This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge is another mashup of subgenres. (It should be noted that this is madness from which no good can come.) In particular, since I rolled a 20 and a 3, my story will be a story of shapeshifters and revenge. Good, I like revenge, you can get a lot of mileage out of that. (I hope.)
As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
I came into the bedroom and, as expected, found Grace to be sitting up in bed, nodding off, the television showing some forty-year-old rerun she had seen a hundred times. She stirred as I entered, but only to turn away from me, expressionless, and pull the sheets up over her.
I turned off the television as I walked past, circling the bed to where she lay. I knelt down next to the bed and looked at her as she feigned sleep.
“Grace, may I talk to you?”
Her eyelids flickered, betraying her attempt to ignore me. I reached over and gently took her hand where it was clutching at the covers. She did not resist or pull away, but neither was there any response to my touch.
“Grace, we need to talk, right now. It’s important. Please?”
With a heavy sigh, she opened her eyes and looked more or less in my direction. “What is it, Richard?”
“Grace, I’m sorry, but I can’t live like this anymore. I love you. We need to make some big changes and start right now.”
“Live like what? What are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about. We never speak any more other than to exchange the most banal information. Bills, schedules, appointments, reminders. But we never talk about anything that matters. We never laugh. We never touch. We’ve become familiar strangers living under the same roof out of habit, too lazy to change.”
Grace was silent, her gaze vacant. Finally a tear started to slide down her nose toward the pillow.
“How did that happen?” she said. “We were happy; we used to care for one another. I’m not unhappy now. I’m not…anything now. I just am.”
“That’s right, we just are. We go through the motions, we play our parts, but we’re as much soulless zombies as the ones in the movies. But we don’t have to be like that. We can change back, we can recover our lives. I realized that tonight and I have to do it. I can’t keep going like this.”
“Have a nice life, Richard. Write if you get time, let me know how the Promised Land is.”
“No, Grace, you’re not going to do that. I want you to come with me. You were the one who always made me laugh, who wouldn’t take any shit, who would always keep me on my toes. I’m not going off on my own to find a new life, this isn’t some midlife crisis. I want you to do this with me.”
Grace stirred, lifting herself up on one elbow and finally looking at me. “What the hell’s wrong with you, Richard? Why this? Why now? What are you trying to prove?”
“I’m not trying to prove anything, other than my determination to claw myself out of this grave that we’ve dug for ourselves. Why now? Do you remember what we did when we visited Portland? I just saw something about that and it reminded me of how alive we were, how daring, how spontaneous. All of that’s gone now, all withered to dust and blown away. But I have suddenly realized that we can change things. We can save ourselves. We can re-learn how to be those people again. Don’t we have to try?”
“I remember Portland. I also remember being forty years younger, fifty pounds thinner, having three fewer kids, and not having any mortgage or reputation to keep in the community. That was then, this is now.”
“No! No, it’s not! If you could talk to those twenty-year-old versions of us, can you even imagine what they would think of us now? Is this what we dreamed of becoming then? Boring? Dull? How did we become responsible, dependable, and predictable old farts? We have a chance to save ourselves, we have to take it!”
Grace sighed, closed her eyes, and took a moment to compose herself. “Okay, what do I have to do to get you to shut up and leave me alone? What’s your plan for rediscovering our spontaneity?”
“Just like Portland. We got there and found a huge, naked bike ride happening and we joined in. It was bizarre, it was outrageous, it was silly, it was stupid, it was totally irresponsible – and it was fun, liberating, and a thrill. We were alive.”
“Right, I remember. We didn’t have bikes so we stripped and jogged along with the riders. Got it. And this means the plan for now is, what?”
“I’m going to go for a jog around the block naked. In five minutes. I want you to come with me.”
“You’ve lost it,” Grace said. “Your little choo-choo has gone chug, chug, chugging around the bend.”
“You used to think it was a good thing. Think about that for a second. I would argue that I’m getting my sanity back, not losing it.”
“By being the only fat, out of shape, pasty white sixty-year old running around nude in the middle of the night? You’re going to get yourself arrested. If the neighbors don’t call the cops, I will.”
“You won’t do that. The neighbors won’t see us. It’s late, they’re all as dull and bland and boring as we’ve become out here in suburbia. But we’re going to break free.”
Before she could respond, I stood and stripped off the grey sweats I was wearing, ending the discussion. I headed to the door, stopping to grab my sneakers and to toss a pair of hers onto the bed. As I got to the hallway door, I paused and looked back.
“Five minutes. Meet me by the front door.”
“You’re an idiot,” she said.
“Yes, I am, it’s one of my good qualities that I’ve forgotten about. You’re not dead yet, you’re just acting that way. Here’s your chance to come back from the dead. Five minutes.”
I turned and walked down the hallway, changing as I went. I went down the large stairway and turned right.
I came into the living room and, as expected, found Richard half asleep in his lounger, the television showing some useless baseball game that was just on for the white noise. He startled and sat up as I entered, his expression immediately both wary and curious.
I turned off the television as I walked past, stopping in front of him and tossing his sneakers down on the floor next to his chair.
“It’s time to not be dead any more, Richard. Get out of those ugly, grey sweats and put on your shoes, we’re going streaking.”
Richard was a bit startled and a lot grumpy. “Are you having a nervous breakdown, Grace, or have you started drinking again? How about you go and put some clothes on and we’ll see about getting you some help.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me that some adrenaline won’t cure. Remember adrenaline? Do you remember when you used to want to see me naked instead of sometimes accidentally seeing me naked? It’s time to get going again.”
“I don’t think I’m going anywhere except maybe to take you to the hospital. What the hell’s going on here, Grace?”
I put my hands on my hips and stood there for a moment, letting him get a good look at me. All of me. “What’s going on here is that I’m tired of living like a slug. We used to be wild and crazy kids, we used to be spontaneous, and we used to be risk takers. We used to be in love! I want all of that back. I’m starting now to escape from the quicksand, the slow death that’s dragging us down.”
“We’re still in love, Grace, I tell you that every day.”
“You say the words every day, by rote, the same way people reflexively say ‘how are you’ without caring about the answer or even expecting one. And I do the exact same thing to you every day. But now I’ve had an epiphany, I’ve seen a sign, I’ve had my big ‘ah-HAH’ moment, and I’ve decided I’m not going down without a fight. You’re coming with me because I realized I do still love you, really, honestly, and I can’t let us stay the people we’ve become.”
“Where am I going with you? Aren’t you a little underdressed?”
I stepped forward, leaned down, and put my hands on the arms of his chair, my face close to his, with my breasts dangling down in front of him. Instinct kicked in and he looked at them.
“Portland,” I said. “We were spontaneous, we were carefree, and we were daring. We are now so hidebound, dull, and bland that it’s going to take a major jolt to get us moving back toward the light, toward life. Right now, ten-thirty at night, we’re going streaking around the neighborhood.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said, still ogling my nipples.
“Not kidding at all.” Upstairs, I could hear Grace stirring. “A rut’s just a grave with no ends and we’re in one hell of a rut. I’m getting out, starting right now. I’m begging you to come with me, like we did forty years ago. Act like something matters, anything at all. Or sit here and die slowly by yourself. I can’t do it anymore.”
I stood up and pointed toward the shoes. “Get your ass out of those shitty grey sweats and put on your shoes. I’m going to go get my shoes on. I’ll be back in a minute. It’s your move, Richard. Live with me or die alone.”
I turned on my heel and went briskly out and back up the stairs. Grace was just coming out of her bedroom, wearing only her birthday suit and her sneakers.
I trotted by her with a soft purr and a questioning “merrow,” brushing against her leg, but she was preoccupied and ignored me. I could hear Richard moving around downstairs as I made a jump onto the window ledge and out onto a sturdy tree branch there.
It felt good as I worked my way quickly down the tree to the ground and then started a brisk trot across the lawn, tail held high like an antenna. As I went by the front door I could hear Grace and Richard talking. Not shouting, not arguing, simply talking. That was good.
Working my way down the street through the bushes, I felt wonderful. I didn’t always succeed, but that made the successes all that much sweeter. The failures were usually those who were too far gone, too trapped by ennui to even realize how miserable they had become.
But sometimes I could make a difference. Sometimes the demigods of apathy, indifference, and passivity could have souls snatched from their grasp to be re-awakened, revived, and resurrected. Sometimes the living dead could save themselves. Sometimes they just needed a little push. I loved being the pusher, the catalyst for energy and fun and love in a world becoming grey and dull.
I nosed my way through the pet door into the kitchen. I stood to pick up two wine glasses and took an opened bottle of chardonnay from the refrigerator. I walked into her office and, as expected, found Cathy hunched over her keyboard, trying to stay awake and focus as she wrote. She looked up as I walked in, her brows lifting in an unspoken question.
“That’s enough, my love. You’ve worked on this too late for too many nights. You’re way ahead of schedule so I’m going to make you an offer I’m begging you not to refuse.” I held up the wine glasses and dangled them.
“Pete, that’s sweet, I would love to, but you know I’ll…”
From outside, a wild hollering and whooping could be briefly heard echoing down the street. “What the hell is that?” Cathy asked.
I leaned over to the window and split open the mini blinds for a peek.
“If I didn’t know better I would swear it’s the Kaplans jogging naked. Who knew? Now, how about letting me take your mind off of that manuscript for one night? You shut down everything here and I’ll meet you in the bedroom in five minutes.”
“Maybe I can…”
“Five minutes. I’ll see you there.”
I left her office, went into the bedroom to deposit the wine and glasses on the dresser, then went looking for Pete.