BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND SCOTT IS GIVING AWAY A SIGNED COPY OF HIS BOOK GLUE AND I’M GIVING AWAY A COPY OF THESE OLD TALES (WINNERS CHOICE OF EBOOK OR AUDIOBOOK) FOR MIKE. YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.
ODD SHAPED BRUISE
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I boarded this flight a month ago. The time has whizzed by, much like the clouds and the small pieces of debris from the smoldering engine. It started the day my boss, Anthony Niro, called me into his office for my yearly review. Niro is intimidating for a guy who is less than five feet tall, although the power is in his position. Most people would love to toss his ass into a giant Velcro target. In the six mediocre years I have worked for TechCo, my reviews are generalized, copy and pasted crap. Niro isn’t capable of giving substantial feedback. On that day he was honest.
“Son, I know reviews are always bullshit. Hell, most of the time I use the same one and just change the names. It pisses off those pricks in HR, but I don’t really care.” This was refreshing. “You have been the glue of the division this past year, our go-to guy and without you we would have had some serious issues. Your work has been invaluable. I can write any pile of crap I want in the comment boxes, but it’s the numbers that matter. I gave you a 4.5 out of 5 for your total score. ”
Who is this guy and what happened to my asshole boss? “Thank you Mr. Niro, that is very generous.”
“Now, here is the catch son. I’m sure you know, the company hasn’t done as well as we like this year and unfortunately all merit raises have been frozen for the next 12 months. Sorry son, those are the breaks.”
What a dickbag! A 4.5 percent raise is 8 percent of my salary. Damn, I really needed this raise. My wife’s spending habits are bleeding me dry. When I got home to tell my wife, she tells me I should have told him off and threatened to quit. I tell her it’s not that simple. She tells me I am a coward. Fuck my life.
Looking out the window I see a big piece of metal tear away from the engine. The passengers are terrified. I’m not. I guess in the back of my mind I really didn’t care if the plane crashed and I died.
One of the passengers breaks the rules and approaches the flight attendant. They have a brief discussion and the leggy blond hands the intercom to the fifty-something man.
“Brothers, sisters, this may be our last day on earth. Many of us will find our salvation in the kingdom of heaven. If you have not let Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, into your life, it is not too late. Let us pray.”
The elderly lady next to me clutches her bible and prays. Looking around, the rest of the passengers begin to realize this just might be it, we are going to die a terrible fiery death. We will all be celebrities on all the cable channels, at least for 24 hours until some politician is busted for masterbating in public.
About a week after the yearly raise debacle, my wife and I went out for dinner and drinks at a local pub. I’m fond of the place. She hates it. I drink beer; she drinks fancy drinks.
“I have to tell you something.”
Great, she has probably overdrawn the checking account again, or maybe her prescription for Oxycotin has run out or…
“I’ve met someone and I’m leaving you.”
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see that coming. The warning signs were there. I just chose to ignore them. That is the kind of moron I am. We rarely have sex and when we do, it sucks. We agreed to work out the details without lawyers. That is, if agreeing is saying yes because you are numb and don’t give a shit. Fuck my life.
“Lord Jesus, please help us in these final moments of our lives. Help us reconcile our troubled times and bring us peace in our final moments. Your loving arms await.”
Religion works for some, and I respect it. But God and all that stuff just doesn’t make sense to me. I would be totally OK to go to sleep and not wake up. I would never know if I was dead or in heaven. Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to off myself. But the idea of sweet, sweet slumber never ending is appealing. Looking around the plane I see passengers listening to the word of the preacher man. It works for them. I look out the window, the flames of the engine illuminate the clouds. Damn, I always thought a plane crash happened much faster than this. I am going to die alone in a metal tube full of strangers.
A week after the bitch made the big announcement I got a phone call from the mortgage company. They tell me the payments are 4 months overdue, and they’ve begun foreclosure proceedings. After texting the wife, she tells me she gambled the money away at a casino. Things just went from bad to worse. This was a hasty emotional decision, but I decided to sell every single thing in the house and I don’t care how much money I get. It only took a few hours to empty the contents of my home and carelessly arrange them in the driveway. I sold my brand new 56 inch smart TV to a neighbor for $75. A nice little Guatemalan lady bought the kitchen. Everything, the fridge, stove, dishwasher, appliance, dishes and all the tools and gadgets you might use in the kitchen for $90. I wanted $100, but she haggled me down. I didn’t really give a shit. The living room set went to a single mom for $25. She asked me to throw in the patio set. I gave in. My idiot wife left her jewelry. I gave all of it, all the gold and diamonds to a cute little blond girl to play dress up for free. She came back later and gave me a juice box. I guess she felt guilty. It was tasty. When the day ended, my life up to that point totaled a whopping $976.42. That is how bad I suck, my life is worth less than a thousand dollars. That drippy shit dick Niro was right not giving me a raise. I’m pathetic.
“Friends, give yourself to Jesus in these final moments, he will accept you in his heart, that is what He does for you. Jesus loves and He will keep you safe.”
People in the plane are crying, sobbing, and blubbering. They are scared; I’m indifferent. After the past few weeks, I just don’t give a shit. Why should I? Living, dying, at this point the line is blurred and seems to be the same. Many passengers are finding peace with Jesus. Others, like the teenage girls across aisle, have decided to tweet their last moments on earth. In their final moments they will be retweeted. Duck lips to the end. Pucker up! Mwah! #yoloplanecrash is probably trending.
My view from the window shows panels peeling away from the wing. I really thought the oxygen masks would have dropped by now. My guess, airline protocol states our deaths will be painless if we pass out from the lack of oxygen. Maybe they are doing us a favor.
Things are getting serious on the plane. The aircraft is shaking and rattling. Some folks are puking into the little bags in their front seat pouch. Damn, those little bags are actually there for a reason, to collect the final few moments of your life. Clever. Honestly, this has to be the slowest crash ever in the history of plane crashes. I have way too much time to lament on my lame life. I’m sitting here listening to preacher man pleading with me to accept Jesus into my life. In front of me a young couple decides to fuck the final minutes of their life away. I can’t say I blame them. Why not? I remember being young and in love. I was a naïve son of a bitch. Relationships are disposable, I have had underwear last longer.
I took my $976.42 and bought a cheap plane ticket to Portland. I decided I really need to get away for a few days, maybe do some hiking or simply sit in a pub and destroy my liver. The day of the flight, I get to the airport early. The line for security was long. After I pass through the body scanner, I overhear a remark by a female TSA agent to her supervisor. “He’s got nothing.” The ladies giggle and laugh. I can only imagine they are laughing at the size of my X-ray dick. One more reason to feel insecure. When I get to the bar for a couple pre-flight beers, the bartender tells me they just ran out of my favorite beer. Predictable.
“Just pour me pint of something.” He does, I gulp it down. It tastes like shit and I order another. And another. And then a couple more.
The shuddering of the plane is getting worse. The puking increases. The fucking couple keeps fucking and prayers keep praying. Suddenly, a top section of the plane is ripped away, oxygen masks drop and preacher man is sucked out of the plane. The teenage girls continue to take selfies. #milehighoxygenbar is probably trending now. I secure my mask and look out the gaping hole in the top of the plane. The stars are beautiful. This is as close to them as I will ever be.
Another rumble and another section of plane is ripped away, taking seats and their passengers. The plane begins to dive. It feels like the first big drop of a rollercoaster. “Hands up!” This is it, I have mere moments left. The G forces make it difficult to keep my arms up, but if I am going to die, I am at least going to enjoy it. Pieces of plane continue to trail away. The burning engine smokes, extinguished by the rush of air. Luggage and barf bags fill the air, spilling their contents. Purses open up and dump their insides, lipstick and tampons have become mini-missiles. I’m pelted by all the shit women keep in their purses, including what I am pretty sure was a purple dildo. It slapped me across the forehead.
Why the hell are the seat cushions a floatation device? A parachute seems more appropriate. This is an aircraft, not The Titanic. As the plane plummets my vision changes. Everything is black and white. I can no longer hold my hands up, the force slams them to my side. I get light headed, my vision tunnels, then turns black. This is the final moments of a wasted life. I’m still alive and hear the rush of air and tearing of metal.
“Rescue workers found you in your seat. Do you realize how lucky you are?”
“I don’t feel lucky. I told you my story Doc, everything in my life has crashed around me. Then I literally crash in a plane.”
“You are right, your life has not gone well lately.”
“That is an understatement.”
“Let me help you gather some perspective. Your fellow passengers were burned and torn limb from limb. You, aside from this odd shaped bruise on your forehead, escaped without a scratch. You are a miracle, the only person to survive the crash. This is the chance of a lifetime. You have the fresh start no one would ever want but needs to take advantage of. The crash didn’t kill you. You are a tough guy, inside and out.”
The doctor was right; I can always buy new stuff and find a different job. I am still alive. The doctor was hot, so I asked her out on a date. She said yes. My new beginning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
If you like a good beer and a wacky story, you’ve come to the right place. The writings of Scott Lange tell the story of real people who love their beer in unreal situations. Whether the story is about nerds and dead hookers, first dates gone horribly, horribly wrong or an adult who eats GLUE to calm his senses, Lange’s writing are about regular dudes. It could be your best friend or even you. His first book The Beer Chronicles is a collection of interrelated short stories centered on a neighborhood pub and the beer chugging patrons who filled the seats. Lange’s second work GLUE, tells the story of young man suffering from a condition called PICA, an uncontrollable desire to eat things he shouldn’t. On his way to recovery, the GLUE eater finds a way to not only help himself, but everyone else in need. Both books are available on Amazon in ebook and actual book versions. Cheers!
by Mike “Bones” Strom
A raven descended towards a lone joshua tree, landing on one of its branches that reached high towards the unforgiving sun of the Mojave Desert. While perched in the shade of the tree’s leaves, the raven gazed about the patches of scrub brush that littered the surrounding flat desert terrain. The air was still. Nothing moved. All of its potential prey had burrowed within the ground or slithered under rocks to escape the relentless afternoon heat. The raven sensed other predators, dangerous predators it could not understand, predators bearing an evil intent well beyond the need for survival. Squawking in protest, the raven flew off towards the distant hills. Its departure caused a serrated palm leaf to drop from the tree. The leaf spun downwards landing on a figure draped in black.
“What the hell,” Vince said.
Three men dressed in desert fatigues crouched behind a slight incline, 500 yards from the lone joshua tree. Vince, the group’s leader, was looking through a rifle’s scope aimed at the figure in black. His partners, Blake and Tanner squinted at the bizarre scene.
“What is it?” asked Tanner.
“I think it’s an old woman,” Vince responded.
“What the fuck is an old woman doing out here all alone in the middle of the desert?” asked Blake.
The woman was in a long black dress reaching from her neck down past her ankles. She had a black-laced shawl draped over her head. She was seated in an antique wooden shaker-style chair. An umbrella was attached to the back of the chair that kept her shaded.
“Is she dead?” Tanner asked.
Gazing through the scope, Vince saw that she remained motionless, seated upright, hands folded on her lap. Her head was slightly bowed forward. The shawl covered all of her face except for her lips. A single strand of saliva hung from her open mouth glistening against the desert background. Vince shook his head. “No. I think she’s sleeping.”
“What the fuck,” said Blake.
“There’s no car. How did she get here?” Tanner asked.
Vince remained quiet while taking it all in.
“This is spooky shit,” said Blake. “I mean look at her. She looks like the grim reaper out there.”
Vince put down the rifle and stared at his partners. “It doesn’t mean anything. Nothing has changed. The job will still go as planned.”
Tanner shook his head. “I don’t know. I have a bad feeling about this.”
“About what?” Vince asked.
“About this. It’s a sign. This—“ Tanner pointed to the woman, “—is not normal.”
“Are you telling me that you’re afraid of an unarmed old lady?” Vince asked.
Tanner and Blake looked at each other, and then each stared back at Vince with uncertainty in their eyes.
Vince sighed. “The drop isn’t scheduled for another hour. Let’s just wait here and watch the situation. When the time comes, we’ll make the decision. However, I’m not about to throw away a major payout based on some speculative paranoia.”
The job had been in the works for over a month, starting with Vince and an old friend of his, who was a pilot. The same pilot who was making the heroin drop. It was the pilot’s first drop for the Guerra cartel out of the Durango region of Mexico. During the drop, Mexican-American gang money and cartel drugs would be exchanged at a site deep within an isolated region of the Mojave Desert. The cartel and gang had a long-standing relationship where trust had been built over years of dealings. That trust had made them both sloppy such that during small drops like the one taking place that day, only one man from each side would meet when the exchange was made.
When Vince and the pilot worked out the details, Vince recruited Tanner and Blake for the heist. The plan was to have the three of them out in the desert on motocross cycles with a satellite phone and some serious firepower, ready for the GPS coordinates to be sent from the pilot while the plane was loaded in Mexico. They would then arrive at the drop site before the gang contact showed up, wait until the plane landed, and then take them all in a surprise attack. This was a half of a million dollar deal, netting a full million take. After subduing the gang and cartel contacts, Vince and the pilot would split the take 50/50 with the pilot getting the drugs while Vince and his crew would take the cash. The pilot would then take off to the heroin hungry northwest, and Vince would split the cash between himself, Tanner, and Blake in a 50/25/25 split. That was the plan, and a spooky old woman wouldn’t get in the way of Vince getting his quarter million.
Thirty minutes later, a trail of dust snaked its way towards the drop site. As Vince tracked it in his scope, a shimmering commercial van materialized. The van pulled up to the joshua tree and stopped. No one emerged, as its engine remained idling.
“Why the van?” Blake asked. “This isn’t a pot drop.”
“I just want to know what the hell is in it.” Tanner said.
Vince stared through his scope. The windows were tinted, concealing the cab’s interior. Vince’s heart pounded, hoping that there were no passengers. The old woman was bad enough, yet manageable. However, any further complications and they’d have had no choice but to call it off.
Nothing moved except for the shimmering effect from the heat coming off the desert sands.
“What the hell is he doing?” asked Tanner.
A few minutes later the van’s engine turned off and a man exited holding a thermos.
Vince breathed a sigh of relief. “Gentlemen, meet target number one.”
The man walked over to the old woman, unscrewed the thermos, filled the cap’s cup, and offered it to her. For the first time, the woman moved, lifting her arm towards the cup. The woman’s hand paused. Vince saw her lips move as she spoke. Then they both turned their heads in the direction of the three men. The woman pointed directly at Vince as if her finger was aimed right through the scope and into his eye. The man bolted for the van.
“Shit, they made us!” Vince yelled. “Quick, head him off before he escapes.”
The three men jumped on their motorcycles as the van started. The only road was a mile from the drop site. The terrain was rough and the van was at a disadvantage. The three men on the motocross cycles easily cut off the van before it could have gotten to the road. Punching a few 45-caliber holes in the van’s side panels persuaded the driver to surrender. The three men zipcuffed their hostage, searched the van, and returned to the joshua tree. The four men stood in a circle as the old woman sat motionless in her chair ten feet away.
“What’s your name?” Vince asked.
The hostage remained silent, staring at the ground.
Vince jammed his 45 into the man’s temple. “I’m not going to ask again.”
“Angel?” Blake said, “What kind of angel takes off leaving his grandmother behind?”
“She ain’t my grandmother.”
“Well then who the hell is she and why is she here?” Tanner asked.
Angel shrugged. “She’s a bruja. She’s always at the drop sight. I don’t know how she gets there or leaves. Most times she never talks. I’m just told to bring her water.”
“She’s a what?” Tanner asked.
“A witch,” Vince said, “I don’t have time for fairy tales. What I want to know is who will be picking her up and when?”
Angel remained silent.
Vince cracked the butt of his pistol against Angel’s nose, splitting it open. He then placed the barrel into Angel’s eye socket. “Who brought her?”
“I serve no man. There is only Santa Muerte,” the woman called out.
The outburst was met with silence. Vince walked over to the woman and looked at her face for the first time. The sagging leathery skin was gray and wilted from her face in flaccid jowls. Her eyes were coated in milky cataracts so thick that the pupils were barely visible. She grinned crooked yellow teeth at Vince as if enjoying his unease.
“Santa Muerte?” Vince asked.
“Yes,” she replied, “The goddess of death.”
Vince felt the ground slant and stumbled forward, catching himself before he fell onto the woman.
The woman laughed and pointed an arthritic finger at him. “See? The lady of the dead sees that you have no bones.”
The world became fluid. Vince staggered away from the woman. He shook his head until his surrounding solidified. Then he looked at the others. Angel was kneeling in the sand with his eyes closed as if in prayer. Blake and Tanner stood frozen. Fear filled their eyes.
Vince attempted to regain control. “I’m done with this superstitious bullshit. Throw her in the back of the van.”
Blake and Tanner stepped towards the woman.
“Touch me and reap the wrath of holy death,” the woman warned.
Blake and Tanner hesitated.
“Throw the old hag in the van, now!” Vince ordered.
They walked to each side of the woman, leaned forward, and then started to lift her up in the chair. The umbrella fell. As soon as the hot sun fell upon the woman, a wave of putrid stench overwhelmed the men as if they were drowning in a pool of decayed flesh. Blake and Tanner gagged, dropped the chair, and both knelt as they vomited in the sand.
The woman laughed. “The weak being led by the weak. That smell is your destiny. The rot of your bloated carcasses bursting in this desert sun.”
She grinned at Vince. A pale serpentine tongue licked at her cracked lips. Her face appeared to melt as the ground beneath Vince’s feet liquefied into molten soil. Vince fell to his knees.
“Your souls already reside in the dark underground. Your physical beings are just shrouds of corpse skin that now kneel before Saint Death.”
Vince saw that Tanner and Blake were lying facedown, sinking into the earth as if it was quicksand.
Angel remained kneeling, chanting, “Death, dear to my heart. Don’t abandon me—“
Vince felt himself surrendering to a dark abyss as he passed out.
Vince was afloat in a seemingly endless expanse of blackness when he regained consciousness. Lying face up in the sand, he opened his eyes to the desert night. The realization that he had survived brought on a sense of hope.
“Yes, you’re still alive,” a voice said. “The cat is not yet done with its mouse.”
Vince sat up. The brilliance from the heavens provided a soft glow to his surroundings. The old woman still sat in her chair. The pilot should have been there by then, but they were alone. The others were gone, as were the vehicles.
“Where is everyone?” Vince asked.
The woman laughed. “Such a stupid question.”
A bolt of rage surged. Vince jumped up and screamed, “Tell me where they are.”
“You’ll know soon enough.”
Vince lurched toward the woman, but fell as if tripped.
The woman tilted her head. “Have you not learned? You are powerless. Perhaps you should run.”
As Vince stood up, he saw his 45 lying in the sand. He grabbed the gun and then stepped backwards. He glanced at the landscape. His only chance was to kill the woman and hike his way out. He raised the gun and aimed it at her head.
Her smug expression faded. “No. No, you can’t. You mustn’t. You are not allowed.”
Vince said, “Yes I can bitch,” and pulled the trigger.
Nothing. He pulled the trigger again and again in panic. Still nothing.
The woman closed her eyes, taking pleasure in Vince’s fear. “Ah, there it is.” She opened her milky eyes, grinned, and pointed her crooked finger at Vince. “There is nothing more fulfilling than the begetting of lost hope.”
The heavens vanished, leaving Vince in immeasurable darkness. His body was held paralyzed, as if encased in clay. He sensed a presence near his face, the stench of rotting flesh. Warm breath seeped into his ear as the old woman laughed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael R Strom is an engineer by trade and a writer by choice. His writings tend to explore the darker side of the human condition, emphasizing damaged characters who perceive their worlds in blurred shades of grey. Being a native from Chicago, he now lives with his loving and supportive family in the Northwood’s of Wisconsin.