When Anxiety Whispers. Have we forgotten how to be human? #Living with stress. #RRBC #PTSD #STRESS

ANXIETY WHISPERS

When Anxiety Whispers.

We all hear those dark whispers, those paralyzing moments of anxiety. It comes with the territory of living in a society set on fast forward when the pace of everyday life becomes so frantic, so overwhelming, that we begin of necessity to sacrifice something intrinsic and necessary within us.
The days we live now are filled with the marvelous inventions of the internet, but has the pace of our knowledge grown beyond our capacity to understand its repercussions?

I make full use of everything available to me and, yes, I am grateful for the brilliant minds that opened my small world up to so much more than I’ve ever dreamed of. I acknowledge that connectivity, I understand that we are living in an age where no one need be isolated, those folks too shy or encumbered by ill health either physical or mental to be able to connect with others of our species by interacting on a personal level now have an outlet, a way of joining in on life’s conversations.

I get that we are privileged; I understand and accept that this is indeed an amazing transition from an age where television was a new invention, and not every home had the telephone available.
But … my concern is this … we are human, we are warm-blooded creatures, we need contact with others of our species the way a seedling needs rain. We are becoming isolated but not insulated from the world we now live in.

Has our humanity diminished as we shut ourselves inside our gated communities, or triple lock the doors of our homes? Where bars on the windows are commonplace, and we alarm our houses and insert surveillance cameras’ just so we can grab a few hours sleep at night. We live in fear of those that would take our cars, our electrical equipment, our goods and chattels, fear of the dark figures possibly armed that may invade our only safe haven.

But what of the fear of stolen identity?

My anxiety stems from my growing awareness, an awareness of a disconnection, a step back from human to human interaction. I witness every day the people around me, with earplugs firmly in place and concentration and awareness of their immediate environment depleted, where they check an app on their iPhone to discover if the weather will be sunny or if rain is on its way. They can no longer remember if indeed they ever knew what it is to look simply look at the sky and have long forgotten the smell of rain pending on the wind.
They scurry by with heads down and absolute focus on their cellphone, they walk out into oncoming traffic, surprised and annoyed when someone in a car suddenly blares the horn.
The price we pay for our new world is enormous. Those anxious whispers catch the unprepared and inexperienced traveler and hurtle them full throttle into sleepless nights and stress-filled days.
Those of us that delude ourselves that our world is malleable to our wishes, those that struggle on despite the imprisoning chains of our existence, these are the people that at times pay the highest penalty of all.
For we begin to lose sight of the precious moments as we battle each day. We forget what the dream was to begin with, as we attempt to manipulate life to fit our own agendas.
Where did the days disappear to, when did the nights become just another stretch of time to endure?

When was the last time you laughed with the simple delight of living? Did those you love hear you tell them that you loved them today?

Are you so busy working, traveling each day to a place that you’ve grown to detest, to find that one precious moment in time to just take a deep breath and be quiet within yourself?

Did you notice the seasons changing? How did the summer end and the leaves begin to turn golden, without you witnessing and rejoicing in that precious life-cycle?

When did your child grow to be so tall? When did your friends stop calling? When was the last time you all got together and caught up on sweet memories for just a brief while? Don’t you miss that shared laughter? Don’t you miss those hugs of acknowledgement or concern?

The dark whispers grow darker with no light to stop them.

The feelings of being unable to deal with the task of just surviving each day grow large and ever darker as those anxious whispers spiral out of control.

When did you begin to need a drink each night in order to relax in your own home?

When did just one or two drinks cease to create the resultant deep breaths that you crave?

When did your iPhone replace a face-to-face conversation? How is it that your partner has now gray in their hair? How did that happen without you witnessing the transition?

We stand to lose far more of our dreams as our world grows more frantic.

When does it stop? Do we have the capacity to alter that state of being?

I embrace the technology but my concern grows for the generation now coming.
Will all the Science Fiction writer’s be proven right? Will our growing super-technology deplete what we have always valued in each other, to a point where the word human is only recognized as a label to pinpoint what planet we came from?

If we can but step back one pace, make a time and a space and a place to recall how it once was, and value that memory. If we can scent the wind and feel the rain on our faces again. If we can stop by at a friend’s home simply to say “Hi, I’ve missed you, how are you today?”

If we can turn off the television, the laptop, the Ipad and the iPhone for just an hour each day, and sit together again at the dining table and make eye contact and heart contact once more.

If we can treasure those brief moments together of fellowship and connection, then perhaps those anxiety whispers will still.

We’ll render them useless as we reclaim the dreams … and our lives.

Make the time, take the time, make those anxiety whispers lessen as we recreate briefly a world where human touch, and the simple joy of companionship is again treasured.

It would only take a brief moment of your time. Surely, that’s not too much to ask.

Is it?

 

“Halloween Homecoming.” A #Paranormal Short Story. From “MIND-SHAFT” Paranormal Anthology. @pursoot

Halloween for SHORT STORY CONTEST!(1)

Halloween is fast approaching, and I’m in the mood to share some Halloween fun with everyone.

The following short story is featured in my Paranormal Anthology “Mind-Shaft”

I hope you enjoy it!

Halloween Homecoming

By

Suzanne Burke

He stood all of six feet, a powerful man, powerfully built. When he was on the attack, he came at you head on, with a sneer on his face and nothing in his eyes.

Leighton Caulfield, the name was enough to make board members shudder and rush to check their retirement funds.

The man, if indeed you wish to think of him as such, the man had no discernible attributes. He ran the corporations he controlled with an iron hand and no compunction. It was said by many that knew him, that should the owner of a lesser company driven to the wall by Caulfield’s greed—should such a man resort to suicide in shame … Caulfield would celebrate the event, by ensuring that the remaining families lost everything they owned, his punishment was incomplete until that was achieved. The man was—evil, coldly—terrifyingly evil.

I had watched good men die, at their own hand. Yet, the hand that loaded the bullets or provided the overdose was attached firmly to Leighton Caulfield’s right arm.

His left arm controlled a blood-sucking piece of shit, who carried the title of Lawyer. Kelsey Monroe, earned big money to ensure that his boss was untouchable.

The takeovers were hostile … but legal. The tactics were not. The stand-over merchants were violent men. They could never be connected back directly to Caulfield.

They were employed to stop goods deliveries, mishandle stock, and threaten clients … relentless in their destruction, until a once profitable company had their jugular exposed. It was the moment that Caulfield cherished above all else, the moment of vulnerability that sent him in for the kill. He thrived on it; he laughed about it and sent flowers to the widows of the men he truly broke.

The monster must be stopped. He had eluded investigators for years. Paying many off handsomely and allowing them early, wealthy, retirement.

Those with integrity intact were few. Kelsey Munroe, was the best lawyer in the business. Linking Leighton Caulfield to any legal wrongdoing was an impossible task.

Those options not being available reduced the ways of dealing with him to just one.

He had to die. Monroe would keep him company.

I needed to discuss the time, place, and method of execution with my colleagues.

The four of us agreed upon all, we simply awaited the opportunity.

It presented itself in late October; Caulfield was having a Halloween party in his mansion, paid for with blood.

The room was crowded with the usual bunch of sycophants and artists, the beautiful people who had no desire to offend the big man by not attending.

The party was in full swing—in every way.

Most guests were heavily indulging themselves with the Moet et Chandon, or any other beverage their tainted hearts desired. The smorgasbord followed no theme; it was a selection of Quail, Pheasant, Lobster, and Black-caviar, if it was expensive and could be bought it was laid on. The man had no style, no panache … he simply had the best of everything … to him that meant class.

We watched and moved carefully around the room, attracting little attention and remaining together. My three companions entered the library unseen and awaited my signal.

I watched Caulfield’s head of staff answer the telephone and hurry across to his boss. Leighton listened, and waved the man away … Mr. Caulfield was clearly agitated.

He strode across to Kelsey Monroe, after a brief discussion, they both headed for the library. I smiled in satisfaction. Here we go. I followed them into the room.

Leighton picked up the telephone, “Hello, hello—what is this—hello?” He slammed the receiver down. “Do you know what the fuck is goin’ on here Kelsey?”

“No idea, a Halloween prank—maybe.”

“Yeah, yeah—a prank, it had better be a damn prank!”

“What exactly was the message?”

“The guy on the phone said he was F.B.I. and I needed to have you come to the office with me to take the call, so it would be all legal like.”

“That’s it—that’s all?”

“Whaddya mean—that’s all—he said he was F.B.I for fuck’s sake!”

“It was a prank—Leighton—the federal boys don’t work that way.”

“You’re sure?”

“That’s what you pay me for—of course I’m sure!”

“Good, good—damn it’s cold in here, let’s get back inside, I got a hot woman and a hard dick.”

“You always have a hard dick, Leighton.”

“You had your chance, Kelsey.”

“Let’s get back to the party. What, is, that disgusting stink?”

“Yeah—what is that? It stinks like I dunno—like somethin’ died.”

Kelsey reached for the door handle and screamed in pain as he touched it, “Sweet-Jesus, what the—I burned my hand, I burned my hand on the fucking door!”

“Show me—shit man, that’s burned the skin right off. What the—what’s goin’ on? What’s happenin’ here?” He ran across to his desk, grabbed a hand full of paper then hurried over to the door. Using the paper as a barrier he tried the handle, the paper ignited, he dropped it with a yelp! “Fuck me—what!” He spun around the room looking for something to blame it on.

I moved forward from the corner where I had been watching in amusement, “Well, gentleman, happy Halloween.”

“Oh dear God … what is that, a costume? …Yeah … It’s a costume, Halloween party—Halloween costume; it’s good fella, really good, so take the mask off, who are ya really?” Leighton’s voice cracked on the last four words.

“Fuck, Leighton—fuck, that’s no freaking costume I know that voice—its Bill … Bill Gardner!”

“Don’t be so fuckin’ stupid Kelsey, Bill Gardner blew his brains—oh shit!” Leighton moved behind his desk and pulled open the drawer; he removed the 9mm Glock and aimed it at what was left of my head!

I started laughing; I was enjoying this—“You going to shoot me—hey, Leighton? Oh, this should be great … ‘go ahead make my day’! I’ve always wanted to say that.” He fired four shots and stood looking down at the gun as if it had an answer to why I was still standing there.

“Leighton, Leighton—get a grip man. Just take it easy!” Kelsey sounded quite lawyer-like and reasonable—that simply would not do.

“So—um Bill? What is it you want? You are doing this for something, a reason …what is it?”

It was time to stop messing around with these two. My three friends joined me.

“Well now gentleman, I believe you have cause to remember my friends here as well—let’s see now, in order I think; Tony Draper, you can see the noose almost severed Tony’s head. Phillip Westcott, Phil, was not a great shot, but still blew the back of his head out. And last but no means least, Gregory Parker, smart man our Greg—tablets and booze, you know Greg you look a little better than the rest of us … shame about floating in the river for a week, kind of messed up the clean job.”

Our combined shrieks of laughter reverberated throughout the room. Both Kelsey and Leighton were spewing up everything in their guts, which did not trouble us any—stink was something we were used to. Leighton made a break for the floor to ceiling windows—sealed shut. We were having ourselves a fine time.

I walked over and through Kelsey; stopping mid-body to let him get the feel of his guts rotting while he was still alive—his scream was blood-chilling but as I did not have a drop, it bothered me not at all.

Meanwhile, Greg had taken hold of Leighton’s hand and was plunging it in and out of the jelly substance that had once been his body.

It did us the world of—well let us just say we enjoyed it.

“Okay, my friends … let us see if our toys are ready to play our way.”

“Whaddya want—anythin’—I swear—everythin’ whatever you want …anything!” Leighton repeated lamely.

“And you, Mr. high-priced-lawyer man—what about you? Will you agree to anything we want, hmmm?”

He did not look a well man, his face had gone quite gray, “Yes, anything—you ask.”

“Oh, that’s just wonderful. Wonderful. If you will both go across to the desk … you will find a neat pile of paperwork, all on your personal letterhead, Leighton, just requires signatures … yours and the lawyerman’s.

“How the fuck—who typed these?”

“Shut up Leighton, for pity’s sake—shut up and sign!”

“Oh …no need to read them—gentleman—I assure you. Just sign them—right now, you wouldn’t really enjoy seeing us angry, trust me.”

“It’s done, done—so what now—are we free to leave? It’s done—signed.” Leighton’s voice had taken on a whining whimpering edge that was rather endearing. I personally would have enjoyed watching them both crawl and plead some more. However time … whilst unimportant to my three cohorts and I, was relevant to these hideous excuses for men.

“Well done—gentleman, I am pleased.” This brought a sickly smirk from Leighton and a look of resignation to Kelsey Monroe.

“Gentleman if you will stand here and um—let me see, yes—that should do, Mr. Lawyer man you stand just about—here.”

“What—we can go now, right? I mean we did everythin’ you wanted didn’t we? So we can go?” Leighton Caulfield was babbling.

“Leighton—you are a fucked in the head fool! They are not going to let us go. Can’t you see that you damned asshole?”

“Tsk, Tsk, Mr. Lawyer man, such language.”

“Mr. Caulfield—Leighton, you are going to shoot your friend Kelsey here in the head. Aim true, we don’t want it to miss.”

“What—why—will you still let me go?” He looked across at his friend and shrugged.

“It’s about what I was expecting, do it you bastard—but know this … I’ll be with you every moment of every day until you die.”

They were the last words spoken by Mr. Kelsey Monroe, lawyer man. Considering how badly Leighton Caulfield was shaking, the shot was damned good … almost mid-forehead.

“It’s finished—I can go—right?”

“Oh—I just need you to do two more teensy things … Leighton. Firstly, you need to sign this document.”

“Then—can I go?”

“I’ll give you an out … Leighton.”

“Good—good, where do I sign?” He affixed his signature and gave me a triumphant smile.

“Okay—I’m outta here—right?

“Not—quite—one more thing. Take the gun—place it in your mouth—and pull the trigger.”

“But—no—you said—you said you’d give me an out! You said …?”

“I lied. Do it.”

He cried like a baby, sniffling and whining—we all let him feel us from the inside.

He pulled the trigger.

CNN Breaking news…Billionaire Businessman Murder/Suicide pact. Letter left.

“I can never make full restitution for the wrongs I have committed but I will do my best. My will has been altered and witnessed by my lawyer and lover, Kelsey Monroe. To the families of the men, I destroyed with my greed, the full return of their businesses and all profits made since my takeover. To my loyal staff a share in all remaining businesses. In addition, full profit share and superannuation backdated till date of employment.

“I cannot continue to live this life. I cannot bear to be without my beloved Kelsey; he must die with me.

Leighton Caulfield.

😈😈😈

All in all, a most satisfactory Halloween.

Halloween scary for post!

Next year—well, let us see what that brings—shall we? 😊

MIND-SHAFT LATEST COVER 2017

 

MIND-SHAFT on AMAZON.COM

Suzanne Burke on TWITTER

 

 

 

“Hidden by Shadows” A short-story from my upcoming Anthology ‘Front-Line Heroes.’ #RRBC #PTSD

DEPRESSION

My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These are their stories.

 

 

Hidden by Shadows.

by

Suzanne Burke

 

Davey Minchin rubbed his gritty eyes hard, but nothing erased the things he had seen in his sleep.

He couldn’t stop the images flashing on fast-forward through a brain now too weary to block them.

He reached across for his glass and found it was empty, “Oh, for fucks sake.”

He clambered up from the litter-strewn floor and headed into the kitchen, avoiding the mess on the counter as he reached for the bottle of Jack Daniels, now almost empty. He held it up to the light that shone valiantly through the smudged and dirty window, wanting to confirm the fact that he’d need to head for the bottle shop soon.

He had no idea what time of day it was. He walked to the bedroom, glancing at the alarm clock next to a bed he couldn’t remember having slept in for quite a while.

“God damn it!” he uttered the words, disgusted with himself for having been away from reality for yet another lost day. “It doesn’t matter.” He spoke aloud seeking the reassurance of the sound of his own voice.  Knowing that the other voices clamoring in his head to be heard would lay mercifully dormant once he’d had a few drinks.

He hurried now, filled with the urgency to top up his supply of memory blocking booze.

He glanced down briefly at what he was wearing, content that he wasn’t too dirty to be seen on the street. He pulled on his cleanest pair of gloves.

He ran a brush through his thick, still curly hair; still shocked at the sight of all the white that now grew there.

He turned away, opened the door, and headed outside.

***

He glanced briefly around at his environment, seeking assurance that no one he knew was in view.

He took the longer walk, studiously avoiding the Gas Station on the block that would have had him reach his destination much faster. The smell of fuel was something he refused to deal with yet.

The guy behind the counter looked up as he entered, “Mornin’ Davey! What’ll it be today, buddy?”

“I need to stock up, Bill. I … I’ve got some buddies comin’ over. So, I guess I’ll maybe need a couple of bottles of the JD, and the Bacardi, and a case of beer.”

Bill Eckhart looked at him, trying without success to mask the concern on his face. “Sure thing, buddy.”

Davey turned and gave Bill access to his backpack; the man behind the counter removed it gently and placed it next to the register. “I’ll drop the case of beer around for you a little later, Davey.  You want a mixer for the J.D and the Rum?”

Davey hesitated a little too long before responding, “Mixer?” he laughed. “Yeah, I guess, mixer … sure.”

Bill just nodded, and headed out back to fill the order.

Tara Farrell looked up from the invoice she was checking, “What’s up?”

“Davey Minchin is back in for an order.” He said.

“So soon?” her voice expressed her concern.

“Sometimes I hate workin’ here, Tara. I hate the shit that we sell, and what it does to good people that didn’t earn it, you know?”

She shook her head sadly, “Yeah, I know. Davey’s one of the good ones, ain’t he.” It was a simple statement of fact, not a question that required any answer.

“Yup. He is that. Best fill his order now I guess, and let him get back on home before the snow hits.”

“Uh-huh. Yeah. I guess.” She looked back at her invoice with a shake of her head, trying to dislodge the sadness.

Bill bagged the order and returned to the front counter. “You and your buddies havin’ a poker night, Davey?”

“What? Oh, yeah … yeah we are.”

“I expect your luck is due to change soon, Buddy. You just keep hangin’ in there, okay?”

His customer just nodded and handed over the money. Bill placed the bottles of alcohol carefully in the backpack;  then as always helped his customer struggle into it, stealing himself every time he did it, worried that he’d somehow hurt this man.

Davey gave him a smile, “Thanks, Bill … See ya.”

“You take care now, Davey.”

“Yup … planning on doing just that, buddy.”

Davy headed back home, the long way.

One or two of his neighbors called out a greeting, he raised his left arm as best he could and gave them a wave.

He picked up his pace and only felt safe when he strode into his own driveway.

He didn’t look at the overgrown lawn, or the dead plants that sat accusingly in the untended garden.

He let himself in to the empty house he hadn’t bothered to lock.

He walked past the bedrooms that had once been overflowing with laughter and toys.

He didn’t look at the framed photographs that lined the walls of the hallway.

He opened a refrigerator now empty, except for a few mangled slices of old cold pizza, and a foul-smelling container of what had once been Chinese takeout.

Before he poured his first drink of the morning, he charged his cellphone. He’d call out for a take-out Italian order later.  If, he remembered.

His frustration grew as he struggled to open yet another bottle with fingers that couldn’t respond to his brains orders to do so.

He pulled off the gloves; he didn’t need to cover the ugly burn scars from himself.

He washed out a glass, refilled it, and sat on the sofa seeing nothing as he began to pour the booze down his throat.

He heard the siren in the distance and shuddered, unable to block out the sound. Davey reached across and flicked on the radio, turning the volume way up to drown out the peripheral noise.

***

His cellphone rang and cut through the haze he was encased in, he answered it on reflex, “Yeah?”

“Davey, it’s Doctor Peters. How are you?”

“Hey, Doc. I’m doin’ well. What can I do for you?”

“Well, son … you’ve missed the last two appointments. I was a little concerned.”

“Sorry, Doc. I guess I should have called you. I … I’ve had the flu virus that’s doin’ the rounds. Haven’t felt much like headin’ out in the cold.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, son. I would like to see you though. Can you make it tomorrow? I’ll make it later in the day, when it’s warmed up a little. Would that suit you?”

“Oh, hell, doc. Sorry … I’m headin’ out of town for a few days. Tell you what, I’ll call you as soon as I get back, how would that be?”

“Out of town? Where are you headed?”

“Someplace warm.”

“Davey, you aren’t really going away are you? Son, you’re isolating yourself again. Are you taking your anti-depressant medication?” The doctor’s voice was clearly worried.

Davey looked at the full glass in his hand. “Yeah, doc, I’m taking my meds. Look, I have to go now. Somebodies at the door. I’ll catch up, soon. Okay?”

“But, Son …

Davey disconnected the call.

“Why the fuck can’t you all just leave me the fuck alone!” The words echoed back from the dark empty rooms.

He drank the full glass of straight rum and took a couple of deep breaths. He knew in another glass or two he start feeling almost nothing.

Then came the time he gave up on any pretense at dignity, and drank bottle two straight from the bottle. Until he was feeling nothing.  Nothing at all.

He welcomed oblivion as one does a dear friend that they trust.

***

The car ahead was speeding. Davey Minchin looked at his own speed; he was doing the speed limit and the Corvette screamed past him as if he were stationary.

“Moron!” Davey hissed, automatically reaching for his cellphone. He punched in the number.

“Division 21, Sargent O’Keefe.”

“Hey, Jay. It’s Davey Minchin.”

“Hiya, Cappie how’re you doin?”

“Never better, buddy. We have an idiot out on 75 thinks he’s drivin’ in the Daytona. He’s headed east. It’s a Corvette, so God only knows what it tops out at. The speed he’s doin’ he’ll reach the overpass off ramp really soon.

“Thanks for the heads up, Cappie. I’m on it. We good for poker Friday night?”

“Planning on some winnings, buddy?”

“You know it. Catch ya then, Cappie.”

“Yup.” Davey ended the call.

He peered through the thick fog, dropping his speed on instinct when he recognized the approach to the stop lights he knew were a little way ahead.

He heard the crash before he saw it and picked up speed in that direction. The wreck ahead of him kicked his adrenaline into hyper-drive.

He hit the speed dial on his phone, “Station 23. What is your emergency?”

“Pete, it’s Davey. We need full crew out on 75 … The lights on the overpass exit. Three-car pile-up, get the Paramedics.  The police are on their way, but that’s for the speeder, call O’Keefe, and have him send out more cars.”

“Gotcha, Captain. Are you the only assist on the scene?”

“The only trained one, affirmative, Pete.”

“Good luck. The crew, are on their way.”

***

Davey hit the ground running, and could smell the fuel in the air.

Jesus!  A ruptured tank? Shit!

The corvette was concertinaed from the imploded front windscreen to the trunk. Davey knew even as he felt for a pulse, that he would find none. The driver had a steering column skewering him in place like an awkward bleeding mannequin. It would have been fast, at least.

Davey moved on towards the next vehicle; his trained eyes already accessing the incredible level of damage the out of control Corvette,  had left in its speeding wake.

What had once been a family wagon was now bent like a boomerang; the driver’s side door now met the passenger side with the body of what once had been a young woman crushed in between.

He was on autopilot now, and called out, “Everyone else okay out here?” as he became suddenly aware that the vehicles that had been close behind on the exit ramp had rear-ended, and the stunned, but otherwise undamaged passengers were now exiting their slightly bent cars.

“We need, blankets, canvas, anything we can lay these folks down on, back at least fifty-feet away from the wrecks.” He sniffed at the air again, “No smoking, we may have a ruptured tank here.” He yelled it to the onlookers.

He heard a cry and spun to locate where it was coming from. Sweet Lord, that’s a baby! The plaintive cry was coming from the wagon. Davey covered the few feet in an instant and cringed as he realized the sound was coming from the floor behind the dead passenger.

The door was crushed metal and would need the squad to arrive with the Jaws-of-life to have any hope of getting it open. He ran to the other side of the vehicle, there was a narrow gap between what had once been the bench seat in the rear and the crumpled mess that was once the front of the car

The infant was on the floor, inside the upended baby-capsule, and wrapped in a blanket, and the cry grew weaker with each second. Davey silently thanked God when the sound of the sirens heralded the arrival of the experienced crew.

The overpass was now jammed with people, many had left their cars and now stood at the edge of the railing gazing down with shock and dismay at the scene below them. Many were openly crying. One of the distressed onlookers took a pack of cigarettes from a side pocket and lit it; sucking in the nicotine to quieten his fast beating heart.

All eyes were now riveted on the surreal sight confronting them as the lone man struggled to remove an infant from the wreckage …

The nervous onlooker watched transfixed, unthinking and doing what long habit had trained him to do … he flicked the lit butt of the cigarette over the railing…

Davey’s troubled hands searched the darkness for the infant. The crying had stopped. It seemed to take an eternity before he freed the baby from the restraints of the capsule.  His thankful shout of “Yes! Hold on, little one!” was heard with gratitude by those close by. He felt the baby underneath his fingertips … his hands wrapped around the blanketed infant, and he began extricating the child, very carefully avoiding the jagged metal all around them, that would cut to the bone.

The lit cigarette ignited the small river of fuel seeping from the ruptured tank as Davey had just secured the small helpless bundle in his muscled arms; and he’d turned to hurry away with his charge to relative safety.

The fire-flash caught him and spun his body backwards, with his last lucid memory of searing pain embedded in his consciousness.

The fire fighters from his own station were on the scene moments later, and one of the closer onlookers had covered him with a blanket and tried desperately to extinguish the flames.

The baby was safe, Davey had somehow thrown himself face down and the infant was shielded from the flames, bruised, but otherwise untouched by the explosion. Far too young to understand the loss of its mother.

***

 Davey awakened himself with the sound of his own screams.

Sitting up … still wildly disorientated; he was frantically patting at his now useless right arm, attempting to extinguish the flames that infiltrated his nightmares night after sleepless night.

He looked around to get his bearings … It’s okay … I’m here. Home. Yeah, right, home.

He reached a gloved hand across to the bedside table. Deciding against the anti-depressant medications and narcotic pain-relief that sat there, gathering dust. He’d stopped taking those weeks ago, or was it months? Didn’t matter anyway, the booze worked better. He was pleased to find the glass still half-full of the straight Jack Daniels he’d come to prefer. He wondered idly and not really caring, just how long his liver would hold out under the onslaught of the things he used just to get him through one more day.

He missed his wife, and he ached for his children.

The long months of repetitive surgery, and all the efforts of those at the rehab unit for almost a year, had left him with his right arm still withered and useless. Fit for only filling the fabric of the longed-sleeved-shirts that he now always wore. Not wanting or needing the horrified looks from passersby, or the children who stared at him as if Halloween had just arrived.

He only left the house now to top up his booze supply.

His other hand and wrist had been scarred; but some movement and flexibility remained. He couldn’t make a fist, but he managed to wipe his own ass. I’m grateful. Bonus! The bitterness filled his tone more often of late. He’d never regret what he’d done, it was all he’d ever wanted to do. But sometimes the bitterness in his throat threatened to choke him.

He looked at the cotton gloves he used, more now to stop others from witnessing his anguish at the disfigurement, but even more so for the abiding sense of utter uselessness that he now lived with twenty-four-hours of each long, lonely, deteriorating day, every time he looked at his once athletic body.

His wife Marcie, had tried. Lord knows she’d tried, she’d been with him every-step-of-the way. Until the day came when she had no heart left to give to a man that was already lost to her.

His kids became accustomed to him spending hour after hour locked away in the room he had for his physio sessions.  His friends and colleagues had raised funds to kit it out with everything necessary to work out daily … everything that is, except his will to go on doing so.

He could no longer work in the field he had chosen since he was old enough to understand that his father and his Grandfather had been firefighters, loved ones he’d been proud to call his own.

It was all he had trained for, it was all he knew.

He had tried. Nobody that watched him push through the pain ever doubted his desire to return to what he loved to do.

His body would never completely recover. He was no longer a part of the high functioning team he had once been so proud to Captain.

His friends from the station-house and even some from his college football team had rallied around, the lawns were mowed and the gardens tended, the woodshed was always kept full.

His buddies had all come at first, with their wives there to give Marcie and the children all the support they could offer.

Davey tried hard, but he began to resent their presence, the conversations peppered with stories from the Station or the sports they played regularly had begun to make him feel the anger that frustration only heightens and enriches.

The medications he took vegged him out until the days and nights blended, in a never-ending procession of exhausted snatches of sleep.

The flashbacks came uninvited, his wife and children all caught up in the sounds of despair they could hear coming from the room he now frequented without their presence.

Marcie had stayed longer than most would have, and then she had taken the boys and moved up north to live with her parents. Recognizing before he did, that to stay would destroy the love she and his sons still cherished.

They had gone in the summer, and the year had spun ever onward in and out of the seasons. While Davey Minchin slowly started to drink himself into oblivion … the oblivion he now craved.

Davey stood unsteadily and made his way out to the kitchen, avoiding the walls in the hallway filled with photographs of a life he no longer recognized as part of the fabric of his existence.

He used his left hand to slowly drag out a box from the back of the walk in pantry. He could no longer carry its weight, so he rummaged one handed through it until his hand identified the shape he was after.

He took the paper bag and placed it on the coffee table.

He stood and  returned to the hallway and gave a left-handed salute to the images. “Sorry dad.”

He returned to the kitchen and took the new bottle of Jack Daniels from the shelf.

He sat quietly in front of an electric heater, no longer able to tolerate the burning logs in a fireplace that took him into the flashbacks again.

It had taken him weeks of visits to different Doctors and Drugstores before he was satisfied; he had enough of the mix of medications that he knew would take him forever away from the pain and the memory.

He painstakingly opened the boxes and lined up his solution ready to be taken.

He took them all.

Hours passed by as he sat quietly waiting. Until at last, finally, he felt nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.

***

The phone rang in a small house in the suburbs, and the man ceased playing with his son and made a grab for it.

His young face was pale when he turned his attention back to the three-year-old boy playing happily on the sitting room floor with his blocks.

He hugged his son to him and again felt the deep sadness at the loss of his wife.

But he had his boy. He had his boy. The gratitude he felt towards the man who had saved his child at the expense of his own safety was constantly present.

Now Davey Minchin was dead.

The man hugged his child to him and made a silent vow to make his little boy aware that heroes really existed.

There were many others who gathered after the funeral who took a private moment to look at their own families and hold them tighter. In silent thanksgiving that men like Davey Minchin would go on saving other lives at risk of their own.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Preview my Non-Fiction books “Empty Chairs” & “Faint Echoes of Laughter” @pursoot #RRBC #IARTG #IAN1

Please be advised, the contents of my non-fiction memoir books are disturbing. Child abuse is not a pretty topic. If my books helps you understand the long term repercussions  of abuse, it will have been worth the pain of writing them.

.”Empty Chairs” BOOK 1 (Standing Tall & Fighting Back) By Suzanne Burke writing as Stacey Danson.

empty-chairs-cover-kindle-showing-series-details

 

Newly Edited May 2017.
Stacey Danson, lived through and beyond horrific child abuse. This book tells of her brutal beginnings, the streets of Sydney at the age of eleven were preferable to the hell she endured at home. She ran, and those streets became her home for five years. She was alone, ill, and afraid. Stacey also had an unshakeable belief that she would do more than just survive her life. She would not allow her future to be determined by the horrors of her childhood. She reached out for something different; there had to be more to life; if she could only find it. She had a dream of a life where pain and humiliation had no place. She was determined to find that life. Empty Chairs is the beginning of the journey. Now she is living the dream.

Just one of the 390 outstanding reviews of Empty Chairs.

on March 13, 2017
This was a profoundly painful read. The author writes from her experience, from her terror, from her strength. She uses the language of this experience to powerfully capture the depraved situations that she ultimately survived. Everyone should read this book – everyone. Why? Nothing will change in terms of child abuse until we are all aware of its horror. Perpetrators, whether doctors or priests or parents or neighbors, need to be incarcerated where they will learn what it means to be terrorized and used. Therein rests the hope for our children. No one who tortures the most precious among us (little children) has a right to walk our streets freely.

“Faint Echoes of Laughter” Book 2 (Standing Tall & Fighting Back.) By Suzanne Burke writing as Stacey Danson.

Faint echoes kindle with series details. (2) copy

The shocking and spirited sequel to the much-praised ‘Empty Chairs’. Life on the streets of Sydney was preferable to the nightmare Stacey Danson had survived in the hell that was home.

She hit the streets running at the age of eleven, and armed with a flick-knife and a fierce determination to live a different life, she began the journey from the 1960s to today. For those that came to know ‘Sassy girl’ in ‘Empty Chairs’, and for those caring people that asked how her life worked out from there, ‘Faint Echoes of Laughter’ continues the story.

For those that haven’t met her yet, this book stands alone as a tribute to the kindness of strangers, the loyalty of true friendships and the way things really are on the streets of any town …. anytime.

JUST ONE OF THE 189 Outstanding Reviews.

on April 26, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read Stacey’s first book ‘Empty Chairs’ and was eager to read the sequel and find out what happened to this brave and courageous little girl, who ended up living on the streets of Sydney at the age of eleven. ‘Faint Echoes of Laughter’ continues her story. As you read you are pulled into Stacey’s world, her struggles, her thoughts and despite it all, her dreams for a better life for herself. Tough decisions are made and with a reference written by the local librarian and friend Eunice, Stacey lands herself a job after many knock backs. A page turner in every sense of the word you read how are slowly her life changes for the better. Heartbreak and pain follow as the scars from the past are impossible to erase, despite being married to a loving husband. The roll of honour at the end of this most emotional and inspiring memoir brought me to tears as Stacey recounts what happened to her friends from her past life on the streets. An absolute must read.

BOOK 3 of my memoir “Still Sassy at Sixty” Available early 2018.Still sassy at sixty 1st promo SEPTEMBER 2017

“Pulse!” A short story from my upcoming Anthology: “Front-Line Heroes.” #RRBC #IARTG.

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My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These are their stories.

 

Front-Line Heroes … An Anthology of short stories.

PULSE.

By

Suzanne Burke 2017.

Chad moved gingerly, his bruised ego competing with his other more visible bruises for distinction.

He’d once believed he could hold his liquor better than most guys his age, but his heaving stomach rapidly turned that hopeful little daydream into a blatant lie.

He made his way to the bathroom, pleased with himself for a moment as he looked around his small apartment, and found contentment by the order he found there.

He avoided the mirror this morning. His hands were too shaky to risk a shave.

The shower revived him to a reasonable degree. Orange juice and strong coffee took care of the rest.

He flicked a look at his phone,  checked a couple of missed calls, but nothing urgent needed his attention for now.

Today was already planned, based on an assumption that the few drinks with the guys and girls from his future work place couldn’t possibly result in feeling less than the six-feet-four, well-muscled and lean persona that belonged utterly to Chad Williams. Ego is such an inconvenient thing. The thought made him smile for a moment.

He shook his head to clear it a little: he’d need to get moving if he wanted to see and map out the sections of the city that would most likely need his attention two nights from now.

He glanced across at the uniform and jacket that hung on the hook outside his wardrobe. The jacket, large and in screaming yellow with Paramedic emblazoned across it to identify him to anyone that needed to know why he was wherever they ended up.

He’d not so long ago worn a different uniform in a very different theater of combat.

“Old habits die hard, that’s how it goes down. I need to take the pulse of my new terrain, do you get that?”

He’d spoken those words to the paramedic he’d be riding with in just a few short days.

“Yeah … Oh yeah, I get it.” Katrina Georgiou gave him a brief smile. “But …” She stopped to better form the question, “I’m gonna be ridin’ with you, Chad. I need to know what you’re bringin’ with you from your past, into my current equation. Do you get that?”

“So … why did I choose to leave? Is that what you need to know?” He asked, with a mask rapidly descending over a face once young, but rapidly ageing.

“Yeah … that’ll about cover it.” she’d said.

Chad had considered his response for a few long moments. His face reflected sadness accompanied by a firm resolve. “When you do your job … you do it for strangers, and the chances of you being called to attend someone you know and care deeply about are minuscule at best. Would that be an accurate assessment?”

She nodded her head, “If you mean family, I’ve only ever heard about that happening, maybe twice or three-times in my twenty-three-years on the job. But, I guess there are many different layers of caring … aren’t there?” She questioned gently and then continued, “Go on.”

“The people that I saw, the dead and the dying, the ones I could help and the ones it was too late to offer anything but  a prayer for, … a thankful prayer that death had been mercifully fast to take them. They weren’t nameless strangers. I ate with those men and women; I played cards and shot the breeze about baseball, and basketball and whatever other damned sport you care to name. I laughed with them and occasionally at them … and then far too often … I watched them bleed.

“So, here I am. These folks we’ll try and help, these folks will be strangers. Strangers I can tend to, to the best of my ability, and when they have been handed over to the hospital I can walk away without the need to hear the ones that care, the ones remaining, cry out their despair.” He looked into her face and saw the beginnings of understanding reflecting back at him from her kind eyes.

She touched his arm, “You’ll do me just fine.” She stood then and offered her hand, “Welcome to your new battle station, Chad.”

He shook the hand that she offered and left her.

He had uncharted terrain to explore. He’d grown up in this city, but he knew her pulse had changed.

He was almost done … only a couple of the dockyard places remained to  be looked at more fully.

The pulse of the city had slowly revealed itself to him,   making itself known to his hyper-alert senses.  He recognized the heartbeat of this city he’d been born in … and over the course of three long days and nights he began to recognize the areas that could explode with testosterone-fueled rage, or the rage of futility … for he knew too well, that rage had its own unique pulse.

Fear signaled a different beat again, the fear pulse came with a residual echo, as if hopelessness had its own sounding chamber.

The visual images of fear burned themselves into his core memory … .

He would save them for later.

Partly satisfied that his recon had given him at least some parameters to work with, he crawled into bed and finally slept. The sunrise heralded the beginning of his new tomorrow.

He watched it rise, and spent the day quietly; his shift began at 2100 hrs … 9.00 pm he corrected inside his military trained head … . He wanted to be, needed to be … must be, on premium, optimal, alert.

He was a little tense on the drive in, and pulled over and breathed through it before he continued.

Katrina  Georgiou,  acknowledged him briefly “We already have a call out, Chad. I’ll fill you in once we get underway.”

Chad climbed up into the ambulance and seated himself in the shotgun position beside her.

“Ready to rock n’ roll?” She asked.

“Let’s do it.”

She nodded and drove out.

She pulled expertly into the heavy traffic of a Friday night in this city, and hit the siren. She grunted in satisfaction as cars began to pull over to let the ambulance through.

“Okay, Chad, here’s where we’re at. We have a Police officer down.  Multiple shots fired, officers responding report  that our patient is on the pavement at the entrance to the old art-gallery off George and Park. No movement detected.”

“We first in?”

“Looks that way.”

“Understood” … “ETA?”

“Four minutes.”

Katrina pulled the ambulance expertly into the boundary already set up by the responding officers.  It was bordered shoulder-to-shoulder with a blue breathing wall of police.

The officer on the sidewalk was around fifteen-yards from the edge of the police presence.

Katrina spoke up, “We need to get to the casualty.”

The officer in charge nodded his head. “I understand that. He’s my man, but we still have a shooter somewhere in that alley. The rear access is covered, so our shooter could be more than a little desperate right around now.”

The body on the sidewalk moved slightly, an arm suddenly extended to drape itself across the side of the man currently facing them.

Chad looked at the blood rapidly pooling on the sidewalk.

“Oh fuck … he’s gut shot.” he said half to himself. “We don’t have time for this, guys. He  could bleed out pretty quickly.” He looked at Katrina and she gave him the yes nod he’d hoped for.

The cop in charge looked at them hard for just a moment “God bless you both.” He turned to his men. “Let’s do this … Jesus … okay, move … on my signal” He gave it, and put both he and another two officers in the direct line-of-fire to escort the paramedics the short distance to the fallen man in blue.

No shots came at them,  and Katrina and Chad set to work.

They were both on autopilot now … focused only on what they needed to do to give this one the very best chance of surviving.

“We’ll need the gurney to move him.” Katrina spoke softly.

“It’ll take too long, Katrina. I’ll carry him, if you go ahead of me and hold the drip feed lines. Yeah?”

She agreed and they prepared him hurriedly for the necessary dash to the ambulance. Both of them focused only on what was ahead and not what could well be waiting to kill them all from behind.

The cops closed ranks and provided them a brief shield, falling back into line with a rapid but pleased glance from the others still waiting to be ordered to move in.

Katrina climbed in to the driver’s seat once they had their patient secured, and Chad sat alongside the unconscious man and willed him to hold on.

The sound of a second shot startled them both, and not waiting to hear more, Katrina revved the vehicle, set the sirens screaming …  and got them all the hell out of Dodge.

The casualty made it the hospital and was still alive when he was handed across to the ready and prepared E.R staff.

***

Chad joined Katrina outside and was grateful when she offered him one of her cigarettes.

“That was quite a christening.” Katrina said as she lit up his Marlboro.

He looked down at his hands, relieved and a little surprised to find that they were steady.

“It was the same, wasn’t it … that Pulse beat you were talking about?” She asked suddenly.

He was surprised … then felt suddenly guilty at feeling that way. “Uh-huh … yeah, yeah …  it was.”

She reached for his arm and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“You do know that those boys in blue will be buying you beers for a long while to come … If you let them that is. Will you let them in close enough to allow that, will you let them be grateful, Chad?”

Chad checked his pulse rate, and then gave her a weary smile.

“I have no choice. Do I? Can we check on him before end of shift?”

“Welcome back to the land of the still living, Chad.”

Chad just nodded his head.

Ready or not … He had finally come home.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Alexis in Blue” A short story from my upcoming Anthology “Front-Line Heroes” @pursoot #RRBC #IARTG #IAN

My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These are their stories.

 

Alexis in Blue

 By

Suzanne Burke

I have always been one of those people that should never be around bleeping car alarms, or crying babies.  There is just something about the urgency of those sounds that creates a twitch in my brain and a frown on my face.

The restaurant was crowded.  The food was good.  My date was not, he had pulled the old left my wallet at home number on me again, and I was pissed as hell about it.

He left.  I stayed.  The phone rang.  The booth was just off to my right.  It rang and rang and my twitch and frown deepened.  I got up and walked over and into a nightmare.

“Yes” I said.

“There’s one born every minute.”  It was a male voice, flat, and cold.  It continued, “Well now, I expected a woman to pick up. I figured it would be a woman, women always stick their noses in where they’re not wanted.”

“Fuck you, whoever you are.”  I said about to slam the phone down.

“NO!  Not a smart thing to do, lady.”  The voice screamed.

“I’ll play.  Why not?”

“Because, you stupid bitch, you activated the timing device on a bomb when you picked up the phone.”

I remained silent.  The words unscrambling themselves in my alcohol-infused brain.  “Bull shit, creep.  Ha ha, I’m not buying it.”

“Too bad, bitch. That pretty blue dress is gonna get all covered with blood and brains. Such a pity.”

My brain kicked into overdrive.  This bastard could see me.  He was watching me.  I looked around me fast, trying to see who it might be.  Whoever it was, they had to be on a cell phone.

“Well,” he said, what do you think?  Which one of us is it, bitch?  Huh?  C’mon bitch, figure it out; which one of us are you talkin’ to.  Which one is gonna blow you and all these other assholes to hell?  Talk to me, bitch.  Don’t make me push my little button too soon.  Where would the fun be in that?  I like to have fun.”

I couldn’t afford not to play the sicko’s game.  If this was a game.

“What do you want?”

“Ah, see now, that’s better.  Play nice.  It can be fun; you just have to find a way.  Can you find a way, bitch?”

Sweet Jesus, what the hell do I do?  What if it’s real?  What if there is a bomb?  “What do you want?  Please, tell me what you want?”

“Oh, you disappoint me, you already asked me that.  Shouldn’t disappoint me, I don’t like it when women disappoint me.”

I swallowed the bile that came up in my throat, I had to think, think. My stupid brain wouldn’t respond.  What could I say?

“Um—my name, is Alexis.”

“So?”

“So, what’s your name?”

“Boring and stupid.  Is that all you can come up with?  My name is Alexis.  I can tell you my name, but I won’t.  How ‘bout you guess my name.  Yes, that will keep me amused, for a while.  Alexis has to guess my name.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Wrong!’

“Please, why are you doing this?”

“Wrong!”

My knees were shaking and the nausea was threatening to overwhelm me. Why didn’t anyone come near?  Why couldn’t they see?  I looked frantically around again trying to make eye contact with someone, anyone.  Please, please why can’t you see?

“Um … Robert.” I said, trying to keep my voice from breaking.

“Do I sound like a Robert?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know.  Can you give me a hint?  Please.  Will this stop if I guess your name?  Why would you do this, do I know you?”

“Oh—poor little bitch.  Poor little bitch in a blue dress.  Poor bitch wants a hint.  Will I give you a hint? Lemme think ‘bout it.”

What can I do?  Think … dammit … think.  Keep him talking, keep him talking.  This place has to close.  Someone will get suspicious; surely, someone will wonder why I’m on the phone so long.  Keep him talking.

“If not, Robert.  Then give me a hint.  Play fair.  Or don’t you know how?”

“Wrong answer, bitch.  Nice try.  But gettin’ me mad ain’t a good idea.”

“Then give me a hint, please.”

“Say sorry.”

“I … I’m sorry, please.  Don’t do this.”

“Pleadin’ won’t help, bitch.  What is my name?”

“Frank.”

“Wrong answer.”

I could feel the tears running down my face and turned around so people could see them.  Dear God, please someone look at me.  Can’t you see?  That woman, that woman in the leather jacket she is looking at me.  I nodded my head at her.  Yes, yes.  Please come see.  Please. No! Don’t give me me an embarrassed smile and turn away.  No, no no.

“What is my name, little bitch in blue?”

“I don’t know … I don’t know! Please why, why are you doing this?  Why?”

“It’s time.”

“Ti … time … no … no …! Time for what?”  I screamed into the phone, a couple of people looked up, and looked away again quickly.

“Time for all the people to pay.  Alexis in the blue dress.”

“Pay for what?  What did they do to you?”

“Too late—too late, it’s done.  Nobody cared, Alexis in the blue dress.”

“I—I care!”

“Of course you do … you are going to die.  Everyone cares when they are about to die.”

“Then–why don’t you tell all these people, why they must die?  Punish them like you are punishing me.”

“Tell all the people?”

“Yes, yes.  Tell all the people. You want them to be afraid, don’t you?  You want them to suffer with that fear like I am before they die. Don’t you?”

“Make them afraid.  All of them?  Yes … NO!  What is my name?”

“Look, look around you.  More people are leaving.  They never got to care what happened to you.  They never got to be afraid.”

I said a silent prayer that he didn’t just push the damned button.  My instincts told me it was suddenly more important to confuse him. He appeared to be rattled just a little.

“What did they do to you to make you hate them?”

“I don’t hate.  I don’t feel anything.  They have to pay.”

“Because … because you don’t feel anything?”

“Yes—Alexis in the blue dress.  Because I don’t feel anything.  They did that.”

“Who is they?”

“People.  Just people.”

“But, why me? Why these people in particular?  What did I do to you?  What did the woman and that little girl in pink do to you?”

“Wrong—no more questions.  Just answers, get it?  What is my name.”

His voice was becoming agitated.  No longer cold and flat, it was raised in protest at my questions.

“George, is it … George?”

“No.  This is boring.”

“You will die too, won’t you?  You are here in this restaurant, watching every little move I make. So, you will die too.”

“Yes—of course.  No matter, I feel nothing.”

“You don’t feel pain?”

“I feel nothing.  No more questions.  I’ll give you a hint.”

“What if I don’t get it right?”

“Get it right.  Alexis in the blue dress.  Do you like music?”

“Yes, yes I do.”

“Do you know music?”

I thought hard before I answered.  “No—not very well.  I just like music, that’s all.  If you give me a hint, and I get it right what will you do?”
“What will you do?”  I repeated.

“I’ll stop.”

“You’ll stop the bomb from detonating?”

“Yes.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“What choice do you have, Alexis in the blue dress?”  He laughed.

The terror had gone. I’d replaced it a with a desperation that was tinged with acceptance.  I was going to die.  These people were going to die. How dare he decide so many fates.
More couples left the restaurant.  The woman in the leather jacket looked at me again, I mouthed the word…  Help.  Again, Help.  I couldn’t risk signaling her in any other way.  He was in here.  Watching me.  Watching everything, I did.

She looked at me oddly.  Then she picked up her purse and she and her male companion left the restaurant. She gave me a brief backward glance as then disappeared from sight around the screen near the entry door.

I could barely breathe.

I had wet myself and all I could do was stand there in silent unobserved humiliation. Was this how my life would end?  I hated knowing that it was.

The restaurant was emptying, faster now.  It was getting late.  Time was running out.  The waiters were going around to the occupied tables and soon after a few of the customers here and there got up and made their way slowly outside.

That was good, I was relieved it might end up with just me and some staff perhaps.  The woman and the little girl got up to go.

“What are you doing?”  His voice was querulous, agitated, different.

“Nothing—you can see me!  What does it look like I’m doing?  Nothing—right.  Just waiting for the hint.”

I looked around, again.  Damn who was it; there weren’t many of us left.  Five males, four females and the staff.  Was it one of the staff?  What good would knowing do me?

“So—come on—what is the hint?”

“I’m thinking!”  He raised his voice angrily this time.  I had rattled him.  I don’t know how.

“C’mon, c’mon.  If I’m going to guess your name, I need a hint.”

“Wait!  Are you in a big hurry to die? Alexis in the blue dress.  How old are you?”

“Why does that matter?”  I have to stall him now.  The longer I can keep him occupied the more people would get out.
“I asked how old you are?” he was angry.

“And I asked you why that’s important.”

“Tell me!” he screamed.

“I don’t think I will.  You have to give me the hint.  You said you would, now you will not.  If you are a liar, why would I believe you about the bomb?  I think I’ll just walk out of here.  You have had your sick fun.”

“Tell me your age and I will give you a hint.”

“How old do I look?”

“Stop it!  You must answer the questions.  Don’t ask them.”

I looked around; several of the waiters appeared to be going off duty.  Why had no one questioned me still being on the phone?

I saw him!  It had to be him, or one of the staff.

No! It had to be him.  He sat at the back of the restaurant, alone.  That’s why he couldn’t guess my age.  He was too far away to be sure, or even close.  But, was the bomb on him, or planted?  I couldn’t let him know that I had figured out who he was.  I must not.

“I’m thirty.”  I lied.

“That’s better.  That’s young.”

“How old are you?”

“As old as time.”  He sounded weary, fed up.

“What is my hint?”  I pushed it.

“Purple Haze.”

“What?”

“Purple Haze.”

I watched another couple of people that could only have come from the kitchen walk out the front door. One of them still wearing the white cap of a kitchen hand. There was none of the laughter and good natured ribbing you would expect to hear from people finishing work and heading elsewhere.

I realized then that they knew.  Someone had tipped them off.  Maybe the woman in the leather jacket.  The lights were all still blazing.

“I said, Purple Haze.  Alexis in the blue dress.”

He was so focused on me I don’t think he had noticed that hardly anyone remained in the restaurant.  I turned around and looked in his direction.  I couldn’t make out detail.  He was in clear line of sight from me.  Sitting behind the table.  His hair was dark and long.

“Answer me.”  He screamed again.  “What is my name?”

Jimi, it must be Jimi.” I screamed the name.

“How? How … did you …?”

I put the phone down on the bench.  I wanted to run like hell.  But I forced myself not to.

I walked outside, slowly in an sleepwalkers mist … straight into the arms of the bomb squad member ushering the other occupants to safety.

Everyone but Jimi was out.  I sobbed in the arms of the big guy in the full kefla suit.  I threw up, and then had to sit; I was grabbed by two more big cops and carried to the barricades down the block a piece.

Jimi exited the restaurant.  There were cops and bomb squad people everywhere.

Jimi was in a wheelchair.

“I feel nothing,” he had said.

“Oh God” I screamed … “He’s gonna do it…please, please, no! No, he’s gonna do it!”

The blast knocked a few cops off their feet.

I remember crying out, “NO!” and then I passed out cold.

I awoke in hospital, groggy from the tranquilizers.  The woman that had called the cops was sitting beside the bed.  So was my ex-husband.

“I … who was he?”

“Later, Alice,” said my ex. “Rest up okay.  Just rest.”

“No dammit—no! I need to know?”

“His name was James Fredericks.”  The woman said, flashing her badge as she spoke.  “You are one brave woman.  How did you know to lie about your age?”

“You’re a cop?”

“Yes, I was off duty last night, but as soon as I realized there was a problem we put a tracer on the phone line and listened in.  Then, we started very slowly getting people to leave the restaurant, just one, or two at a time.”

“How did you know the answer?” she asked.  “I mean it was an ambiguous hint, Purple Haze.  What is that?”

“A song by Jimi Hendrix.  I’m a child of the sixties.  As soon as he asked me about music, and my age, I figured he was gonna try and make it something I wouldn’t know. I love music.  And Purple Haze was a favorite.”

“He was a Nam Vet wasn’t he?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Not all of them came home.”  I whispered sadly.

I cried for Jimi.

I cried for all the Jimmies.

***

“That Car.” A Short Story from the upcoming Anthology “Front-Line Heroes” By Suzanne Burke @pursoot

My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in.

These are their stories.

 

FRONT-LINE HEROES …  Story two.

That Car.”

by

 Suzanne Burke

Sarah Cunningham grinned at her reflection in the double glass doors. The silhouette of her advanced pregnancy still surprised her, and she placed her hand on her abdomen and whispered, “Your daddy will be home in ten-days, darling. He’ll be here to watch you take your first look at the world.”

She turned to her friend, Cathy. “Do you think I should have my hair styled, before Tommie gets back? He likes it long, but I’m guessing I won’t have too much free time to do it every day, not the way it used to be, anyway.”

Cathy laughed, “Honey, that man of yours will be too busy to notice anything apart from you and the fact that your baby is soon to arrive.”

“I’ve gained so much weight.” Sarah smiled and stole another comforting look at her profile, ‘But he’s so excited about the baby, I don’t think he’ll mind.”

Cathy didn’t comment; her friend didn’t need reassurance, not really.

If ever a couple were more in love than Lieutenant Thomas J. Parker, and his lady, she’d yet to witness it.

It was the same with she and Christopher. Both couples were childhood sweethearts. Then both Tommie and Christopher had joined the army. Well to be more precise they’d gone into O.T.S after graduating college. They figured they’d been covering each-other’s asses since grade school, they saw no reason at all why that should stop now. They both currently held the rank of Lieutenant.

It would be so good when her own man returned home. She hugged tight to the knowledge that it would be only another month. She must be content for now to bask in the reflected glow of Sarah’s happy anticipation.

“Lunch at ‘Surrender’?” she questioned, already knowing that Sarah would love the cuisine in the newest restaurant in town.

“Oh … I guess another couple of pounds won’t do too much damage.” She laughed and gazed at her stomach. ”Cathy, I can’t see my feet anymore. Unless I sit way back and elevate them.”

“They’re still hanging around at the bottom of your legs, hon. Trust me, I’ll tell you if they disappear.”

“Smart-ass.”

“You know it.”

With that, they linked arms as they’d done in their teens, and headed out to the car. Cathy adjusted the strap of Sarah’s safety harness, trying not to giggle idiotically as she stretched it as far as it would go.

Sarah couldn’t contain the smile that lit a light within her. “That man of mine has a whole lot more woman to love than when he left.”

“Yup, he does.”

Sarah punched her dearest friend in the arm. “Gee, thanks.”

The lighthearted mood continued throughout lunch, and then they oohed and sighed together over baby clothes and nursery decorations. Cathy knew that Sarah was waiting for Tommie to return before she decorated the nursery. They’d decided not to know the sex of their baby until he or she was born.

They arrived back at Sarah’s, and Cathy could see that her friend was weary; it took little for Sarah to run out of puff these days.

“Can I get you anything before I head on home, honey?”

“Hmm? Oh … no,  I’m good, thanks, Cathy.” She flicked a look at her phone. “Tommie’s due to ring me soon, so I’ll just rest up for a while.”

“Okay, I’m only two doors away if you need anything.” She gave her lifelong friend a hug, and locking the door behind her, she headed back to her empty house.

She crossed to the calendar and marked off one-more-day. “Twenty-nine days, left. God how I wish you were here now” Speaking her thoughts aloud was reassuring. The sound of her own voice left the rooms feeling less empty.

She crossed to the back door and stood looking out at the garage, she smiled recalling how she and Christopher, together with Sarah and Tommy had labored for many precious days of their last leave. The vegetable gardens and greenhouse were something that Christopher had a passion about. “I want to think of all this growing, and you out here in your sundress tending them like they were precious infants. That’s the stuff … I mean, you know … it’s the kind of stuff that keeps me together … when …”

Cathy squeezed his hand tightly in understanding, and Tommie came over and gave him a male style shove, “You never lose your shit, buddy. You hang on to it. That’s one thing that we all need to see, yeah? Just keep doin’ it.”

He said no more and the two friends just nodded to each other and Tommie had walked across and picked Sarah up and swung her till she was helpless with laughter.

We’re a team, all right.

Cathy grinned again at the memory, and then turned to the practical things she needed to do before she curled up on the couch and snuggled down to watch ‘Game of Thrones’. She’d copied every one of the episodes for Chris to watch when he got back. She smiled as she thought of his reaction. This was totally his kind of fantasy.

The phone rang, and she reluctantly paused her show. She shrugged on seeing the number, “Nope, don’t know you. But if you’re selling Insurance I’ll hang up in your ear.”

“Hello?”

“Cathy … baby  … can you hear me?”

“Chris!” She squealed with surprise and pleasure. “Darling I wasn’t expecting a call today,  this is great!

“Honey …  I … that is, have you seen Sarah, today?”

Cathy was puzzled, “Left her a couple of hours ago, but yeah, I was with her all morning. What? Do you need to pass a message on from Tommie or something?”

She heard his sudden sharp intake of breath on the other end of the phone.

“Baby, you need to go over to Sarah’s, you’ll need to go now. They’ll be coming to see her soon …  Major Greenway and Father Ryan. She’ll need you, baby.” The last words were stretched out like an elastic band strung out beyond its capacity …

“Oh, no! Oh … sweet Jesus, no! Chris, not, Tommie. Not Tommie. What? … I mean … are they sure? Mistakes can happen, you know that, right?”

“Cathy, stop! Tommie’s gone. He’s dead. I was there. I know. You know  I  … I can’t say any more.”

“Darling, I’m so, so, sorry. I’ll go to her now. I’ll take care of her the best I can. Are you okay?”

“I have to be, babe. I love you. I’ll try and call tomorrow. Stay tough, baby.”

Cathy knew he was crying. She ached to hold him. But, she needed to get herself together fast, and go to Sarah. Not wanting her to be there alone when that car arrived.

Cathy knocked on the door and it was opened soon after by Sarah, a Sarah still drowsy from her nap.

“Hey, Cathy! Did you forget something?” Sarah asked, standing to one side to grant her friend access.

“No … would it be okay if I came back in for a little while?”

“Sure, it is … Cathy … you’re as white as a ghost. What is it? Oh, God … it’s not Christopher please tell me it’s not Christopher?”

Cathy shook her head slowly, unaware that her eyes were misted by tears. “No, sweetheart.” she said as she came in. Sarah looked at her blankly, and Cathy took her arm gently and steered her back down the short corridor and into the sitting room.

“What is it then? Tell me.” Sarah frantically searched her friend’s face for a sign.

“Oh, Sarah … I’m so sorry, darling.  It’s not Christopher, darling, it’s Tommie …”

“Is he hurt, oh God, how badly? Tell me quickly.”

“He’s not hurt, darling. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry …”

Sarah struggled to her feet and smoothed her hair back. “I’ll fix us a coffee. Yes … that’s what I’ll do.”

Cathy knew what her friend was doing,  Sarah needed normalcy for these last precious moments before her entire world imploded around her. Cathy had seen that look before.

Cathy’s mind was half-listening for the official car to drive into the driveway that Tommie had worked so hard to make. Her mind flicked briefly to a day only a month before when that car … that hated car had driven up to Bethany McCoy’s home. She and Sarah had hugged each other in sad and silent relief that it hadn’t stopped outside either of theirs.

“Would you like Oreo’s, Cathy? Tommie loves these things.” Sarah had already placed them on a pretty dish and walked the tray slowly back into the sitting room.

She placed it on the large coffee table and began the ritual of pouring them each a cup with hands that had begun to shake. It was all about rituals now. There was safety in the rituals.

“Sarah, love … did you hear me?”

Her friend looked at her and nodded. “Yes.” But her eyes denied her statement.

Cathy drew a breath that hurt as she heard the unmistakable sound of a car in the driveway.

She went down the corridor to the front door before they startled Sarah with the sound of the bell.

Father Ryan and Major Frank Greenway stood there, both looking as weary and sad as any man can.

Father Ryan spoke first, “Ah, Cathy my dear. It’s good that you’re here.”

Cathy just nodded and stood aside. “I … I tried to tell her. The baby is due soon. Please, please, be as gentle as you can. She doesn’t want to hear anything you have to say.”

Major Frank Greenway touched her arm softly. “No one ever does. Mrs. Collins.”

“Does her mother know yet?” Cathy asked. “She’ll need her mother.”

“No, not as yet.” The priest answered. “Tommie’s folks are of course being told around about now.”

“I’ll call her, mom. She should be here.”

“Yes, that would be good, thank you. Where is Sarah?” Major Greenway asked.

Cathy responded sadly, “She’s in the sitting room trying to hold on to this last moment as long as she can. It’s the last moment of sanity before her world turns insane.”

Cathy followed them into that space, in that time, in that place, and silently thanked the God she believed in, that for now, for this day, in this place, her own world remained intact.

“Oh, God, please … just twenty-nine more days.” She whispered before she entered a world now filled with the sound of her best friend’s pain.

***