Tuesday, February 6, 2018


I entered the 2018 NYC Midnight Short Story Contest. Here's my entry in Round 1. The prompts I was given are Romantic Comedy, Insomnia, and a man's facial tattoo. It's exactly 2500 words (the exact maximum word limit). The title and synopsis do not go toward word count.

 
Speed Dating at the High School Reunion

 
Synopsis

Gareth and Suzanna have been friends since high school. The upcoming reunion gives them some pause for concern, and for more than one reason.





March 11

Dear former classmates, Join the party on June 28 – 30. Mon Dieu, can you believe it’s been ten years since we bid each other adieu and went our separate ways? Except for Bruce and Jessika who are still in love eight children later (two sets of twins Jessika writes). It’s believed Phil and Willow are also still together. If anyone knows their whereabouts, the FBI would appreciate that info. There’s a reward involved.

Return the enclosed bio form, por favor, so the reunion committee will know what you’ve been up to since graduation. Be sure to include your check.

REUNION SCHEDULE

Fri 8PM            Cocktail Hour at the Dew Drop Inn Hospitality Suite

Sat 8AM           Tee-Off at Ten Oaks Golf Course

Sat 2PM           Speed Dating in the high school gym (singles only please)

Sat 7PM           Dinner Dance at Ten Oaks Clubhouse

Sun 10AM        Brunch in the high school cafeteria

Sincerely,

Babette (Marina) Babcock

 

 

          “Sooooo. Suzanna. When did Marina become Babette? And what’s with all the French words?”

          “Hold on, Gareth, while I open the door for Mr. Muffin to come inside.”

          “Is Mr. Muffin your latest conquest?  Ywaaaawwn.”

          “Very funny. Mr. Muffin’s an overweight tabby.”

          “So, who are you seeing now? Ywaaaawwn.”

          “Don’t ask, Gareth. In answer to your first question, my mother says Marina is dating a French foreign exchange student.”

          “Times have changed. They have exchange students at the community college?”

          “No, Gareth. High School.”

          “Isn’t that illegal?”

          “According to my mother, this Jean looks a bit mature for a high school senior. Anyway, it’s not like Marina, excuse me Babette, is a teacher. She’s a manicurist. Probably the rules are different. Will you stop yawning? You’ve got me doing it.”

          “Can’t. I’m so tired.”

          “Go to bed.”

          “It doesn’t help. I have Insomnia.”

          “Have you seen a doctor, Gareth?”

          “I will if it keeps up. But what do you know about this speed dating thing?”

          “I know zilch about it except it sounds downright scary.”

          “You gonna do it?”

          “I don’t know, Gareth. I tried speed dating once.”

          “What happened?”

          “Didn’t you hear my shudder?”

          “Ywaaaawwn! If you try it, I will.”

          “Is that your way of telling me you and Lucinda broke up, Gareth?”

          “Yup.”

          “What was that? A whole six weeks?”

          “Don’t be snide, Suzanna? It’s not like you’re the expert on long-term relationships.”

          “I’m hanging up now, Gareth.”

          “Hey, you started it.”

          CLICK

 

 

March 29

Dear Former Amis:

Many of you have inquired about the speed dating event. As you may know, moi recently got herself engaged to Jean Vierre, In the spirit of romance, moi thought to add a little spice for the SINGLES among us. Haven’t you wondered about that hunk you never dated? Remember that pretty girl you didn’t ask out? Wouldn’t vous like a second chance?

Sincerely,

Babette (Marina) Babcock

 

          “Suzanna, Ywaaaawwn, you’re mad.”

          “No. I’m not, and stop yawning.”

          “Can’t help it. Haven’t slept in days. Why aren’t you returning my calls?”

“I’ve been busy.”

          “With who?”

          “Never mind. Why did you call?”

          “Been thinking about the reunion, Suzanna. Wondering who’s still single.”

          “There’s you and me. Probably some are divorced once or twice. Maybe Marina will provide a list before the reunion.”

          “Pre-shopping?”

          “Wouldn’t it be nice to know who you’d be facing across a table, Gareth?”

          “I’m having a flashback to Junior Year and Kay St. John.”

          “Um, Kay may be Ken now, Gareth.”

          “I heard that rumor. Probably dangerously good looking either way.”

 

 

April 14

Dear classmates:

I’m thrilled so many are coming to the reunion, but I need those checks. I can’t fund the reunion on my own!

Sincerely,

Marina Babcock

 

          “Suzanna, what happened to Babette?”

          “It’s a strange tale, Gareth. Per my mother, Jean was picked up by the Feds.”

          “Immigration?”

          “No. FBI. He’s wanted for a pyramid scheme in Los Angeles.”

          “California?”

          “Last time I checked, that’s where Los Angeles is.”

          “Why be testy?”

          “It’s Mr. Muffin. He ran away.”

          “I’m sorry.”

          “He didn’t like Bryce.”

          “Bryce?”

          “Never mind. He also ran away. Anyway, it turns out Jean was actually Curtis.”

          “Wanted by the feds at 17. Kids start early these days.”

          “Not that early, Gareth. Jean, I mean Curtis, is 35.”

          “And passed for a high school student? Sheesh!”

          “Mom said he has a baby face. Also two ex-wives he was hiding out from. Marina’s out in the cold.”

          “You think she’ll drop the speed dating thing?”

          “Why, Gareth? Would you care if she did?”

          “I was getting used to the idea.”


 
 

May 1

Dear souls of God:

The reunion is six weeks away. Dear Singles, send your bios. I pray all of you might find your soul mates as I have.

Mary (Marina) Babcock

 

          “Ywaaaawwn. That read like a devotional, Suzanna?”

          “What would you know about devotionals? Are you still not sleeping? Go see a doctor, Gareth.”

          “Okay. Ywaaaawwn. I will.”

          “Mom says Marina is dating the new Baptist minister in town.”

          “I’d have never guessed.”

          “Per Mom, Marina participated in the monthly potluck supper, the clothing drive, and she offered to teach Catechism.”

          “I thought Marina was Catholic.”

          “Ergo the Catechism offer, Gareth.”

          “How was that received at the Baptist church?”

          “The church board declined.”

          “Hmmmmm. You still seeing that new guy, Suzanna?”

          “No. He moved to Baltimore.”

          “What was his name?”

          “Who cares? He’s history.”

          “Please.”      

          “Buster Custer. Stop that laughing right now, Gareth.”

          “I can’t breathe.”

          “Get your inhaler, moron.”

          CLICK

 

 

May 18

People:

I have one bio and 7 checks. This out of 85 people who said they were attending. Get your money to me pronto, along with those bios, or you can all eat and drink the swill at Dory’s Diner, because the reunion will be kaput. I mean it.

Marina Babcock

 

          “Suzanna, what happened to our Mary? I mean Marina? Where’s the love?”

          “She put vodka in the spaghetti sauce for the deacons’ fund raiser.”

          “She didn’t.”

          “It was quite the event. Apparently a lady deacon and a gentleman deacon decided to get cozy without the benefit of a room.”

          “The town’s looking up.”

          “Got your bio in, Gareth?”

          “Not yet. Ywaaaawwn,”

          “What did that doctor say about your insomnia?”

          “Couldn’t find anything physical causing it.”

          “So, see a shrink.”

          “I did.”

          “And?”

          “We’re exploring the idea something’s missing from my life.”

         

 

May 28

Dear Reunion Attendees:

It’s been brought to my attention there’s real interest in the speed dating* event. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter in sending in bios and cash.

Sincerely,

Marina Louise Babcock

*Please be advised the committee bears no legal responsibility for the speed dating event. Those participating, therein, will be asked to sign a waiver absolving the committee of any injuries incurred during the event.

         

 

“Marina’s getting formal, Suzanna?”

          “Mom says she’s dating the city prosecutor.”

          “I sent her my bio. Should I, Ywaaaawwn, break down and send her money?”

          “Gareth, you’re not only impossible. You’re still not sleeping.”

          “Still can’t figure out what’s missing in my life.”

“Better figure it out, Gareth, before you make yourself sick.”

“You driving or flying to the reunion, Suzanna?”

          “Driving. It’s only two hours for me.”

          “Pick me up at the airport?”

          “Why not rent a car, Gareth?”

          “I’d rather ride with you. Think I could stay with your mom? So much nicer than a motel.”

          “She still hasn’t forgiven us for her finding you in my bed the morning after graduation.”

          “Yeah. And you weren’t even in it with me.”

          “She never believed I spent the night in the basement bathroom throwing up.”

          “That was some wicked liquor, Suzanna.”

          “I don’t think you’ve ever divulged why you tried to kiss her.”

          “I thought she was Heidi Klum.”

          “Gareth, my mother is 5’3”.”

          “Refer back to my remark about the liquor.”

 

 

 

 

May 27

Folks,

The reunions’s a month away. If y’all need a place to stay and all, don’t forget the Y still has rooms.

Sweetness (Marina) Babcock

 
 

June 1

I am undeniably sure there breathes not one among you who has forgotten the night we celebrated our impending freedom and the ensuing tragedy involving Principal Bob’s Cadillac and the paint shop. Principal Bob still reigns supreme at our alma mater. I wouldn’t bring up the unfortunate incident if I were you.

Forever yours,

Marina Babcock

 

June 13

People:

I’ll lay you ten to one there’s gonna be a few grumpy people who have played fast and loose with my many requests for money and bios. Don’t gamble on there being a spot for you. Respond today.

Snookums (Marina) Babcock

 

          “So, Suzanna, Marina’s been dating a southerner, a bad actor, and a professional gambler.”

          “Close, Gareth. The newest one sells securities.”

          “Ywaaaawwn.”

          “You have got to start sleeping, Gareth.”

          “I know. I’m foggy half the time. I even sent in my bio and money.”

          “Wow! I thought you’d end up paying at the door.”

          “I thought why gamble with happiness?”

 

 

Saturday, June 29 2PM

“Okay, people. This is the event you’ve been waiting for. You received the bios at the cocktail party last night. If you got drunk and forgot to take it to your room, not my problem. You have 90 seconds to make your sale to the person in front of you. Then it’s on to the seat to your right. Remember – keep moving. And wait for me. I’m jumping in.”

 

“Gareth, where did you get that tattoo on your face?”

“Like it, Suzanna.”

“I do not. Please tell me it’s temporary.”

“Of course. I thought it would set off my face nicely.”

“Oh go sit down. And good luck with that thing.”

 

“Hi, Suzanna. Remember me? Larry, the class clown? I always thought you had such a corny name. Would you cry for me? Hey, times not up. Where’re you going?”

NEXT

“Gareth, huh. It’s me. Emily. Hey cool tat. Not many guys would paste a rhinestone spider on their cheek. I got this nicotine craving so bad. I can’t believe we can’t smoke in here. What? You some kind of dictator? You one of those jerks tells everyone else they can’t smoke. YOU TELLING ME I CAN’T SMOKE? WHO ARE YOU? HITLER JR.?”

NEXT

“Mother said marry a girl with big hips, Suzanna. She ordered me, ‘Ronnie, you bring home a girl who wants babies. She said big breasts and big hips are good. Lots of milk for them babies. Stand up, Suzanna. Let me have a looksee at them hips. Also a teensy peek down your blouse?

NEXT

“What am I looking for in a man, Gareth? That’s a good question. You look like a good provider. What would you say you gross annually? And is that tattoo removable?

NEXT

“I was crazy for you in high school, Suzanna. You wouldn’t give me the time of day, sugar. You called me Willie the little wanker. Well it ain’t so little anymore, honey. Look at these muscles rippling across my body. I just bet you’d do anything—“

NEXT

“Gareth, I know you’re thinking you’re sitting across from Tina the tramp. Don’t look embarrassed. I know what you boys called me. It’s true I did bang the entire football team the night we beat Centerville, but I’m a new woman. I’m a virgin again. No man will ever again touch me except he puts a ring on my finger and gets me with child so we can be fruitful and multiply just like—“

NEXT

“Why do I have that pale circle on my left ring finger? You’re a very observant woman, Suzanna. You mind keeping your voice down?”

NEXT

“Oh Gaweth, Oo is just sooooo cute. I just wove the way you wook at me. Is oo gonna give widdle ole Wendy a kiss? I wanna touch that tattoo.”

NEXT

Suzanna, we’re all adults now. I look in the mirror and there’s no more little Mikey. I see Mike, a man about town. A man of the world. Have you ever had a threesome? See, I know this great woman. You’d love her. Trust me.”

NEXT

“Gareth, why did you stop in front of me? We can talk anytime. Heck, we do talk all the time.”

NEXT

“I’m not leaving this spot, Suzanna.”

NEXT

What’s the matter with you, Gareth. We both paid for this. It’s weird but we should see it through? Excuse me, Zeke. Just go around us. No, Zeke, I do not want to go to the boiler room with you.”

NEXT

“I didn’t like it when you dated Zeke. Did I ever tell you that, Suzanna? No? Well I should have. He was a horny bastard then, and nothing’s changed. I said go around me, Jake, or whatever your name is. Yeah, my ass is staying planted in this chair so get moving. Look, Suzanna, money be damned. I can’t move. I’ve never been so scared in my life.”

NEXT

“Stop being a wuss, Gareth. Just go on to the next chair. Okay, look Andrew isn’t it? I guess Gareth and I aren’t quite finished yet. Yes I know we only have 90 seconds, but Gareth and I also got caught cheating on finals, so there’s not much hope.”

NEXT

“I’m not moving, Suzanna, and you need glasses. That was Blake, not Andrew. Look my friend, if you don’t move around us I am going to grab you by the collar of that flannel shirt that’s never taken a thrill ride in a washing machine and wrap it around your skinny throat. Suzanna, I beg of you, come with me now, before I get arrested for assault.

NEXT

“Okay, Gareth, you win. Barbara, you really don’t want to have Gareth move down to you. He’s coming off a bender and needs a drink badly. See. His hands are trembling?”

 

 

“You didn’t have to tell her I was a drunk. You could’ve just walked out with me, Suzanna.”

“Yeah, but it was fun. What’s wrong, Gareth? I mean really. You’re acting strange.”

          “You. You’re what’s wrong with me.”

          “Me? What did I do?”

          “I thought we were just friends. Then I suddenly realized sitting across from you was the best time I’ve had in a long time. I’m tired of next.”

          “But that’s what speed dating is about, Gareth. You only get that short period of time so you can work in as many people as possible.”

          “I don’t mean just today, Suzanna. I mean all the ‘nexts’ in my life. I finally figured what’s been keeping me up at night. Not one ‘next’ has ever measured up to you. How could I not have realized that sooner?”

          “Wow!”

          “Really? I bare my heart to you, woman, and all you can say is ‘wow’?”

          “What else do you say when every dream you ever had comes true, Gareth?”

          “Come here, Suzanna. I want to hold you close and kiss you. And I want to – I want to – I’m falling asleep on my feet.”

          “I’m taking you back to Mom’s, Gareth. And this time we’ll give her something to yell about.”

         

         

         

         

Thursday, November 16, 2017


The Hour Comes

 

Synopsis

A local Indian prophet has predicted a coming earthquake. Cassie fears the earthquake but perhaps she fears change even more.

 

 

December 15, 1811, New Madrid, Missouri Territory

It was a small ripple, over before Cassie’s bare feet on the log cabin floor sent the message to her aching head. She gripped the slatted back of a chair, waited for the earth to shift again. It was happening. Just like that Shawnee, Tenskawata, had sworn it would. Many in New Madrid, including her husband, Lionel, had outspokenly doubted the prophet’s predicted earthquake. They forgot the man had also foreseen the comet that had burned the night sky for months. Tecumseh’s Comet, named for Tenskawata’s brother.

“Earthquakes don’t happen along the Mississippi,” Lionel had said.

Cassie believed. Some nights she couldn’t sleep for worrying about the earth swallowing her up. She shivered at the idea of being buried alive, taken somewhere she didn’t know.

The floor stayed steady so she took the roast chicken from the fireplace and placed it on a platter. Meat or fowl was a rarity, but Lionel had won it in a card game. Cassie then took sizzling hot cornbread from the little oven on the side of the fireplace and placed it on the trestle table.

            She went to the door and yelled for Lionel to come for supper. He was chopping wood in the December air. Watching him she thought him the handsomest man in all Missouri territory. Also possibly the meanest. She still suffered from the backhanding he’d given her jaw that morning.

He laid down the axe and came toward her. She backed away as he entered the cabin. He laid his huge hand on her shoulder. “Easy now. I’m not gonna hurt you none. You shouldn’t make me angry. You know I hate nagging.”

            Cassie doubted the blow he’d given had been about her reminding him the ladder to the loft needed fixing. What angered Lionel was her waking up that morning with blood on the muslin sheet beneath her. That was how it always started. First blood. Then pain. Then the end of Lionel’s hope for a son. He hated disappointment.

She’d cried hard the first couple times she miscarried, but today she’d reached deep inside herself for feelings of grief and found none. Even when the spasms started just after their mid-day meal, she’d gone to bed, lay on her side, and waited for her body to push out the little soul that hardly looked human. She’d wrapped it in a quilt square and hidden it. Later she would sneak to the church yard and secretly bury it in hallowed ground. It was all she could do for it.

Lionel wouldn’t like her performing the ritual. He’d given up on religion, but he needn’t know. There was also something else she’d been up to that he hadn’t a clue about. Nathan. Best kept that way too until she made a final decision.

            She realized Lionel was staring down at her. He raised his hand. She flinched, but he only traced the swelling on her right cheek. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. It won’t happen again.”

            Cassie had learned his apologies meant nothing. Something always set him off.

            They sat at the table in silence until she asked him if he’d too felt the tremor.

            “Pshaw. Didn’t feel nothing.” He grabbed a second piece of cornbread and spread molasses on it. “Ain’t no earthquakes here.”

            She bowed her head, tucked her chin. “But that prophet said it was coming. He said it was gonna be bad.”

            “That redskin don’t know jack squat.” He chewed some more. “If he was so goldarned smart why didn’t he get his people out of Prophetstown before General Harrison rode in there and burned all them buildings and tore up them cornfields?. Naw, you forget that fool nonsense. Ain’t no such thing as prophecy. That Injun and his brother, Tecumseh, are finished. Best action they could take would be to go on out west. Leave this land to us white folk.”

            She let him drone on, also eat most of the chicken. She wasn’t hungry anyway.

            At the gloaming, Lionel went out to stable the horses. Cassie cleared the table and thought about Nathan. If only she’d married him when she’d had the chance. Lionel’s good looks and small holding had swayed her mind. It hadn’t taken long for her to regret that decision. Six months ago she’d found out her former beau still loved her and had turned to him for comfort. If Lionel found out she’d been seeing Nathan on the sly, he would kill both of them.

Nathan had been begging her to run off with him to New Orleans. Cassie was sorely tempted even if it would make her a fallen woman. Still, she feared the flames of Hell.

           

            When night fell, Lionel banked the fire. In bed he turned his back to her and fell asleep. Cassie lay awake. There’d been no more tremors, but she couldn’t turn off her imagination.

At 2 AM a deafening roar came out of the darkness. It catapulted them out of bed as the ground beneath the cabin pitched and rolled like a ship at sea. Cassie huddled on the floor, wrapped up in her own arms as the log walls groaned.

            Lionel grabbed a lantern. He ran like a blur in the darkness toward the door. Cassie followed him into the night. The ground had quit shaking but the tall poplar tree had uprooted itself and fallen across the stable roof. Inside the horses kicked and bellowed in their stalls.

            She felt close to collapse. Her body ached. Not once did Lionel look her way so intent was he on seeing to the horses. At last she understood her place here, now that she was about to leave.

            Another shock shook the ground. Cassie’s flannel nightgown billowed around her. Her fear shifted, adjusted, turned to strength. She stood her ground, imagined every wave was taking her away from her husband, separating them as surely as if she was on a boat bound for New Orleans.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


 

The Uncivilized Ones
By Nora Cook Smith
 

The Igahi are an unattractive people. Think of a cross between a Tasmanian Devil and a cockroach and you might get the picture. Throw in a Venus flytrap for a personality description, and you’ve nailed it. The only reason I agreed to a medical rotation on their backwater planet was the knowledge I would work only with their young. A young Igahi, before metamorphosis, is small, round, and doesn’t have the stench of freshly killed meat on its breath. They did pull on my long blond braids when anxious, which was often, and with good reason.

            My tour of duty was almost over that morning I entered the natal tent. Dr. Cole greeted me, as did LiciBo, who did not use the doctor honorific. She was from the Zidon system where every citizen was a genius. Competition was foreign to them. I was glad to be working with LiciBo, but I wished Darius Cole had drawn another shift. An Earthie, like me, his contempt for the Igahi extended to their young. He was professional, but dismissive, even to the little ones who had been harmed by their parents. That happened a lot. We only saw survivors. Many an Igahi youngster disappeared before their maturing. Apparently, they were a delicacy and hard to resist.

            Cole raised his bushy brows. “Dr. Gladstone, I hear you’re retiring.”

            I looked up from scanning my patients’ charts. “Thinking about it.”

            “You should while you’re young enough to enjoy all that credit you’ve obviously built up.”

            I blinked. I hadn’t known he’d followed my career. Like all traveling physicians I’d gone from planet to planet. Unlike most, I’d taken the tough ones. Hardship pay was generous, but I’d done it for adventure. This planet was different. I longed to be free of it.

            Cole slammed down a little pink body. It whimpered. He ignored it. “What’s the point of us bringing healing to monsters? I say let them all die in their rush to kill each other and any other species they find.”

            I looked around at the innocents in their cribs, some of which wouldn’t be innocent much longer.

            “You hear about those tourist kids last night?” Cole’s tone was angry.

I hadn’t watched news vids that morning and told him so.

“They were murdered by Igahi. Not even dead before they ate them.” He shuddered.

            I felt sick. It had been months without an incident. Long enough to become complacent.

“People don’t learn,” Cole shouted. “There’s a damn good reason tourism to this hellhole is discouraged.”

“You said they were kids,” I reminded him. “The ruins here, they fascinate people.”

“Yes ruins, Liza. Remains of sentient beings murdered by the Igahi.”

I huffed. “That’s not been proven.”

“Of course it’s true. And people like you and me are here, saving the Igahi when what they need is annihilating.”

I stepped back, shocked. “You don’t mean that.”

“The hell I don’t. Three of those murdered were earth kids. Barely old enough to leave home by themselves.” He stalked away, muttering something about the Igahi being uncivilized and why didn’t someone just kill them all?

LiciBo had tears in her eyes. I gave her a solemn stare. “Pay no attention to him.”

“Sometimes I think he’s right.”

Not her too! “He’s not. They have the right to live.”

She turned away. “Help me get the maturing ones packed up. I don’t like the way they’re eyeing each other. Or me for instance. We’ll move them to a separate tent.”

I grabbed a transportation cart. “You’re imagining things. They don’t begin exhibiting undesirable behavior until after they emerge.”

She shrugged. “So you say.”

Before we closed the lids I noticed several of the young were already spinning cocoons. They would be taken from the medical tents to a nearby forest. It was guaranteed safety. Adult Igahi ignore cocooning youngsters. They find the process distasteful.

I sat down and had a cup of tea with one pack of sugar. My single indulgence. Denying myself small pleasures kept me honed and focused on these difficult assignments. Never get used to the environment. Never let down your guard.

 
I called my mother that evening on a secure vid. She was vacationing on a nearby moon. The lag time was almost non-existent but enough that I saw her distraught expression before she spoke. “Oh darling, one of the children killed yesterday was the Morelands’ son. He was just 18.”

My heart stopped. Not Ronnie Moreland. I’d babysat him before I went off world. Little dark haired, dark eyed, Ronnie. Now nothing more than a meal for a savage species. I must have expressed my sorrow. Must have tried to comfort my mother. All I really remember is falling across my bed, weeping inconsolably. I know the evening involved whiskey. There was an empty bottle beside my bed the next morning.
 

Interplanetary police surrounded the natal tent when I arrived late for my next shift. I showed my badge, and tried to ask what was happening, but they glared at me. My coworkers were inside, huddled in a corner. LiciBo gave me a wave as did Cole, and several others. I started toward them, then the inner flap opened as an officer exited. In that brief second I saw pooled blood. I pushed the flap fully open. Little round bodies everywhere. Not one moved.

I turned my frightened eyes to my friends. “The Igahi? They dared come here?”

Cole stepped forward. “No. They don’t leave bodies behind. I do believe they think it was one of us.”

I examined each face. Closed. Impassive. Even LiciBo’s.

“We must be as one,” Cole said, incorporating each of us in his dark glare. “We must not let them find out which one of us did this.”

I felt feverish, looking at all those tiny bodies. Then Ronnie’s face swam into memory, and I steeled myself against my inner horror. I let the inner flap fall like a gauntlet. Cole was right. Civilized people stick together.