Apartment #404 Error

Toni stepped back out into the hall to double check the number on the door. She shook her head. Of course it was her apartment. Her key would not have worked if it wasn’t.

“Oh, there you are! This cake is fantastic, honey, you want some?”

An older woman and man were sitting comfortably on Toni’s couch. The woman had a wide, warm smile. The man, with an equally pleasant smile, placed his empty plate on the coffee table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Darn good!” he replied.

Wildly confused, Toni looked down the hallway to the apartment building exit, contemplating if she should make a run for it. She looked back at the couple in her apartment. The woman was standing now, holding out a plate with a piece of cake.

“Well, come on in, honey!,” the woman said. “Look! I got us some cake. Have a piece!”

Toni walked cautiously into her living room, leaving her front door wide open as a precaution and clutching her purse and coat against her chest as if it was armor.

The man asked, “Have a good day?”

“Uh, can I…”

The woman stepped toward Toni with the slice of cake. Toni back up a couple of steps, waving the woman off.

“No, I don’t…”

“Oh, come on, now, don’t be like that. Have a piece! We got it from the bakery you told us all about,” the woman said.

Toni thrust her hand out to stop the woman’s further approach. “Excuse me, but…what…how the hell did you get into my place?!”

The man huffed, “Well, you didn’t leave us a key, so what’ya think? We had to find the manager!”

“What? He just let you in?!”

Toni took out her phone and dialed the building manager, retreating back into the hallway to wait for him to answer her call.

The man and woman exchanged disbelieving looks. The woman walked into the kitchen. Toni heard her throw the plate with the slice of cake she had been holding into the sink. The woman came back out, and in a low, angry tone that sounded almost like a growl announced to the man that they were leaving. The man shot Toni a look, which she thought seemed strangely sad.

The man and woman left the apartment, slamming the apartment door behind then and aggressively brushing past Toni where she stood in hall. As they cleared the apartment building exit, Toni heard the woman curse a blue streak.

Toni’s call to the building manager went to voicemail. She sent a text instead, trembling as she keyed in her message. She then went back into her apartment and started to go through all her belongings to see if anything was missing. Maybe the man and woman were burglars. A sweet old couple like them? The manager would never suspect them of being anything other than her parents, or an aunt and uncle.

A couple of hours later Toni overheard her neighbor talking in the hallway to another resident.

“John finally found his grandparents at a hotel downtown. They said I threw them out! I was so confused, like, how could I throw them out when I hadn’t even seen them!”

“But you left them a key under your mat, right?” replied the other.

“They said they didn’t find the key and so they had to get the manager to let them in.”

“Have you talked to the manager?”

“No, he hasn’t returned my calls. God, they are so pissed. Now they won’t even answer the phone. John’s gone to the hotel to talk to them. It’s just so screwed up!”

Toni shyly opened her door and approached her fellow tenants. “Sorry, um,” she began, and then gave out a little laugh. “Hi. I’m Toni. Yeah, uh, I think I know what happened.”


In response to TBP Redux #14

The Blog Propellant Redux #14

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need! Every so often, I repost former TBP prompts.

Write a post! Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share. Anytime! Respond now, or come back to this prompt when it suits. “The door is always open.”

This week’s prompt: It’s an oldy, but a goody from ye ole WordPress Daily Prompt files.

You walk into your home and find two people you don’t know eating cake. What happens next?

***

Care to play a game?

The OLWG #193 prompts are:

just shallow socializing

and then I heard this …

she’s already cooler than me

The following two stories have all three of the above prompts, but they are not literally spelled out. Can you spot them? Give it a try!


Good Fences

Lee Radcliff continued to work in silence for the better part of ten or fifteen minutes, fully aware he was being watched as he weeded his flowerbed. Lee knew who was watching him and he did everything possible to point his attention in the opposite direction.

“Mither Ra-ciff?

The meek four year-old voice was far enough away that he could justify not hearing the little girl call out his name.

“Mither Ra-ciff? ‘cue me Mither Ra-ciff?”

Please kid, Lee thought, go away.

“Lee!”

Lee looked up to his wife Marianne standing in their door. She nodded toward the little girl. Lee turned around to see their neighbor’s youngest child Jenny standing as she usually did on her side of the low chain link fence with her fingers twisted around the thin metal and her face pressed hard against it.

“Little Jenny, don’t do that,” Lee grumbled. “You’ll get a mark on your face.”

Jenny pulled back from the fence as Marianne made her way across the yard.

“Where’s your mommy today honey? Is your daddy home?”

“No,” Jenny said, then offered, “Daryl went to Mickey’th.”

“Who’s Mickey, honey?” Marianne asked.

That poor, damn kid, Lee thought. He shook his head and went back to weeding.

Marianne asked again, “Jenny, sweetie, who’s Mickey?”

“Daryl’th friend.”

“Does Mickey live nearby?”

Jenny shrugged a quick, sharp, sort of spasm with her shoulders.

“Sweetie,” Marianne continued, “Where’s your mommy?”

“She went to work.”

“OK, your brother is at Mickey’s, whoever that is, and daddy? Where’s daddy?”

Jenny nodded her head, up and down repeatedly, like a horse frustrated with its bit, followed by her little spastic shoulder shrug, and then the two together, then finally replied, “Daddy’ thleep.”

“Well, then, hm.” Marianne turned to wage Lee’s response, but he was ignoring the conversation.

“Why don’t you come on over here, honey.” Marianne gestured toward the gate of Jenny’s yard with a sweep sweeping her arm over the sidewalk, and then circling her wrist as if waiving Jenny in. “C’mon. You come spend the day with me and Mr. Radcliff.”

Lee shot a scowling look at his wife. It was difficult to get anything done with the kid underfoot. Lee decided it was high time he had some words with Jenny’s folks. That poor damn kid.

Marianne walked up to Lee with Jenny in hand. Lee dropped his head to his chest in frustration and defeat.

“Let me finish in the yard,” he pleaded, “and then some lunch, and I’ll set up the train, OK?” he said.

Marianne smiled and Jenny jumped up and down, squealing, “Train!! Train!!”


When I’m 64

At sixty-four, Ken knew he was fortunate. He was, for the most part, in good health, comfortable, and though he never pictured himself single, and living in a small town in the mountains, he knew he shouldn’t have any complaints about his lot in life. He had several good friends and plenty of work as the town’s only general contractor. So, as long as his the old bod’ could hack it, he’d keep building homes, mending roofs, remodeling kitchens and live out his days where he was.

Ken had not always been a bachelor. He had two ex-wives. No children, hence, the two ex-wives. His first wife, Marcie, was actually the one to say she didn’t want children. Ken knew she was perfect for him. But, two years later, over dinner one night, she announced she had a change of heart. She filed for divorce the next day. Losing Marcie was a hurt that never did heal.

Abigail, his second wife, figured Ken was just a typical guy afraid of kids. She was sure that, once she was pregnant, he’d be OK with being a father. Ken cared about Abigail enough to agree to think about it, meaning, he would think about getting a vasectomy. She was gone as soon as Abigail landed a lover who, when learning she was having his baby, promised to marry her (and believe me, she tried her luck with more than a couple of men).

Ken quit his job as a foreman shortly after Abigail left. He moved to the small town in the mountains and hung his shingle out as a general contractor. Here, he could not only start over, he was far away from his failed marriages and the rest of his disappointed family. It was a fresh start with new people who knew nothing about him, and time to rethink his prospects.

That was almost 30 years ago.

“Hey, Ken!” John Capshaw called out when Ken came through John’s hardware and feed store door. “You made it in, and in one piece!”

“It’s not as bad as the last couple of years. Even found a place to park.”

John finished ringing up a line of people purchasing various Christmas decorations and supplies. He thanked the last of them as they left and then went looking for Ken, who was contemplating items in the plumbing aisle.

“This town during the holidays, I tell ya. Man! Anything I can help with today?”

“Don’t think so my friend. Just making mental notes. I promised the Fairchilds I’d do some work on their place. You know Don’s still laid up.”

“No, didn’t know. Figured he’d be up at back at it by now.”

“He’s had some complications. Not sure what, but Alice called last week and asked if I’d see to a few things around the place while he’s recovering. Their bathroom’s in pretty poor shape.” Ken placed a hand on John’s shoulder, “You have a good Thanksgiving?”

“Oh, sure. Always good to have the family around. Too much food, as always, but you get my grandmother and Carol in the same kitchen? It’s gonna be a cook-off!” John patted his stomach. “You go to your sister’s this year?”

“No. If I’m going to sit around with nothing better to do than watch the game, I might as well stay home. I’ll see her in summer.”

Ken selected a couple of pipes and fittings from the shelf and followed John up to the register. “And a bag of popcorn, and that’ll do it.”

His purchase tucked under his arm, Ken walked slowly back to his truck, munching on his popcorn while taking in the spectacle the little town’s business district magically transformed into a scene from a Christmas card. The merchants and Street Department colluded each year to wait until fairly late in the evening on Thanksgiving to completely decorate the stores and streets. Locals and visitors alike stream in the following day to see the decorations with the same excitement they had as children when they rushed from their beds to see what Santa Claus silently slipped in their stockings the night before. The town would be jammed with people from now through the first of January.

Ken’s phone chirped. He looked to see who it was before answering. It was his sister. He took in a sharp breath and answered the call.

“Hey Tina.”

“Hey yourself!”

“What’s up?”

“What’s up? It’s Thanksgiving! I meant to call, but things are just crazy here. Donovan and Cheryl’s baby was not having a good time of it, and, well, you know…crazy! I’m sorry I didn’t call yesterday. What’d you do?”

Tina was an affable, warm hearted woman. Ken’s senior by eight years, Tina looked very much like their mother. So much so, it sometimes gave Ken a bit of a start. Their mother died when Ken was nineteen and during those first years after her death, Ken looked to Tina more as a parent than a sibling. Tina never quite kicked the habit of playing the parent ever since.

 “Did you go somewhere? Thanksgiving with friends? Anything?” Tina proded.

“I was at the Lutheran church for a couple hours in the afternoon. Helped them clean up after their annual community turkey feed. They sent me home with leftovers and I watched football the rest of the night.”

Ken and Tina finished their call with Ken promising to consider Tina’s invitation to come to her place for a visit sometime between Christmas and New Year’s. He climbed into his truck and drove home.

For a long while Ken stood on his back porch and watched as the afternoon wane into twilight. The temperature made a sharp drop, but Ken did not move to get a coat. He was too deep in thought to take much notice.

It was always the holidays that made the bachelor life rub him a little the wrong way. From time to time over the years he would think about pursuing something with one woman or the other he met along the way, but inevitably ruled out the idea. But each year with the advent of the holiday season came the keen reminder of how lonely he truly felt.

As the twilight gave way to nightfall, Ken could barely make out the black silhouette of an owl, the female who nested somewhere nearby, slowly sweeping by, on her way to her favorite perch in the tree next to his house. Ken marveled at the grace of her flight, and grateful for her company.

The New Blog Propellant Prompt #4

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need! I have re-posted several previous prompts, but from time to time, I’ll post a new one.

Write a post: Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share.

This week’s prompt:

“Inspiration,” in English has had the meaning “the drawing of air into the lungs” since the middle of the 16th century. This breathing sense is still in common use among doctors, as is “expiration”…However, before “inspiration” was used to refer to breath it had a distinctly theological meaning in English, referring to a divine influence upon a person. The sense of inspiration often found today (“someone or something that inspires”) is considerably newer than either of these two senses, dating from the 19th century. (from Merriam-Webster.com)


Little TBP Guy’s big brother

The Blog Propellant Redux #13

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need! Every so often, I repost former TBP prompts.

Write a post! Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share. Anytime! Respond now, or come back to this prompt when it suits. “The door is always open.”

This week’s prompt: I have a friend who genuinely loves their work as a bookkeeper. I can’t think of anything more tedious. What is it about an occupation or leisurely pastime that others misunderstand? What are assumptions others hold? How are they inaccurate? What would others find a happy surprise about an otherwise dull occupation or pastime?

***

Mack and Officer Dink

worms eyeview photography of coconut trees

Mack woke to the sound of waves gently rolling onto the beach. The sand was cool and damp, and the air was still. The morning’s sunlight penetrated his eyelids, but he was not ready to open them. Sunburned and hungover, he had no desire to leave his darkened cave of sleep to face whatever carried over from the antics of the night before.

“Hello sir. Time to get up. C’mon.”

The voice startled him, and he sat up. He had to shade his eyes from the sun that was now high in the sky. The person who spoke was uniformed police. Mack looked around, surprised to be on a beach he did not recognize.

“Are you Mack Steadman?” the officer asked. Mack nodded.

“C’mon. Get up.”

“Am I…” Mack gagged on his dry mouth and coughed. The officer handed him a bottle of water. Mack nodded his thanks and gulped down the entire thing.

“OK, I’m taking you to the station. We’ll have your wife come get you there,” the officer held up his phone. “Smile!”

“Rather you didn’t do that,” Mack said.

The officer smiled. “I’m sure you don’t. I have to send it to your wife so she can confirm it’s you, though from the picture she gave us, I’m not sure she’s going to recognize you.”

Mack dropped his head in humiliation. The sudden change in posture threw off his balance and he stumbled.

“Whoa, there, big guy.” The officer reached out to keep Mack from falling down.

 “How’d you find me, anyway? I don’t even know where I am.”

“Oh, I’ve been with this precinct for many years. When we get a call from a frantic wife, girlfriend or parent, all we have to do is look at the incidents and complaints filed the night before, check in with the beat cops along the boardwalk and follow the trail from there.”

The officer’s phone beeped. “OK, your wife confirmed its you. Let’s go. You got shoes?”

Mack looked down at his bare feet. “I, uh, did…”

“Nevermind. I keep flip-flops in the trunk. Don’t suppose you got your I.D. on you.”

Mack patted himself down and shook his head.

“Well, not surprising. We’ll take care of reporting your wallet stolen when we get there.”

The two men walked off the beach to the promenade. Mack was aware of the dirty looks he was getting from the people they passed.

“Probably should get you cleaned up. Beach shower is just over there,” the officer pointed to a drab cinder block structure a few feet away. “Don’t want to have to clean all that sand out of my cab. Make you a little more presentable for the wife.”

“Officer, it won’t make a difference, but I certainly appreciate you being a good guy about all this. A fair dinkum cop is not something I deserve.”

The officer let out a laugh. “That’s not what people typically say to me when I tell ‘em I have to bring ‘em in.”

“Hey, um, mind if I ask if there were any other, what’d you call them, frantic phone calls, yesterday, about anyone else?”

“No. Why?”

“I’m wondering where my friends got to.”

“Oh, I’m guessing they managed to make it back to their hotels, Mr. Steadman.”


Prompts from UnOLWG this week are: Sunburned and hungover; fair dinkum; smiling cameras.

Always comes up with stuff I have to look up! Thanks for intro to “fair dinkum”.

The New Blog Propellant Prompt #3

I used to maintain a writing prompt blog called The Blog Propellent. It was a lot of fun and these days, fun is what we need! I have re-posted several previous prompts, but from time to time, I’ll post a new one.

Write a post: Fiction, poetry, even a true story based on the following prompt. When you are done, include the URL address of this post in your post. Simple! All those who read this post will have a link to your post, and all those who read your post will have a link this one. More readers = more followers (so they say). Regardless, it is fun to share.

This week’s prompt:

Make of, or do with the following narrative what you will:

I remember the first time I heard Kenny G. We had MTV playing in the background while we puttered around, separately doing whatever it was we were doing, when this soft, melodic, soprano saxophone came wafting through the house. We simultaneously emerged from wherever we individually were, drawn to what this completely bizarre/not MTV sound was. The two of us stood dumbfounded, listening and watching ‘Songbird’ video.

“What the f….was that?” my husband said with a loud laugh when it ended.

little tpb guy logo
I was aged about seven years
The first time that I flew
I strapped a rocket on my back
And the next thing that I knew I
could touch the clouds.

As I lifted off, went airborne
As I soared into the sky
I knew then what a junkie feels
For truly hooked was I I could touch the clouds.

The other lads played baseball
But me, I never did
I perfected my propellants
And left contrails overhead
I could touch the clouds.

I’m older now, still flyin’
Sometimes every day
I’ve got a gig with TBP
And you know what they say,
“He can touch the clouds.”

In the time I have been doing this,
Working for Ms Rose,
I’ve inspired poetry
I’ve inspired prose
I’ve inspired writers
To raise their voices loud
Meanwhile I’m doing what I love
Each day I touch the clouds.
(by Thom Kerr)

The COVID Shag

Shawna frowned at her beaming husband, Carter.

“I actually got used to you with long hair.”

“Really? I thought you hated the COVID shag look. I sure did.”

“No, I said I don’t like it on me.”

“Oh. I love your hair long.”

“It itches my neck. Can’t wait to cut it.”

“But, you are waiting.”

“I’m waiting until I get vaccinated.”

“Why? If it’s bugging you, get it cut.”

“Why can’t I just do what I want, how I want, hm? You wanted to get yours cut, fine. I don’t. Not yet.”

“You going to cut it short, like always?”

“Like I said, I don’t like long hair on me.”

“I do.”

“Well, I liked you with longer hair, but you didn’t ask me.”

Shawna and Carter stared at each other, unsure what the next move should be. If there is one thing this year cooped up together demonstrated, it’s that it is best to just let the conversation freely wander around the trivial things, rather than piling them up into burning pyres of marital discontent.

“Why’d you like my hair longer?” Carter asked.

Shawna shrugged. “Oh, I guess it made you look… I don’t know… not exactly sexy, but, yeah. Sexy. Sexier.”

“Huh.”

“Not so buttoned-up, I guess.”

“Huh.”

“Why do you like me with long hair?”

Carter took a moment before replying. “This’ll sound weird because you’ve always had short hair. But, it makes you look… more feminine.”

“How’s that weird?”

“Well, because… OK. I’ve always thought that you’re pretty, right? Long hair makes you… different pretty.”

“Different pretty.”

Carter smiled, “Yeah, whatever that means.”

“So, you’d like me to be different.”

“No, that’s not what I said.”

“Do you want someone different?”

“Shawna, please don’t do this. We agreed. I love you just the way you are. I don’t care if your hair is short. I just happen to really like it long. That’s it. I don’t want someone different. Please, please, don’t do this.”

Shawna gave Carter a quick hug around the waist, then walked out of the room. Carter sighed. It was going to be another one of her sulky days.


The haircut prompt made me laugh. All three prompts this week are: Let it wander around; Burning pyres; I don’t like your haircut

The House of Magic Products

I did it! I got all 15 of the recent Un-OLWG prompts in one post…and, I wrote it on the fly! Me so proud. The prompts are in bold. Easier to spot that way when there are so many. A few are tweaked to better fit the story. And, the story? It is inspired by a true event! Not something I typically do.

“This is the oldest district of Chinatown,” Brent announced to the group of twenty or so people who signed up for the walking tour of downtown. He smiled a grin so wide, it exposed almost all of his teeth. The people gathered looked at him in anticipation, as if he was about to deliver a punch line.

Brent was an unlikely Chinatown tour guide. A thirty-two year-old Irishman (regardless his grandmother’s protestation that the family was English) and community college basketball coach (a job that supported his fanciful dream of one day being a celebrated poet) who would be taken for an authority on nothing other than what was important to the average millennial. He walked the group a few blocks, making casual conversation along the way, before beginning his presentation. He stopped on the corner of Jackson and 4th.

“Now, most who write about Chinatown dismiss these four blocks north of Juniper Park as your classic red-light district, with girls loitering on street corners lit by neon restaurant signs, opium dens, and drug lords infamous for shooting their victims between the eyes, stripping them naked and burying them in vats of grease. That sold a lot of Hollywood movies and mystery novels over the years, but it’s a little too retro and cliche characterization, in my opinion. Not surprisingly, too, it’s inaccurate.

“What you actually have here are no less than ten different association houses, just in this area. An association house is an integral part of most Chinatowns around the world. It was a place of refuge, business, and, in a way, governance. When you lived in a world that shuts you out, or exploits you, the association house was your lifeline, and definitely a fairer arbiter than City Hall.”

A hand came up from the group. “But, there was crime, wasn’t there? It isn’t all B.S.” The question was inevitable on almost every tour Brent led.

“Yes, yes. Of course. No society or culture is without their share of crime. They did traffic in illegal goods and services, and fights would erupt, typically out in the street between two rival gin joints, but mostly, they did everything else right by their community. They provided housing, employment, temples for worship, schools, legal representation, traditional medicine as well as western health clinics and hospitals, excetera, excetera.

“Any questions? No? OK, let’s walk to the next spot.”

Brent led them through a narrow, perfectly kept alley, complete with a public art installation that looked like hundreds of large, colorful kites sailing above them. One of the cables anchoring the installation in place had come loose and was dangling enticingly close overhead. A couple of teenagers in the group jumped to try and grab it.

Leave it alone,” a woman, presumably their mother, hissed. “Show some respect!”

Brent ignored the comotion. He thought the tour guides who scolded people in their group, or barked orders, took all the fun out of it for the others. He simply pressed on, which tended to keep everyone on task to reach their next destination. He stopped in front of an old brick building and waited for everyone to catch up.

“We are standing in front of one of the last fully operational association houses. Up there,” Brent pointed to a brightly painted and decorated balcony three floors up, “written in character, of course, is the phrase, ‘The wind carries both good and bad to your door.’ It’s a sort of motto of this family association. I think it was, well, actually, still is meant as a warning that bad behavior is not tolerated here, and that only those pure of heart may enter.

“Travelers, visitors, new immigrants, upon reading that slogan, would know exactly which family association house this was. If you were of the same family, or had ties to the family name, then this was an appropriate house for you to find a bed for the night, something to eat, assistance, guidance, whatever your need.”

“What does that say?” asked a man holding a camera with a long telephoto lens and pointing to the terracotta archway over the main doors. Brent wasn’t sure what the man was indicating, until he stepped closer to the entrance and took a close look. He had not noticed the characters before. They were very small. So, unless, like the man with a telephoto lens, you had some sort of magnification, you would miss them entirely. The little bit of study Brent had made of Mandarin in college and in the years since helped him decipher the translation. But as he worked out the words, the thought came to him that it might be Japanese.

He stepped back to take in the building. The storefronts and businesses had signs in Mandarin, but he noted the building was just a block off of the predominantly Japanese neighborhood that stretched westward up the hill toward Little Saigon, something he had not taken into consideration before.

“Well, my friend,” Brent said to the man, “you managed to show me something I’ve never noticed!” The group chuckled. A woman said in a low voice to her companion, ‘thinks he’s such an expert…’ As with the comotion with the teenagers, Brent ignored the comment.

“What I can tell you is it says something to the effect, ‘Don’t pray for me, pray for them’, but what is fascinating is that I believe it’s in Japanese.”

The group stared at their tour guide, awaiting explanation. Brent flashed his big smile. “Not surprising. I mean, I will have to check out the ownership records to be sure, but we are on the border of the neighborhood that’s historically Japanese, so it’s possible a Japanese family or company owned the building at some point. Anyway…if you are interested, give me your email or number and I’ll let you know when I find out!”

At just that moment, Brent’s phone text beeped. He looked at it, but he didn’t need to. He knew it was the visitor’s center with a reminder that it was time to escort a tour back to Juniper Park.

“Sorry, folks, that text means we’re out of time! Before we head back, I want to thank you for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the tour and maybe learned something you didn’t know before. In conclusion, I wish all of you safe and happy travels, and encourage you to patronize any of the shops we pass by on our way back. My favorite is the little novelty shop across the street.”

Magic Products? What a weird name for a store,” the same snarky woman from before said. “Sounds like a snake oil sales pitch, if you ask me.”

“A literal translation of ‘Magic Shop’. Come on!,” Brent encouraged, “I’ll show you. It’s a great place!”