The Counter

It was just another lazy night.

I was on the couch, catching up on my DVRed episodes of The Biggest Loser, trying not to laugh at the irony of me sitting there practically inhaling Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream. “I’ll just spend an extra hour on the treadmill tomorrow, it’s worth it!”, I told myself.

It was getting pretty late, it was past eleven and if I was to get that extra hour in on the treadmill, I needed to hit the hay. I grabbed the remote and turned off the television. Oddly, as soon as I powered it down, it came right back on. It was on channel 60, then it went down to channel 59, then 58. I figured that a button must have gotten jammed on the remote, so I tapped it on my wrist and powered the TV off again. That seemed to do the trick, so I went upstairs to clean up and get ready for bed.

As I started to change, I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings about my current relationship status. I mean, on the one hand I was glad to be single with no one to impress; I could wear sweatpants and a t-shirt to sleep and nobody would care. On the other hand, it was a little chilly and I wouldn’t have minded having a nice warm man to snuggle up against. Oh well, them’s the breaks, right? “I’m a successful, independent woman and that’s just the cost of doing business.”, I muttered.

I killed the lights and slid under the sheets, fluffing up the pillows behind me so I could get in a little light reading. I have trouble falling asleep sometimes, and reading usually helps me zonk out. The History Of Love is what’s on my Kindle. It’s quite a complicated story, I’m not sure what’s going on half the time, which makes me wonder why I’m reading it before bed when I have even less focus.

I dove right in and started leafing through page after digital page, unable to retain a word of it and being more on autopilot than anything. It wasn’t long before I noticed the Kindle laying flat on the bridge of my nose and I decided that the time had come to call it a night. I glanced over at my alarm clock, curious of how much time had elapsed. I expected to see the time, but instead the clock said 00:47, then 00:46, then 00:45. I blinked rapidly and shook my head, another glance revealed it was 11:45. It must have just been the sleep in my eyes, or that weird state between awake and asleep. I smiled, let out a sigh of relief, and off to slumberland I went.

“33, 32, 31”

I lept out of bed in a mad panic, my forehead instantly glistening with sweat. Was that a dream? “Hello? Is anyone there?”, I asked, hoping to dear god that no one would answer back. I slowly made my way to the top of the steps, listening ever so diligently for the slightest sound. I had made my way down the steps when I saw that my front door was wide open! Fearing an intruder, I hauled my pretty ass outside, making sure to grab the cordless phone from the living room on my way out.

I waited outside until the police arrived, which thankfully didn’t take long. They did a thorough search of my home and did their best to not make me feel like a fool. “There’s a strong breeze tonight, more than likely you just didn’t fully close the door.”, said one of the boys in blue. Sounded reasonable enough. They said their farewells as I half-jokingly asked if one could spend the night. No such luck.

Back in my officer-approved home, I conducted my own last inspection. Everything looked fine, of course. Still, I felt a bit uneasy. I called up my friend Jeremy, he’s sure to be up, the man never sleeps. I told him about my scare and he ensured me that the cops were right, I just didn’t fully close the door. “I could swear I did! Anyway, it’s closed now! Closed, locked, and there’s even a chair in front of it, just in case!!”, I joked.

As if it hadn’t been cold before, now that I was thoroughly scurred and that door had been open forever, it was damn chilly. I asked Jeremy if he’d come spend the night, but he started rambling off excuse after excuse. “Ok, Ok, I get it!”, I said. He generously volunteered to stay on the phone with me until I fell asleep, that would have to do.

We spoke for a while as I asked him to tell me about his day, and then about his weekend plans, and then about whatever he was looking at. He just talked on and on about everything and nothing until his voice made the fear disappear and I slowly drifted off into blissful sleep.

“16, 15, 14”

I let out a scream and reactively threw my phone fiercely against the wall, shattering it into a billion little plastic pieces. At first I thought that Jeremy was just being a dick, but then I noticed that my bedroom light was on. “I turned it off, I fuckin’ turned it off!”, I nervously mumbled. I grabbed my cellphone and tried to call Jeremy, no answer. He probably fell asleep while on the phone himself.

I stepped out into the hall and saw that all my lights were on. Did I leave them on?? No, I was pretty sure, but maybe? I stood there, frozen, debating myself over and over. I tried to recall my every step, desperately seeking out that vital memory that would make it clear that I did leave the lights on and everything was ok. “But what about the counting on the phone??”, said a persistent little thought in my head that was determined to keep me scared.

Standing in the upstairs hall, entertaining a mental debate between fear and logic, time seemed to stall. Suddenly, the silence was broken and there was a clear winner in the debate. The toilet downstairs flushed, and there’s no way I was the one flushing it!! I’m pretty sure I turned six shades of white. I heard the bathroom door open, so I did what any logical person would do in this situation, I set my cellphone to vibrate and jumped into the hallway closet!!

I stood in the closet, it was dark except for the light sliding in through the bottom of the door. My heart was pounding so furious, I was sure it could be heard a mile away. I held onto my cellphone, trying fiercely to reach out to my police friends once again, but my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I could hear footsteps making their way up the stairs, I became frantic, I wanted to cry, but I had to keep it together! The footsteps stopped, and I could see a shadow stopped before the closet door. I placed my hand over my mouth, as if my body was telling me to shut the hell up. I just wanted to scream!! “Deep breaths, deep breaths..”, I reminded myself, trying to calm myself.

A buzzing in my hand almost threw me over the edge. My cellphone had just gotten a text message. I nervously looked at it, it was a message from myself, how could that be??

“3, 2, 1”

The Devil’s Back Pocket

I’m not a bad guy. Sure, come morning that’s what you’re going to hear. They’re going to say I’m a madman, a villain, the scum of the Earth; but I’m not.

My name’s Francis Oliver Emerson, but my friends call me Frank. I’m a mechanic. Ever since I got my first car at the age of fifteen, I’ve been tearing into them. I’m a good mechanic, It’s all I know. I enjoy fixing cars, it takes my mind off of my problems. I’m wishing I had a carburetor to clean right about now. As far as my problems are concerned, this one takes the cake.

In two hours, the clock will strike midnight and it’ll be my little girl’s eleventh birthday. It will also be a year since her bitch-mom walked out on us. Who walks out on their kid on her birthday?? A drug addict, that’s who. Last year was rough. How do you tell a ten year-old, on her birthday, that mommy’s gone? I felt so powerless, so useless. All I could do was hold her, hold her and use every tear she shed as fuel for my anger.

It was difficult enough trying to support my little girl and her junky mom, but it worked. There wasn’t much, but at least there was something. I was able to pretend that her mom was taking care of her while I was off shedding blood for ends meet. Now however, I can’t dilute myself. I know she’s sitting at home alone, missing me, and probably missing her mom. She’s such a sweet girl, she’s always so happy when I get home. I’m exhausted when I do, but her smile snaps me out of it. I sit with her while we eat our supper and talk about the day. She always has so much to say, and I’m always happy to listen. I sit with a huge grin, fighting back the tears that are just aching to come out. She’s my world.

I wanted this birthday to be awesome. God, how I’ve fucked that up. It’s getting hard to breathe here, my best guess is that I only have a couple hours of air left. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was supposed to be a simple robbery. The plan was fool-proof. Hide in the bank’s bathroom until everyone but the manager left, have him show me to the safe, tie him up, grab the loot, and get away. Simple.

Fool-proof, and what a fool I am, locked in this safe. I didn’t know the door would close, I didn’t think I’d be trapped. I’ve ruined my little girl’s life. She’ll be shuffled through the system, the daughter of a druggy and a criminal. She’ll hate herself, she’ll hate me. Every year, she’ll recall the horrors of her life. She’ll need to be held, she’ll need to be comforted, and I won’t be there.

I could sure use some luck. Maybe the manager will break free and the cops will get me out of here. Maybe I’m dreaming! Maybe I’ll wake up and this will all just have been one hell of a nightmare. A reminder that things could always be worse. Yea, I’m no bank robber. Where would I even get a gun? This has to be a dream, but damn, it’s hard to breathe.

The Hard Place

“Hello, you’ve reached 9-1-1. We’re unable to answer your call at the moment, please leave a message after the tone.”
Uh, Hi..
So here I am, stuck between a rock and a hard place, Quite literally! I’m dangling off the side of a cliff, hanging from a tiny branch, staring down a hundred foot drop. Can you send help? I could totally pull myself up, and I would, but there’s a cougar at the top of the cliff who’s really mad at me! I think she thinks I’m here to hurt her, or her cubs. Isn’t that funny?? I mean, ME? Oh wait, sorry.. my name’s Max, and I guess you could call me a “nature enthusiast”.

See, today started out harmless enough. I slept in and was woken up by the wonderful sounds of nature. The birds were performing their symphony as my eyes crept open, I couldn’t help but smile as I tried to imagine what they were trying to convey. Were they calling for help? Looking for a mate? Signaling their young ones? We have no idea what all those sounds mean, but they’re still music to my ears.

Anyway, I got inspired and decided to go on a nice nature hike. I have to be at work at noon today, so if you could hurry up, that’d be great. But yea, so I grabbed my gear and headed for the hills. It’s really beautiful first thing in the morning. I chuckle when I’m up here this early, I imagine all the critters moping around, half-asleep, anxious to get their first cup of coffee. It’s silly, I know, but that’s me!

So yea, I started my hike up the hill. I wanted to make it to the peak before the sun got too high; the view from the top is just spectacular, but more so at certain times. I put my headphones on, had a few swigs of water, and I was making really good time. I bet you’re wondering why someone who loves nature would listen to music while hiking, right? Well, I’ll have you know that I wasn’t! That’s one of my pet peeves, people who want to be around nature, but not really. Well, I guess I am one of those people when it comes to camping, but still. I wasn’t listening to music, I was listening to my dad.

My dad passed away several years ago, quite unexpectedly. He was a Biologist, and a damn good one. He always wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but I’ve never really been cut out for school, you know? I left my hometown the second I got my wings. It’s been almost two decades since I left that place. I wish I could say I miss it, but I don’t. I do miss my dad, though. He died relatively young, he was barely sixty. I imagined him living a lot longer than that, I pictured him hanging around way past eighty!

I miss him. Sometimes when I laugh, I can hear his laughter, which makes my laugh bittersweet. He was a good man. He didn’t always do the right thing, I mean, who among us does? But he always meant well, and he had a huge heart. I remember days we’d play wiffle ball, or throw the frisbee around, I remember how he’d just sit in amazement as I played videogames, and I also remember how he’d try to play when I wasn’t watching. He taught me so much about life, and treating people well, and something that was very dear to him, treating animals well.

You know, I don’t know what kind of voicemail system you guys have, but it’s pretty awesome. I mean, my voicemail will cut people off at about thirty seconds, but I’ve been rambling for minutes. Sorry about that, by the way, but I fear I’ll shit a brick if I don’t keep talking. Can you hear her? She’s just roaring her little heart out. I can see her pacing back and forth, she’s very patient.

So, right, I was listening to my dad. Before he died, he made a bunch of tapes. A sort of “Biology for Dummies” thing. He loved to talk about nature and all that. It’s the closest I can come to being with him again, so I like to listen to him while I hike, and imagine that he’s right behind me trying to learn me on the importance of genus, phylum, and such.

I made it to the top of the hill and grabbed the best seat in town. I peered over the edge, staring out towards the vast forest below. It’s truly an amazing sight. This time, Dad was going on about stratigraphic ranges or something. I think it has something to do with fossils or something. I gotta admit, I don’t ever really listen, I just like to hear him talk. So there I was, hearing his voice, feeling the warmth of the sun, and admiring the view. Then something strange happened, I felt him touch me! Well, that’s what I thought happened.

I felt something warm at my back, so I spun myself around with a quickness! There, behind me, was Puma concolor! Sorry, a baby cougar! Have you ever seen such a thing?? He was adorable! He had hundreds of little whiskers and feet so big, it’ll be a decade before he fills them out! I reached out to him and he dropped on his back, paws up, ready to play.. it was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not stupid, those baby claws could puncture an artery in a second, so I was very careful. Come to think of it, I must be pretty stupid. I mean, it never crossed my mind that the momma would be nearby! So I yanked my earbuds out and played with the little fella.

A baby cougar

It wasn’t long before the bliss was broken. I heard a noise. A noise that, even though I’d never heard it before, I was deathly afraid of. It was a deep, rumbly sound. Almost a mix of a train rolling down the tracks and a really hungry stomach. The cub heard it, too. He, however, knew what it meant. He hopped right up on all fours and turned towards the source.

There she was. Momma cougar, and yet another cub. Shit, right? My friendly little cub hung his head and moped over to momma, as if he knew he’d done something wrong. It was kinda cute, thinking back on it. At the time, however, all I saw was my bargaining chip walking away.

Soo, bada-bing, bada-boom, she took a step forward, so I jumped off the ledge and grabbed on to this branch, and here we are. I don’t know if it’s your lunchtime, or if it’s just a really busy day for Emergency Services, but I could really use your help. Before noon, that’d be nice. I’m gonna go now, I just realized I could be uploading some really cool pictures to Facebook.

Please, send help. Thanks for playing!