A Turkey’s Tale #WritingChallenge


Wild Turkey

52-Week Writing Challenge: Week 47
Flash Fiction – Word Prompt: Thanksgiving

Myrtle Viellot focused on her knitting as her husband, Mendel, paced in front of her.

“You’re going to wear yourself out, Mendel. Sit down.”

Incredulous at her suggestion, he gestured wildly.

“Sit down? What is wrong with you, Myrtle? Aren’t you worried about Theodore? He’s been gone two days.”

She set her yarn work aside.

“I am worried, honey. But you know trips across the valley take longer during this time of year. He’s a smart boy. I’m sure he’ll remember everything you taught him.”

Walking over to the snack can, Mendel palmed a wing full of sunflower seeds.

“I just hope I told him enough. Did I tell him about hollowed out trees? I told him about hollowed out trees, right? And not to wander too close to the marsh at Duckford, right? I told him, right Myrtle?”

Clucking, Myrtle tried to hide her frustration.

“Honey, why don’t you go strut around the grove for a spell? You need to relax and stop getting yourself so worked up. Theo’s going to come through the brush any time now.”

“I know you’re right, dear. It’s just so many of us disappear every fall. Even though there are dozens of farms breeding distant family members for someone’s holiday meal, we still have to deal with Mr. Big Bad Walk-on-the-wild-side Nature Guy, intent on bagging his own turkey.”

Myrtle smoothed his ruffled feathers.

“You’re still doing it, dear.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll be in the grove if Theo comes in.”

Myrtle clicked her beak watching her husband fly away from their nest. She was worried about Theo too. But all the families in the Great Grove fretted over missing family members.

Myrtle puffed out her feathers, taking her own advice. Worrying was useless and made her molt. She had to believe her youngest jake would be home when the flocks came together under the forest canopy before the Big Cold moved in.

Mendel saw his friend, Radford, perched on a low-hanging branch. Settling down next to him, Mendel looked across the glen at what had Radford’s attention. He gobbled.

“They never learn, do they?”

“Nope. But we were the same way when we were young toms.”

“True, but we didn’t overdo it like that. All the strutting and displays this close to the Big Cold are wasted. Better to save it for mating in spring.”

“Oh, right. Because you showed so much restraint at that age.”

The toms gobbled together knowing they’d both shared… and had eaten their share of wild oats.

“I guess we’re lucky we can remember those days. It means we’re still here.”

Radford could tell his friend’s heart was heavy.

“Theo’s not back yet, huh?”

“No. And he’s never been gone this long before.”

“C’mon, Men. He’s a young jake approaching tomhood. You know the nature… thinking nothing can hurt you and you’ll live forever.”

“I know, Rad. Just… this time of year.”

Before Radford could respond, he and Mendel were knocked from their branch.

Gobbling and drumming to untangle their feathers, the toms were about to run for cover when they saw what hit them.

“Theodore!”

Mendel danced around, purring and kee-keeing, happy to see his youngest.

“I was worried sick, son. Come. We must share the news of your return with your mother.

“Dad, wait.”

Mendel clicked his beak.

“What’s wrong, son?”

“I-I overheard the Goulds and Merriams talking a few days ago.”

“What have I told you about listening to them? You know how their kind is…. always all gloom and doom.”

“They said the food isn’t coming back.”

“Of course, it isn’t, Theo. The Big Cold is coming. Food is always scarce this time of year.”

“No, dad. Their elder said even when it was Sun Time, it was hard to find food… because of the Big Burn.”

Radford gobbled. “That is true, Men. The hens have had to go further from home for food, and don’t even think about building a new nest. Padding our old ones is near impossible.”

“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves, Rad.” Mendel turned to Theo. “But what has this to with you being gone so long?”

Theodore chirped, beating his wings against his chest.

“I found a place for us to go. A place with plenty of food.”

“What?” The toms said in unison.

“I was over near the marsh, and-”

“What did I tell you about the marsh-”

“Dad, just listen, please. I met this older tom named Vernon. He was having difficulty flying. The guy’s a bit on the plump side. But he admitted he’d been eating too well and too much since he moved in with his cousin, Prunella.”

“Son, what does-”

“Let me finish dad. When I asked him about it, he said there was so much food, their flock couldn’t eat it all.”

“And you believed him?”

“Nope. I made him take me there. It’s all true. Pastures full of vegetables and seeds, trees full of fruits and nuts, and there’s a marsh full of ducks.”

“How can this be?” Radford walked closer to Theo. “No one has ever allowed us or the ducks to roam and eat freely. We have to be on-guard even in the protected space.”

“That’s what I told Vernon. And guess what he said? No one is allowed to take turkeys or ducks from the land. It’s called private property.”

Mendel strutted around the bush.

“I don’t know, son. We’ve seen this before. Lure us is, then turkeys go missing. Remember cousin Boris and his flock?”

“I know, dad. But I was there. And Vernon said the people are something called vegetarians and vegans.”

Mendel and Radford looked at each other.

“What do those names mean?”

Theo fluttered. “They mean the people don’t eat meat.”

The toms blustered about yelping and cackling until a small group of their flock joined them. Theo told his story again, and more turkeys danced about.

“Before we get carried away, this place needs to be checked out,” Radford suggested.

“Agreed.” Mendel turned to his son. “Think you can find this place again?”

“Are you kidding? Yeah. It’s just beyond the apple place.”

Mendel and the group agreed to meet again after sunset.

“Come on, Theo. We still need to let your mother know you’re safe and tell her about this new place.”

The tom and his jake took off for their nesting roost. Just as they landed, Mendel glanced at Theo.

“Son, you didn’t tell me if this new place has a name.”

“Sure does, dad. It’s called Fowlerville.”

 

©Felicia Denise 2017

Downsized

Supermarket

Week 20: 52-Week Writing Challenge
Word prompt – downsized

 

Ramsey felt God had punished him enough.

An honors graduate of Northwestern with nineteen years professional business experience should not be managing a second-rate grocery store.

He fumed thinking about the brand new sixty-foot boat his brother now owned.

Ramsey Carter’s pulse quickened remembering the sadness of his wife’s eyes viewing the photos from her sister’s European vacation.

The former new accounts director owned a boat once. Ramsey took his wife to Europe for their eleventh wedding anniversary… thirteen years ago.

But that was all in the past. The boat was sold two years ago in Ramsey’s second full year of unemployment. Unless they won the lottery, the Carters may never see Europe again.

Closing his laptop, Ramsey pinched the bridge of his noise. Grateful the new work schedule was complete, Ramsey wasn’t looking forward to the usual employee complaints. His penny-pinching regional manager decreased Ramsey’s allotted monthly staffing hours again. The deli and bakery would have to close five hours early to keep checkout lanes and customer service staffed.

Senior employees would scream. Insisting they’d already paid their dues by working the inconvenient shifts and doing grunt work, being scheduled for swing or short shifts was a slap in the face to long term staff.

Ramsey Carter agreed with them. He believed years of service and loyalty to an employer should mean something… have some value.

Or at least he used to.

He believed it right up to the day Bentek Corp’s security escorted him to the parking garage. Security manager Dick Roddy took Ramsey’s employee identification card, handed him an envelope, and walked away.

Downsized.

So, while understanding employee anger at their situation, Ramsey had a job to do. Take the newly allotted hours and staff the store for eighteen hours a day, seven days a week.

At least he wasn’t firing anyone. Yet.

Easing his tired body from the chair, Ramsey headed for shipping and receiving to double check the evening lock-down.

Passing through Household Goods and hearing his name called, Ramsey turned. The throbbing in his head was immediate along with the bitter taste in his mouth.

Delia Pennock, health and beauty clerk, teetered toward him on heels too high… and unsafe for the workplace.

How many times would Ramsey have to warn this woman?

Before Delia caught up to him, Ramsey’s inter-store walkie buzzed. The display showed the call was coming from Ramsey’s intended destination — shipping and receiving.

“What’s up, Minas?”

“Need you back here, Ramsey. Now.”

“On my way.”

Red-faced and out of breath, Delia reached Ramsey as he returned the walkie to his belt-clip.

“Ramsey, I know you’re working on the next schedule. Do be a dear and not schedule me for the opening shift or on the checkout stands.”

“Sorry, Delia. The schedule’s done. You open on the express checkout week two of the schedule.”

He turned to leave, but Delia caught hold of his arm. Ramsey looked back to find the bottle-blonde attempting a full-fledged pout. Pursing his lips, Ramsey stepped out of Delia’s grip.

“Ramsey! Six in the morning is just too early for someone with a social life as active as mine.”

“It’s your turn, Delia. You know the rotation.”

Delia had gall. He had to give her that. Most employee scheduling concerns were about babysitting issues, evening classes and caring for disabled family members. Only Delia would want special treatment so she could sit in a bar all night.

Though her employee file carried a birth-date making Delia thirty-nine years old, Ramsey Carter would swear in open court sitting on top of Bible-mountain she was older than his forty-seven years. Even from where he stood, Ramsey could see the layers of makeup on Delia’s face intended to hide wrinkles. It didn’t.

“But, Ramsey-”

“I have to go, Delia. Problem in S and R. And Delia,” he looked at her feet, “the shoes.”

“Oh, okay. We’ll talk… later.”

Ramsey walked away in double-time to keep from laughing in the woman’s face.

If the employee rumor mill were to be believed, Delia Pennock lured three of the last four store managers into sexual trysts outside… and inside the store. The fourth manager was female and not into women, even though it was said Delia tried anyway.

Ramsey Carter had no intention of becoming the over-the-hill party girl’s latest conquest.

Toni Temple-Carter was the sunshine in Ramsey’s life. He’d loved her since the day she’d walked into their seventh-grade English class. But the shy, awkward Ramsey Carter resigned to be just friends with the dark-skinned beauty. For six years Ramsey watched Toni date other guys, his heart breaking piece by piece each time. When he learned Toni would also be attending Northwestern, it cheered him to know he would still get to see Toni from time to time.

Ramsey’s world spun out of control the day Toni Temple plopped down on the bench next to him in the Student Union.

“Do you like me, Ramsey… at all?”

Ramsey, still gawky at nineteen, sputtered for the right words.

“Huh? Like you? Of… of course, Toni. We’re… friends. Have been for a l-long time.”

“Why haven’t you ever asked me out?”

Ramsey’s eyes widened in disbelief.

“Ask… you out? Because… I thought… we’re friends. I didn’t think-”

“Ask me out.”

“Huh?”

“Ask me out.”

Understanding registered with Ramsey and the two young people shared a grin.

“Will you go out me, Toni?”

“Yes, Ramsey Carter. I thought you’d never ask.”

They’d been inseparable ever since, marrying five years later.

Committed to each other, the Carters had avoided most of the pitfalls which darken some marriages. When their second son entered college, Toni and Ramsey were excited about the future and making plans. Plans which imploded less than a year later when Ramsey was downsized out of Bentek Corp.

Toni was steadfast, never complaining about their financial situation. At the end of her work day, the nursing manager would often pick up extra hours in patient care to help with their household budget. Toni never blamed Ramsey or even Bentek for their lot and Ramsey was in awe of her. Each time he looked at her, Ramsey saw nothing but love in her eyes.

Other downsized Bentek employees lost everything… homes, savings, and their marriages. But Toni was Ramsey’s fortress, holding him up and shielding him from the depression which threatened to take him.

Yes, the Carters sold their boat, the cabin upstate, and their timeshares. And they no longer splurged on artsy furnishings or ate out. But they had saved their home and kept both their sons in college. Toni often said they were an unbeatable team, but Ramsey knew better. Toni’s love for him was his armor against the world, but her endless faith in him gave him the strength to keep moving forward.

When Ramsey suggested putting their artistic sides to good use by getting into the on-line graphic arts business, Toni not only agreed, but she researched and found the best on-line classes they could afford. Eighteen months later, the couple was close to realizing their dream and beginning a new journey together. Ramsey knew it would be a struggle at first, both of them working full-time while trying to start their own business.  But Ramsey looked forward to the day when he was his own boss.

Opening the security door separating shipping and receiving from the rest of the store. Ramsey Carter gawked at the sight before him.

Department manager, Minas Fortuni, stood at the bay doors attempting to unbend metal around a three-foot hole in the door.

“What the hell?” Ramsey inched forward, his stomach churning at the paperwork in his immediate future. “What happened, Minas?”

Shaking his head, Minas gave up his futile attempts to close the hole.

“That last delivery guy… from Buckley Dairy… didn’t swing the back end of his trailer wide end enough. Backed right into the door. He leaned out the window and saw what he’d done. Know what he did then, Ramsey?”

The store manager stared at the hole in the door, still incredulous.

Minas continued. “He said, “Oops, sorry, dude” and drove off. Just like that.”

Ramsey hung his head defeated. He was tired, hungry and he wanted to go home. This day had to end.

Ramsey Carter decided it was time to delegate. “You busy this evening, Minas?”

“No, and I already put in a call to Rolla-Doorz. It’s going to cost extra, but they’re sending a guy over.”

“Good thinking, Minas. If you’re willing to stay and cover for me, I’ll authorize the overtime… as long as it takes.”

“Of course, I’ll stay. It’s Patty’s turn to host girls’ night. You’re saving me from watching a bunch of baby boomer females get drunk and cavort around the house to the soundtrack from “Grease.” It’s a win-win situation for us both. Go home, man… I got you covered.”

“Thanks, Minas. I owe you for this… big-time!”

Returning to his office in record time, Ramsey made quick notes about the incident and put the Buckley Dairy file on his desk for tomorrow. Before Ramsey could lock his file cabinet, Dale Johnson from the meat department leaned into his office.

“Hey, Ramsey… got a slip and fall near aisle twelve. The woman says the floor was wet and Good Buy Foods is going to pay for her pain and suffering.”

Ramsey leaned against his desk, ready to scream.

“Is the woman okay? Anything broken? Bleeding? Do we need to get paramedics here?”

Dale smirked. “Ramsey… she’s fine.”

“Is someone with her?”

“Yeah. Gail from the front desk.”

“Okay, on my way.”

Ramsey pulled an accident report from the file cabinet along with the store’s Polaroid and headed out of his office. He stopped and returned to his desk, grabbing his cell phone.

Ramsey had to let Toni know he’d be late getting home… again.

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Dumped

Homeless Man

Week 17 – 52-Week Writing Challenge
Word Prompt – “Dumped”
Based on a true event.

Angry and upset, Bradley strode from the office building. The meeting had not gone as he hoped. The marketing deal did not go through. Sam, his boss, would not be happy. Bradley decided not to prolong the inevitable and pulled out his cell. Head down, focused on his phone, Bradley didn’t see the man sitting on the sidewalk until he tripped over him.

“What the hell? You idiot! You better hope my cell phone isn’t broken!” Bradley jumped to his feet and checked out his cell, turning it over in his hands. The screen wasn’t damaged, but there was a small scratch on the titanium case.

“Son of a bitch! Do you have any idea how much this phone cost me?” He smirked at the unresponsive man. “Of course, you don’t. I’ll bet you know the price of the cheapest bottle of wine the liquor store sells though, huh?”

The disheveled man remained silent, but Bradley Harper noticed his shoulders slump. He leaned toward him.

The clothes he wore were not his own. The coat, too hot and heavy for summer, was at least two sizes too large. The pants stopped just below his calves, leaving his long, pale, ashen legs exposed. Ragged white socks covered his feet, but instead of shoes, he wore light slippers.

“What’s wrong with you? Can’t you talk?” The man said nothing. Bradley glanced around the trendy Inland Empire business square. People went about their day. No one paid any attention to them.

“The cops are good about keeping this area clear of your kind. How did you get this far downtown without being stopped?”

The man mumbled something, still not meeting Bradley’s gaze.

“Oh, great! A homeless drunk who makes no sense. I do not have time for this bullshit. I’ll let the cops deal with you, buddy.” Bradley backed away from the man, looking around the area for security. More mumbled words caught his ear. “Are you saying something?”

He tried to nod, but Bradley noticed the movement caused the man’s whole body to shake.

“I don’t have time for this! I need to get back to my office and find out if I still have a job.”

The man struggled to remove something from his pocket. Without raising his head, he thrust a handful of folded papers in Bradley’s direction.

Exhaling with a growl, the harried advertising executive shook his head, walked back to the man and took the papers from his outstretched hand. Bradley unfolded the thick bundle and read, his brow furrowed. Bradley’s eyes widened at the information the documents held.

“These are hospital discharge papers. Dated today.”

One nod from the silent man.

Bradley read on. “You’re Patrick Peterson?”

Another single nod.

“You spent the last three days in San Antonio Regional Hospital with pneumonia and they discharged you this morning.” Bradley frowned. “But how did you get here?”

“Van.”

“Van? A van brought you here? What kind of van? Why?”

“Hospital… van. No insurance.”

“Patrick? Are you telling me the hospital discharged you and dumped you on the street because you have no insurance?”

“Yes.”

“Son of a bitch! Those heartless bastards! This can’t be legal! Damn! Patrick, I’m sorry about my-”

A violent coughing spasm wracked Patrick’s body. Bradley could hear the wet, phlegmy infection rattle in the gaunt man’s chest and throat. Patrick’s body convulsed. Bradley Harper thought the man might lose consciousness.

“You’re still sick. They dumped you on the street… and you’re still sick.” Bradley shook his head. “This is too fucked up for words.”

Patrick thrust his head back, gasping for air. The movement helped, and the coughing subsided, but his breathing was so shallow, Patrick rested his upturned head against the building taking in as much air as he could.

Bradley saw the chain around his neck. He waited a few more minutes for the coughing to stop.

“Patrick, were you military?”

“Yes. Marines.”

Bradley fumed. This was no way to treat someone who served their country.

“Why didn’t they take you to the Veteran’s hospital?”

“No beds.”

“Family?”

“Don’t want me… too much trouble.”

“You’re too much trouble for your family? What the hell?” Bradley caught himself and gave Patrick an inquisitive look. “Why does your family feel you’re too much trouble?”

Patrick hesitated. He clenched and unclenched his emaciated hands several times before allowing them to rest limply on the sidewalk.

“PTSD.”

Bradley wasn’t surprised by Patrick’s answer. “Are you violent?”

Patrick shook his head. “I… never… hurt anyone.”

Frustrated, Bradley waved the papers around like a mad man.

“Man, I don’t understand! If you’re not violent, how are you too much trouble? Why did your family just turn their backs? That’s some evil bullshit!”

For the first time since Bradley tripped over him, Patrick raised his head and looked Bradley in the face. The haunted look of the ex-Marine’s piercing, ice blue eyes shocked and saddened the concerned accountant.

“Because… I’m not myself. Voices… from that morning… fire fight. First Lieutenant. Sargent. Hollenbeck. All gone.”

Bradley watched as the distraught man’s eyes pooled with tears.

“It plays on repeat in my… head. No one… can make it… stop.” Fatigued from illness and conversation, the poor man slumped back against the building.

Compassion and anger battled inside Bradley Harper. This man served his country and watched his team die. He was blessed to be alive himself… to return home and live on the streets. Patrick Peterson deserved better. He deserved treatment. He deserved proper care. Patrick deserved respect, not to be treated like trash.

There was no way Bradley could walk away from Patrick. He had nowhere to go. Bradley knew if he abandoned the sick man, it would only be a matter of days before his lifeless body was found.

Pulling out his cell again, Bradley scrolled to Sam’s name and clicked Call. He wasn’t concerned with the customer inside the building or any damn contract. Bradley wasn’t even concerned about his job for the moment.

Sam Lemmer was a retired Marine and would know how best to help Patrick. It took little to send the former Captain off on a tangent about the country’s treatment of its military personnel. Meeting Patrick and hearing his story would be spark enough to set the decorated war hero into action.

Light snores caused Bradley to glance down at the abandoned man.

“Don’t worry, buddy. You’ll never sleep on a sidewalk again.”

Image from Google.

©Copyright Felicia Denise 2017

The Pain Game

Week 13 of the 52-Week Writing Challenge

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas of the body. It is the second most common musculoskeletal condition after osteoarthritis. Over five million people in the U.S. suffer from Fibromyalgia. The cause is unknown, and there is no cure. Research continues.


The pain associated with Fibromyalgia comes in many forms.

Image from Pinterest

Many who suffer with Fibromyalgia can relate to these pain descriptions. Unfortunately, it is possible… and quite common… to suffer with more than one type of pain at the same time!

Regardless of the type of pain, most sufferers can agree — the degree of pain can vary from annoying to irritating to debilitating to… just-shoot-me-now!

Annoying pain can either be tolerated, or treated with over-the-counter medications.

Irritating pain is distracting and can lead to a break in activity. Heating pads, cold compresses, body stretches, hot tea, meditation/prayer, elevating legs, or a short nap along with prescription medications are some of the things which may bring some relief.

Debilitating pain brings life to a screeching halt.

It hurts to stand.

It hurts to sit.

It hurts to lie down.

It hurts to breathe.

Everything… hurts.

This is when it’s time to reach for THAT medication. The one which says, “May cause drowsiness.”

Talk about an understatement! Moments after taking it, you feel yourself slipping into a heavy, drug-induced stupor. Moments after that… you’re snoring!

Did the pain stop?

Nope!

Do you care?

Nope!

You get fifteen or twenty “pain-free” minutes… if you don’t move around while sleeping.

The just-shoot-me-now pain is mind-altering.

Image from Google

You don’t bother with packs, compresses, teas, or pills.

What’s the point? They will not work.

No, with the just-shoot-me-now pain, you find the most comfortable position your body can take — in a chair or in bed — and you do not move!

You don’t notice the lone tear sliding down your cheek as you wonder, “How did I end up like this?”

Vivid memories of 5K-runs and ruling the dance floor on Saturday nights tease and mock you.

Brain fog is setting in. You think you hear your daughter’s laughter as the two of you crossed the finish line to win first place in the sack races during a PTA field day.

Anger rises from the dark abyss in your mind you visit far too often and joins the pain. Painful, swollen hands become clammy, clenched fists.

You curse yourself for whatever you did to bring this bastard of an illness into your body.

You curse yourself for not being stronger.

You curse family and friends and their flippant remarks of, “You just need to try harder.”

You curse neighbors and Co-workers for their asinine comments of, “Are you really sick?” or “You look fine to me.” or the brain-numbing “Be thankful it isn’t cancer.”

You curse doctors and researchers for dragging their asses in finding a cure — more concerned with whom the latest study will be named after or who gets credited than with the millions of people who deal with the pain each day.

People like the twenty-nine-year-old mother who cries each time she picks up and cradles her baby… because the simple task wracks her body with pain.

People like the fifty-two-year-old woman who retired early to care for her husband who lost his legs to diabetes, and now she must have visiting nurses come in… to care for them both. Fibromyalgia has ravaged her body and weakened her resolve.

People like the thirty-five-year-old wife and mother who’s been a jogger for over twenty years, but now needs a cane to navigate her own home.

Image from Google

Because your stress level has increased… along with your blood pressure, the just-shoot-me-now pain takes you to new heights of agony…

… and you curse God — for allowing this darkness to rule your body and change your life.

The life you’ve spent trying to love your neighbor, spread kindness and practice compassion.

Where’s the compassion for you?

Where’s the cure?

Because this is no way to live.

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Save

The Back Forty #FlashFiction

Dark Alley

(Flash Fiction – week twelve of the 52-Week Writing Challenge. Word prompt: alley)

Camryn hated this part of her walk home.

She equally divided her attention between watching the shadowy alleyways and her footsteps. Used needles and condoms, broken liquor bottles, and random pieces of clothing carpeted the dangerous two-block section of 36th Street known as the Back Forty. Grown men avoided the area in mid-day. A woman walking alone just after six in the morning was asking for trouble.

But Camryn had to get home. She didn’t own a car and public transportation in this part of town started an hour later Sunday mornings.

Montgomery Clemens, spiteful, forty-six-year-old married father of five, knew this. Camryn had declined his offer of dinner and cocktails after work a month ago. Monty sought to punish her. As a human resource supervisor at Patterson Banking Systems, weekend scheduling fell into his lap every two weeks. It was a task he despised at first. Now, Monty saw it as a valuable tool he wielded to punish female employees who rejected him. Women like Camryn Evers.

Determined to beat Monty at his own game, Camryn said nothing and worked the bimonthly schedule changes in silence.

She didn’t have too. Camryn could have requested a hearing with the department manager and reported Clemens. However, Camryn was number three on the promotions list. It wouldn’t be long before Camryn was a member of management. When that happened, payback would be a bitch named Camryn Evers for Monty Clemens.

She could have bought a car. Camryn had more than enough money in either of her savings accounts for a car… and a home. But one of those accounts had been started long ago… when she was a different person. When her life revolved around the words of a man. Camryn trusted him. She loved him. And he’d lied and manipulated her. That would never happen again.

Camryn would buy a car when she was ready. Not because some horny, old fool at work didn’t like the word no.

Fortunately, except for the dreaded two-block section of 36th Street, the seven-block walk home wasn’t that bad. The route was well-lit most of the way, crossing through metropolitan and residential areas. Traveling the edge of the Back Forty, however, filled Camryn with dread. Law enforcement made infrequent passes through the area. The one alternate route would add six blocks and forty-five minutes to her journey home. Camryn pushed on.

As she neared the middle of the second block, Camryn’s steps quickened-the bright street lights of Perry Avenue in view.

“Cammie?”

She froze. No one had ever called her by that nickname except family… and her girlfriends from high school. Despite her better judgment telling her to go home, Camryn turned towards the voice in the shadows. A tall figure leaned against the edge of a dilapidated building.

Even though Camryn couldn’t see the face, she knew the owner of the voice. In all her thirty-four years, Camryn had only known one woman who stood well over six feet.

Belinda Glass.

“Lindy? Is that you?”

“Yeah, girl. What are you doing here?”

The former best friends each took two steps forward. Belinda was now under a street light, and Camryn was stunned at the woman’s appearance. Once a mocha beauty, member of the homecoming court, and a standout player and captain of the girls’ basketball team, the years had not been kind to Belinda.

In a stain-covered dress far too short to be considered decent, Belinda leaned against the street light pole. A matted faux-fur waist coat and cheap, spiky shoes completed her outfit. Camryn couldn’t tell if it was a wig or weave, but the long chestnut curls framing Belinda’s face were matted. Camryn could also see traces of lint through the hair even from where she stood. But it was the tall woman’s face which took her voice away.

A mixture of wrinkles, acne, and bruises covered Belinda’s face. Camryn didn’t see an inch that wasn’t marred. Camryn’s gut churned when she reached Belinda’s eyes. While glassed over, her eyes were also empty, flat… dead.

Camryn watched her friend grip the light pole for balance. She didn’t know if Belinda was high, drunk, or both, but she was on something.

“Cammie? Did you hear me? Why are you here… in the Back Forty?”

“I-I… I’m on my way home… from work.”

“Thought so.”

“What are you doing here, Lindy?”

The altered woman glanced upwards as though she was expecting… and dreading the question.

“This is where I… work.”

Camryn’s hand clutched at her abdomen, trying to calm the rising bile. Sadness washed over her when she realized what the stains on Belinda’s dress were.

“Lindy… why?”

“Life is just a bowl of shit, Cammie, and shit happens. But get that look off ‘a ya’ face now. I don’t need or want anybody’s pity.”

“But Lindy, tell me something! What happened? You left the country with Lawrence after we graduated. You both signed to play ball in-”

“Men lie, Cammie. They do it on purpose. Always needing to control women. They say whatever it takes.”

Belinda’s words hit home deep in Camryn’s soul.

“What about you and Raymond, Cammie? I knew you two would get the happily-ever-after.” Belinda didn’t miss the stricken look on Camryn’s face. “But if you were with him, you wouldn’t be out now walking alone, would you?”

Camryn smirked. “Like you said, Lindy, men lie.”

“I’m so sorry, Cammie. You deserved better. You always were the best of us.”

Camryn waved her off.

“I was no better or worse, Lindy. We were kids, trying to grow up. Raymond covered up his true nature for a long time. But once I found out, I walked away.”

“See? Strength of character. You always had it, Cammie. Even with all the lies Lawrence told, the choices were still mine. I knew he was a liar. I chose to believe him. I chose to stay with him.” Belinda glanced away. “Until he didn’t want me anymore.”

“But Lindy, why didn’t you let me know? Or Cyn or Tammie? We could have-”

“Pride, Cammie… pride. I may not have much left, but I have enough to not want my girls from back-in-the-day to know how far I’ve fallen.”

“Bullshit! That’s no ex-”

“Listen! Do not come this way again. Back Forty’s no place for someone like you.”

“Oh, Lindy, stop- “

“Bitch, we are not having a discussion!”

Camryn flinched at the woman’s tone.

Belinda stood to her full height and let go of the light pole. Though an imposing figure, her eyes softened.

“This is the third time I’ve seen you out here, Cammie. And, if I have… other people have too. People with black hearts and no souls who will do what it takes to get what they want.”

She motioned at Camryn with one hand.

“Look at you. Almost thirty-five but still with a school girl’s good looks. Thick, shoulder-length hair, perfect makeup, manicured nails. Morris is always giving me shit because I have no ass. Yours would have him salivating.”

“Lindy, let me hel-”

“Dammit! You always were stubborn! Go home, Camryn Nicole Evers… now! Never walk this way again… ever!”

“Belinda-”

“I said go! Damn!”

The large woman turned and walked unsteadily back to the alley. She paused after a few steps and looked back over her shoulder.

“Cammie… please. Nothing good happens in the Back Forty and I want nothing bad to happen to you. If you keep walking this way… it will.” With that, Belinda Glass disappeared down the darkened alley.

Camryn stood frozen where Belinda left her. Her heart ached for her childhood friend. They had shopped for prom dresses together, prank called boys, and stolen cigarettes from their parents. Camryn knew she could help her friend. It wasn’t too late.

The sound of trash cans overturning and someone crying out startled Camryn. She knew Belinda had fallen. Camryn wanted to go to her and get Belinda out of this nasty, rancid place.

But instead, she backed away shaking her head. Tears were pooling in her eyes when she turned and ran towards Perry Avenue, not stopping until she reached the corner traffic light. The pedestrian crossing sign lit up, and Camryn made her way across the large thoroughfare, thankful for providence.

Camryn leaned against the post to catch her breath. Only then did she look back across Perry Avenue… and down 36th Street. Despite the rising sun, the outskirts of the Back Forty remained blanketed in darkness, untouched by the light of day.

“Never walk this way again.” Belinda’s warning played on repeat in Camryn’s mind.

They were once close as sisters.

Their lives had taken two very different paths… both lain by the lies of men.

Belinda accepted her empty life fueled by drugs and alcohol. Yet she wanted better for a woman she once called friend.

Camryn wanted it too.

She took a few steps from the traffic light and turned right onto Perry Place. Not for the first time, Camryn marveled at the difference in her tiny tree-lined street and the desolate wasteland only a quarter of a mile away.

By the time she reached the door of her street-level cottage apartment, Camryn had made two decisions. First, when the HR office opened at nine, she was calling off work for the next two or three days. Hell, maybe even the whole week. It would serve them right. Camryn had not had an unscheduled day off in almost three years.

There were only six senior account analysts, and while two had more seniority, Camryn was the one with the knowledge and skill. A week of scrambling without her would make them appreciate her more and receptive to her complaint about Monty Clemens. Because she would demand a hearing.

So caught up in her own head to not be manipulated by Monty… or any man, Camryn had played herself. Instead of reporting Monty, she fretted over a job promotion. She had put her life at risk… for a job promotion.

Belinda’s eyes continued to haunt Camryn as she entered her apartment.

She bypassed the living room, tossed her bag and jacket into a corner chair, and turned on the shower. She had enough time to squeeze in a quick nap before calling her job. Then, she would see if any of the numbers she had for Cynthia Kelly and Tamara Alsworth were still good. Camryn wouldn’t tell them about Lindy, but she wanted to touch base with them. The years had passed too fast, making the distance of a few miles seem even greater.

The rest of her day would be spent binge watching the programs stored in her DVR while she scoured the Internet for deals. Tomorrow morning, she’d take on the second decision she’d made.

It was time to buy a car.