Short Story: For Family

It was insanity. It was complete and utter insanity. This had to be the most stupid thing she’d ever done. And for the most stupid of reasons. She steadied herself on the front bumper of the car, held on to a windshield wiper. People’d been killed less stupidly.

At least if she fell at this speed, she told herself, death would be quick.

Somehow, it didn’t make her feel better. She wasn’t sure anything could, not at the moment. Maybe a bubble of down-soft mattresses around her. Probably not. Otherwise, the universe could call all their debts even so long as she didn’t die horribly– even dying non-horribly wasn’t off the table.

She swallowed hard, feeling the car’s engine explode with power. It raged forward, spurned by the foot of the fuming creature behind the wheel. Kris had never exactly been collected, but this was insanity. Stupid insanity. All of it.

If Kate hadn’t been insane enough to get involved with the gangers, this would’ve never happened. If Syd hadn’t been insane enough to still love her baby sister, she wouldn’t be hanging on by a wiper blade. If big brother Kris wasn’t insane, period, he wouldn’t be forcing her to. Most of all, if their parents weren’t insane, Kate might not have developed her insanity, and wouldn’t be just out of reach in the econo-van rapidly approaching their front-bumper.

The more she thought about it, the less she knew what the hell came next. Kris’ foot was to the floor. The car was gaining. Soon enough, she’d have to decide if she wanted to attempt something. As to what, she didn’t have a clue. All of this was played by ear. Obviously. Who the hell planned hanging off the front end of a rapidly moving vehicle. If she had planned anything, it would’ve been driving. Not hanging. Kris could’ve done the hanging.

Instead, here she was– in arm’s reach of their sister and the stupid fuck trying to kidnap her. Or who had rather– wasn’t much further to go on that, really.

Kate had always had drug problems. They all had their vises. Family problems were as genetic as the genes themselves. Kris liked to gamble. Syd drank like a fish. Kate smoked, snorted, or shot just about anything and everything she touched.

She’d always been safe about it– mostly. She’d contracted Hepatitis from bad needles. Not her fault, really. The needle exchange’s supplier made a mistake. It was a big one, ended in lawsuits that Kate had benefited from. She immediately took her cash payout to get high off of and had been coasting off it ever since. It was a lot of money, after all.

Likewise, Kris’d had both his legs broken by bookies. Not at the same time mind you, but it got the point across… for a while. Syd woke up in unfamiliar places more often than not, expected to start puking blood any day. She hadn’t decided if she’d stop drinking then or start drinking harder.

They’d have blamed their parents for their shitty lives if they weren’t so certain that, by now at least, it was unfairly beating a dead and less blameless horse than they’d like.

None of that prepared them for what was happening now. If Syd bothered to stop and think, or had time to, between the car’s first nudge of the van’s bumper and her reactive leap between them, she’d have realized how absurd the whole situation was. Kate was an adult. She could do what she liked. Including junked-out, maniac gang-bangers. It wasn’t their business. Both Syd and Kris knew that. But since when was sibling-anything ever rational?

Sure as hell not now, Syd knew. Or would’ve thought, if she weren’t clinging to the very razor’s edge of the van’s rear, double-doors. Her nails were splitting the weather stripping. Her finger tips stung from inflamed needles shooting agony through her hands. Her grip tightened. Knuckles whitened. Fingers went purple at their edges. Her feet caught the bumper and in a flash, Kris revved up and past to the van’s driver side.

Syd had only just gotten her footing when the van lurched right.

“Kris! You stupid fuck!” She shouted into the wind.

She regained her footing, only to lose it again from another lurch. She clung on by a lone set of fingers. Kris was ramming the van.

“You idiot!” She screamed, feeling her fingers bleed.

The van lurched again, forward this time. It gain an inexplicable burst of speed. Between it and the oncoming traffic, Kris was forced back behind the van again. Syd screamed and shouted at him, regaining her footing a last time. He seemed to understand the stupidity of his own actions, didn’t care. As soon as he could, he surged around and past again. Syd cursed his name, his life, and her own stupidity for being here. Then, she did the only thing she could think to.

Her free arm reeled back. All the force of the bar-brawling drunkard she was shattered the door’s window. Blood instantly streamed down her arm, her coat, the door, rained into the wind. Kris rammed the van again, but she had a better hold, however painful. Most of all, she had a burst of fury. She threw open the second door, and hurled herself into the screeching van.

The next few moments were hard to follow, even for someone sober. Syd barreled through the van toward her sister, drug-addled but in a terrified daze on the floor. Syd’s drunkard’s-legs engaged from her idiot brother’s head-butting. Then, in a moment she was sure would’ve killed them all, her bloody hands slammed the junkie’s head against the dashboard.

Syd had just enough time to grab the wheel before the van lurched, angled right, and tipped. She saw the last few hundred feet of the van’s momentum from a tumbling view progressing backward and around through it. There was also, in a glaring sort of way, the obvious, ongoing road rash of the junkie boyfriend’s head and face; gravity had wedged it through the shattered window and dented driver’s door.

Even before the tumbling world came to a halt, Syd knew the guy was dead– though her own status was undetermined. Dragging herself, and Kate, from the back of the van, she found Kris waiting. Only then was Syd sure she yet lived; there was no way they’d all three gone to hell at exactly the same time.

Kate swayed, another junkie on drugs and completely oblivious to the severity of her circumstances. Syd swayed too, but from a daze more excusable than Kate’s. By now, the junkie boyfriend’s face was mush between window and ground.

But that didn’t stop Kate from shouting through the back of the van, “It’s over, Shane! Don’t ever call me again!”

She swaggered over to Kris’ car and fell in to the backseat. Syd and Kris exchanged an incredulous look. Kris sighed and headed for the car.

“You’re welcome,” Syd muttered, though Kate wouldn’t have cared anyhow.

As if on cue, Kate yelled something fittingly foolish.

Syd threw her head back to confront the starry sky, “The shit we do for family.”

Bonus Short Story: You’re On!

You’re On

“I don’t give a good god-damn who you are, get out of my house!”

Arvin was pissed. Clearly. The fact that he shouted this particular phrase down the barrel of long-nose .44 didn’t hurt in conveying his otherwise less-than-mellow state. The problem was, at least from his wife’s perspective, there wasn’t quite anyone there for him to be shouting at.

For the last twenty years, Arvin and Marjorie Dunn had been blissfully married. They’d survived a long-distance college relationship, ten years of growing older and bitter, tying the knot and two kids that were now grown and out of the house. In all that time, Marjorie hadn’t seen Arvin raise his voice nor hand in anger. He’d never needed to. He was a frightfully stern-looking man, with eyebrows made for the colossal grump he appeared to be. But really, he was a teddy-bear– all soft and cuddly, and stuffed with more plumped up fibrous tissue than a life-size version of the aforementioned.

In the moment, it didn’t seem to matter. Any of it, in fact. He cocked back the hammer of his home-defense .44, ready to rain swift hell-fire on the air. Marjorie was still frozen in horror behind him, not sure whether to run or cry, but all the same unwilling to anger the beast with the large revolver. She wasn’t sure what to do, nor of how things had progressed quite to this point.

She’d already traced it’s origins; this had all started when the Matthews’ moved out. They’d been the Dunn’s neighbors for nigh-on fifteen years, had been there twice as long as anyone else in the suburb– one of the first families to settle the subdivision when it was first built. Granted Warner Matthews was always a couple decades older than Arvin, they grew together as friends.

And for fifteen years, the two men grew older, fatter, balder while they counted the time in barbecues and beers, football games and nachos, and fourth of Julys and hot dogs. They were the best of friends, helped to keep each other grounded. That’s not to say that Darlene Matthews wasn’t the same for Marjorie. They too were the best of friends, but in the way of women whom largely preferred to sit at home with books or cross-stitching were. They just weren’t quite the level of close the other two were.

It was always known between Arvin and Warner that one day the latter’s pension would come due. He and Darlene would pack up their most precious belongings, sell the rest, then run off to Florida to live out their days. Promises to visit on both sides might eventually be upheld, but unfortunately, it just hadn’t been long enough yet to tell if there was any truthfulness to that.

Indeed, the day they did finally finished selling off the less-desirable elements of their home and history, they packed up Warner’s old pick-up (Darlene’s car atop a long-bed trailer towed behind it) and drove off into the sunset. Arvin was happy for them then, as any man or woman might be watching another achieve their dream. He was even happier the next week when they received a post-card of the new condo on the beach in an envelope with a picture of the boat the couple had bought from selling their vehicles.

But that too, was the day when all of this started. It seemed innocuous enough when Marjorie returned home with groceries, and Arvin saying something about new neighbors. Being laden with armfuls of groceries, she didn’t quite hear him, and his mind was too easily swept up in aiding her in the task otherwise. The conversation didn’t re-emerge until the next day, when once again Marjorie came in from the car, keys jangling as she set them in the bowl just inside the door.

Arvin said something about new neighbors again, this time mentioning that he’d only seen the one car. Evidently the new couple– a husband and wife in their thirties– preferred to share a car rather than have two payments. Marjorie’s suggestion to run across the lawn and introduce themselves was met with the curious recollection that he’d seen them both leave just before she’d arrived home.

“Well then,” Marjorie replied. “You’ll just have to make sure you tell me when they’re back so we can introduce ourselves. Otherwise we’re gonna’ be livin’ next to strangers ’til we’re dust.”

He’d chuckled with a casual compliance, but the thought had left his mind somewhere between there and dinner, and by the time that was over, he wasn’t sure he had the energy to get off the couch. The cycle of one thing or another keeping them from meeting their neighbors continued for almost a full week.

That’s when Marjorie noticed the first of a series of insidious changes in Arvin. Where he’d always been one to rise with the sun, have himself a wholesome breakfast before work, then putter off to wile away the day at the salt mines, he was suddenly late for work. For anyone else, it might’ve slipped by unnoticed, but Arvin was a punctual man. Provided you caught him on a normal day, you’d be able to set your watch by him– so long as you knew what time he did what each day.

For Marjorie, this lapse raised her guard. Ever the housewife, she watched three days pass like this, her time wasted in worry rather than up-keeping the house and flower-beds. The front petunias withered, only saved by a short rainstorm that managed to perk them back up. Even so, Marjorie’s routine was as shaken up as Arvin’s.

On the fourth day, she paced about the house, so tense at Arvin’s shift she wasn’t sure what to do. Over the previous days and nights, Arvin had spoken more of the young couple next door. He’d managed to run into one of them at the gas-station and introduce himself. Unfortunately, due to their schedules, the two were almost never home, both instead absorbed by positions at a mutual job concerning computer-something or other– Arvin couldn’t recall, he was too old for computers to make sense to him.

On that fourth day, Marjorie devised a plan. By four AM of the fifth day after Arvin’s failure to rise began, she was up. She lurked in the shadows of the window that faced the Matthews’ old house. She refused to leave, almost refused to blink, even when Arvin rose, once more late for work. He left as the sun settled into its passage through-out the sky, and by the time Marjorie recognized high-noon coming, she’d devised another plan.

She didn’t wait to execute it. Instead, she sneaked over to the Matthews’ old house, through the back, wooden gate, and across the paver-block patio that Arvin and Warner had built one summer a decade ago. She rifled through the mulched flower-bed beside the back door, fished out an old, fake rock that contained a key to the door. Evidently, the new neighbors hadn’t moved it yet, or even replaced the locks: the key slid in just as it should, turned without issue.

She slipped into the house only to be chased out moments later by a bilious feeling that sent shivers through her spine: the house was empty, just as she, Arvin, and the Matthews’ had left it after they’d filled Warner’s pick-up and Darlene’s car.

To be standing between the kitchen and front room now, watching her husband curse and swear with a gun in his hand made her feel all the more guilty. When he’d returned from work, she’d confronted him. With little more than a short argument, and a promise to bring one of them over, he’d left the house. What Marjorie didn’t realize was that he’d retrieved the .44 from the bedroom after he’d stormed off. Why was anyone’s guess, but all the same here they were.

“I said get out of my house god damn it!”

“Arvin there’s no-one there!” Marjorie wailed.

“The hell there isn’t!” He said.

He fired two rounds through the air into the man he saw before him. A moment later, the man was on the ground before Arvin, blood pooling on the cream, shag-carpet. Suddenly Marjorie saw him too, but it wasn’t a man. Instead, the long, distended features of caricatured humanoid creature lay before them. Arvin dropped the gun, back-stepped in horror. He’d grown too frustrated, angry at the world and the break in his routine. Marjorie hadn’t seen him snap at his co-workers, or flip off other drivers, or feel the rise in his pulse and blood-pressure during the argument.

It all seemed to make sense to Arvin, but to Marjorie, nothing made sense.

“My god, what is that?” Arvin said, finally seeing the creature’s true form.

A woman appeared in the doorway, fell to the ground wailing, “No, no!”

The woman suddenly lit with a bright, glowing light. A similar figure to the creature became apparent through it. Marjorie fainted.

When she awoke, Arvin and the two creatures were grouped around her, but they once more resembled their human selves.

“Honey, I think we need to listen to these people,” Arvin said, still sickly pale.

The woman spoke, the man still clutching his side, though no longer bleeding. “We’re terribly sorry for all of this. We knew we could not keep the masquerade up forever.”

“I… I shot him,” Arvin said breathlessly.

The wounded man gave a grunt, “We heal… quickly.”

“You’re… not human, are you?” Marjorie asked.

The woman shook her head. The man attempted a joke, “For once that’s… a good thing.”

“I-I didn’t know… I swear. After what Marjorie said… I-I-I thought you weren’t real.”

The man gave a shrug. The woman grimaced, “This wouldn’t have happened if we were honest with you to begin with.”

“Honest?” Marjorie asked. “About what?”

The two creatures exchanged a look, then, the man gave a pained nod to his partner. She frowned, “The Matthews, the ones you believed lived beside you? We’re them.” A mutual “Huh?” escaped the Dunns. The creature claiming to be Mrs. Matthews explained, “We’ve lived her for a long time. A lot longer than the short life-span humans carry.”

“Problem is…” the man said. “Every few decades we have to change our appearance or else we draw suspicion. I mean, we can fool you with gradual aging, but eventually humans have to die.”

“We don’t die so easily,” the woman added.

“So clearly,” Marjorie said, overwhelmed.

Arvin shook off his guilt long enough to speak, “So… you’re telling me, you two are… what Aliens? And every sixty or seventy years you change your appearance to keep blending?”

The man’s features flickered from the handsome thirty-something to the wrinkled, white-haired countenance of Warner Matthews. “That’s the long and short of it, pal,” he said with Warner’s tell-tale buddyism.

“Warner?” Arvin said. “It really is you!”

The man morphed back into the thirty-something, gave a nod, “Yeah-huh.”

The woman explained to Marjorie directly, “We didn’t want to move away from our home, our friends. So we just pretended to. We’re still waiting on having the new furniture delivered– that’s why the house is empty.”

“But what about not seeing you?” Marjorie asked.

The man replied, “Just bad luck. We had the day off today. When you came in to examine the house we hid ourselves– the same way we trick you into seeing these forms instead of our true ones.”

“The trickery requires focus, concentration, that’s why you saw him when he was shot,” the would-be Darlene said.

“My god,” Arvin said. “You really are our neighbors then.”

The young man chuckled, already almost fully head, “Yep, that’s us.”

“Can you ever forgive me for shooting you?”

Warner smiled, “You’re my friend, Arv and I couldn’t trick your wife and you together yet. It was as much my doing as yours. I wasn’t sure if I should tell you everything, and I’d’ve had to after we saw Marjorie break in earlier.”

“So… it’s really my fault, isn’t it?” Marjorie asked.

“Let’s just say,” Darlene began. “Everyone made mistakes.”

The human couple swallowed hard and exchanged a look. Arvin glanced up at his extra-earthly neighbor, “Lemme’ at least make it up to you. I got some steaks and some beer, we’ll have a cook-out– just like old times.”

Darlene and Warner exchanged a laugh, the latter nodded, “You’re on pal.”