Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part Three)

Start here if you’re new to Mitsy: Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part One)

Then here: Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part Two)

Audiophiles, here’s Part Three audio for your listening pleasure:

“We’re okay, we’re okay,” Mitsy tried to say, but it came out “whee kay” with the shotgun pressed under her chin. Link was staring at her, panting inside his birdcage, searching her eyes for what? Zippers? Mitsy felt, for the first time, very out of control. This wasn’t a nasty escrow situation, there was no contract to enforce. There was a crazy dude with a shotgun and he currently held all the cards. Her eyes, already irritated from trying to rip her eyelids off, filled with tears that spilled down her cheeks.

Link yelled a startled “Gah!” and moved back a step, taking his shotgun barrel with him. He seemed to be holding his breath. A few more steps and he was brave enough to open his mouth. “Is that acid? What is that??? Stop doing that!”

Mitsy sniffed loudly and blinked the last two giant tears out of her eyes. This guy was afraid of his own shadow. She was afraid of his shadow, too, maybe he’d think it was after him and start something else. She blew out a big breath and tried to calm down. Having the shotgun barrel somewhere other than her chin helped tremendously. Mitsy was going to pretend he was a seller with a rotten roof and convince him that replacing it was his own idea.

“Alright. You got me,” she said, barely a hint of tremor in her voice. She folded her shaking hands on her lap. No point reminding him they were free. She forced a rueful chuckle. “I told them you’d never fall for it, but they underestimated you, didn’t they?”

Link stood up a little straighter, some of the fear leaving his face. “Damn right. All those black helicopters flying over, and I’m supposed to think you showing up is just a coincidence? After what happened on Tuesday?”

“Why don’t you tell me about Tuesday?”

“Yeah, right, like they don’t just download all that.” He rolled his eyes inside his wire cage. “You people were flying overhead in circles all damn day, taking pictures and using your mind beams. It didn’t work, though, ‘cause I stayed inside the Cocoon. I’ve been up every minute since then, watching, and here you are.”

Mitsy blanched. It was Friday afternoon. The man hadn’t slept for three days? Not that he was going to be safe and predictable normally, but this was not good.

“The Cocoon?” she asked.

“You don’t need to know about that!” Link was getting agitated again.

“We apologize for that,” she soothed. “I’m actually here to let you know it was all a big mistake.”

“Uh huh. They don’t send assets like you in to deliver messages. I already got their message, loud and clear, that I’m a threat and they’re gonna do something about it. These don’t lie. I can expose them all.” Link waved his hand toward the computers spooling numbers as if that explained it. Mitsy noticed he also had a large red button on his desk, one that looked like a cartoon self-destruct button. She amended the flyer copy to add “Many amenities, wired for surround sound.” The sound was “BOOM.” Small details.

She needed to redirect him. If he wasn’t going to believe she was harmless, maybe she could make herself the best of bad options. “Well…” she stalled. “Would you have let them in?”

Instantly, she knew she’d made a mistake. Link bounded over to one of his computers, like one of the moon-walking astronauts he probably believed never left Earth, and punched through a series of cameras, checking all his vantages. His anxiety was palpable.

“Where are they?” he asked her, intense and wild.

“It’s just me!” she protested, knowing he wouldn’t buy it. Link still had the shotgun in one hand, his knuckles white, and his shaky control was visibly slipping. He kept glancing at the front door as if it was going to burst open any second. He turned back to his cameras, seeing nothing and not believing it. He kept mumbling something under his breath, but she couldn’t make it out. Mitsy thought furiously. “If you have all this information on them, why haven’t you exposed them already?” she asked.

“I have to be able to disappear before I go nuclear. I’m waiting on some documents.”

“Documents? Like more evidence?”

“Like my passport, as if you didn’t know it’s been held up for weeks because I smiled in the picture. Just another way to get our facial biometrics, but I got around that.”

“So…you are going to use your actual passport to get away from the government that issued the passport?” Mitsy couldn’t help pointing out the flaw in his plan. Link sighed and put his shotgun down on one of the tables. Walking a few steps toward her, he put his hands on his hips, making them disappear into his foil bubble.

“Look, it’s not like there are people who make fake passports going door to door handing them out. I don’t use the sheeple internet search engines because of tracking, OBVIOUSLY.” He shook his head, jangling his birdcage. “My shielding on the building must be blocking your instructions or something. What do you remember? Are they coming?” He came closer, peering with uncomfortable intensity into her eyes. “TELL ME ABOUT THE BLACK HELICOPTERS,” he commanded.

Alright. If he wanted black helicopters, she’d go full fly-over for him. She’d burnt any chance of reasoning with him already. “They’re close,” she whispered. “There’s no place for you to run.” She closed her eyes and thrust both her hands at him, palms out.

The effect was electric and extremely clumsy. Link jumped in fright, off-balance in his outlandish protective gear, and began a panicky windmilling fall across the room. Mitsy held her breath. Just when he seemed to be gaining some control, he ran into one of the support posts again, hard enough to drive the air out of him in a whoof and pinball him in another direction. It was away from the gun, thankfully, but another three stumbling steps drove him straight toward the table with the big red button. One flailing hand came down on the thing with a loud, slapping mechanical click that surely meant it was activated. Mitsy braced for oblivion.

“Nununununononono….” Link stammered. Mitsy opened one lavishly lashed eye and peeked at him, wondering where the boom was. “I’m nuclear! What have you done!” he yelled, blaming her for whatever had just happened.

“What did I do? Are we blowing up?” she asked.

“NO.” He made a disgusted noise to make clear how stupid the question was. “My exposé just went out to every major media outlet in the world. I’m not ready! Chapter 31 isn’t even proofread!” Link looked at his button-pushing hand as if it had betrayed him. Computer screens went black in a cascading failure. The camera feeds stayed on, still showing no activity, but he was transfixed for a minute. Mitsy was afraid to interrupt him, not wanting to remind him she was there, or that he had a shotgun three feet away.

“Well, that’s it then,” he said quietly. “It’s time for the Cocoon.” He reached behind him and turned off the fan to his suit, slowly deflating like punctured kiddie pool. He headed away from Mitsy, to a scarred khaki school locker with the number “1013” on it. Must be where he keeps his bug-out bag, Mitsy thought.

She had both her hands free. She could probably get out of here if he just left, but she had to be in one piece for that to happen. She didn’t really know how to broach the subject after scaring him and sabotaging his big manifesto plans, though. Link was fumbling with the combination lock and had to start over several times. Well, no time like the present.

Mitsy silently lifted the loose ropes over her head, leaning to place them on the floor. The chair creaked underneath her. Link was opening the locker door when he heard the movement behind him.

“What are you doing?” he screeched, his extreme anxiety pulling his voice an octave higher as he turned.

“Now, Link,” Mitsy tried to soothe, “I’m just wanting to get out of here, just like you. Just tell me how to get out of here and we’ll leave. I won’t tell them a thing if you just let me out.”

“Hell no! I’m not leaving! This is the Cocoon!” The man tried to step back dramatically into the nearly empty locker. His birdcage got in the way, preventing his head from entering the space with his feet. Another boinging sound and he fell forward, clanging his feet into the locker and slapping the floor with his palms. The sound was unexpectedly funny, and Mitsy stifled an involuntary laugh, using the blank face she had ready for consultations with DIY homeowners who’d “improved” a few too many things.

Link scrambled up and disconnected something in the back of the cage. The wires sprung outward, allowing him room to yank it off. He tossed it at Mitsy with both hands, a wild but predictable throw she tried to kick away. Her heels weren’t down with that plan, though, and one of the sharp spikes caught a wire and wedged in-between it and another. Mitsy had to do her own flailing dance to keep from falling, but managed to catch herself on a support pole before kicking the wires, shoe still attached, across the room.

Link was busy while she was hopping. By the time she looked over again, he had stuffed himself in the locker and was closing the door, ready to wait out his own personal Armageddon. Well, he was more nutterfly than butterfly, but he was out of the way in his Cocoon.

Mitsy pulled off her other shoe and dashed over to the shotgun, unloading it like the seasoned trap shooter she was. She put the shells in her jacket pocket and went back to the locker.

Bang! Bang! She hit the outside of the locker with the heel of her hand. “Link? Are you going to be okay in there?

“Go away!” he yelled.

“You got it. Just tell me the combination to the lockbox.” Mitsy didn’t really need it, but it would be easier.

“No!” Link fired back with the vehemence of an offended two-year-old. Mitsy sighed and closed her eyes. No help there. Time to do it the hard way. She searched for a roll of tape and found some silver duct tape handy for patching Link’s space suit.

She took the Barton lockbox down and inspected it, trying to see if there was wear on the buttons to give away the numbers in the combination. All five numbers were pristine. She’d have to try to exploit its weakness, the “Number 3 Flaw.” She took the shoe she had in her hand and pulled the rubber tip off the sharp heel, creating a makeshift punch. She put the lockbox on the floor and pressed down the “3” button all the way. A small strip of duct tape held it down. Lining up the sharp heel, Mitsy brought her shoe down with all the force she could muster. She missed, and the lockbox skittered a few inches away.

Attempt number eight was successful. Mitsy got a dead-on hit with her shoe on the depressed “3” button and the lockbox made a popping sound. She removed the tape and the front compartment fell open, spilling the deadbolt key on the floor. A Barton, really? Might as well use one of those hide-a-key rocks. She looked at her shoe and sighed. Perhaps an “I survived” pair of shoes were in order, anyway. She tossed it with the other one.

She grabbed her briefcase, no reason to leave that behind, and walked to the locker again. “Link, I’m leaving. I’m sorry I scared you. I’m just a person who got lost.”

“No, you’re not!” he yelled.

“You going to be okay in there?”

“I was on Tuesday!” Alrighty, then.

Mitsy walked to the door and inserted the key in the deadbolt. It opened with a satisfying thunk. The doorknob lock opened with a little twist. The door still wouldn’t open. The electronic combination lock didn’t have a terminal on this side, so it couldn’t be that, but the card reader did. The card was presumably in the Cocoon with Link, the world’s most paranoid caterpillar. Mitsy considered trying to break the door down, but a 5’1” lady wasn’t going to break anything but herself.

She thought for a minute about what she knew about card reader locks. She’d had commercial properties listed once in a while, and these locks weren’t foolproof. Cutting the power was the easiest thing, but the main part of the box was outside. Lately, thieves were carrying strong magnets to jimmy locks like these. She blinked.

Mitsy had to drag a chair over to get up high enough to put her eyelashes right next to the swipe reader. She stepped up on the seat and put her eyes one inch from where the electronics would be on the other side of the door. She batted her lashes, once. With a little buzz, the lock disengaged. She quickly hopped off the chair and tossed it out of the way, opening the door before the lock re-engaged.

“I’m leaving now!” she called back to Link. He didn’t answer. Mitsy stood on the small porch, considering. The man was locked into a school locker and afraid to come out. Who knew how long he’d stay in there, waiting? She might need to call someone to go check on him? If she closed the door, they’d have to break in, freaking him out all over again. She decided to leave it propped open and call someone as soon as she got back to the convenience store. She cursed her useless phone again. She wedged a rock in the door and took off barefoot down the long driveway. She was relieved to see her SUV exactly where she’d left it, and fished the keys out of her briefcase.

As she opened the door to get in, a noise reached her from the direction of the highway. A fast, percussive “thwurp thwurp thwurp” approached very quickly, and as she looked up, three sleek black helicopters appeared, moving fast and in a tight line. She watched them fly directly overhead and begin a banking turn before disappearing over the trees. A light wind ruffled her blonde hair. That was weird.

Her SUV started just fine, something she’d worried about, and she drove back toward the convenience store at “I’ve been kidnapped and would enjoy being pulled over right now” miles per hour. About halfway there, a line of dark sedans shot by going the other direction, three of them nearly tailgating each other. They went by too fast for her to see anything but the impression of men in suits driving each one. Those guys should slow down, they were going to kill somebody.

The convenience store had more customers this time, and she felt better about that for a reason she couldn’t put a finger on. She wanted to use the phone, and she wanted to complain about those stupid eyelashes. She wheeled into an empty parking spot and stalked into the store, less scared now than furious.

The man behind the counter was different. He was just slightly taller than Mitsy, dark-skinned and wearing an apron with the nametag “Hakeem” prominently displayed. Some of Mitsy’s fire dimmed as she contemplated this man, clearly not the one she’d talked to before and probably the real “Hakeem.”

“Excuse me,” she said, taking advantage of a break in the stream of people buying cigarettes and diet soda. “Are you Hakeem?”

“Yes, how can I help you?” He looked slightly nervous.

“Do you have another employee named Hakeem? A big blond guy?”

“Uh, no, no, just me. I am the only Hakeem.” He was stuttering and wouldn’t meet her eyes, looking everywhere but at her.

“I was here earlier, and there was a big guy wearing your apron, then, is he still here?”

“That can’t be, I am the only one here all day. This is my store, no one works here but me.” Still nervous.

“Can I use your phone? I just had something terrible—”

“Oh, no, sorry, but the phone is broken. Will not be fixed today.” That was a lie if Mitsy had ever heard one, but there was a line starting behind her and she didn’t even know where to start. She looked around the counter for the “Rare Earth Eyes” display and couldn’t find it.

“Well, maybe you can help me with these.” She pointed to her eyes. “I bought these eyelashes here today and they’ve been nothing but trouble. I can’t even get them off!” She reached up to demonstrate on her left eye, tugging gently at the tips of the synthetic extensions. The entire eyelash popped off in her fingers with the first pull. She stared at the spidery cosmetic in her fingers for a moment, not sure what to say now. She dropped the lash on the counter and Hakeem took two startled steps back, the maximum he could in his small space. Mitsy plucked the other lash from her right eye and dropped it beside the first. Hakeem recoiled as if they were spiders, and highly venomous ones.

“I do not sell those, Miss,” he blurted. “I have never sold those and I do not know what you are talking about.”

Mitsy was starting to wonder if she knew what she was talking about. Of course, she’d bought them here, but the man’s protestations were vehement. “But…I’m sure I bought them here just a few hours ago?”

“Hey, lady, he says he doesn’t sell them. Maybe you got ‘em wherever you left your shoes.” A balding man with a paunch and long scraggly beard was ready for her to move out of the way. The other two people in line seemed to agree with him, looking quickly at her bare feet and chuckling. Mitsy stared hard at Hakeem, who was looking at the dead eyelashes, hands shaking slightly. This was not getting anywhere. She needed to get to a phone and call the police.

She looked around the counter area again, and not seeing a hint of the polka-dotted cardboard, or anything else that might help, scowled at the man behind her and stomped out of the store. Her stomping was not as effective as she’d imagined it would be, a small barefoot woman slip-slapping out across the linoleum, but it was all she could think of.

She carefully picked her way across the parking lot, avoiding a broken bottle and a wad of gum, and didn’t see the black envelope on her SUV until she was reaching for the door handle. She got on her tiptoes and retrieved it from under the windshield wiper. It wasn’t sealed, and contained one piece of thick, folded paper. When she slid the paper out of the envelope, several coins fell from the fold to the pavement, tinkling and rolling. Inside, there was a ten-dollar bill, two ones, and the rest of the 99 cents. She set the money on the hood of her SUV and read the printed note.

The unsigned note read, simply, “Thank you for your service, Ms. McDonnell.”

Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: I hope you liked this story about a plucky real estate agent and her spooky experience–not ghost spooky, but spook spooky. Writing serial fiction is interesting. You have to have some idea where you’re going to tie it all together, but that final part is still a challenge. Constrained by what has gone before, you must satisfy the reader’s expectations in an unexpected way. Thanks again to Joshua M. Anderson for the cool idea of “magnetic eyeliner” that sparked this story!

PS. I am currently in need of more ideas for the idea list. I have a few queued up for the next couple of months, but the longer I have the idea, the more I can mess with the story. Drop your suggestions in the comments or e-mail them to

Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part Two)

Part One (which you’ll want to hit first if you missed it): Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part One)

Audiophiles, listen here:

Mitsy blinked rapidly at the man. She’d been in hostile negotiations before, but over carpet allowances and alleged foundation cracks, not “what” she was. Be direct but unthreatening, her training told her. “My name is Mitsy McDonnell, and I’m a real estate agent,” she said. “I have come to—”

“Oh, right! The truth in a lie, that way you don’t forget. I bet you are an agent. What are you, some kind of bionic half-breed? Come to do what? Neutralize me?” The man shoved the shotgun at her and she flinched.

“No, no, let me explain! I didn’t mean to come here, my GPS malfunctioned. I sell real estate. Really….I have cards in my briefcase. Here,” she said as she slowly reached for one.

“I SAID DON’T MOVE!” Mitsy stopped moving. “I bet your GPS malfunctioned, implants never work like they say. I have sensors all up and down this road, and I know you aren’t some lady real estate agent come to look at my foy-YAY or something. Drop the bag.” Mitsy dropped the bag. “Now, you’re going to walk in front of me up to the house, and I’m going to shoot you if you try anything at all. ANYTHING. If my brain starts feeling messed with, I’m gonna shoot first and dissect later, got it?”

Mitsy thought his brain was plenty messed with, but she had to hope it seemed normal to him. She nodded and walked toward the house. He grabbed her briefcase and followed, snorting in disgust at her tiny, heel-impaired steps. Mitsy kept her hands up and her eyes on the uneven ground.

The porch on the front of the house should have had a nice Adirondack chair and a table for your drink, but it was bare, framing a door with several locking mechanisms evident. The man waved her aside with the shotgun and a terse instruction, and punched a code into the keypad under the doorknob. A key on a chain around his neck opened the deadbolt. A card came from one of his pockets and triggered the last lock when he swiped across it.

Mitsy did not want to go into this place, nothing good would happen in there, but she wasn’t getting a predatory feel from the man, actually the opposite. He seemed very afraid of her. He growled at her to get inside and she went, still at gunpoint. He closed the door and relocked the two-sided deadbolt with the key.

The interior was dark. Most of the 1,400 square feet had been opened up into one room with improvised support beams breaking up the space. The windows were painted black on the inside of the glass, blocking almost all the light, and shop lights hung to illuminate the room. Computer equipment lined one wall, with several monitors displaying camera feeds and others running continuous streams of numbers and symbols. A generator kicked on somewhere outside. Mitsy mentally wrote the flyer copy for the house. “Spacious studio house deep in the woods, state of the art security and privacy. Perfect for singles in the Witness Protection Program or terrorists just starting out.” She decided to try again with the man.

“I’m sorry I ended up on your property. I got lost and my phone is dead. My name is Mitsy, what’s yours?”

The man laughed. “Yeah, I’m not surprised you can’t use a phone. I’ll call you Mitsy, if that’s what you want. I’m sure you already know my name and my shoe size, but you can call me Link for now.” He waved her toward a chair in the middle of the large space with the shotgun. “Get over there and sit down, Mitsy.”

Link put on black gloves that looked like welder’s gear, watching her closely whenever the shotgun was out of his hands. He brought over a handful of rope, scratchy orange nylon about ¼” in diameter, and tied Mitsy clumsily to the chair. He wouldn’t get close enough to do it properly, craning his neck away to the last possible inch. He rushed through it and danced away. Some hardcore conspiracy nut, he didn’t even have a plan to detain someone.

“Link?” Mitsy questioned softly, “Why am I tied to a chair in your living room?”

The man actually guffawed. “What was I supposed to do? Let you walk in here and start collecting samples or giving me mind commands or whatever? What would you do if the black helicopters were flying over every day and suddenly something crawled over your gate and started up to your front door?” He snorted again and went to a lockbox hanging from a steel hasp in one of the supports. He punched a code into the keypad of the lockbox and stowed the chain with the keys on it inside. “There, now you can’t get out even if you wipe me or get me down somehow.”

Hoo boy. Mitsy needed a little more information on what exactly this man thought was going on, and why he kept calling her a thing instead of a person. She also recognized the lockbox, a Barton X-J255, notoriously easy to break into.

“Link, I assure you that I am a normal person.” The only one in the room, she mentally added. “You keep calling me a thing and won’t come anywhere near me, but I’m just a lady trying to make a living selling real estate. I am lost and I need to get back to my car.”

Link didn’t respond. He went over to a table behind one of the support columns, and Mitsy couldn’t see what he was up to for a minute. She tried the ropes again and could tell that they’d take a few minutes to loosen, tops. This guy must have been more worried about being abducted than abducting.

He came back into full view in the most ridiculous costume Mitsy had ever seen, and she’d been to some real low-rent Halloween parties. His shiny helmet was replaced by an honest-to-god colander with a cage of wire built from the top of the colander down to his collar, making his face some sort of naked Chinese lantern. He’d put a new jacket and pants on over his tactical gear, all made from shiny metallic space blankets and ballooning and flowing around him unnaturally. The cause became clear when he walked toward her and the tiny fan inflating the space blankets became audible. He looked like Jiffy Pop in process.

“What is all that mess?” she asked, too stunned to be tactful.

“I made this gear to keep things like you from forcing me to do unnatural things. Now what are you and why did you infiltrate my compound?”

Wow. There was a lot to unpack there. Mitsy seized on the one thing she couldn’t seem to get an answer from him on. “Link, why do you keep saying ‘what’? I’m a person just like you.”

Link barked a laugh. “Yeah, right, you’re a pretty good facsimile, but you couldn’t mask your magnetic signature. You think I just use my eyes? Those sensors are for all kinds of things. You aren’t radioactive, or super-dense, or a thousand degrees. On visual, you’re too short and your hair is obviously fake, but otherwise the replication is pretty good.” Mitsy smarted a little at this but stayed quiet. “The only problem with your charade is your magnetic field. It’s literally the size of a field. Nothing human puts off a force like that, and it’s up high, in your brain, I guess, so it’s not something in your pocket. So what does that make you? Android? Mind-control bot?” He waited for an answer, expectant through his birdcage of crazy.

Mitsy knew what the problem was now, and she was in truth, a little relieved. Those eyelashes were giving him some sort of weird reading, and once she explained that, it would all get sorted out. She softened her voice into the warm, reassuring tone she used when a showing turned up a closet covered with porn clippings. “Link, I’m so glad you told me what you found! That is such a simple thing to explain.” She worked at her hands while she talked, getting one free but not pulling it out of the rope just yet. “You see, while I was on my way out here, I bought these magnetic eyelashes.” She batted her eyes at him to demonstrate. “And they are probably showing up as—”

“You expect me to believe such a thing exists at the store?” Link exploded. He started waving his arms, agitated, and Mitsy clenched her jaw together a little off-kilter, eyes wide, wondering what to do now. “You should have metal objects stuck to your head with these readings, things flying across the room. Somehow, that isn’t happening.”

“Here, let me show you,” she said in her best “invite them in” voice. She pulled her arm out of the bindings around the chair and Link screamed. He lunged across the room to grab his shotgun, but his athleticism was severely compromised by the wire cage and inflated foil suit. His overlarge head glanced off one of the supports with sort of a sproingy sound and he nearly went down. Mitsy wondered if the suit would pop if he fell.

“No, no, it’s okay,” she said, holding her free hand out in a calming motion that didn’t calm Link at all. “See, just look.” Mitsy reached up and grabbed one of the eyelashes. Link took a panicked look behind him and proceeded to grab the shotgun, waving the barrel erratically in her general direction.

Mitsy pulled. The eyelash did not peel off in her fingers, as she expected. It held firmly onto her eyelid as she used more and more force, pulling the skin of her eyelid away from her eyeball and taut. “Oh no,” she breathed, wriggling her other arm out of the loosened ropes.

“Don’t you do that!” Link screamed, coming towards her now. Mitsy was too preoccupied with the malfunctioning eyelashes to pay attention to him. She reached for the second eyelash and tugged on both eyes, pulling hard enough to hurt. She thought she might be pulling hard enough to pull real eyelashes out. Nothing.

A circle of hard metal pressed under her chin as she struggled to remove her vanity purchase. Her hands flew from her eyes like butterflies scorched by a match, quickly and completely at a loss for navigation. “YOU KEEP YOUR FACE ON,” Link yelled, pushing the shotgun under her chin hard enough to leave a bruise. Mitsy shrank back into the chair, trying to get away from the gun and unable to go anywhere. She briefly considered kicking him in the crotch, then decided that sudden movements would likely be a bad idea. Mostly, she was trying not to pee her pants. That stop for water was becoming one of her major life regrets in more ways than expected.

Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: This is a continuation of the story proposed by Joshua M. Anderson about magnetic eyeliner. Next week we will have the final chapter, a conclusion that I think will be worth the wait. In the meantime, remember that trying to explain to a conspiracy nut that you aren’t part of the conspiracy makes you part of the conspiracy.

PS. I know the voicework may not sound 100% this chapter–I’ve had the plague. I’m in that two week recovery period where I’m really not going to sound any better, no matter what I do. Thanks for bearing with me.


Mitsy Bats Her Lashes (Part One)

Listen Here:

Why people wanted to live out in the woods was a mystery to Mitsy McDonnell. She made good money selling remote homes to people who thought they wanted to ditch civilization. Later, she made even better money reselling those homes when they realized an hour to get to the grocery store was about 45 minutes too long. She kept her own opinions to herself in both cases. Yes, the woods were peaceful (boring) and the scenery was to die for (a fire hazard), and it would be so wonderful to sit on this porch and have a glass of wine in the evening (while the bugs flew into your glass and raised red welts across your face.) Oh, yes, it was a wonderful home but being so far from the (insert modern convenience) was troublesome, and of course, she’d be happy to list it for them.

Mitsy was 5’1” of real estate juggernaut. She wore heels that added two inches, and her chrome-blonde dyed hair was piled up another three inches on a good day, two if she was in a rush. She didn’t go for this new casual style either, where your agent could roll up in their going-out pajamas and show you around a messy home as if everyone involved had overslept. Her homes were staged as immaculately as she was. Today she was in a black sheath dress that “slimmed” her 40-something figure, and a jacket in a wild black and white optical print. Her shoes were her latest favorites, a seriously dark pair with heels like ice picks. The homeowners were young tech types, and she’d go for any edge she could, even a sharp heel on a shoe.

Mitsy’s dark blue SUV was clean and roomy, and she punched the address into her dash-mounted GPS. The property was almost two hours away. Far, even for her, but she had plenty of time. Mitsy was never late. NEVER. She put some talk radio on low volume, slipped big round sunglasses over her eyes, and hit the road.

At the halfway point, Mitsy needed to get out and stretch her legs. All those years of high heels meant she had a little issue with her back, and a bigger issue with her calves, and an even bigger issue with her arches, and she couldn’t drive straight through for hours anymore. A convenience store on her right had one black sedan parked in front, ruining its “rural casualty” first impression. Must still be open. The door jangled when she pushed it. There were no other customers in sight, but a bathroom said “Occupied.” Mitsy grabbed a pricey bottled water and a package of mints. The man behind the counter was enormous, at least 6’3”. Mitsy had to crane her neck to see his head from her miniature frame. He was white, with a blonde crewcut and a chin cleft deeply enough to hide a dime. He was in a white dress shirt and suit pants, with a much too small apron dangling off his neck. His name tag read “Hakeem.”

“Will that be everything?” he rumbled, fumbling the items around to find the barcodes. Mitsy already had her card out and was about to confirm when her eye lit on the display next to the card reader. It was, of all things, a cardboard stand with one lonely pair of false eyelashes in a crystal clear case. “Rare Earth Eyes” was splashed across the cardboard in pink and black polka-dotted font. They were “Earth’s Best Magnetic Lashes!” and guaranteed to stay on in a hurricane. They were thick lashes, and came with everything required, and Mitsy suddenly needed magnetic eyelashes very badly.

“These, too,” she said, and took the lashes off the display. “Hakeem” quickly snagged them out of her hand and put them in a thick brown paper bag with the water and mints. She ran her card and accepted the bag from him with a reflexive “thanks.” He’d been kind of weird and rude, but it didn’t cost a cent to be polite.

Mitsy was excited to try the new lashes, and she had time to put them on right in the car. She loved cutting edge makeup things. She took out the tube of magnetic eyeliner and opened it. It had a strong chemical smell, but that would surely fade. With her eyes three inches from the visor mirror, she applied thick lines on both eyelids, as close to her natural lashes as possible. Her skin stung a little, and she had to quickly catch a few tears in a tissue to avoid smearing the rest of her face. The directions said to let it dry for ten minutes, but she didn’t want to chance being late because of her inability to wait. She carefully plucked one of the lash strips from the package and moved it toward her face.

SLAP! The lash strip flew out of her hand and adhered to the eyeliner with an audible smack. Startled, she squeaked a little and blinked rapidly. More tears in a tissue, and she looked to see what the result was. Her mouth fell open in surprise—they were gorgeous and perfectly aligned. She turned her head this way and that, admiring. The second lash went on a little more gently using a two-handed grip. She fluttered the lashes at herself and smiled. Totally worth the $12.99 impulse purchase. She changed the radio over to a rock and roll oldies station and pulled back onto the road.

Ten minutes later, she wanted to call her clients and let them know her arrival estimate. She grabbed her phone from the console, a no-no, she knew, but she’d been driving with a phone attached to her face for 20 years. She found the number and punched it. The normal sounds of a cell phone dialing went haywire as she held it to her ear. An ear-splitting shriek drove directly in behind her eyes, forcing them closed. She threw the phone across the car as she struggled to maintain her lane. She steered her SUV into a driveway, barely missing the mailbox, and tried to calm her breathing. She got out and went around to the passenger side. Her phone fell out on the gravel when she opened the door. It was dead, and a crack split the screen diagonally. No amount of cursing or button mashing convinced it to resurrect itself.

She tossed it in the seat and got back in the driver’s side. Her GPS was fine, and she didn’t really need to call them, she was still on time. She leaned in to look at the GPS map, checking the arrival time, and it went blank for a second. She leaned away, blinking, her stomach flipping. She really would be lost if the GPS gave it up. It blinked back on and she let out a relieved breath. It was back to the start screen, though, she’d have to put the address in again. Poke, poke, poke, poke….done.

“Turn left on Truman Street,” the GPS lady said. That was back the way she’d come from? Mitsy double-checked the address, that was right, but the route was different and the arrival time was 20 minutes later. Crap. She must have made a wrong turn without realizing it. She’d have to speed now to make it on time, and she couldn’t call to tell them she was late. She whipped around onto the road and sped down the revised route. The little store had a “Closed” sign up though the black sedan was still there.

Rural roads weren’t heavily patrolled, and she made it in good time, pulling onto the unmarked driveway ten minutes early. It was weird that it wasn’t marked at all, she’d have to talk to the homeowners about that before they did any showings. About a quarter mile down the driveway, there was a gate across the road, part of a substantial and ugly security fencing situation. It was closed. Mitsy hopped out and went to the latch, thinking the least they could have done was leave it open. There was a giant industrial padlock on the latch, and the hasp was securely shut. Swearing at it didn’t have any miraculous effects either. Her curses were particularly ineffective today. No call button was evident, though she could see a camera in the tree above the fence. She waved at the camera, but there was no way they were going to unlock that padlock remotely.

Looking at the gate, a steel beam type, she decided she could climb it. She grabbed her briefcase, checked her phone (still useless), and hiked up her dress. She shoved her heels through a gap in the metal near the hinges. If the homeowners had any doubt about her commitment to sell their real estate, this little show would erase it. Mitsy was fit for her age, despite a little fuller figure, and managed to get up and over the fence without falling or tearing her dress. She rearranged herself and put her shoes on, mad that she had to hike in heels that were meant for show, not go.

There were cameras all the way up the drive, and some other poles hooked to wires on either side. A metal plate in the middle of the road looked unsafe for her heels, so she bypassed it, but a rubberized mat a few feet later was unavoidable. The house was ahead, just visible around the bend. The front was plain and looked much smaller than the homeowners had indicated. Mitsy started to wonder if she had the right place after all, but maybe they’d have a phone she could use to let her potential clients know she’d gotten lost. She had to watch her step across the rubber, her pointy heels sucked into the surface and resisted each new step. She was staring at the ground and placing her shoe carefully when a sound in front of her necessitated an immediate and drastic priority change.

KA-CHUNKKA. The sound of a shotgun racking a round was the most movement-arresting thing Mitsy had ever heard. She put both her hands out to her sides with her fingers splayed, instinctively showing her harmlessness to the owner of the property she realized she was trespassing on. Slowly, she raised her face and saw an ordinary looking man, a little thin and possibly a few years younger than Mitsy, pointing the shotgun directly at her. He was wearing tactical type clothes, heavy pants with pockets and a jacket with more pockets, and a construction helmet covered in some sort of shiny metallic paint.

“I don’t know what you are,” he growled, “but I’m willing to blow your ass back to whatever lab you crawled out of if you move another inch.”

Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved

The Story: This little adventure was inspired by a suggestion from Joshua M. Anderson via Facebook. What about the perils of magnetic eyeliner? Well, we are going to find out about the perils of magnetic eyeliner and lashes in three parts. This is especially exciting for me because I haven’t written the other two yet. We are living on all the edges. I’ll try to get them out a little closer together to keep it from taking over a month to find out what happens to Mitsy.

As a side note, I adore Mitsy McDonnell. I have known a few real estate agents, and as a group, they are resilient and relentlessly positive, even if the house they’re showing has jars of dead fish on the porch (yes, really). After we see what happens here, she may come back around to hang out in something else.

PS. If you are listening, don’t forget to listen to the credits. Marvel ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Permanent Solution

Audio Here, Text Below:

The front door opened with a bang. Stewart cursed softly. No one was supposed to come in that way. He didn’t have a sign out to say that, but his business was supposed to be low profile. Not breezing through the front door where anyone could see from the street.

He hurried to the front of his small house to intercept the client who hadn’t played by the rules, tucking a black shirt into black jeans. Liza was on his living room sofa, lighting up a cigarette and looking for the ashtray that hadn’t been offered in polite society for 30 years.

“Liza—” Stewart had to handle this carefully, but he couldn’t just let her violate him this way.

“Yes, get me an ashtray, would you? I’ve been thinking really hard, and I need this.”

“But Liza—”

“Just get me a bowl, or a glass, anything will be fine. No one has an ashtray these days, it’s like they want you to light the place on fire.” She took a long drag, blowing the smoke back out her nose, and tapped the ash into the carpet at her feet.

“Here,” Stewart said, handing her the cat’s dish. It was clean, chipped on the edge from the fight with Baldwin, but the cat was as gone as Baldwin. “I didn’t expect you for another thirty minutes, Liza, why so early?” It would do no good to chastise her about the front door.

“I made up my mind and you know I don’t wait. I just can’t take it anymore.” Liza tossed her head, not quite getting the effect she thought she was. Her hair was dyed within an inch of its life, rattling crow-colored broom straws she spent too much time arranging for it to look like it did.

“Let’s be careful here, Liza. Some decisions can’t be undone.” Stewart was dismayed, but not surprised. He’d been trying to walk this conversation back for months. This was a job he didn’t want. He didn’t do this anymore.

“I thought I could live with the way things are, but it’s just not working. I need you to fix it.”

Stewart felt his stomach turn over. Liza was used to pronouncing her wishes and watching people scurry to fulfill them, but she was going to be just as unhappy after.

“Alright, Liza, I hear you. Maybe we could talk about some alternatives, though? I can’t undo this. Things as you know them will be irretrievable.”

“Are you saying you won’t do it?” Liza’s voice had an edge to it, and Stewart knew threats were boiling up, ready to spill out. “Because you know I know everyone.” She raised one over-plucked eyebrow.

“No, no, no, I’m not saying that at all. If this is really what you want, I’ll do it.” I’ll do it, he thought, because if I don’t, you’ll do it yourself and blame me anyway when you don’t get away with it. “It’s just drastic, isn’t it? I don’t want you to regret anything.”

“I am not a woman with regrets,” Liza said. “I want to be a different person. I want out of this routine, all this time wasted every day. If you won’t do that for me, I’ll find someone else. I thought I’d come to you first because I know you need the money, but if my money isn’t good…?”

Stewart wanted to run. His mind raced, how was he going to do this without it getting traced back to him, especially when Liza barged in through his front door? She did have one thing pegged, he couldn’t afford to turn down the money after Baldwin’s sudden exit from his life, but he didn’t want to do something this criminal to survive.

“Oh, Liza, of course that’s not what I mean,” he rushed out, trying to defuse the tension. “You know I’ll do whatever you want. When do you want me to do it?” He’d push it into the future, as far as possible, and maybe she would rethink it between now and then and call it off.

“Right now.”

“Wha—you mean right this second? Today? There might be things I don’t have here, and the timing is important, too. It really would be better—”

Liza’s face closed in on itself, lips pressed together and eyes narrowed, like a baby about to caterwaul at being denied. Stewart looked away, not wanting to imagine the child that had become this impossible woman.

“Sorry,” he blurted, “of course you want to do it now. I can skip dinner, I guess, I’m not hungry anyway. Let me see if I have enough of what I need.” Stewart trotted back down the hallway, glimpsing a haunted man in his mirror, and slipped into his dimly lit utility room. The edges on his cutting tools were sharp, he had gloves and a mask, and the black vinyl apron was on its hook. He pulled the dusty box out from behind the bottles on the bottom shelf. He opened it, looking at things he hadn’t used in what—15 years? Something he thought he’d put behind him for more respectable work. Yet he’d held on to this, as if he knew.

His kit was in order. He arranged a few strands of his glossy brown hair back into place, pulling his confidence together. He was a professional, after all. He rolled the cart out of the back room and nearly into Liza, who’d followed him, noiseless and currently smokeless. She made a show of putting her hands up to protect herself, but her lips were twisted in the smirk of cruelty being rewarded.

“Go ahead and have a seat,” Stewart said, gesturing toward the hydraulic chair at the edge of the room, next to the door Liza should have used. Looking at Liza’s smug expression reflected in the large wall-length mirror, Stewart’s pride rebelled. He ran his fingers through what little bottle-black hair was on Liza’s head, calculating how much more would break and deciding he didn’t care. “Which rod size should we use? I think the blue ones?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Liza barked. “Just give me the tightest perm you can, I don’t want to have to come back in two weeks because it all fell out.”

Oh, there’s going to be fallout, Stewart thought, but it’s not going to be my fault.

Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved

The Story: I received this suggestion from a writing seminar with Alisa Kwitney, a terrific coach and writer (most recently publishing Corpse and Crown, the second in the “Cadaver and Queen” series.) The request was a dialogue that doesn’t reveal its true nature until the end. I’m interested to know if you guessed it before the salon was revealed. I see this sort of thing as a long-form joke–and it’s tricky to write it in a way that makes the reader feel “in” on the twist, rather than duped.

I have a really great piece ready for next time–erm–so great that I sent it to a magazine. If it comes crawling back before mid-March, I’ll be able to share it here. If not, I have an idea in the hopper about magnetic eyelashes/eyeliner. *wink*

Now The Day Is Over

Audiophiles, Listen Here:

Everyone sat stiffly in their seats, facing the fully open coffin and large portrait wreathed by pink lilies at the front of the church. Nothing would start without her, and the pianist was on the fourth round of the first song, dragging a little more each time until the tune itself seemed destined for imminent death. People were starting to fidget and surreptitiously check their phones, as if holding it below your knee made it invisible. No text reading “Funeral cancelled, thx anyway!” meant they had to stay in their seats, nearly a hundred hostages to the whims of the old lady.

The church was a Frankenstein’s monster of beautiful old architecture and horrific capitulation to the glad-handing funhouse of modern worship. Soaring stained glass windows depicting the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus Christ were covered by banners announcing the new sermon series, “Being Wordy in a Worldly World.” A cartoon Bible stood in front of a torrent of red and black media, holding out one hand to ward them off. The balconies on either side of the stained glass were blocked off at ground level, unsafe to stand in but too costly to remove, just holy black holes.

A rosewood and gold coffin sat on the stage at the front of the church, cream lining showing on the underside of the open lid. A small stepstool, just two steps, sat on the floor in front of it. The stage was thoroughly modern, with three large LCD screens, all currently looping the same flickering candle from the same angle. To one side of the coffin was the keyboard, a squawky electronic approximation of a piano, with a thin woman hunched over it, back to the crowd. On the other side was a drum set, caged in plexiglass with a plywood roof, as if it were a snake caught in the backyard and hastily caged by an eight-year-old. You think those drums are contained, but they are still going to get out and give the ladies fits.

Rendition five of “You Raise Me Up” was so tired it wasn’t even stirring the air, let alone lifting anyone up. Blessedly, the door at the back of the church opened. Two figures were silhouetted against bright sunshine. The one on the right was tall and straight, a man’s outline with broad, crisp shoulders. He had long flowing hair that blew slowly in the wind outside with all the drama of a shampoo commercial. The second figure was leaning heavily on him, a hunched form with a cane in her free arm. She had to reach up to his elbow, so stooped was her body in comparison to his. Here she was, nearly an hour late. The mourners shuffled and sighed, relieved that they were not there for nothing.

The pianist abruptly ended the song with an inappropriately cheerful set of trilling flourishes and launched into a new tune, “Abide With Me.” She played it at a pace that seemed downright jaunty compared to her previous snail’s slide, and it woke up any attendees who’d been dozing in the warm sanctuary. The pair moved inside and the door swung softly shut behind them.

The man was in a black suit and turquoise bolo tie. His romance hero’s hair framed a face full of sadness that sobered the annoyed crowd. After all, late had two meanings, didn’t it? His eyes were puffy and damp, and as he walked down the aisle, a tear made its way down one cheek to fall silently on the carpet. Earl, the son, was the one who would grieve in fullness, and he deserved sympathy.

The old woman on his arm was Trudy Gatewood. Standing at 5’ 2”, considerably reduced from the 5’ 6” of her youth, she walked slowly and painfully toward the front. Her face was creased and recreased, as if some incompetent origami student had only money for one piece of paper. Her mouth pulled down sharply and she looked at the floor with concentration while she walked, gravity her constant foe. Her eyes were hooded, sunken, not visible to most of the mourners as she made painful progress past them. Those sitting on the aisles glimpsed the yellowed sclera and nearly black irises of her eyes, veins covering them in cobwebs of red. She wore a pale gray dress, her bent fingers heavy with rings. A small oddly cheerful hat with a lily perched on one side of her iron hair.

Trudy was halfway to the front of the church when the pianist ran out of song. There was rattling of papers as she frantically shuffled to find the next piece of music. The old woman stopped moving and looked up, eyes sharp and mouth set.

“Luanne,” she croaked, “leave it to you to make a hash of this. Just play anything.” Trudy shook her head and looked at the floor, not moving until Luanne started plunking out “Danny Boy,” a song that had nothing to do with anything, but she had memorized. Trudy sighed loudly, but it was enough to get her moving again. The mourners widened their eyes at each other. Trudy was going to be Trudy, even today.

Two rounds of “Danny Boy” later, after a painfully slow progression up the two steps to the stage, Earl and Trudy stood in front of the open casket. Luanne quietly faded out the music and stood hastily, screeching the chair legs so loudly she scared herself and nearly fell off the stage running to the back of the church. Earl looked down at his mother and she looked up at him. “You’re sure?” he asked.

“You betcha,” Trudy rasped. She threw her cane down with a sharp clatter that startled the mourners. She grabbed onto Earl’s arm with one gnarled hand and used him as a stair railing to climb the two steps in front of the coffin. With the open edge at waist height, she looked down into the box. “Yes, this’ll do,” she murmured. She let go of Earl and put both hands on the coffin’s edge, leaning into it. The crowd held their breath, not sure how this would go. The coffin stand swayed a little, it was flimsier than it should have been, and Trudy leaned back, still holding on. “You’re going to have to help, Earl,” she said, and he nodded.

Trudy let go and held up her arms to Earl, the mother aping the universal “pick me up” of children, and Earl bent slightly to comply. His mother put her withered arms around his neck as he lifted her in an easy threshold carry, her substance now nearly insubstantial, and he mounted the bottom step, holding her over the empty coffin.

“Owww!” he said sharply as he bent to lay her in the cream satin, halting suddenly with his neck at an uncomfortable angle. One of Trudy’s arms was on her chest and the other was tangled by her rings in Earl’s luxurious hair. “Ow, Mom, stop, stop,” he barked as she tried to pull the hand free.

“Well, I always told you that hair was foolishness, didn’t I?” Trudy continued to pull and Earl shuffled slightly on the step, trying to lessen the pain and come up with a plan. The mourners couldn’t see exactly what was going on—was the old woman pulling his hair for some reason?

“A little help, please!” Earl bellowed. Startled into action, Luanne jumped up from her perch on a folding chair and flew toward the stage. When her hurried steps brought her halfway up the aisle, Trudy gave a great yank, succeeding in freeing her hand, a large chunk of Earl’s hair, and herself from his grasp all at the same time. Earl made a fumbling, desperate toss and Trudy flew into the casket with a loud thudding clatter like a sack of potatoes dropped from a height. Earl fell off the step onto the stage with another thud and cried out in pain as he cracked an elbow on the floor. The stand wobbled but held, and the mourners let out their collective breaths.

“Well, now she’s in, at least,” Luanne muttered, collecting sharp looks from those close enough to hear. It was very bad manners to act anything but heartbroken at these things, even if she was a tyrant and made your life a living hell. Luanne caught the looks and blushed. She put her head down and rushed back to her seat.

Earl struggled up, favoring his elbow, and bent worriedly over the casket to check on his mother. One gnarled hand popped above the edge, holding a hank of his torn-out hair. “Here’s your crowning glory!” Trudy cackled. Earl’s face darkened and he snatched the hair away to stuff it in his suit pocket.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said mechanically, and reached up to unfasten the bottom half of the split casket lid. “Good-bye, Mother.” Earl’s eyes were streaming, but it was hard to say if it was from emotion or his smarting scalp.

“Good-bye, Earl,” she croaked, and he closed the bottom half of the casket, leaving the top portion open to reveal her face and part of her torso. Trudy had passed. Her part in this ceremony was over, just as her part in the world was, and she would now go to her eternal reward as scheduled. They needed to keep rolling, though, or they wouldn’t get out of the church in time to avoid a fine.

Earl bowed his head briefly and turned to the assembly. All were silent, ready for the eulogy he would surely have prepared and practiced many times.

“Well, folks, my mother asked me to keep this brief, so I will.” It was brief. A five-minute synopsis of Trudy’s unexceptional life, mother, wife, utility billing clerk, a few generic statements about “not dwelling on the loss, but remembering when she was with us,” and a reading that sounded like it came directly from one of the sympathy cards near the guest book.

Earl stopped talking. The silence stretched uncomfortably. He stared at the windows in the back of the church for so long that people turned to look. Just windows. The stained glass dove in the middle was a little streaky from the injudicious application of birdshit by its live counterparts, but the soiled dove wasn’t some relevant symbolism, was it? Murmuring built in the crowd as they asked their pew-mates what was happening.

Behind Earl, a hand appeared at the edge of the casket, four fingers gripping the rosewood, bejeweled and shaky. They tightened, and with apparent strain, the old woman levered her head off its silk pillow high enough to see out. “What in His name are you doing, Earl?” she demanded. The mourners gasped. Once someone had passed, they didn’t pop up to comment on the funeral.

“Oh!” Earl jumped. “Nothing. I just forgot what was next.”

“Well, that’s because LU-ANNE was supposed to be up here already. LU-ANNE!” Trudy barked. Luanne launched off her chair and ran up the aisle, her low heels giving her an uneven gait, like a wobbly seagull. As the crowd gaped, Trudy turned her attention to them. “BOO!” she yelled, and half of them jumped. Her face broke into a wide grin and she laid back down, chuckling at the shock and dismay of her “loved ones.” They were reconsidering whether a share of the estate equalization was worth being associated with this. Trudy’s hand slowly slid back into the casket. Her laughter was muffled by the wood and satin, but everyone could still hear it.

Luanne fixed that by launching into a heavy-handed version of some classical piece. It sounded like a gang of Vikings was going to storm the church any second. It wasn’t calming, but it was progress, and at this point, people just wanted it over with. Such shocking behavior from Trudy probably shouldn’t have surprised them, but they had assumed she’d be better after she’d passed. Rising up out of the coffin to act up was just too much.

A brave soul seated on the aisle in the second row stood and walked toward the front, starting a confused stampede not unlike airline passengers deplaning after the world’s most turbulent flight. The man, Trudy’s doctor for the last five years, made his way to the casket and looked down. He murmured the Prayer, a standard wish for eternal peace, and hustled off the stage and out the side door. Mourners from the front three rows followed, repeating the Prayer and speed-walking to the bright sunshine outside. Luanne kept pounding through the music until Earl patted the air in front of her in a “calm it down” request for less volume.

Mourner #43, a shirttail relative and opportunist named Barnard, took a good long look in the box. Trudy had her eyes closed, mostly, though she was cracking one open occasionally to see who was looking at her, and her arms were down at her sides now, one hand in a pocket. The bodice of the gray dress floated over empty air deserted by her gravity-affected breasts. Her face sagged toward the pillow, smoothing and pooling into jowls. She looked like she was melting. Barnard made a face and wrinkled his nose.

Trudy was peeking for sure. A jet of liquid sprayed from the lily on her hat and hit Barnard directly in the face. He flinched back, then he screamed. “What was that?! My eyes! It’s burning!” He scrubbed at his face with his hands, making it worse. Luanne jangled to a stop, turning and staring with wide eyes. The absence of music made Trudy’s giggles audible. Earl sniffed, then coughed.

“It’s just vinegar, Barnard,” he said, trying to hold the man’s hands away from his face and making him more combative. “You’ll be okay, but you need to wash out your eyes. Luanne!” She jumped up and came over to the injured man, trying to grab an arm and help Earl calm him. Barnard hit her a glancing blow in the nose for her trouble, causing a dramatic fountaining nosebleed. Luanne clutched her face and ran for the bathroom, crashing through the waiting line of people and smearing blood on several of them. Their noises of disgust were too much for Trudy, who levered herself up again to see what was going on. Taking in the blood trail, fleeing Luanne, and struggling pair on stage, she cackled again and laid back down.

Several of the mourners in the rear of the line quietly made their way out the opposite end of the church. They would forfeit their shares, but the old woman’s money wasn’t worth playing a part in this fiasco. Earl saw them go and frowned, but he wasn’t in a position to do anything with Barnard in a headlock.

Earl wrestled Barnard off the stage toward the bathrooms and yelled, “Keep going!” The next person in line stood well back to mutter the Prayer. The rest of the line paid their rushed and physically removed respects. Trudy broke into unnerving laughter at random intervals, further disturbing them. After the last person in line had exited the door to the right, Trudy waited a few minutes, expecting the ceremony to proceed, but nothing happened.

“EARL?” she called in the empty sanctuary. No answer. “EARL? Where are you at?” she called again. A representative of the National End Service rushed out finally. It wasn’t protocol, but this service was so far into bonkers, what was one more breach?

“I’m sorry, Ms. Gatewood, but Earl is tending to the injured man and Luanne has not come back. I’m Garvin, from the NES. Can I do something for you?”

“You can get right back out of here, Garvin,” she shrilled. “I don’t need you vultures rushing me out of here!” The departed woman looked at her watch. “I have ten more minutes in here!”

Garvin nodded and scuttled out, nearly bumping into Earl as he made his way back to his mother. Earl frowned. “We still have ten minutes, don’t we?”

“Yes, yes, so sorry, just trying to help. Your mother was asking for you.”

“I’m sure she was asking for ME, not you.” Earl pushed past the man and walked to the casket. He took one last look at his mother, the woman who had both loved and tormented him, the strong personality in the weakened body, and whispered, “Bye now.”

Trudy was silent, and kept her eyes shut as he lowered the remaining half of the casket lid, turning the latches until it was secured. He rested one hand on the rosewood lid, softly reciting the Prayer with his head bowed, loose hair hiding his face. Only when he’d finished did he signal the NES man that they could proceed. Five minutes to spare. Luanne crept out of the bathroom, blood down the front of her pale yellow dress, and seeing that it was all over, went to the coat closet on the side of the stage to get her long coat. She had wads of toilet tissue in each nostril.

“Well, that’s it then, isn’t it?” Luanne said, as nasal as a school secretary over an intercom.

“Yep.” Earl wiped a hand down his face, looking as if the last hour had aged him ten years.

“It was fine, wasn’t it?” Luanne said anxiously, still looking for approval from someone, anyone.

“It was just how she would have wanted it.” Earl put an arm around Luanne’s thin shoulders and squeezed briefly, then walked slowly out the church’s front doors into his motherless new world.

Copyright 2019 by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: This is one my own ideas, something I thought up in the shower. The image of a son escorting his elderly mother into a funeral is one that strikes a heartstring. Assumptions are made. I thought…wouldn’t it be funny if they just kept going and she climbed into the casket? Well, funny to me, anyway. I hope you enjoyed it. I used this idea to give me time to produce a quality story from a reader suggestion for next time–a story about sparkly flowers and hidden agendas. See you again in a couple of weeks.

PS. If you’re enjoying the stories, please don’t hesitate to share them! I’m committed to doing this for a year, and it will only be more fun with more people. Send ideas to or leave them in the comments.

Welcome to Story McStoryface! Now Put Me to Work

Welcome to Story McStoryface! This is an online story project for 2019–a story project YOU can be part of. About twice a month, I will publish a short story on the project’s website, These stories will be (for the most part) based on requests from readers! Nothing is too outlandish or weird, but no porn or fanfiction, please. Check out the “How It Works” page for more info if you’re into that sort of thing.

My work tends toward dark comedy and speculative horror, so if you ask for butterflies and rainbows, don’t be mad when the rainbows are radioactive and the butterflies turn into vampires.

While all of the stories will be available in electronic text, I plan to record most on audio as well for the reading with your ears crowd. I’m excited to get this started! The first story, a sci-fi about a sea cucumber I wrote on a dare, will be out on Friday, January 18. You can submit your story requests in the comments or to Let’s be ridiculous together. We might as well.

PS. I named the project “Story McStoryface” after this wonderful fiasco of internet participation gone wrong: Boaty McBoatface. Don’t let me down, internet.