NYC Midnight Round 2 Story

This challenge required the following elements: a cargo hold on a ship, a wheelchair and the genre is Historical Fiction

Charlie and Lou, 1969  120210-met-sky


She lay beneath a single bulb that hung from the ceiling. The nurse held the cup to her lips so she could swallow the pills. The smell of rubbing alcohol and salt air filled the room.

“Night, Louise,” she said and closed the door.

A whisper broke the silence.

“Lou. You awake?”

She searched the room with frightened eyes, thought the voices called her again.

His shaved head stuck through the open window.

“Hey, Lou,” his voice softened at the sight of her. She managed a half smile.

“I thought you were them again,” she said.

“No, Lou. It’s me. You know me,” he said and crawled inside.

“How’d you get out?” she asked, eyelids heavy.

“You know me, Lou. I have my ways.” He kissed her. “The only way we can make sure to leave this place for good, is if we leave this world.”

“I can’t go, Charlie,” she slurred.

“Why not?” He checked the hallway for nurses.

She wiggled her arms. “I’m tied.” Her eyes rolled back.

He pulled a pair of wire cutters from beneath his hospital gown.

“I got it,” he cut the cuff on her right wrist.

“What if we get caught, Charlie?”

“Shhhh-shh-shhhh, I ain’t letting nobody take you from me.You believe in me, Lou?” He whispered, jostling her to open her eyes. “You believe in me, girl?”

Footsteps slapped against the linoleum floor in the hall. He tucked the severed cuff together and slid under the hospital bed.

Shift change time.

The nurse entered, crossed the room, closed the window, checked Louise’s chart, and left. She’d be back in an hour. They’d have to make a lot of miles, fast. He cut the other wrist restraint.

“Ready, Baby?” He lifted her, threw her over his shoulder, opened the window and ducked out. Behind a row of shrubs, he changed into a stolen nurses uniform and lifted Louise into a waiting wheelchair.

After midnight the gates only opened once, for the sanitation department. He waited in the shadows. A spotlight swept the yard. The groaning truck arrived and the guard pushed open the barrier, took his clipboard to the driver and waited for his signature. Charlie had watched this scenario a thousand times from his third-floor bedroom. He knew exactly how many seconds the driver would risk away from his post. The rattle of the engine camouflaged the wheelchair crossing the lawn, traversing the driveway. He snuck alongside the truck and to its rear, into the shadow of pine trees lining the road.

“We did it, Lou,” he said, adrenaline overwhelming his heart, tears in his eyes. “My roommate told me all about it. First time ever, people are flying to the moon.”

She slumped over in the wheelchair as he pushed it along the rutted road.

“Won’t nobody be feeding us pills, no wrist ties, no razor blades.” He set her up again and kissed her wrist, the scar, like a little rubber fishing lure. “We just gotta make it to the cargo hold, right inside the main compartment. And I know we can, because I can get into anywhere if I set my mind to it. Right, Lou? Just a few more miles to Kennedy.  I’m gonna carry you now, because of the sand,” he said. “Wheels and sand don’t mix. Sometimes I feel like that’s us, Lou. You know? Wheels and sand, always sinking. Until now. I guess every once in a while, it takes a rocket….”

At the end of the two-lane he waited. Cars sped past. He crossed the highway and ran into the swamp bordering the Space Center.

“I don’t like the dark,” she mumbled.

“It’s okay, Lou. We’re going to the moon. You and me. Nobody will tie you down, or call you crazy or lock you in a room, ever again. Guess what else, Lou? The sun shines all day for a month, on the moon.”

“Bring a gun?” she asked.

“Yeah, Baby.”

“Charlie, remember last time…?’

“It’s okay.”

“Put me down, Charlie.” He stopped, stood her on the ground.

“Charlie, they’ll kill us…”

“Lou, first, I ain’t never gonna let anything happen to you. Never.” He cradled her face in his hands, pressed his lips to hers. “The way I see it, Lou, they already killed us.”

“You’re not on death row,” she slurred.

“Maybe I should’ve been.”

“Don’t…,” she whispered.

“I’d rather be dead than caged.” He crossed his hands behind his head, stared up at the almost full moon. “I ain’t crazy, Lou.”

She fainted and he caught her, threw her over his shoulder and ran deeper into the scrub brush, his feet slowed by the sandy soil.

Far off in the distance, sirens sounded, echoed all around him, he ran faster, until he reached the fence. He cut a hole and stepped through, still holding Louise.

In the clearing, the mammoth rocket stood, Apollo 11, positioned to launch the next day.

“Look, Lou,” he set her in the grass, held her face so she could see.

“Charlie…” she began.

But he put his mouth over hers. “Trust me, okay, Lou? Okay?” And she nodded. “Can you walk?” She nodded but couldn’t stand. He swept her up and ran, stumbling, toward the launch pad.

A spotlight swept over them. Charlie grabbed for his gun.

Sirens wailed. Louise screamed.Charlie threw her over his shoulder so he could run faster, up the steps that led to Apollo 11. 

Ten police trained their guns on him.

But Charlie never looked back. “Lou, we did it! Just you and me.” He cradled her head in his hands.

Lou opened her eyes and was blinded by red lights. She called Charlie’s name, buried her head in his shoulder.

“You and me, Lou. We’re free….,”he whispered, bullets fired from every weapon pointed toward them.

And in the shadow of the space shuttle, 283,900 miles from the waxing crescent moon, they left forever, her head still cradled in his arms.

My entry for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2016


The interstate made Blue Gem, Colorado a time capsule. It was shadowed by a mountain and shaded further by enormous rustling pines.  Abandoned trucks, trailers and boarded houses peppered the two-lane road running through its middle.

The bar was in a former mining shack, a hundred-year-old shanty that leaned toward the mountain, giving it the appearance of a child afraid to leave its mother.

He killed the engine and flicked a cigarette out the window. His hooded eyes flashed in the rear-view mirror.

“Ten years. She won’t even know who I am.” He picked up the notebook paper letter, scanned it one more time.

“…and so I’m leaving. I hope you understand.”

He folded it back and smoothed his hair.

His heart stumbled and started up again and he climbed out of the rusted Toyota.

Inside, air-conditioned darkness cloaked him even more than his changed appearance. Speakers blared and neon beer signs lit the smoky haze.

“What can I get you?” She said.

“Gimme a beer, “ he said.

Two state troopers seated in the corner, eyed him, nodded, drank their Coca-Cola with one eye on the door. He rubbed the scraggle of beard on his chin and smiled at her. His heart was turning over and over in his chest. She set the mug on the bar and moved on to the other end to stack glasses. He knew he could talk all day and she’d never have any idea who he was. He drank the beer quick, gathering courage and set it back down.

“Run this place all by yourself?” he asked, raising his voice above the music.

“Mostly,” she said, and turned away to give the bill to the other table. She looked the same, a little thinner, no wedding band. In the mirror that lined the bar, he could see everything without turning around. The state troopers smiled and flirted with her. A tinge of jealousy fired up inside of him.

After they paid she came back. “Another one?”

He pushed the mug toward her. Under his rolled sleeve she saw the inked scorpion tail curled across his forearm. Her body stiffened. She caught her breath.


She could see him now, past the shadows, the gauntness. The skeleton of a man she’d known for almost forever, since she was a girl in high school, stupid and carefree. The same boy who talked her into staying out long past midnight, stealing beer from the convenience store, smoking pot in her grandmother’s basement. A lopsided smile spread across her face, like someone who’d had an Ace played on their King.

“How’d you find me?” she asked, one eye on the Troopers.


“I’m not on Facebook,” she said, eyes narrowed.

“Enough of your family and friends are,” he smirked. “It wasn’t hard.”

““How long have you been out of prison?” she asked.

“Long enough to track down my million dollars,” he said and raised his beer in a toast to her. “We got a lot of catching up to do,” he said and chugged it.

She stared at him.

He leaned forward, pressed his lips to hers. She smelled of tobacco and lavender, made him think of San Miguel, another mountain, a different time.

“Been dreaming about you,” he said.

“I bet you have,” she said and wiped at the bar top.

He grinned. “You didn’t think moving halfway across the country could keep me from my money, now did you?”

His eyes held hers. Ten years disappeared for a moment, but then her face clouded and she turned away.

He sighed, “You waited all that time for me to get out of prison, so we could live the life we dreamed of, and then a month before I’m out you sent me a letter telling me goodbye, that you couldn’t wait any longer? And then your sister posted a picture on Facebook of you outside this bar. You knew I’d find you.” He stared at her. “Why?”

“Maybe it was time you did some work for a change. Paid the price,” she smiled.

“I been in prison for 10 years,” he said.

“I been in my own prison,” she said. “I finally realized that I was waiting for a man who might never come back.” She whispered the last part.

“Lucille, you had my million dollars. You knew I would come back,” he said.

“Yeah, well, it’s not the same, not like we planned it.” She turned her back on him.

“Where is it?” He smiled, those steel-blue eyes boring straight through to her soul. What she really wanted to do was to throw herself across the bar and smother him with her own body. But she wouldn’t let that happen ever again.

“Back there.” She jerked her head toward the kitchen and raised her eyebrows.

“Well now that the ‘Federales’ have gone, let’s see about that cash,” he said, rubbing his hands together.

She walked toward the front, to lock the door. He stood up, waited.

“Bert stopped by,” she said and turned the dead bolt.

“Bert?” he asked. The music had stopped. There was a ringing in his ears. “When?”

“Yesterday,” she said.

“I thought he was supposed to be in prison for another 6 months,” he said, avoiding her eyes. He lifted his baseball cap and then replaced it on his head.

“Good behavior,” she said.

“Oh,” he said.

She smiled at him. “He wanted his share.”

“You didn’t give it to him?”

“I probably should have,” she said. “But I told him you’d be here soon, that y’all would have to work it out.”

He exhaled, relieved.

“Look, Babe, this is gonna be great. Just you and me, like we always planned,” he said and put an arm around her.

She wrenched free from him.

Her eyes were set hard, like quartz.

She turned the ‘open’ sign around to read, ‘closed’ and led him down a hall, to a wine cellar in the floor.

“You left a million dollars in there?” he said.

“I couldn’t think of a safer place. Here, you’re gonna need this,” she tossed him a flashlight. Her eyes burned like rubies. She stood with her arms crossed.

He lowered himself into the hole and knelt by a safe in the corner.

“What’s the combination?” he called.

“Your birthday,” she said. He opened it and found stacks of hundred dollar bills.

“Maybe it was worth ten years, after all!” he laughed.

The cellar door slammed.

“I was kidding! Dammit, Lucille, stop playing around.” He shone his flashlight up at the ceiling.

“I kinda like the idea of you all locked up,” she called to him.

“Lucille, what the hell?” he yelled. “Are you crazy? Open the door, Lucille!” his voiced boomed, echoed underground.

She laughed.

“What are you gonna do, Lucille, keep me down here in this pit for the rest of my life?”

“Basically,” she said.

“I’m pretty sure you’ll want to get to this cash sooner or later,” he said.’Then what?”

“Maybe we can work something out after you’ve had time to think about your actions,” she said.

“What actions?” he yelled.

“Let’s see, what was her name, Brenda, Brianna, or was it Bree?”

“What are you talking about?” He was banging on the door again.

“Bert told me all about it,” she said.

“I’m gonna shoot it open!” He fired, but it didn’t do it much. He banged on the door harder.

“You see, Bert tried to take all the money, even after I told him we had to wait for you,” she said.

“Really?” he said.

“But, it turns out that you sent him here. Isn’t that right, Sugar?” She leaned against the kitchen wall. “And when he didn’t show up with the money, you came looking for it.”

“No. He was supposed to get you and the money and then we’d meet back up, all three of us.” He shook the door.

“Really? Because Bert said you and he were going to split the money. He said you were going to give him an extra 10% to get rid of me,” she said.

“You know I love you, just open the door. We can work it all out.”

“He offered me an extra 15% to split it up, just me and him,” she said.

“Hey! This isn’t even all the money. There are only a few hundreds down here and newspaper pieces!”

“So you basically just used me, to keep your money safe until you got out of prison…,” she said.

More shots rang out.

“You see, Bert showed me your emails to her. He had your password. You really should’ve changed that, you know? I read all your love letters and your big plans and how that ski instructor is waiting for you up in that fancy ski resort in Colorado. He told me that you were no-good and worthless, that she was ten years younger. Like I used to be before I got all mixed up in this mess. He knew I’d be angry. He knew I’d want revenge. And he was right. What he didn’t realize was that I also had your password and I knew he was coming. I read all about yours and his plans to rob me and leave me for dead.” She shook her head. “But I pretended not to know, just so I could get Burt down in that hole.”

Waving the light around, something caught his eye. He shone the beam on the floor, deeper in the cellar and there was Burt, sprawled on the floor, gagged, but alive.

“I thought you and Burt could meet down there, closer to your stash,” she yelled, with an edge in her voice that was missing before.

“Lucille, please! You’ve lost your mind,” he yelled. “You won’t get away with it.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve already emailed Brittany.  You said that you don’t love her anymore, can’t love a woman dependent on seasonal work,” she giggled.

He yelled, “You’re gonna regret this.”

She turned off the lights and closed the hallway door. He shot again.

And with that final pistol shot, a rattling, softer than summer leaves, started in the corner, echoed in the darkness.

He shone the light toward the curious sound.

A ball of snakes, asleep for the winter were startled awake by the noise. Writhing and twisting, the wad of reptiles undid itself, until one by one they slithered toward him, and toward Burt, tied up in the corner, now also awake and bug-eyed at the vermin.

George begged. His pleas echoed through the mountain tunnels, like so many rattlers that’d lost their way.

She stood in the bar and considered his fate and listened to his cries.

And she almost went back.

But she noticed that they didn’t have much affect on her anymore. She set a Folger’s can on the bar and poured in some kerosene. She lit his passport and dropped it inside. The first tendrils of smoke curled toward the ceiling. Once the bar filled with smoke, the alarm would go off and the fire department would come. They’d rescue George and Burt from the wine cellar. But she’d be long gone.

She bolted the door from the outside and flung the battered leather suitcase, full of hundred dollar bills, into the backseat.

It was 12 hours to Nuevo Laredo, if she drove all night.

And so she did.

Just before she crossed the border, she stopped and took a selfie at the International Bridge, messaged it to her sister.

The moon’s eyes seemed to follow her as she steered the rusted Toyota through the Mexican desert toward San Miguel de Allende.

It wouldn’t be long now. Same mountain, different time.

The Spider and the Fly


Woven between the Holly Bush and the Abelia, its threads are dew-laden and glorious. She waits, betting on the careless flight of the bumble bee. A couple of neat, gray mummies are  stashed at her side. 

Despite this fantastical web, even a half-caught Dragon Fly will get away… every now and then.

I blow on the silky net. Eight spiky legs unfold and fold back up again.

She’s no fool.

Downtown, the meter man’s tiny electric car parks in the last precious parking space. He draws chalk lines on the backs of tires, scribbles in his ticket book. His pants are creased to perfection.

I circle the block twice. Only the “loading zone” is available.

It takes me about three minutes to get a black coffee if there’s no line. It’ll take him at least five minutes to get back around to my car.

I stumble in my haste, drop my keys on the sidewalk.

The little bell on the coffee shop door chimes. A girl with a steampunk mask sees me and turns back toward the espresso machine.

“I’ll get the lids,” she calls to her manager and saunters to the back room, a teapot bouncing on a spring over her head.

A post-game interview blares from another customer’s I-phone.Two commentators debate the Georgia-Alabama game.

    “…like in ancient Rome,” one says. “Gladiators…met their match.”

    “You wish..see about that when contract renewal season comes around…”

The woman beside him is scrolling through texts. Her crossed leg swings back and forth in time with the Spanish guitar music.

   The Spooky Vanilla Latte is $4.95.

I can see the little electric car at the stop light. His blinker says he’s making a u-turn. I’ve got maybe, two and a half minutes before he gets back to my car.

The barista comes back to the counter. Doesn’t say a word, just looks at me.

I say, “Black coffee please,” careful not to sound too “unhip”.  I say it like I don’t even want it.

She hands me a cup and change.

“Thanks,” I say, smiling my uncool smile.

The Steampunk Teapot waves over her head, giving its silent reproach: You’re uncool. You are un coool. Go away.”

A big black tattoo on her right arm says, “Metal Sucks”. Her eyes meet mine, just back from reading her inked bicep. My smile pleads non-judgement. I drop all the coins in the tip jar, sprint out the door.

He’s parked already.

Six cars from mine.

Ticket book in hand, he heaves himself from his vehicle.

But here comes a Jeep. The ticket man has to wait to cross. I crank and reverse.

My fate is undone. 

He’s right there in my rear view mirror.

But I fly away.

Standing with hands on his hips, he pushes his green-glass sunshades farther up on his nose.

One day…, he thinks, shakes his head.

Back home, the spider has wrapped another body.

She’s twirling it without remorse.

Every flower in my garden is dead except those that refuse to die.