds. She pulls the head covering off her son, hugs him close to her chest before the shock of recognition hits her. She holds him at arm’s length, gazing into the face of this frightened, shaking boy, pulls him back into her motherly embrace and lets the child sob into her shoulder.

"That's not my boy."

The phone rings again, and she pulls it from her pocket. Unknown caller. Not Matt then. She almost ignores the call but instinct tells her she should answer.

“Hello?”

“Mom? Dad said you’re worried about me. How come you’re not at home?"

Jillian

Jillian by Peggy Rockey

Prompt: Rome | Word Count: 1200 Words Exactly | Genre: Fiction
Due Date: May 22, 2019

Crisp new Euros were burning a hole in my pocket as I passed through Campo De Fiori. I’d just sold a painting and I so wanted to celebrate. The market was lively; throngs of locals and tourists wandered among the stalls, voices raised to be heard above street musicians and the blare of nearby traffic. Exhaust from a passing bus blended with the scents of the piazza, flowers, spices, perfume, and hair spray, of the occasional unwashed body. Normally I loved the chaotic activity of the market, but today it just served to remind me that I was alone.

I really wanted to stop at one of the outdoor cafes where people sipped their orange spritzes and ate bruschetta in the hot afternoon. But Giorgio’s unpleasant frown came to mind, as I recalled the landlord’s threat to evict me if I didn’t pay the lease today.

Thanks to the Galleria Varsi, I now had enough Euros to pay the rent, with a little left over for groceries. And maybe some oil paints, if I shopped carefully. I’d been elated when the gallery agreed to show three of my paintings, but after two months, I’d just about given up hope they would sell. Now I thanked my lucky stars one had; but damn, did the stars have to cut it so close?

Reluctantly, I left the piazza and caught a bus into Trastevera. I was making a mental grocery list as I got off at my stop and turned onto Via Angelo Tittoni, where I found a young girl sitting just outside the door to my apartment building. She was rocking back and forth, knees hugged to her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Hey, what’s wrong? Are you ok?” She was wearing a school uniform, and couldn’t be more than thirteen or fourteen. She looked up at me, green eyes brimming with heartbreak and sorrow.

“Oh! I know you, don’t I?” I spoke in English, intuiting the girl to be a fellow American. “Well, of course I don’t know you, but you live in the building here with your Dad, right?”

“Uh huh,” the girl replied with a hiccup. She wiped at her tears and scrambled to her feet. “I’ve just had the crappiest day ever. I lost my best friend over a stupid fight, she won’t talk to me anymore and the kids at school are always mean to me. I don’t speak good Italian, and I don’t have any friends. My Dad is depressed all the time, and I just want to go back home.”

The words came out in a rush as fresh tears started spilling again. I felt empathy kicking into high gear, wanting to make this girl feel better, but didn’t know what to say. On impulse I asked, “Do you want to come in for a cup of tea?”

She hesitated for a moment, studying me carefully before she shrugged, running a hand through messy, curly blond hair. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“Of course not. Come on. My name’s Sheri,” I held my hand out to the girl.

“I’m Jillian,” came the reply, along with a firm handshake that made me think we were going to be fast friends, even though I was twice her age.

She told me about her Mom dying of cancer last year, as we waited for the lift, and proceeded to the top floor, where we found Giorgio looming just outside my door.

“Miss Corrigan,” his deep voice always surprised me, with his short stature and all.

“It’s ok, Giorgio. I have the rent.” I pulled the wad of Euros from my pocket, counting out the amount of the lease.

“You’re fifteen days past due, Miss Corrigan, there’s a fifty Euro late fee as well.”

I added the additional cash to the stack, trying to hide my consternation. No chance for art supplies now, I thought, sending a silent plea up to my lucky stars for a quick sale of another painting.

“Next month I will not be so lenient,” Giorgio warned. “There are others who wish to lease your flat. Have your payment to me by the fifth, or you will be evicted.”

I pretended nonchalance as I assured the landlord I would pay the lease on time. I had no way to make that happen without selling another painting, unless I could find another job, now that the contract job that brought me to Rome ended last month. I turned away, unlocked the door to my flat and ushered Jillian inside.

“Wowwowww!” Jillian’s jaw dropped, her eyes wide as she scanned the flat.

I looked around, trying to see my apartment through Jillian’s eyes. It was colorful and messy. Clean laundry on the couch, waiting to be folded; breakfast dishes left on the coffee table. Mostly the place was cluttered with all the weird stuff I’d collected as subjects for my paintings, along with a smattering of art supplies, and two easels I’d strategically placed to catch light from the wide windows.

“This is the coolest apartment I’ve ever seen,” Jillian gushed. “This is like my dream house, all normal from the outside, but wonderful and crazy inside. I can’t believe you live here! Look at all these paintings. Did you do these?”

Jillian’s whole demeanor had been transformed from sadness to avid curiosity and interest.

“I did. Would you like to paint with me?”

“Oh! Could I?”

So we did. Jillian selected the biggest canvas she could find, and painted with lots of bright colors. She used like ten or twelve brushes and when we finished, about an hour later, her face had changed completely. She was beaming!

“You should give me lessons! I know my Dad would pay you for it. Please say you will?”

It would certainly help, I thought; knowing that Giorgio would not hesitate to evict me if I didn’t have the rent on time. Knowing I would probably have to leave Rome or beg my parents for money if I couldn’t find a way to make it on my own.

“Yeah, maybe. If your Dad approves, I’d be happy to. I liked having you around today.”

Jillian’s smile widened, her eyes bright with happiness. “Let’s go ask him now!”

I agreed, and as we traversed down the hallway to the lift, I couldn’t help but remember how I had found her, dejected and crying. It pleased me that I had been able to make her feel better, and at that same time, I realized that she had done the same for me. Here I’d been feeling alone and out sorts, but my art had make Jillian feel better about herself and lifted us both up out of a dark place. I thought how lucky I was to be able to live, and paint, here in Rome, and now, I had a friend to share that with.

“Dad, come meet my new friend,” Jillian called, enthusiastically, as we entered her flat. “I just know you guys are gonna love each other,” she proclaimed, prophetically, as her dad entered the room.

He was ruggedly handsome, disheveled and, I thought, utterly adorable.

Jillian grinned mischievously. “Maybe it’ll be love at first sight!”