Inkster Dispatch: Changes Coming…

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For those who have been paying attention, my microfarm pretty much closed up shop in November 2017. I still have a reasonable sized garden: however, it will be harvested likely by the new owner of my property come fall of 2018. Hubby and I have hatched a plan, for which you can see here:  Proteus Rising. For those struck by tl;dr, we’re selling the house/property, buying a boat, and going from land to sea and all around the world.

I’ll likely keep my own personal website for all projects that are “just Casz,” because I won’t stop writing. But I don’t know what this change here at casondrabrewster.com is going to look like. It will still cover my creative life — whatever that ends up looking like. Not really sure.

But, now you know there are changes coming.

More soon.

Thanks for reading all the way.

 

Free-Range Fiction: The Gray Nothing’s Scar

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This piece below was birthed by a flash fiction prompt by Chuck Wendig for his April 15, 2016 writing challenge; However it morphed into an added chapter for WHEN A RAVEN PECKS OUT YOUR NORMAL. Regardless, I think it stands on its own and gives you great insight into my protagonist’s mental health state. So although this is flash, it is now an excerpt of the novel I’m currently shopping. It’s just a mere 434 words, as the challenge was to do ~1,000 words. I will likely flesh this out even more and stick at a spot in the book that needs to bring the reader back to the fact that the protagonist’s POV is very unreliable. Please comment your thoughts below. Thanks for visiting and reading. ~C.


The Gray Nothing’s Scar

By Casondra Brewster

I didn’t like looking at it in the mirror. I didn’t like mirrors most days. How did they work? Is it a wonder that tales of old made mirrors magical tools? Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Nothing Monster down the hall? It’s me. I am the monster, the boy with a scar that looks like a third nipple. An accessory nipple. It’s hereditary thing. Two of my cousins have it as well. I think the raven pecked out their normal, too. I poke at it. I pretend that someone stabbed me there. It looks like the skin swallowed up a knife wound. I had a fight with the colors black and white. I am Gray. I’m caught in the middle. White wants to kill Black. Black wants to kill White. But they both have to destroy me first to get the other. I stare at the scar. Poke. Twist. I make death gurgling sounds.

There’s a knock at the bathroom door. My mother’s voice calling my name: “Nothing?” I hear her. But I cannot speak. The words are stuck in the scar, what’s left of my bio father’s bloodline. Further proof he gave me nothing but shit.

“I am nothing!” I scream. There’s a pounding in my head.

“Nothing, Open the door!”

I see the colors merging. White’s icy hot kill shot aimed right below my left pec. Meanwhile Black’s flamethrower of darkness hits from the other side.

Perhaps I should just lie down and let them consume me, the Gray Nothing that I am. They can deepen the scar, for no one sees me. The Universe sliced a piece of Black and White and created this broken nothingness called Gray. Broken. Nothing. Scarred.

I look back in the mirror. My face winks at me, both frightening and comforting. Black is comforted. White is frightened. I poke the scar again and imagine my bio father sucked into this star-shaped scar. The anger comes then and my fist breaks the mirror. I bleed and wipe my hand on the scar. I put my shirt back on. I sigh and open the door. My mother is standing there. She looks so sad, her eyes exhausted with concern.

“Are you alright?” she says quietly, looking behind me at the broken mirror.

“I am the Gray Nothing,” I say. I walk past her feeling the scar bleeding.

Free-Range Fiction: Chef Coast

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A fellow writer, S. Rain Lawrence, nudged me to get active in my Free-Range Fiction again this week and try out the flash fiction challenge by the ever penmonkey, Chuck Wendig. So, I rolled the dice and got Chef’s Coast. I took creative license and dropped the posessive, to create the 2,000-word story, called Chef Coast. I also saw this meme with Stephen King, which along with some dreams from my husband and I this week, the story took shape. If you enjoy this, please, please comment here on the blog — it takes just a second to prove you’re not some hacker bot and leave your love, suggestions, and comments. I do not poo-poo any positive response on social media, but the love here will help me down the road when I’m trying to sell my brand to agents or publishers. I appreciate you taking the extra step to support me in this manner.

Without further ado…

CHEF COAST

 

On the shores of Lake Superior, Chef Coast’s life changed forever. He had been ordered by his doctor to take two weeks off from his restaurant in New York City. Completely offline. No computer. No phone. Nothing.

“I want you to go somewhere and find some quiet. Be in nature. Take some photos. Hike slowly. Smell fresh air. Get away from the city and your too stressful job.”

Chef Coast returned to where his father had taken him as a boy to camp, fish, hike, and just watch the sun rise and set on the greatest lake in the world.

As was his nature he had made a list of everything the doctor told him to do. The one thing he hadn’t checked off after a few days was “Take some photos.” So he browsed the little boutiques on Main Street in Paradise, Michigan, which wasn’t much, but enough for him to find a first-generation digital camera. It was on a “gently used & clearance” section of the store called “All You Need & More.” The man behind the counter was a crusty, old, and limping creature who had seen too much in his life, he wore the ribbons of pain and joy all over his face and his piercing eyes made Chef Coast feel like he was rudely interrupting the old man’s solitude.

“Will that do, eh?” he grumbled.

Chef Coast tapped a finger on the huge behemoth of a camera, “I will need the data card for it, if you have it?”

“Should be in it,” he said. “Otherwise, I can’t help youse. What I can help with is this, and he pulled up a little baggie with various cords and charging bricks for the beastly Cannon.

Chef Coast looked at the camera and sure enough the digital data disc was in it. He scoffed and nodded, “This will do me.”

The man gave a bit of a sneer when Chef Coast held out his credit card, the old man noting the scars on the Chef’s hand, “We prefer cash,” he said.

Chef Coast looked like a scolded school boy, cramming the credit card back in his wallet and emptying the cash out to cover it. He hoped the diner down the way would take his card for dinner.

“Appreciate it,” the old man said, “Especially on the gently used consignment items.” Chef Coast’s face relaxed and he nodded. “The previous owner’s estate had a tab it needed to square up with our establishment.”

Chef Coast raised an eyebrow, “Well, I hope we’re square now.”

“Indeed,” the old man shoved the money in the registered and it dinged when he closed the drawer on it.

Chef Coast got in his rental SUV from the place down in Sault St. Marie and steered the vehicle towards White Fish Point and the Lighthouse. It was a scenic drive he and his father used to take as well. There wasn’t too much traffic on the road, it was a middle of the day on a Wednesday and only the early season tourists, including him, were here on this mid-April day. Patches of snow still flecked shaded areas and some of the higher elevations throughout the Peninsula. But the sun was out and he was starting to forget about his New York Life. His doctor would be pleased. Chef Coast was pleased.

Once at Whitefish Point, he parked and fiddled with the camera a bit. It looked like it was all ready to go and had enough battery to last enough until he got back to his motel room and his lap top. He headed towards the platform built around the working lighthouse hosting a few tourists and those giant binoculars to look out onto the water. The wind whipped as it often did here in Spring, but the sun was so brilliant, the water so clearly of Superior – with its not quite blue, but not quite green colors swirling in the surf at as it hit the upper Peninsulas’ northeast tip. He found a spot on the platform and gazed out, thinking of his father and how he himself must look like his old man now, squinting into the lake that looked like an ocean. His father worked in the shipping industry, however. Chef Coast toiled in the cut-throat stainless steel prep tables of competitive restaurateurs. He felt alone. His father was never alone, his union buddies never farther than a beer run away. He raised the camera up and looked through its lens out at the water. He decided to put it in manual mode – harkening back to his high school journalism classes, before he decided chefs could make more money. The water was soothing, even within its monstrous power. Click, click, click went the aperture. He snapped away, getting lost in the landscape, shifting his view ever so slightly after a few shots and then clicking the button again to capture the scene. After he had a full panorama of shots of Lake Superior, he focused his lens on the beach. There was a grandfather type entertaining two young girls. He looked through the lens at them and sharpened the focus. What he saw through the camera lens, however, was not what he had just seen with his naked eye outside the camera’s lens. He blinked, brought his line of sight out of the camera and looked plainly down on the beach. Grandfather and two granddaughters. He poked his nose down below the viewfinder and looked through the lens again. The man and the two girls had hair all over their bodies. Laughter from them showed fangs. When the smaller of the two girls held up her hands to the man, he could see dark, sharp claws. Chef Coast shook his head, brought the camera down and looked again with just his eyes. Just three people, one old, two young. He looked at the lens. He removed it, took it off, and put it back on again. He tried to see if there was something funny about his camera – maybe the old man at the gift shop had played a practical joke on him? He certainly was the butt of too many coworkers’ pranks to believe the “All You Need & More” was selling hoaxes in the form of cameras.

He went to the edge of the platform and took photos of the lighthouse only. It’s light dark in the presence of the sun, but oh how the glass of its tower shimmered in the Upper Peninsula spring sun. Chef Coast took a big breath, let out his anxiety over the scene on the beach and took more photos of the arrow-like lighthouse, painted all white, with a red-clay colored roof.  Then he maneuvered his way off the platform, nearly being mowed down by the two little girls he had hallucinated over, they were crying for “Grandma!” The old man followed shortly after them and he smiled and nodded to Chef Coast.  It made Chef shiver, but he blamed it on the wind coming off the lake.

He made his way to the beach, stepping gingerly around patches of snow laying in the shade of the lighthouse, he wasn’t really dressed for snow or sand, but it was vacation, and he could easily drive back to the hotel with the heat blasting and melting or blowing off any detritus from Whitefish Point. Right now was all about pictures, all about checking off the doctor’s list.

Within moments he was in the spot to look up from the beach and take a shot of the lighthouse. What would he do with these photos? His inner critic chimed in his head. He shook off the negativity, feeling the spray of the very cold Lake Superior sprinkle upon him. It was about taking the photos. He had no commitment to actually use them.

“What a waste,” the inner critic said, sounding dreadfully like his mother, for whom he had not seen since his father’s death.

“Just take the photos, Coast,” he mumbled to himself. He decided to do a panoramic from the water’s edge to the capture the whole tourist scene. He started to make a 180-degree semicircle around himself. But, he had to keep stopping every time he looked through the lens at any human in his line of sight: hairy monsters, skeletal monsters, wart-covered monsters, all of them, monsters. He wished he had a wife or a cherished friend with him at this moment, or best yet, his father were still alive. He could see if they saw what he saw – monsters in the skin of banal tourists. The realization then jack-hammered his heart and his adrenaline spiked. Monsters.

He scrambled then as quick as he could, looking all of his 45 years, to the rental. He tossed the camera on the passenger seat, locked the doors and looked out. No one was chasing him. No one was paying attention to him at all. He looked in the rearview mirror, no one behind him. However, his cheeks were flushed with the anxiety of what he had just witnessed and the sprint to the car. He took the time on the drive back to Paradise to practice the breathing exercises his therapist had taught him.

“Jesus, Coach, you’re a mess. The doctor was right, you need to get a grip,” he harangued himself all the way back. For 20 minutes, stuck behind a very slow tractor-trailer, he pissed and moaned at himself to “quit being a wimp.” He pulled into the gas station next to the hardware store and filled up his vehicle, breathing deeply, and calmly talking to himself in his head.

Just as he was putting the nozzle back in the pump, a huge group of bikers pulled up to the gas station, stretching out the whole length of the station and the hardware store. One by one they pulled up to the three pumps and started filling up. Chef Coast was blocked from moving forward or from reversing out of the station. He noticed he just had to wait for one more biker to move around and then he’d be clear to move out. So he pulled the camera up and placed it on the dash so he could see through the viewfinder without actually touching the camera. More hairy creatures stood before him putting gas in huge road bikes. There were a few women on the backs of the bikes that had long fangs and whose eyes looked completely black.

When back on the road he decided to skip dinner and just order a pizza for delivery at his motel room. Back at the Paradise Lost Motel, he did just that. When the delivery kid was at the motel room door, he answered and asked if he could take the kids photo because he was learning to use his new camera. The kid shrugged and made it look like he was posing for a billboard advertisement for Little Caesars, holding out the pizza box just right. Chef Coast put the viewfinder up to his eye and saw that the kid was mutilated and decaying all over. He snapped the photo and kept his best poker face.

“Everything alright, mister? Does the camera work?”

Coach Chef nodded and paid the kid, “Keep the change.” He practically closed the motel room door on the kid’s face.

He put the pie box on the tiny table in the room, and went in front of the mirror. He lifted up the camera aimed right at the mirror and looked through. Scales were all over his arms and legs, and his head had a ridge of thorny bones in the center of his head. He couldn’t look through the viewfinder and see his face, however, the camera so behemoth in size.

He put the camera down and stared and stared into the mirror. He touched his arms, it was skin. He picked the camera up again, and looked through the lens. Scales, slime, and a mutant pale yellow cast looked back at him.

 

Free-Range Fiction: Niobara!

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Over at Chuck Wendig’s blog TERRIBLEMINDS he’s been doing this thing most Fridays where he challenges his fellow Pen Monkeys to do some flash fiction. He provides a prompt, a targeted word count, and people get a writin’. I haven’t done one of these in a long time because I was feverishly polishing WHEN A RAVEN PECKS OUT YOUR NORMAL, pitching agents, starting THE PERTHSHIRE GARGOYLES (BOOK ONE: THE STONE EYES CURSE), and generally trying to keep life away from my writing time. 

This last week’s prompt was based on mashing up genres. I got Weird West Kaiju. 

Please read. Please comment your thoughts. Thank you. 

Without further ado, I give you: NIOBARA!

 

I grew up in the flatlands. A snow skiing hill could be made of a former landfill in the lower portion of Michigan’s Mitten. Once I crossed the Missouri River on my way from Detroit to Los Angeles, I had to slow my motorcycle down. The foothills of the Dakotas seemed gigantic to this Great Lakes-raised rider. Slumbering giants, but giants all the same.

 In a small town called Reliance, South Dakota, I changed my route from the interstate to two lanes and started heading south for a bit. After a few days, I needed to get off “Mule,” that’s what I called my little Harley Sportster. I called it Mule because my best friend and fellow rider, Julian, had a big giant green soft tail and he said my bike was like riding a Mule. I shrugged him off and told him I was comfortable on my bike. Julian was going to meet me in Vegas, but I had a lot of time before our rendezvous. I stopped in Wyoming in a town called Lusk, at the cross roads of U.S. 18 and U.S. 20. There was a huge truck stop there and I could take some time and do an oil change on Mule and take in the scenery and the local culture. Given that there was a thoroughfare called “Beer Can  Road,” I figured I was in for a cowboy-meets-hayseed treat. They would likely perceive me as the alien Motor City Mama I was, but that would be half the fun.

I was waylaid in my evening activities by the wondrous geography around me. I couldn’t stop looking at the rolling foothills, and just stood in front of the Best Western Pioneer, frozen to the landscape, unable to move inside to the reception desk and procure a room. The air was thinner, I could tell. Elevation was already at more than 5,000 feet, or so said a sign heading into town. The elevation was greater than its population. In essence I was standing on a mountain, starring out onto the first little baby Rockies. Standing there, I finally figured out what they meant by Purple Mountain Majesty, the hills gleamed of this light that tinted everything in shades of blue, purple, and even pink. Aubergine, I thought to myself. And the sky was even more colossal, and its expanse would make any creature feel small and unworthy. I finally broke its spell and went into the hotel.

“We thought maybe you were just going to stand out there all night,” the clerk said as I shifted my jacket and helmet in my hand. He was an older man, but not a senior. Deep-lined crow’s feet tattled that he spent his youth in the sun and maybe smoked for awhile. Salt and pepper highlights were in his hair and his closely cropped goatee.

“It’s very beautiful here,” I said. “I get the Purple Mountain Majesty now.”

“Purple, huh? Hmmmm,” he said, and raised an eyebrow. “You saw purple in the hills? Best stay in tonight, I think.” I looked confused and then he cleared his throat, “How may I help you?”

“I need a room for at least tonight, maybe two.”

“Just one guest?” he tapped keys on a computer terminal.

“Correct,” and I set my helmet down on the carpeted floor and pulled my wallet out of the inside pocket of my leather jacket.

“Room 51,” he slid a map towards me. “You can park your bike right in front of the door. If you hurry, you’ll catch the last of the sunset.” He winked.

I thanked him and gathered my gear and did exactly as he said. I pulled my bike around the side of the place and parked in front of room 51. I backed the bike in the spot so I could sit on Mule while watching the sun finally dip down between rolling vast hills, looking like a giant yolky softball stuck between the shadows of the buttes. As the sun slipped below the horizon and the stars twinkled into sight, the vastness of that Wyoming sky felt almost burdensome. I had to catch my breath before getting my saddle bags and myself into the room.

It wasn’t five-star accommodations, but it was clean and the door bolted in three ways. We were kind of out in the middle of nowhere, even though there was a healthy population here in Lusk, Wyoming. So maybe the three locks made travelers like me more comfortable. I thought about my sensei back in Detroit and his lessons of brute force. If someone wanted in, they could get in. The flowered and geometric patterned bedspread was confusion incarnate. I imagined my own parents staying in a place like this and laughed. It would offend their Midwestern protestant values.

I dropped my saddle bags on the floor of the half closet next to the bathroom, removed my road gear, and changed gravity by lying flat on the bed, arms spread out crucifix style. I closed my eyes, thinking about all that I had seen in my journey thus far, all the crap that had brought me to this point. It might have started out in a complete breakdown of my life – my marriage, my job, my entire belief system. I sat up and shook my head and decided to wash the road off and go find a good steak.

After the shower and perusing the “Around Here” pamphlet, I settled on the Triangle 4 Café and Steakhouse, which I could easily walk to, which was necessary after days on the Mule. Like the hotel, it wasn’t anything to write home about, a cinderblock building the shape of the state it resided in, painted in a pink-peach chipping paint. But, inside smelled of heaven. I ordered an ale draft and the dark-haired waitress carded me.

The beer came in a frosted glass and washed the last of the road from my throat. I ordered the “cowgirl” ribeye, because 10 ounces of steak after living off of jerky, power bars, and carrot sticks for the last few days, my system didn’t need a complete shock. I hated the binary language of the menu; but, the cowboy meant 21 ounces of steak, which was a gross amount of food for me.

I’d taken two bites of the perfectly medium-rare, char-grilled goodness, when a thunderous roar shook the restaurant. Wyoming was known for wicked storms that rose up and fell quickly, so my first thought was it was some wicked storm.

“Everybody into the walk-in,” a burly man with five o’clock shadow and a dirty prep apron on bellowed near the entrance to the kitchen. “Move it!”

“Niobara!” the dark-haired waitress shrieked, as she backed up away from the windows and towards the kitchen.

I looked out the long narrow window and saw a scaly, purple leg filling the window’s frame.  I grabbed my plate and headed towards the burly man. Another deafening roar filled our ears, a little girl that had been sitting with her grandparents near the door cried, “I want my mommy!”

There were a total of seven of us in that walk-in, standing in the center surrounded by perishable meats, vegetables, and sauces. Burly man had thrown gray wool blankets at all of us as we filed into the cooler, while a shorter Latino man closed the giant steel door behind us.

“Sorry about this folks,” the burly man said. “Niobara attacks, although less these days, can be brutal.”

“I’ve never heard about this Niobara,” I said, taking a bite of my steak caveman style. The Latino man gave me a thumbs-up eyeing my steak-eating. The burly man cleared his throat and everyone looked back at him, although the little girl continued to whimper.

“The hills around here,” he took a deep breath in, “The locals know; but, for you,” he paused and pointed to me and the older couple and small child, “you’re going to think we’re all crazy.”

“Try me,” I say, trying to hide the food in my mouth.

“There’s always been a reason why the West was full of misfits and ghost towns. Niobara is the reason. Large, hungry, and vicious.”

“Its leg looked like a dinosaur,” I said, feeling the walls rumbling around us.

“Like Barney?” the little girl stopped her crying. “I want to see Barney.” Her grandmother told her to hush.

“More like a giant horned toad on two legs,” the Latino man said. “But yeah, lots of purple coloring.”

“It hides inside the mountain, literally merges with it, and sleeps for long periods of time, until its hunger awakens it. Then it ravishes the towns around this area.”

“Manville was attacked in June of 2012,” the burly man said. “It still hasn’t come back. We’re a bit smarter here in Lusk. We have panic rooms, and build our buildings out of cheap materials, or have electric fences.”

My steak was gone and I now picked up the baked potato and ate it like an apple. The building shook again. We could faintly here an air raid siren and rumbling in the background peppered by some squawking car alarms.

“It sounds like an earthquake out there,” I said.

Burly man just nodded. “That’s what most people think happens here is an earthquake.” He exhaled long and loudly.

“So, how long do we stay in here?” The little girl’s grandpa tried to stand tall, clearly in an effort to make himself seem to be someone for which an answer should be given.

We’ll listen for the—” the burly man put a finger to his lips.

“It’s quiet,” said the dark-haired waitress.

The burly man cocked his head as if having his left ear up might offer him better hearing. The rumbling had stopped. The siren had stopped. The three staff people all nodded at each other.

“Wow. Quick?” the Latino man said to the burly man. Then he cleared his throat, “Should be alright, now,”he said with the nice smile and looking at me.

“Think I could travel and be safe? Like is the Niobara back in its hibernation?” All I could think of was telling Julian about this craziness.

“Sure, but you have to see the sheriff, first,” the burly man said. “They have to keep track of every person that has ever experienced a Niobara attack.”

“Why?”

The three Triangle-4 steakhouse employees shrugged in unison.

“Sure thing,” I said, picking a piece of parsley up from my plate and nibbling it.

Burly man unbolted the door and warm air hit all of us. The restaurant had a huge gaping hole near where the door had been. Dust painted on the darkness was everywhere. I handed the waitress more than enough bills to cover my bill and said, “I’m headed to the sheriff,” and ran towards my hotel. The devastation looked earthquake enough, but also did present like a Tornado, but I was pretty sure Wyoming didn’t get tornados. If they did, this was a hop-scotching tornado.

The Best Western was missing its sign but otherwise remained unscathed, not so fortunate was The Covered Wagon Inn across the street. The Covered Wagon was upside down in the middle of the road. I raced to my room, grabbed my gear and saddle bags, and made it back onto the highway in record time. The oil change would have to wait.

Lusk was in my side view mirror and the moon was high. I headed straight south nonstop towards Cheyenne. Niobara was behind me, and hopefully there it would stay.

 

Free-Range Fiction: Random Cocktail Challenge

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downloadHerr Wendig is at it again This week’s flash-fiction challenge revolves around adult beverages randomly generated. The one I got is Bondage’s No Problem. Yes that’s a real cocktail. It has vodka in it, for which I’m allergic, so I’ll never taste it unless you maybe sub some whiskey instead. Below is where the title Bondage’s No Problem took me — in 999 words. It’s easy to believe that maybe this might be a much longer story, clearly I could continue it. But, I think it works as it is, as well. Read it. Comment below. Much appreciated.

BONDAGE’S NO PROBLEM

by Casondra Brewster

They call it the Golden Handcuffs. You have no idea. It really is a life of slavery and bondage. But it’s not a problem, really. What else are we going to do with our time? At least we’re not getting shot at? No one is going to die in this nine to five.

I wrote that to my old Army buddy ten years ago after we’d both hung up our boots and put on civilian ties. Now I could think of lots of things to do with my time other than put in time in this seven-by-nine-foot cubicle. I called it my civilian foxhole. Was it still true we weren’t getting shot at? Sure– well at least until one of my coworkers has had enough. Maybe his wife leaves him. His kid turns into a drug addict. His balloon payment on his mortgage is due and he can’t manage it. Instead of coping, dealing, turning his life around, he blows us all away here sitting near these pale blue, fabric walls lulling us into security, when nothing is secure. It’s all impermanent. No one is going to die. I said it. But I was dying. My soul was a sucking chest wound.

Here it was another Wednesday. The hallway sentiments about hump day fell flat at my feet.  Stacks of work – reports to analyze or create – to my left and right and a pile of email to answer, flag, or archive lurked inside the screen in front of me. I had zero motivation for it. I wanted to runaway. Scream. Hide. End it all. I spent ten years in war. For this?

“Hey, Phil,” I looked up. It was Roger, the guy from development. He lived in the same apartment complex I did. We sometimes had lunch together in the cafeteria. You know, one of those convenience friendships, but the two of you didn’t really dig deep. “Are you going to the after-work shindig to say goodbye to Josie?”

I shook my head. Josie was one of the communication team leads. She was always saying in company-wide meetings that her job was to “herd the cats of all the different departments.” I wasn’t a cat, but I did sometimes want to scratch the smile off her face.

“Oh, bummer; I was hoping to grab a ride home from you.”

“Sorry, pal.”

“Well, if you change your mind, let me know,” he said and moped away.

I started just mass deleting all the emails. If it was really important, they’d send me another one before lunch. I put my headphones on, but there was no music in them. They were a detractor from would-be interrupters who would wreck my work flow by darkening my cubicle opening. I went to work on the report analysis. This part of my work I didn’t dread completely. There was an art to it, although for the most part it was black and white. It didn’t talk back. It didn’t expect me to smile, be grateful, and all that other Zen crap. It just was.

Before the afternoon coffee break, I start to feel bad for squashing Roger’s hopes.

I send Roger an email saying, I’m going to the pub for Josie’s thing and I’ll drive him home. He’s at my desk at 4:59 with the stupidest grin on his face and carrying a brown-paper sack.

On the walk over to the pub Roger tells me he’s had a hard-on for Josie for years. But, he has a don’t-date-coworkers policy. I don’t tell him I think Josie likely has a don’t-date-dweebs policy.

The pub smells like old peanuts, stale beer, and too much cologne and perfume. My eyes start to water. I’m wishing I had my balaclava to throw up over my nose. Not kosher in this environment, however. Roger gladly buys the first round, “Thanks again, buddy for having my back.” I shrug and nod. The beer actually tastes pretty good. Better than the Rainer I’ve been stocking my fridge with; that’s another slow kind of death.

I watch as people give farewell gifts to Josie, including Roger. I hadn’t his little brown-paper was a gift. I thought it was a snack. Everyone quiets around Josie as she takes out two tickets.

“What they to?” some douche bag from sales hollers.

Roger beams a wide, toothy smile and says, “The Blindfolds & Cuffs Burlesque Show.”

Josie flinches and flushes. Then, always the PR professional, swallows, and says, “Thanks, Roger. You’re sweet.” He whispers something in her ear and she feigns distraction by yelling back at the sales douche, “You’re just jealous, Keith.” She then promptly picks up another little gift baggy, leaving Roger to slip back into oblivion. He ends up next to me.

“She left you OTF, buddy,” I say, taking another swallow of beer.

Roger doesn’t respond.

We watch in silence for a few more minutes while people make toasts to Josie, some dude passes out her new business cards to everyone, and coworkers and friends alike wish her well in her new job, some sort of consulting gig. I only half listen. Roger goes to the bar again, but comes back with nothing.

I watch as the bartender brings Josie a drink. She raises the glass and nods to Roger.

“Ready whenever you are,” Roger says his voice even meeker than normal. We walk in silence back to my pick-up.

“Why did you buy her a drink after she left you out there hanging, dude?” I ask Roger.

He shrugs, “I felt like it.”

I shake my head.

***

The next morning at work, I decide to check on Roger at his desk. He’s not there. Before lunch word gets around he was found blindfolded and cuffed to his bed, an apparent autoerotic asphyxiation casualty. The police are looking for Josie. Her business card was found in his hands, with the words “Bondage is No Problem” scrawled on the back.

Yeah, nobody’s getting shot. But somebody just might die.