An Unexpected Visitor

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Source: Andrew Fleming Florist

Rachael stood behind the small sales cabinet; sweat beads trickled down from her brow. No customers again!

Her hands were hooked in her belt, as though she could prevent them wanting to roam.

Do something, silly!

Rachael grabbed a pair of pruning sheers. Rows of flowers needed daily care in the shop. For a week, though, business had been slow, and as Friday crept closer, she had neglected her little beauties more with each passing day.

The mundane task did little to settle her growing anxiety. Vic had insisted, “Friday, or else.”

* * * * *

Rachael turned the car down her street and saw a Buick parked in front of her house. A tightness covered her throat. Lilli should be home by now!

The lawn chair beside her screen door was occupied. Rachael let out a strangled yelp. Lilli was sitting on Vic’s leg. His smile was warm, but his eyes were focused. He didn’t need to say a thing; she knew the question, “Where’s my money?”

“Mommy!” Lilli said as Rachael stepped out of the car. “Lookie! Uncle Vic’s here! I told him all about my birthday last week.”

“Sounded expensive,” he said with a whistle.

Rachael gave a forced smile. “Hi, Vic.”

He put two hands on Lilli’s shoulders. “I saw Lilli here when she was gettin’ out of school and thought I’d give ‘er ride home instead of ‘er catchin’ tha smelly bus.”

He pinched his nose and made a duck face.

“Eww!” Lilli said. She gave an innocent giggle. “Mommy, can I watch a movie?”

“Yes, dear. I’ll get it for ya.”

Lilli jumped off his lap. Rachael passed Vic. His hand reached out and grabbed her arm. “I’ll join ya.”

His grip tightened; Rachael flinched and opened the front door.

“Here you go, baby,” Rachael said in a shrill voice once she had turned on the TV.

“Why do you sound so funny?”

“No reason, baby. Sit close to the TV, m’kay? Uncle Vic and Mommy hafta talk.”

“Okay, Mommy!”

* * * * *

Rachael walked back to the bench and unlocked the sales cabinet. Without looking, she reached into the top shelf, hand grazing filled plastic bags, and clutched an envelope labelled “TIPS.” Rachael counted, 100, 120…280. I just need $20.

Rachael placed it back inside just in time to hear the entrance bell ding.

A man in his twenties stood there, eyes wide with terror. With a sigh, Rachael dusted her apron. She knew that look. It was the same when a man walked into a lingerie store. Too many options, too many chances to mess up, it was all a little overwhelming for some. Rachael prepared herself. “Good afterno-on,” she said, voice cracking. Ugh. Great start, Rach.

“Hi,” he said, with a smile. “I hadda fight with my lady. What flower says I’m sorry but also says I want sex and cake.”

A pinkness rose in his cheeks, and Rachael smiled with triumph. Cake. Oh, thank goodness!

After some discussion, she put six long-stem roses into a box.

Rachael opened her cabinet and pulled out a bag filled with a green herb and placed it into the box under the wrapping. She smiled at the young man, and he winked back at her.

“That’s $150,” she announced.

He hesitated. “More than I expected.”

“I gave you the extra nice roses,” she admitted.

With a raised brow, the young man thought for a moment. “Better be good.”

“Guaranteed to knock her socks off,” she said.

He paid and left. With a wide smile, Rachael placed a fifty in the envelope and put the lot in her purse with a chuckle. Charged extra all week for the same product, and they all fell for it!

She grabbed one of the lilies off the shelf to take home and decided to close up shop for the day. Vic would receive this week’s and last weeks’ earnings within the hour.

We square? Good. I’m ready to stop dealing, Vic. How do I get out? Her internal monologue continued. She wouldn’t see the shadow outside at the edge of the storefront.

“Lying cunt!” she heard as a flowerpot collided with her temple.

Rachael crashed onto the pavement. Blood trickled into her eyes. Delirious, she stared at the lilies. Tiny bubbles of crimson freckled the pristine white flower until they were soaked up, turning into misshapen circles. She wanted to apologize but had no idea why, so instead, she closed her eyes and let the darkness take her.


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The Spirit Warrior

Obsidian goblins – faces tortured and motionless – watched our trek. As a young one, I swore I heard their chatter in the catacombs. Their ghosts would give me night terrors until my father took me to the Ritual of Spirits.

The sound of water trickled from the stalactites above us. The sulfuric scent in the cavern was masked only by the amber crystal I carried in my hand.

I stopped at a fork in the cave and turned to the young ones behind me. For our yearly pilgrimage, we all would take the path to the right, warning: “never take the left.” Every few years, one would dare it and not return. It was a lesson that none forget.

I smiled and turned toward the left corridor. Their faces bespoke no fear, but their posture became rigid. My mate nodded to me at the end of the group and ushered the young ones towards me.

Trista ugar nabulosum. Trista ugar nabulosum,” my mate and I chanted.

Our crystals lit up showering light upon the spirits surrounding our party. We had entered their land. Without the chant, without the amber, we would be lost here.

A shriek echoed through the cave, and the spirits shrank away. The eyes of the young ones widened.

“Tavykha,” I heard my name called. I looked back upon Tav’i, but she shook her head.

I followed the path as I always had until we reached the throne room. Here the spirits did not enter. With the young ones inside, Tav’i closed the door and we circled the perimeter – our chants lighting the chamber. The group gasped at the remnants of the Troll Dynasty before them. Beast-skulls lined the walls; our sigil hung over the throne. In the centre of the circular room was a raised platform bearing a large fountain.

The door to the chamber rattled. I heard my name, but it was best I ignored it. Spirits were not allowed to speak with the living.

I ushered the young to sit down in front of the fountain and placed my hand inside it. I drank from my cupped hand.

“Long ago our troll ancestors lived in this cave,” I began.

“One Winter, the Obsidian Basilisk could see our people dying and invited us into the cave to live until summer returned,” Tav’i said.

“The basilisk protected us from our enemies, the goblins, and turned any that entered into obsidian. The troll dynasty built this throne room for our Troll-king. But after a whole winter in here, the Troll-king started to show signs of madness. The basilisk realized that we could not see what she could see and fed one of us her milk.”

“That’s when the first Spirit Warrior was born. He saw what the basilisk saw.”

“The cave was touching the underworld,” I said. “And the spirits were maddening the king. The basilisk and the first spirit warrior made a pact. The Spirit Warrior would protect all peoples from the spirits, and the basilisk would stop any spirits from speaking to the living. If ever they did, she would turn their spirit to obsidian.”

“And thus we have remained protected since. The amber and the chant stop us from losing our way during the ritual.”

The door rattled once more. Voices echoed within.

“Tavykha!” I heard.

“The basilisk is dead!” another cried.

Suddenly the door swung open.

Jumping over the fountain and the young ones, I swung my weapon at the spirits pouring in with Tav’i at my side. We swung at foe after foe, but spirits kept coming in. Unable to stop the onslaught, I watched in horror as our group met the spirits’ touches. Defenceless, their souls were snatched from their bodies.

“Run!” I cried as I pushed through the door, grabbing Tav’i’s hand. We had to warn the others. Tav’i and I hacked our way through the mob, but still they pulled on our souls.

Tav’i shrieked, her hand going limp. I dared not look back, but I knew the truth. My mate was gone.

I kept running towards the obsidian goblin entrance. If I could reach it, I could protect my clan.

The amber crystal glowed bright as I reached the goblins. The spirits grabbed hold of me.

I slammed the amber crystal into a stalagmite. The igneous stone exploded. Stalagtites crashed down, trapping us inside. As my soul was pulled from my body, I smiled. The crystal’s magic had worked. The spirits could not escape here today.


How to Test a Relationship

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It starts simple. An argument – the eponymous lover’s quarrel – begins somewhere. For you it might be the way the trash can is clearly full but he/she keeps pushing it down to avoid taking it out. Or it might be the way you nag about his or her driving habits. Or the way the toilet roll is always in the wrong direction on the holder. It’s usually the little stuff, or a combination thereof. Sometimes, it’s something big, though.

In this instance, it is one little word: Renovations.

Don’t worry. There’s always a honeymoon period. When you and your significant other realize it needs to be done and start talking at length about how to do it and how great it will be when it’s done. The arguments might not even start at this point. You may agree on everything. You may be formulating the way it needs to be done in your head, though; you may even be planning without including him or her into your thoughts. Keep doing that. That’s Step 1.

Step 2: Initiate dispute at the hardware store. It needs to be in a public place to heighten the annoyances of both parties involved. Perhaps it will start with hushed voices in the corner in front of the spanners or whatever tools you need to complete the job. You may notice a couple of people glancing over their shoulders at the pair of you. This is the moment you need to make a decision, but you won’t have any control over it. It will be your nature that will drive you to become either embarrassed or emboldened. Whichever it is, the result is usually the same – a raised voice. “Let’s talk about this at home.” “All these people can see how I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Step 3: After agreeing that you have too many eyes on you, move to the important part of the hardware store. The place where you will pick the integral product that needs replacing. For this, let’s say a kitchen faucet. This is where that earlier planning comes into play. Be sure to stand your ground on the type you want. This will increase your partner’s anger, who is still in a heightened level of rage from the aforementioned whisper battle. Involve the shop clerk. Maybe your partner will ignore the fact the clerk is there while you are deftly aware of how you are wasting the clerk’s time. You may even start thinking about how it must look as they watch your marriage devolve into a pissing contest. More embarrassment is great fuel for the burning remains of your once strong relationship.

Once you’ve finally agreed on what you are doing (note: this may take more than one tripto the hardware store), Step 4 begins: the actual renovation. The key to this step is to ignore everything your significant other is saying, “Hold that here.” “Shine the light there.” Because you are now not invested, you will do the opposite inadvertently. Encourage the raising of voices so the neighbors can hear every word. “I AM HOLDING IT THERE!” (trust me, caps, bold, and italics doesn’t do the yelling justice. It. will. be. loud.) There may be moments where you will want to storm off and can’t. Grinding your teeth may help you get through this time.

Once you’re done installing, consider your next move for Step 5. Maybe you were a little wrong. Maybe this was the worst fight you have ever had. Maybe you don’t ever want this to happen again. Maybe you should kiss and make up. Or. Maybe you can’t consider kissing and making up. Maybe you should see a marriage counselor.

Step 6. Congratulations! You survive the test. Have a drink. And for the love of God, if this is what happens when you change a faucet, don’t suggest painting the inside of your house.


(I might be painting my house right now. I’m shocked to say it is going very well.)

The Routine

IMG_20171007_174725.jpgI pull out two blue cardboard boxes from my medicine cabinet and blink at my reflection in the mirror. This is it. The routine is near completion. Once I do this I am past the point of no return. Last chance to flake out of training, but I see my thin neck and smile. That’s why I can’t skip this.

As I grew out, I took my big pants to the seamstress. “The hems,” I told her, “- they’re too high.”

But, in reality, my thighs were too thick. My pants bunched up from crotch to knee. I should probably have just bought new ones, but there was a tiny part of me that was still in denial. I’m not fat.

I slide the first contact over my right eye. Always the right one first. I wonder why. Is it because I’m right-handed? Or is it because I always have the right contact box on top of the left? Hard to know. Why am I thinking about this anyway? Just get on with the routine. I blink three times, willing the contact into place.

“It’s my PCOS. I read about it. It causes weight gain,” I told a dietician. “There’s the IBS too.”

No, silly. It’s because you eat crap. Just admit it. But I couldn’t. Not out loud. If I were to admit it, I wouldn’t be allowed cakes, chocolates, or cookies. How could I possibly live without my double fudge chocolate chip cookies?

I press the next contact on over my left eye and blink. I can’t turn back now. These little contacts cost too much to waste them. Now I have to go to boot camp.

In the past six months, the routine has been the same. Come home from work, get dressed, put on my contacts (because I hate sweat dripping onto my glasses), lace up my ankle strap, and slide my shoes on. Once done, the act of getting into the car and driving to the park has already been decided.

“You don’t have to hate food that’s good for you,” the health coach said. “We’ll find the plan that’s just right for you.”

I doubted it, but I paid money so I wasn’t going to be accused of not trying. I will come to their training sessions and eat the meal plans they suggested. What have I got to lose?

I slide my running shoes over my feet and leave for boot camp. The ritual complete for the third time this week. With pride, I strut out of the house with a gym towel over my shoulder. I have beat the lazy-beast for another day, and I’m much happier for it.

I returned to the seamstress. “My pants need hemming again. I lost all this weight.”

The Warehouse Mob

IMG_20170822_121016.jpgThe small group huddled in the corner of the postal warehouse. Undelivered packages lay open on the floor alongside blankets, eaten food packages, and flies.

The last of the afternoon light dwindled.

“I can’t spend another night in the dark,” Sarah said with a tremble in her voice.

She wrapped her arms around her legs and wept into her knees. Around her, married couple Lance and Glen put their hands on her shoulders. On the other side, Priyanka and her son, Ashwin, reached up to touch the fading light.

The warning sirens started their nightly ritual, “Woo-woo-woo.” For five straight minutes, it would continue until the timer turned off – a relic of those first few days. It didn’t cover the sound of the agonies of the living, the half-living, outside the tin walls that protected them.

“Make it stop, Mommy,” Ash cried. Priyanka pulled the toddler close and hummed a sweet lullaby. Her gentle rocking settled his tears for a moment.

“Don’t you worry, Ashwin,” Glen said with a slight gruff. “We’ll be saved soon. The army will be here any day now.”

“No, they won’t,” the boy said. “The monsters will get them too. Just like Daddy.”

“Shh, shh,” Priyanka said, covering Ashwin’s ears. “Don’t fill his head with such nonsense. We know we will have to make our own luck if we’re going to survive.”

She picked up her son and laid him down on one of the blankets. She continued to sing a song until the boy’s breathing became steady and slow.

Priyanka inched back to her side of the makeshift bedroom and sighed.

“Dads?” Sarah whispered.

“Yes, sweetie?” Lance and Glen said.

“Can we try the radio again?”

“Only if you keep it down,” Priyanka said with a hiss.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Lance answered.

The teenager fumbled in the dark for a moment before the sound of static filled the room.

She moved the dial, the frequency of the static changed with each turn. She moved it fast and slow from one end to the next for several minutes.

“Don’t leave it on too long, hun,” Glen said. “Conserve the batteries.”

“Okay,” she turned one last time and heard a voice on the other end.

“Repeat, if there are any survivors out there, you are not alone.”

The group gasped in varying states of surprise. Survivors!

They listened intent on the transmission and the words said: their names and their location – an abandoned army base and a laundry list of ways to survive on the outside.

“The key is light. They hate light.”

The transmission ended and Sarah turned the radio off. The group sat in silence for a moment.

“How are we going to get all those items?” Sarah asked.

“I know where some batteries are,” Glen said. “Mr Saunders – ”

“The man with the little dog?” Lance asked.

“The very same… He used to keep a jar of batteries… for the apocalypse.”

“But Dads… he was one of the first to turn.”

“Then he’s long gone now,” Glen said.

For the first time they ignored the cries, the gurgles, and the bangs around the warehouse. They had hope.

It wasn’t until they all stood, like a giant mob, at Mr. Saunders’s door the next morning that they realized the truth. Overgrown grass and weeds covered the once immaculate lawn.

He greeted them from under the front porch. Batteries and a tiny dog head stuck out of the bulbous form.

Their screams were hushed as they became one with the host.