Going Postal, X

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” “Going Postal, V,” “Going Postal, VI,” “Going Postal, VII,” “Going Postal, VIII,” and “Going Postal, IX.”

“You know,” Stan tried to say through his mask, “This job stinks.”

Nobody in the sorting room answered, but he was certain they all felt hot and tired like he did. They must all hate waking up and going to work in the dark, even if they were sick. For sure, they hated wearing masks and gloves and having to sit through stupid lectures.

This morning, the lecture had been which last name came before a different last name.

“We all went to school, ya know!” he’d told Dave, right after.

Some of us did!” Ian had answered, loudly. Ian always spoke loudly.

If they didn’t have to wear the personal protection equipment, Ian wouldn’t have heard Stan’s comment. If jerks like Ian also didn’t tattle like a little girl, Stan wouldn’t have to wear the itchy things all the time.

A roar of engine and screech of brakes sounded, scaring him out of his thoughts. He and the four other guys in the room turned to see a familiar white pickup truck pull up outside. The truck pulled up faster than usual; Ron the wannabe mailman also parked in three spots and almost smashed the cement posts. They didn’t usually pay much attention to the old man -who would?- but Stan, Ian, Dave, and the two temps stared as the truck door popped open and someone else got out.

The new person walked like he could hear music, with his head moving, his feet sliding, and his body going from one side to the other. Stan felt nervous and scratched at his mask. He squinted to see this new guy better.

“Who’re you?” Ian practically shouted.

The music-guy came up to the table across from Ian. He put tattooed hands on top of Ian’s neat piles and leaned in. “Hey, Pal.” Stan thought he saw a glint of metal in the smile. “I’m Marty. My uncle -Ron- said I come here to pick up dah mail.” Marty looked at the letters in front of Ian, looked at the mailers in front of Stan and Dave, and looked at the piles of boxes in front of the walls.

All the guys looked at Marty. Marty reached into a pocket and Stan expected a knife or a gun. Instead, Marty pulled out an I.D. badge on a blue rope. “Got ‘is badge an’ truck. Unc- Ron‘s at dah hospital an’ I gotta do his route till he’s back.”

Dave walked closer. “Marty, huh?”

Marty slid into a standing position. He put his hands on his hips and glared. “Yeah?”

Dave stopped, then turned and walked over to the loading area. “You get your assigned mail over here. Ron’s route’s all put in this area.”

Marty music-walked to Dave. He stood close and Stan thought he saw Dave lean away. Dave’s gloved hands definitely moved, like he played an air guitar at his hips.

“So -” the Marty guy said, and leaned toward Dave, “Get ’em in dah truck.” He spun and walked his walk back to the pickup, punching a full box of coupons on the way. Even though the cardboard was double-walled, Marty’s fist made a hole and a route’s worth dumped out onto the floor.

“Right,” Dave said.

“Okay,” Stan said.

“Yessir,” Ian said.

The three ran over and fought a silent battle over the wheeled bin, glancing at the frowning Marty. Marty watched them from behind the windshield. Once they got the loaded bin to the truck, they saw Marty tapping at the steering wheel. On the last trip to fill the covered bed, Stan saw Marty cleaning his nails with a knife.

And still watching them.

Stan stood by the emptied bin. He felt silly and exposed but definitely didn’t want to turn his back on a guy with a knife.

Marty rolled down the window. “Nex’ time, I’m not gettin’ out,” he said, and spat. “You ladies got it?” Without waiting for an answer, Marty gunned the engine and peeled out of the parking lot.

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, IX

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” “Going Postal, V,” “Going Postal, VI,” “Going Postal, VII,” and “Going Postal, VIII.”

“I know you’re thinking, Ron. Out with it now.”

He didn’t look at her right off, just rocked back and forth on those big, capable feet in their big, capable shoes. His hands clasped from one hold to another behind his back.

“Ronald Richardson! Don’ you keep your back to me!” She used her I-love-you-but-you’d-better-answer-me tone, sure he could feel her scowl through his flannel shirt.

Rock. Rock. Stop. Ron’s shaggy head of white bent to stare at his toes then turned to cough in his hand. “Dunno, Carol.” He looked back at her and his smile didn’t reach his eyes. “You sure he needs to come here?”

Carol tried to stand up straighter. Standing straight hadn’t been easy since her surgery, but she managed. Still, she sighed. “Yes, Hon’. That’s what he said. That’s what we ‘greed.”

He faced the door again. “Just a few months?”

“Yes.”

“He knows?”

Yes, Ron.”

A nod.

Then, they both heard it: a car engine outside. Wheels stopping. Engine stopping. Doors opened and shut. Feet walked up the sidewalk and Carol pictured her prized daffodils and pansies to either side of the coming feet.

*Knock* *Knock*

Ron paused to cough again; he’d been at it for weeks now. Breathing out, he shuffled to the door and opened it up. There, on her clean front porch, stood a man in a suit and mask and gloves and …a hooligan. The hooligan smiled. “Uncle Ron!”

When he spoke, Carol saw that this was her sister’s daughter’s boy -why her sister hadn’t intervened when her daughter turned up with that biker years ago, Carol had never known, and now look at where it’d led…

For his part, Ron stepped forward with a hand out. “Hiya, Marty.” She heard the friendly smile in Ron’s voice. “Hey, Marty’s …

“State-assigned escort,” the man in the mask said.

*Hm-hmm* “Hello, Marty’s escort. Come on in.”

And, just like that, The Suit and The Hooligan walked into her front room. She tried a smile; tried a friendly way of greeting without shaking. Marty -little Martin who snitched an extra cookie and stuck his tongue out at her; little Martin who’d dug up her flowers and thrown them at the mailman; Martin who became Marty and whose mom had called Carol’s sister in tears so many times it was no wonder they both passed on before Carol- that Marty smiled right back at her and walked forward with his arms wide out.

“Aunt Carol! How are ya?”

She let him hug her and patted at him in return, grateful she wasn’t wearing any valuable jewelry.

Continue to “Going Postal, X.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, VI

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” and “Going Postal, V.”

*Tick* *tick* *tick*

The kitchen clock pecked at Carol’s attention from its wall perch, a room away. She frowned and tried to focus on her TV show and her loop count. Once the clock hands touched eight and three; she’d sighed, put Ron’s supper in the fridge, and shuffled to the sitting room.

“I Love Lucy” was meant to block the ticking. The waiting.

The Corner to Corner crochet was meant to block the cold. The chills.

Maybe winter still hung around. Maybe she’d picked up a little something from her job at the airport.

Carol took a shaky breath. She’d been finding breathing harder than usual. No matter; a little eucalyptus and lavender could cure that right up. She’d be sure to mix some into the humidifier before turning in.

*Tick* *CLICK* *tick*

Nine o’clock. Where was that man? Carol had half a mind to suggest Ron go back to machining, maybe even try retirement. They could do it, now that they’d both been working a good long while and had almost paid her cancer bills. She’d been in remission for two whole years. His itchy nature could be satisfied with projects ’round the house, surely. She’d bring it up again, once he’d eaten some supper and settled down in his recliner.

A noise scramble-scritched at the door; his key in the lock. The front door opened with a screech and Ron stood against the dark spring night.

He coughed. “‘Mornin’, Care-all,” he said, smiling. He always smiled when he made that joke.

Carol looked cross, her usual response. “Now, Ron. You know it ain’t mornin’ and I ain’t yer Care-all.”

Closing the door behind him and locking it, he smiled the smile she’d loved since the day they’d met. He cleared his throat. “Reckon I picked up a cold somewhere,” he said. “Gotta get a drink.”

“All righty, Ron.” She looked down at her stitches as he walked past her to the kitchen. “Yer supper’s in there, too!”

She heard his big footsteps all over her just-mopped floor and hoped he hadn’t trailed in any mud. Once, he’d trailed in dog poop and she’d made him wipe it all up. She sighed; just another part of his job she’d rather do without.

Lucy and Ethel were stuffing chocolates in their mouths on the TV. Carol laughed to herself; good old Lucy.

Carol started a new row.

Lucy stuffed chocolates into her uniform.

Carol finished the row and started a new one.

“Had to report to the city today,” Ron said, coming from behind with his food. He coughed again, against his shoulder. She watched him settle into his old recliner, both creaking and moaning.

“Oh?” Credits ran down the screen and her finger held the loop.

He selected a carrot, whirled it in mashed potatoes and topped it with some hearty roast beef. “‘Said I needed to not deliver to wrong houses.” In went his fork.

She made a noise like their furnace when it didn’t want to spark. Ron caught her eye; he had such nice eyes. He nodded, swallowed, and smiled his sideways smile. “Well! Don’ that beat all!” she exclaimed.

“Ye-ep.”

“Well! …Well!”

He helped himself to the rest of his supper.

“Watcha gonna do, Ron?” Some warning about staying inside flashed on the TV. Holding her stitch with one hand, she switched the screen off with the remote.

He shrugged. “‘Could always work with Marty.”

Carol dropped her stitch. She faked a laugh. “Right.”

“I might be serious.”

She looked at her hands, pretending on finding her yarn again. “Well …it’s a good thing he’s not outta prison, then.”

Now he laughed, but it wasn’t his happy one. “Right.”

Continued with “Going Postal, VII.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, V

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” and “Going Postal, IV.”

Stan hated his job at the post office. He told his friends, his coworkers, his mother, and that girl he’d almost made it with last Friday night. For some reason, he didn’t tell his boss.

The problem was the boredom. Stan wanted to be lead guitarist in a band. “I would be The Next Big Thing,” he had told that girl. If she’d stuck around, he could have also told her about his plans: his band name, who would be begging to sing with him, and which girls would sleep with him after each show.

“Look,” Dave said in a somewhat muffled voice, after Stan spent the first part of their shift complaining, “Maybe you should publish some songs online, so people can hear your sound.”

Stan slid a package from the line and squinted at it. He felt sweaty wearing a mask and gloves. “Are you kidding? Then people would steal my ideas.”

Ian, from down the line, yelled out, “Stan -dude- do you have anything posted?”

Stan didn’t answer; just shoved the package harder than it needed to be toward Ian. Dave wiped a sleeve across his forehead and said something Stan couldn’t hear. “What??” Stan demanded.

“Nothin’.” Dave rolled a wad of advertisements and secured them with an elastic.

“I’ll bet I know,” Ian shouted. He’d shouted even before they all wore face masks. “I’ll bet he said you don’t got no songs! ‘Fact, I’ll bet he said you gotta learn guitar first!”

The room echoed in muffled laughter. Stan flushed.

Just then, a happy beeping sounded from beyond the receiving doors. They turned to see an old, white pickup truck pull up. Ron Richardson exited, sipping from a large drink. “Hiya, boys!”

Ian, Dave, and the others didn’t answer. Stan, however, never could resist. “Well, if it isn’t our friendly, neighborhood creeper! How are ya, contractee?”

Ron turned to Stan, his smile fixed. “‘Fraid I can’t really hear ya, Son.” He cleared his throat, then coughed a bit against a hand. “So! Where’s my load for the mornin’? I’m running behind after a meeting at the city.”

Stan pointed at a pile of bins and boxes behind Dave. No one moved to help him as the old man set his drink down and stooped to load a wheeled mail bin. The room remained silent as Ron filled and pushed the squeaking-wheeled bin to his pickup. And again. And again. The squeaking and his occasional cough were the only sounds in the large sorting room. After a half hour of work, he finished.

“See ya, Creeper!” Stan yelled at Ron’s retreating back on his last trip to the truck.

Ron didn’t answer. Maybe he couldn’t really hear. As the pickup chugged to life and pulled away, Stan yanked off his mask and gloves. The air felt cold and sweet. “Phew! That’s better!” Stuffing the safety apparatus into a back pocket, he walked down the line and grabbed at the edge of the wheeled bin to drag it back.

He had to push the bin from all different sides to reorient it, but Stan returned it back against the wall. “Lazy contractor,” he mumbled, looking at Ron’s forgotten Big Gulp and wiping at his mouth with his bare hand.

Continued at “Going Postal, VI.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, IV

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” and “Going Postal, III.”

The residents of Westside City were a mixed bunch, thanks to a dispute among the planners back when a large area of it went from unincorporated to residential. Sort-of. Supposedly, Fred Simons wanted multi-family housing while Martin Gonzales thought single-unit homes were better. Carol Jenkins said she’d abstain if pressed, while Mayor Cliffstone threatened to film the whole thing if the two gentlemen didn’t sit down and discuss things like humans instead of animals.

In the ensuing debates over taxonomy and zoning, no one thought to verify whether the United States Post Office planned to include the new area in its existing route maps. Ron Richardson didn’t mind; he’d been considering an easy employment since retirement and thought a contractual mail carrier fit the bill nicely.

It hadn’t been all butterflies and roses, of course. He was required to use his own vehicle; had to bend, stoop, and lift; and not many residents acknowledged his existence. Still, Ron had done it for ten years and figured he could handle all that for another ten. Then, the current city planning board called him in.

He and the three committee members, spaced at least six feet apart, were the room’s only occupants.

“We’ve been getting some complaints from residents,” Joe Schlepp said. He tried to look stern as he squirted his hands with sanitizer and rubbed them vigorously.

“Oh?” Ron rocked on his feet in an amiable fashion. His toes rested against a scuffed bit of blue tape on the carpet.

“Yes,” Carol Jenkins agreed, her voice muffled behind a paper face mask. She read over a printed page that waved slightly in her gloved hand. “One resident says her package was delivered to the wrong address. Another claimed hers never arrived…. Another says it went to the wrong house, and another, and another…”

In the awkward pause, Ron answered, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Bob Spineless frowned. “Mr. -”

“Ron -”

“Mr. Ron, we cannot have this level of irresponsibility from our mail carrier. If we receive any more complaints, we will need to consider offering your position to another applicant.”

The happy rocking stopped. Ron’s affable smile did not, although it tightened.

“Do you understand, Mr. Ron?” Carol should have known his real name. She had hired him. She had his name printed at the top of her complaints sheet.

“Sure. Sure.” Ron turned and left. The committee didn’t seem to notice. Not only did no one talk to him on his route, no one had really talked to him here. Apparently, they all only noticed problems, problems that were the fault of incorrect address labels and lazy post office sorters.

Each downside of the job came to him with each step he took away from the city government meeting room and toward the city government parking lot.

For an entire decade, he’d delivered everyone’s packages faithfully. Lately, he delivered everyone’s panic-buying supplies. He drove from before sunup to after sundown. He carried everything from canned goods to ammunition.

Ron exited the double-glass doors and descended the double-wide front steps.

Since he was a contractual mail carrier, he had no official vehicle. The post office workers treated him like a civilian. He saw their sideways glances and sneers as he picked up his allotted bins and assigned bundles every day, multiple times a day.

He unlocked his pickup truck and got in.

Contract workers didn’t have health insurance, either.

Reaching for his Big Gulp, Ron realized his throat felt sore. He felt tired, but maybe that was because he felt warmer than usual in the cold, April sun.

Continued at “Going Postal, V.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, III

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” and “Going Postal, II.”

Not many people talked to Art. He liked that. From his steel-toed boots to his copper-lined military cap, Art was practicality and self-made efficiency. He squatted at the dark corner of his covered porch, eyes on the neighborhood. Every fifteen minutes, he raised his binoculars and did a sweep of the area.

Art was waiting for the mailman.

Today, according to the electronic message from Guns, Gurneys, and Steel Blades, his package of ammunition would arrive. He knew what a hot item his purchase was; those who took the coming threat seriously were stockpiling. He’d seen the signs: necessities disappearing from store shelves, people filling extra cans at the gas station, and prices of guns and ammunition rising.

Even his ignorant, soft-shelled neighbors demonstrated mild panic. He’d watched Mrs. Hempsworth looking around as she cradled package after package of toilet paper. The Andersens kept purchasing food supplies. And he, Arthur Jackson Williams, seemed to be the only suspicious one on the street.

There! The mailman’s pickup truck! Art lifted the binoculars and fitted them to his eyes. Amidst the happy-faced brown boxes bursting in the mailman’s cargo space, he spied his package. Setting his shotgun, Bowie knife, binoculars, pistol, and tactical belt to the side, he rose and moved down the stairs at an easy pace.

He arrived just as the mailman exited his truck.

“‘Morning, Ron!” Art’s tan, unshaven face creased into a smile. His eyes remained vigilant.

Ron seemed surprised and turned his whole body to meet Art’s approach. “Oh! Mornin’!”

Art wasn’t fooled for a second. “Nice day, eh? How’s it been so far today?”

Ron considered, frowning. “Oh, not bad. Just -” he paused.

“Yeah?”

“Just-” his sky-colored eyes searched their source for inspiration. “Just a lot more packages lately.” Ron smiled vaguely and shrugged.

I’ll bet, thought Art. Aloud, he said, “Bet that’s a real pain in the -”

“Yep.” Ron laughed, agreeing. “Yep.”

“Sorry for adding to that, Ron. Really.” Art nodded toward the pickup’s hardtop. “I thought they’d use UPS.”

Ron shook his head. His white hair floated against the movement. “Nah; Post’s cheaper. We’re better, too!”

“Ha! You’re right!” Art folded his arms. “Well! Don’t go overloadin’ yourself with too many o’ these Amazon deliv’ries, alright? These softies can shake a leg and try their chances at a store sometime! -Maybe experience the real world!”

Ron’s smile broadened. He laughed again. “That’ll be the day!” He went to the open-space window of his hardtop and removed Art’s package. Cringing at the weight, he slid it free and walked a step. Art unfolded his arms and came forward.

Taking the box from the old mailman’s arms, he said, “Whoa, Ron. Wouldn’t want you hurtin’ something. You’ve got all that toilet paper to deliver still!”

Ron laughed a third time. “Yep!”

“See you next deliv’ry!” Art turned and headed back home.

“See ya!”

Without looking back, Art heard the familiar unlocking of the community mailbox. He heard the familiar whistling of the contented mailman. No one seemed to worry about what Ron delivered; what Ron saw. But Art knew. Art knew.

Continued at “Going Postal, IV.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, II

Continued from “Going Postal, I.”

Little Charli Andersen loved to watch the world from her front window.

On Garbage Day, the garbage truck came. On Not-Preschool Days, her big brother’s carpool pulled up and honked. And, every day, Santa Claus parked his white pickup truck at their street’s mailbox.

At least, she thought he was Santa Claus. He was old and had white hair and sometimes brought presents to the porch. Her mother didn’t show Charli what the present-boxes had inside, but she knew they must be something happy. Almost every box had a smile on the side.

Today was no exception. *Ding* beeped her touchscreen game. *Snip* *snip* went her mother’s scissors. *Oh, I know, Honey* said the lady in the haircut chair.

A blink of white from beyond the window reflected onto Charli’s game. Santa was at the mailbox again! She watched him ease out of his truck and shuffle to the back. Her hand hung poised over the screen as she saw him pull out a large present, heft it to a new position, and stagger toward her house.

Charli saw the usual smile on the package’s side. She had to know what Santa brought this time, before her mother took it. Glancing up to confirm that her mother was busy working, Charli set the tablet down and snuck to the front door. She opened it just as Santa arrived at the top of their porch stairs, huffing.

“Well, hi, little girl!” he said, smiling. He set the box down near the edge and leaned against the railing.

Charli smiled and looked at her feet. She didn’t know what to say, now that she’d finally met him.

Santa scratched his face. He didn’t have a beard. “Didja like the rain we got yesterday?” he asked.

She nodded, still looking down.

“Didja see the rainbow?”

She jerked her head up in surprise. He still smiled kindly at her. She saw his eyes were the color of the sky. “No,” she said.

He gave her a sympathetic frown. “That’s alright. You can see one next time it rains.”

Another nod. She ground a bare toe into the doorstep in a twirl. “What’s in the present?” she managed to ask.

“Hm? Present?” He looked confused, Then, his attention turned to the large box at his feet. “Oh! Well! …This isn’t a present-”

Charlie’s face fell.

“-Not this time!” he added, holding up a reassuring hand.

Her expression lightened, curious.

“Yep,” Santa said, “Looks like this big box is some fancy food storage for your big family.” He gave a soft chuckle.

Her mouth puckered and she scowled.

He laughed outright. “Ha! This’s some high-quality stuff. ‘Time’ll come, some people’ll kill for this stuff! -Now, run on inside and tell your mommy about it so no one takes it. ”

She nodded again, and scuttled back inside. Her mother liked knowing about packages. She didn’t like when Charli opened the door without asking.

Continued at “Going Postal, III.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, I

Ron was just your average sort of guy: tallish, wideish, oldish, kindish. He drove his reliable old pickup with the reliable old hardtop around the neighborhood every day; often, he drove around several times a day.

Some of the residents talked to Ron. Most did not. Most didn’t notice him or his truck, despite its nearly always being full to bursting with their latest Amazon packages and Domino’s pizza coupons.

One day, Mrs. Hempsworth happened on Ron at the exact moment she went to retrieve her mail. Startled, she supposed she ought to make small talk. “Oh. Um. Hello.”

Ron didn’t look up from sorting his elasticized mail bundles into various slots, yet his voice sounded cheery. “Howdy.”

“Lovely day.”

“Oh, yes.”

Mrs. Hempsworth didn’t know what else to comment on, and cast about for a subject. Her eyes fell on his overstuffed vehicle. “Lots of packages.”

Ron stopped his shuffling and turned her direction. His pale blue eyes met her paint-lined browns. His gaze shifted to his truckload. Back to her. He blinked, surprised. “Yes.”

“Erm,” Mrs. Hempsworth fumbled. “Does it take you a while to deliver them all?”

Another blink. “Yes.”

“Oh.” She paused, out of her depth.

Ron helped. “‘Course, it’s been worse lately.”

Now she blinked. “Oh?”

“Yep.” Ron went back to sorting. “Everyone’s been orderin’ toilet paper off Amazon. It takes up too much space.”

She blushed, but the mail carrier’s white whispy hair was bent over a bin. He straightened, proferring a medium-sized package that weighed less than it appeared. Charmin was printed across the top.

“11259, right?”

She nodded and accepted her delivery without her realizing it. The man closed up the community mailbox, locked it with a key, picked up his empty bin, and headed back to his truck. “See ya,” he called, without looking back.

Mrs. Hempsworth watched the battered pickup drive away, the shifting packages within it sliding against the open windows of the hardtop. She clutched her toilet paper to her chest in a paranoid gesture, then relaxed. What did it matter that the mail carrier knew about her orders? It was his job, after all…

Continued at “Going Postal, II.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Many Hands Make Enlightened Work

We walked across the summer courtyard, two t-shirt youth among many, to stand before the spacious building. Stairs upon stairs climbed to the fountain’s zenith and proposed rooftop garden.

Commands came and we moved to assemble ourselves, each teenager on a stair, an arms-width apart. You: a little more. You: a little less.

Then, hand to hand to hand we passed a bucket’s brigade of grass. Smiling volunteers moved sod and flower from truck to tippy top.

Now, years later, our children look up. They marvel at roof-ledge bush and sky-reach trees, and the story that grew them there.

Conference Center

Photograph by Craig Dimond © IRI

Remembered for Carrot Ranch‘s prompt this week.

June 13, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the work of many hands. Is it a cooperative effort or something else? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 18, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

The Cell of Snares

You received a letter from the state explaining you were chosen in a lottery to come and rescue an animal. The shelter is being closed due to the owner’s untimely death and his will instructed for his estate to be divided up randomly. Being the animal lover you are, you decide to follow up on this mystery and pop on down to look at a potential pet or two. The address typed on the back of the letter is unfamiliar to you, but your Saturday is wide open. You fill up your gas tank and head out. Why not?

Once you reach the destination, a prison complex at the literal end of the road, all outside communication is cut off and the ‘animals’ are not quite what they seem

—–

Despite my rising alarm at the lack of guards, cell phone service, working car, existence of a cassette player, gouge marks, shackled creature that shapeshifts –Okay, okay, that’s enough thinking that way. I focus, instead, on the gently swinging ivy above me. I breathe in and out. “All right, Beth,” I whisper to myself. “Think positively. What can you control?” –Not that my therapist ever suggested I’d literally be trapped like this, with potential death a mere inchesBreathe, Beth, breathe! Maybe Dr. Querk should have had me run through a few practical situations, but it’s too late to consider that now.

*Greetings, traveler and welcome to The Prison for Dangerous…* begins playing for the sixth time since I entered the creepy room. Nothing irritates me more than repetition, even a supernatural being that might be able to tear my head off. I turn to the apparition within the first cell and glare daggers at it.

“KNOCK IT OFF!” I bellow.

The being within blinks a thousand rainbow eyes at me, squawks, and disappears. I stand on my toes to see where it’s gone: into a bottom corner, rodent-like, somehow still shackled. The tape has stopped. I give the mouse thing a stern nod, in case it gets any ideas.

I let my breath out and look around again. Now fully within the room, I can see that Freaky’s box isn’t the only one with damage to the interior. Of the ten cells, only one or two seem undamaged. Box Four, near the end on the left side, has scorch marks. Number Six -or One, depending on how one wished to count- to the right is dark and molding. The last cell in the row to the right is not only scraped and dented, but the cause of the damage is clearly visible in the form of a large, glowering minotaur.

“Well, Beth, are any minotaurs not glowering?” I tease. A chittering laugh just beyond the shapeshifter draws me forward. “It’s fine. They can’t get out,” I say as I walk, though I certainly won’t go tap on #10’s glass to test my theory.

As I near the source of the laughing, I note signs attached to the outside of each cell. The first reads:

SHIFTER

Charles is the perfect companion. He not only fits most occasions, he fits any occasion or any species. Ever wanted a rabbit one day, then a pony the next? Charles is right for you!

I laugh a bit; again, echoed by Cell Two. “Are they serious?” I ask the open room. It reads just like the plaques at the animal shelter in town but, surely, I can’t literally walk out with something as incredible as a shapeshifter?

I glance at the affixed plaque of #2:

SPRITE

Honeyblossom is the light of the party or room. Besides a natural effervescent personality, she has a natural effervescence. A bit flighty, Honeyblossom would do well in an open environment without the temptation of mischief.

A tiny pair of eyes peers over the sign through the glass front. They blink and a tiny nose and grinning mouth appear as well. I smile a bit in return but immediately look away. Sprites and mischief are practically synonymous; sorry, Honeyblossom.

Mostly due to the very large, heavily-breathing presence on the end, I examine the other labels from a safe distance. They outline a Mouther, Phoenix, Satori, Boggart, Imp, Baby Dragon, Unicorn, Tokoloshe, Taniwha, and that Minotaur. I catch names like Chatterbox, Imka, and Bob.

I also see that the door of the unicorn’s cell is slightly ajar; her sign askew. Either I am not the first visitor to this strange place, or Rainbow Sparkles, III figured things out on her own… I look around, twitching this way and that. My eyes meet those of a few remaining creatures and no one else, whether that’s a comforting audience or not.

“Oh-kay,” I exhale. Before Charles stopped the recorded message, it’d said all I had to do was activate a cell with my letter. After that, the creature inside was mine. But, do I want to bring one of these home? A Satori was pretty awesome in theory; in practice, not so much. He’d likely run away or hide, knowing precisely when I meant to throw him in the tub or tell him it was time for bed. And no way would I consider bringing home something larger than my car.

Which left at least three animals I’d dreamed about since childhood. Three mythical creatures I’d pored over in storybooks and often said aloud, “Oh, I wish it was real!” Three that would be really awesome to own.

One of those, if J.K. Rowling were correct, that would make the use of an exit vehicle unnecessary.

“What the heck, Beth? The letter and the recording said to choose one.” I pull the crumpled bunch of papers from my back pocket and smooth them out. Before I can change my mind, I walk toward the smoking glass of Cell #4.

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This was in response to Peregrine Arc’s story prompt. You can join in, too! Just click here to read her amazing introduction.

 

Photo Credit:
Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

 

© 2019 Chelsea Owens