Falling For a Lie

Author: Kerrin Frappier, Literary Mag

Once upon a time, in the north easternmost town in all of Rhode Island, a young boy told a very small lie that almost cost him his life…twice.

It might have been the weekend, it might have been the middle of the week, but the summer sun continued to burn through the puffy clouds in the sky, so the day of the week didn’t much matter. There were still ten glorious, freedom-filled days before the start of the new school year and on this particular morning two groups of boys–bored and restless–went looking for trouble.

Jim scampered down the winding steps from the second floor and landed in the kitchen, where his father was making a large sandwich at the counter. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and the brand new sneakers he had not yet had a chance to break in. He was already sweating, his brown hair sticking to his forehead–it was very possible he hadn’t thought to brush it or wash it all week.

He was a busy boy, a ball of some kind permanently in his hand. He could play sports with the best of them and often proved himself a worthy opponent against the older boys–including his two older brothers– in the family’s lively neighborhood. That day, his hands were empty as he made his way towards the door and he paused only when his father asked him where he was off to.

“Me and Bruce are gonna take a walk up to One Mendon to see Nana,” he said. His father nodded in approval and turned back to the platter of cold cut meats.

Jim met his friend of nearly eight years a few hundred feet from his house and together, the two 13-year-olds began their short, one mile walk. He caught a glimpse of the nursing home where his grandmother now resided. If we visit her on the way back, it won’t really be lying, he thought. He smiled to himself, pleased with his plan as he and Bruce came across a couple of older boys.

“They’re still there,” one boy informed the pair.

“Yeah, and one of their BBs just missed my eye,” said another, pointing to his unscathed face.

Without another word, the group crossed the main road and made their way across the local Almac’s parking lot, headed for the long-abandoned train trestles.

In those days, Cumberland was still home to many bustling factories that produced textiles and other goods. While shipments made their way to the customers by freight truck, in the 1800s, trains moved over the Blackstone River, whose water powered the factories before stable electricity was introduced.

By the time Jim and his band of revenge-seekers came along, the trestles were aged, and rotted in many areas. The boys’ necks craned to the top of the vacant trestles but saw no signs of any other visitors.

“Maybe they went home,” Bruce observed, wrinkles appearing on his tanned face as his eyes squinted against the bright sun. “They” were a group of boys–not unlike the cluster of young men assembled on this side of the train tracks–from the nearby town of Lincoln.

Prone to mischief, (much like any unsupervised clique) the boys from Lincoln had taken to shooting their BB guns across the river. Several pellets had been found on the grounds of the adjacent grocery store, prompting annoyance from the parents who simply could not wait for school to begin again. The boys from Cumberland and Lincoln alike had spent several days taunting one another, enjoying the thrill of a squirmish, even if it seemed nonsensical to both sides. Summer boredom often bred a longing for action and suspense.

And so it was decided that one of the Cumberland boys should survey the patch of land opposite the train tracks–which could only be properly done by climbing the rickety trestle they reasoned. Bruce declined quickly as it was widely known he was terrified of heights. For one reason or another, Jim volunteered and as he made his way up the structure his friends bet against him.

“Don’t chicken out on us now, Frapp,” they said. Jim scoffed and rolled his eyes as his hands reached for the next hold. Athletic as he was, it didn’t take Jim long before he hoisted himself up onto the train tracks and found his footing. The air was quiet and the wind provided by the 25-foot bridge cooled his sun-burnt face.

“See anything?” someone shouted from down below.

“No!” Jim yelled back, his hands cupped around his mouth to amplify the sound. He had half a mind to go back down and fill his pockets with rocks so that he could toss them over the other side of the unmarked territory. See how those jerks like it that devilish little voice inside him suggested. Surely his strong arm and a sharp enough pebble could give their BB guns a run for their money. Jim could see almost nothing, his hazel eyes blinded by the midday sun, but when he heard unfamiliar voices hooting and laughing he knew he was in trouble.

He heard the pop of those dreaded guns and heard several of the small, round BBs whistle past him as he turned every which way, searching for the best escape route, He spied an embankment to his left and raced towards it, his eyes trained on his exit. All he would have to do is jump down a few feet–easy, he thought–his short legs pumping furiously. In his haste, Jim did not notice the three railroad ties missing and his foot stepped through the gap in the bridge. He screamed in horror as his entire leg fell through the hole, sending him down, down, down into the polluted water far below…

Ronald, father of eight, had just switched on the new color TV set when the phone rang. His wife was at work and five of the children still living at home were occupied, playing games of tag and basketball in the street while his youngest son was off spending time with his beloved grandmother. He finally had the living room to himself and now that foolish phone wouldn’t stop ringing. He answered the old rotary in the kitchen gruffly, frustrated that his relaxation had to be put on hold. He hoped the phone call was important enough to warrant the interruption of his solitude, but he was not expecting the police to be on the other end of the line.

“That’s impossible, my son is visiting his grandmother…”

The three boys watched as their friend tumbled down from the great height of the trestle, landing in just a foot water. One of the older boys, Ronny, who had teased Jim mercilessly as he climbed, yelled for someone to call for help while he stepped carefully but quickly down the muddy embankment to their injured friend. Ronny called out for Jim but he did not respond. Jim seemed to be floating just under the surface of the inky water, but in the stillness he was difficult to locate.

Ronny waded through the shallow, foul-smelling water, his arms outstretched in desperate search for the other boy. When he caught a glimpse of a tuft of hair, Ronny seized the unconscious teenager by the waist and dragged him to dry land, filthy, bleeding and missing his left shoe. He felt relief sweep through his whole body as he heard the wail of a siren and just then his friend began to cough up the dye-and-who-knows-what-else-laden water.

Mr. Frappier arrived at the police station just moments after he hung up the phone. While he was thankful he was not walking into the hospital emergency room or worse the morgue, he was doubtful his son would make it to his fourteenth birthday. Jim was seated in a chair, his bloody and bruised knee exposed through a hole in his worn-out jeans and a bandage just underneath his chin. The cut appeared actively bleeding and his son was visibly shaken.

Ronald wondered if it was because of his near-death experience or because of his own entrance at the small police station. The officer at the desk dismissed the Frappier men after reminding him that the younger Frappier was lucky to be alive, having hit his knee on the bottom of the shallow span of water and somehow cutting the area just below his chin. He could have been paralyzed, bled to death or simply drowned. The two walked out of the building, Jim trailing far behind his father.

“Get over here,” his father warned, his words spoken through gritted teeth. My dad’s gonna kill me! Jim thought. He obeyed, preparing himself for his father’s incomparable tirade but was greeted with nothing but silence for the longest one mile car ride of his young life.

Jim sat in his room on a pair of pillows, bouncing a basketball against his bedroom wall. Barbara stood in the doorway of the room shared by all her other brothers, shaking her head at Jim’s stupidity,

“Looks like you won’t be needing this for a while,” she said, scooping up Jim’s baseball glove and throwing it back down onto the dresser.

“I’ll be lucky if I’ll be able to sit down at my desk at school,” he winced, shifting gingerly to find a comfortable position.

“Serves you right,” she stated bluntly, offering her scratched-up brother very little sympathy. “You scared Mom half to death. You know how Dad is about that.”

“God, what if Ronny hadn’t been there?” Jim asked.

“You would’ve been a goner for sure,” Barbara replied. “No one else was going in there after you.” The siblings had been told that Bruce had earned quite the punishment for allowing his best friend to risk his life so recklessly.

“You’d better rest up, I hear Dad’s got a long list of chores for you to do tomorrow,” she chuckled. Jim groaned dramatically, leaning his basketball and head on his knee before regretting it.

As Barbara turned to leave the room, Jim whispered “Hey Bucky, want to sneak me up some Whoppers later?” he asked, flashing a toothy smile.

“Maybe.”

The Case for Santa Claus

Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Literary Mag

When I was a little girl (actually, scratch that, from when I was a little girl until age 18), I attended a private school that was not religiously affiliated but rather a non-denominational school that welcomed children of all faiths and backgrounds.

I was exposed to several different types of cultures and traditions as a result, and I learned early on that while Christmas was the highlight of my year, many of my classmates looked forward to receiving a gift on each night of Hanukkah, or celebrated Kwanzaa or Ramadan with their families. During our school concerts, we always sang Christmas and Hanukkah songs, as well as old standards like Winter Wonderland.

However, while my classmates may have celebrated during the months of November and December differently than I did, Christmas — both the religious and secular aspects — remained at home. My parents love Christmas, and they pulled out all of the stops to make sure I had the best Christmas they could possibly give to me.

Mentions of Santa Claus “watching” began right after Thanksgiving, the North Pole was a real place as far as my parents were concerned and my grandmother even got in on the act by sending me a “Christmas Report Card” that came “From Santa. It was designed to keep track of all of my good deeds and chores from December 1 through 24.

And now, without further ado… the story I am about to tell is a true story from my childhood, and the background I’ve just provided you with is meant to show a bit of context. While I can’t certify that the dialogue is 100% accurate, I think you’ll get the picture.

It started when my parents were more than saddened when I came home from school at only age five with the following statement:

“Mom, Dad…at lunch today, the kids told me that Santa isn’t real.”

Of course, I’d defended Jolly Old Saint Nick at the lunch table, with the fervor that only a kindergartener can. But I can distinctly remember the look on one girl’s face (we’ll call her Lily to protect her identity) as she said…”Mary Grace, you know Santa is really your parents, right?”

Tears came to my eyes as I walked away from the lunch table, distraught. Was Lily right? Had it been Mom and Dad all along? 

To get back to my parents: in later years, they blamed the parents of the children who did not promote belief in Santa Claus for their failing to teach their kids to keep their mouths shut about “The Secret” of Santa’s true identity.

“I believed in Santa Claus until I was eleven!” my mom exclaimed.

But for the time being, my parents weren’t going to go down without a fight. They weren’t about to reveal “The Secret” — and they were well aware of the fact that I’d buy their story much more than I’d buy Lily’s Lunch Table Tabloids.

“Mary Grace, we know Santa is real,” my dad said. “And you know what? We’re going to prove it.”

“How?” I asked, eyes wide, already enthralled with the idea.

“We’re going to catch him on tape!” my dad cried in excitement.

My mom, having no prior knowledge of my dad’s plan to that point, played along like a champ. “Yes, we are!” she echoed.

“How?” I asked again.

“We’re going to set up the video camera in the living room by the Christmas tree,” my dad explained, his eyes twinkling.

I started to have my doubts. “How will the camera know when Santa walks in?” I asked.

My dad didn’t miss a beat. “The camera is floor activated,” he replied, my mom nodding vociferously in agreement.

Remembering that we didn’t have a fireplace, my doubts continued. “I don’t even know how Santa gets into the house,” I said. “How does he get out of the chimney?”

“The chimney goes to the basement,” my mom explained. “Santa will just come upstairs that way.”

I somehow took in all of this seemingly vital information and bought the story. I cannot remember exactly what I reported back to Lily at school the next day, but it couldn’t have been that important. We were going to catch Santa Claus in the act!

And on Christmas morning, after we opened all of the gifts and I confirmed that Santa’s cookies and milk were consumed to my satisfaction, my parents and I gathered around the TV and VCR to watch the evidence.

The video started with just a still shot of our Christmas tree and then…I heard the tinkle of the bell that hung on our basement door. A few footsteps and then…there he was! As the song says…”Cap on head, suit that’s red, special night, beard that’s white…Must be Santa!

“He was here!” I cried. I could not contain my jubilation as I watched. “Santa Claus” waved to the camera, held his big belly and gave a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” Before I knew it, he was pulling the presents I’d just opened out of the giant sack he’d lugged into the living room. As if on cue, he moved over to the milk mug and plate of cookies, and ate and drank with fervor, enjoying every bite and sip. With one more wave to the camera, he was gone…and I heard the tinkle of the bell on the basement door once again.

Approximately three years and two more “Santa Cam” experiences later, I point blank asked my mom if the Tooth Fairy was real, which led to a discussion of both the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. I found out the true identities of all three in one night. While sad, I had many questions…like, how did they catch Santa Claus on film if they’re Santa Claus?

As it turned out, my parents pulled out all of the stops more than they had already. They’d purchased a premium Santa suit, wig and beard set (as my dad has no facial hair to speak of). I then realized that my dad was skinny and the “Santa” who appeared on tape wasn’t. My mom, smart enough to realize I’d pick up on the weight difference, had stuffed the pants of the suit with pillows. Of course, the “floor activated camera” story was one they’d made up on the fly — my mom was “Santa’s” camerawoman the whole time.

After finding out all of the production secrets, I asked my parents to set up the “Santa Cam” just one more time — and, of course, they were more than happy to oblige.

Only in My Dreams

Author: Kerrin Frappier, Literary Mag

Every living person on the planet dreams during sleeping hours. This function is so vital to the quality of our sleep that a lack of dreaming signifies severe sleep deprivation. There is something frightening about dreaming as it puts us at the mercy of the thoughts in our heads and the random firing of neurons in our brains.

I for one hardly ever remember my dreams, and the ones I am able to recall are usually those that come after I’ve foolishly binged on another crime show marathon on television.

Running full speed away from an unknown assailant, I instantly jerk awake, breathing heavily, my heart pounding but relieved to be surrounded by the pale purple walls of my bedroom. It only takes the  brain a few seconds to adjust to reality as I tell myself repeatedly “it was just a dream” or “it was only a dream.” No matter how fantastic or horrific, it would end and the morning light would soften the memory of it. Except for one night when I was about five years old…

My mother and father both worked Friday nights at the restaurant my mother ran with her father and brother. While my parents tended to their regular customers celebrating the start of the weekend, my sister and I were left in the care of my older cousin.

By about 9p.m., after hours of playing dress-up and bartering for an extra few minutes of time in front of the VCR, my sister and I were sent off to bed. My cousin was never naive enough to believe we had dozed off immediately after our last bedtime story–my sister and I always fought to stay awake to see my mother walk through our bedroom door.

It was not uncommon for my sister and I to fall asleep waiting for our mother’s return. In the summer, my mother would, if necessary, come in with a flashlight telling us the power had gone out as the humidity raged on during those hot months. On this particular night I was startled after hearing the lights snap off as the thunder boomed.

Lightening flashed in the two windows of the bedroom I shared with my sister. I crept out into the darkened hallway but I heard no voices, no cabinets being opened, in search of the emergency equipment we kept in the nearby kitchen. There did not seem to be anyone else awake.

I walked past the kitchen and into the living room, sliding on the hardwood floor in my socks, nearly tripping over my nightgown in my haste. The large bay window was lit up with rods of silver lightening. I could just make out the furniture in our rectangular family room and two shadows in front of the open door–one of whom I was sure belonged to my mother.

The two figures were facing away from me and I could distinctly hear my mother bid her goodbyes to Brooke (my cousin), thanking her for watching us but she too was walking down the steps and towards the driveway.

“Wait!” I cried as the door slammed shut. I opened the door again but my mother was nowhere to be found. Even worse, Brooke’s red Jeep was no longer parked in front of our house.

I was alone. It was pouring rain out, there was no electricity and I was alone, save for my sister sleeping unknowingly across the house.

I frantically peered through the screens in the front window, desperate for my mother to come running through the yard to escape the sheets of rain. Being close to the open windows made me feel too vulnerable, as if I could fall victim to those grizzly home invasions they write about in the papers simply by being visible. I collapsed onto the cold fabric of the couch paralyzed by fear.

I was sobbing and calling for my mother and yet no one came. No parent came to console me and no one came to tuck me back into bed. It seemed hours before I finally surrendered to sleep, unsure how long I would remain there wishing my family would come back to me.

I awoke the next morning, my neck strained from the odd angle I had cried myself to sleep  just a few hours before. From my place on the couch it appeared as if power had been restored overnight. My eyes were sore and my mouth and throat felt as if I had swallowed a jar of pipe cleaners. I could hear my father’s whistled breathing as he snored from my parents’ bedroom.

How could either of my parents sleep so soundly when they had tortured me so? Where had they gone? Why didn’t anyone stay until they got back? I was five years old! I didn’t even know how to unlock the doors! I had never been so afraid in all my life and it seemed as if no one felt even one bit uneasy or remorseful for it.

I went into my room to read–I needed to get my mind off the awful night I’d just had. I needed to stop thinking and imagine something adventurous, maybe even something happy. Sometime later I heard the coffee pot begin to gurgle and I made my way to the kitchen, my legs still uncomfortable from my night on the sofa. My mother smiled at me until I started to cry again.

“Did you have another nightmare?” she asked concernedly.

“You left me!” I insisted. My mother furrowed her brows in confusion. “I was alone all night!” I was shivering from the mere memory of it.

“In your dream?”

“No! You left!” I stated angrily.

“I got home early last night, but you and Kristin were asleep,” she said calmly. “I know I usually come in and kiss you but you looked so peaceful. You know you’re too young to stay home by yourself.”

“I cried myself to sleep on the couch.”

“Kerrin, you were asleep in bed when I got home.”

“Are you sure?” I asked in disbelief.

My mother then proceeded to tell me that Popcorn, the book I had been reading before I drifted off, was on the floor next to me when she came to check in on her twins. It was then that I noticed that even though she had just woken up, the clock radio next to the stove read the correct time. Outside the sliding glass door, the ground was completely dry and there was no sign of the wind or rain I had emphatically reported.

My mother reminded me that I had started to sleep walk occasionally over the last month, and I sometimes continued to have night terrors where I could not distinguish my dreams from reality. As a toddler I would have sensations of spiders crawling all over my body as I lay in bed. I thought I was awake, but actually, my dreams were being interrupted and I could not wake myself up as easily. From then on, I would fall asleep only with the hallway light on and the door cracked open and a dream catcher hanging above my bed– just in case.

The agonizing fear of being abandoned, the colors and sounds of a dreary evening had all been a product of my vivid imagination. I could taste the salt of my tears, feel them stinging my lips and yet it was my mind playing tricks on me while my body was supposed to be in rest. I had dreams of knife-wielding mad men and great white sharks hidden in the depths the pool in my backyard, but not being able to separate what my eyes were seeing from what I knew was possible was far more frightening.

My chest still gets tight at the thought of being alone in front of that grand window in the middle of a stormy night. But it was only in my dreams.

Call Me Scared

Author: Kerrin Frappier, Literary Mag

Peggy felt her eyes burn as she and her friends walked out of the theater and into the bright lights of the lobby. She blinked hard, several times, and readjusted her glasses as she kept pace with her fellow movie-goers. It was a typical fall Saturday, and the matinee showing of When A Stranger Calls had just let out.

“I don’t know, I think the first 20 minutes were the best part,” Joe said.

“I liked it!” Jan asserted.

“If some guy ever came after me like that, I’d think I’d end up in an asylum along with him,” Debbie admitted. “I’ll be checking my bedroom and the phone lines for the next week.”

“Don’t be such a baby!” Peggy teased. “It’s just a movie!”

“That’s easy for you to say, there’s always someone at your house,” Jan said. “Some psycho can’t just waltz in with six people watching 60 minutes in the living room.”

“Not to mention your brother’s dog,” Joe said.

“Benny!” they all shuddered in unison.

“Do you need a lift home, Peg?” Debbie offered.

“No thanks, my dad’s picking me up,” Peggy replied. “I’ve got to babysit Keri and Amy and my sister’s working second shift tonight.”

As the group arrived at the movie theater’s glass doors, Peggy spotted her father’s station wagon parked out front. He waved her on impatiently.”See you guys later!” she called.

“Bye!”

It took nearly 20 minutes for the family car to turn onto the wood-lined street where Peggy’s sister Ellen – a nurse – now lived with her husband and two daughters. Peggy reached for her school bag beneath the front seat as the car came to a stop.

“You’ve got a ride home?” her father asked.

“Ellen said she or Wayne could give me a ride.”

“Your mother’s at work tonight, but you call if you need anything.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

“Have fun!”

Peggy’s niece Amy was there to greet her at the door, her blonde hair in two thick pigtails. Amy’s older sister Keri rushed down the stairs at the sight of her aunt, screaming her name as she went. Ellen’s husband Wayne left for work shortly after her arrival, with the promise that he or his wife would be home sometime before midnight.

After a rousing game of Candy Land, an epic Barbie fashion show and a fine meal of macaroni and cheese, it was finally time for the girls to be put to bed. Peggy read them a story, tucked them into their beds and with the house finally quiet, settled in for her date with her chemistry book.

The living room sat at the front of the house and was connected to a large gourmet kitchen, with a slider opening up to a sizable backyard. Peggy set up her study space on the couch, facing the front door with a bowl of freshly popped popcorn and a Coke sitting on the coffee table. She readied her flashcards, scribbling furiously as she leafed through the hefty volume.

Peggy took generous handfuls of her popcorn as she scanned the materials in front of her, her crunching the only sound that could be heard until…

…the sound of the phone ringing broke through the calm silence and Peggy paused to roll her eyes at the rotary’s round numbers.

“Hello?”

“Hi Peg, just calling to see how you and the girls are making out.” It was Ellen, probably on her coffee break at this hour – just past nine o’clock.

“We’re fine, the girls are in bed.” Peggy said flatly.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of studying to do for my midterm on Monday.”

“Well, I won’t keep you, and thanks again.”

“Bye.”

Peggy sighed, struggling to refocus her efforts on her schoolwork, but her mind kept drifting off to other places and things she had done that weekend.

Maybe I can get a pair of pants like Debbie’s at the department store next weekend. That movie theater sure was crowded, she thought, chewing on her pen absentmindedly. Do they still have looney bins like that nowadays? What really happens if some lunatic escapes? Would an escapee run around town with his arms tied up in a straight jacket? It’d probably be pretty easy to tell…

She had just put her pen back to a blank notecard when she heard a small voice call out to her.

“Auntie…Auntie?” came her niece’s urgent call. Peggy snapped her book shut and scampered halfway up the staircase, her heart rate increasing for some unknown reason.

“What is it, Amy?” she asked from the first landing.

“I’m thirsty,” came the reply.

“I’ll be right up, stay in bed,” she instructed.

Peggy flicked the lights on in the kitchen, enveloping the room in a yellow glow, a bright glare reflecting off the sliding glass doors. She searched the newly organized cabinets for a glass and ran the tap to fill it, her eyes drawn to the woods beyond the window above the sink. It was not until that moment that she had a chance to look out onto the bare backyard with the half-finished deck.

The night was so dark, Peggy could barely make out the planks of wood stacked in piles ready for construction. She had the creeping sensation that she was being watched, but with no blinds or curtains on the slider to shut out those eerie thoughts (and possible watchful eyes), Peggy took a breath to steady herself.

You’re being ridiculous! she thought. Get a grip! She turned to leave the room only to be met with not one, but two pairs of eyes!

The two girls let out shrieks of surprise as the water from the glass sloshed all over Peggy’s blouse and the hardwood floor. Peggy held her hand to her heart as she felt it beat erratically in her chest.

“Auntie, Keri said there was a monster in my closet and that if I didn’t give him some leftovers he’d eat me instead!” Amy cried. Her sister scowled at the accusation.

“Did not!” Keri said, shoving her sister a little.

“Girls!” Peggy chided. “Enough.” She shook her head as if to clear those foolish thoughts from her mind. “Both of you, get a drink and a snack and go back to bed.”

Since her return from the kitchen, Peggy had become increasingly aware of the strange sounds in and around her sister’s new house. She could hear the furnace whistling as the heat pulsed throughout the home, but she felt shaky and cold. She seemed to notice a dripping noise, but she was certain she had turned off the faucet before she’d left to mop up the spill on the floor.

She hadn’t realized there had been so many trees when she’d walked through the yard, but their branches scraped angrily against the windows and threw long shadows in the moonlight. She almost wished her brother Jimmy’s stupid wiener dog was there to bite at her feet. At least then, she would not be alone in the living room. Surely he would be able to give off some kind of warning of an intruder…

What is the matter with me? Peggy scolded herself. Letting a stupid movie scare me.

Peggy jumped again when she heard the door of the first floor lavette slam shut. It’s just the wind…just like those shadows…it’s only the wind…it’s probably going to rain, she rationalized. Still, she didn’t dare leave her spot on the couch or the living room where all the lights gave her a sense of comfort.

She nearly choked on her own breath when the phone rang again.

“Hello?” she asked, her voice dry. She cleared her throat, breathing steadily in through her nose and out through her mouth, It was Kara, her younger sister, calling to settle a bet with their older brother Jimmy. Peggy was only half listening, distracted by a sudden surge of electricity that left the lights flickering.

“Kara, I’m babysitting! I’ll be home later!” Peggy hung up the phone with a bang. She was angry with herself for getting so worked up and she felt guilty for taking it out on Kara.

It’s just a little storm, I can find some candles if the power goes out. I’m safe. There is nothing to worry about. Everything’s fine…

The phone rang again but when Peggy went to respond to the caller, there came no answer. What could be so important? she wondered. The phone rang again but as soon as she picked up the receiver, the dial tone alerted her that the call had been disconnected. The phone rang again…

“Kara, put Jimmy on the phone now!” Peggy yelled, her breath hot against the receiver’s mouthpiece. There was silence, then heavy, labored breathing. Then a muffled, raspy voice that said…

…”Have you checked the children?”

Peggy screamed!

She was still screaming when Wayne came rushing in to rescue her. She’d flung the phone down on the floor and could hardly form a sentence, hysterical as she was. She was sure something terrible was about to happen, just like in that movie. She had visions of a struggle, an open window, a figure shrouded in darkness, a weapon in his enormous grip. She thought she and her nieces were in mortal danger!…

…until she heard a familiar laugh. She snatched up the phone with vengeance.

“Joe?!” she demanded, straightening up and slamming the phone back onto the side table.

For his part, Joe could hardly contain himself, coughing and wheezing in between fits of laughter. “I hate you!” Peggy cried, her hands still quaking violently. “How did you get this number?” It took Joe several seconds before he could properly say Kara’s name. “I hate you!” Peggy said again, hanging up the phone without another word to her friend.

“Are you alright?” Wayne asked concernedly. Peggy felt waves of embarrassment wash over her as she attempted to fix her her hair, using the tears she hadn’t realized were there to smooth the fly-aways.

“I’ll never see another scary movie as long as I live,” she swore.

Peggy returned to the house she shared with her two sisters, her brother and her parents, all of who were fast asleep by the time she came through the door. Benny growled at her disapprovingly, seemingly annoyed at her very existence. She trudged up the steep stairs, exhausted by the night’s adventure. For once in her life, she was all too happy to be sharing a room with her younger sister. It should be said that Kara did not feel the same way about her roommate…at least for the next few days that followed…

The War of 2020

Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Literary Mag

The Preface
I never imagined I’d have to go to war.

Of course, I’d also never imagined that we’d find ourselves here, in a period of such political unrest, in the year 2020. In America. At the point that riots became the norm and and the police became so corrupt that they didn’t bother to stop what was happening. But to start a war because citizens needed a distraction from what was happening…

I’d fight, of course. Fight for the greater good. Emmett usually stood for that, even when his public perception couldn’t have hit any more rock-bottom if it tried.

The Backstory
We all stood for it at one time. When Emmett was still aligned with Javier. When we were all still aligned with Javier.

But I wasn’t only fighting for the greater good or for Emmett’s reputation or what he deserved, at this point. It was also for my own safety…that’s what happens to your mindset when you catch the heir to the “throne” embezzling $2.5 million from government accounts.

And Javier didn’t believe me. He thought it was all a ploy, a ploy set up by Emmett to be carried out by me and Zara and Dominick. Lisette would never steal any money, he said, forget about that amount of money, for herself.

But that’s not the whole story. That’s just the part that made the papers and the press conference.

Not to mention the line about how First Advisor Leah Moore accused the Commissioner-Elect of cooking the books without any evidence. Even the whole title of “Commissioner-Elect” is a joke, since the elections don’t matter.

The whole story starts when Javier said we’d all have a shot. We could all be commissioners one day upon his retirement – divide up the town into sections and give each of us a piece to supervise. No one was to be pushed out. No one was to accept less than a leadership role.

Yet without any notice, Lisette was secretly named the next county commissioner. Shortly afterward, I caught her red-handed.

Now I’m not terrific with numbers – but I’m terrific with reading people. And I knew she was trying to hide something when I caught her anxiously flipping through the town ledger, which faithfully sits on the desk of our treasury advisor. But it was after hours, and she’d gone home.

Lisette threatened to kill me once I’d gone to Javier with the surveillance footage that Emmett and I spent hours going through in the middle of the night.

“You don’t have to do this,” I said. “I can manage it. How do you even know if it’s true?”

“You saw it,” Emmett said. “And that’s enough for me.”

Two days later, the tape was destroyed.

My next step was to bring in an actual numbers expert – who was able to catch it – but once I took the case to our friend Dave at the local paper, the ledger was mysteriously (or not so mysteriously) replaced. Dave wanted to help – he just couldn’t.

Emmett protected me, of course – but if anyone should have been in the running to inherit the position of county commissioner, he should have been. He deserved it and spoke up for the rest of us when we couldn’t speak for ourselves.

When Javier failed to keep his word and refused to charge Lisette with embezzlement, Emmett decided to split and start his own movement – see if he could run for county commissioner on his own, with me and Zara and Dominick as his only advisors. He didn’t trust anyone else – not even the advisors who were seemingly “on the fence.”

Javier still had a large camp of advisors clamoring for his approval. There was Annette, who was useless at anything except acting as Javier’s puppet. There was Donald, who was part of the “on the fence” crowd – but nowadays there was no “on the fence.” You were either part of Javier’s camp or Emmett’s camp. Donald talked a big game, but when push came to shove, he feared Javier and continued to do his bidding. There was Tom, who seemed just too brilliant to be caught under the spell of Javier, yet he remained in the camp. And of course, there was Javier’s wife, Helene, who firmly believed that her husband did no wrong, and played a fine politician’s wife in the public eye.

They all made us out to be the “bad guys,” even when they were on the side of embezzlement and corruption. When Javier decided that the public had seen enough, he declared war.

War. As in riots in the streets war.

Javier had the police in his back pockets, so we were free to “battle” as we wished. Emmett capitalized – while we were his advisors, he needed man power. We couldn’t fight Javier’s larger and more well-funded troops with just four. But come hell or high water, we would prove that Lisette embezzled and that Javier rigged the upcoming elections so that Lisette would inherit the “throne.” That part wasn’t announced to the public yet – just to those of us who thought we would all get somewhere under Javier’s leadership. And we were going to expose that too.

The War

The first riot was in July. Javier’s people came to our headquarters and started by lighting cars on fire – mine first, then Zara’s, and finally Emmett’s. They stole all of the identifying information in the cars before the fires started so that if they could assume our identities, they could register cars in our names – oh, and Javier paid off the DMV, too. We were all stranded and decided that while it wasn’t the safest place to stay, we couldn’t risk any one of us being alone, and decided to spend the night at our headquarters. The next morning we phoned our families and let them know we’d be staying there for a while, and we’d set up some sort of protection at their respective homes.

Javier knew no bounds – truthfully, he never did, and I just couldn’t bring myself to face that fact. I was too caught up in the dream of moving from First Advisor to a Commissioner – with the hope that I could “make it all better.”

“Leah, people don’t change,” my mother said when I was explaining my career aspirations.

But I couldn’t believe that. I kept up the fight. The next three days were free from any sort of attacks. We recruited a few new people, but Emmett was understandably weary of their allegiances. We required them to stay over at the headquarters with us and punch in on a time clock. They had a curfew and designated times that they could come, go, and even use their phones.

Three days following the car fires, Lisette showed up. I was sleeping, but the commotion woke me up.

“Emmett, please, you know I was always in your corner,” Lisette shouted. “You needed the help. You weren’t going to get yourself past Javier. Don’t you know I would have helped you? It sure seemed like no one else was stepping up.”

“How could I trust you when you went right back to kissing Javier’s ass once he swore he’d have you elected?” Emmett shouted back. “You did the deed, Lisette. Don’t even try to show me that you didn’t.”

The next thing I knew I felt a firm grip on my arm.

“Leah, honey, we have to move,” Zara whispered loudly. “You’re not safe. None of us are safe, but you really aren’t safe. She’s either going to come for you or blackmail you to join their side.”

“I could NEVER!” I shot up at this point.

“Shhh!” Zara grabbed my arm and we hustled out the back door, closing it with care to insure that Lisette didn’t hear us leave.

“Where are we going?” I asked, out of breath.

“As far as we can run,” Zara said. “She has a gun. Presumably meant to kill you.”

From the front room I heard,”What are you talking about, Lisette?” Emmett continued to shout. “I have all the help I need right here.”

“You KNOW what I mean!” Lisette bellowed. And then there was a pause. “If she thinks she can get away with defaming me–”

“She didn’t defame you,” Emmett said. “Somehow the tape grew legs and walked out of the office. I’m sure that’s how it happened. I’m sure Javier didn’t have a clue that you ran off with – what was it? – $2.5 million. What did he do, sneak in here in the middle of the night with some IT guy he paid off?”

Zara and I looked at each other and nodded. We pushed the door open.

“Javier knew it all along, didn’t he?” I shouted as the door slammed shut.

“Zara, get her out of here!” Emmett shouted over me.

“We couldn’t leave you here,” Zara said.

“And she says I have no help,” Emmett said, pointing at Lisette. He tried to hide his pride, but the worry for our safety clearly came first.

“So, why did you do it, Lisette?” I demanded. “How did it go, ‘steal the money and I’ll make you commissioner? It will be our little secret’?”

“Put your hands where I can see them!” Lisette shouted as she took the pistol out of her back pocket and held it over her head with two hands.

I put my hands over my head as time slowed to a crawl.

I never imagined that trying to change the world would end like this.

And then I heard them. Dominick came running with the new recruits behind him…

“Just WHAT do you think you’re doing?” I knew that voice anywhere. Javier, alone, burst through the door behind me and before I could think, I was on my hands and knees.

“Don’t you touch her, you jerk!” Dominick shouted over the brawling taking place between the new recruits and Lisette.

“You all think you got away with something,” Javier said as he breathed heavily. I’d only recently heard this voice come out of him – it wasn’t always this way. “You think you’re going to make it all better. I have news for you young idealists. Nothing is going to get better.”

I get to my feet. “You’re wrong, Javier.”

“Leah, don’t you know by now?” he answered. “I’m never wrong. Everything has gone as I predicted. I knew I didn’t want Emmett holding office with me so I created a situation that I knew would make him run out the door. I knew Lisette would go for the deal I offered her. And none of you are going to talk, because none of you ever do. You know you’ll lose your opportunity.”

“That’s what you think,” Emmett interrupted as he held up a voice recorder. “And we’re going to make sure this one stays put.” With that, he opened our wall safe and threw the recorder inside, locking the safe door with his foot.

“That proves NOTHING!” Javier shouted. “What are your minions going to do about it, Emmett? Expose me?”

“Maybe we will and maybe we won’t,” Emmett answered. “I think Leah has Dave on speed dial. She can get him over here in two seconds. What a press conference that’ll be!”

“You can’t do that, Emmett,” Javier whispered. “That’s against the law.”

“So is lighting cars on fire,” Emmett said. “Get away from here, Javier. Take Listless Lisette with you. Don’t come back. But wait. You won’t. Because you know that we know.”