Legal Theft: Not the Food

Lena pursed her lips and stared down at her plate. Everything smelled of fish. The spongy assembly of vegetables and soggy breading reeked of canned tuna. Under her fork it all turned into brackish mush.

No one else seemed to mind it. Around the long tables in the barracks, her fellow recruits dug into their casseroles with groans of pleasure. Their first year training was demanding and meals were quick affairs. Everyone was sore, exhausted, and hungry. Lena wasn’t an exception, her stomach growled at the thought of food. She looked back down at her plate and felt her lip tremble. This wasn’t food.

“Not hungry?”

Lena looked up at the tall soldier smiling down at her. Like most of the second years, he traveled with a pack. His friends, flushed from training and impatient to get to the night’s social events, looked affronted at his stop.

“I’m hungry. This is just–” She stopped, not wanting to sound like every other spoiled new arrival here. Her suitemates rarely deigned to eat with the rest of the recruits, preferring their own reclusive company. Far from home, Lena was just trying to belong.

“Disgusting.” He finished with a sigh. Lena decided she liked the cocky set to his strong chin, it told her he knew just how broad his shoulders were and exactly how much his waist tapered beneath his training shirt. “You get used to it.”

“I don’t think I will.” Lena smiled, letting a few sleek strands of hair fall over her face before she pushed them back over an ear. The fluttering in her stomach felt better than disgust or hollow hunger. She wasn’t going to fight it. “I can do better.”

“Can you?” He raised an eyebrow and was about to say more before one of his thick-necked friends tugged him away with muttered joke.They laughed, shoved each other, and then loped away, Lena forgotten in favor of whatever the upperclassmen did in the evenings.

She watched them go, enjoying the movement of their shoulders beneath their training clothes while she stirred the mush on her plate.  The food was still disgusting, and she was still far from home, friends, and family. But perhaps it wasn’t all bad.

So fluffy it hurts, my fingers smart from picking the line Everything smelled of fish out of More than 1/2 Mad‘s pockets. 

Beneath This Dark Shroud

Black cloth was traditional, but white would have to do. The coroner’s office flickered orange, the sleek metal tables throwing the candlelight in odd places. She folded the white sheet back from his face. His skin was pale and slack, the color of dirty cement.

The thick smell of papalo overtook the air’s sterile crispness as she ground the leaves between gloved fingers. She pressed her thumb to his forehead. When she spoke his name, each syllable coated her tongue. “Daniel Rojas.”

Heat flowed from her fingers and the skin beneath them brightened. His nose flared, his eyelids twitched. The vocal cords always took a minute to soften and warm. She waited, watching color return as his chest swelled.

He turned his head centimeters at a time, squinting at her in the low light. His fingers tugged weakly at the white linen covering him. She placed a gloved hand gently on his bare one. “Shh stop, Daniel can you hear me?”

“You know my name?” His fingers halted their agitated twitch at her command and she let go. Across the room one of her black candles extinguished itself. He frowned at her apron and the sweater beneath it, and then at the metal table next to him. “You’re a doctor?”

“Yes, among other things. And I know your name, its Daniel Rojas. I have questions for you.” She said smoothly, ignoring the deepening shadows and the cold creeping into her hands.

He nodded slowly.

She relaxed, leaning back against the empty examination table next to his. Another candle flame began to shudder. “Can you tell me what happened to you?”

Daniel Rojas began to shake his head, but stopped, his eyes locked on the ceiling. His fingers once again went to the sheet and the long rows of stitched incisions down his abdomen. “I died. It was very painful. Not anymore though. It doesn’t hurt.”

“You’re beyond pain now.” She explained, behind them the second candle went out and she felt a stab of ice prickle the bones of her hand. “The person who did that to you, can you remember them?”

He moved again, and she watched him trace his body’s never healed wounds with glazed eyes. Another candle sputtered away, she winced. “Daniel, tell me.”

“Yes. I can remember them.” His voice was hollow.

“Describe them.” She leaned forward, no longer patient. There were two candles left haloing them against the pressing dark of the office.

“Beautiful.” His voice cracked as if the memory stifled him, but a croaking laugh escaped his throat. When he twisted his neck to look at her, he was smiling with brilliant white teeth. “My love, it was my love.”

The next candle extinguished in a trail of pale smoke when Daniel grabbed for her and clawed air. She gasped as cold pain flooded her stomach. With one hand pressed to the worming ice under her ribs, she could only stare as the laughing corpse pushed himself up.

Daniel Rojas stumbled off the table, his mouth working inefficiently. “Dead for her, beneath this dark shroud, I’m dead for her.” He spat the manic devotional, teeth grinding against each other.

She reached for the final candle as he lunged at her. The flame burned her fingers as she snuffed it out. Daniel Rojas’ corpse crumpled to the clean industrial tile, no longer filled with whatever had become of Daniel Rojas.

In the dark, she breathed slowly and purposefully, waiting for the lent heat to return to her body.

This week I challenged both myself and Raw Rambles to write something to, or inspired by,  La Camisa Negra by Juanes.  See what she wrote here. 

Legal Theft: Over Troubled Waters

Everything started with a complaint. The university had one main walk. It ran the length of campus and students, staff, and faculty alike traversed the smooth concrete. So did everyone with a message, cause, or chip niggling at their shoulder.

Someone got annoyed with one another, maybe it was a Jesus-freak, or a feminist, or a frat boy, or a associate professor tired of being harangued on the way to a class she wasn’t being paid enough to teach. No one knows, but many suspect it was really the university. Fed up with neon flyers and screaming students marring a noble institution of higher learning, they fabricated the grievance and banned the protesters and promoters.

Barred from the walk, a motivated group of activists, amateur architects, and delinquents decided they required a creative vantage point on the issue. They built a bridge.

Massive but rickety, the thing stretched over the walk near the center of campus. By design, those informing and dissenting from its heights were not on the walk, merely above it and now with a pulpit.

Cobbled together with shattered dorm furniture and young zeal, anyone passing beneath and looking up could identify a bed frame, a vandalized desk, and an unfortunate amount of duct tape. Shortly after its haphazard assembly, a group engineering students lent a Saturday afternoon improving the design. Now moderately stable, the bridge hosted every cause, zealot with a sign, and Greek promotion on campus.

The university condemned the structure immediately and deployed a force to take it down. What they expected to be a simple job turned into a day long standoff between facilities and the bridge’s occupants. As the river of students traveled beneath, those on the bridge refused to move. Jesus-freak,  feminist, and frat boy stood together and asserted their right to proclaim.

Facilities came back that night to find occupied sleeping bags camped over the bridge. The next morning held a new shift of students. As one left for class, another would replace them. There were those who looked up at the bridge and shook their heads.  Psych majors theorized on the protesters’ addictive vie for attention. Philosophy students sipped their coffees and commented on a movement built around a bridge that literally went nowhere.

A week passed, then another. The bridge withstood a school holiday, stubborn students staring down helpless construction workers on an otherwise empty campus. Paying tuition and still attending class, the university couldn’t call the police on them, and liable for their safety, could not destroy the bridge with them on it.

Intrigue, bribes, or betrayals. Few knew exactly how the bridge defenders were eventually undone after months of vigilance, and none of them were talking. All that is known is that someone didn’t keep their watch or call a replacement, and so the bridge was left empty on a moonless Thursday. The university took their chance. They tore the bridge down in the middle of the night.

Early classes brought the first batch of students to the site of the late bridge. All who looked upon the splinters strewn across the concrete felt something. Many shrugged away the discomfort in their chests, others sniffed and went quietly to their classes. A few protested, but their cries didn’t last. Those who’d manned the bridge walked away with fingers curled and jaws tight.

Friday night, Greek parties stilled, a take-back-the-night event was rescheduled, young-adult bible study and bowling placed on hold. Under the slightest sliver of a moon they arrived on the empty concrete walk and passed around sledgehammers.

Legal Theft returns (I think). I stole the line They tore the bridge down in the middle of the night from Apprentice, Never Master. If this crime spree continues, you can find the thieves ….

Thievery Absconds

Two weeks watching the police lot. Three days practicing on padlocks. One night spent sleepless on the park bench two blocks away.

They had the RV and a station full of caffeine-riddled men with guns. He had his clothes, his own lock picks, and a bag full of practice padlocks. The odds weren’t good. But that was alright, he thought, because the odds didn’t matter.

Four weeks ago his father had been pulled over on the edges of Wichita. On that clear skyed Sunday the police finally managed to track something to the RV and the man within. The news reported on the arrest and the money, fake documents, and odd trophies stacked inside their makeshift home. The press called him something different with each new discovery. The bottle of rare aged bourbon tucked between the kitchenet seat? His father was suddenly a gentleman thief. The plastic stacks of driver licenses hidden in the microwave, an enigma. The checks from the retirement home in the glove compartment, a monster.

Miles away in someone else’s downtown apartment, he’d been blissfully sleeping off the weekend. That morning he’d awoken to a voicemail from his estranged sister. His father’s single phone call had gone to her, not him. She’d called to say their father and her childhood home were in police custody.

Her childhood home, his current one. That fact, and several weeks of preparation, had led him to the park bench a block away from the lot. He stared up at dark sky and waited for the night shift to turn into the morning one.

The horizon began to lighten and he started moving. The police impound lot was not too different from any other, higher fences, more cameras. Once you snuck into one, you’d broke into them all. Four in the morning, everyone was tired. Less likely to notice a skinny kid hovering on the sidewalk.

Fifteen minutes to watch the guard blearily stare at a phone screen. Two minutes to pick the padlock behind his back, fingers deft with practice. Another second to close the lock after he’d slipped in.

The RV waited in the corner of the lot up against the wall of the station. The door was open, the dash hanging, its cabinets pulled out, the mattress in the back turned over. He didn’t bother with the ransacked. Instead, he worked open the hollow beneath the kitchen table, the hole in the wood below the bottom bunk, the space under the passenger’s seat.

He was after smaller treasures. The library book he’d never got to finish, dog-eared only a quarter through the pages. His sister’s old journal which she’d left in her hurry to vanish two years ago. Another set of picks, shining against leather worn by his father’s fingers. He stuffed them into his backpack and checked the color of the sky.

Half an hour to get through it, running his fingers over the old vinyl counters and pitted steering wheel. Five minutes to get back out, another to wait until the guard gave into boredom and returned to his phone. A minute to get over the fence. A final scramble and sprint back to the park and then far away.

Thievery Abides

The elevator doors closed her in. Genevieve looked down at the full drink in her hand, bubbles rising cheerily in the curved glass. She’d forgotten to hand it off to a waiter before leaving the event below.

Genevieve gulped the champagne and winced when the carbonation hit her nose. Leaving her new boss’s birthday party, drinking alone in an elevator, following the niggling feeling in the back of skull up into the dark offices…. Genevieve pursed her lips disapprovingly at her reflection in the elevator doors.

The elevator reached the top level with a gentle chime. Genevieve stepped out onto the lavish mosaic pattern set into the floor outside the doors. Her heels clicked against the stone and she paused. Deciding she’d already given into paranoia coming up, Genevieve slipped off her heavily arched stilettos. She left the shoes by the elevator with the empty glass.

Pale stone floors and glass revealed empty boardrooms and stark orderly admin desks. This floor’s offices were reserved for top leadership, only Genevieve’s boss and a few others.

Genevieve slipped up to the thick double doors of her boss’s office. Twenty stories below they’d be toasting him by now. The lock clicked when the biometrics picked up her signature.

It was dark inside the office. Genevieve’s winced when she caught the sudden scent of sandalwood. “Isra.”

Her dress was stormcloud grey, a tight matte fabric that melded into the shadows just as it had probably blended perfectly into the crowd below. Thick midnight hair up in an elegant twist, sling-back heels, little make-up. Those were familiar, the wide eyed surprise on Isra’s dark features was not and Genevieve enjoyed it for a heartbeat.

“So you didn’t know I worked here. That’s a relief.” Genevieve shut the door behind her and flicked on a soft light. Isra relaxed a little, the thin file in her hand going to her grey-swathed side. Genevieve stopped when she saw it. “But that. That’s a problem.”

“I– it’s good to see you Gen.” Isra smile was more grimace. She gently kicked a lower desk drawer closed before she stepped forward.

Genevieve looked around the office. Seemingly, nothing was out of place. It was exactly as she’d left it before the party, the closed portfolios stacked and waiting for monday, fresh supplies, the decanter full in the glass cabinet behind the desk.”So how bad is it?”

“We don’t know yet.” Isra’s perfectly french manicured fingers tightened a little around the file. “Henderson doesn’t keep digital.”

“Too easily stolen. I know.” Genevieve kept her tone even. She’d wanted her sudden panic in the ballroom below to be new job jitters, or wistful nostalgia, or even a mental excuse to get out of the crowd. She hated being right. “You can’t take those.”

A small shift straightened Isra’s spine. Genevieve swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. She dropped her eyes with a sigh. “He’ll notice. I can make copies but I want my cooperation noted if things go down.”

Isra followed her out of the office to the empty admin desk at the end of the hallway. The copier was off, and the damn thing always took a minute to warm up. The soft click of plastic machinery filled the silence between them. Isra watched the copier, Genevieve watched the floor.

“Did you see me?” Isra asked.

Genevieve held out her hand for the file. Isra passed it over and Genevieve shook her head. One by one the financial reports she’d never seen before passed into the copier. Maybe it was time to start the job search again. “I smelled sandalwood in the lobby, and then again in the hallway. Kind of surprised you kept the perfume.”

Isra took the warm duplicates. “I liked it. I did tell you that.”

She shrugged in response. The darkened offices were suddenly the last place she wanted to be. To her nose, they all reeked of sandalwood. Finished, she turned off the copier. “I’m going downstairs, there’s an open bar and I need a drink.”

Isra nodded and folded the copies into her clutch. Of course it was dark grey like her dress, perfectly matched. “I’ll keep you out of things.”

Genevieve tightened her jaw until her teeth ached. “I know you will.” She left Isra on the top floor, picked up her shoes, and welcomed the sterile metallic smell of the elevator.

Props to be Seized

For the longest time, her mother’s room was forbidden space. Occupied or vacant, the door at the top of their townhome stairs remained closed. Rare glances within revealed a foreign landscape tucked into their home.

It was all going away. Where, she didn’t know, into trucks and then somewhere else probably. Words like eviction and seizure had been used to frighten her before, but had not been explained in any way she could take hold of.

For a short time, the townhome remained with the old locks, bread molding in the cupboards, and empty unmade beds. The unfamiliar space above the stairs still loomed over her. She climbed steadily under its heavy gaze. There was no longer any taboo to trespass upon.

She pushed the door wide and let the handle spring back with an ugly sound. Everything was just as it had always been. The wide bed, an oak wardrobe, the vanity. Once, she’d illicitly run her fingers over the carved wood and mirror glass, only to retreat at the sound of her mother’s footsteps.

Now she ignored the pretty thing and its gathered tools of deception and cultivation. She wasn’t looking for damning secrets. Those had been plundered, aired, and punished.

She checked the nightstand, the shelves in the closet, under the bed. Finding nothing, she became creative, searching behind the framed paintings, between the mattresses, and beneath the wardrobe. There were no battered shoeboxes filled with scribbled drawings or finger-painted memories. No ugly pictures tucked into books, no old schoolwork or macaroni presents hidden on the highest shelf.

She tossed aside the metal grate of the heating vent. It scraped a curl of paint from the wall. She felt a nostalgic thrill of panic before she noted the emptiness of the vent. Not a single faded report card or polaroid.

It was just her mother’s room, without hidden depths or regard, filled with props to sell an empty life. She didn’t close the door when she left.

This week, Raw Rambles challenged me to write something inspired by one of my favorite songs, Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek. Her wonderful piece can be read here.

Thievery Abstains

It was easy to miss the turnoff in the dark. Just a break in the gnarled trees, Cole winced each time the branches squealed against the sides of his father’s truck. Still, he leaned over the steering wheel and turned the clunker down the overgrown path.

Safely under tree cover he flicked his headlights back on and slowed to a crawl. From the passenger’s side of the front seat, Rhett groaned at the speed and called him a pussy. Cole jerked the wheel and truck’s right tire dropped into a ditch, cracking Rhett’s forehead against the passenger window.

Cole chuckled and righted the truck.

“Asshole. Watch the beer.” Rhett checked the unopened twenty-four-pack sitting between them, assuring that the cans were still secure and wrapped in the seatbelt.

“Should’ve used the belt for yourself,” Cole said, still fighting a smile.

The path eventually branched. He turned them left without hesitation, the cab rocking back and forth on the uneven road. They’d been coming here for a year now, ever since he and Rhett had made varsity. The seniors had driven them out that first time. Since then, they’d found their own way to the clearing, often with Rhett’s stolen beer and Cole’s borrowed truck. Tucked deep in the low trees on the edge of the Nelson property, the spot had been long claimed by the teenagers of Holt High school.

Cole locked the truck after Rhett grabbed the beer.  He checked the door handle while Rhett hefted the drinks triumphantly at their friends. The truck took enough abuse getting out here, Cole didn’t want to explain stained seats or the smell of spilled beer.

When he turned around Stephanie Davis was there. She hopped up on her toes and snaked a hand behind his neck, pulling herself up and his head down. The kiss was awkward due to the height difference between him and the cheerleader. Stephanie enjoyed complaining about the discrepancy to anyone who would listen, making sure to point out exactly how tall her quarterback boyfriend was.

She smoothed her long yellow hair after he stepped back.  “Took you long enough, c’mon we have a surprise for you and Rhett.”

He put an arm around her shoulders and let her lead. The rest of the group were clustered in one part of the clearing, a half ring hiding the middle from view. Cole knew all of them, it was a small town, though he was more used to seeing football and cheer uniforms than jeans and jackets. Rhett was already there. Cole moved up to him, curious to see what he was frowning at over his beer.

Whatever he’d expected, it wasn’t a cage. The makeshift kennel was bent, but functional. It had to be, or the dog inside would have been gone. The large mutt had its belly to metal panned floor, pressing itself as far away from the teenagers as possible. Its lips vibrated in one long low growl as it stared up at them.

“What is that?” Rhett asked deadpan while Cole just stared.

“It’s the Tuscaloosa Wolf.” Stephanie answered Rhett, an unsaid duh oozing condescension. She sent an eager look up at Cole. When he didn’t react, or even look away from the terrified dog, Stephanie continued, “Thought you’d recognize it.”

“I do. Why is it here?” Rhett returned with a withering look, his disdain for Stephanie overtaking the shock of their hangout’s new addition. Cole recognized the dog too, from the games against Tuscaloosa High School. The opposing team would trot out this dog, some shepherd husky mix, as their mascot, the Tuscaloosa wolf. It’d looked slightly less miserable sitting on the sidelines by cheerleader pyramids than it did now.

Stephanie ignored Cole’s stunned silence. She leaned forward and the dog twisted away from her with a sharp warning bark. Cole grit his teeth and tugged her away from the shaking animal.

“I’m fine.” Stephanie put a hand on his arm and his skin crawled. She grinned at her audience, still awaiting an explanation. “It’s a present for the team, we stole Tuscaloosa’s mascot.” The other cheerleaders nodded and began filling in the details of the heist. Cole’s teammates were mostly enraptured.

Rhett rolled his eyes and drained the beer. He turned and knocked into Cole’s arm. “C’mon let’s play beer pong or something.”

Cole shook his head. The dog was still there, exhausted from its panic. He watched it pant between growls, its sides heaving up and down. Rhett grabbed his arm, “Come off it Cole, you just got back with Stephanie. Don’t piss her off. The dog’s fine, it’s not like Tuscaloosa treated the thing any better.”

Cole glared at him.

“Yah, yah.” Rhett let go of Cole’s arm. He grabbed a new beer and toasted his friend. “Stephanie’s gonna hate you forever. I’ll get Madison to give me a ride back.”

Half an hour later Cole turned his truck back onto the main road. He and Rhrett had managed to wedge the cage between the dash and the seat cushions. With the cab finally on even ground, the dog had finally stopped trembling. Curled into a ball, it watching Cole silently from across the seat.

His phone lit up again with Stephanie’s name. Cole turned it over on the seat and concentrated on driving.

He didn’t take the west road to Tuscaloosa. Instead Cole turned south, the direction that would take him towards his house. His dad would have a lot of questions, and Cole would do his best to answer them. But like Cole, the dog needed a break from school politics.