Beguiling Words

The manuscript for ‘Beguiling Words’ is now on its electronic way to Paper Angel Press.  I’m excited to have it done, and am waiting already for the edits and suggestions to come back from the editor.  Paper Angel Press has three really good ones; Steve, Kim, and Laureen. If you’ve got a story you want to submit, send on to them. Their link is to your right on the page.  Try it, new stories are always welcome.


The Jiminy part 19

Travis moved to the round platform, and grasped the poles to brace himself. He waited as the screen remained grey, with the faintest of darker shadows flitting across it. “Is there any noise? I don’t hear nothin’.”

‘One moment,’ the screen printed in a light orange-yellow. Travis felt a sense to the room this time. The grey seemed to weigh heavier than yesterday. There was a sense of emptiness to it, which was ridiculous to Travis. He scoffed at his ‘feeling’ yet it wouldn’t leave him, and the empty feeling seemed to percolate through his skin, and weigh upon him, like regret.

The screen slowly lightened as noises became more distinct, moving from a soft background murmur to distinct voices and sharp, clattering sounds of metal on metal.

“Hey hon, you feelin’ better?” The wall irised open to reveal a dark, wide face atop a heavyset body covered in prison hospital blues. The woman had a set of black framed oval glasses with neon pink bows that added a splash of color to her dark brown features. Perched atop her short, frizzy hair was a white nurses cap held in place by bright green and red clips. Her name, Washington’, was barely visible at the bottom of the screen. “Y’all been out of it for a while, girl. Two days. Now you’re awake we can get that I-V out of yore arm and get some food and water into ya.”

Two days? That, they kicked the bejeezus outta her. He wondered if that was the feeling he’d felt. He shook his head and tried to will the view to change and show him more. Concern had him wanting to see the wounds and at the same time he felt a flash of anger at the abuse that landed her in here for two days. Payback, I want payback. They ain’t gonna get away with this. They don’t get to do that to me! He felt the hot anger flow forth, and almost immediately doused by that empty feeling. Something flowed across the screen. A profusion of color like the psychedelic colors before, but these were muted, colored in grey, blue, deep reds, and black. It felt, angry, and helpless.

There was a bloom of light orange on the wall. It reminded Travis of a wince. Others grew and added their own shades of orange on the wall, adding an overall sense of pain from the whole being of what he was a part of. He felt the pain, more as an insult to the whole of him, intimidating and vicious. It had the sense of pressing down, attempting to control his angry reaction. It was a frustrating sensation, one that bordered on despair, no matter how he tried to ignore or rid himself of the feeling, it was like a lead weight between his shoulders.

There’s got to be a way. If it was me I’d catch them one at a time and pound the snot out of ’em. He growled, and felt the room warm. That had to be the answer. A second thought entered his mind. I don’t know what this girl is like. She looked kind of thin in the dream. Maybe if she looked in a mirror I could see what there is to work with.

As if she had been waiting for the opportunity, the slim hand moved to the call button, and a nurse came in. “Hey hon, you mus’ be hungry. I can bring food in iffen y’all’d like.”

She came over to the bed as the girl said, “Can I have a mirror?” The nurse looked at the screen, which Travis now felt like was the girl’s eyes.

“Oh hon, you sure you wanna look? You might wanna wait another day before you do that.”

The screen waved back and forth as the soft, raspy voice said, “I wanna see.”

The Jiminy part 18

The last thing Travis expected to do was dream. For him, it was a hazy sensation that cleared, and this young girl with dark mocha skin was crouching a short ways in front of him, her arms wrapped around her legs as she tried to stifle her tears against her knees. Travis felt a flash of something. The pink nightie dragged on the on the ground behind the girl, but did nothing to conceal the curves of womanhood. Her hair was black with pink ends. Short, cut to shoulder length, and a slight wave, it seemed whimsical. At the same time it felt transitional, like changes were going on beneath the surface. The whole scene felt like one of despair and a desperate privacy, as if the girl was trying to hide. It tugged at him, yet felt unreal.

How am I here? I don’t remember waking up. He waved his hand, then tried to bite it. Nothing happened this time. This is a dream. He wanted to wake up, but the soft shoulders shaking as the girl sobbed touched him. He’d seen Kimmy cry the same way, perched on the edge of their bed as he tried in a drunken stupor to comfort her, realizing it was him causing the pain. The pain of regret filled him, making his knees nearly buckle in shame for the hurt he’d caused while he was alive.

This was a chance to fix things. He started towards the girl, but he stopped short of reaching the girl. Instead he stayed two steps away, unwilling to close the final distance. Do I try? Or is this something I’d just make worse if I tried. The indecision tore at him, and he did nothing but stare at the girl, paralyzed by indecision. The scene faded as he watched, and there was a vaguely unpleasant sensation, like a weight being added to him.

Light streamed in through the window, bathing him in a cold, discomforting light. The room shuddered slightly, like a large truck rolling by the house. There was a feel like someone tapping him on the head. As he opened his eyes he saw, ‘Wakey, wakey, up and shaky’ print in large purple letters on the sign over the silver and black door. Somehow they felt a touch disapproving this morning to Travis.

“What now?” He started to get out of bed, and found like before he was naked. “I want my reg’lar work clothes again,” something made him say, “please,” at the end. A light breeze ruffled the curtains and blew across him. His clothing appeared like coalescing smoke and solidified. He pushed off the bed with a groan, and tapped each boot with the steel toe to make sure he had them on. Satisfied he was ready, Travis lumbered to the door. The sign was blank as the doors opened to the grey room once more.

The Jiminy Part 17

‘Temper, temper, Jiminy. I am not faulting you. My comment was merely observational.’

“Don’t call me that. I ain’t no bug thing.. If you want me, just call me Travis.” He glared at the screen as his mind tried to figure out what to do. He realized, that suddenly he felt that this girl was his charge, and he had to look out for her. Somehow, it had become personal. The recognition of that feeling had him unsettled. What about Kimmy? I owe her. She put up with all my crap and never complained.

‘Kim is a good, living woman. You’re a whisper in someone’s ear, Travis. You have a new job’ the letters spelled out in light pink and purple.

Yeah, a new job. Again he was struck by the lack of emotion he’d thought he should have. The sense of loss was there, as was regret, which pressed down on him like a weight whenever he thought of his life. I have a lot to make up for. Maybe this is my chance. He looked at the screen, hoping that there might be a verification of this chance. the screen remained a blank grey. So I have to figure this out. Like hell, I ain’t no thinker, I never even liked kids. This may be too much.

‘Throwing in the towel, already, JIMINY?’ The words scrolled in a bright red outlined in a dark, dark violet that seemed to Travis like hungry mouths eager to bite into him.

“I-I ain’t quittin’.” His teeth chattered at the cold sensation along his spine as he looked at the letters, bright and pulsing like blood. “I ain’t gonna quit. You said I had to do this, so don’t get antsy.”

‘I never said you had to do it, just that you were chosen. You can quit, any time you want.’ The letters were in a deep maroon-brown that reminded Travis of dried blood, which nearly unnerved him. The fear seemed to make the letters grow, until they rolled all the way up the curved wall to the center of the ceiling. It was a feeling like seeing vultures waiting for something to die.

“I ain’t gonna quit!” Travis locked his legs and prayed he wouldn’t fall over. Despite the challenge in his voice, he wanted to be anywhere else but here.

‘You’re not?’ The bright red letters printed up, one at a time, floor to ceiling.

The effect was intimidating. Travis wanted to run, but his own stubborn streak kept him on the platform. “I’m not, you sonuvabitch. I ain’t runnin’, and I ain’t quittin’.”

The letters shrunk back to a more ‘normal’ size and the red faded to a pale pink that shaded to a bright blue at the top. ‘Point for you. Now get some rest. The boss won’t be waking up for at least a day.’

Travis thought about that information, then stared at the screen. “I’m not going to sleep until she’s safe.”

‘You really don’t have a choice. When the boss sleeps, you will sleep. You’re part of her so get used to it.’ The letters were in a calm green that made Travis sleepy just looking at them.

He closed his eyes and bit the base of his thumb to stay awake. “No! I ain’t sleepin’!”

‘Yes, you will, but there is time between when the boss goes to sleep, and you do that you can talk more directly to her. You might think of that for the next time something like this happens. Her actions are going to count as yours in the final balance. Ta.’ The letters were a lazy, fuzzy purple. Travis felt his feet shuffle towards the wall, which split and opened a door just big enough for him to fit through. He managed to shuffle to the bed, and fell wearily upon it. He saw yellow lights on the sign above the door, but his eyes were too unfocused to make out what they were. There was the faintest sensation of a connection, then it was gone as the letters faded and he descended into the darkness of sleep.

The Jiminy part 16

Travis felt more than heard the answer. “No, I ain’t getting you any J, or nothin’.” He could feel her fear, and her rapidly failing determination. She wanted to stay out of the drug trade. She didn’t want to be here at all. She was scared. The girl looked big enough to hurt her, and the other two behind her, bookend twins if Travis was right, looked as if they’d done time. Their eyes were, to him, empty of any emotion. Their faces didn’t twitch even a little when they smiled. The big woman looked hard at the ‘boss’, her smile thinning as her eyes hardened.

The two behind the big girl caught the change and leaned forward almost imperceptibly, like attack dogs straining at the leash. “That was the wrong answer, meat. TC, Mar, make her understand ‘no’.”

The girls stepped forward past the big girl, and moved towards Travis’ point of view. Oh man, we’re gonna get our ass beat. Okay, can we run, no I’m too f…can she run? No, not here. There’s no place to go, we gotta fight. How would I handle this? Fake a charge at one, then hit the other one. If they’re mean as they look, a hard kick to the knee’d be best. As he watched, the two closed in. “Come on girl, step at the one on the right, then kick the knee of the one on the left.” He’d hoped that she’d listen. I don’t know how this works, but the first time it was like she heard me. The perspective changed as his view lunged at the right girl, who took a step to the side. The screen whirled as the view turned at the other girl. The view jumped as a foot lashed out from the low corner of the screen and caught the girl on the side of the knee, dropping her. The view started to turn again when the screen rocked sideways and the whole room lurched.

Travis hung on to the poles for dear life as both he and the screen toppled sideways. the view showed dry earth on the left side as a foot at the end of an orange leg roared into view then passed low. The room lurched again. The foot retreated, then came forward again, and again, and again. A second foot joined the first, then a larger, third foot. There was a fuzzy screaming sound and women in blue jackets, holding spray cans that were directed at the girls looming over her. The lurching was constant as the blue pushed the orange-clothed girls away. The screen faded as one of the corrections officers kneeled close in the screen.

‘That didn’t go like you thought, did it?’ scrolled in bright blue letters across the now grey screen.

“I was trying to get out of it. You heard her. She didn’t want to have anything to do with smuggling marijuana into those bitches!”

The Jiminy part 15

“ARRRGH! This has to be hell! No one tells me nothing! I’m sick of it!” He glared at the screen. “Cough up some answers or nothing’s going to happen!”

The screen flashed in a multitude of colors that played over the wall, splashes of red dotted with neon blue and white squares half covered by dingy yellow splotches. The sheer three-hundred-and-sixty degrees of riotous colors washing over each other in a psychedelic display gave Travis vertigo. He dropped to his hands and knees and struggling to stay there. The colors seemed to roll through him, churning him up like an old washing machine, until he couldn’t tell up from down. His vision began to darken as the churning sped up for a moment, then vanished so suddenly he dropped prone on the grey floor. What was that?!

‘That’, the letters spelled out in tall thin white against a mauve background, ‘was a full opening of you. What you were was laid bare. I have to say, I’m very surprised you don’t know the reference.’ The pressure rolled over him in a more speculative manner, and not nearly as invasive. It receded, then a square of white appeared. A grainy ‘5’ in a circle counted down to ‘4’, and then to ‘3’, at which point there was a blip of light.

The square went black, then faded in again as a little boy, looking like he was dressed in goofy shorts with suspenders and a weird little yellow shirt with a huge collar and blue bow-tie, instead of a T-shirt, was watching this little thing in a tuxedo and top hat, look up at him. The two appeared to talk, then it seemed that some kind of tune was playing. The little thing in the tuxedo hopped like a grasshopper, and started strutting along, hand on hat. What’s he saying, I wonder. Are they trying to whistle? He remembered the conversation earlier, ‘You have to ask for it’.

“Hey, does that come with sound?”

‘Point for you, yes it does.’

Suddenly the singing was coming across, and he heard the little thing say “give a little whistle”, and then a moment later, “Not just a little squeak, pucker up and blow!” Which the boy tried to do, then another line, “and if you’re whistle’s weak, yell!” to which the boy answered, “Jiminy Cricket!”

Jiminy Cricket?! He’s calling me a cricket?! Travis started a slow burn once more, then he heard the last part of the refrain, “and always let your conscience be your guide.” Everything fell together. Jiminy, the view he was getting, the ‘boss’ reference, the smarmy lettering. I’m a conscience?!

‘You can learn when you put your mind to it’ the letters scrolled with what seemed a relieved-yet-irritated manner.

“Okay so what can I ask for, I mean besides clothes and sound? You said I had to learn to choose, so I’m saying tell me what choices I get to make.”

The wall faded to black, darkening the entire room, then brightened once more. Travis was looking at the large black girl staring down at the ‘boss’. “So you got the J?”

The Jiminy part 14

The sky was cloudless and blue. The open yard stretched away some distance before grey walls, with row upon row of barbed wire, loomed up. To Travis, the walls looked twice a person’s height without the barbed wire. This place ain’t one that lets you leave, it’s a prison. He looked around slowly. The screen turned with him, showing all sorts of young women in shapeless orange or grey shirts and pants that reminded Travis of hospital scrubs. There were no shoes or socks for anyone, just a pull-on slipper. If this is a prison, why such a nice room and a t-shirt sleeper? His thoughts were interrupted as, from his perspective, a taller dark skinned woman approached.

She was about a head taller, travis estimated, and likely heavier than him. She was about as wide as she was tall, hair braided flat in cornrows along her skull. The orange jumpsuit barely seemed to fit as she got closer. Travis felt nervous at her hard-eyed approach. The sneer on her lips, and on the two smaller girls behind her had Travis suddenly very concerned. I wouldn’t want to take her on at all, she must weigh as much as a beer truck. He shook his head. Her. I’m in her. I’m just a rider.

‘You’re a Jiminy, Juminy.’ Suddenly, Travis, had had enough. All the confusion, anguish, and anger he’d been holding in since learning he’d died came roaring out. He turned around and screamed at the blank wall.

“Listen you lousy excuse for a television. I ain’t no Jiminy! I ain’t no cracker, or whitebread, or anything! So quit calling me that! I don’t even know what that means!” Everything seemed to stop, and Travis clenched his hands and jutted his head forward aggressively. “Come on, you got a bone to pick, asshat, bring it! I’ll shove your teeth so far down your throat, you’ll have to sit on something to eat it!” The silence was so complete that not even an echo from his tirade came back to him. It was like sound was just swallowed up. Travis’ anger passed slowly as the moment stretched to a minute, then two. It was a feeling like he was under a microscope, being totally laid bare, inside and out. He rubbed his arms, feeling chilled.

‘Okay, maybe that wasn’t a good choice. but seriously, you’ve never seen Pinocchio?’ The words scrolled in pink and yellow across the rounded wall. Travis thought he could feel a sense of amazement, and a little chagrin. How does the guy do that? I’ve read a few books and no one could make me feel words like this guy. ‘That’s because it’s not writing, exactly. You feel it like I was speaking to you.’ Travis thought about it for a moment.

“Really. So why the explanation now and not about,” he waved his hand irritably at the raised platform in the middle of the room, “all that.”

‘Ah, that. You see, any input on my part will influence how you act and react. Therefore, I can’t tell you. you have to figure it out and do the job, which by the way you’re not doing at the moment.’

Travis jaw clenched so hard he thought he might crush a molar. “I gotta fly blind in a place I don’t understand with a job no one can tell me about using a machine that no one will show me how to operate.”

‘That’s it in a nutshell.’ The letters spelled out on the wall in vivid yellow.

The Jiminy part 13

The view suddenly started jerking a little as the movement accelerated. the view leaped and hopped the counter, grabbing a plastic dispenser that had scratch and win tickets. This was smashed on the ground, the plastic shrapnel scattering far and wide as a slim hand in a black windbreaker scooped the tickets up and out of sight. The view spun and blurred, then sharpened as two figures with a heavy chain wrapped it around an ATM machine. The view spun back as cartons of cigarettes were grabbed and thrown towards the smashed door. The ATM suddenly disappeared, being dragged through the smashed door,and taking part of the frame with it on the way out. It appeared to ricochet off the cement posts in front of the door and was gone into the dark. Red lights flashed then turned left, followed by a shower of sparks. The view turned back again and two more cartons of cigarettes were ripped from storage behind the counter, and stuffed away into the windbreaker.

Then all action stopped. Bright lights flashed and the figure was backlit, the shadow had it’s hands on it’s head as a larger, and stockier figure moved in the background. The shadow shrunk and sharpened as it moved, then the other’s hands were pulled down, one at a time, and the view shook slightly as this happened. The view flashed forward to a courtroom made of green-gray linoleum floors, a raised floor with a metal desk with a thick wooden top, and brownish folding chairs all over the floor. There were six figures in orange jumpsuits, each with chains and a pair of officers flanking them. The view shifted up and there was moments of up and down motion, then the judge slapped the wooden mallet down. Fast forward again to ‘Dallas County Juvenile Detention’ in silver letters mounted on red brick. A fast forward once more to the room that the view started in, back at the exact moment the pullover tee-shirt nighty dropped onto the bed.

“So? What do I gotta do?” ‘……..’ sped across the screen. Travis felt like it was wiping a hand down a face, like he had no clue. Well, dammit, he didn’t have a clue. ‘After all this, you still haven’t got a clue, Jiminy?’ “Hell no, all I got is this weird ride through a screw-up’s life, and all this peepin’ on her doesn’t set well with me. Do I gotta watch her pee and take a shower too?” ‘No, you don’t.’ The view dimmed to the former flat grey wall. The wall stayed grey for a long time as Travis waited for an explanation. After what seemed like hours, the screen brightened. The scene in front of him wasn’t the bedroom any more.

The Jiminy part 12

Travis clamped his hands tight on the ski pole things as the room shifted. There was a sense of rolling over, and some kind of annoying pressure that rhythmically warbled along his skin. “The hell is that? Some kind of alarm?” ‘Got it in one, Jiminy. Are you certain you haven’t done this before?’ The lighthearted tone after all the agony of finding out about his death grated on Travis. It was kind of a minor thing, though as if the reaction was part of someone else’s life, or perhaps a memory of what he might have done, if he was still alive. Travis almost lost his grip on the poles as the lurching increased then the grey faded out as a new panorama presented itself. After the unrelenting grey, the bright light and colors came as a shock. There was a large, light blue box on the wall screen. It took a moment for Travis to realize he was looking at a low dresser. The white box on top of the dresser was an alarm. Its green numbers blinked off and on as the warbling sensation continued.

“Turn it off!” The shout was like an instinctive push against the sensation. to Travis surprise, a slim, brown arm reached out unsteadily and swatted clumsily at the alarm. He watched the fingers graze the alarm, half turning it, but not stopping the irritating sensation. There was another lurching sensation as the perspective changed. He was looking down now at the dresser. At the bottom of the screen’s display was a thin pink cloth laying atop a pair of tanned legs. The view shifted again as the screen narrowed focus to the alarm and slapped the top. The rhythmic pulse quit, and Travis breathed a sigh of relief. “So, now that happened, what’s next?” ‘You, Jiminy, get to figure that out on your own. Anything else would be coercion. It all has to be free choice.’ The letters were in black as they slid left to right across the view of a pink see-through nightie landing on a bed with white sheets and a pink blanket. Just past the low dresser was another bed, also with white sheets and a pink blanket. The lump under the covers moved slowly, then the sheets were pushed up and back.

The girl underneath had on a white knee length T-shirt with ‘I hate mornings’ written in block red letters, and a cup of coffee underneath. Her feet had rainbow socks on that were like neon colors next to her pale pink skin. a block object with a blinking green light was around her left ankle. What is that? Some kind of, oh yeah, I remember seeing that on a cop show, it’s an ankle bracelet with a tracker in it. the realization that the girl had one made Travis curious about his, her, it’s a her, not me, leg. ‘The boss has one too’ the screen scrolled in black block letters again. Great, so we’re in prison, or something like one. ‘Something like prison is a good guess’ came the blocky letters again. “So what are, uh, we, doing here?”

The sign waited for a moment before scrolling. ‘The best thing, now that you’re done freaking out, is to show you.’ The letters were rounded and green this time. Why does this feel like those shows when someone says, ‘hey it could be worse’, then it is. The screen greyed out, then cleared. A glass door appeared in the center of the view. His view enlarged as the girl approached the door, then a brick was thrown at the door. Glass cracked and spider-webbed, but didn’t fall, not until the brick was picked up and tossed again at the window, which shattered, the bits of glass falling to the pitted asphalt pavement. The room was dark as the view shifted inside. To the left, a counter with a cash register sat on top of a waist high counter that had a sign for lottery tickets on the front. The dim light from outside showed the top of the counter being yellow, with a red base.

The Jiminy part 11

Dead. I’m dead. No more work. No more beer nights. No waking up with Kimm….“Kimmy!” He looked at the wall from the floor, his face an agonized mask of loss. “Kimmy’s okay, right?” ‘She will be. Right now she is dealing with your death, and all the paperwork that you left for her,’ the wall printed in tall, light grey letters. “Can I see her?” Please, just let me see her so I know she’s okay. She stood by me when I needed it, and I just took it for granted. I am so sorry Kimmy. ‘You may not. You’re dead. She’s alive. She has a life to build over. You have a job to get to, Jiminy,’ the wall replied in soft, fuzzy looking blue letters.

Travis started to protest, but the feeling of the grey started to ripple along his skin, or whatever he thought of as his skin. The clammy sensation had him bolting to his feet, choking back a terrified scream.’I think you’ve wasted enough time, Jiminy. Get up on the platform and I will run you through the basics of your job for the boss.’ The mysterious printer, (Not sign. Travis he finally decided it was some guy on a computer controlling the screens, like that old movie with the man behind the curtain.)

In truth, he was kind of shocked that he was so calm after finding out he was dead and Kimmy was in pain from his dying. I still feel things, but it’s like it doesn’t feel real. Kimmy’s there, not here, I’m dead, and it’s like another day at the job. Am I losing it? It doesn’t make sense. Why am I not crying more over Kimmy. She needs me and I’d be frantic to see her. But now all I feel is regret, and a little sadness, but it’s fuzzy, like it ain’t real. And now I gotta go see a new boss, a girl boss? I’d be pitching a screaming fit I think if I was still alive. This all seems so distant.

Travis gave a resigned shrug and looked at the raised center of the room. “I go there, right. Fine.” he stepped onto the platform and put his hands around the ski-pole things and braced himself. Nothing happened. “Do I gotta turn it on?” ‘Wait for it,’ came the answer in a mischievous sky-blue lettering with a pink background. Okay, now that just sounded weird. Is this a practical joke or something? ‘Or something’ came the written reply slowly across the grey wall in tall green letters.