A Loosed Spirit

Today’s boot camp prompt is:


Write a story featuring  a Ouija board, a search engine,  and a self-help  book.

Summer time is the worst for me. I like the cold of winter. I like sitting on the couch with a blanket wrapped around me and a warm cup of hot chocolate in my hands. I love the smell of snow. I love the way it covers the world and makes it feel like a completely different place. I love the way it feels when the soft flakes land and melt on my face. I like to hear the crunch of hard packed snow under my feet.

So as I sat on the sofa with the windows open and multiple fans strategically placed throughout the house blowing as hard as their hardware would allow, I tried to think of that beautiful time of year. A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. I stood and put on shorts and a tank top before answering.

“Look what I have!” My over-zealous friend Katie said, displaying the wooden board dramatically in front of her. I turned and sat back down on the sofa. She shut the door behind her and sat on the floor in front of me.

“Come on. It’ll be fun! I found it at a yard sale. They only wanted a quarter for it! Can you believe that? It’s in such good condition. It’s practically brand new!” I slowly rolled off the couch and onto the floor across from her. I had never used an Ouija board before and honestly didn’t know much about them except that they were used to speak to spirits.

“Why are you so excited about this?” I asked.

“Because my mom would never let me have one as a kid. She called them ‘the devil’s tool” and wouldn’t allow one in her house.” 

“And if I say the same thing?”

“I’ll call bullshit because I know you don’t care.” I shrugged. Fair enough. The truth was the truth.

“Why are you acting so blah?” She asked with slumped shoulders. She really was the yin to my yang; always bubbly, never a care in the world, excited about everything.

“I’m hot. I hate summer.” She rolled her eyes.

“But summer is when you get to go swimming and tan up and wear short skirts and less in general.” I stared at her.

“Are we simming right now? Where’s your tan?” She scowled at me.

“Summer just started, I haven’t had a chance to lay out yet. Now are we going to do this or what?” I shrugged again.

“Sure.” She clapped with excitement and set the board down with its planchette on top. She put her fingers on top on used her head to motion for me to do the same. I complied.

“What should we ask?” She looked up in thought.

“Why don’t we start with the basics? Is there a spirit in this room?” We sat quietly; our fingers resting gently on the heart shaped piece of wood.

“Please, if there is anyone here, let us know.” Katie was looking up into the air, waiting expectantly. The planchette did not move. “Your apartment is old. There has to be something living here.”

“Yeah. Me.” I replied wanting to laugh at her assumption that ghosts existed in every single old building.

We asked the same question in different ways for nearly 30 minutes before I called it quits. I stood and sat back on the sofa where I could feel the wind from the fans better.
“It’s just not going to happen I guess.” I said sinking into the cushions. Katie’s shoulders dropped.

“I was sure there would be a spirit here.” She stood and sat next to me.

“Not so close. It’s too hot for that.” I said pushing her a little.

“Maybe we didnt do it right. Maybe we need to wait until dark and light some candles or something.”

“I think if a spirit were around, it wouldn’t care what time of day it is or what lights are on.” She shrugged. It was like all the energy had been sapped from her. I reached over the arm of the couch and into a book caddy. I handed her a book.

“I think my mom should have given that to you instead of me.”

“How to enjoy the here and now: a guide to self-love and acceptance of the present.” She looked over at me incredulously after reading the title aloud. 

“You know, because you’re searching for what’s in the past.” I laughed when she threw the book back at me.

“I thoroughly enjoy the present!” She grabbed the remote from the side table. “Although I may change my mind if I keep hanging out with you.” She turned the TV on and found a show for us to watch. While the people talked and the “studio audience” laughed at just the right moments (and Katie along with them), I grabbed my phone and did some research on this Ouija board.

“We didn’t say goodbye.” I spit out casually. Katie turned so violently she nearly slapped me in the face.

“So we left it open?” I shrugged.

“I guess. People are saying you need to say goodbye.” She jumped off the couch.

“What was this on when we stopped?” She asked pointing to the planchette.

“I don’t remember. I wasn’t paying that much attention. What’s it on right now?”

“The 1.” I’m not a superstitious person, but in that moment my chest tightened.

Pop the Trunk

Today’s boot camp prompt is:

Breaking Down 

A tire blows out as you’re in the car with someone on the verge of his/her own breakdown. Stuck in a small  town, you’re about to do something  you haven’t done in years.

“Just calm down.” I was saying. “It’ll work itself out.”

“No it won’t.” Tears were streaming down Luciana’s face. “I was just fired for being late too often. My boyfriend is the reason I was late and now he’s left me, rent is due in two weeks, I have barely enough money for food, let alone gas to drive around trying to find a job.” I felt bad for her, but she had honestly put herself in this situation.

“I still don’t understand how it was your boyfriend’s fault that you were always late.”

“I told you!” She said blowing her nose. “He wouldn’t let me get into the bathroom while he was getting ready so I’d have to wait until he got done and by then I’d be running behind.” She could have just woken up earlier, but I didn’t think saying that would help matters right now. 

I was about to console her again when the car jerked to the side and a thumping noise sounded from toward the back. Lucy slowed the car down and pulled off to the side.

“Great now I have a flat.” She dropped her head against the steering wheel as her shoulders slumped forward. She was making it seem like this was the end of the world.

“Do you have a spare?” Her ponytail bobbed as she shrugged, then nodded. I got out of the car and looked around. There were cornfields on both sides of the road for as far as I could see. This actually was a bad time to get a flat tire. We hadn’t seen a car in a solid 20 minutes and I still saw none in sight. 

I checked my cell and found next to no service. I tried to call my insurance company to see if they could send someone, but the signal was so bad that the agent couldn’t verify who I was or what I needed. I hung up after trying to explain it a fourth time. I looked up and down the road again, still no sign of a car.

I knocked on Lucy’s window. She rolled it down and stared at me with pink eyes.

“Do you have the same cell provider as me?”

“Mine fell in the toilet when I went into the bathroom to cry after they fired me and doesn’t work anymore. I haven’t had a chance to buy a new one.” She sighed. “Or the money.”

“You didn’t think it might be important to tell me that before the 17 hour trip back home?” Now I was pissed. Not only was she acting like a dramatic 15 year old instead of the 39 year old that she was, but she was now leaving out vital information. “Why in the hell wouldn’t you mention you don’t have a phone? I could have bought one of those pay as you go phones to make sure we have a backup.” She scowled at me.

“I’m sorry, I’ve just been a bit preoccupied with things I thought were more important than my cell phone.” She rolled the window back up and turned her head. She wasn’t even going to attempt to help me. I walked a bit back the way we had come hoping to get better signal. It got worse, dropping out completely. I walked back toward the car, passed it, and continued walking, hoping I would have better luck in that direction. None. I got back to the car and looked to see if enough time had gone by that another car would be coming. Again, no such luck.

I finally realized I was going to have to do something I hadn’t done since I was 16. It struck me like a smack in the face. That was over 20 years ago. I leaned against the back of the car and tried one more time to get with my insurance company’s roadside assistance. Again I had to hang up because we just couldn’t hear each other clear enough. I put my phone in my pocket, said a little prayer of thanks for sunshine and a cool breeze, then yelled for Lucy to pop the trunk.

Enjoy The View

Today’s boot camp prompt is:

Dollar Message 

You’re  at  your favorite  department  store  buying a  birthday present  for a  friend. As the  cashier gives you change, you notice  a message with specific  instructions scribbled on one of the bills. What do the instructions say? Do you carry them out and, if so, how?

I stood outside the door reading the instructions carefully one more time. They were obviously from someone in this area, but why put these instructions on a dollar bill? I had just finished shopping and was getting ready to head home, but when the cashier handed me my change, this caught my eye and I was now rethinking my afternoon. The instructions were written in tiny scroll and covered almost the entire bill, front and back.

  1. Drive to the Gibson River Park.
  2. Find the “Leaves of Gibson” parking lot.
  3. Park.
  4. Get out of your car and start down the path opposite the parking lot entrance.
  5. Walk approximately 300 yards and you will see a large boulder on the left.
  6. Turn right and begin walking off-path.
  7. At the bottom of the hill turn left.
  8. Walk for another 300 yards.
  9. Enter the cave opening on your left.
  10. There will be two paths, choose the right one.
  11. Follow the path until you reach another fork.
  12. Choose the right one again and again. Always choose the right one.
  13. Enter the large cavern. 
  14. Enjoy the view.
  15. Speak of this to no one.
  16. Put this bill back into local circulation.

I walked to my car and put my items in the back. I sat in the driver’s seat and stared at the bill. I could go and see what this view was about. Or I could go and get myself murdered. I felt my bodyguard .380 pressing against my side and decided to take a chance. I didn’t have anything better to do anyway.

I parked where I was supposed to park. The lot was empty besides my car. This was not in a well known area of the park. I felt a tingle of doubt creep down my spine. I suspected it received few visitors. Every other parking lot I had passed was full. It was 75° and sunny out on a Saturday, for this area it was heaven. This particular lot was about a mile from the main part of the park and even the driveway getting to the lot was longer than the others.

I flipped the safety off on my conceal carry weapon and started down the path. It was almost exactly 300 yards to the boulder. I carefully made my way down the hill, slipping a few times, but ultimately making it safely down. There was no path at bottom. It was level ground, but not an actual path. I could hear that the river was close, maybe only 100 feet through the trees in front of me.

I started walking in the direction the bill advised. I could hear so many beautiful sounds. There were bird calls I had never heard. Even the sounds the bugs made seemed to add a little sweetness to the chorus. There was a mild breeze that rustled the leaves as fallen branches cracked under my feet. I could see the cave coming up through the mist of water. The rock above jutted out and a stream poured over the edges. I stood in front of the mist for a moment deciding if I should walk through. I had come this far, why not?

I jumped through quickly, managing to stay mostly dry. Now came the really hard decision; walk into what was surely a trap to rape and kill me or turn back and save myself. Step #14 kept coming to the front of my mind. Enjoy the view. I was in a park, maybe these caves led to a look out point. I took the cave on the right. I continued through the tunnel of rock and earth. Sometimes it felt like I was walking down, other times up, I wasn’t really sure where I stood in terms of “feet above sea level”.

After about 10 minutes of walking, the path began to tighten. My claustrophobia began to kick in as the walls narrowed and I had to turn to walk sideways. Thankfully that only lasted a few minutes before I came out on the other side and into the cavern. I stumbled out of the opening and took a deep breath. When I looked up that breath caught in my throat. 

On the far side of the cavern was a trickling waterfall that flowed into a pool on the cavern floor. The water was clear and blue. The size of the cavern and the pretty water were not the things that took my breath away. What took my breath away were the intricate paintings that covered the cavern walls in their entirety. It appeared that not an inch of rock had been left unpainted. The scenes depicted, while varied, were each detailed and precise. It could be seen that whoever created them had taken care with each brush stroke.

I put the bill back into circulation that day. I wanted so badly to tell my friends, to take them there. I also wanted to respect the artist’s simple wishes though. They wanted people to search for the unknown and find something beautiful and wondrous. I’ve been going there at least once a month. I pack a bag of food and sit in the cavern and think or read or write or brainstorm for work. It’s a haven in a crazy world. In the 5 years that I’ve been going, I’ve only ran into two people, neither of which claimed to be the artist.

I wish we would have more of that beauty in the world. More beauty and less crazy.

Charlie Kelly

Today’s boot camp prompt is:

Obit for Your Favorite Character 

Write an obituary  for your favorite  fictional  character  (literary,  television,  etc.),  including how the death occurred.

PHILADELPHIA – Charlie Kelly, 42, passed away Saturday after huffing what doctors are calling “an impossible amount of glue” and eating more than 10 pounds of spaghetti mixed with cat food. Born on February 9, 1976 to Bonnie Kelly and Frank Reynolds (alleged father), Charlie lived a fast-paced and sometimes wreckless lifestyle which he loved. 

Charlie was passionate about his screenplay “The Nightman Cometh” which he wrote and directed despite illiteracy. He was inventive in his cooking style and enjoyed many types of cheeses. He was unashamed of his persistent attempts to date The Waitress even after multiple restraining orders were issued. Although he sold his shares to the other partners, he continued to care for Paddy’s Pub which is expected to close in the next month as their health inspection is nearing. A music prodigy, Charlie could play piano, harmonica, saxophone and bugle. He was also the inventor of Kitten Mittens which we all love and use regularly.

He is survived by his presumed half brother, Dennis Reynolds of Philadelphia, his presumed half sister, Dee Reynolds of Philadelphia, his uncle, Jack Kelly of Philadelphia, as well as his close friend, Ronald “Mac” McDonald. The viewing will be held at Paddy’s Pub, Tuesday at 6pm, where his associate, Matthew Mara, will perform the funeral service.

Not A Family Home

Today’s boot camp prompt is:

Full  Disclosure 

They toured the house with the real estate  agent. “We  love it,” he said. “Is there  anything  we should know about the house’s past?” The agent looked down.

They toured the house with the real estate agent. “We love it,” he said. “Is there anything  we should know about the house’s past?” The agent looked down. It was a colonial so the young couple had guessed that there would be something wrong with it.

“Well…” The agent hesitated as he looked at the couple who waited expectantly. “Just some mold that was cleaned out. A few of the floors needed redone, that’s all.” He said in a rushed voice and ended with a smile. The couple looked at each other, then back at the agent.

“We haven’t seen the basement yet.” The wife said with a smile of her own. The agent’s face paled and he nodded.

“Right. That’s where the damage was the most extensive, but also where the least amount of cleanup was done.” The husband shrugged.

“OK, well let’s go look at the damage.” The agent slowly led them toward the basement door. He reiterated all the good qualities of the home as they made their way through the house. The couple was moving across the country and were trying to find a place to raise their soon-to-be family. 

This home seemed perfect with the three bedrooms upstairs as well as a master bedroom with its own master bath. The ground floor had an open floor plan that made the house feel bigger than it was. It also had a surprising number of large windows that let in the summer sun.

“He’s hiding something.” The wife whispered in her husband’s ear.

“I think something else happened. Maybe someone died in one of the rooms upstairs?” The wife nodded.

“I mean you just can’t beat natural, original, wood floors in this condition.” The agent was saying as he stopped in front of a door. The couple smiled and nodded. The husband reached for the door handle and the agent put out his hand.

“Please remember that this is an old house and, like I said, the mold damage was extensive in the basement. They had to gut most of it and what’s left isn’t very pretty.” 

“Yes, we’ll keep it in mind.” The husband said as he grasped the door handle. When he opened the door, a musky smell floated up from the dark steps. The husband flipped on the light and began to descend the stairs. The wife followed. The agent did not. The wife turned around when she realized he wasn’t coming.

“What’s wrong? Aren’t you coming with us?” The agent clasped his hands in front of him.

“The ceilings are quite low in there and I’m very claustrophobic. I’ll wait here for you.” The wife eyed him suspiciously, but continued on. 

The musty smell grew the further down they went. The floors were a mixture of dirt and concrete. The ceilings were so low the couple had to bend forward to walk through. Steel weight-bearing rods stood in strategic places around the open basement. The concrete bricks that had once made up the walls were gone and it was only dirt that could cave in at any minute. The basement looked like it continued past the edge of the house.

“See that dark spot over there?” The husband asked pointing to the elongated area.

“Yeah, it looks like someone dug through the wall.” The husband pulled out his phone to use as a flashlight and began walking toward it. The wife pulled out her phone as well, but to Google the house instead.

“There’s a hole over here.” The husband said from across the room. “It’s at least eight feet deep. What could they have possibly been doing?”

“Hiding dead bodies.” The wife said. The husband turned to her.

“Well that’s the obvious guess.” He chuckled. “Maybe there was a sump pump that went bad. Or maybe their septic tank was here before the new regulations would have forced them to put a new one in outside.”

“No. They hid dead bodies.” The wife said again. “Police responded to a call on the 100-block of Havana Avenue today. The complaint was that there was a fowl smell coming from the home of Monica Fuller, 27. It has since been discovered that the house contains a hidden mass burial site behind the concrete walls of the basement. The smell of rotting bodies began to surface in the heat of summer. The number of bodies and any details related have yet to be released.” The husband began walking toward the wife.

“Today police have released more information on the Monica Fuller burial home. Fifteen child and four adult bodies have been uncovered so far as they continue to break down the walls of the home’s basement. The names of the victims have not been released, but Monica Fuller is in police custody.”

“Let’s get the fuck out of here.” The husband said when she had finished reading the articles.

Listen to Andre

Today’s boot camp prompt is:

Back From the Future 

A knock at  the  door catches you off guard. Upon answering it, you’re  greeted by a man who says he’s from the future—and he can prove it. More important, he says he has information that  will  save your life.

Disclaimer: This may not be one of my best. I’ll be honest that I’m not a real fan of this prompt and to add to it, I’m very tired. I’ve had an emotionally trying day and am not feeling very creative tonight. Here’s to hoping it turns out better than I expect!
I lurched upright and shook my head, trying to clear the fog of sleep. The knock came again, confirming I wasn’t dreaming. I flipped the cover back and wiped my eyes as a yawn slipped out. I grabbed the shorts next to my bed and pulled them on as another knock pounded in my door.

“I’m coming. I’m coming.” I said through another yawn. I snatched the robe from the hook on the door and wrapped it around me. I was two feet from the door when the knock came again. I looked through the peephole.

“Who is it?” I didn’t recognize the man. He was tall and soaked in rain water, but had no other defining features. His face was regular, the kind you would see in a supermarket and swear you knew, but that was just because it was covered in common features.

“My name is Andre Robert.” He had a thick French accent.

“I don’t know an Andre.” I responded now annoyed because he probably just had the wrong apartment. 

“Not yet, but you will. I’m from the future and have some information you may find useful.” And now I thought of him as a drunk or maybe he was one of the stoners from down the hall.

“You have the wrong apartment.” I said and started to walk away from the door.

“Isabelle Hill.” I stopped and turned around. “You grew up in this town. Your mom died two years ago and your father lives eight blocks over, but will move to a neighboring town because he can’t stand living in the house your mom loved. You are dating Josh Macklyn and are thinking about moving in with him, but haven’t told him that yet because you have to decide if that’s the right move for you.” I leaned my head against the door.

“How do you know all that? How do you know about Josh?” I had been very careful not to mention moving in with him to anyone. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to.

“You told me about it.” I looked back through the peephole.

“I don’t know you.”

“But you will.”

“Why should I believe you?” I watched him go into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. I watched him carefully open it and pull out a photo. He held it in front of the peephole and I studied it as best I could through the fisheye lens. It was Josh and me, but we looked older. My hair was cut in a way I had never cut it before, it was also a different color, but the face was definitely mine.

“What is that?” I asked through the safety of the door.

“You gave it to me. You asked me to do this should things go wrong. You seemed to know something was coming. You knew the work I was doing and asked me to stop you.”

“Stop me from what?”

“Moving in with Josh.” I stood silent for a few seconds, thinking about what he was saying. I looked at the picture again, but his arm must have been tired because he dropped it and moved closer to the door.

“Look, can I just come in and talk?” I stayed quiet thinking. “You said that if you didn’t believe me to say ‘Remember to never give up hope”. I don’t know what it means, but you said it would change your mind.” It did change my mind. I swung the door open.

“I’ve never said those words to another person in my life. They were the last words my mom said to me and I haven’t even told my dad about them.”

“I told you I’m from the future. You told me all this seven years from now.”

“If you are from the future, and that’s a big if, why are you now coming to tell me this stuff?” He asked if we could sit down. I shrugged and motioned to the couch.

“You’re dead.” He said it in such a matter-of-fact tone that I laughed out loud.

“I feel pretty alive and well.”

“I meant in the future. This was a contingency plan.”

“Contingency plan for what?”

“If you died. Josh gets involved in some shady business with some dangerous people. You get pulled into it. You try to leave several times, but he always guilts you into coming back.” He reached back into the envelope and pulled out a few more photos.

The woman’s body was twisted and bloody. She had stab wounds on her chest and the side of her neck. She was in what looked like night clothes. Her hands were covered in cuts as if she was trying to defend herself. Her eye was bruised and bulging.

“Who is that?” I asked even though I knew the answer.

“You.” He let that hang in the air. I shook my head.

“No. I don’t believe you. You need to leave.” I stood and pointed at the door. “You need to leave now.” He nodded and got up without any further argument. As I was closing the door he stopped me.

“Just…” He dropped his head and rubbed his forehead. “Just please don’t move in with Josh. That’s all I’m asking. Don’t move in.” 

“Thanks for the advice.” I said and pushed the door shut on him. I watched through the peephole as he went down the steps and disappeared.

Seven years later…

I’m screaming and and trying to run to the kitchen. He grabs my hair and pulls my head back before shoving it into the nearest wall. I feel a hard impact in between my shoulders blades and think he’s punched me, but then I feel something warm sliding down my back. I make it to the kitchen and just as I’m reaching for the knife block I feel another blow against my back. He grabs my arm and twists me around. It’s not until I see the glint of steel moving through the air that I realize he’s been stabbing me. I throw my hands in front of me and feel the steel slice through my skin. I keep trying to grab the knife, but he’s too quick. I feel the pressure against my chest and the pain starts to take my breath away. I start feeling weak as he stabs my chest repeatedly. I feel the pressure in my neck and my world fades to black.

Screaming Lambs

Today’s boot camp prompt is:

American Graffiti 

You’re downtown, and see graffiti in an unlikely place—graffiti like you’ve never seen before, concerning  someone you know.

“Well Vicki, have the lambs stopped screaming?” I knew those words from somewhere, but where? The graffiti was the most vulgar thing I’d ever seen. It covered the side of an orphanage. It was the side that looked out over the small, fenced-in yard next to the building. The building itself was a white block with few windows. There was one door that led into the play yard and one that led into the street. The other two sides were butted against other buildings and even the yard was surrounded by buildings on three sides. How had no one seen the artist and caught him? Downtown was busy enough during the day, surely there were people walking at night as well.

Painted against the white wall was a black and red monstrosity of a woman sprawled out on a bed. Her red underwear were twisted around her ankles. There was blood trailing down her legs from the thick black fuzz of her groin. Her arms were spread to each side and blood flowed from her wrists onto the bed. Her breasts had red slash marks ripping flesh away from itself. There was a thick red gash from one side of her neck to the other with the red flowing down her shoulders and chest. Her head lulled to the side in an unnatural way, neck pulling away from neck at the gash. Her eyes were rolled so far you almost couldn’t see the iris. They cried tears of red. Her hair lay sloppily above her head with flecks of red spattered throughout. The words were written across the top in rough, jagged letters. 

What was worse then the imagery was that I knew this woman. Vicki worked in the cube next to me. We talked every day and even went to lunch together from time to time. Whoever painted this new her well enough to get every detail right, down to the birthmark on her thigh that she hated. I picked up my phone and dialed her number. It rang. And rang. And rang. Until finally her voice came on asking for a message.

“Vicki, it’s Anita. I’m looking at a really fucked up painting. Call me as soon as you get this.” I hung up and tapped the phone against my leg while looking at the painting. I paused for a moment and then turned to look at each building. I couldn’t see anything that resembled a security camera on a single one of them. I tried Vicki again. Still no answer. That didn’t mean she was dead, it just meant that she was busy. It was still early in the morning, maybe she was sleeping.

I couldn’t stand around and do nothing. I knocked on the door of the orphanage. After a few more aggressive knocks a woman in her 60’s answered.

“How can I help you?” She asked pleasantly.

“Have you seen the side of your building?” I asked incredulously. Her lips tightened.

“Yes, we’ve contacted the authorities. They’ll be here soon. I’m sorry you had to see it.”

“I know her.” I said, not being able to help myself. Her mouth opened, then closed, then opened again.

“Well when the police arrive you can tell them.” Before I could say anything else she shut the door on me. I tried calling Vicki again and I got her voicemail, again. Where did I know that line from? I went back to stare at the graffiti. I stared hard at the words. It wasn’t until I saw the butterfly as the dot of the question mark that I knew what it was from. It was the only thing of a different color. It was dark yellow with negative space for the white skull-like design on its back. I shuttered as I realized what movie the line came from and then tried Vicki again.

The Wrong Printer

Today’s boot camp prompt is:

Sent  to  the  Wrong  Printer 

You’re at work and you print something personal (and sensitive). Unfortunately, you’ve sent it to the wrong printer  and, by the time  you realize  it,  somebody else has already  scooped it up.

There was nothing in the output tray. I stood in front of the printer with my mouth hanging open and hands on my head. I had sent it to the printer on the other side of the office instead of the one right next to me, but had thought I jumped up fast enough to catch it. 

I turned my back to the printer and looked at the sea of cubes. My hands dropped limp against my sides. How could I possibly figure out who had it? Also, why would they take it if they knew it wasn’t theirs? It would be on top of theirs​ once they flipped over the stack of things that printed. They could have easily put it back on the printer.

My stomach clenched and I felt like I might throw up. Maybe they wouldn’t even know what it meant. No, that’s impossible. It may say “HCG, Total, Quantative” at the top (which most people wouldn’t understand), but it clearly states “pregnancy (HCG) interpretation” in the description which then proceeds to detail exactly what the values mean, then confirming that, yes, I am indeed pregnant. 

It was a one night thing. I hadn’t planned on it. He hadn’t planned on it. We had only known each other since that night and hadn’t seen each other since the following morning. I had talked to him on the phone a couple times but that was it. Everyone here knew I didn’t have a steady boyfriend. Everyone here knew my long-time boyfriend had split several months ago. Now they also would know that I’m pregnant.

“What’s wrong with you?” Lisa asked as she walked up to copy something.

“My life is ruined and I’m going to need a new job.” I state blandly.

“What?” She asked, but I had already started walking away. I found the nearest bathroom and threw up every drop of my lunch. I heard a tap on the door at one point.

“You okay in there?” Came a soft voice.

“I’m fine. Leave me alone.” I responded before wretching again. After there was nothing left to throw up I put the seat down and sat pondering what I would do with myself.

“Taneka, are you in here?” I tried to be as quiet as possible. “Taneka, I saw you heading this way earlier. You need to get back on the phones.” My supervisor was not exactly the kindest person in the world.

“I’m going through something right now, Malcolm. Can I get the rest of the day off?” 

“No. You’re already on warning number 2 about your schedule. Get back on the phone in 5 minutes or we’ll be having a different sort of conversation.” I heard the door fall shut and groaned. 

Working in tele-customer service is, by the way, one of the worst jobs ever. You are just a number to the managers, someone to yell at to the customers, and an easily replaceable voice to the company. I cleaned myself up and walked out of the bathroom.

Malcolm stood in the middle of the cubes and locked eyes with me immediately. The guy had to have been watching the bathroom door the entire time. He pointed to my desk with a hard straight finger. I rolled my eyes and mouthed “I’m going.”

I sat back down, put my headset on, and let the calls distract me from my current dilemma. I took call after call, not taking any breaks in between. When my shift ended, I transfered my last call to a supervisor (it was that kind of call), and punched out. I stood, stretched, and saw a couple girls talking by the door of the cafeteria. They saw me and one covered her mouth as she spoke in the ear of the other. The other laughed and then said something back in the same manner. I didn’t even know their names, how would they know me?

I picked up my stuff and headed toward them. They quickly dispersed. I walked into the cafeteria and went straight to the bulletin board. Another note about working in a customer service call center, it’s like being in highschool. Everyone is immature and rude. I found my test results pinned to the board with a photo of a pregnant woman with my face photoshopped onto it. Why would someone even take the time to do that? How did they even get my picture?

I took it down and carefully peeled the tape, removing the photoshopped image from the test results. The only reason I printed it was to show the one night stand guy proof that I wasn’t lying. I should have just said screw it and not tried to tell him anything. But I had wanted my kid to grow up with a dad since mine died while my mom was pregnant and had never remarried. No, it was better for a child to have a father.

“They shouldn’t have done that.” I turned to find Jerome looking at me across his food.

“Well they did, so it is what it is.” I sat down next to him. We weren’t exactly friends, but we did talk every now and then. “Have you heard what anyone is saying about it?”

“You don’t want to know.” I folded my arms on the table and dropped my head on them.

“Why did this happen?” I said though it was muffled by my arms.

“My guess is you didn’t use a condom.” Jerome liked being matter of fact. I looked up to glare at him.

“Duh! I was drunk, he was drunk. I meant why does this whole building have to know? Why does it feel like I’m still in highschool? How does everyone find out about my personal life so easily?” I sat up a little straighter. “The guy doesn’t even want it. I printed this as proof because he claims that I’m not really pregnant and that, if I am, it’s not his.”

“So don’t worry about him. Just worry about you and the baby.” I dropped my head again.

“This place doesn’t pay me enough to have a baby.”

“You’ll figure it out. And there’s always plan B.” He said in between bites of salad.

“I think it’s a little too late for a pill to do anything.” I looked at him. He raised his eyebrows at me and I understood. “Oh, that plan B.” I thought about it for a second then shook my head. “No. This was my mistake. I got myself into this, I was willing even though I knew the risk. Ugh! I’m such an idiot!” I said as I threw my head back to look at the ceiling.

I sat like that for a minute of silence and then pushed my chair back.

“Thanks for the pep talk Jerome.” I stuck my tongue out at him and he flashed a big smile at me.

“Anytime sweetheart.” I left feeling hopelessly lost and alone, but I had test results so maybe that would push baby daddy to man up.

Freezer Meals on Valentine’s Day

Today’s Boot Camp Prompt:

The One That Got Away

You bump into an ex-lover on Valentine’s Day—the one whom you often call “The One That Got Away.” What happens?

When I saw him I felt like the universe was playing a joke on me…and on Valentine’s day of all days. I had just left work and decided to stop at the store to pick up a meal for one. It had only been a week since Mark had broken up with me so I didn’t really feel like going out and knew there wasn’t time to find a date anyway. I had thought he might be “the one”, Mark, and then he decided for me that he wasn’t. We had been together for three years and he had suddenly decided I wasn’t enough.

I’ve never been big on Valentine’s day, but Mark was. He would do something elaborate every year. A dozen roses sent to work, an expensive dinner at an oceanside restaurant, a gorgeous piece of jewelry, that’s the kind of stuff he did. This year he would be doing it for the other woman.

When I had shut the door to the frozen meal section of the giant freezers, I looked up and that’s when I saw him. It had been fifteen years since we’d seen each other. We had met at a friend’s party and it had blossomed into something beautiful. Until his mom got sick and he had to fly across the country to take care of her. We had tried to do the long distance thing, but in the end, he just had too much going on to keep a girlfriend.

While I stood holding my frozen meal, I stared at him. I thought about all the times he had made me laugh. Mark had never made me laugh like that. I thought about the chills that went down my spine when we kissed. Another thing that had never really happened with Mark. I thought about the deep conversations we would have for hours about anything and everything. I watched movies with Mark. I didn’t fully realize what I was doing until he looked up and did a double-take. Trying to save my dignity, I spun around and walked away.

I made it all the way to the line at the register before I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and to my relief it was an elderly woman asking if I was in line. I responded politely even though I wanted to be snarky and say “Obviously. Don’t you see I’m right behind that person who’s behind that person who is checking out?”. I focused with eyes front. I had made up my mind to take my freezer meal, go home, sit on the couch, feel sorry for myself, and watched a funny movie.

“Tiffany? Tiffany Takowski?” My heart had lept into my throat as my gut plummeted to the floor. I turned to find him standing a few feet away. I gave a moment’s pause to pretend I was figuring out who he was. I even furrowed my brow in concentration.

“Brian?” He hugged me without hesitation. I was immediately engulfed in his familiar scent. It was oddly comforting to know he still used the same soap.

“How have you been?” He asked after breaking the hug.

“Good.” I lied. “How about you?” He shrugged.

“Good. Just moved back on Sunday and I’ll be starting a new job next week. Things are a little hectic right now.”

“So your mom is doing good then?” It was a dumb question and I realized it as the words were leaving my mouth. His head dropped a little as his eyes went to the floor and I wanted to smack myself in the face.

“She passed away about a year ago. It was a long struggle so I just feel better knowing she isn’t in pain anymore.” I instinctively touched his arm.

“I’m so sorry Brian. I had no idea.” He smiled and we started talking about what we’ve been doing over the years since we grew apart. I conveniently left out my recently failed three year relationship. We had talked through the entire checkout process, much to the elderly woman’s dismay, and were now standing outside the door of the supermarket when the conversation died in that usual awkward way it does.

“No date tonight?” Brian asked pointing at the freezer meal in my plastic bag. I shrugged.

“Nope. Unless you count Netflix as a date.” He laughed and I inwardly died. He hadn’t mentioned a girlfriend, but I had no doubt Miss Perfect was probably waiting for him.

“It was good catching up.” I told him and leaned in for another clumsy hug. I held it a moment longer than I should have, but I missed feeling his arms around me. I had planned on marrying him and I wanted two extra seconds of closeness before I let him slip away again.

“Yeah, it was.” He said next to my head and to my surprise he held me just a little tighter before letting go. I smiled. He smiled. We turned to go our separate ways. I wish I could say I heard him call out my name. I wish I could say that we spent that night watching the funny movie and eating freezer meals together. If this were a perfect world, I would be sitting next to him right now. But it’s not and I’m not.

After seeing him, I decided maybe it was a good time to join the rest of the world and start a social media account. I found his profile and confirmed my suspicions. He did have someone, a wife actually. She was beautiful as I expected and always had a huge smile on her face, even when she didn’t know a picture was being taken. He looked really happy with her.

It’s been two years and I’m still eating freezer meals on Valentine’s Day.

A Father’s Love

He walks through the silent house. The sputter and dripping of the coffee maker the only sound. He’s learned to walk lightly so even his socked feet don’t make a sound or cause the hardwood floor to creak. It’s dark outside, barely 3:30 in the morning. He looks out the large dining room window at his running truck. He sits down and reads his morning magazine. Overdrive, the magazine that covers everything about owning and operating your own truck. 

He sips his coffee as he turns the pages. He doesn’t own this truck, but he’s a researcher. He soaks up information better than a two year old learning the ABC’s. Maybe one day he will own his own truck and his own company. Maybe one day he won’t have to work 14 hour days. The money is much better than what he was making stacking lumber, but he always liked the idea of owning his own company.

He had only attended school until the 8th grade, a long-standing custom among his community. Everything he had learned after that had been up to him. He had drawn information in like a journalist searching for the truth. He wouldn’t say it because he was too humble, but he was incredibly smart. Anyone who talked to him for even a short time could see that.

After his cup is dry, he fills it one more time and caps the mug. He fills a second and a thermos. He goes back into his bedroom and kisses his wife. His lovely, beautiful, supportive wife. The mother of his children. His best friend. She wakes and kisses him back. He kneels beside the bed and they pray together.

They pray for his safety during his drive that day. They pray for her and the kids’ safety as she spends the day homeschooling them and they play outside. They pray for guidance and wisdom. They thank God for all he’s done for them. After the prayer, they kiss again and say I love you.

He makes his way down the hallway to check on the children. They have 4. His son has outgrown the tucking in stage, but he still tells him good night and he loves him every night before bed. His oldest daughters are probably getting close to that age, but they still like it when Daddy tucks them in. He probably has quite a bit of time with the youngest before she grows out of it. He had tucked all 3 of them in the night before and had kissed them on the forehead before saying good night and he loves them.

He peeks into his son’s room to find him sleeping safe and sound. He opens the door to his daughters’ room and chuckles, shaking his head. His two oldest are asleep in their beds, but the youngest is where he’s found her many times before. Her tiny body laying on the floor next to her bed, tangled in her blanket.

He gently picks her up and puts her back in bed. He can’t believe she never wakes up after falling out. She never wakes up as he’s putting her back in bed either. She has no idea how many times he’s done it and she won’t know until she is grown and he’ll never have the chance to do it again.

He packs his lunch into his lunchbox, grabs his obsurd, but necessary, amount of coffee and heads out to the running truck. He breathes in the smell of diesel in the morning and, after placing his items in the cab, begins his morning checklist. He’ll be gone by 4. He’ll watch the sun come up and, during the winter, watch it start to go down again. They are long hours, but his family is worth it.