Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

>Family Secret (short story)

Posted: November 21, 2005 in Short Stories

>The steady pit-pat of the rain drops on the window were the only sound in the room where Felicia sat and waited. She watched the raindrops run down the window, merging together and splitting apart again, bumping into other raindrops and creating long trails as they ran down and pooled at the bottom of the window pane. Felicia waited for a man she believed was her father. He didn’t know that she was here. Well, actually he knew she was here, but he didn’t know the real reason.

During the previous week Felicia had come home from college for a surprise visit, dropped her schoolbag by the front door and made her way up the warped wooden stairs that led to the second floor of the drafty farmhouse where she lived with her mother and her adopted dad. Her mother wasn’t home from work yet and her father slept during the day. He was a corrections officer at the local prison and had worked the midnight shift for the last fifteen years. As usual for this time of day, the house was quiet except for the slow monotonous tick of the grandfather clock on the wall at the bottom of the stairs.

Felicia crept up the stairs, carefully stepping on the stairs that wouldn’t creak, lest she make a sound that would wake her father, a notoriously light sleeper and grumpy cuss when he was awakened during the middle of the day. Ten years of living in this old farmhouse had taught her which steps had a creak to them and which ones you could step to the left or right side of to avoid making a sound. Why her father hadn’t fixed the creaky stairs years earlier had been a mystery to her. Her parents were always complaining about being short of cash and their inability to make the necessary repairs to the old house but it seemed like it would be relatively inexpensive to buy a few wood screws.

She went up to her room and tossed her coat on the bed. The room hadn’t changed at all since she moved out when she left for college. Her mother kept it neat but apparently hadn’t dusted in a while. Mom was a straightener, but not a real cleaner, per se. Felicia ran her finger across the desk like an inspecting drill sergeant and it left a long streak. The objects on the desk had similar layers of dust on them as well. Felicia paused for a minute when she glanced at the face of the top drawer. There were distinct fingerprints on the dusty surface. Fearing the worst, she thrust the drawer open and pulled out the drawer’s main content—her diary. This spiral notebook was only the most recent edition of her diary. Beneath it laid the other old and faded notebooks she had filled to capacity with her most secret and personal thoughts going back for almost ten years. She hadn’t brought the diary with her to college, though. Her time there was taken up with homework, parties, and the usual assorted activities that filled time at most Midwestern public universities. Felicia decided that the journal was kind of a kid’s pastime, so she had left it in the drawer when she went away. She would still write in it when she came home for the weekends. It was cathartic to get the stray thoughts out of her mind and onto paper. She considered it her own personal therapy.

When she saw the smudges in the dust, Felicia immediately knew what had happened. Her mother, although possessing a good heart, was a bit of a flake and a nosy snoop. Slightly alcoholic, self involved, with a flair for the dramatic—these were all traits of her mother Lorena. I guarantee that she read the journal, Felicia thought. Infuriated, Felicia waited until Lorena came home to confront her about the journal. She made a cup of Oolong tea and sipped it quietly while she sat at the faded wooden table in the kitchen, the journal in front of her. The grandfather clock at the bottom of the stairs continued to tick its rhythmic mantra. Upstairs, her father slept, oblivious to the family drama unveiling itself one floor below him. She sat in silence for almost forty five minutes until she heard her mother’s pickup truck roll up the long two- track they called their driveway. Lorena bolted in through the kitchen door and her eyes fell immediately to her daughter and the journal. “Hi Honey!” she blurted cheerily, playing off the obvious fact that her crime had been detected.

Felicia shifted in her chair and crossed her arms in front of her in an irritated posture. “I know you read my journal, mother.”

Lorena paused for a moment, probably contemplating whether or not to try and lie her way out of it or whether she should just face the music. In the end, she always seemed to hold to the idea that she was the mother and she could do whatever she wanted to do because she was entitled to do so. “I’m your mother and you shouldn’t have any secrets from me. I was worried that something was wrong with you so I read your diary to see what was going on.”
Felicia rolled her eyes in her trademark way; the left eye rolled to center and the other back into her head. “Mom! That is such bullshit! You read it because you’re nosy. Nothings wrong with me except that I have a freak for a Mom who doesn’t allow me to have any privacy.”
Lorena pulled up one of the worn old wooden chairs and sat down. The chair had a broken rung and the varnish was peeled off of the seat from years of hard use. It had been Lorena’s family table when she was little and now wasn’t even worth using as a hand me down, but still it sat in the little farmhouse kitchen, sad and broken. If the table could talk, it could recount three generations of family discussions, arguments, and holiday meals. Today’s discussion would be one of the most amazing in the collection of this table’s family tales.

Lorena pulled out a Marlboro Light 100 and lit it as part of a nervous habit ritual she had been performing for the roughly 30 years since she started smoking. She would chain smoke now to alleviate the stress of the current discussion. Taking one giant hit off of the cigarette, she exhaled a large plume of blue smoke into the air and began to speak in a somber tone. “I read what you put in your diary about a family secret.” Felicia’s anger grew as she realized the extent to which her mother must have gone back through the previous year’s journals to find this recurring entry. “And I think its time that I finally tell you that you’re right. There is a secret.”

The tone of her mother’s voice concerned Felicia; she sat up on the edge of her chair. “What is it mom?”

Lorena took another long pull off of the 100 and blew the smoke down towards the table top this time. The smoke bounced off of the table in different directions and floated upwards. In the sunlight that streaked in through the open window, the smoke hung and danced, combining with the usual dust that blew in from the dry farm field every time the door was opened. Lorena flicked an ash into an old stamped metal ashtray, then set the cigarette on its side, and reached across the table to take both of Felicia’s hands in hers. “It’s about your dad.”
Felicia was confused. “What’s wrong with dad? Is he sick? Are you getting a divorce?”

“It’s about your real dad.”

“Brian? Is something wrong with him? I didn’t even think you talked to him anymore.” Lorena had married Brian when she found out she was pregnant. They were married for 2 tumultuous years before Lorena decided one day to pack up her young daughter and leave him for good. Marriages made under such circumstances rarely worked out, and this was no exception. They parted amicably, but Brian was a rather free spirit, and although he made his best efforts to keep in contact with his daughter, his gypsy ways kept him roaming the country, stopping for a few months here and there, working odd jobs and having his own personal adventures. Growing up, Felicia had the prerequisite visits with Brian, but they were always awkward and strange to her. She didn’t look forward to them at all. Brian would roar up on his Harley with a spare helmet for Felicia and spirit her away for the weekend to stay at a different house every time. She barely knew him and he would often scold her for her shyness. Her real father for the last ten years had been her mother’s second husband, Frank. Frank adopted her when she was sixteen, and she had always thought of him as her true father. He had been a nurturing and caring dad, treating her no differently than if she was his own biological child.

“That’s what I’m talking about, honey. Brian isn’t your real father.”

“What the hell are you talking about? I thought that’s why you got married.”

“He married me because I was pregnant, yes, but not because he was the father. Your real father’s name is Daniel Chittle. We dated for a few years when we were teenagers. We loved each other very much. He was going to college at Michigan State University studying Fisheries and Wildlife. He wanted to work for the Department of Natural Resources when he graduated. He did a couple of summer internships there. He wasn’t ready to be a father, so we parted ways before you were born.”

Felicia sat almost motionless with an expression on her face that was both stunned and angry. She felt betrayed. Why had this secret been kept from her for all of these years? What purpose could it serve to make her think another man was her real father? “Mom…who else knows about this?”

Lorena snuffed out her cigarette and continued to crush and smush it into the bottom of the ashtray well beyond the point when the cigarette was extinguished. She appeared to be thinking about how to frame the remainder of the answers to her daughter’s questions. There was a long silence as she fumbled for the cigarette pack again, discovered it to be empty, and then rumpled it in her fist. “Everyone in the family knew. Your aunts and uncles, your grandparents, some close family friends.”

Felicia’s mother had never been able to keep a secret. It didn’t surprise Felicia in the least that everyone knew, and it hurt her very deeply that everyone knew but her. “I don’t understand this. I can’t believe everybody was keeping this secret and you’re just now telling me!” Felicia rose and started for the door at an angry pace.

“I was waiting for the right time!” Lorena followed her daughter towards the door. When Felicia realized this, she spun and faced her mother, a look of rage crossing her normally serene face.

“Let me go. I don’t want to talk to you right now!” Lorena grabbed her arm in an attempt to stop Felicia’s escape. “I MEAN IT MOTHER!” Felicia pulled away and darted out the door, slamming it behind her. No doubt this had awakened her father and he wouldn’t be happy. She flew down the stairs and out to her rusty Pontiac 6000, slamming this door as well when she climbed into the driver’s seat. She whipped the car in reverse, hot, salty, tears now flowing down her face freely. As she spun the heap around to drive away, she saw her mother in the rear view mirror standing on the steps, her face in her hands, sobbing.

This was the last time that Felicia had spoken to her mother, over a week before. She talked with her father, Frank, on the phone. She felt no ill will towards him over the matter. Frank had always been subject to Lorena’s strong will. When his wife had her mind set about something like this family secret, Frank had no power to go against her wishes. He told Felicia that many times he’d urged Lorena to spill the beans to his daughter, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He thought about speaking with Felicia about it himself, but in the end he felt that this was something she needed to hear from her mother, no matter how wrong he felt it was to keep her in the dark all these years. As usual, Frank knew all the right things to say and made her feel better. Since Frank and Lorena had gotten married, he had always acted as the referee when the two fought, and usually took Felicia’s side afterwards. The two were kindred spirits when it came to battles with mom.

As she hung up the phone that night, Felicia started to laugh at the absurdity of it all. She had three dads. The first one, who she thought was her real dad, Brian; then her adopted dad, Frank; and this new guy, the biological dad, Dan. I could be one of those people on Oprah, she thought. Her anger had now turned into curiosity. She wasn’t really all that angry at her mother anymore, but she would continue to punish her with silence for a while longer to get back at her for reading the diary in the first place.

The questions kept piling up in her mind. Who was this mystery man she was tied to by genetics only? What was he like? Did he ever think about her? Then there was the question that weighed the most heavily on her mind—would he want to meet me?

Felicia wasn’t one to take news like this and just file it away. By her nature, she wanted to act on it, so the next morning she went to work a little early. She had a paid internship working in the offices of the state capitol as a clerk. That day she was the first to report to her cubicle on the 6th floor of the Wilson Plaza Building. She felt like a detective as she performed her research. Just like Nancy Drew, Felicia thought. First she went online and checked the alumni directory for Michigan State University. There was no record for a Daniel Chittle. It just means he hasn’t paid his dues. Thinking that he may have stayed local after graduating from college, she looked at all the phone books for the surrounding cities, but found no Daniel Chittle. She googled the name, but only came up with hits for Chittle or Daniel separately.

Undaunted, she pulled out the large, bound edition of the Michigan State Government Directory. Looks like I’ll have to do this the old fashioned way. She riffled through the pages until she arrived at the D’s. Running her finger down the page, she came across the entry she was seeking. Using her pencil to punch the digits on her phone, she dialed the main office of the Department of Natural Resources. It was a long shot, she admitted, but she had to start somewhere. The officious sounding women at the other end answered on the third ring. “DNR, Judy speaking.”

“Hi Judy, this is Felicia Sorensen calling from the Governor’s office.”

She could hear Judy straighten up a bit and her voice brightened in tone. “Yes, Felicia, how can I help you?”

“We’re trying to locate someone in your department, the name is Daniel Chittle. Can you help me?”

“Sure, I can pull up the employment database here, Felicia.”

Felicia heard mad typing on the other end of the line. After about three minutes, the silence on the line was broken. “We have a Daniel Chittle who runs the ranger office at the Green Mountain State Park. Would you like his contact information?”

Felicia was stunned. She couldn’t believe she had hit pay-dirt on her first call.
“Ms. Sorensen, are you still there?”

Felicia snapped back to reality. “Yes, I’ll take that information.” As she wrote down the address and phone number, she could hardly contain herself. The emotions were difficult to describe. She was excited, but nervous, and quite frankly scared out of her mind at the prospect of meeting this man. Her next phone call was to her dad, Frank. It was his day off, so she wouldn’t be waking him. He was probably bow hunting in the back acreage of the farm today and would be having a lumberjack’s breakfast in the old farmhouse kitchen before he went out for the day. Sure enough, she caught him there.

He was concerned about Felicia’s plan. “Honey, I don’t think I approve of you going down there. We don’t know this man. We aren’t sure how he’ll react. What if he rejects you on the spot? You’d be devastated.”

“Dad, this is something I have to do. Maybe I could bring a friend with me.”

There was a contemplative silence. “I’ll go with you. I’ll stay in the car. I don’t have to meet him or even see him, but if you have any trouble, I’ll be there for you—for moral support if nothing else.”

“Dad, you don’t have to do that, I know how hard this probably is for you too.”
Her dad’s voice softened to the soothing parental tone that always put Felicia at ease. “I want to help you, honey. Don’t you worry about me at all. We can do this together. Call me when you have it set up and I’ll take the time off of work. I love you. Talk to you later.”

She hung up the phone and heaved a huge sigh. Now Felicia had to steel herself for the big call. As she pressed the numbers on the phone, her mind began to race. She could hardly focus her thoughts as the line at the Green Mountain State Park DNR office rang. After 6 rings, Felicia was about to hang up when a nice sounding woman answered. “Green Mountain State Park! Sorry for the wait, I was out at the front desk helping someone,” the woman exclaimed breathlessly.

Somehow, Felicia managed to compose herself and put on a professional demeanor. “Hi, my name is Felicia Sorensen and I’m a student at Michigan State University in Fisheries and Wildlife.” This was a complete lie. Felicia was a Political Science major and new virtually nothing about fish or wildlife. “I looked up Daniel Chittle in the alumni directory and I’d like to interview him for a paper I’m writing for class. Would that be possible?”

“Sure, hon. Let me look at his schedule. Hmmm. Can you make it Thursday at about noon? You can catch him at his lunch hour in the office. He spends most of the day out in the park.”

“Uhh, great, I’ll be there, thanks.” Felicia hung up the phone without saying goodbye. The woman on the other end must have thought her to be rude or just another scatterbrained college kid. At the moment, she indeed felt very scatterbrained.

On the 2 hour car ride to Green Mountain, Felicia had some time to think. She and Frank didn’t exchange many words. He knew she was deep in thought. Frank just gripped the wheel at ten and two and stared silently down the road. His old Ford F150 ground its way down the wet highway, rain pelting the windshield, the wipers whining as they made each pass. These were the only sounds heard in the car for most of the trip.

To Felicia, the pieces of her puzzling life now made much more sense. She had always felt that when she walked into the room at family gatherings that her aunts and uncles suddenly clammed up, like folks always do when you catch them talking about you. After a while, she dismissed it as childish paranoia. Now, she realized that at each family gathering, whether it was Thanksgiving, Christmas, a cousins’ birthday or a wedding, somebody in the family probably brought the subject up. I wonder if Lorena has told her yet? When is she going to tell her?

There were plenty of other times during her childhood that Felicia could think back to when her relatives were coy and cagey during discussions about her father, or rather the man she thought was her father. Her grandmother had always told her there was a big secret that she would tell her someday. Unfortunately, she died before she could live up to the promise. This was one of the entries that Felicia had made in her journal—one of the entries that her mother had undoubtedly read. Thinking about the lies that were told for all those years made her anger flare towards these people. The secret was like their private joke, one that she wasn’t in on. She hated them all a little for that.

Now Felicia knew why she never quite felt like she fit in with the family. She didn’t exactly look like her mother, and her head of naturally long, curly, dark hair was a family anomaly. She knew now that she must have gotten this from her biological father’s side of the family. The questions began to stream into her head again. How many other traits did she get from him? Did she have any stepbrothers or sisters? Were her real grandparents still alive? Did they even know about her? Did they think about her? Did her biological dad ever think about her? How could this whole other family exist all these years and never attempt to contact her? Thinking about this last question scared her. Maybe he didn’t want to think about her, hoped that she would never surface so he could continue to block her out of his memory; out of his life. Perhaps he wished she had never existed.

Sitting in the ranger’s office, Felicia continued to watch the raindrops on the window as if she was in a trance, all of these thoughts running through her mind like a movie playing itself on a continuous loop. She shuddered with a start when the nice woman came through the door and broke the silence.

“I just heard from Dan on the radio. He’s sorry about being late. He’ll be here in a minute.”

“Thanks,” Felicia said weakly. The nice woman left the door open and went back to her business, leaving Felicia alone again in the room. At the thought of actually meeting Dan, she suddenly had a strong urge to get up and leave. She would escape this dusty old field office and run out to the car where her dad Frank, her real dad as far as she was concerned, sat reading the newspaper awaiting her return. As she rose from her seat, a man entered the room. She sat quickly back down. She had to gut it out now.

“Sorry I’m late. I had a fire to put out. Well, not a real fire, but you know what I mean. In the park business, we try not to joke about that.”

He was in his late forties, with dark hair like hers. He had deep blue eyes, and was a fairly attractive man for his age. Fearing that he would see that she was staring, she looked away and stared again out the window. He was oblivious, and sat down at his desk. He pulled open a drawer and from it withdrew a large brown sack. He began to place the items from the sack on the desk as he spoke. “I’m afraid we’ll have to talk while I eat, I don’t get much time away from the park. So, you’re a student at M.S.U., eh?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.” Felicia could at least answer this question truthfully.

“So what’s your paper about? How can I help you?”
Felicia swallowed hard. All of the sudden her mouth was dry and her palms were cold and wet. She willed up the courage to get out of the chair, walk to the door, and shut it. When she did this, a puzzled look came across Dan’s face; the look then turned to worry as Felicia began to cry. She plopped herself back down in the chair.

“What’s wrong? Are you in some kind of trouble? If it’s about your paper, I’ll help you.” Dan began to feel uncomfortable and had no idea what to do at this point. Who was this crazy girl in his office?

“I’m not here to do a paper. I’m not a Fisheries and Wildlife student. I’m a Poli Sci student,” she squeezed out between sobs.

Dan became more desperate now, unsure of how to handle the situation. “Well, we can still talk about M.S.U. Where do you live? I used to be in a frater…”

“I’m your daughter.”

“What?”

“I’m your daughter, Dan. My name is Felicia Sorensen.”

“When is your birthday?”

“March 3rd. I’m twenty years old.”

“Your mother’s name?”

“Lorena Burrows at the time.”

“Oh, my God!” Dan bolted up, knocking over his thermos. Hot coffee soaked his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and ran along the table until it pooled under a sheath of papers on the corner of the desk. He paid no attention to the mess as he rushed to hug Felicia. They both held each other and cried. This was the reception that Felicia had hoped for, but it didn’t feel like she thought it would. Now that she had met her father, what was she supposed to do? She already had two other dads in her life. At this stage, was there room for one more? If he didn’t make the effort to stay in her life for the last twenty years, did she really want him in hers? The family secret was a secret no longer, but the effects of it were going to continue to be felt for years to come.

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>The hard breathing that can only result from deep sleep was the only sound that could be heard in the darkness, until a dirty yellow light clicked on, providing an eerie glow to the room. The source of the yellow light was a circa 1970’s glass table lamb with a shade stained from years of cigarette smoke and dust. It’s easy to see now that this is a cheap motel room, right down to the peeling wallpaper. The hand which earlier turned on the lamp grasps the bedcovers and quickly draws them back to reveal a beautiful naked woman. She slithers out of the bed and slinks her way to the bathroom. The sleep breathing sound stops, snorts, and then continues as the man in the bed rolls over to escape the bright piercing light that is now coming from the bathroom.

The attractive woman pulls back her hair, looks in the mirror, and then produces a hair tie which she uses to wrangle her hair into a neat pony tail. “Rawley, this time it’ll be 2,000 EC’s.”

The man in the bed stirs, and then rolls over to face her. “I’ll authorize a transfer from my account right now. Out of curiosity, why did it go up?”

“New rates for the new fiscal year which started in September.” The woman splashed water on her face and patted it dry with a paper-thin motel room towel.

“This corporate branding of the call girl trade is getting a little out of hand.” Rawley fumbled for his PDA on the night stand, then pulled out the stylus and whacked a few buttons. “There, the authorization is complete. You sure you don’t have more time to stick around? The Red Wings game is on and I’ve got this room for the whole night.”

“I have other appointments still this evening, hon. Sorry. I’m free next Thursday, though. I know there’s a game on that night. We can watch that after we finish for a period or two if you like.”

Rawley sat up and rubbed his eyes. His middle aged paunch hung over striped boxer shorts. “Naw, I’ve gotta work late that night. We’ve got a new band playing over at the casino and they need a sound technician to work their board. Maybe another time.”

“Alright then, you know how to get a hold of me. I’m outta here, baby.” The woman emerged from the bathroom fully dressed with her coat and overnight bag. She was about twenty-three, slim, athletic, attractive, and well put together. This clearly wasn’t the type of girl that Rawley Hayes would be able to score on his own.

She closed the door with a quick slam and Rawley was left to fend for himself. He glanced at his watch, and then exhaled sourly. Guess I’ll go home to the wife.

Rawley wasn’t a bad man. It all started out rather innocently. After eleven years of marriage, his sex life had gotten a little stale. Hell, it had gotten A LOT stale. His wife Gina’s idea of regular sexual activity was of the once per month variety and after eleven years of fidelity, Rawley was about ready to burst. At first naughty magazines were enough for him to get his fix. He had quite a collection stashed under the workbench in the basement. But after a while, they weren’t enough. Rawley sold them on eBay and made a nice sum of money for the pristine copies of Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler.

Then he moved on to internet porn. There were thousands of sites providing services to men like him in search of some adult entertainment. It was fun and stimulating for a while, but this activity too, lost its appeal eventually. Even the new interactive holographic internet porn left much to be desired. The technology required far too much imagination to make it seem real. The women looked like ghosts and the entire experience was creepy for Rawley.

Then old Raw started collecting videos. This was the best solution to his problems so far, and it wasn’t hard for him to find time to watch because his wife often worked long hours and the kids were in bed by 8:30. This was his “me time”. He used a credit card for his secret purchases that Gina didn’t know about so she wouldn’t discover his obsession. She never went into his workshop and certainly never opened the door which led to their well pump. Rawley had turned this room into his personal porno library. He had constructed neat little wooden shelves which lined the entire closet. All of his “material”, as he called it, was alphabetized and categorized by type. He even had a rating system. The spines of the videos and DVD’s were marked with gold stars according to how well he liked each one, with a five star being the best.

This sex fix lasted the longest. It was almost a year this time before Rawley started to feel like he needed more. All of this porn, unfortunately, made him yearn for more sexual stimulation. His wife was still on the monthly plan despite his constant pleadings and protests. She had nixed the idea of counseling and continued to insist that nothing was wrong with their sex life or their marriage. As far as Rawley was concerned, at this point he was left with little choice.

This is where Rawley was left with the first taste of his moral dilemma. He truly loved his wife and his family. He enjoyed his house, the minivan, the family vacations to the beach and Disneyworld, and the new riding mower he had gotten for Father’s Day last year. Everything in his life was great, except for his incompatibility with his wife sexually. He didn’t want any of this to change, and he also didn’t ever want to hurt his wife. Rawley thought long and hard about what constituted cheating. If I think about other women, even daydream about them, it couldn’t ever hurt my wife since she would never know as long as I don’t tell her. The same was true for regular dreams at night. No harm, no foul, thought Rawley. Even though “lusting in his heart” as Jimmy Carter put it, was technically a sin according to the bible, he wasn’t very religious and didn’t subscribe to this doctrine. This was new territory he was charting here, and there wasn’t a rulebook which had all the answers. Rawley decided he would make up his own rulebook.

He first determined that he could think about and dream about other women all he wanted. This was rule number one of his personal guidelines on sexual fair play for the 21st century. Then he began to contemplate his now regular habit of looking at other women naked. If he didn’t actually touch them or even meet them, there was no harm. Rule number two: pictures and movies of naked women are okay. He then expanded this rule. If it was okay to see women naked when he wasn’t involved in an actual sex act, then it was similarly okay to watch others participate in sex acts. Rule three: porno films and internet viewing of sex was okay.

This got Rawley to contemplate further. Why is it only okay for me to see women I don’t personally know naked? It was more exciting to see a woman he knew naked than some stranger on a video screen or a computer monitor. It made everything seem more real if you actually knew the person. Rawley had always flirted with a girl at work named Sara who worked as a slot representative, filling the one armed bandits with huge bags of coins and doling out hand paid jackpots to the casino winners. This workplace flirting was innocent and harmless, and Gina had even made remarks to Rawley that Sara was his “work wife” since they had so much in common and they hung out together on all of their breaks. Rawley created rule number four: flirting that didn’t lead to anything was okay. Later that day, as Rawley was firing off an email to Sara with the latest dumb blonde joke that was making the internet circuit, he added a short P.S. to his message. Have you ever had any nude pictures taken of yourself?

Rawley awaited the reply with uncontainable nervousness. What if she gets mad? What if she sues me for sexual harassment? What if she gets pissed off and tells my wife? After what seemed like hours, the reply came back. Why, do you want to see them? This is when the email attachments started flying back and forth with his pictures and her pictures, and with each missive one of them tried to trump the other with the level of risqué ness. Then, one day, it happened. One incredibly seductive photo came with the message; meet me at the Carriage Inn on Parkdale after work if you want to see the real thing.

Rawley had to go back to his home-made rule book to figure out how to handle this. If I just look, but don’t touch, it’s no different than if I’m just looking at the photos on my computer. It’s just like when I go to the strip club. Gina isn’t crazy about the idea of my going to Cheetahs on a Friday night, but she still allows me to do it. This is no different than that. Rule number five was now in the little blue notebook he had purchased at Wal-Mart when he came up with the idea of setting up his guidelines: Seeing live nude women without actually touching them is fair game. Rawley met up with Sara that night as planned and explained his rules to her. They didn’t seem to bother her. She met him for a couple of weeks of looking without touching each other until one day she came up with an idea. Rule number six was born: It was okay to pleasure yourself in the company of another woman as long as you didn’t touch her. Rawley figured that this was no different than taking care of himself while he watched internet or video pornography.

After a few months of these co-masturbation interludes, Sara again became tired of the game. Rawley also had to admit that their meetings weren’t as exciting as they used to be. He thought about oral sex. After all, the president himself had disqualified this as sexual intercourse. After agonizing over the situation for several days, Rawley decided that oral sex, by its nature, was still sex, and therefore, was still cheating.

Gina wasn’t happy with this revelation and although they continued to be friends, they remained nothing more than that; just friends. The meetings at the Carriage Inn on Parkdale ended, and Rawley was again left with a yearning in his life for sexual fulfillment. There had to be an answer, something that he hadn’t yet thought about. That’s when he met Devin Wylie.

One a normal Thursday evening, in an attempt to take care of his now aching libido with a new issue of Hustler, Rawley saw an ad in the back of the magazine which promised “Guilt free sex with gorgeous partners. Solve the moral dilemma of infidelity. Call 1-866-noguilt.” Rawley was strangely intrigued but also incredibly skeptical. He had tried the blow up dolls and other mechanical pleasure devices advertised in the back of these magazines before and was less than satisfied with the results. The promises in this particular ad were too good to pass up, however, so he called the number.

The pleasant woman who answered the phone took his information, and then asked for an authorization to run his credit and financials. Rawley began to get nervous. “What do you need that information for, may I ask?”

“Sir,” the woman on the other end said officiously, “our service is of the highest quality and therefore is expensive. Mr. Wylie doesn’t waste his time meeting with potential clients who cannot afford our service. I’m sure that you understand.”

“Of course, of course. I had to ask, you know.” He transmitted the data via his PDA by beaming it into the receptacle on his phone. “You should have it now.”

“Yes, its here.” There was a pause while she tapped a series of computer keys. “Everything seems to be in order. Mr. Wylie will meet you tonight at 6pm at The Bungalow on Eighth Street.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Excellent.” An audible click was heard and the line was dead. Rawley could hardly contain his excitement.

He showed up for the meeting early and sat at the bar. After his second white Russian, Mr. Devin Wylie finally arrived. He wore a dark suit, coat, tie, and hat. His starched white shirt was the only article of clothing he wore which wasn’t black, Rawley observed. He looked like an FBI agent from an old black and white film from the 1940’s.

“You are Mr. Hayes I presume?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

The man in black carefully placed a bright pink data card in front of Rawley. “On this disk you will find our inventory. Find a partner you like and call the number listed under the picture to arrange a meeting.”

Rawley swigged the last spit of his drink and slammed the glass down on the bar. “Well, before we go any further, I have a couple of questions. How can this be guilt free and without infidelity? I need to know—“

Wiley cut him off. “Find what you want, make the call, arrange the meeting. Everything will become clear once you meet your partner. Please trust me. What we are doing is highly illegal, and we have to take safeguards, you must understand.”

“Well at least have a drink with me. I’ll get you one.” Rawley turned to the bartender to get his attention. He turned back to Wiley. “What do you—“. But Wiley was gone. Rawley shrugged, took out his PDA, and placed the data card into it. There were pages upon pages of pictures of beautiful prospective partners with detailed information about all of them under their pictures. Each also had their own phone number.

It was just like the phone sex ads that he used to call. Rawley hadn’t made a rule specifically for the phone sex, but he figured it was covered by the existing set of rules somewhere. He didn’t call the chat lines very often anymore, after Gina had seen the strange listing on one of the phone bills and questioned it. The e-brochure, while very convincing, held no additional information which could answer Rawley’s questions. He had to pick a girl, call the number and arrange an appointment. Then, as Wiley said, everything will become clear.

He scrolled through the thousands of women and came upon one that reminded him of his first college girlfriend, a nymphomaniac that had always kept him satisfied. Rawley remembered that their breakup had been devastating to him. This was the last woman he had ever been with before he met Gina. The girl’s name on the brochure was listed as Erin. There was no last name given. Every girl in the grid had a unique and unduplicated name. It was almost like picking out a brand of automobile.

He called the number the next day and made the appointment with Erin herself. She sound extremely sexy, and although she was obviously an excellent actress, she genuinely sounded excited to meet with Rawley. He made Erin aware on the phone that he wasn’t sure whether or not he was going to go through with the whole thing, but he was intrigued enough to meet with her so he could get the answers to all of his questions. How can this not be cheating? How could it possibly be guilt free? It certainly wasn’t legal according to Mr. Wiley, so how can it possibly be morally correct?

Rawley showed up for his meeting at his favorite hotel room where he had his liaisons with Sara. It seemed like just as good a place as any to him. Erin arrived right on time. She was twice as gorgeous in person as she appeared to be in the e-brochure. She sat on the bed in her red Lycra skirt and tossed her overnight bag next to the bed. “Shall we get down to business?” she purred.

“I have a few questions for you first.” Rawley stood over her like a police interrogator. “How can I have sex with you without cheating on my wife? Will we be having actual intercourse?”

Erin smiled and looked Rawley directly in the eyes. She had an heir of confidence about her. “Well, darling, for starters, let me ask you a question. Have you ever used a sex toy or other device to get yourself off?”

Rawley was taken back by her directness but then remembered where he was and what he might be about to do. “Well, yes, I have.”

“Did you consider this cheating on your wife?”

“No, of course not.”

“Well, this is the same thing.”

Rawley stood still with his arms folded in front of him and furrowed his brow. “What the hell are you saying?”

Erin’s smile was even wider now. “Human sexual intercourse by definition takes place between two human beings, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, I’m not human.”

Rawley shifted nervously from one foot to the other. “What?”

Erin pulled up her blouse to reveal her extremely firm abdomen. She took her thumb and her forefinger and plunged them into her sexy slit of a bellybutton, then twisted them. Just below her breasts, a small door opened. Rawley’s jaw dropped. He was staring at mass of circuitry and wiring. “You’re a damned android! I thought they were decades away from creating anything like you! This is amazing! My God!” Rawley stood in front of her, stunned.

“So you see, it can’t be cheating because I’m not even human, Rawley. Shall we get on with it now?”

Rawley’s mind went back to the rulebook. It made sense. It wasn’t the biological, physical act of sex that was morally wrong as much as it was the emotional betrayal that was committed by engaging in such a personal act with another person. Erin wasn’t another person. She couldn’t feel attachment or love. She was no threat to Gina’s marital relationship because she couldn’t have a relationship. She didn’t even want to have a relationship with anyone. She only wanted what she was programmed to want and that was to pleasure men. It was the perfect setup, the answer he had been waiting for all of these years.

Later that night Erin left him completely satisfied for the first time since he had married Gina. After she made her exit, Rawley took out his blue binder to record the final rule. In his best handwriting he inked it in. Number seven: It wasn’t cheating on your wife if your partner was an android.

>Turning Point (Short Short Story)

Posted: September 29, 2005 in Short Stories

>Josh awoke with a start and bolted upright, bathed in a cold sweat. Confused and disoriented, he looked around the room frantically. His mind raced as sweat trickled down his nose and large drops fell onto the already dampened  bed cover. He mopped his brow with his shirtsleeve. Where the hell am I? What time is it? Is it day or night? As consciousness took hold of him, his mind slowly began to regain some focus, but he was in that half awake/half dream state where everything seems surreal. He continued to scan the room with his eyes. Is that a figure in the corner? What the hell is that? Did it just move? Josh thrust his hand over to his nightstand and swept it across the cluttered surface until his fingers wrapped around a small object. Reaching back behind his head, he hurled it towards the shadowy form and at the same time switched on the lamp with his other hand. Instantly the room was bathed in light. No mysterious figure awaited him in the corner, but on the floor, beneath the dent on the wall it created, laid the broken pieces of his cell phone. Josh exhaled slowly and sunk his head back down into the sweat-soaked pillow; the rush of adrenaline now over; a momentary feeling of relief came over him.

His mind began to clear. He was in his bedroom—back in his bedroom actually. It was Saturday night, or…maybe early Sunday morning? This wasn’t the first time Josh had woken up this way. Every few months Josh awoke in a similar fashion. First there was confusion, then realization. They had taken him again, used him for whatever fiendish purpose they had, and plopped him back into bed when they were done.

That was almost two years ago. As usual, he didn’t tell his family or friends about the encounter. Who the hell would believe him, anyway? The countless kooks who showed up on Maury Povich and Sally Jesse Raphael played a large part in discrediting people like him who were legitimate targets of them. This had been happening since he was six years old. Of course as a child it seemed more like a nightmare than an actual occurrence. He would awaken in the middle of the night in a trance-like state in his room, awash in a green glow of hard bright light. Paralyzed with fear, able to only move his eyes, he darted them around the room in an attempt to locate the invaders. Then they would appear, as if materializing out of the walls. They looked just like they had been portrayed in the movies and on TV. Pale skin, large bulbous eyes, slits for a nose, with a wiry body shape. When he got a little older, Josh started calling them “The Grays” like Mulder on The X-Files.

The routine was always the same. After being taken, he would awake early the next morning in the pitch dark, his mind racing and his breath coming in large gasps, as if he had just emerged from a pool of deep murky water after a near-drowning. His young mind, unable to process what had happened, pushed the episodes far into his subconscious where the bad dreams about the boogey man and other similar beasties were stored.

There were reprieves, however. Sometimes the visits would stop for a year or two–but never for more than two years. After long lapses such as these it almost started to feel to Josh as if the abductions had never happened at all. Perhaps they were a recurring nightmare or those sleep disorders he saw on the Learning Channel where people feel like they are paralyzed and have strange dreams while their eyes are wide open. His mind had either found a way to push the memories aside or worse yet–they had a way of making the memories fade. Unlike E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the experiences weren’t at all interesting or life-changing. They were absolutely terrifying. No matter how many times it happened, no matter how regular these encounters where, they never became any less frightening. The Grays, with their emotionless black eyes, their strange metallic instruments moving across his body and the odd electronic devices humming and clicking were sheer torture. They performed their brutish tasks with cold, uncaring, soullessness as if they were dissecting a frog or grasshopper in eighth grade science class.

Josh spent all of his free time researching the phenomenon. He belonged to all the web groups and encounter groups and psychological studies. In the meetings they talked and commiserated. They cried and they prayed and they tried to make sense of it all. About 9 out of 10 people in the groups were nut-cases or delusional psychotics, but there were the occasional others like himself who were genuine abductees. Despite all of the counseling, regressive hypnosis, and psycho-babble he endured over the years, none of it had healed the pain he felt from the encounters or the violation he lived with every day of his life.

It was out of pure frustration and desperation that Josh got the idea. In all of his intensive research, there was one approach to the phenomenon he had never encountered. All of the victims of these violations were passive participants. In the groups they blathered on about how helpless and weak they felt and how powerless they were. Josh had a flash of inspiration. Who said it had to be that way? It was during one of the “down” periods that Josh made this revelation. They hadn’t bothered him in months. He often wondered why they took these breaks. Were they off examining other subjects? Did they take vacations? Maybe their mode of travel took one or two years from wherever they came from.

So he began to train. First there was the hours of karate at the Parkdale Community Center taught by an ex-Marine Drill Sergeant who insisted everyone call him “Stubbs”. Stubbs had two fingers blown off by shrapnel in the first Gulf War and wore the nickname like a badge of honor. With Stubbs’ help, Josh achieved the black belt more quickly than any of the other students. Next, Josh started weight training at the fancy new gym down at the Meadowbrook strip mall. Gary the slightly effeminate body-builder and professional trainer helped him to “blast his quads” and “pump up his pecs”. For further protection, he procured a Glock 9mm handgun from the dirty little gun shop that was the front of Gus Deter’s Mason Street house and joined the Oakland gun club. Three nights a week at the range for target practice with the club plus a combat handgun class sponsored by the Oakland County chapter of the NRA made him sharp with the pistol. The instructor, Nick Logan, was a real Michigan Militia type. He had a small one bedroom home on forty acres of wooded land that he built himself. He used windmills to generate his own electricity and lived “off the grid” as he used to say. Nick had his own Ham radio station and he would broadcast his opinions of the “gov’ment” and “how they were coming to take all our freedoms.” If Nick had a listener-ship of more than 6 people the “gov’ment” would probably have come and paid him a visit to discuss his revolutionary ideas, or maybe why he hadn’t paid his taxes in almost ten years (because taxes were unconstitutional, don’t you know). Of course, the focus of the classes was how to stop intruders from assaulting you in your own home. If old Nick only knew exactly what kind of intruders Josh was preparing to repel…

Now, after months of intense training, Josh was lean, steely, and coiled like a spring—ready and aching for an encounter with Them. They had never been away for more than 24 months, and he knew the time was coming soon. It had been just over 23 months. This time, Josh was ready for them. He examined his past abduction experiences carefully, piecing them together from his journal entries, and he formulated a plan. Josh determined that there was always a period of time, maybe 20-30 seconds, between when he awoke bathed in the green light and when the whole body paralysis actually started. He remembered that he could still move his arms and legs as the paralysis slowly spread from the center of his body out to his limbs. If he fought against the paralysis during this short interval with his newly strengthened muscles and increased mental toughness, if he could reach the pistol under the pillow, maybe he had a chance to take out a couple of the little gray bastards and scare them away for good. As Josh finally drifted off to sleep that night, he repeated the mantra to himself, “not this time, not this time.”

>Lucky Day (short story)

Posted: January 10, 2005 in Short Stories

>Louis turned his key in the ignition. The car didn’t turn over. Instead, it made an annoying electrical humming sound punctuated by impotent clicks. Disgusted, he crawled over the stick shift to the passenger door, unlocked it, and crawled out of the car. As he left the car, his foot caught the seat belt and he tumbled onto the street, right into a rain puddle that had formed in a low spot near the curb. Muddy water now soaked his shirt, and both his hand and his forehead were scraped raw by the concrete as he tried to break his fall. Blood dripped into his eye from the forehead cut and he mopped it away with his shirt sleeve. Pieces of dirt and gravel were imbedded in his hand, and the scrapes stung like hell. He made his way back to his feet and slammed the door shut. If my stupid driver’s side door had been operable, I never would have had to climb out through the other door in the first place. Nothing worked on the car and unfortunately Louis couldn’t afford to fix it on his salary. He moved at a brisk pace down the sidewalk, looked at his watch, and double timed it when he realized he had about two minutes to make it to the bus stop three blocks away. Bloody, muddy, and wet, he must have been quite a sad sight as he booked down the street that morning.

When he rounded the corner, Louis noticed a rusty station wagon that was in even worse shape than his old beater. There didn’t appear to be a working light anywhere on the vehicle. The windshield held a spider’s web of assorted connecting cracks from years of taking pebble hits on the freeway. Different colored body parts were apparently used to repair old accidents. This was evidenced by a blue front quarter panel, a red rear door, and a yellow hood. Between the transplanted parts and the horrible case of rust, it was difficult to tell that the car’s original color was metallic blue. The front bumper was dented and corroded. One side of it was held to the frame of the wagon with cheap plastic clothes line. The back window was gone. In its place was a sheet of plastic held to the frame with duct tape. The rear wheel of the wagon was up on a jack. A haggard looking woman dressed in clothes that the Salvation Army would have rejected worked the handle of the jack feverishly. Inside the car, three children dressed in similar rags had their noses pressed to the window, watching her progress. The oldest of the three couldn’t have been over four years old. What looked to be all of their worldly possessions filled the rear of the station wagon. A similar bundle of assorted furniture and trash bags full of household items was strapped to the roof with more of the cheap clothes line and about two dozen assorted bungee cords.

Louis’ heart sank at the sight. He was moved to talk to her. “You need any help?”

The woman looked up. She was young, maybe twenty. Her long hair had no style to it and she didn’t wear any makeup. Still, you could see that she would be quite attractive when she cleaned up. She looked up towards Louis but didn’t make eye contact. You could tell that her present situation embarrassed her. When the woman spoke, her tone of voice was shy and self conscious, “Uh, I think I’ve got it, thanks.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’ve changed the tires on this thing ten times before. As she talked, she reached down and grabbed another lug nut and spun it onto a peg. She spoke again without looking back at Louis. “You know, you’re about the fortieth person to pass me today, and nobody else asked if I needed any help. I appreciate it.”

Louis could see the bus stop another block from where he was standing. Business people stood around drinking their Starbucks or reading newspapers. He glanced at his watch and then started off again. I can still make it if I hustle. He made it one step away when the woman stopped him. “I hate to ask this…” She averted his gaze sheepishly. “But actually, there is something you could help me with. This is very embarrassing, but do you have any spare cash you could loan me for gas?” She gestured towards the kids. “We’re trying to get to their grandmother’s house in Greenville. There’s supposed to be some factory work opening up there and we’re trying for a new start. I’d be happy to send the money to you when I get back on my feet.” Louis looked back to the bus stop. The bus had pulled in and the business people were piling in. He looked back to the woman, then to the bus again. If he waited for the next bus, he’d be late for work and would have to endure the wrath of his rage-aholic boss, a man who enjoyed yelling at him at a personal space invading distance, his nose almost touching Louis’ as his hot stinky breath blew in his face. His boss, Mr. Wheeler, berated him almost daily in front of everyone else on his office floor.

He looked at the woman again more closely. This time she didn’t dodge his gaze. For a moment, he was lost in her eyes. They were a deep color of blue, or were they green? Where they changing as he looked at her? He shook off the momentary daze and reached down into his pocket. After rummaging around thoroughly through his wallet and both pockets, he realized that all he had was about seven dollars and some assorted change. This was all the money he had until payday on Thursday, three days away.

“Here you go.” Louis held the money out in his fist. She finished spinning the last lug nut tight and stood up to accept the money.

“Thank you so much. Let me get some paper so you can give me your address.”

“Really, that’s not necessary, I…” Before he could finish, she ducked into the car and pulled out a brown paper bag. She ripped it into two pieces. Louis scrawled his address on one half of the bag with her insistence. As he tried to pull away from her and make his way to the next bus, she grabbed his arm again.

“Wait.” The woman took the other half of the bag, wrote a few words on it, then held it to her heart and closed her eyes. Her dirty hands were clutched over the improvised document and her mouth moved silently, as if in prayer. Then, as suddenly as she had started her meditation, it ended. Her eyes opened and she thrust the paper at Louis. Feeling awkward, he shoved the paper into his pocket and briskly walked away.

“Good luck to you,” Louis managed to blurt as he left. When he made his way to the bus stop, he turned to look back at the woman, but the station wagon was gone. All that remained was a spot of grease in the road that invariably must have come from the old jalopy she drove.

The clock in Louis’ kitchen read 10:30 p.m. Keys jingled at the lock. The door opened and Louis came through the passageway looking haggard, tired, and still dirty from his ordeal that morning. He tossed his coat on the back of a chair and his keys into a dish next to his phone with Dilbert printed on it. Louis emptied the other items from his pocket into the dish as well. Among these was a toothpick, a few screws from the back of a computer, and a tiny screwdriver used for work on small electronics. He shoved his hand into the other pocket to empty it and pulled out the wadded up piece of brown paper bag. On the paper in neat cursive lettering was printed a certificate of sorts. This entitles the bearer to one day of good luck. It was like something a kid would make for a Father’s Day present. Louis chuckled to himself and took the certificate over to a small bulletin board above his phone table. He took a tack from the board and impaled the certificate to the board with a thwack. Louis made his way to the refrigerator, took out a beer, and finished half of it in one gulp. Drained physically, he made his way to the bedroom, flopped into bed, and fell into a near coma. That night he had strange dreams of rusty blue station wagons and the dirty haired blonde woman.

The next morning Louis wiped away the steamy coating on the mirror with his hand and stared at the image left there. The face staring back at him was worn but not old, average but not unattractive. His hairline had receded a bit, but his hip hairstyle drew attention away from the fact. Louis started to shave, and then paused. After giving his face the once over, he went back to work, scraping away all of his facial hair except for a neat goatee. It’s nice to have a change once in a while. Without change every day is the same. Monotonous. Boring.

Outside, a chilly wind blew. Red, brown, and yellow leaves swirled on the breeze and danced for a moment before crashing back down to earth. It was a perfect fall day, sunny but comfortable, with blue skies and puffy white clouds. Louis had awakened on time for a change. He smiled as he looked out the bathroom window and saw the sun shining. It had rained for the last week, and the forecast was for more rain today. Stupid weatherman is never right. Stepping on the scale, he was happy to find that he’d finally hit his target weight. All those extra workouts must have done the trick.

Louis fought his way to the back of the closet and found one of his old suits that hadn’t fit him for eight months. That’s when his wife left him. After that the pounds had slowly added on. Only recently had he started going back to the gym to shave off the extra weight. He hadn’t gone for his early morning workouts that often lately, so he was surprised that he was down to his goal weight. As Louis slipped on the old suit paints he found that they fit him again—even better than before. He modeled for himself in the mirror, slipping his hand in his pocket like they do in the J. Crew catalog. His hand brushed across paper. He pulled it out to reveal a neat fifty dollar bill. Louis thought this strange as he usually didn’t carry around this much cash. It seems like I would have remembered misplacing this much money. Must be my lucky day.

As Louis made his way down the stairs to the street, he thought, how many times have I said that and never given that worn phrase a second thought? He put the $50 in his wallet next to the stack of ATM receipts. Despite the good mood this morning’s events had put him in, Louis let out a brief sigh at the prospect of facing another day at his incredibly boring job. Although he was well educated and had fantastic experience in his field, his ex-wife had made him move to this tiny northern Michigan town to pursue her own career, forcing him to quit his lucrative job in Los Angeles as a talent agent and take whatever he could get here in small town hell. He was working as an I.T. help desk technician for the local salt mining company making a meager hourly wage. This left him high and dry when his wife informed him that she was filing for divorce so she could marry her boss. She had been the family breadwinner.

Since he was ready for work uncharacteristically early, Louis figured he’d try to start his rusty old orange clunker again. 1980 was the last year they made the Ford Pinto, and people were always telling him how amazing it was that his was still on the road, given its horrible reputation and advanced age. He received chuckles from cars in the other lane at stoplights from time to time when they saw the antique. The leers bothered him, but his meager salary wouldn’t allow him to buy even a good used car, let alone a new one. Regardless of the fact that the car had been rusting in a dormant state in the street for months, he would continue to try to start the car every day because he loathed taking the bus. There was never enough room for him to get a decent seat except next to the wild haired woman who constantly talked to herself in the third person; and the bus always smelled of urine—probably in part thanks to the wild haired woman. A feeling of dread ran through his mind as he unlocked the door and put the key in the ignition, ready for another day of vehicular Russian roulette. He spun the key. To his surprise, it started on the first try as if there had never even been a problem. Louis motored away happily, made it to work without hitting any traffic and arrived at the concrete architectural nightmare of an office building of the Morton Salt Company in plenty of time to observe the scene which was developing. There were fire trucks, police cars, and other official looking vehicles in the parking lot and the building was cordoned off with yellow caution tape barring the entrance.

In the parking lot he saw Dennis from Marketing coming back out of the building to his car. Louis waved and called over to him. “What the hell is going on here?”

Dennis stopped and stood by his car, his face breaking into a huge grin, “There was a gas leak. We all have the day off—with pay!” Dennis made the “raise the roof” gesture and hopped into his car. Here was another piece of evidence to support the idea that Louis was having an unusually good day. He paused for a moment to reflect on his situation and a large smile broke across his face. Maybe the fates are with me today. This really could be my lucky day! That certificate the woman gave me must somehow be real…but how can I know for sure? He thought the whole idea was silly, but he was still strangely intrigued by the idea. Maybe we never have any luck that we weren’t intended to have. What if luck isn’t a chance happening, but rather a force of nature that can instantly bind itself to you for a short period of time and change your fate for the better? Perhaps we don’t make our own luck as the old saying tells us; it comes to us through its own volition and even though it may seem random, it isn’t.

Before he did anything drastic, Louis stopped off at the 7-11 to do a little experiment. He wondered to himself, how big should I go? Will I anger the luck gods if I buy the power-ball super lotto ticket worth millions? What if I only have one shot of luck left and I use it up on a little scratch-off ticket? Not wanting to be greedy, he bought a Mad Hatter instant ticket and started to scratch off the little silver boxes. On the face of the ticket, there was the Hatter himself, sipping his tea with that wild look in his eyes. The Hatter’s gaze was creepy and off-putting, but Louis had decided to buy the top ticket in the clear plastic dispenser regardless of the name or type in order to keep the experiment more scientific. The first spot he scraped off was a top hat. The Hatter continued to leer at him as he dug into the second silver spot. The ticket now revealed two identical top hats. Louis frantically flipped the ticket over and checked the little paragraph on the back outlining the rules. After weeding through twelve sentences of legal mumbo jumbo that didn’t make any real sense, he read that revealing just one more top hat meant he had won the maximum prize of $3,000. Louis began to break into a cold sweat and felt woozy. Trying to remain inconspicuous, he stood in the corner of the store next to the day old hotdogs revolving in the machine. The sickly sweet smell of the old meat mixed with the aroma from the cheese and chili dispenser made him sick to his stomach. He looked around the store, taking inventory of its occupants. There was the pimply faced clerk, who seemed to be busy digging his finger into his ear and inspecting the contents he pulled out; and a rather rotund woman piling through the chocolate milk cooler inspecting the expiration dates of several brands and sizes. Neither one of them paid him any attention. Louis held his breath as he used his fingernail to scratch out the last little silver box. Top hat. Louis’s head began to spin. His experiment had yielded the proof he was looking for–it was time for the next step. In minutes he was on the interstate motoring to the Schwartz Creek Raceway.

Now Louis was faced with another dilemma. How do I pick a horse? If my luck is so good, does it mean that whichever horse I pick will win? Can I just throw a dart or do I need to search for a sign which would lead me to the pony which would yield success? He decided to put the $3,000 from the scratch off ticket on the long-shot, a mottled looking nag named Dream Weaver. The name held no special meaning to him; he figured the horse was purchased by one of the Indians from the local tribe out of his monthly per capita checks he got from his tribe’s casino profits. The Little Lake Casino was where his wife worked as the Marketing Director along with her new boyfriend. His research from the tip sheet he had told him that Dream Weaver hadn’t ever won a race or even placed. He was probably just a hobby horse or a tax write-off for his owner. Louis decided to bet on this miserable specimen for two reasons. One, he wanted to prove that the luck was with him no matter how he chose the winner, and two, he figured if he was right, I might as well go for the biggest payout. Go big or go home.

It took all of Louis’ composure to contain himself as he made his way to the betting window. His stomach acid churned and angry growls came from his belly. He placed the entire $3,000 that the pimply clerk paid him for the instant ticket win on Dream Weaver. He hadn’t had this much money in his hands since he lived in L.A., and he couldn’t believe he was pissing it away on a horse race. As soon as the betting agent gave him his ticket stub, he ran to the restroom and relieved himself of his breakfast in one of the nasty old wooden toilet stalls. As the retching subsided, he rested his head on the cold tile of the wall and thought; I hope to God I’m right about this.

Louis couldn’t even go down to the grandstands to watch the race. Instead, he stood at the concession booth, watching the closed circuit television coverage of the race with his hands clamped over his eyes. Through the small crack he created between his first and second finger, he saw the race unfold. Dream Weaver walked away from the rest of the field. He led from the gate to the finish line. He even set a track speed record. Louis stared at the greasy television screen, refusing to believe the name at the bottom in white lettering next to the first place win graphic: Dream Weaver. The $3,000 had turned into $300,000. The betting agent printed him a cashier’s check, tore it cleanly from the printer, and handed it over to Louis. “I ain’t never seen anything like it. That horse was lucky to even finish the race, let alone win it. This must be your lucky day, pal.” Flush with his good fortune and new found riches, but still in shock, Louis needed a drink to calm his nerves.

He stumbled his way over to The Jockey Club and ordered a double scotch. He struck up a flirtatious conversation with the blonde bombshell that brought him his drink. She wore a black apron over a tight t-shirt and hip huggers that showed off her thong underwear when she bent over the tables to wipe them down after the customers had left. When her shirt lifted, it revealed a small shamrock birthmark on the small of her back. The attractive waitress’ hair was pulled back in a pony tail to reveal a face which was both attractive and friendly. She wasn’t a cover model; she was more of the “hot girl next door” type. Louis watched her as she worked, observing the way she interacted with the other gamblers in the dark and dirty little track bar. As he finished his double scotch, the booze had tranquilized him enough so he could stop shaking and breathe a little more easily.

Feeling confident, he began a conversation with the waitress. Surprisingly, she responded positively and after talking for a while, Louis found that they had a lot in common. She had moved here from L.A. where she worked at a talent management company as an assistant. It turns out that they knew a lot of the same people and traveled in some of the same circles. She moved back home to take care of her ailing father and the only job she could get here was as a waitress. She had always hoped to get back into show biz someday, though. Louis had never even had a conversation with a woman this stunning. She was what he had considered “out of his league.” Today anything is possible. He lost track of time as they talked away the evening. The waitress, whose name was Tammy, had been neglecting her other customers to spend most of her time with Louis. One drink turned into 7or 8 as they talked and flirted, and he lost track of what happened next. He did remember asking Tammy what she was doing after work, and that she had offered to drive him home because of his condition. He also knew that he hadn’t told her about the cashier’s check in his coat pocket.

When he awoke the next day, everything felt different. He could tell that the good mojo was gone. Outside, a cold October rain fell. Rain pelted the window and the red and brown leaves now stuck to the wet window as they were knocked out of the trees by raindrops. Tammy was no longer in his apartment. A hastily jotted note informed Louis that she had a great time but was required to be at work for the morning Bloody Mary rush at the track bar. He wondered if the magic would still work on her today, after the good luck certificate had expired.

As usual, his alarm didn’t go off and he was destined to be late for work again. The car was still at the track, but Louis was sure that even if it were here, he wouldn’t be able to start it today. When he arrived at his workplace, the gas leak had been fixed, and his tech desk job was just as boring as ever. Mr. Wheeler still gave him his daily berating session in front of the rest of the staff. All in all it was business as usual in the life of Louis Morris, except for the message on his voicemail from the day before that had been left by his headhunter. Louis had been trying to get back into show business since his wife had left him, but Rodney, his headhunter, had stopped returning his calls months ago. He told him that nobody wanted a talent agent who had spent the last six years working an IT help desk—he had been out of the business for too long. This was apparently no longer true because the message Rodney left on his machine said that there was some interest in Louis from one of the studios in Los Angeles. The position sported a nifty title and a substantial raise over his old talent agent’s pay.

Louis hasn’t had another “lucky day” like that one since. All of the subsequent days have been better since then, though. He still has the $300,000. He married Tammy, got the job, and bought a new car. Both of them moved back to Los Angeles and with his new salary they managed to buy a little bungalow in the Hollywood Hills. Still, he wonders how he would have done things differently if he knew then what he knows now. When he’s in a pensive mood, Louis often thinks of how he could have maximized his 24 hours of luck by planning better. If I had only realized sooner what was happening. What if I hadn’t stayed in The Jockey Club but instead had gone back down to the track to continue betting and grew my money to an even larger sum? What if I had bought a $23 million lotto ticket instead of a $3,000 scratch-off? The questions plague him constantly and he finds it difficult to drift off to sleep on nights when they spin through his mind.

Louis never told Tammy about the special day, afraid that divulging the secret to anyone would void the possibility of it ever happening again. If it does happen, though, he’s ready this time. There’s a little schedule of how he would play out the entire day again if he ever gets the chance. Whenever he’s down or bored, he pulls it out of the top desk drawer and tweaks it a little. Louis never saw the poor woman in the station wagon again, but he did get his seven dollars back in the mail a few months later in a plain brown envelope with no return address or note. The postmark was from some town in Montana.

Louis keeps the money in a special pocket in his wallet and doesn’t spend it, hoping that he can pass it on to another unfortunate person who needs it more than him. Perhaps we make our own luck through our good deeds. As the years passed, Louis figured he’d never get another lucky day. We only get one day like that; one day when we just can’t lose, and no more. Some people may let it pass without even realizing it. The trick is to recognize it and take advantage of it. Will you be ready if it happens to you?