Mystery At The Carter Theater

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The early morning fog was rolling into town like a thick wet blanket as my two colleagues and I were walking through our small town on the way to work. Heavy fog was not unusual this time of year in our coastal community. But things were about to turn strange.

Jennifer was the first to notice. “Did you guys see that?” she said, interrupting our heads down daily slog down Main Street.

“What?” I replied with a bit of annoyance.

“The movie theater doors are open and there is not a soul in sight. Mom and Pop Carter would never leave their theater open especially at this hour. They probably don’t wake up until 10.” She said with a bit of humor. “Should we call the police?”

“Call the police? You’ve got to be kidding,” Joe said, “he probably doesn’t wake up until 10 either.”

“Let’s take a look around,” I said, “it’ll only take a minute and we’ll still make it to work on time.”

The theater was dark and vacant except for the lighted menu above the refreshment counter and a lone stage light casting an eerie glow across the empty seats.

“Anyone here?” I hollered several times but there was no answer.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jennifer said, “this is spooky and besides we may get into trouble.”

As we were leaving a plain white panel van pulled up in front and came to a halt in a swirl of fog and two men jumped out.

“What are you kids doing here?” One of them said in a gruff stern voice.

I briefly explained the situation and asked just as firmly, “What are you doing here at this hour?” fully expecting us to be kidnapped, brutalized or worse.

The other man introduced himself as Charlie and explained in a more friendly tone that they were here to do some work on the projection system but since they were way early decided to go to Stoner’s Restaurant on the nearby highway for breakfast but the place was closed. “We were starving and in our rush we must have forgot to lock the doors,” Charlie said. Looking us over it was then that the men noticed our uniforms.

Charlie seemed to feel that he owed us more of an explanation and told us that the Carters were converting the theater from film to digital. “Since 35 millimeter film is no longer available it’s either convert or go out of business,” he said.

“For a town left behind in the 50s this was progress,” I thought.

I introduced myself as the morning manager at the restaurant and told the men to give us about an hour and then come back.

“Don’t get lost in this pea soup,” I hollered over my shoulder as we continued on down the street.

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Homeless

homelessIn the early morning we were awakened by a shattering crash. Though blinded by flashlights pointed at me I could make out four heavily armed masked intruders standing on the splintered remains of the front door, I didn’t need to ask the meaning of this invasion: I knew already. These assaults had been going on in our desert village for about a week. Sweating in the cool air out of fear and without a word I put up my hands then went into the bedroom to gather my wife and two children.

We had prepared for this eventuality by wrapping some clothes, a few bottles of water and some belongings in a blanket. With a sweeping motion of their weapons the thugs motioned for us to go outside. I bent down to pick up our bundle expecting a sharp blow on the back from the butt of a rifle but it didn’t happen so I picked it up and went outside.

Dawn was approaching and it was a clear full moon night. I could see hundreds from our village pouring out onto the dirt road that led north into the low hills. I winced at the sound of frequent gun shots because I knew that meant that another elderly or infirm village member had been executed by the terrorists.

The line of people carrying their few meager belongings, many in bundles on their heads and others in bags, stretched as far as I could see ahead and behind.

As we reached a rise in the road above the village we heard and felt a series of explosions. I didn’t need to turn around to know that our village had been reduced to rubble, burying those who had been murdered. It was then that I knew that we had become victims of a plague of homelessness and that we could never return.

Trudging mechanically along the road into the unknown I became enraged thinking that all I ever wanted was the simple life to work and provide for my family. The feelings of resentment boiled in the realization that we are now caught up in a misery caused by so-called leaders using us as pawns in their struggle for power in service to some misguided ideology that means nothing to me or to most of my fellow villagers.

It was about mid-day in our exodus when my 8 year old son began to falter. He looked up at me saying “Papa I can’t go on.” We hunkered down in the swirling dust and shared a sip of water trying not to be noticed for fear that desperation in others would result in us being robbed. I told him that I loved him, that we must go on and that we need to stay together as a family. I knew that these words meant little to him but after a short rest, a rest that we all needed, he got up and we rejoined the march.

The long slog was taking its toll. People who had taken too much with them became weary of their load and dropped their belongings on the side of the road only for them to be quickly scavenged by others.

Near dusk we reached the end of the line at the border. People were pressed up against the six foot high coiled barbed wire fence that stretched for miles in either direction. On the other side soldiers scurried back and forth between the fence and a brightly lit field of tents some with colored letters and designs that had no significance to me.

It must have been midnight by the time we were allowed into the tent village where we had to show our papers and get fingerprinted. Finally someone took us into one of the crowded tents and showed us to a spot on the ground where we could rest next to others who had made the long walk this day.

The officials in this tent village called us refugees, but to me we are hopelessly homeless and dependent on others for our survival. What will happen to us: will we be relocated, will we have to make do here and live out our lives among these tents or will we be terrorized again?

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Fortune Cookie

fortune cookieThe Bellview Tea Garden was a narrow store front restaurant located on California Avenue. About 10 years past its prime it was long with booths along the left side, tables on the right, a counter with the register in the front along with a few chairs for take away customers to wait for their order. About half way back in a booth sat the business’s only patron: an attractive young woman.

The waiter had just removed the plates including the half eaten plate of Chow Mein and fried rice that was sitting in the now empty place across from the woman. The woman opened her fortune cookie desert, read the message, dropped it into her handbag, and then in a brief fit of rage smashed the cookie on the table muttering, “Fucking asshole. I’ve had enough of this shit.”

A few minutes later when the waiter returned to deliver the check he noticed that the woman was crying and with her long blond hair pulled back he also saw the black and blue swelling above her right eye

“You awr right?” the Chinese waiter said.

“Fine. Just fine,” the woman said.

Composing herself she got up and on her way out slapped down the check and some cash on the counter next to the register not bothering to count it or wait for the change.

She stepped outside and was grabbed roughly on the arm and dragged down the sidewalk by a man who had been lurking in the shadows. It was the same man, her boyfriend, who had left her table earlier. “Bitch,” he said as he backhanded her across the face. “You’re mine and no one else will have you.”

The public skirmish between the two attracted a small crowd of merchants, who had come out of their shops to see what was going on, along with some passersby. As they moved down the street the people cheered her on like cheerleaders at a football game.

Perhaps it was because of the crowd’s encouragement that she finally gained the advantage and she stomped so hard on the man’s instep that she could feel his bones break, she then followed through with a kick to the groin. As the man doubled over grabbing his injured privates with both hands she delivered the final blow, a knee into the face. To the cheers of the crowd the man crumpled to the ground writhing in pain screaming, “Fucking bitch, I’ll kill you!”

Amazing what a little martial arts training will do for you, she thought.

A police patrol car arrived and Officer Pete Wilson approached the woman and asked, “Julia, what’s going on here?”

After Julia described the situation to the officer, whom she had known since high school, he said, “How many times have we been to your trailer responding to a domestic abuse call and now you are carrying your problems into the street? What we have here is a misdemeanor public disturbance. When are you going to get some help? Julia, you have a choice: I can place you under arrest or I can have a patrol car take you to a women’s shelter now. What’ll it be?”

Remembering the message in the fortune cookie Julia replied, “Shelter.”

Julia was beautiful; so much so that she was viewed more as a trophy and had a hard time keeping the boys at bay. Her big fault, if you could call it that, was that she was a pleaser. This often resulted in making bad choices when it came to men, men who had no interest in her, only themselves.

After two weeks at the shelter Julia was on a bus traveling 2000 miles to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where she would start a new life. This time, she vowed to herself, she would be more careful in her choice of men.

As the bus eased out onto the road for the first leg of Julia’s trip she reached into her handbag and fished out the fortune cookie message. Reading it again made her smile. It readAt this very moment you will change the rest of your life.”

A version of this story was published in our writer’s group anthology Musings in 2020.

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Rockie

macawWithout any warning the bird let out an ear splitting SQUAAAWK and everyone in the room, except the owners of the big Scarlet Macaw, jumped. Then the bird said, “If you ever tell anyone what you saw, I’ll kill you.”

“Don’t mind Rockie,” Paul said as he brought the bird out of the cage. “She gets bored easily and needs to make her presence known.”

“Well she sure got my attention. That loud squawk in a closed room could wake the dead,” Larry said. “But do you know what she meant about something we saw and about killing us?”

“Not really. We got the bird from a rescue shelter and know nothing of its history.”

“Is that all she knows?”

“As far as we can tell. We have tried to teach her other words and phrases without any success. Macaws aren’t known for developing language skills like other parrot species.”

History indeed, Rockie thought, recalling life with his previous owner. You humans take me out of the rain forest and I end up here where it is cold and not an almond tree in sight. Well I’ll show you, SQUAAAWK.

This human brought me to a cabin in the forest. One day a vision of another human looking object appeared out of nowhere. It shimmered and glowed and appeared to change shape until it settled on the appearance of the human who brought me here though a bit more transparent. I was squawking like crazy and hopping around in this cage not knowing what was going on.

“Shut up bird,” the human said.

Addressing the glowing object the human asked, “And who are you and what are you doing here?”

The glowing object just looked quizzically at the human then proceeded in silence around the room examining everything closely including me. The human appeared paralyzed and just looked on in amazement.

The glowing human then went up to the other human and the human who brought me here just disappeared in a flash of light. SQUWAAAK!

The glowing object then came over to my cage, looked at me eye-to-eye and said, “If you ever tell anyone what you saw, I’ll kill you,” then it simply vanished. I will never forget it.

I managed to get free of the cage and after several days some humans came by looking for one of their kind called Ann. They put me back in that cage and took me to a place where there were other birds.

So here I am stuck in this room with my wings clipped and these humans feeding me table scraps like a dog and think that I like it. SQUAAAWK.

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The Accidental Spy

glassMelanie Thomas got off the late night bus and was crossing the deserted street to her home when she heard the squeal of tires and a vehicle coming toward her out of the darkness. It seemed like the driver was aiming straight for her. She tried to avoid being hit but it was too late. Just before the inevitable impact she said “OK Glass, Record.”

Waking up from a drug-induced sleep two days later she found herself in a hospital room with her arms and legs strung up like a puppet, connected to several intravenous fluid bags and a respirator. She couldn’t find, let alone press, the button to call a nurse; and being intubated she lacked the voice to yell out for help. She had no choice but to lie there until someone came by and noticed that she was awake.

“Welcome back Melanie,” came a voice from the foot of the bed. I’m Dr. Baxter,” he said as he scanned her chart. “You’ve had quite an accident. Let’s get some vitals and see if we can remove that respirator tube.”

After the nurses removed the respirator tube Dr. Baxter returned and asked, “Does that feel better?”

Melanie shook her head and squeaked out a “Yes.”

“There have been a couple of police officers here anxious to talk to you. Are you up for that?”

Melanie again squeaked out a “Yes.”

Dr. Baxter left the room briefly and returned with two plain-clothes officers who introduced themselves as Detectives Drew Maddox and Lisa Sloan.

Drew said, “Thanks for seeing us. We understand your medical situation so we’ll be brief.”

Melanie answered the Detective’s questions and explained what happened as best she could in halted phrases and with her impaired voice. “My glasses?” she asked.

“We have them. They must have flown off and were damaged during the impact. Google Glass, I’m impressed; not many people have them. I don’t know much about them but did you happen to get any pictures?” Continue reading

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