About Robert M. Roberts

I am a writer who has written two novels. My debut novel, "The Monkey Toy" is an apocalyptic thriller and my second one, "Souls of the Desert" is a mystery. If you would like to know more, please visit my website: http://www.robertsnovels.com

3:04

A fictional short story by Robert M. Roberts

Laura Castle bolted up in bed. As her heart pounded and she gasped for air, she looked at the alarm clock at her bedside. It was 3:04. The alarm had not sounded. She had set if for 6:00 a.m. It was another horrific nightmare that had caused her to wake up, just one of many terrifying dreams that she had been having every night for several days in a row. Each dream was different, but always carried the same theme of her pending death. This time she had fallen through an ice-covered pond, and just before drowning she suddenly woke up. The other nights she was either being stabbed to death or was in a car crash, but she was always saved by waking up, and it was always at 3:04 a.m.

What in the hell is going on? she wondered. The lack of restful sleep was physically and mentally draining, and was starting to take its toll. This was the last thing she needed in her life right now. She was up for a big promotion in her job at Lone Star Life and Casualty Company in Dallas. She had worked hard to get ahead in the company, but her lethargy and forgetfulness was beginning to affect her daily job performance, and could jeopardize her chances for promotion.

When Laura arrived at work later that morning, her co-worker was the first to notice her dragged-out appearance. “Dang girl!” The outspoken Jasmine commented. “You got circles under your eyes like a raccoon. You party all night?”

Laura rolled her reddened eyes at Jasmine and shook her head. “No. I just can’t sleep these days.”

She began to tell the quizative Jasmine about her ongoing nightmares. After venting for several minutes, Jasmine said, “I think you should see a doctor.”

“Oh, my doctor would just give me some pills and that would make it worse,” Laura replied.

“No, I mean a head doctor,” Jasmine clarified.

“A shrink? No way! That would definitely kill my chances for a promotion. If the big shots found out I was seeing a psychiatrist. . .no, that’s out of the question! I’ve worked my butt off for that regional job, and I’m going to get it!”

Jasmine could see Laura’s determination. “Well, I tell you girl, you better take those nightmares as an omen and watch your step.”

“Do you really think it could be an omen about something?” Laura asked.

“Well, I’m from Louisiana. We take omens as serious as a heart attack,” said Jasmine.

“Thanks, now I will worry,” Laura frowned.

Laura’s phone started ringing. It was her boss, Gerald, wanting to see her in his office. As she reached his door, he motioned for her to come in and take a seat across from him at his desk. She felt uncomfortable as he stared at her, and wondered if he noticed the tiredness in her face.

“Laura, as you probably already know, we have been considering you for a promotion for quite some time now.” Her heart began to sink as she waited for him to tell her she was not going to be promoted. “I just want to tell you how pleased I have been with your hard work and dedication to the company. I have been in touch with the home office and a regional position has opened up in the Southwest. I have recommended you to fill that slot.”

Laura began to beam from ear to ear. “The Southwest? Oh my gosh! That would be wonderful!”

“I know this is short notice but could you fly out tonight to San Francisco and meet with the directors at the home office first thing in the morning?” he asked. “It’s just a formality. They like to personally meet new appointees, and welcome you aboard.”

“Oh sure. No problem. I can’t wait!” Laura replied.

“I’ll have my secretary make your travel arrangements, and congratulations. You deserve it!” Gerald shook Laura’s hand.

“Thank you, Gerald!”

Laura returned to her cubicle and told Jasmine the good news. They agreed to celebrate with a drink when she returned from San Francisco. With all the excitement, Laura forgot how tired she was as she finished up her afternoon at work. She was too excited to let sleepiness damper her elation. Before she left, Gerald’s secretary called and told her the travel arrangements were made for an 8:10 p.m. flight on Delta. She said she would send an e-mail to Laura with the specific flight information.

Laura arrived home to her apartment around 5:30 and began to pack an overnight bag for the trip. Later, she called her mother in Fayetteville, Arkansas and told her the good news. Not wanting to worry her elderly mother, she specifically didn’t mention anything about the nightmares to her. Her mother told her she was so proud of her and that she intended to notify her friend at the local newspaper, so she could write a piece about the promotion of her daughter.

After a quick shower, she drove to the airport and parked in the parking garage across from the terminal. As she rolled her carry-on bag across the street, she looked at her watch. It was 6:40. Perfect timing, she thought.

The line at the Delta counter was fairly short. Laura handed her driver’s license to the ticket agent. “Yes, I have it right here, Ms. Castle. Round trip to San Francisco, departing Dallas at 8:10 p.m., Delta flight #304, arriving San Francisco at 11:32 p.m.”

“Flight #304?” Laura blurted out.

“Yes, that’s correct. Is something wrong?”

Laura started sweating and could barely speak. She was having a panic attack. “I can’t take this flight,” she uttered. “Is there another one?”

The bewildered agent typed on the keyboard. “The only one is the redeye departing at 12:15 and arriving at 3:37.”

“What’s the flight number?” Laura asked.

“#512,” the agent replied with a perplexed expression on his face.

“I’ll take that flight. Change my ticket please.”

The agent made the ticket change and didn’t ask any questions, but it was obvious to him that this strange passenger had a problem with the flight number for some reason. Another weirdo, he thought. It must be a full moon out tonight.

With the new boarding pass in hand, Laura took a seat in the terminal area to gather her thoughts. Jasmine’s voice echoed through her mind. . . “We take omens as serious as a heart attack.”  Well, I took this one serious too, Laura thought. What was the odds of the flight number being #304? Better safe than sorry, she assured herself.

She had so much time to kill before her flight, so she decided to get her car and go out for a bite to eat on the way to Wal-Mart just down the road. She made a list that included lip gloss, Visine, Tylenol, and a magazine. She stuffed the scribbled list into her purse and grabbed her rolling carry-on and headed for the exit door of the airport. Her cell phone beeped with a text message as she walked. She reached into her purse to check the text. It was from Jasmine and said to have a great flight. Laura stepped off the curb. Tires screeched and a horn blared as the vehicle impacted her. Laura became airborne. Her body smashed the windshield and was thrown over the top of the car and landed on the trunk lid. She slowly rolled off onto the pavement. Blood was pooling from her head. A shaken cabby exited his vehicle. Bystanders screamed in horror and ran to the scene to try to help the stricken Laura, as faces of strangers gawked from the terminal windows. Sirens screamed in the distance as Laura drew her last breath.

The coroner arrived and pronounced her dead and the police officer began his report. Eyewitnesses stated that Laura was looking at her phone as she walked straight into the path of the oncoming taxicab.

An investigation at the scene was conducted and the tragedy was ruled an accident. No charges were filed against United Cab Company or the driver of cab #304.

Jimi the Good Boy

A fictional short story by Robert M. Roberts

Olga Ivanov and her seven year old son, Jimitri, were in awe as they peered through the window of the airplane. The city below, with its towering buildings and many houses, stretched for miles. This would be their new home. It was a far cry from the cold impoverished country of the Ukraine.

Although Olga was frightened of this new beginning, anything would be better than living with the abusive, alcoholic husband, Jimi’s father, who they had left behind. She wondered how he would react when he finally sobered up and realized they were gone and were never going to return. Maybe he would kill himself, she thought. No he wouldn’t do that. He would be so glad to be rid of us, he probably wouldn’t even contact the authorities and report us missing, she surmised.

They would never have escaped had it not been for her cousin, Sonjia. She had helped arrange the airfare and visas. Sonjia warned her years ago not to marry the monster, but Olga didn’t listen to her advice. But now, she and Jimi had a second chance. She vowed to herself that she would work hard to pay her cousin back for saving them.

After the plane landed at JFK, they waited patiently at customs. As the agent waved them through, Olga was relieved that the agent didn’t ask her anything since she spoke little English. She saw a woman waving frantically in the distance. As they worked their way through the crowd, she realized it was Sonjia and she was yelling in Russian, “Welcome to America!”

A few minutes after the hugs and heartwarming greetings, they gathered their small bags of belongings and made their way to start their new life in Brighton Beach. ‘Little Odessa,’ it was called, where thousands of immigrant Russians and Ukrainians had resided for generations. America has traditionally been called ‘the melting pot’, and New York City has several pots where different nationalities claim their own little space in the metropolis.

Sonjia was several years older than Olga and had never married. She was happy to share her small, two bedroom flat with the new arrivals. She enrolled Jimi in school and helped Olga find house cleaning jobs.

As time passed, Jimi seemed to be doing well in school. However, Olga found it quite difficult learning the English language and she could only speak a few words. She tried hard to fit in with the people she worked for, but there was such a language barrier. She would pull a picture from her apron and point to it. “This is my son, Jimi. He is a good boy,” she would tell them. Olga did this often and it was obvious to everyone she met that she was very proud of her son.

Olga worked hard and over time and was able to pay Sonjia back for helping her and Jimi come to America. Life was good for them for the first few years until Sonjia suddenly died from a brain aneurysm. Olga and Jimi continued to live in the apartment. Sonjia left them a little money, but that soon evaporated. It was tough to live on the money Olga got from her few cleaning jobs, but she always kept a smile on her face. She often pulled the faded picture from her apron and would say to everyone she met, “This is my son, Jimi. He is a good boy.”

Jimi was now fourteen years old and his life began to spiral out of control. Unbeknownst to his mother, he quit going to school. Olga was never notified that he didn’t attend school. He started hanging out every day at Chertoff’s Deli, which was a mere front for the Russian Mafia. There he met the worst of the worst, but they began to take an interest in the young boy and gave him a few dollars to run errands for their bookmaking and money laundering business. To explain his constant absence and the extra money, Jimi told his mother he had a part-time job after school, washing dishes at the deli.

As time passed, Jimi became hardened and considered himself a tough guy. He bought a menacing knife with a serrated edge that he stored in the lining of his boot, under his pant leg. He was quick to pull it out when he was threatened by an outside foe and therefore gained the nickname of ‘Jimi the Knife’ by his Mafia cohorts. His allegiance to the organization would be tested as he moved up in the ranks.

In the spring of his seventeenth year, he had the audacity to tell his mother that he had graduated from high school and had been promoted to Assistant Manager at the deli. Olga never questioned what he told her. She bought a cake in his honor to celebrate his achievements. “Jimi, what a good boy you are,” she told him in her broken English.

One week later, Jimi stood in the darkness between two buildings. He was just out of sight of the glaring street light. He waited patiently with his knife in hand as the targeted victim approached on the sidewalk. Failing to pay a gambling debt, the husband and father of three was about to pay with his life.

In a split second, Jimi shoved the steel blade into the man’s side. He quickly extracted it and then slit his throat. As his body slumped over in the dark alley, Jimi wiped off the bloody knife blade on the victim’s coat and exited the alley in the opposite direction.

As he made his way home, he stopped in front of a lighted store window and checked for blood on his clothes and hands, but they appeared to be clean. He was kind of surprised that he didn’t feel guilt or remorse, it was the opposite. The first time was exciting and he enjoyed it. After all, he thought, he didn’t know the guy.

Jimi received kudos, as well as money from his mafia bosses and there would be no turning back. Like all organized crime, whether it is Italian, Russian, or whatever, once you’re in, there’s no getting out alive. He knew that. He graciously reaped the monetary rewards for this hit and future hits. He socked the money away, and planned to buy himself and his beloved mother a nice house one day.

There was little news coverage or real investigation of the murder. After all, it wasn’t like it happened in Manhattan. Even after three more killings that year, no one was taken into custody. By definition, three murders suspected by the same perpetrator are normally considered by the FBI as serial killing. But no FBI agents showed up to investigate. It was just business as usual because it happened in areas dominated by organized crime.

The next year, Jimi the Knife was contracted to do another hit on a John Doe who owed the organization money for drugs. Jimi was uneasy about this one because it was to go down in his own neighborhood. He didn’t want his mother to be afraid because of a murder happening so close to home. But there was no other option.

It was shivering cold that night with a heavy mist in the air. Jimi was in wait, hiding in the shadows, just two doors down from a bakery. He was told his victim would be wearing a black hooded coat, and that he stopped at the bakery every week day night a little after 9:00 p.m. for donuts and coffee on his way home from work.

Jimi kept looking at his watch, wishing the guy would show up. He was freezing and fog was settling in, making it hard for him to see. Suddenly, he heard the door bells ring as the bakery door opened. He peeked around the corner and saw a figure in a black hooded coat walking in his direction, carrying a box. As Jimi pulled the lethal knife from his boot, he wondered how he had missed the guy going into the bakery.

The footsteps got closer. Jimi drew back the knife, ready to thrust. Just as the hand carrying the bakery box came into view, he gouged the steel blade with all his might into the victim’s torso. The body immediately fell to the sidewalk, as Jimi’s hand still held the knife.

The hood of the victim’s coat fell back. Jimi stared at the face and screamed, “Mommmm!”

It was Olga’s face staring up at him.

“Why? Jimi, why?” she gurgled.

“I didn’t know it was you!” Jimi’s voice echoed loudly through the streets.

It was too late to help her. She was gone. Jimi cradled his mother’s lifeless body in his arms. As he sobbed uncontrollably, he saw the contents of the open box beside her body. It was a cake decorated with the words, “Happy Birthday, Jimi. You’re a good boy!”

Facing the Beast

Some time ago I entered a writing contest sponsored by Writer’s Digest. The criteria for the contest was that the entry had to be a short story of no more than 750 words with an opening sentence of “It was on a bright, starry night. . .”

Although I didn’t win, it was a fun exercise. Perhaps, if I had spent more time than a whopping thirty minutes writing it, I might have placed in the contest. Anyway, I thought I would share my story with you.

FACING THE BEAST

By

Robert M. Roberts

It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. The train car slowed. Quentin looked out the window as the buildings and houses came into view. Just another town and another show, he thought. Just like the thousands of others the circus had been to over the years. However, this one seemed eerily familiar, but he was sure they hadn’t been there before.

The sign said Peaceville, Mo., Population 8,433. Such a small town. Hardly worth the trouble of setting up before they reached Kansas City. Oh well, money is money, and the struggling Schofield Brothers Circus sure could use some, he thought.

As the train came to a stop just north of town, he changed into his work clothes and set out to check on the lions. They hadn’t eaten since morning when they stopped briefly in Texas. He had to get them fed and watered so they would be in a calm mood for tomorrow night’s show. He never let anyone besides himself tend to the animals. He didn’t want to interrupt the trust between him and the felines by allowing other humans to interact with them.

As he rolled back the tarp of the train car, the mighty animals roared as they paced back and forth in their cages. He turned on the water faucet to fill the drinking tank, and began poking chunks of raw meat into the cage. The hungry lions tore at the flesh as if they were starving and hadn’t eaten in days. Lily, his favorite of the four lions, made a swipe with her paw at the others, and then took the first piece of meat. She could be the most affectionate of the animals, but also the most unpredictable, and Quentin was always on his guard around her.

He awoke the next morning with the anticipation of the upcoming performance. Although it was a small town and would draw a sparse crowd, he would give an entertaining performance as if he were in a metropolis. After all, he was the greatest lion tamer in the world, and was envied by his rivals.

It only seemed like yesterday to him, that he ran away from home to join the circus. Only twelve years old at the time, it was his only way out of a miserable existence. His mother had passed away when he was six, and he was the target of constant verbal abuse from his alcoholic father. So, when the circus came to his town, he hopped on one of the cars and never looked back. The lion tamer at the time, a gentleman named Raphael, from Spain, took young Quentin under his wing and made him his assistant. He taught him how to feed and care for the big cats, and prior to his death, mentored him in the art of lion taming.

Evening finally arrived, and it was showtime as the curtains opened and the lions ran into the arena and took their places on the half barrels. Seconds later, Quentin entered the arena donned in his white jumpsuit, and cracked the leather whip. The lions let out deafening roars as they traded places on the barrels and swiped their paws through the air.

Just as Quentin made a loud crack with the whip, everything under the big top went silent. He could hear absolutely nothing. He put his index finger in his ear, trying to open up the passage. Had he suddenly gone deaf? he wondered. He began to feel faint and walked to the edge of the arena to lean on the rail in front of the spectators. He looked out at the crowd. They acted as if nothing was wrong, like they didn’t even notice him. They just stared and clapped their hands at the activity in the ring. Quentin turned and saw someone else performing with the lions. He ran toward him and shouted, “Who are you? What is going on here?”

The strange man continued to command the cats as if Quentin didn’t even exist. He ran back toward the crowd and overheard two people having a conversation. “I remember about twenty years ago when the last circus came to town, a young man was killed by the lions.”

“Yeah, a fellow named Quentin. I remember it well,” the other man said.

Suddenly, Quentin realized he was facing the beast called death. After all those years, it was time to cross over.

May The River Run Red

A fictional short story by Robert M. Roberts

Ten year old Joey Mills was beaming with excitement in the summer of 1958. He had just gotten word that his grandparents had bought a farm outside of Peoria, and he had been invited to spend the summer with them. No more boring Chicago, he thought, as his mother helped him pack for the trip.

The three hour drive to Peoria passed quickly while he bombarded his parents with questions about country life. As they arrived, he saw his grandparents waving from the front porch. Joey’s eyes scanned the area and saw the green fields and the old barn that stood in the distance. As the grownups hugged and chatted, Joey took in a deep breath of fresh air and compared the smells of the country to that of the city. He was a little disappointed at the absence of farm creatures, but he was still glad to be away from the city and knew he had a lot of exploring to do over the next couple of months.
A little while later he kissed his parents’ goodbye and they reassured him that they would return to pick him up before the start of the school year. He waved at the back of their car as it drove down the dirt road and disappeared from view.

After a piece of his grandma’s apple pie, he was off to explore his new surroundings. On his way to the barn, he passed by the modest garden of corn and other plants that wasn’t familiar to him. The barn was old with big, creaky doors, and contained rusted farm implements and tools. At the back of the barn there was a ladder leading up to the loft where several bales of hay had been left by the previous owner. His grandfather had mentioned to him that he planned to eventually get some cows and maybe even a horse, so the hay would come in handy. He swung open the upper doors of the loft and had a good view of the countryside. Farm houses dotted the large green fields that stretched as far as the eye could see. He noticed that the skies were clear blue, instead of brown like they were in the city.

Joey started to wonder if he might get bored this summer because no other kids were around. The country was so quiet without the noise of cars and trains that he was used to. After a few hours of play in the barn, his grandpa hollered to him that supper was ready. As Joey made his way back to the house he decided that tomorrow he could make a fort with the hay bales if his grandpa didn’t mind.

His Grandma fixed a big supper of fried chicken and all the fixins and then they settled in the living room to watch television. Joey was astounded that they only had one channel instead of his normal 6 channels that he had at home. Between the long car ride, exploring the farm, and the chicken dinner, he fell asleep on the sofa. Grandma woke him up around 10:00 p.m. and helped him to bed. At first, he struggled to go back to sleep. It was just too dang quiet. Finally, his eyelids grew heavy and he was off to slumber land. Hours later, he awoke to the smells of bacon and coffee permeating from the kitchen.

“Oh, wow! Waffles!” he said as he entered the kitchen.

Grandpa pulled out a chair. “You sit right here, Joey. Do you drink coffee at home?”

“No. Mom won’t let me,” he replied.

“Helen, pour Joey a half a cup. He’s a farm boy now,” Grandpa exclaimed.

“Ramona’s going to skin you, Harold,” Grandma replied.

Grandpa winked at Joey and laughed. “It’ll be our little secret, won’t it Joey?”

“You bet, Grandpa,” Joey said with a grin.

Joey dug into his waffles. “Grandpa, can I build a fort up in the loft of the barn with the hay bales?”

“Sure,” Grandpa said.

Helen spoke up. “I think that’s a little dangerous.”

“Hogwash,” Harold said. “That’s what’s wrong with Ramona. You made her scared of everything.”

“Hogwash?” Grandma laughed. “I’ve never heard you say that before. Aren’t you now the country bumpkin?”

Joey sipped on the coffee and made a grimacing face. Soon he was off to the barn to build the fortress of straw. To his surprise, the bales of hay were a lot heavier than he had anticipated. He struggled as he stacked them two high on each side and two in the back. It really needed a roof, so it took all the strength he could muster to stack the last ones three high. At last the fort was complete. An old broom was the closest thing he could find that resembled a rifle. He picked it up and crawled inside, peering out of an opening and waited for the anticipated Indian attack. He made “pow-pow” sounds, and the avengers fell, one by one. Then, he noticed something looked odd on the floor of the barn where the last bale of hay had been moved. One of the boards in the floor was very short, only about a foot in length. Joey crawled out of the fort to get a better look. The board wasn’t nailed down, so he pried it up with his fingers, and leaned back as if he was expecting a spider to jump out. He couldn’t believe what he saw. It was a book. As he picked it up, he blew off the dust and rubbed the remainder of the dirt off the surface. It smelled musty and there was no printing on the front that looked to be made of leather. As he opened the cover, the outer edges of the pages were stained brownish yellow, but the blue handwritten words, although a little smeared, were still legible. It was a diary. A soldier’s diary. He read aloud the date at the top of the page. “October 12, 1862.”

Joey braced his back against the fort and tried to calculate in his head how many years ago that had been. “Wow, 1862!”

He soon dismissed the arithmetic. His small finger moved beneath each sentence as he began to read. It was the journal of 16 year old Cody Westfall, a corporal in the Confederate Army from Tennessee. Joey was mesmerized by what he read on each page, even though he didn’t understand a lot of the terminology or even much about the Civil War, except what he had seen on television. His eyes remained glued to each page. He only put the book down occasionally to utter “wow” or “man.” As he read the last two pages, his heart began to pound as the young corporal prepared for battle.

April 23, 1863
     We made camp last night after coming up from Arkansas and into southwest Missouri. It’s cold for this time of year and we couldn’t light a campfire ‘cause them Yanks are just a few miles across the river from us. Our Lieutenant said the Injun scouts reported there’s a company of two hundred of them across Hickory Creek near the town of Carthage. We should be able to take‘em easy. Can’t wait to get to that town. We sure are runnin’ low on grub.

The young corporal continued to write in his diary until the light of dawn as they prepared to engage the enemy. Joey began to read the last entry in the journal.

Lieutenant Elijah Combs just gave the morning prayer and told us to get ready to move out. I’m dreadin’ crossing that cold creek more than I’m dreadin’ those damn Yanks. Lieutenant Combs ended the prayer saying, “May the river run red with the blood of the enemy.” He sure has a way with words. Will write again tonight after we kick the shit out of them Yanks, and get to Carthage.

The rest of the pages were blank. Joey closed the book and stared across the barn. There were so many unanswered questions. What happened after that? Were some of the pages missing? Where did this come from? How did this book get to Illinois? He scratched his head and wondered. He felt a deep attachment to the book and the young soldier and held it close to his chest. Hours had slipped by when he heard his grandma call out that it was time for lunch. He immediately put the book back in its hiding place and covered it with a bale of hay.

As the summer months slipped by, Joey had read the book so many times that he almost knew each sentence by heart. He asked his grandpa many questions about the Civil War, but never told him about the book he had found. Grandpa asked him why he was so interested in this subject and Joey fibbed and told him they had studied it in school, even though American history wouldn’t be taught in school for two more years. Grandpa was never the wiser and Joey never asked questions about it again.

The day came when Joey’s parents arrived to pick him up to return to Chicago. He carried a little guilt about taking the book and hiding it in his suitcase. After all, he justified, the book was left there years ago, and since his grandparents didn’t know anything about it, it technically wasn’t theirs either.

After returning home, Joey hid the book in a shoebox under his bed. He became obsessed with the Civil War and read and researched everything he could get his hands on about the subject. One Saturday, at the public library, he stumbled upon a book that finally gave some answers to the questions that eluded him. A book entitled The Tennessee Volunteers described the movements of the Confederate battalion of eight-hundred soldiers who fought in numerous states. After the battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, the battalion was split up into two companies. One company moved into Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and the other one forged into Missouri toward the town of Carthage. Through faulty intelligence, the Confederate army of less than two-hundred soldiers perished when they encountered eight-hundred Union soldiers on April 23, 1863. This came to be known as The Battle of Hickory Creek that took place near the town of Carthage, Missouri. The last page of the book listed the war dead. Among them was Corporal Cody Westfall, 16 years old, from Dixon, Tennessee. Joey stared at the page for a few moments, and then closed the book. He felt relieved that the mystery had been solved, but at the same time, he felt sad and angry that so many Americans died in a senseless war that he still didn’t quite understand. He still wondered how the diary ended up hidden in a barn in Peoria, Illinois.

For the next several years, the book remained in the dusty shoebox under his bed. When he went off to college in 1966, he didn’t think to take it with him. He found college to be boring and not that much different than high school. The only class he excelled in was American history and he dropped out in his second year. Now that he had lost his college deferment for the draft, and had no job, he felt the only thing to do was join up. He spent his twentieth birthday in basic training with his new friend, Carl, at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Carl was a country boy from Tennessee and had a thick southern drawl. They became best of friends and depended on each other to get through the rigors of basic training.

When graduation day came and orders of deployment were handed out, the two were elated that they both were assigned to Special Forces Company C, even if it meant they would be heading to Vietnam.

After two months on active duty, they had seen very little action and spent most of their time at the base in Da Nang. Luckily, they had dodged the TET offensive to the base three months prior to their arrival.

When orders came down that their company was to proceed on a mission the following day to the Mekong Delta region, they were excited, yet apprehensive. Their company commander, Colonel Michael Cross, was a seasoned career soldier and had fought in the Korean War. Their mission was to engage the Viet Cong at the Mekong River that separated Vietnam from Cambodia. Intelligence anticipated very little resistance to their mission of destroying ammunition bunkers hidden in Cambodia.

Morning came early as the company of soldiers gathered for last minute instructions from Colonel Cross. He spoke with authority about the success of their upcoming mission, and ended with “may the river run red with the blood of the enemy.”

Joey couldn’t believe what he had heard. Had he just imagined it?

A nervous Carl suddenly said, “We’re gonna kick the shit out of the Cong, ain’t we Cody?”

Joey turned to Carl. “What did you call me? Did you say Cody?”

“Joey. I called you Joey. We’re gonna kick the shit out of ‘em, ain’t we?”

Joey paused and looked at his friend. “No, Carl. I don’t think we will.”

One hundred seventy-one men lost their lives that day after being overrun by the Viet Cong. No one would ever know that the name, Joey Mills, PFC, which was etched on a granite wall, was simply history repeating itself.

*Dates, places, names, and events are not based on historical facts.

Mildred’s Makeover

A fictional short story by Robert M. Roberts

Ivan Borisheski and his young bride, Mildred, immigrated to America from Poland in 1955. After living in the slums of Brooklyn for a few years, they finally scraped up enough savings to move to Wisconsin. They purchased a small hog farm on the outskirts of Sheboygan.

Ivan worked tirelessly over the years and farm life had taken a toll on him. His long, jet black hair became short white stubble, and his hands were cracked and calloused. He rarely left the farm except for needed supplies, which always included a quart of cheap bourbon. Mildred referred to it as “Satan in a bottle.” On the other hand, Mildred had never been to town, and in fact, had never left the house since they moved there. A definite recluse, I guess you would call her.

Ivan came through the door after another hard day of work, and breathed in a whiff of beans and salt pork he had put in the slow cooker that morning. Mildred sat at the kitchen table where she always sat. Ivan dished up the beans, placed a bowl in front of her, and then took his place at the other end of the table and began digging in.

After a few bites, he looked up and told Mildred that Rosey, his prize sow, had gotten her head caught in the fence trying to fetch a stray cob. “She’s a feisty ol’ gal,” he said, as he began to laugh. “Reminds me of you, back in the day.”

Mildred didn’t respond.

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” he paused to take another bite of beans. “I think you need one of those makeovers that all the women are getting now days, and maybe a new dress too.” He shoveled in another spoonful of beans. “Now don’t try to thank me. It’s the least I can do,” he added, and lifted up his hand. He retrieved a newspaper from the kitchen counter and placed it in front of her.

“What ya think? Ain’t she a beauty?” he asked. The paper was opened to the obituary section and displayed the picture of a lovely young female with flowing hair around her shoulders. The young woman had recently died and was buried in Clossen Cemetery, just down the road from the farm.

Mildred said nothing. As a matter of fact, she hadn’t uttered a word for decades. On occasion, a shrill high-pitched voice could be heard throughout the house, but it was just Ivan mimicking her after he’d had too much whiskey, and was in the mood for an argument. Of course, that was what led to her demise years ago, but it had been so long that he didn’t even remember what they had argued about.

Mildred just sat and said nothing, her hollowed eye sockets seemed fixated on Ivan’s every word. His calloused bear-like hands had choked the very life out of her years ago. Now, she just sat at the table, day in and day out. The small amount of remaining flesh on her face and hands had dried like leather across her skeleton.

Ivan assured her that removing the young woman’s face that was buried down the road would be no trouble whatsoever. After all, he had butchered so many hogs in his time that he had the skills of a surgeon.

As he reached across the table to finish off her supper, he whispered, “You’ll look stunning, my dear…absolutely stunning!”

If I Only Had A Rock

Being afraid of the dark is a common fear of most young children, and ten year old Billy Sampson was no exception. When the dreaded 9:00 p.m. bedtime arrived, he slipped into his bed, while leaving the overhead light on and the door shut. No sooner than he had closed his eyes, the door creaked open. He opened his eyes to see the figure of his father looming in the doorway.

“Damn it, Billy! How many times do I have to tell you to turn the light off? Electricity isn’t free you know.”

“I forgot,” the sleepy eyed Billy replied, not about to confess to his dad that he was afraid of the dark.

His dad quickly flipped off the switch. “Goodnight,” he said as he shut the door.

Now it would begin…another night of terror as Billy’s young imagination began to visualize the monster in his closet. It made no difference if the closet door was opened or closed, it would be there. Its glowing red eyes with black vertical slits pierced the darkness. The monster had drooling razor-sharp teeth that were yellowed with stain. Horrified, Billy clenched his eyelids shut until they hurt, because he was certain the creature would be there if he dared to open his eyes. He remained very still and thought to himself. If I only had a rock, I would smash his face in. The one time he did bring a rock into the room, his mom had found it and scolded him for bringing the dirty thing into the house. The nightmares of the closet creature raged on in his mind. Billy hid his face under the pillow and finally drifted off to sleep.

Fifteen years later, Billy now went by Bill. He had matured into a nice looking man of twenty-five. He was a college graduate and the same good-natured person he had always been. The one thing that remained constant was his secret fear of the dark, and the constant nightmares of the closet creature still pursued him. The fear was as strong as it had ever been, and he had put off getting therapy way too long. He had just married his fiancée, Deborah, and so far, had managed to keep his phobia a secret from her. It was a short, but romantic, engagement of the two, and I guess you could call it love at first sight. The two had met at work, a large insurance firm based in Boston. Unfortunately, due to the heavy workload at the office, their honeymoon to Jamaica had been postponed for a week.

The couple leased a new apartment and looked forward to their life together. The first night in their new surroundings flashed by as they unpacked boxes and nibbled on a delivery pizza. They discussed the upcoming honeymoon details until almost midnight, when the exhausted couple went to bed. Bill tossed and turned throughout the night with horrible dreams of the closet creature. When the alarm sounded at 6:00 a.m., he opened his eyes and reached to turn off the blaring alarm clock. There was something in his hand.

Bill stared at the bloody stone clasped in his hand. “What the hell?” he yelled. He let out a deafening scream as he looked at Deborah. Her face was a bloody mass of bone and flesh that was hardly recognizable as a human being.

Months later at Bill’s murder trial, his defense argued a plea of insanity. It was denied and the jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Billy arrived at the Massachusetts State Prison to serve his lifelong sentence. An important question loomed in the back of his mind as the prison guard led him to his cell. “Do you keep the lights on at night?” he asked.

Last Flight of Mary Sage

A fictional short story by Robert M. Roberts

Mary stood patiently in line waiting to check in. The terminal was a beehive of activity that Monday morning, as groggy travelers sipped on coffee and rolled their luggage a foot at a time toward the counter. Finally with boarding pass in hand she went through security and then headed to the boarding area.

This was the typical routine of the start of another work week on her commute from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. She couldn’t believe it was already July, 2012. Her new position as CEO at Five Star Records had been an exciting adventure thus far, and she was determined to turn the struggling recording company around. Mary’s partner and founder of Five Star, Barry Cronin, had died from a cocaine overdose four months earlier. His expertise for signing new talents to the label had evolved from looking for talent, to their ability to access narcotics for his uncontrollable addiction.

Now Mary was in charge, and her latest scouting auditions of new rock groups in California had produced a top ten hit on the Billboard charts. By doubling her efforts, she hoped to put the dying record label back on top.

Passengers crowded to the pedestal and handed their tickets to the agent as the door in the waiting area opened and it was time to board the plane. With only an average of four hours of sleep most nights, it was never a problem for her to sleep through the entire flight. The plane had barely become airborne when Mary drifted off to sleep. Five hours later she awoke just fifteen minutes before touchdown. Stretching her arms she felt refreshed from the much needed sleep. Now she had the energy and vitality to seek out the next big talent.

By the end of the week, she was certain she had succeeded by signing a new group from San Diego called Cloud Burst that specialized in a unique mix of southern rock and rhythm and blues.

She felt ecstatic as she boarded the plane from LAX for home, and was soon fast asleep as the plane ascended into the sky. Mid-flight, somewhere over the state of Iowa, she was suddenly aroused by the Captains loud, but calm voice coming over the cabin speaker. He was instructing the passengers and crew to prepare for crash landing. She was confused as she looked in terror around the cabin. Everything was different. The plane and the people looked different. She could smell cigarette smoke permeating the cabin.

“What’s going on?” she screamed, but none of the passengers looked up from their crouched positions.

Had everything before been just a dream, or did she have a glimpse into the future of what might have been? You see, Mary was not the CEO of a record company but instead was a college student on her way to visit friends. It was not 2012, but July 8, 1989, the day 198 people on Trans America Airlines flight 412 crashed in an Iowa cornfield. 102 people survived, while 96 perished. Mary Sage was listed among the dead.