Clarity

Clarity
D. Paul Angel
848 Words

It was a capriciously Spring day. Rain came and went in bursting sheets, necessitating my jacket, even though it was uncomfortably warm to wear. Inside the bank I simply held it, its fabric being too slick to stay tied around my waist. I awkwardly shifted it hand to hand, a nervous, near constant leapfrogging with my deposit slip and envelope.

The line moved glacially. I studied the intricate paisleys brightly interwoven throughout the carpet, and wondered how much the view would change when I was closer to the brass pole holding the stained, velvet rope.

I looked up at the CLACK CLACK CLACK of a metal cane hitting the open door’s aluminum frame. The cane’s white and red paint was scratched and chipped, especially towards its lower third. Its owner was a woman who appeared younger at first glance, older at second glance, and unplaceable with further scrutiny.

She easily found the end of the line and, despite her opaquely black sunglasses, appeared to smile and nod at my attentions. I smiled back awkwardly before taking advantage of the line’s movement to look away.

As I was studying the herringbone on the tweed jacket of my predecessor in line, I heard harsh, barking shouts and rough feet clumping into the bank at a trot. Three masked men stood before us, menacing us with black, angular rifles and pistols tucked behind their belts.

Everyone began going to the ground but I found myself frozen. I knew, deeply, that if I hadn’t chosen the restroom before the bank I would have wet myself right there. I was certain they would kill me for standing, but I could not summon enough will to move.

Then I realized none of them were looking at me.

Nor was I alone in standing.

The lady with the cane had left the line and headed towards them. Rifles to shoulders; they coldly fixed her in their sights.

Her head slowly shook. It shook neither in fear nor intimidation; ignorance nor resignation. Her head shook with sadness. Terrible, absolute, sadness. The kind of deep sorrow that attends the finality of a too long struggle, when tears have wept themselves to extinction.

“Please,” she said with quiet sternness, “it is not yet too late.”

The leader derisively cycled his rifle in intimidation, his grin obvious even through his mask. The unspent round bounced twice on the carpet’s short pile before ricocheting with a TING off of one of the brass line posts.

In the silence that followed you could barely hear her utter a sharp TSK before slamming her cane straight down with so much force the air itself warped, twisting upon itself; wrapping itself, and then finally unbinding itself in three, quick, blinks of an eye.

The men dropped.

One, the furthest, simply lay quiet.

The other two held hands to their heads, their faces contorting in the rigors of silent, agonizing screams.

The last two, mercifully, finally stilled their thrashing and a funereal quietus soaked into the lobby. I alone still stood, and no one else appeared to be ready to cease from their exhorted torpor.

“What did you to them?” I asked her, surprising myself by talking.

“I did nothing to them,” she replied simply, as her head swiveled to face me. She walked towards me and continued, “They did it to themselves.”

“Did what?”

“Feel, of course.”

“What you did to the air with your cane?” I asked confused. And afraid.

“Interesting.” She cocked her in head thought before continuing, “You saw the Clarity.”

“Clarity?”

“Pure, unfiltered clarity. Their life as Balance. Every hurt, every fear, every horror they have ever visited on anyone, and everyone, in their life, they felt.

“Fully and instantly; knowing beyond doubt they were the cause.”

“So they were overcome by their guilt?” I asked, and then noticing that the furthest robber was the only one beginning to move, added, “What about him?”

“It is Balance. The agonies they caused are balanced by those they have endured. For him, hope yet remains.”

“What are you? A witch? Sorceress? Angel?”

“I am what I need to be,” she answered with what I suddenly knew was unimpeachable veracity.

I began to open my mouth as a logiarrheaic flow of questions forming, before her stern visage closed it. Instead I found myself nodding and smiling to her in farewell.

She walked out the door, her figure lost in the glare of the low, late afternoon Sun. The third gunman rose in her shadowy wake, divested himself of weapons, and blearily followed her.

Though the customers and tellers remained bound to the floor, the other two masked men began to rise. Freed of my invisible shackles I went and helped each of them up. Distrustful eyes glared at me before softening and looking at their weapons with confusion.

I helped them pile their weapons in a heap; watching with a smile as the leader retrieved the shell he had ejected earlier. With a shaking hand he placed it atop the pile.

We left the bank together, it not yet being too late.

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Puppy Love

Puppy Love
D. Paul Angel
714 Words

Barras slowly opened the control room door. He’d seen the light in the lab, but no one was supposed to be here this late. He cringed when he saw Pelcher at the controls. Yes, he was a superior, but he was also an ass and Barras had had a long enough day as it was. “What the Hell are you doing Pelcher!?” he heard himself shout, far angrier than he had realized.

“Oh it’s you,” Pelcher said with a sneer. “I’m doing whatever the Hell I want.”

“Lab’s closed, Pelcher,” Barras continued walking to the control panel. When he realized Pelcher had the force field prototype fully engaged he added, “You can’t be running this! We don’t have another test scheduled for days.”

Pelcher turned from the controls confronting Barras with a hard index finger straight to the chest. “I can do whatever the hell I want in my Goddamned lab! I’m the one who got the defense contracts. I’m the one who obtained the urban test facility, and I’m the one who authorizes your pittance of a salary!”

Barras’ fist clenched but his reply changed abruptly when he finally noticed the dog in the test area. He pushed past Pelcher to get a closer look through the special, thick glass.

The dog was actually a puppy. It looked like a pitbull and it was running in circles around the forcefield, lunging at it continuously despite being thrown away each time. Barras looked incredulously at Pelcher, who started laughing.

“That’s the kid’s puppy isn’t it? Where is she, Pelcher?”

“In the forcefield of course. She tried getting money from me again and that flea ridden mongrel snapped at me after I slapped her.”

“You slapped her!? Jesus Pelcher, she’s just a girl! Not even a teen yet! Jesus…”

“She wants to be on the streets, she needs to know who her betters are,” Pelcher said dismissively. “So I’m teaching her. She grabbed hermuttbefore I could kick it and said, ‘Nothing could come between them.’

“Nothing, eh? So I bet her $20 against her mutt that I could keep them apart for 10 minutes.” Pelcher looked at his watch, “Another minute and half and I can get rid of it for good. Maybe even both?”

Barras looked at the controls in disgust as Pelcher laughed again before launching into a NASAesque countdown. Barras’ disgust suddenly turned to fear as he saw the readout, “Jesus Pelcher, you overrode the safety protocols!”

“So?”

“So, you’re already at 175% capacity!”

“That’s- That’s impossible! We hit the force field with a battleship round at point blank range and it only spiked to 91%. Hell, in theory not even a railgun could push it past 110%.”

“Shut it down, Pelcher, shut it down! Shut it down now!”

“And lose to street turd? Hell no.”

Barras tried pushing him away to shut it down himself when he saw the puppy jump ever more frantically; each hit raising the load that much more. Out of instinct he ducked just as he saw the puppy take running lunge, even as Pelcher derisively resumed his countdown in the 30’s.

Barras woke against the far wall, well away from the control panel where’d been before the blinding flash and shuddering BANG! He could see Pelcher knocked out too, his legs at an odd angle, but the kid was in the center of the lab unscathed. The puppy was in her lap, happily licking her face. The engineer in him realized that being in the epicenter of the blast had completely protected them both.

Barras awoke again, unsure how long he’d been unconscious this time. He hadn’t smelled the burning circuits, plastic, and wires before. He remembered Pelcher’s arrogant stupidity more clearly though, and was even more grateful to be alive. He turned his head back to Pelcher and saw the kid and the puppy standing over him. Pelcher, pinned by a chunk of concrete and twisted I-beam,was haphazardly trying to shoo them away. The kid easily ignored Pelcher’s weak efforts and began kicking him repeatedly. As the ringing in Barras’ ears slowly ebbed he began to make out her shouts, “WHERE’S MY TWENTY BUCKS ASSHOLE!?”

Barras soon passed out again, but not before he had the satisfaction of seeing the puppy lift his leg…

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Tech Support Difficulty

Tech Support Difficulty
D. Paul Angel
461 Words

“Hi, Tech Support.”

“Yeah, I’m having a really hard time with my new word processor.”

“Oh? What’s going on?”

“Well, I’ve got a 90 page report I have to have in to my boss before I leave today.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And, well it was 90, but now it’s 88.”

“Well that’s not good.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m calling.”

“Of course, of course. Anything else?”

“Well you know how it underlines words that are misspelled?”

“Certainly.”

“Well, I’ll look at the page and there’ll only be a couple of words misspelled, but then when I go back, there are a ton more words underlined.”

“Oh no.”

“What do you mean, ‘Oh no?'”

“Well, it’s- Have you checked your difficulty level?”

“My difficulty level?”

“Yes, you know, EASY, MEDIUM, HARD, etc…”

“Is this a joke?”

“No sir.

“I’m talking about a word processor, not a game. I need help. I do not need jokes.”

“I assure you sir, this isn’t a joke. Can you please click on FILE and then click on DIFFICULTY?”

“I told you- What the Hell?”

“You found it ok, sir?”

“Why in the Hell is there a Difficulty setting on a word processor?”

“Well, we found too many of the employees were getting bored with routine tasks so we added difficulty levels to keep them interested. Didn’t you get the notice?”

“No! I would’ve remembered an email like that.”

“Email? Uh, right. Um, well, it was on our FaceBook page, Pinterest, Twitter had a link to our Tumblr page too. None of those?”

“What? I don’t have any of those!”

“Not even MySpace?”

“Of course not and- And now it’s down to 87 pages!”

“OK, tell me what difficulty it’s on. EASY? MEDIUM?”

“It says LEGENDARY. Should I switch it to EASY?”

“No! Sir, whatever you do, do NOT change it now!”

“What?”

“Seriously, whatever you do, don’t change it.”

“What, why?”

“LEGENDARY is just like the games. So if, like, in the games, if you die on LEGENDARY you start the level again, right? Same thing. It knows when your report will be done, and you can’t switch it till then. And you’ll lose all your work if you leave early.”

“WHAT!?”

“Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about it. But you should know it will slowly delete words to keep you typing. Oh, and the slower you type, the faster it deletes.”

“Oh is that all!?”

“Uh, no. If you don’t fix a typo within 3 seconds it will randomly spawn five additional typos on the same page.”

“Holy sh- So what the hell do I do now?”

“Type man, type! Type like you have never typed before!”

“Son of a…”

“And pray to God you finish before tonight’s update restarts your computer automatically.”

“WHAT? When is-”

*CLICK*

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Where the Shadows Lie

Where the Shadows Lie
D. Paul Angel
479 Words

He took Grey off leash, and watched as the border collie went bounding into the woods next to the trail. He loved it up here on the soft ridge. The trail criss-crossed the park below many times; thin lines of brown and gray cutting the large swath of green into crisp, geometric shapes. But there was only the one trail up here. With the steep climb there were far less people, too. You could never be truly solitary when urban sprawl surrounded “Nature” on all sides, but this little knoll was close. Once he got Grey it became even more secluded for him since dog walkers were expected to stroll up the hill and around the woods.

He breathed in the scent of the Eucalyptus trees as he heard Grey rustling through their fallen leaves. The smell was distinct, and overpowered the multitude of scents that any stand of trees invariably produced. It was a peaceful smell to him, one of the reasons why he always enjoyed bringing his dates up here for a picnic. The soothing scent and privacy were an intoxicating combination.

He looked at the shadows cast by the trees across the trail. From a distance there was a clear demarcation. Dark on one side, light on the other. But as you got closer, the line became less clear. The more you looked, the less definitive it became. The black wasn’t solid, nor even consistent. Instead it was thousands of individual shadows of varying depths of gray from each individual leaf, twig, branch, and trunk. He liked to look for the transition. The edge between one world and the other.

It was a comfort.

It was nice to forget.

Except, of course for when you realized you were forgetting. He grimaced as the flood of images came back. The date had been going so well. The cheese, the wine, the crackers; even the smoked salmon had been perfect. He had gently stroked some cracker crumbs from his date’s beard, causing the man to flinch. It was a subtle rejection, but final nonetheless.

Grey’s barking broke the string of memories flashing through his head, not just of the rejection but of the excuses that had followed. What else could a picnic have meant? He realized that he had come here not just to forget, but to remember. It was, after all, just one of many dates that hadn’t been perfect. It just stung more because it was so recent. And because it had started so perfectly.

Grey’s barking continued, distracting him as he tried watching the scene again. Giving up on reminiscing for now, he kept calling for Grey until he heard the dog trotting back to him.

He turned pale when he saw the dismembered arm in Grey’s mouth, only just recovering to shout, “I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE THAT UNGRATEFUL BASTARD WHERE I BURIED HIM!”

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Mrs. Black’s Withering Glare

Last week I posted “Mr. Black’s Knowing Wink” as a one off #FridayFlash.  There were several comments that wondered after Dolores fate, so I was inspired to continue her story…

Mrs. Black’s Withering Glare
D. Paul Angel
1,000 Words

Dolores sat at the interrogation with her head down in silence. The Police had come in that morning to arrest her for Ableforth’s murder! She had just been starting to go through his office and all of his papers when they burst through her front door. She was all aflutter and protesting her innocence when she saw Mr. Black on the other side of the street. She’d wanted to yell and point him out, but he’d given her one of those smiles again; they just seemed to soothe her. He’d once again signaled her to be silent and she’d followed his advice from that point on.

“Well Dolores, still have nothing to say?” asked Clarance for the umpteenth time. He’d been one of Ableforth’s poker and golfing buddies, and was the county District Attorney. She stayed quiet and avoided his angry eyes. “The longer you say nothing, the worse it looks for you, I’m afraid…”

As his implication lingered, the door opened and a severe, matronly woman walked in. She was wearing an older gray, Victorian dress with an elaborate costume jewel brooch at her neck. Her hair was in a tight bun, and she had deep wrinkles around her mouth. “I am here to represent you Dolores,” she said with a wide smile that showed the origin of her wrinkles. “My husband saw your… trouble this morning and informed me.”

“I must warn you Dolores, an attorney at this stage only makes you look guilty,” Clarance said, ignoring the newcomer.

“You may call me Mrs. Black, and you will address any further questions to me.”

“Think carefully, Dolores,” Clarence continued, still ignoring Mrs. Black completely, “Do you even know this-”

He was interrupted by Mrs. Black loudly hitting the metal table in the center of the room. It was loud enough to reverberate, and Dolores was pretty sure she noticed a dent where Mrs. Black had struck it. “You will address your questions to me,” she said to Clarence.

Clarence rose from his chair and turned to face Mrs. Black for the first time. He had his hand half raised to point at her, and his mouth opened grotesquely large to yell at her, when he was hit by her withering glare. Both actions remained unfinished as he slumped back down, looking away from Mrs. Black.

“Good,” she continued, “Now you will listen to me. You have no case and you know it. Which is why you’re in here bullying a new widow in the back of the Police Station. Did you even bother reading her her rights?”

“I-”

“I didn’t think so.”

“We were-”

“That is no excuse and you know it!”

“Can I finish!?” he shouted, only half rising before sitting down again at her look.

“Yes. You can tell us your theory.”

“It’s open and shut. Dolores poisoned her husband so she could keep the inheritance to herself. She had motive, means, and opportunity.”

“Whose inheritance?”

“They had just come-”

Whose inheritance.”

“Well it was Dolores’.”

“Dolores’s, yes. So. Regardless, of whether Ableforth still lived, or not, she would receive her inheritance?”

“Well of course, but-”

“Would Ableforth have received it if she died prior to it clearing probate?”

“Well… no.”

“And, he would only be entitled to as much of it as she shared, correct?”

“Well, yes, but-”

“So Ableforth had motive to kill her, Right? So, murder weapon?”

“It was a rare poison. I can’t pronounce it, but it kills quickly with little trace.”

“Would a mortician have known of it?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Ableforth did the county’s autopsies, didn’t he?”

When Clarence didn’t answer she asked him again, forcefully, “Well didn’t he?”

“Yes, he helped us out sometimes.”

“So you knew Ableforth then? Tell me. Was he a good man?”

“We played poker every week and golfed a couple times a month…”

“And does that make him a good man?”

“I, uh…”

“Your pause is eloquence enough. I wonder if he spoke of Dolores during your times together?”

Clarence looked everywhere in the room except at Dolores or Mrs. Black. He tugged at his collar, loosening his tie. Dolores noticed the sweat stains under his arms, and was acutely aware of her own sweating; though Mrs. Black seemed wholly unaffected.

“It’s hot in here…” Clarence began before Mrs. Black cut him off, “Yes, that’s what happens when you turn off the air-conditioning. In the South. During the Summer.

“Now, what did Ableforth have to say about his wife?”

“He said she couldn’t keep house worth a shit and she’d be lost without him.”

“Hmmm… so this woman, who according to her husband can’t even take care of housework, would be in a position to know about, and obtain a rare poison you can’t even pronounce? That, to be clear, is your theory?”

“A jury-”

“Will never hear it. The bottle of poison was found in Ableforth’s pocket, he had ordered it and personally received it. It had only his fingerprints on it. Both glasses, in fact, had Ableforth’s fingerprints on them, but Dolores’ fingerprints were only on hers. You have no case.”

This time Clarence did shoot up and thundered at Mrs. Black, “How do you know all that… unless you’re an accomplice?”

“It’s called, ‘Discovery,’ Clarence. You would know that if you’d studied it more in Law School.”

“I scored rather well in Discovery, thank you!” he shot back.

“Yes, with your Professors wife, I believe?”

Dolores was shocked not only by Mrs. Black’s haughty retort, but by how pale Clarence looked as he collapsed back in his chair. Mrs. Black nodded with satisfaction at Clarence and continued, “Well, I’d say Ableforth did himself in while trying to kill his own wife, wouldn’t you Clarence?”

Downcast and defeated, Clarence let them out while muttering disbelieving profanities under his breath. As Dolores and Mrs. Black triumphantly walked down the building’s red brick steps, Dolores found herself really wanting to learn how to smile as Mrs. Black did. Well, that and her masterful glare too.

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Mr. Black’s Knowing Wink

Mr. Black’s Knowing Wink
D. Paul Angel
750 Words

Dolores rushed into the kitchen to pull the roast out. The buzzer on the oven had stuck again, and she had lost track of time polishing the silver for dinner with Ableforth’s boss tonight. She’d asked Ableforth to fix it, but his reply was the same to all of her difficulties, “It’s not like you don’t have the time. I do enough work, at work.”

Dolores lifted the cast-aluminum lid to check the roast and potatoes. The potatoes were a little crisp, and the carrots were rubbery, but at least the roast didn’t feel dry to her poking. Ableforth hated dry roasts as a matter of course, and tonight was already important to him (“I don’t know how to get perfect out of you when you can’t even manage adequate, Dolores, but that’s what I need for tonight,” he’d commanded on his way out). As for the veggies, he’d barely touch his potatoes anyway, and he’d howl if she put even a sliver of carrot on his plate.

She was still setting the table when Ableforth bustled into the house shouting for her. She rubbed some of the last dust off a crystal goblet with her apron before rushing to the foyer. Ableforth hated it when he had to wait for her. Ableforth introduced her to Mr. Black, laughing and nudging the air next to him. “The Mortuary has my name on it, Dolores! You really think I have a Boss? That’s too rich. Mr. Black is what we call Death in the Industry. You’ll believe anything won’t you!?”

He continued on into the dining room, laughing to himself the whole way. It was better than his usual scowls, sarcasm, or drunken anger, but not by much. She almost jumped when she realized there was someone else in the foyer. He was every bit as slender as Ableforth wasn’t, and his formal, Victorian suit looked straight out of one of the Sherlock Holmes movies she watched on PBS when Ableforth had his Poker nights.

“Mr. Black?” she asked quietly. The little man didn’t respond out loud, but gave her a knowing wink as he placed his top hat and thin, black umbrella on the wooden coat rack by the door. Then he took her by the hand and pulled her into the kitchen. He held his finger to his lips to quiet her as he pointed towards Ableforth in the other room. Ableforth had poured a couple glasses of wine, but was pouring a clear liquid out of a small, dark bottle into one of them. The one he then placed on her end of the table. Mr. Black motioned her to continue making up their plates before letting himself into the dining room just as Ableforth came into the kitchen.

“It’s a great day, Dolores!’ Ableforth said, leaning on the counter as she grabbed the plates to take into the dining room. As they turned to leave, she saw Mr. Black switch the glasses of wine before primly taking the chair she had set for him. Ableforth continued without noticing Mr. Black, “The probate attorney called and your Father’s estate is finally settled. The check came this afternoon and it’s already deposited. I’m done here. Done with this town, done with this life, and done with- Well, I’m just done.

“So a toast, Dolores, to a new life,” he finished, holding up his glass and inviting her to toast. She looked over to Mr. Black who gave her a sympathetic smile and encouraged her to drink. She raised her glass with a forced smile and drank deeply as Ableforth drained his glass with a loud gulp. She was watching Mr. Black stand up when she heard Ableforth’s first gasp. She turned and saw his face contort in fear and pain as he clutched at his chest. She rounded the table as he collapsed to the floor, flailing.

She panicked, not knowing what to do and unable to speak. She let herself be moved aside by Mr. Black who, having collected his hat and umbrella, stood over Ableforth. She watched dumbfounded as Mr. Black swiped his umbrella through Ableforth, instantly stilling his convulsions. Mr. Black turned to her again, looking at her with both sympathy and encouragement. He doffed his hat and formally bowed to her before squeezing her hands and smartly walking out.

She sat back down and drained the rest of her wine in a single gulp, before smiling, truly smiling, in as long as she could remember.

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