The Ticket At The Ranch Pen

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In May, I wrote a number of short stories for the storyaday.org challenge and the prompt on a certain day was to write in a genre you never write. In my case, that was horror. I sat and tried to think of the thing that scared me most. As an ultra-conservative Christian woman, a piece of a Bible passage came to mind:  “And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity…” (Read Matthew 7 for context.)

Anyway, that was where this story came from. Until next time, God bless all y’all and, um…have an otherwise nice day.


The Ticket

Buying my Jay C Superstar concert ticket from Ticketmasher.com would make my ticket more expensive because of the added fees, but my girlfriend, Forest, had said, “You are so old fashioned, Samantha. Nobody shows up at the ticket window with cash anymore. Just buy your ticket online and be safe.”

Forest was right, of course. The only reason I had for buying a ticket at the window was the stub to keep for a souvenir. Or, proof I’d paid in case I needed to leave the venue and get back in. But I’d have it all on my cell phone, anyway. I auto-filled the credit card information and hit buy with a thrill of excitement. Jay C was a serious piece of eye candy with his long dreadlocks, beard, amazingly sexy eyes and smile…and his totally ripped abs. But there was something beyond his delicious body and rough-honey voice. It was like his soul was beautiful and he sang straight to each woman—and man, if they wanted to be honest—even if seventy-thousand people crowded the stadium.

The next evening as I slithered into my cleavage-baring red dress, the doorbell of the apartment I shared with Forest buzzed. I looked through the peephole and sighed. Not him again. I thought about not opening the door, but figured he’d keep knocking, so I did.

My ex stood there looking at me. Medium height, black hair, an unremarkable face, twangy voice, and un-ripped abs, he sang lead in a little off-key Christian band called the Host Singers that never went anywhere. His eyes were the only compelling thing about him. I looked away, tugging up my dress before he could lecture me about going around with my boobs barely covered. He was such a judgmental prude. How had I ever thought I was in love with him?

“So, you’re goin’?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m going. What did you think I’d do? Come over to the park and listen to you sing church songs?”

“I hoped you would. Samantha, I’ve always loved you. I want you back.”

“I’m tired of you. You bore me to death.”

“So you’ve said, but I’m scared for you. Do you have any idea how many people have lost their lives at that guy’s concerts?”

“You mean like those that got trampled buying tickets at the window? I used Ticketmasher.com.”

“They don’t just get trampled. People are killed parking their cars. They’re killed in the restrooms. In their seats. In the mosh pit. He gets them on stage with him and kills them himself. After the concerts, they haul away bodies to be burned by the semi-truck load. Nobody ever hears about that in the media.”

I stared at him. “That’s ridiculous. Nobody would go to his concerts.”

“Have I ever lied to you?”

I paused. “No, I guess not, but how do you know?”

“Just trust me.”

He tried to take my hand, but I snatched it away.

“Sam, it’s the biggest cover-up in the history of the world. His organization feeds on human blood and they’re good at what they do.”

“You’re just trying to get me back and it’s not gonna work,” I snapped. “I’ve already bought my ticket and I’m going.”

His deep-set eyes bored deep into me and I didn’t want them to. All that was fine while we were together, but it irritated me to death, now.

“Just leave, okay?” I said. “The concert starts in two hours.”

He fished a worn, paper ticket from his pocket and handed it to me, a souvenir from the first time I’d heard his pathetic concert. “In case you decide you want to come later, Samantha. The guy at the gate won’t let you in without it.”

He turned away. I slammed the door. Hopefully that was the last time I’d see him. I stood looking down at the stiff, blue paper stub in my hand.  As worthless as a one-dollar raffle ticket. I ripped it to small pieces on the way to the bathroom then flushed it down the toilet and turned to make up my face at the mirror.

I stopped to pick up Forest at the church where she worked as a personal assistant to the pastor. She rocked out of his office on her bright red, four-inch heels, flushed and smiling her cat-got-the-cream smile.

“Now, that was what I’d call a religious experience.” She smoothed down her mini skirt a little and adjusted her sheer blouse—not quite the traditional pastor’s assistant garb. “If Jay C gets me up on stage tonight, he’d better look out.”

I laughed. “Won’t the pastor be jealous?”

She slid me a sideways look. “Him and Angela.”

I wasn’t easily shocked anymore, but my eyebrows shot up. “His wife, too?”

She tossed her hair. “Don’t judge us, Sam. You know how Brent hurt me. I’m happy , now, and Joel told me the Bible says that makes God happy, too. Besides, they pay me well to keep my mouth shut about what goes on in his office.” She winked. “We don’t want the old-fashioned hypocrite types in the congregation to stop tithing.”

I raised my hands in surrender. “Hey, you know I wouldn’t judge you. Not after what I put up with out of him.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, your ex. Yeah, you’re way better off without all that guilt he laid on you.”

On the way to the concert, I looked across the car at her fixing her makeup in the mirror. “Hey, um…have you ever heard anything about people…getting killed at Jay C’s concerts?”

“Like the ones that got trampled in the ticket line a few months ago?”

“No. Like killed. Murdered.”

Forest burst into laughter. “Don’t be ridiculous. Jay C’s anti-violence in every way. He won’t even eat meat. Why?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I read something, or—”

“Did your ex show up with some story about the concert?” she demanded. “That’d be just like him, manipulating you so you won’t do anything that makes you happy.”

“He wanted me back. I told him no. Never.”

Forest reached to pat my arm. Her fingernails matched her shiny, red shoes. “Good for you, baby. He’s never done anything but hold you back.” She teased me with her smile. “It’s time for you to let go of the past. Join us during a session in Joel’s office sometime.”

I laughed and turned into the line of cars pulling into the underground parking garage across from the concert venue. “Maybe I will.”

Five or six cars ahead, a vehicle had apparently stalled because the yellow lights of a tow truck flashed around and around the concrete walls of the garage. I glanced at my cell phone clock…if the truck didn’t hurry with the car, we’d be late. But the tow truck dragged away the car, and we moved forward to the traffic director. He was gorgeous…and plainly ripped…beneath his tight tee shirt with Jay C’s logo on the front. Lifelike rattlesnake tattoos wound around both his arms.

He stooped to look in my window. His gaze lingered on my plunging neckline.

I smiled at him. “Can I touch your tattoos?”

“That’s what they’re for.”

I slid my hand across one of his snake tattoos. It arched under my fingers, throbbing with his heartbeat. Almost like it was alive.

Forest leaned over the console toward him with her come-on-baby smile. “We bought the VIP parking through Ticketmasher.com.”

He grinned, eyeing her sheer blouse, unbuttoned even lower than mine. He licked his lips like his mouth was watering over a juicy steak. “Just show me the receipts on your phones, ladies, and you’re good to go.”

He looks like a wolf…

The ridiculous flicker of thought startled me. I shoved it away and kept my own come-on-baby smile going. I found the Ticketmasher email on my phone and held it up. He scanned the code. I happened to glance down. He was wearing the knee-high, black boots like Jay C wore on his tv concerts. Jay C had even started a footwear fad with them.

“I should’ve worn my boots, too,” I said.

He eyed my legs appreciatively. “You won’t need them.”

Just then, I spied the pool of sludgy-looking dark red he was standing in. “Are you okay? I think you’re bleeding.”

He looked down. “Oh, no, that’s not me. A person in that car ahead of you was injured.”

I stared at the blood. There was a lot of it. “Injured? What happened?”

His grin widened and he drew his finger across his throat like he was slitting it.

I stared at him, wide-eyed. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Sitting right there. Committed suicide.” He finished with my phone and looked at us, desire in his eyes. “Okay, ladies, good to go. Just follow that Jay C angel there. She’ll be your guide for this evening.” A thread of saliva dripped from the corner of his mouth. He hastily licked it up. “Woops, sorry ‘bout that. I will definitely see you two lovely women later.”

For some reason, the little hairs on my neck prickled and I glanced in my rear-view mirror at the packed line of cars out the exit. The guy behind me in line honked. I shook my head. Ridiculous. Must be what my ex said earlier giving me the creeps.

I  pulled forward. Our angel guide was about my age with flowing, blonde hair, and the trademark boots under a gauzy gown that shimmered in the headlights and revealed her perfect body.  She waved me to a parking spot next to a black Hummer. Leaning down, she looked in the window and checked out my plunging neckline just like the traffic guy had. Her tongue flicked over her lips, but when she smiled her eyes were a lovely gold color—kind and beautiful. I relaxed.

“Welcome, my name is Sariel, and I’ll be your guide for this evening’s worship,” she said softly.

I smiled. “Thank you. We’re so excited.”

She studied me and Forest. “Jay C always chooses more angels at his concerts. I bet he’ll pick you two.”

Forest and I exchanged happy-glances. Nothing could make the night better for us…

We hurried with the angel toward the walkway between the venue and the garage. As we neared the exit, the light dimmed until I could barely see anything. I looked at Sariel to ask what had happened to the lights. She was looking at me. A thrill of unease stabbed through me. I tugged up my dress top. Beside me, Forest did, too.

“You two have perfect flesh.” Sariel smiled. Her teeth weren’t the same. They were sharp. And that wasn’t lipstick on her lips. It was blood and her golden eyes were a she-wolf’s. “Long, lean, tender…”

My bowels turned to water. I tried to ease away from her, but her fingers clamped on my arm. I jerked away. Sariel’s sharp nails raked my skin, but I kicked off my shoes and ran toward where I had last seen the exit. 

Screaming  pandemonium erupted all around me in the echoing darkness lit only by the parking attendants flashlights as they used them for clubs, running around like boys smashing bugs. In a matter of seconds the garage had turned into the killing floor of a slaughterhouse. My feet splashed in a warm stream.

The boots. That was what the boots were for.

Something twined hard around my leg and slipped upward. I reached down. Teeth sank into my hand. I screamed and ripped the snake from my leg, but it wrapped around my arm, throbbing and swelled like an engorged blood vessel. The putrid smell of decaying flesh breathed hot and moist on my neck.

Shrieking in terror, I danced around like a demon, slapping at my neck. At the snake. At leathery wings beating against my face. Two flashlights ran toward us. It was the traffic director, and…Joel the pastor!

“Thank God,” Forest and I both cried, running to him.

But he grabbed Forest and she let out a blood-curdling screech, abruptly sliced off. Warm liquid splattered over my dress and dripped down my bare skin.

Screaming, I dodged away, but more—dozens…no, hundred…thousands—of Jay C’s angels jumped from the shadows. My heart choked me, beating like a sledgehammer in my brain. I had been stupid. Blind. My ex hadn’t been lying…

I had to get to him. He had never failed me. I tried to pray as I had learned when we were still together, but I couldn’t remember how. That didn’t matter, anyway. If I could only get to where he was singing tonight, he’d let me in and all this would go away.

I burst through the exit and pounded toward light, sparkling like a million stars in the sky over the park where my ex always held his concerts. I couldn’t yet make out the words, but his beautiful voice drifted above the crowd singing with him…something about a lamb.

I sobbed with relief, breathing in great gulps of clean air filled with the scent of fresh grass and flowers quickly displacing the stench of blood and human flesh in my nostrils. Almost there. To my heart’s desire. The joy and peace I had once found in his love when I had been pure and free from sin—that old-fashioned word I had learned to hate after I met Forest.

I fell. Unseen terrors slithered after me like dead leaves blowing on the pavement. Leathery wings fluttered in the darkness. I slapped them away, scrambling, falling, tripping toward the ticket taker at the park entrance where a few late-comers stood in line. He let most of them inside. Finally, I reached him and stood gasping for air, my dress shredded by teeth and soaked with Forest’s blood. He met my gaze from his massive height, his eyes looking into me. Deep. Deeper.

“Please let me in.” I panted out a brown vapor. What was that? No. Dear God, no. It smelled like death. “I know he’ll want to see me.”

The gatekeeper flinched away from my breath. “Ticket, please.”

My heart stopped. The ticket.

He wanted the blue ticket I had flushed down the toilet.

“I lost mine, but…wait. Here!” I shoved up my phone for him to view. “Look, right here. I bought this one at Ticketmasher.com. They said it was good for the three concert series. I think they said this concert was one of them. Please. I need to see him. I’m in trouble.”

The gatekeeper soberly studied my phone screen then shook his head. “I’m sorry. He doesn’t accept Ticketmasher tickets.”

A heavy chain rattled across the pavement in the darkness behind me. My eyes nearly burst from their sockets as I whirled in a tight circle. Fangs snapped and flashed, gleaming in the night. Everywhere. Along with thousands…millions of yellow eyes glowing dully.

I fell on my knees, weeping at the gatekeeper’s golden feet. “But I know him and he knows me,” I begged. “He said he still loves me. Look again.” Once again, I thrust my phone up at the gatekeeper.

He wouldn’t look at the screen. I jumped up trying to force him, but he had something like an invisible shield around him and I couldn’t get close enough. The chains behind me clanked again. Closer this time. Waiting.

“Please. Why would he do this to me?” I shrieked. “He’s known me all my life.”

“He uses the original LifeBook operating system. Ticketmasher has a virus that deletes your files from LifeBook once you buy Ticketmasher concerts. I’m sorry, but he won’t know you, now.” He shook his head. “You’ll have to leave.”

“But don’t you hear them out there?” I leaped spastically around, slapping, and shrieking like they were already biting me.

The gatekeeper cocked his head as though listening. “No, I’m sorry, miss. I can’t hear anything over the Host Singers.”

Hot tears rolled down my cheeks then with a rush, the eyes and the teeth were upon me, binding me with chains and dragging me back toward the Jay C Superstar concert where the fans screamed.

 

 

 

True Colors At The Ranch Pen

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A Windswept Plain

Last month while participating in the Story a Day challenge at storyaday.org, one of the prompts was something about finding yourself on a windswept plain. The story of a middle-aged ranch woman dumped and left for dead on a windswept plain instantly sprang into my mind, so I wrote it down and will share it with y’all this week.

(You may also visit storyaday.org on June 13-14 for StoryFest 2015 where other participants have posted their short stories.)

Without further ado–and since I have a date at the library with the grandkids–here is True Colors On A Windswept Plain by yours truly.


True Colors On A Windswept Plain

What is he eating up there on the ridge?

I thought he was in love with me, but trust that fat hog to find something to eat while I’m sprawled out here on this windswept plain.

Oh, great…the sun’s coming up over the boulders behind him. It’s going to be blistering hot in a little bit. I’m thirsty already. Why is it I always immediately want what I can’t have? That’s probably what got me in this mess in the first place.

Oh, piddle. Let’s see, here. What are my options? I wish I had my gun, but he took that, too…

Not much chance of hiding this from hubby, now, I don’t suppose. He’s gonna be really mad when he finds us.

What’s poking me in the hiney? Oh, that figures. Cactus. Trust that fat lard to find the only cactus–or vegetation, for that matter–on this windswept plain. Ouch.

Oh, nice. This sand is starting to heat up. Pretty soon it’ll be approximately two-thousand degrees out here. You’d think the least he could do after all I’ve given him…risked for him, was come stand where I can die in his shade.

What…where am I?

Oh. Must’ve dozed. For pity’s sake. I’m sweating like a pig now. He took the water bottle, too.

“Hey, moron! Remember me? Why don’t you come down here? I’ll save hubby the trouble. No? Didn’t think so. Why couldn’t you have shown your true colors before we got this far from the barn?”

Is that a buzzard? I wish my glasses hadn’t smashed to pieces like my leg. Good grief! Not just one buzzard. It’s a whole flock of the darn things, ain’t it? Circling me, not him. Well, hasta la vista, fatso.

Guess it’s time to say my prayers before I die and…ask forgiveness for trusting that rotten horse!


 

Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy, Michael W Smith–who has been one of my favorite singer dudes since I was young back in olden times–tearing up Sky Spills Over, an oddly appropriate match to my story.

Careful What You Ask For At The Ranch Pen

Good short stories get in, leave a few clues, punch the gut, and then get out, like The Lottery written by Shirley Jackson. I wanted to learn how to write them better, so I’ve been participating in Story A Day In May at storyaday.org, where the idea is to write…well, a short story every day in May. I normally write books that might take days…weeks…years to read, so the short story form is a little difficult for me as a literary blabbermouth.

At any rate, one day this past week the story prompt was your character can have anything in the world he/she wants. Naturally, I thought about rain and wrote a story. I managed to get it cleaned up and posted over there, but since I didn’t have time to write a blog post, too, y’all are getting it here, as well.


Careful What You Ask For

In one-hundred-degree July–the fifth year of drought–the farmer still had faith everything would turn out okay. He looked across the pickup cab at his wife.

“I know this was another bad harvest, Natalie, but if the Good Lord sends some rain, we’ll still be okay. Prices are high and with just a little break, we can pay off the notes at the bank later this year.” Paul had to shout over the convection-oven wind howling through the opened windows. The truck’s air conditioning had given out the summer before and too many other things had needed the fix-it money first.

Paul and Natalie had just moved the cow herd to another scorched pasture and Natalie was red-faced and sweating. Her hair, beginning to show grey, whipped around her face. She gave Paul a weary-eyed look that made him cringe inside. Then she just looked out the window.

In the sixth year, Natalie glanced across the pickup cab. The air conditioner still hadn’t been fixed. She was drying up like a piece of leather left in the sun and she hadn’t smiled in a long time.

“We’ve been married twenty-eight years, Paul,” Natalie said. “I never thought I’d be worrying about spending fifteen dollars at the drive-in to celebrate.”

Paul died a little inside but reached across the seat to hold her hand, as hard, brown, and calloused as his. “We’re one day closer to a rain, Natalie. When we get it, we’ll go on that cruise.”

Natalie gave Paul a hopeless look. She pulled away her hand and silently finished her fries—the only limp things in the sun-fried landscape.

Harvest was almost non-existent the seventh year. The banker called.

“Paul, you and Natalie can either mortgage your entire operation…house, land, equipment, cattle…or we’ll have to foreclose. You’ll need to keep y’all’s life insurance policies up-to-date, too, in case one, or…God forbid…both of you dies. You don’t want to leave anybody, including your kids, holding the bag on this massive debt, now do you?”

The next day at the bank, the banker smiled like a fat tomcat licking cream from its whiskers. Natalie, brown and thin as a rail, grimly leaned forward to scratch her name on the mortgage papers with Paul’s. Natalie’s hair straggled from her hair clip, almost completely grey.

In the pickup later, Paul couldn’t look at her. “This loan will give us some breathin’ room until it rains, Natalie. We’re gonna be okay.”

The searing wind howled through the cab…the only reply.

The eighth year of the drought, Natalie didn’t seem to care about much of anything. She didn’t work the fields or the cattle with him anymore. Most of the cows had been sold to meet the note after harvest. The oven-baked ground was too hard to plow, so Paul cut weeds in the fields and baled them for the remaining cattle to eat. Some of the ranchers and farmers had started burning spines off the cactus for feed, but Paul and Natalie weren’t that hard up, yet. A few soaking rains would heal their problems.

Year nine, Natalie sometimes stood on the porch, scanning the blast-furnace landscape, her eyes deep in the squint lines of her pinched face. Once in a while, she stepped into the yard to poke a long stick into a crack in the ground to see how far it would go.

During the tenth summer, Natalie looked at Paul across the old pickup cab. Her hair whipped in the blistering wind. White now. “Paul,” she said evenly, “I’m leaving.”

“No, Natalie.” Paul made a desperate grab for her hand, like bones covered in brown leather. “You can’t. Just wait. We’ll go on that cruise. Please. I’ll do anything.”

Natalie shook her head. “I need him and I’ve wanted to go with him for a long time.”

That night Paul prayed to God. “Please, just send the rain. Get me out of this hole so I can take care of her needs.”

By morning, the heavens had opened. Rain poured down in sheets. The water soaked into the earth through the deep cracks, the huge ant mounds on the bare ground, and prairie dog tunnels. Almost overnight, grass sprang from the iron ground. Miraculously, fat covered the cattle’s ribs once more. The temperature moderated.

The pickup didn’t need air conditioning on the way to Natalie’s funeral.


As always, thanks so much for reading. God bless all y’all and enjoy David Wesley singing How Deep The Father’s Love For Us.