Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lilacs in the Fall - Short Story

Short story time again. I have missed the short story adventure I've been on for a few weeks and desperately wanted to keep up with my challenge. 

This week's story prompt from Chuck Wendig over at his blog asked us to: 

"Write a story of going against authority. That can mean whatever it means — but I want it to be a story with attitude, with a take-no-shit, have-no-fucks style. Whatever genre, whatever theme you want.
Get rude.
Be profane.
Middle fingers up.
Chaos and rebellion and whatever else you care to muster."

You can check it out here: Terrible Minds

Well, if you know me, then you know that I'm a big marshmallow. I struggle with conflict and chaos, rebellion. I try to avoid those things in my life and so it's not something that comes easy to me to write about (which is probably exactly why I should try to write about it, I know). 

So this week, I thought about it long and hard and decided my story of rebellion, giving-no-fucks, etc. would come in the form of me writing this story below - which has absolutely nothing to do with the prompt (middle finger up) - but everything to do with me wanting to submit something and not miss another week. 

I hope you enjoy it. 

Lilacs in the Fall
by Michelle Baillargeon

There is a widespread misconception that “there is no such thing as ghosts.” 

There are millions of people around the globe who are one hundred percent certain there is a God, an invisible, all seeing, all powerful being, who listens to their prayers and sometimes performs miracles. This is an entity they cannot see or touch or prove exists, yet they believe in it completely, whole-heartedly. I’m one of them.

This belief provides comfort, direction, questions (and sometimes answers), and hope, among other many other things. It’s an intensely private and individual experience for everyone, as it should be. I happen to believe there’s something bigger out there, something purposeful. For me, it doesn’t make sense if we're all  the result of a terrible explosion millions and millions of years ago or a random experiment of a not-so-long-lost race of aliens. 

But I’m not here to delve into that subject any further; there are certainly much more qualified people for that. I bring it up merely as a vehicle of comparison of “true believers” versus those people (I used to be one of ‘em) who are equally sure that just because you can't see them or touch them, that ghosts don't exist; I’m here to tell you that they do. We’ll leave Nessie, Bigfoot and Aliens for another day.

 My name is Joseph McIntyre, my friends call me Red. I’ve lived a long enough to have married my high school sweetheart (Mary, the love of my life) and raise two sons. They're working on families of their own now. I retired three years ago and just as we were settling into our new life together, I lost Mary. It was an accident, sudden and unexpected (as is its nature), and it happened at church of all places. 

Mary and I spent almost 46 years wonderful years together. They say hindsight is 20/20; but I must have rose colored glasses on. I don’t remember any arguments or disagreements (though we probably had a few, what married couple doesn’t?), just years of love and laughter. And ease. The kind that come from being with someone so long that you know their thoughts and their habits, their touch, the sound of their footsteps in the dark. I reach for her still, I look for her over my morning coffee, I listen for her voice. She’s only there in my memories. Or at least I thought so.  

I still go to church on Sundays, even though that’s where it happened. Some might have a tendency to keep their distance, or even blame God; but I go because it makes me feel closer to Mary. Closer even than I feel to her at home, full of her photos and furniture and unpacked clothes. 

I’ve recently started to go to church on Friday evenings, also. I always sit in “our” spot (fifth bench back on the right) and I try to get there early so that no one else can take that spot. The renovations are seamless. Good as new. No one could ever tell that a woman was crushed on that very spot beneath the church’s bell. 

It had come loose due to an unfortunate combination of aging wood and termites. No one else was hurt, we’d lingered after the service: Mary deep in meditation on our bench, me returning from the restroom. I guess I should take comfort in the swiftness of it all, but I can still see it happening in my mind - a film loop in slow motion - she never even looked up. Time is relative - fast and slow all at once, depending on your perspective. 

Well, I sit on our bench, longing for Mary’s hand in mine once more. She had a habit of putting hers in mine during the service and squeezing it if she was  particularly moved. I ignore the stray glances of pity from the congregation by closing my eyes, hoping it looks like I’m meditating on the service. That way, I am mostly able to remember Mary as she was and not how she left. 

Last Friday, as I sat with my eyes closed, tuning out the service and focusing on Mary’s memory, I swear I smelled lilacs. Lilacs were her favorite flower and there are several bushes in our gardens at home. But, it’s Fall and they’re not in bloom. Real or not, I breathed it in deeply, wanting to enhance my memories. It lingered, off and on, for most of the service. My heart was full as I left the church, and I’m sure it showed on my face. I told the Preacher it was his best service yet. White lies in church… probably not the best idea, but he doesn’t have to know I didn’t hear a word. 

Sunday meant another chance to go to church, my heart leapt with anticipation. Would the lilac scent return? Yes, I found out - and more. Much more. 

I arrived early, as I always do these days, eager to get to our seat. I nodded to the Preacher who was greeting people as they entered. I attempted to pass him on my way in, a quick nod Hello and I’d be on my way to Memory Lane. Being early, though, meant he had time to talk between parishioners. It seems he wanted to check on me. 

“Red, so good to see you again,” he reached out his hand to me. 

“Thank you, Father, good to see you, also.” I shook his hand quickly and let it go, trying to move past him. 

“I’ve been meaning to stop by and see how you’ve been holding up,” he looked at me quizzically, “I see that you’re coming twice a week now.”

I met his glance, nodding my head and trying to reassure him as best as I could. I managed to mumble a few words of appreciation while trying to extract myself from the conversations as gently as possible. 

I entered the church and headed to our spot, my heart sank. Someone was in Mary’s spot! I paused, unsure what to do. My stomach turned upside down and I could feel tears beginning to form. This had never happened before. Should I sit one row back? Should I sit next to them? 

I glanced around to see if anyone noticed my quandary. After a moment I glanced back at the bench, our bench thinking I could ask them to move. Surely, they would understand, who could refuse a grieving widower?  

I kept my head down as I made my way towards them, silently practicing my request, looking up only as I approached this interloper. I closed my eyes and opened them again to be sure. The interloper smiled at me and held out her hand. I looked around to see if anyone else saw what I saw. No one seemed to notice or care. I smiled back and took her hand as I sat down, taking a deep breath in - Lilacs!

I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for taking the time to stop by. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Object of My Attention

Friday is finally here and I'm ready for the weekend. But first, here's my new story prompted by the Flash Fiction challenge over at Terrible Minds. There were two opposing themes to pick from and this is my offering. I think it works. I'm not going to list the themes here so as not to give anything away. I'll post a link to the challenge below along with my choice. I hope you enjoy it. 

The Object of My Attention 

By Michelle Baillargeon

  I’ve been waiting for the perfect time, waiting for the moment when we can be alone together. I’ve been following him around trying to get my courage up to approach him, but he doesn’t know I exist. I keep a note in my purse, when my nerves get the best of me, I pull it out and read it to help me focus.

  He's not hard to find. He’s a handsome, football-playing rich kid, which means he’s usually where the most popular kids hang out. He hasn’t noticed me yet, which kind of hurts, but I’m used to it. People like him have a tendency to look right through people like me; at the moment that works in my favor. When the time is right, I’ll know; my desire will override my nerves and it’ll happen. My palms get sweaty just thinking about it. But, the universe doesn’t respect the timid, it taunts us. And, good things don't always come to those who wait. These are harsh lessons for a high schooler. The people who win, who come out on top, who are happy, are go-getters. I’m not one of those people, yet, but I will be. When the time is right. 

  I’ve been paying enough attention to him that I’ve picked up on his routine. His family’s got money, so he doesn’t have a job. That leaves his afternoons free after school. The first stop for him and his buddies is usually the diner at the edge of town, good food cheap. Afterwards, being jobless and with no direction, they drive around and usually end up at their hangout: a clearing in the woods (fire pit included) near Miller’s Pond. 

  It’s harder for me to follow him there, though. At the diner, I can blend in with the crowd or sit on one of the benches outside. I pretend to do homework; I can get close, but not too close. The nearer I get, the faster my heart beats and the less I’m able to think straight. 

  I haven't been able to figure out how to get near enough to him at the hangout without drawing attention to myself, so I usually just tail him there then head home. My gut tells me the hangout will be the best place for me to get his attention, get him alone for a few moments. Approaching him at school is too nerve wracking. The diner is a no-go, they do everything as a group: enter, eat, leave. I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a leak as a group.

  I’ve got to get him alone, it’s the only way I’ll have the nerve. At times I get overwhelmed and wonder if it’s all worth it. Then I pull out the the note and remind myself why I’m doing this. Courage, girl! I’ve got to at least try or I won’t forgive myself. 


  It’s come to this. I’m standing in the woods, behind a tree, in the dark, like a creeper. The darkness of the evening and the shelter of the woods makes for good cover. Tonight is the night, it’s now or never. I’ve tucked the note into my bra, over my heart, for support. I keep touching it, seeking support, calmness; instead, I’m wiping my palms on my pants and reminding myself to breathe. At least no one knows I’m here, they’re all sitting around the fire joking and drinking. Oblivious. 

  Occasionally, one of them breaks off and heads to the edge of the woods to make room for more beer. I’m far enough from the edge of the woods not to be spotted, but close enough to gain their attention if I want to.

  It’s time, here he comes! I don’t think my heart can beat any faster than it is right now behind this tree. I touch the note once more and it speaks to me, “you can do it!” I take a deep breath and obey. 

  I wait until I hear his fly unzip to step out from behind the tree. A whisper comes out, quieter than I intended, “hey.” 

  He looks up and into the woods, unsure if he’s heard anything over the noise at the fire pit.  

  “Over here,” another whisper, but a little louder this time. I wipe off my palms and clear my throat, “I’m over here.”

  He tends to his zipper again but doesn't leave, he’s heard me. He’s curious and I see the wheels turning in his beer-fueled brain: It’s a girl. His eyes light up in anticipation and search the dark for the source of the female voice. 

  “I’m here, I want you…” my voice cracks and my courage leaves me. I practiced the words I would say over and over, I had them down cold. Damn. 

  Despite my silence, he’s headed my way without even glancing back to his buddies, curious and sure of himself. He’s so close, I can see now just how handsome his is, even in this low light. It’s very disarming up close and I think my heart has actually stopped beating. 

  “Who’s there?” He spots me and closes the distance between us. 

  He doesn’t recognize me and I search for the words I practiced. The words I’ve been waiting to say for so long. “I want you…” Breathe, girl, breathe; you’ve got this. “I want you to know, this is for Amy.” Those aren’t the right words, but they’ll do. 

  The mention of Amy’s name triggers a brief moment of recognition that’s followed by confusion. I watch as the light leaves his eyes. He drops to the ground at my feet without a sound. What little light there is reflects off the hilt of my knife, which is protruding from his gut. I am finally able to breathe, it’s done. 

  There’s no need to pull the note out of my bra to remember what it says, I’ve memorized it. The lines repeat in my head: I’m not strong enough to do this anymore. He’s used me and thrown me away. I thought it was love, but it was just a big joke to him. A damn dare! I’ve cried all the tears I can. I can't look Mom in the eye anymore and I can’t raise this baby by myself. I'm sorry.

  I leave him the way he left her. Rest in peace, Amy. 

This short story was based on a prompt from this challenge: Terrible Minds Challenge

(I chose option #1)

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and read my story. This is an ongoing learning process for me. If you are so inclined, I would very much appreciate comments and feedback.


Friday, March 3, 2017

Old Man Smell - Short Story

Happy Friday! That means it's flash fiction time again. This week's prompt was to choose a photograph from a random photo generator and write a short story about it (1,000 words), and post a link to the photo (it's below).

I decided to use a random number generator to help choose my photo, knowing I'd probably waffle on the selection. It didn't go as smoothly as I thought. The first photo was a duck; not feeling inspired, I tried again. Second photo was blue depression glass. Nothing came to me. Third photo - another duck. Fourth photo - blue mason jar. I stopped. Ok, so somebody out there wants me to write about blue glass ducks... I mulled it over for the better part of the week and couldn't come up with anything very different or original after prompts from previous weeks included the Porcelain Cat. Finally, I returned to the random number generator and found a new photo. I stuck to it this time and the link to the photo is below, along with my story. I hope you like it (I'm a smidgen over the word limit). 


Chuck Wendig's website and blog and source of much inspiration:

“Old Man Smell”
by Michelle Baillargeon

Aggie stifled a yawn as she turned into the empty lot. Rider shifted in the passenger seat and opened his eyes as the car slowed and came to a stop. 

“You OK?” he asked her, recognizing at once that this was not their destination. 

“Yeah, I just needed to stop and stretch. Having a hard time keeping my eyes open.” Aggie unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car. Rider followed from his side and they both stretched. Aggie rolled her head until she felt a snap in her neck, “that’s better.”

“How much longer until we get there?” Rider looked around; at the end of the lot were two giant, obviously abandoned, buildings. They seemed to be held up by nothing more than rusted metal and weathered plywood. Towering over the site like ancient twin sentinels were two long-dead silos. 

“We’ve still got a few hours to go,” Aggie replied. “I wonder what this place used to be? See any signs?”

They both looked around searching for a sign that would indicate the name or type of business that used to occupy these buildings. There were none, either on the building or at the road side. The only thing nearby was a rickety billboard that asked you to “Eat at Mama’s - Ten Miles Ahead!” It was in the middle of the field across the street which had a promising crop of weeds.  

Rider shrugged his shoulders and walked towards the nearest building, “It doesn’t look like anyone’s been here in ages.” He approached the window closest to him, which was surprisingly intact, and leaned against it cupping his hands around his eyes so that he could see. “Sawmill is my guess,” he tapped the glass, “there’s some old equipment in there along with a few stray pieces of lumber.”

Aggie followed him to the window peered through the glass, mimicking Rider. “Look at the all light in there,” she dropped one hand from the glass and poked Rider, “think we could get in?” 

She was already imagining the stark black and white photos she’d take: light pouring over the old rusted machinery, the dark shadows lingering at the edges, dust glimmering in the sun rays. 

Aggie backed away from the window to search for a door. She found one at the far right end of the building, padlocked. Undeterred, she decided to circle the building. There had to be another door, or at least a loose board. Encouraged by the thought, she returned to the car and grabbed her camera. 

Aggie looked up to see Rider shaking his head and chuckling, “you’re not serious, are you?” He pointed to the locked door, “they obviously don’t want anyone in there.”

“Oh, come on. It’s not like I want to take anything but pictures. There's no one here and I’ll be quick.” Aggie flashed her best “pretty please” smile at Rider and he knew then that he was going to lose this argument. Better to just humor her and save time. 

Sure enough, there were several missing planks on the back wall of the building and they were able to get in easily. Aggie smiled at their luck while Rider shook his head again and chuckled, “why am I not surprised?” 

“Do you smell that?” Aggie took a deep breath as they worked their way towards the front where they’d seen the equipment. 

“What? Decaying wood, dust, mold?” 

“No. Well, yeah; but not that. Under it,” Aggie responded. 

“Under it? I don’t know what that means,” Rider said, taking a deep breath. “I got nothing.”

“Old man smell,” Aggie said, expecting her friend to understand what she meant. 

“Now you’ve lost me,” Rider stopped and looked at Aggie, waiting for her to explain. 

Aggie removed the lens cap on her camera, and raised it to her eye. She snapped some photos as she spoke. “When I was little, my family would visit relatives on summer vacation and we would always stop at Uncle Charlie’s house.”

She paused to look at her surroundings, she was trying to hurry but she didn’t want to miss anything either. She moved closer to the front where the largest piece of equipment was, Rider followed silently.

“Uncle Charlie was great with us kids, always joking around. He gave the best hugs, too. And he always smelled the same. Always.” She snapped a few more photos and paused. “There it is again; it sure brings me back.”

“So what exactly is Old Man Smell? Bengay?” Rider asked. 

“Well, it wasn’t until I was old enough to go bar hopping that I realized what it was - whiskey. Thinking back, we never saw Uncle Charlie without a highball; I put two and two together.” Aggie handed her camera over to Rider. 

“Now what?” 

“Can you just take a quick one of me standing by this giant saw?” Aggie leaned against the least rusted spot of the machine she could find and smiled at Rider. “Are you sure you can’t smell that?” 

Rider shook his head no, “maybe a wino was here.” He looked around for evidence, raising his eyebrows at Aggie and holding back a laugh, “maybe he’s still here.” 

“Just take it already,” Aggie laughed in spite of herself as Rider took her photo. Just then, a chill swept over her and she absent-mindedly brushed away a fresh batch of goosebumps. 

Aggie and Rider retraced their their steps out of the sawmill and headed back to the car. Aggie took the camera back and paused when they reached the car, she was already previewing the photos on the camera’s playback screen. 

The last photo came up first, she squinted and huffed, “Ride, there’s a glare behind me in this one. Look. I hope they’re not all like that.”

“I’m sure they’re fine.” Rider humored her by looking at the screen. He took the camera from her and enlarged his view, there was no glare. He paused to choose his words. 

“Ag, that’s not glare. That’s…” the right words wouldn’t come. Baby hairs on the back of his neck stood upright. A nervous laugh escaped as he handed the camera back to her and pointed at the screen. “I was right.”

“About what?” She caught the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes; goosebumps reappeared. Aggie looked where he pointed and saw what she’d mistaken for glare: standing beside her, cut in half by the ancient saw blade was a foggy, semi-transparent, disheveled man. He was smiling at the camera with one hand raised in an unmistakable “cheers” gesture. She looked closer, it looked like he was holding a paper bag crumpled around the familiar shape of a bottle.