Short Fiction

The Birds

A blue-ish hue enveloped the bright flames as they shot out in flashes—windows shattered, smell of burnt gas and dirt lingered below the rubble. Clouds of smoke rolled forward into the sky, shading the blue, shading the sun—drawing a dark circle above our heads, our houses, our homes. Mothers held their children back and Fathers stayed at work unknowing of the events set forth upon their families. Hours of flashing lights ran through the night. Walkie talkies beeping and sputtering people’s muffled voices in scattered parts as though they were speaking in code. The yellow tape looped and circled around schorched tree lines separating the other homes.

The house next door, on the right side, was empty—a renter. But the landlady lived a few houses away and stood in front of it shaking her head. She kept mumbling to herself, “It could have been my house, it could have been mine.” Her silver hair was wrapped in curlers and covered with a red silk scarf. Her robe was clingy and long it gathered in the back, yet still hung on her as if it was one size too big. She held a half empty cocktail in one hand and an electronic cigarette in the other. Her lips wrinkled together as she inhaled and rings would flow from her mouth. When the police questioned her, she sturdied herself against their car and answered every question with ease. Her shiny lips smacked when she talked, and she laughed hoarsely when they asked her if she knew the woman next door. “No-one knew her, little darling was a recluse.” She pocketed her thin and circular porcelain vanity, “It was a renter like mine… I wonder if Nick is aware…?”

The air grew thin and some of the passer by’s decided to keep moving. But those who were in immediate direction of Ms. Shaw’s House lingered for the whole show.

“She has a cat,” old man Frank said. He could be heard above the crowd, he directed his voice in the direction of the rescue team. They stood around waiting.

“Had a cat,” I thought.

The men looked Frank’s way, but didn’t say anything. One guy nodded at him, and the rest of them turned back and waited. They were waiting for the call to come collect the body.

I stood back, behind the crowd. I held my hands inside my pockets. I like my pockets. All my pants have pockets. I don’t like feet, I don’t like other people to wear shoes which expose their feet. I stand back here and I don’t see the feet. Ms. Shaw never wore shoes. She walked her cat around the yard with no shoes. I could see her from my window. Ms. Shaw would sit on her porch and rub her feet and ankles. I watched her pull her fingers in-between her toes. It made me vomit.

I rearranged my chair and TV to face away from the window. The window from which life passes, from which I can hear and see the birds feeding. I love the birds, they sound like sweet music that can never be recorded, not made from any machine. I have seventeen bird feeders, one can never have too many feeders. It’s my hobby, the bird feeders. They take time, care and detail—As soon as I am done with the soup I clean the can and begin to make holes. I make sure each one has four stoops to perch on. I glue popsicle sticks, chop sticks, old spoons, anything with a handle to the inside of the circles, and fill it with food.  One of them looks like an actual house, made from shoe boxes. The roof opens and the food fills into a small pouch with an opening. Three maybe four birds could fit inside. I have seen them come and go in pairs, finches I think. I placed the bird house in the center of my yard, and now it looks like the birds have a soft green lawn to jump and frolic around.

When Ms. Shaw moved in, so did Mr. Bubbles, her cat.

The finches started disappearing. First the feet, then the birds.

The white of my walls started to turn gray, and the TV sounded hollow. I wanted my birds back, I didn’t want to see Ms. Shaw’s feet mashing into the ground. I wanted Mr. Bubbles gone. I felt the match book inside my pocket. I thought about the trip to the store. How long it took to drive there, and how long it took to fill the gas cans. I wore blue surgical gloves.

The men were called inside, and I knew what they would bring out. I walked away. Back inside my fishbowl home I thought to myself how nice it was. I was looking out my window, and the birds were eating. I looked at the burnt house across the street and thought, “I’m your bad neighbor.”

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Upon the Hour

1

Natasha laid on a red velvet couch smoking a cigarette her friend Ashton sat opposite of her on a matching couch. Ashton’s computer sat upon her lap. Natasha was blowing smoke rings into the air and poking her finger through them. Ashton looked up from her computer, “would you please open a window?” Ashton held her shoulder length hair up in a messy bun and a scarf wrapped around her head. She was beautiful, flawless skin and soft bone structure made her look younger than she was. “I don’t mind you smoking in here, but I cant stand the smell. Light that candle over there, fuck, light ‘em all.”

“OK bossy.” Natasha got up and opened a small window over the sink in the very small kitchen. She put the smoke in an ashtray on the table, pulled a box of matches form a kitchen drawer and lit four candles sitting on the table, she also moved through the apartment and lit several more candles. “How’s that for ya.”

“Thanks. It is so nice to have a night off, but I swear trying to learn this social media thing is going to take me longer than one night.”

“What are you talking about?” Nat flipped her long brown hair up into a high mesh bun. She sat the table and opened a large cigar box. It was older than God, and had a barbarian man looking figure sketched into the top. Nat pulled a small green jar with a cork lid and rolling papers from inside and set it out on the table — she starts rolling a joint, “looks like your running low, should I call Harry over?”

“I guess.” Ashton was only half paying attention to Nat.

“How much should I get?” Nat licked the joint together, laid back down in her original spot. She lit the joint and started smoking, forgetting about the phone call, she passed it to Ashton who didn’t notice. Nat shrugged and kept going. The smoke rings came again, heavy in form. White as clouds at first look but as you saw closer the blue lining was circling in slow motion, swarming inside the white cloud making marble like waves. The smoke drifted and swirled through the light of the dim lamp creating animal figures.

There was a knock at the door. It came again. And a third time, “Fuck, answer the door Ashton.” Nat didn’t move. The knock came again and louder, “Ashton, the door.”

“What, oh, sorry. Did you call Harry, I mean, was he in the building, that was fast.” Ashton fixed her skirt. She opened the door as much as her head would allow, “Ahh, Hi.”

“Hi. Um, I am your neighbor, 6B. I locked myself out, and I was wondering if I could use your phone?” The voice was deep and low, however, it got Nat’s attention. She looked toward the door from her lazy settlement.

“I, yay, Um, hold on.” Ashton started to close the door but the stranger stuck his foot inside the door jam.

“Can I use the phone inside?”

“No, I don’t think so, its a cordless.” Ashton moved his foot with hers, she noticed his steel toe boots, dirty with white scuffs. She retrieved the phone from an un-made bed behind the couches. She went back to the door and opened it a little wider, handed him the phone and shut the door. She opened it again, “Knock when you’re done.” She closed the door again.

“What are you doing?” Nat was lighting another cigarette and texting on her cell phone, “I am ordering a whole ounce this time, I’ll pay for half of it.”

“OK.” Ashton stood by the door, starring off into space. “Maybe I should go to the library and get a book on this social media thing, This is my next learning step. Why didn’t anyone tell me about the importance of internships when I was in college. I am going to have to go to grad school, but it so much money…”

“I cant believe you just handed him your phone, what if he takes off with it. I would have turned him to the street, what a loser.” Nat, copying him, “Um, I locked myself out.”

The knock came quick and loud jerking Ashton from her daydream. She opened the door so fast it swung open wide and knocked her back off her feet. She stumbled and caught her fall. Natasha giggling in the back ground.

6B reaching forward, dropped his bag just inside the doorway to catch her fall, realizing she didn’t need the help, he retreated back to the hallway. “Thanks.” He said. His blue eyes sparkling. He shoved a hand through his thick black curly hair and smiled. He smelled like roses.

“Yes, yay. Ok, hope you get into your place.” Ashton shut the door and went back to her couch.

“He is actually kinda hot Ash.” Nat flipped through a magazine before flopping back on the floor. she picked up her purse and grabbed a makeup bag. “I am getting bored. What do you want to do tonight?”

“Waiting for Harry.”

“Oh god, I almost forgot again.”

“I need to get a book or a quick lesson on how social media works and how I can up my readers, get more flow on my blog.” Ashton takes a big gulp from a mug, “Uhk, cold coffee. You think Harry will do a Starbucks run?”

“Only if they serve whisky.” Nat said. The two girls laugh. “So whats up with 6B? Should we slip him one of our cards and party with him.

“Noooo, weird. I don’t think I want anyone in the building to know what we do. I live here, you don’t, remember.”

Bang, Bang, Bang.

The two girls freeze. “What was that?” Nat stopped filling her nails.

“I don’t know, sounds like down the hall…6B, Maybe they had to break the door in.” Ashton said. “Oh my gosh, I found a PDF of this book, ‘Social Media for Dummies’, I am so downloading this.”

The two girls were stopped again by an even louder bang. “That was a gun shot?” Nat said.

“NO, it wasn’t, how, how?” Ashton ran to the door and looked through a peep hole. “Oh my god, Uh, Oh my god. There are two of them they have masks on, running to the elevator.”

Nat got up from where she had been lounging and stood next to the door. She went to open it and Ashton slammed it shut. “What are you doing?” Nat asked.

“What am I doing, what are you doing, are you crazy.” Ashton’s eyes were wide and her heart was racing faster than ever. “I just saw, I just witnessed, what the fuck just happened?”

“I don’t know Ashton, let me out and see.” She opened the door and Ashton slammed it shut again. “Ashton, watch it, you almost got my fingers.”

“No Natasha, what if the killers are still out there? They will see us.”

“Oh my god, Ashton, what are you talking about, you don’t know—“

“I know what I just saw, I am going to call the police.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

They didn’t have to, the sirens were getting louder.