Powder Burn Flash #363 - J. Scott Kunkle

Silent Questions
by J. Scott Kunkle

 
"You have a nice place, Doctor, and thanks for the coffee."

“You’re welcome.”

“I like the natural lighting.”

"Thank you. Are you interested in things like that?"

"Well, when I was going to college I dabbled in architecture."

"What happened? Did you lose interest?"

"I lost interest in many things. People change, get new ideas. You should understand that, Doctor."

"Only a medical doctor, I'm afraid. Psychology was never one of my strong suits. However, yes, I do know what you mean. I wanted to be an artist when I was in school. You know, move to Paris and paint masterpieces. Suffer for my craft and all that prepubescent stuff and nonsense."

"Aspirations are nothing to be taken lightly, Doctor. If it were not for people dreaming, aspiring to be more than they are, there would be no Mona Lisa, no Hamlet, and no airplane. Without dreams, the world would come to a screeching halt. We would go nowhere."

"It seems strange that a man in your position would see things that way."

"Why? Dreaming is not confined to the upper class, Doctor. Everyone is entitled to dream no matter which side of the tracks they come from. All that some people have is their dreams. It's the thing that drives them forward."

"But to what end?"

"It's not really the dreams that are important, anyway. It is the mere act of dreaming. Needing something, strongly enough drives you forward. It keeps you alive."

"But who is to say who will fulfill their dreams and who will fall short? Surely not you?"

"I never claimed to be God, Doctor and I’m not here to judge anyone."

"No, I suppose not."

A cup rang shrilly as it clattered in the sink, the last remains of the coffee running slowly from the cup across the porcelain, leaving a tiny brown stain on the glistening white surface that would be impossible to scrub away.

"It's getting late, Doctor."

"Yes, I know, but please, just a short while longer. I find talking with you rather intriguing."

"You are a strange character, Doctor."

"Yes, well, tell me, how long have you been in your line of work? Or is that too personal a question?"

"I don't mind. Nearly thirty years now, though it seems a lot longer."

"You hardly seem old enough."

"How old do you have to be?"

"Have you ever considered giving it all up? Moving away and starting over? Take an early retirement and puzzle through some of life's little intricacies? Surely you have the money."

"Yes, I've thought about it, and dismissed it. One day I will retire, but not now. I still have a great deal to accomplish."

"Such as?"

"You see, Doctor, in my profession, I learn things that others cannot. Little things, I grant you, and most of no importance, but occasionally, like tonight, I gain a little insight, a little bit of understanding of life's workings, of how people think. It all helps piece together the puzzle. When the puzzle is complete, then I'm done.”

"I see."

"Do you?"

"I think so. You see, I have also gained from our conversation. In the short time we have talked, I have learned things about myself that I had only accepted thus far on faith. I almost believe I am half the man I considered myself. It is a good feeling. I have finally answered some of my silent questions."

"And exactly what does that mean?"

"It is the questions one asks of oneself. They are never voiced and never discussed in public. They are pondered in private and the answers are rare. And then, usually not the ones we wanted in the first place."

"You said you weren’t a psychologist."

"This isn't psychology. This is life."

"Those questions sound like they could drive you a little bit crazy."

"Not at all. It is very simple. If a person finds an answer that is contradictory to the way they wish to perceive themselves, then they merely dismiss the answer or change the question to better suit the answer. The hard part is in deciding which questions to ask and to have the humility to accept the answers, no matter how much they oppose your ideal. That is the only way to gain anything."

"And you've gained something tonight?"

"A great deal more than I had expected. As I said, I find that I like myself, and I like most of what I have done in my life. My actions have been the same as many a man before me. I can accept what I have done and any consequences I might deserve. My questions have been answered."

"Are you sure?"

Leather creaked like the saddle of a good packhorse. Light gleamed from metal as if from the shiny studs on the saddle, glistening in the moonlight. Fires danced along the steel, igniting sparks in the eyes, dying as swift as an ice cube on a hot day.

"It's nearly twelve and I have to get going, Doctor. I have some silent questioning of my own to do tonight, and I don't believe it's going to go very well."

"After having talked with you, I am sure it will not. You are a remarkable man and it has been a distinct pleasure to speak with you, even under these circumstances. Remember, son, the grass is never greener on the other side of that fence. It’s just grass, same as on this side."

"I think I could have grown fond of talking with you. There aren't many people out there with something to say."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, Doctor. Good bye."

The sudden crash echoes throughout the room. Amid sounds of oblivion, there is whiteness and then blackness tinged in red. The thin trickle of smoke wafts up to the ceiling and hangs there, like a vulture watching over a dying figure, the movements slowing on the floor below. Watching, and waiting.

He had his answers as well.




BIO: After serving 10 years in the U.S. Army, I returned to my hometown of Tucson, Az.  My stories have appeared elsewhere online at such sites as Flashes in the Dark, The Fringe, Static Movement and Weird Year.  I am also a novelist and screenwriter with several novels and over a dozen screenplays to my credit.

Powder Burn Flash # 362 - M. G. Allen

Three Steves, One Dead
by M.G.Allen


Steve Draven, a quiet man, didn’t start conversations with strangers even at his neighborhood bar. This guy was a talker. He saddled into a stool and just started oozing small talk.  Luckily, Steve Draven could fake friendliness just enough as to not seem like a dick.

After a few minutes of unremarkable banter, the guy asked him his name. He told him: Steve Draven.

“Weeeell,” he said, bemused. “It’s always great to meet another Steve. I’m Steve Paulson!”

Two Steves at a bar. How cute, how sickeningly cute like the guy’s inane chatter.

“What are the odds?”

“Strange odds.” said Steve Paulson, taking a slow thoughtful pull from his beer. “Is Steve that common of a name?  I could see maybe two guys named John meeting like this but…Steve?  This has to be a very unique coincidence.”

Steve Paulson went on to prattle about all the Steves he knew when laughter erupted from the end of the bar.

It was the guy on the laptop, a younger guy wearing a jogging getup    He smiled widely raising his hand like a school kid.

“Add one more to the Steve Club.” He said. “I’m Steve Winslow.”

“You’re shittin’ me!” said Draven.

“’Fraid not. I’ve been a Steve all my life!”

Steve Paulson whooped with disbelief. Steve Draven snapped his fingers at him and asked for identification.

Steve Winslow felt around the waistband of his pants and quickly said, “My wallet is out in the car. I just popped in here to use the Wi-Fi. They all know me.”

“I trust him,” said Steve Paulson.

When the bartender returned from the back with fresh glasses, Draven explained the situation and asked her to verify the guy’s name.

“I don’t know his name.” she said and added, “My last boyfriend was named Steve. He died in a car accident last Thursday.”

“Sorry to hear that,” said Steve Paulson.

Draven felt a sink of fear.

“Damn, guys, what if this is a bad omen?” blurted Draven, after the bartender disappeared into the back. “Her boyfriend died, just last week. Doesn’t that seem like some kind of omen?”

“I try not to think about omens. But coincidences…those I can get a handle on. Just drink your beer, man.”

“There are three of us,” said Winslow. “That’s the funny thing. The number three has always had a kind of magical significance, especially in religion, like the Holy Trinity. Many other religions regard the number three as magical.”

“Everything happens in threes,” added Draven eerily. “Even death.”

“Hey. Whoa,” said Paulson. “Freaky things happen sometimes. This is merely a case of three guys at a bar named Steve.”

“And one dead Steve,” said Draven standing up, sliding his stool back. He tossed a few bills on the bar. “Too freaky for my tastes.”

He walked out.

*    *    *

Draven couldn’t get the episode out of his mind. Growing up, his older brother always told him he was quick to jump to conclusions, sometimes calling him outright paranoid. Draven considered it an asset. Suspicion kept his senses alert. It helped him stay on task at work even though it cost him social points. He was used to being misunderstood.

Paranoia was in high gear now. He started carrying his gun again. Just in case.

He minded his speed when he drove. Died in a car wreck. He had always scoffed at those flaky Shirley MacLaine types. But this time he knew something ominous was at work.

Three Steves. That magical number.

Three plus death.

Thursday was just two days away. On his way home from work he cruised by the bar. No Steves. The next day, Wednesday, he peeked in and saw the jogger/laptop dude perched at the end of the bar.

Draven was pretty sure the guy had been lying. He couldn’t prove his name was Steve. There was a certain strange, aloof air about Winslow, like a brainy trickster messing with two simpletons for kicks.

Draven waited outside.

When Winslow exited with his laptop case around his shoulder, Draven trotted up to him.

“How about letting me see that ID now?”

“What? You’re still obsessing over that?”

“Yes. This is serious. One of us could die, man!”

“You’re insane! Leave me alone.”

Draven whipped out the gun, jabbed it into Winslow’s side and began pushing him towards the parking lot.

“Be a good boy. Get your wallet then you can go about your merry way, all right?”

“Hey, look…”

The hanging laptop case momentarily dislodged the gun from his side, long enough for him to whip around and grab the barrel. Draven’s compulsive nature struck again as he squeezed the trigger, sending a hot bullet into his own chest.

Winslow let the fat man fall to the ground. He was fazed for only a minute. He whipped out his wallet which was secured in the waist band of his jogging pants.

He held his driver’s license out over Draven’s face.

“Happy now?  See it?  Steve Winslow!”

But Draven’s dead eyes couldn’t register it. 
 
 
BIO: Matthew Gregory Allen (M.G.Allen) has a story, "A Man Exploding," appearing in the fall issue of Mysterical E. He took a long hiatus from writing to teach ESL in Asia. He plans to return to the US next April and get cracking on querying his novel around. For now, he's pounding out short fiction.

Powder Burn Flash - #361 - Harding Young

Bullets
by Harding Young


I got bullets.

Looking across the table at Dogger I imagine them, one by one, crashing through his skull and coming out the other end along with a big chunk of his brain.

Instead I keep them close, waiting for the right time, playing the hand slow and steady.

Lucy is standing now.  Her skirt rides high and every time she bends to lay cards on the table Dogger takes a long, lingering look at her ass.

She is loving him watching her.

“Check,” I say, having put in the big blind.

“I call,” Dogger says, throwing in some chips.

Lucy laughs.  “Ouchy.  Come on boys, don’t you know that size does matter?  I thought this was a high stakes game.”  She puts her shoulders back to enhance her cleavage and Dogger shows no shame. He makes lapping sounds with his tongue.

“Honey,” he says, “why don’t you throw those tits into the mix and I’ll bet my whole damn load.”

My bullets are getting hot.

“No offense, Cal,” he says.

“None taken Dog,” I say.

“Just admiring your bride’s bosom.  A man has to react to such a pair.”

“Not to mention her fine ass,” I say.

“Oh yes, her fine, fine ass.  I surely do agree.”

Lucy gives him a bend, a wiggle and a smile.  It’s much like the one I saw her give him through the blinds two nights ago, when I got home early.  Except she wasn’t wearing a damn thing then.

“How about just the flop,” I say.

Down they go. 

J♣

J♥

K♣

My odds slim.  Pair on the board means a dangerous trip lurks.  But, lying fuck that Dogger may be, his eyes always tell the truth.  His eyes tell me… he does NOT have a Jack in hand.

I put him maybe on a King-Six.  Pair of Kings looking pretty hot to him right now.  Hotter than Lucy’s tits.

I roll my head.  Knock on the table.

He smiles.  Breathes hard.  Smiles again.

“Well, time to heat things up.  Two thousand.”

I whistle.  Lucy gasps and says, “Now here comes the action, Jackson.”

Why the fuck does she always say that? Action, Jackson?  What the hell does that even mean?

Truth is, Dog is only her most recent affair.  There is a long list, increasing in frequency, duration, and inhibition.  Hell, she barely tries to hide it anymore.

I look at my cards again.  Ace-ace equals win-win.  But, I want more on the table.

“I call.”

“Baby baby baby,” Lucy says.  “Push it push it push it.”

“Hey, how about a kiss for luck,” I say.  She saunters over and slips her tongue into my throat.

Dogger says, “Now that ain’t fair.  This is a gentleman’s game.”

She giggles.  “Why Mr. Dog, I do think you are right.  Ruff ruff!”  She dances to him and turns around and wiggles her ass onto his crotch.  He gives her tits a big, hard squeeze.  “Oops,” she says.  “No touchy Mr. Dog.  Looksies only.”

I’m not sure what annoys me more, the flirting or her stupid voice.

“Just the cards please,” I say.

She flips the turn.

K♥

Just my luck.  I now put him on trip Kings.  Question is: what does he put me at?  The answer is easy.  A sucker.  He’s always thought me that.  Now, with Lucy licking his loins on a regular basis, he figures he’s got me every which way.

“One thousand,” I say.

“What you got there, Cal?”  Dog says.  “Eight-two off-suit?”

Lucy giggles and says, “Callie doesn’t bluff, Dog.  You know that.  Never knew a straighter arrow than my good ole Callie-wallie.”

“Raise,” Dog says.  “Another thousand.”

Got him.

“I call.”

Lucy jumps.  “Action, Jackson!”

Fuck.

Lucy takes the cards and rubs them sensually into her cleavage.  “A little luck for both of you, from all of us,” she says.  Dog salivates and looks rabid.

She burns a card and deals the river.

A♣

I’ve hit trip Aces.  Knock his Kings solid.  Time for the big stakes.  Time to put this miserable mutt out of my misery.

Bullets through his skull.

“I’m all in,” I say.

Dogger howls, shakes his head, breathes hard.  He says, “I don’t think you got me covered man.”

“No, doesn’t look like it.”

“Maybe we can make a deal.  Raise the stakes.  Put a little more action into the mix.  A little more Action, Jackson.”

Bullets ready to fly.

“Like what?” I say.

“Like Lucy.  A little Lucy goes a long way.”

“What do you mean? You want me to bet my wife?”

“Well, I’d be happy with just her tits, but the rest of her is pretty damn fine too.”

I shake.  I squirm.  I make a show of my dilemma.

“What are you putting on the table?”

“What do you want?”

Lucy is not smiling.  She’s lost her glow.  She’s deflating.

“Two things.  First, if I win, you stop fucking my wife. - Second, I want your car, and that new Bose stereo of yours."

His nose flares.  His jowl quivers.

Lucy is staring at me with something like hate.  Something sinister.  Something that suggests she actually feels betrayed.

“You bet me,” she says through her teeth, “for a fucking car.”

“Well… and a stereo.”

Dogger slams the table with his fist.  “I fucking call.”

I aim between the eyes.  I fire.

Bang, bang.

Bullets in the head.

His smirk lingers in a whirl of cigarette smoke.  He slams is cards on the table.

I was right.  King-six.

Only problem is the suit.

K♣

6♣

He’s got a flush.

As he’s leaving he shakes my hand.  “No hard feelings, Cal.  You played a good hand.  I had the nuts.”

On his way out the door he adds, “And now I got yours.”

Lucy is less congenial.  “You fucking lost me the second you put me on the table, you fucking bastard.”

And then she’s gone.

Like I said.

Ace-ace equals win-win.

BIO: Mr. Young still lives in Toronto, writing his first novel, caring for a diabetic cat, and trying to keep up his blog Oriolelounge.com.  In addition to Powder Burn Flash, his publication credits include an entry in an anthology called Twisted Cat Tales, by Coscom Entertainment, and the former Canadian Storyteller Magazine.

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