Monthly Archives: February 2010

Oh, Sublime! Oh, Gothic! Oh, New Mexico!

Sometimes, I find that my life is a little too cozy. Yesterday afternoon, I walked into my bedroom and was struck by the scene I witnessed there: brand new, gorgeous red and blue bedspread, gray tabby cat curled at the end of it, piles of clean, folded laundry, my net-book, and several books splayed out (in a manner that bothers my husband due to the damage it does to the spines) in a variety ranging from vile chick lit to 18th C Gothic.

Later, I complained to my husband about my unadventurous life. In characteristic fashion, he thought of the ideal solution. I could start a club on Facebook for those people who like to go out of their way to create their own adventures. For example, one member might create a situation in which she has to be rescued by a tall, dark, and handsome man. Oh, that would be easy, I thought. My husband is tall by local standards, plus he’s dark and handsome. I rose from where I’d been reclining, and I attempted a fake swoon so that my husband would have to rise from his chair to catch me. Instead, I literally tripped over my own feet, fell over, and whacked him on the cheek.

“What are you doing?” he demanded. “Why’d you just hit me?”

“I was hoping you would rescue me,” I meekly said.

“Oh, I see. So in the world of fiction, your adventurers’ club is not a drama, but a comedy. Perfect.” And he laughed.

Could it get any worse? Not only was my life cozy, but it was a cozy comedy. Obviously, I’d spent too much time reading this sort of literature, such that my life had begun to reflect it. Distraught, I drained a glass of wine and stumbled toward the door. I had to take a walk, yes—descend into town.

With the sun setting behind me, I was startled to realize that the view from the foothills made a perfect picturesque. In the distance was an image of a winding river, the mesas rising up behind them in the background, an ancient, crumbling adobe edifice set upon a hill in the middle ground, and a smudge of a red roof in the foreground.

Darkness descended as I zigzagged downward on the dirt road. In the darkness, the scenery both thrilled and frightened me. Shadows flitted before me, and the rising moon cast a strange light over the skeletal limbs of cacti, over the graveyard of cactus bones. The wind whipped something—a grocery bag caught on the cholla spines. It whipped with a ghostly noise.

Then, a very strange event occurred, in which I was transported back several years, and I found myself walking closer and closer to the river, and closer, indeed, to the old adobe house where I used to live. Above me, the sky clouded over; lightning cracked and thunder rolled. The ancient mission bells rang out the hour. From the mist that rose from the winding river, I suddenly spied a figure in a long gown gliding over the sand. She was wailing—it was La Llorona!

Quickly, I turned into the creaking gate of my house and swept under the boughs of the walnut tree. I desperately fiddled with the key in the old lock, as it stuck, and then finally, finally unlocked the door. Thrills of cold and terror filled my body from the dankness that crept up from the porch boards. It was nearly black around me, despite a few city lights and the faraway light of the half moon.

My front door creaked open; my shoes creaked over the floor boards, and then I saw it. A dark shadow sat on the couch in the darkness, and it seemed to be making a growling noise. My gaze darted desperately to the telephone on my desk, where the answering machine blinked madly! With a pounding heart, I leaped for the light switch, only to have the figure on the couch leap back at me with a jolt.

It was my husband, who had happily been snoring until I had woken him. He groaned. I walked over to the answering machine and pressed play: a gravely, thin female voice gasped, “Go not to San Miguel!”

“Why not?” I asked no one in particular. “The festival’s tonight.”

As though it would help me understand, I pushed the play button again. “Go no to San Miguel. . .” At the end, I caught a word I hadn’t heard the first time, a blurred word that sounded like “lest”. Lest I meet my doom?

My husband shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “I don’t know. Jannie called earlier and said something about her ex-boyfriend playing in the band.”

Jannie was my best friend, and her recent break-up with the alternate trombone player for Mariachi Malaise was legendary. “Oh, well, I’ll get on with dinner, then, since you clearly haven’t made it.”

“That would be nice. Thanks.”

In the kitchen, I began to peel the potatoes and boil water for coffee. Twenty minutes later, the windows were fogged, and the tea kettle was whistling merrily on the stove; the table was laid with a checked cloth and my cream-colored china. I sighed wistfully, my heart, my mind still energized from the sublimity of the journey that had taken me to this alternate reality—which just so happened to be as cozy as the one I had left behind. My tabby rubbed her head on my pants, and I comforted myself with the knowledge that, at least, La Llorona still roamed the river and through the streets, crying out for her lost children and snatching any others that remained outside after dark.

Wait a minute! Where were my children, and why wasn’t their dad watching them now that it was dark? Probably, they were still playing outside in the side yard . . .! Oh, terror gripped my soul!

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New Mexico Noir: Mrs. Garcia

Anthony’s office was a squat adobe edifice with a slanting porch and a yard full of weeds. Actually, it was the hovel Anthony currently called home. He had inherited it from his grandmother after she’d moved in with his parents in their upscale neighborhood; she’d apparently felt sorry for him after he’d lost his house in the divorce. That was the problem with New Mexico: the women felt sorry for their pathetic sons and grandsons.

He unlocked the house for me and explained that my job was to clean it up and turn it into an office. Without any further instructions, he turned around and fled the house, while mumbling something about cleaning up the yard. A moment later, I heard his truck rumble out of the drive.

I stood there, clutching my lunch bag and thermos of coffee, and surveyed Anthony’s inherited house. First sensation—cat piss assailed my nose. It was early in the day, so it wasn’t quite an oven, not yet, but it was unbearably stuffy. It was cluttered, too. Every surface was covered in the refuse of alcoholic bachelorhood. Anthony seemed to prefer Bud light as his main course, with Domino’s pizza as his appetizer.

I couldn’t work in a dark hovel, I decided, not one that smelled like cat piss. I walked around the house, yanking up sun-burnt mini blinds and opening windows. Then I poured myself a capful of coffee from my thermos. I would begin in the kitchen. I would not touch the rest of the house until Anthony either rented a high-powered steam cleaner or hired outside help to clean the carpets.

My curiosity took hold, though, and I couldn’t help wandering around and looking at the strange, tacked-on rooms with their creaking floor boards. It was clear where the original adobe house stood; there was an arched doorway from the living room leading into the kitchen that was about two-feet thick.

The floor dropped down about an inch from the kitchen into the living room, and, as I wandered down the hallway and into the bedrooms, I noticed several other distinctive shifts in the level of the floor. In fact, I felt for a crazy moment that I was in the crooked house where the crooked man lived, who had a crooked cat, or many crooked cats by the smell of it, not to mention a few crooked bed frames in otherwise empty bedrooms.

At the end of a turn in the hallway, I discovered Anthony’s domain. It was the one clean, orderly room in the house that didn’t smell like cats. His entire life appeared in the form of neatly stacked boxes pushed against one wall, all of his possessions hidden away.

“Ella?”

Startled, I spun around. They call them gumshoes for a reason.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I was looking for cleaning supplies.”

“Oh. Sorry about that. They’re in the bathroom, under the cupboard. Walt and I’ll be outside working on the yard. When you get this place cleaned up, you can help me go through files. I need to find what I’ve got on Demetria Gallina.”

“It’s going to take me awhile.”

“The faster we get an office set up, the better. Get what I’m saying?”

“I’ll do my best.”

Cleaning, to be perfectly honest, was not my favorite activity, especially when it was someone else’s filthy house. I lugged the cleaning supplies into the kitchen, anyway, and resigned myself. It was a job. I would get paid. And afterward, he would allow me to sort through his detective files. That sounded exciting. With gusto, I began to cram Anthony’s garbage into bags. I took a few sips of coffee; I crammed some more.

Then I found myself staring out the kitchen window at Anthony, who was in earnest conversation with a tiny, elderly woman wearing a flowery blouse similar to one I’d picked up at the Goodwill. It did not surprise me that my fashion sense inducted me into the octogenarian crowd. If I read my age backwards, I would be eighty-three. This octogenarian looked familiar to me, and I suspected we were already in the same crowd. It wouldn’t hurt if I went out for some fresh air, I told myself. It wasn’t as if Anthony and Walt were working.

I pried open the latch on the screen door and let it slam behind me, then took several gulps of fresh summer Albuquerque air that smelled like hot grease and weeds. I violently sneezed three times in a row. Apparently, Walt had attempted to cut down the overgrowth with a weed-wacker, but had given it up for a snooze in the paltry noon shade.

“Mrs. Garcia?” I called out.

“Oh, Bernadette’s daughter! Ella, is that you?”

“It is. How are you?”

“I can’t complain. How are your parents? Anthony, why didn’t you tell me it was Bernadette’s daughter working for you? You better treat her right.”

“I have every intention of paying her, if she ever does any work,” said Anthony.

“I was just telling Anthony I wanted him to catch the thief who keeps stealing my gardening tools. Maybe you can help him.”

“We could do a stake-out,” I said.

“That would be perfect. I think it’s my nephew, Herman. You know him, don’t you, Ella? He’s the one on the drugs.”

Anthony pulled off his Pete’s Construction cap, rolled the bill nervously until it formed an ‘O’, and replaced it on his head. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Garcia, I’ll take care of it. I’ll talk to Herman. You don’t want Ella to get mixed up with Herman’s friends, do you?”

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New Mexico Noir: Demetria

I think I was asleep when the sprinklers shot up and baptized the new morning of my new life. Anthony and I both sprang up; he stumbled to his truck, and I to my apartment without so much as a goodbye exchanged.

And then I slept. I slept for nearly twenty-four hours, shedding off all the years I had worked nights at Manuela’s. On the following morning, I rose early, just as Anthony had told me to do.

After showering, I stood naked and dripping in the early morning heat, and I wondered what exactly I should wear as a secretary to a PI. If my job really included cleaning his house, as he’d suggested, then I would have to wear jeans. So I dressed in jeans and a blue button down shirt and my favorite boots made of tooled Juarense leather that I’d driven all the way to El Paso to purchase. I made myself a few foil-wrapped burritos stuffed with eggs and cheese, a thermos full of coffee, and I was ready.

I looked at the clock. It was seven. Outside, the sky was still white-blue: the color of Anthony’s truck, actually, which was still absent from the lot. I yawned and found a paperback to read, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.

At eight, I splayed the book face down and checked my e-mails. At eight-thirty, I cleaned my kitchen. Finally, after I’d made my bed and scrubbed my shower and generally tidied up in a way that I hadn’t for weeks, I heard a knock at my door.

I opened it, and there stood Anthony and, by his side, a short, round man.

“This is my cousin, Walt. He’s going to be my partner.”

“I thought you worked alone,” I said.

He pushed past me into my postage-stamp living room. “You got wireless?”

“Uh, yes. Why?”

“I need to borrow it for a few minutes. I’m not connected right now.”

“Of course, a detective with no internet. Be my guest. Walt, why don’t you have a seat?”

“Smells like coffee in here,” said Anthony, as he settled himself and his laptop at my card table that served as dinette and desk in one. Walt sat across from him and helped himself to the internet on my laptop.

“Would you like some coffee?” I asked, ever the polite hostess, not to mention secretary.

They both nodded, their faces awash with computer glow.

“Cream and sugar?”

Again, they nodded their assent, and I filled three mugs from my thermos and set out the cream and sugar. I sat down to wait and drink my own cup of coffee.

A few minutes rapidly flew by, and Anthony was still tapping away on his keyboard. With the excuse of pouring myself a glass of water, I walked past him and peered over his shoulder to see that he was typing strings of HTML codes.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m building us a website to advertise that I’m back in business.”

Did he really say this was going to take a few minutes? A few hours would be closer to the truth. “Wow, that’s great, Anthony.”

“A la maquina!” He slapped his palms on the flimsy table, and the coffee sloshed over the sides of the cups. “Stupid thing’s not working right.”

I peered over his shoulder again. “You have an extra semi-colon, right there.”

He looked up at me, clearly impressed. “You want to clean up that coffee, before it ruins my laptop? And stop looking over my shoulder. It makes me nervous.”

“That’s what I’m here for.” I was used to cleaning up after people, anyway. Whether it was my purpose in my life was still up for question.

At noon, Anthony’s cell rang, and he pulled it from his hip pouch without bothering to look at the caller ID and threw it at me.

I almost ducked, but, at the last minute, changed my mind and caught the phone. I cleared my throat. “Anthony Carrillo detective agency, how may I direct your call?”

“Hellooo,” said a female with a Spanish accent that reminded me of Selma Hayek doing her best rendition of I am a gorgeous, sexy Latina. “I need to speak to Antonio.”

“May I ask who’s calling, please?”

“My name is of no consequence. He knows who I am.”

“Right, well, I’ll see if Antonio’s in his office. Please hold.” And I handed Anthony his cell phone.

“Take a message and tell them I’ll call back.”

“She says you’ll know who she is.”

Walt looked up for the first time. “It’s Demetria. Let me talk to her.”

“No, she called for me,” said Anthony.

Unfortunately, they both reached for the phone at the same time, and they knocked it from my hand. It hit the linoleum and bounced across the kitchen.

“Now neither of you will be talking to her. But, don’t worry, maybe she’ll call back.”

She didn’t. Five minutes later, I heard another knock at my door.

“Wait, don’t answer it,” Anthony said. “Look through the peephole first.”

“If you insist. It looks like an egg-headed woman with black hair and a red dress.”

“Demetria,” both men yelled, almost in unison.

At that, she flung open my door, which whacked me in the head. She crossed my threshold, her red stiletto heels catching on the matted carpeting.

“May I help you?” I asked.

She didn’t look at me. “You know why I am here, Antonio.”

“Not really, Demetria. Do you have an appointment? You can make an appointment with my secretary—over there, with Ella.”

“You have my money, and you have never solved my case. I trusted you.”

“And I, you, until I realized you were jerking me around. Plus, your money’s gone. You were the one who wanted me to fly to Mexico City. I should have charged you for my time, but I didn’t. So you can thank me.”

“Never. Not until you return to me my butterfly ruby, and you will. Because if you don’t, I will kill you.”

“That would be great if your ruby actually existed. Ella, make Mrs. Gallina an appointment.”

“Sure, in my appointment book, here,” I said, reaching for a spiral notebook. “It appears Mr.
Carrillo has a free spot at ten tomorrow morning.”

“That’s fine,” said Anthony, “but don’t show up here again. This is not my office.”

Mrs. Demetria Gallina smiled. “Don’t worry. I always know where to find you, Antonio.”

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New Mexico Noir: The Contract

Anthony lay inside the grassy courtyard of my apartment complex, his hands behind his head. I studied his face while draining my bottle of Bud light; I swished the amber bottle and held it up to the setting moon. I hated Bud light—seriously hated it. It was what New Mexicans drank, though, so how could I complain? Anthony had driven me home in his old Ford truck, stopping at the nearest convenience store for a six-pack. At least he hadn’t purchased an entire case.

I stuck the empty bottle back into its cardboard sleeve and reached for another. “Are you related to the Carrillo family in Los Lunas?”

“No, are you?”

I choked a little on my beer. “Do I look like I am?”

“They have a few gueros in that family. There’s Aunt Lydia’s guerita daughter. She has green eyes and blonde her, exactly like yours.”

“My eyes are dirt brown about like yours, Anthony. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want to admit it, either. I’m always denying my relations.”

Anthony’s dirt-colored eyes were half-closed under heavy lids, the sleepy eyes of the Carrillos with the familial mono-brow like a widow’s peak arching below his forehead. It looked better on him than on his Aunt Lydia. There were two sides to the Carrillos: the educated, upstanding-citizen half, and the drug-dealing low-lives that dwelled in Los Lunas.

“My family lives in Sandia Heights,” he said.

“Right.” If that was true, then he was definitely an upscale Carrillo. “And you want me to work for you—why?”

“You’re Bernadette’s daughter.”

I couldn’t deny it, and it didn’t surprise me that he knew my mother. Most people did. My stomach felt achy, and I wasn’t certain whether it was from the beer, or from thinking about my mom. I laid my head in the grass near his and wrapped my arms over my abdomen.

He rolled onto his side and looked at me with those sleepy eyes. “And I went to high school with your brother.”

“What did you do to get into the military academy?”

“I set off a bomb in my friend’s locker.”

Ah, that Anthony Carrillo. Even after twenty years, I still remembered the news stories intimating that sixteen-year-old Anthony was little better than a deranged terrorist who had diabolically plotted to blow up the whole school, if not the whole city.

“So was it an accident, or did you do it on purpose?”

“I said it then, and I’ll say it now. It was my project for the science Olympiad. I was storing it in my friend’s locker because there wasn’t room in mine.”

“You don’t have to convince me. Would I actually be a detective if I worked for you?”

Anthony snorted as though he were disgusted with me. “I work alone, except for a secretary, oh, and the partner I used to have. I had a secretary, an office, and a partner. I had a wife, too. Now, I have nothing, and I need a woman to straighten out my life for me.”

“You want the last beer?”

He flipped off the cap and tossed it into the grass, now littered with six such red coins. “I need a woman to clean my house, then my office. Oh, and answer the phone.”

“I could do all that, as long as you have the money to pay me. I don’t want to lose all of this luxury, you know.” At least it seemed luxurious from the vantage point of the meticulous courtyard surrounded by its wrought iron gate, erected to keep out the world of University Blvd. Inside my apartment was the usual one-bedroom with dirty, mottled-blue carpeting alongside a square of cracked yellow linoleum that pretended to be a kitchen and dining room in one. It was all I had, though.

“We’ll keep it on the down-low, under the table. Get what I’m saying?”

“Sure. As long as you keep me off the streets. Oh, and, by the way, can I ask you why you don’t have a secretary, partner, or wife anymore? Is it because you’re an alcoholic?”

“Well, yeah, sure I’m an alcoholic, but that’s not why my wife left me.”

“Yes?”

“The life of the detective isn’t good for a marriage. I knew it was over when I called her from a week long trip in Santa Fe, and she told me she didn’t have a husband and didn’t know who the hell I was. And then my partner ran away with my secretary, and I started drinking, and the law offices I worked for fired me.”

I couldn’t help it; I had to laugh. I masked it with a cough, though—such a typical subterfuge. It was a sad story, really sad.

“Are you mocking my pain?”

“No, I would never do that. I shouldn’t say this, I know I shouldn’t, but you sound like you were a character written by Dashiell Hammett.”

“I’m the real deal, Chiquita. So do you want to work for me, or not?”

“Yes.”

With that, he reached over to clink my bottle of Bud with his. Mine being empty, it fell over. “So, that didn’t work. Let’s shake on it, instead.”

I should have thought twice, I guess, about making such a pact with Anthony Carrillo. His hand was hot, and I could feel his alcoholic tremor. There was something about him, though, something about his eyes that attracted me.

“Is your office near a bus stop? Because my car’s broken.”

“I’ll pick you up in the morning—early, so be prepared.”

“It’s already early in the morning.”

He groaned, rolled onto his back, and rubbed his eyes. “I need to sleep. Tomorrow morning.” And he promptly began to snore.

I wondered what management would think of an alcoholic sleeping it off inside their gated courtyard. In about an hour, though, the lawn sprinklers would automatically shoot up and thoroughly souse him. Meanwhile, I relaxed into the coarse buffalo grass and let my mind drift into the white-dawn sky.

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Flash Fiction: short advert, plus a new exciting story!

When I first invited others to share their short fiction with me, I imagined posting one or two of my own short stories per week, along with several other pieces not written by me. I imagined a flash fiction community. That’s what I wanted, anyway. I can’t exactly complain at the lack of a thriving community, however, since I’ve been remiss in posting my own work. I have posted only one of my own stories on this blog, Murphy’s Law; and just one on my other blog, Oh, Sublime! Oh, Gothic! Oh, New Mexico! I might have posted others, but alas, if I have, I’ve forgotten about them.

Why might others want to submit writing to my blog? If you’re a writer and don’t desire to post fiction on your own blog, or don’t want the responsibility of maintaining a blog at all, then this is the place for you. At this point, I’ll tentatively post flash fiction on Tuesdays and keep Fridays open for my New Mexico Noir serial novel.

Now it’s time to move on to the story. I want to thank Robert Stubblefield for submitting two stories. Robert is a writer and photographer living in Auckland, New Zealand, and has his own flash fiction blog, Tales From a Godless Monkey. Today, I’ll post his story, My Encounter with Albert:

It has long been a habit of mine to take solitary walks in a wooded area near my home. I find that it clears my mind of the daily clutter and invigorates me.

It was on such a walk not long ago that I saw a man sitting on a bench. He was leaning forward bent over his cane. He was dressed in tweeds and sported a nautical fob at the end of a braided gold chain that disappeared into his vest. All this topped with a most admirable fedora complete with silk band and feather.

As I approached he seemed to take no notice of me and I heard him talking in a low voice and glancing to one side as though in conversation with someone. I sat down at a discreet distance and listened. It’s not my habit to intrude but I was so struck by the scene it seemed the thing to do.

“Aye, William, that was a fine mess we were in then, wasn’t it?”

He chuckled and seemed to be listening. At intervals he nodded his head.

“We were always up for it, weren’t we? Sometimes I wonder that we got away with the things we did. Would but that we could do it all again, eh?”

This went on for several minutes as I sat and looked about discretely. At last he glanced in my direction and cocked one eye. I smiled and said hello but he seemed disinclined to acknowledge me and looked down at the ground.

I thought perhaps I should leave but he began his peculiar conversation again and I felt compelled to remain.

“Yes, William, it was indeed a fierce one. We gave as good as we got, and all the better for that.”

This went on for several more minutes until finally he took one hand off his cane and balled it up and shook it at the ether. As I was contemplating what it might all be about I saw a solitary tear run down his cheek and he sobbed quietly.

Taken aback I wondered if I shouldn’t take my leave discreetly but he turned to me and nodded his head. I took that as a sign he was in need of companionship and moved closer.

“My name is Charles. I’m sorry if I’m intruding, but I noticed you talking as I came along the path. I hope you don’t mind, I mean no offence.”

He shook his head slowly but wouldn’t meet my eyes.

“Albert. Albert Hawley. Not in the least, young man. You live hereabouts, do you?”

“Yes, just over the hill a ways. I often walk here, though I’ve never seen you before.”

“No. No, you wouldn’t at that. Never mind. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

He offered his gnarled hand and we shook.

“Might I enquire…”

“I was doing what foolish old men are prone to do, I’m afraid. I was reminiscing about things long past. The war actually, you see. I had a mate was stationed with me. He was killed at the Battle of Okinawa. I miss him to this day.”

“Oh, I see. I’m sorry for your loss.”

I didn’t know what else to say but immediately felt foolish just the same. We talked a bit longer and then he rose slowly and tipped his fedora.

“Young man, do not be influenced by the actions of a doddering old fool. I don’t know what you do with your time in the main, though walking in the woods is always a good thing, but I’ll leave you with this thought for your kindness in stopping to be with me. Do not burden yourself with regrets. Live every moment as though it were your last and always go first in the world. Fear is your only true enemy. I wish you well.”

With that he turned and headed down the path and I for my part felt a small blessing had been bestowed on me by the enigma that is the universe.

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