Friday, April 26, 2013

So....the noir will have to wait.  'Got inspired to work on something a little different, which will premier here (again, hopefully) in a couple of days.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 14, 2013


     Despite the grainy footage, Luther was fairly certain that was his wife. He was positive however, that was not his anatomy. 
     He prided himself on his ability to identify that part of his body; he assumed all men did.  He was fairly certain that he could pick his out of a lineup. 
     That was not his.
     Spanish, he guessed, or maybe some type of island descent. Thankfully, the thing wasn’t dauntingly overwhelming, but according to the cell phone video he sat watching, it had definitely been places his had not.
     The phone belonged to his wife, Christina, who showered while he snooped. He had suspected something since her less than enthusiastic response to the news of his return. He secretly hoped it was another woman, because…well, because he was a guy.
     He’d called four weeks ago to tell her he would be sailing in from the Gulf; it looked like he’d be back on base sometime by early July. When he walked through the door mid-June, her discomfort was palpable.
     She had refused his advances that night, claiming allergy flare-ups. Considering they were stationed along the Pacific on the southern California coast—and had been for four years without so much as post-nasal drip—he was fairly certain Christina was lying.
     He collapsed, crestfallen, onto the bed. The splashes from the adjoining bathroom morphed into a white noise backing track to the furor in his brain. He hated her for it; hated him—whoever he was—for it. He hated himself for it; for being away, for bringing her into this scenario in the first place (a naval base; what the hell was he thinking?).
     He hadn’t really been prepared for video. He’d expected text messages, maybe photos. Those he could’ve handled. But the moving images were just too much. That didn’t stop him from watching it again, penitently nauseous. Her, sprawled on all fours, her lover behind her. From the camera angle, he was barely visible, all except for his...
     He must have been holding the phone himself, filming from his point of view. It allowed no means of identification, lest Luther corral every man on base and demand they disrobe.
     The angle only allowed momentary glimpses of her profile, but there was no doubt; it was Christina. He’d spent eight years with that figure, at least six anyway, considering his time away at sea. He’d know it anywhere. Besides, the sheets were incriminatingly identical to the ones still on the bed.
     He had wondered sometimes, on his longer departures, if such a betrayal could or would ever happen. Again, he felt he was not a minority when it came to such concerns. Surely most husbands, no matter how secure, had at least considered that their wives may stray. To Luther, such a scenario had (up until now, anyway) seemed rhetorical. Sure, there had been some rough spots, but neither infidelity nor divorce had ever been a possibility.
     He was stunned that now, in less time than it took him to take a piss, the realization of one triggered the consideration of the other.
     Seventeen seconds. The video lasted seventeen seconds. He was amazed how such a short amount of time had destroyed so much. It would take a hell of a lot longer, he ventured, to put it all back together.
     The water stopped. Luther fidgeted with the phone, resetting it to its home screen, then shutting it down. He returned it to her purse, and placed the bag back on the dresser. Opening the drawer on his side, he removed a pair of Hawaiian-style swim trunks.
     It was barely mid-morning. The tide would be weak, but he couldn’t stay right now. He needed air, space. It was just too thick inside.
     She cracked the door. Jasmine-scented steam exhaled.
     He couldn’t see her. She wouldn’t let him. Before, she would never have hidden.
     Before. There was no going back to that—to then.
     “I’m going down to the beach,” he called through the door, not bothering to open it further. He couldn’t bring himself to do so.
     “Okay,” she answered, before adding, “How long will you be gone?”
     “I’m not sure. Why do you ask?” he said, convinced now that ulterior motive shadowed all their conversation.
     She stepped from the bathroom, tying off the towel that covered her. With another, she dried her auburn hair. He kept his back to her as he pulled on his trunks.
     “I just thought maybe we could ride into town for lunch,” she said, wrapping the towel around her head.
     “I’ll probably just grab something from the boardwalk,” he said, walking into the closet without looking her way. “I’ve got to go into the office for a few hours this afternoon,” he told her, stepping out in a surf-worn t-shirt, his work duffel in hand. He picked up his keys from the nightstand.
     “Well how about dinner?” she said, walking back into the bathroom.
     “We’ll see,” he called over his shoulder, with one foot out the front door.
     She dropped her head at the sound of the slam.
     There was no way he could know; she’d called things off with Alberto the day after Luther’s return. He’d meant nothing; he was just convenient. She still loved Luther, in the most sentimental sense. She was still attracted to him even. He was lean and solid, tanned and confident. He was just never there. Not when she needed him anyway.
     Christina removed the towel from her head and hung it on the doorknob. She swirled the steam from the mirror with the one she’d used around her body. She fought the reflection staring back at her. From the neck down, she was still as flawless as ever. Few lines scrawled her cheeks, even. But there was age in her eyes, years that defied her youth. She was tired, and it showed.
     He didn’t know; couldn’t possibly. Patience would ensure security. She could never be absolved, certainly. But if she just waited it out, no one would get hurt. If she could just keep quiet, he wouldn’t get hurt.
     She owed him more than that. He deserved more. She would tell him. Tonight, with or without dinner out, she would tell him. There was no way to know how he’d respond. He’d be hurt; or at least she assumed he would. Maybe that was too presumptuous. Maybe he’d found something—someone—else too. Could she blame him?
     He was never there: the thought returned, with newfound realization. He was constantly in and out of ports all around the world. There were likely plenty of storms, too.
     No matter. She could forgive him. She’d have to, if she hoped for the same in return.
     Pulling the door wide, she crossed to the dresser. Opening a drawer, she searched for the right combination of undergarments to set aside for later. Despite Luther’s current apathy, she was optimistic that the evening’s conclusion would be pleasant.
     She lifted a black silk brassiere to her chest, evaluating its potential as she inspected her reflection in the dressing mirror.
     That’s when she noticed her purse. Her very open purse.
     And there, nestled atop her lipsticks, compact and eyeliners was her very obvious cell phone. The one that still contained…
     She passed over the boy shorts and went straight for the thong.
     It would definitely require the thong.
     He was right. It was too early. White foam tubes rolled thirty yard offshore, but he’d seen bigger surf in hot tubs. Still, he’d at least expected to find some of the diehards out. There were no swimmers, and barely
even any sunbathers despite the surprisingly fierce morning rays.
     Cradling his board under his arm, he trudged through the sand toward the lifeguard chair. The teen manning the post was removing the umbrella from the top of the stand.
“What’s up, Stevie? Where is everybody?” Luther asked.
   “Hey, Luftwaffe!” Stevie called, as he climbed down from his perch, much earlier than usual.
  Luther grinned at the nickname. It was by no means endearing, but the sentiment behind it was. He was a local hero to a small handful of these guys, and his sporadic appearances added a mysterious appeal to his reputation.
  Stevie shook the older man’s hand with unmistakable panache, insinuating his inclusion in a select club of hipness.
  “Bad news, bro. No surfing or swimming today from sixteen to twenty,” he said, referring to the numbered guard towers along the beach. Luther shifted in surprise.
  “Four stations’ worth? For what?"
“Jellyfish,” Stevie said. “Ten o’clock. Check it out,” he said, passing his binoculars to Luther.
  Dropping his board, Luther climbed into Stevie’s abandoned stand. Peering through the lenses, he saw them. There were hundreds of them, about 150 yards offshore, as wide as the eye could see. A rippling carpet of purple blobs, their wormy tentacles trailing behind them, bobbed with the gentle tide.
  “Holy crap, they’re everywhere,” Luther said. “When did they show up?”
   “Last night, apparently,” Steve answered. ‘Trawler spotted them a little before midnight. Word got out pretty quickly. Channel 7 news was here early this morning. I got to talk to some of their crew. They were saying they’re the kind that glow,” Stevie explained.
  “Oh yeah? That’s pretty cool,” Luther said. “Did they say where they came from?”
  “Not sure. They didn’t really seem to know. But a red tide rolled in a couple of days ago. Maybe they followed it to feed. The news crew is coming back tonight to get footage for the late night broadcast; maybe you can catch up with them and get some more info.”
  Luther looked down the beach. He could practically see the tumbleweeds.
  “Well look man, I’ve got the rest of the day off now ‘cause of it,” Stevie said. “‘Wanna’ head down to twelve and see if there’s any surf down there?”
  Luther climbed down the chair, handing over the guard’s binoculars. “Nah; I probably should get over to base. I’ve got a stack of paperwork waiting on me,” Luther said, taking a parting look out toward the floating bloom.
  “Did those TV guys say if they were dangerous?”
  “Apparently they won’t kill you,” Stevie replied.
  “But with that many, if they got a hold of you, you’d probably wish you were dead.”
  Christina had decided on the green dress. She’d found it on sale months ago while Luther was at sea, and couldn’t resist. It was cut low in the front and high along the hips.
  She’d bought it for Alberto. He had been most appreciative. She hoped Luther would have the same reaction. If Luther had actually watched the cell phone video (which she erased soon after remembering its existence) the dress would likely prove useless. But it was still the strongest weapon she had in her arsenal. Luther may not have been as passionate as Alberto, but he was still a man. She would play to her strengths.
  Alberto was impulsively wild; Luther was more reserved but meticulously precise—aptly suited for his Supply Officer duties. Their respective attributes proved dichotomously fulfilling both in and out of the bedroom.
  Alberto made for a fun indulgence, but little else. His Latin blood fueled a fiery temper and a recklessness that would never ensure serious intimacy.
  Luther treasured her, but often let his chivalric selflessness eclipse the firmer hand she enjoyed intermittently. But he was stable, and sure and reliable. And just so…sweet. She cursed her foolishness, and hoped her mistake wouldn’t cost her more than she could afford to lose.
   “My goodness,” Luther said, from the doorway of the bedroom. She hadn’t even heard him come in.
  “We may have to skip dinner and go right to dessert,” he said, smiling. 
     Relief.  Instant, cleansing relief flooded over her.  Her skin tingled with the weightlessness.  He hadn’t seen the video.
     Discretion trumped valor.  She decided then and there to keep quiet.  Perhaps she owed Luther happiness more than truth.
     “No, Mr. Hendricks,” she said, a deliberate sway in her hips as she sidled toward him.  “A lady expects to be wined and dined properly before…dessert,” she said.  Taking his head in her hand, she pulled his head close, and whispered in his ear.  “And so do I.”
     They had nearly shut down Marinagi’s by the time the third bottle of wine and first dessert was finished.   When Christina objected to Luther’s insistence on driving home, he reminded her that she had done the majority of the imbibing.
     “Besides, I’m not ready to go home just yet.  I have something I want to show you,” he told her.
     “What, right here in the restaurant?  Why, Mr. Hendricks, I do declare,” she said, feigning her best Georgia accent.  
     “No, not here,” he laughed.  “We’re gonna’ need a boat to get there,” he said.  
     “Just like you seamen,” she paused, letting the pun sink in; “always relying on the motion of the ocean.”
     “Not exactly,” he said, motioning for their waiter.  “Thompson said I could take his sailboat out for a few hours.  It’s docked down at the marina.  It won’t take long to get there.”
     “If you insist,” she said, slurring just a little.  “I mean what girl doesn’t enjoy a romantic moonlight cruise?”
     Luther took the last sip of his wine, reaching for the pen to sign the credit card receipt.  “Oh,” he said, “I don’t think you’ll ever enjoy another one like this.”
     Luther could see the glow just about 100 yards off the port bow.  The jellies had migrated about eleven miles further down the beach than where he first spotted them with Stevie.  The wind had been weak all day, so his estimation as to their drift had been about right.   From the marina, it had taken them less than a half hour to catch up with the swarm.
     “This is a really nice boat,” Christina said, still decidedly tipsy.  She stared aft in a mesmerized stupor, enamored with the moon-glittered ripples lapping the boat.  “It’s been a long time since you’ve taken me sailing, Luther,” she said.  “We should do it more often.”
     Either Luther hadn’t heard her or he had merely chosen to ignore her.  His mind was far away, settling into the levity of the silent commitment he had made to himself earlier while seated at his work desk.
     He had never been sure how he would deal with infidelity, should Christine ever stray.  It had struck him just hours earlier how serious a betrayal it had proven.  When he’d come out to surf this morning, he’d intentionally distanced himself from it.  He’d counted on the waves to help him reason with it subconsciously.  He’d hoped they would just wash his anger out to sea.  But the damned jellyfish had ruined all that.  Just like she’d ruined all he’d worked so hard to build—his long-steady marriage now feeling as shifting as the sand he walked while watching the gelatinous harbingers foretell of transition from one place in life to another.
     She would have to account for her error to balance the ledger.  There would be a reckoning.
    Luther was quiet as they drifted along the border of the swarm.  He let Christina discover the jellyfish on her own.  “Holy shit,” she said, as she caught sight of them.  She slid for the security of the boat’s interior before slowly being lured toward the luminous spectacle.
     Thousands of jellies were nestled together, blinking greenish-purple strobes as the gently lapping waves buoyed them.  
     “Oh my god, Luther!  This is beautiful!  It’s like the Northern Lights!,” she said, leaning over the bow, still clutching her wineglass.
     “I know, pretty cool, right?  I had to make sure to wait long enough to get out here so we could see them clearly and to make sure no news crews were out.  They came out this morning to do a story on them,” he said, amazed that he had let the conversation drift this far.  For some reason, he felt he still owed her this much interaction.
     “I can’t believe nobody else is out here,” she said, never taking her eyes off the creatures.
     “Oh, you know Californians,” he said.  “Nothing surprises them anymore.”
     Luther took his hand from the mast, moving closer to Christina.  “Who is he?” he asked.
     “What?  Who’s who?” she said, refusing to turn toward his voice, trying to clear through the fog in her head to fend off his questions.
     “The man in the video.  Who is he?” Luther said, calmly.
     “Luther, I…”she stammered, dropping her head.  “He…he was…”
     Her chin smashed into the wooden railing of the starboard quarter.  The wineglass shattered, raining shards overboard.  Luther tangled his fingers into her hair, lifting her head back to slam her forward again.  An audible thunk resounded as her head splintered the rosined teak.
     “Was he worth it; worth humiliating me?  Worth destroying our marriage for?” Luther screamed, wrenching her face sideways with his hand.
     She tried to speak, to reason with him, but words wouldn’t come.  The blood welling into her mouth wouldn’t allow it, even if she’d been coherent enough to formulate words.  She felt herself beginning to black out.  
     As he began to hoist her over the side, she noticed the reflection of the radiant jellies on her green dress and thought how ironic that they matched so well.
     The chill of the Pacific startled her back to lucidity, and before the sound of her splash had subsided, they were upon her.  Tendrils— hundreds of them—snared her, stinging with needle-like heat that burned from head to toe.  She struggled, but only briefly, before her body simply shut down from the pain.  Within seconds, salty liquid replaced the blood in her mouth, flooding her lungs beyond capacity.
     Luther leaned over the edge, watching the entire spectacle; guilt-ridden vengeance and queasiness distorting his face.  He wept as he watched her sink beneath the dying glow of the jellyfish, but more from anger than sadness.
     He’d concocted an alibi this afternoon; she had simply fallen off when a strong wave nearly capsized them.  Her drunkenness had complicated her rescue.  Any of the waiters in the restaurant could testify to her condition when they’d left.  He was irresponsible, he’d admit, but he was no murderer.  It had all been an accident.  A horrible, unfortunate accident.
     Of course he hadn’t accounted for the chipped railing.  He’d have to come up with some kind of story to bluff Thompson.
     Beneath him, the boat pitched.  He tumbled backward, smacking his head on the wheel.   A guttural sound that he couldn’t identify rippled through the water.  It was what he’d always imagined lions would sound like if they fought, based upon the squealing whine of neighborhood catfights he’d heard as a kid.
     He rubbed the back of his hand against his head, feeling a warm trickle over his right temple.  Crawling slowly, he headed for the rear of the boat to look over the side.  The remorseful, superstitious side of him expected Christina to somehow be there, risen from a watery grave, to exact revenge.
     But there was nothing.  Not even the jellies were there.  Maybe it had just been some big fish or a manta.
  The webbed hands thrust up through the surface of the water, grabbing Luther’s head.  Ancient claws as long as meat hooks pierced his face, tearing into sinew and bone.  He barely glimpsed the thing before he lost vision.  It was like a man, but more like a fish, the predatory kind, all teeth and muscle.  Black eyes, likely long-since evolved to the darkness of the sea floor, glowed with the luminescent reflection of the jellyfish.
     The jellyfish, he thought, before the creature pulled him under.
      They weren’t chasing food.  
     They were running for their lives. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Keep Yer Pants On

New horror fiction is on the way soon, kids.  And then (hopefully) a little hard-boiled noir.  Stayed tuned!