I hate this day and everything it stands for, but I must do something tonight. I can’t bah humbug today, can I? What will he think of me? It’s bad enough the bartender is staring at me and dissecting me. I have moped around this bar for the last three days, trolling for men and waiting for Valentine’s. Sipping a martini at three in the afternoon in an empty bar in my sweat pants makes him stare all the more.
“Another?” he asks.
The drink isn’t empty, but I guess he can’t think of anything else to say. Why doesn’t he ask for my number for my phone or room? He’s big in the shoulders, and I can imagine him without a shirt. I like that vision. When I glance at him, his eyes contain no mirth, and he doesn’t seem playful.
“Make it a beer,” I blurt out, pushing cigarette butts in circles around an ashtray. I use a match to make a pile of the ashes.
“What kind?” he asks, looking annoyed.
“Does it look like I give a damn?” I reply, crossing my legs and smiling at him. Leaning my chin on a palm to give him a good look at my eyes, I smile coyly. I’ll win him over yet.
Grabbing a bottle from the cooler, he pops the top and puts a Budweiser on a coaster in front of me. When a small bit of foam lands on my arm, I lick it and smile at him again. Still, his face doesn’t show a hint of a smile. Stubborn man. He increases the volume on the television, which is showing some celebrity gossip show. The images of various famous couples and their preparations for Valentine’s remind me of my own plans or lack thereof. I light a cigarette and ponder.
“Are you staying in here for dinner? We don’t serve holiday dinners at the bar. I need to know if you want a table reserved.”
“No, I’m having room service. I’m expecting someone,” I answer, letting the cigarette burn without touching it. “Can I ask why you do that with the cigarettes?”
On the TV screen is a picture of a Las Vegas casino and what appears to be Ray and a woman standing atop the steps of a main entrance, holding hands before cutting a ribbon. I mash the cigarette out with my thumb and feel a tear coming.
“No, you may not.” I stand up. Throwing cash on the bar, I stride out of the room. I don’t want him to see me cry. Walking to the elevator, I wipe the tear away. I don’t have time to cry. I have preparations to make.
I shall wear the green dress since it’s Ray’s favorite color. First, I will lay in the bath for one hour. Routines are important to me. My father taught me about habit before I could shoot a gun. After my bath, I apply lotion all over my body until every inch is smooth. The scent of apricots fills the room as I dress and pull the stockings over my legs.
I have a bit of spare time before room service arrives. Should I write in my journal? Maybe write Ray a last minute letter? Do I have time for that? No, all of that is out of the routine. I need to brush my hair, to make it shine, to look my best. Can’t disappoint Ray, can I?
In a few short months, I shall be in Vegas. The excitement builds up, but I want dinner to go off without a problem. I paid the man extra to make sure everything is perfect, but you never know these days. Service is terrible at best in most cities. Here is to hoping Dallas exceeds my expectations.
I hear a knock at the door, and my heart quickens. The night begins! Slipping on my pumps, I run to the door and look through the peephole. A bell-boy with a cart stands there. Opening the door, I lean against the frame, locking eyes with the boy and motioning with a finger for him to enter. He is small but not slight, and I like his light brown eyes, which keep darting about the room.
“Just you tonight?” the boy asks.
“Set the table as instructed. No questions.” I cross my arms as the boy places the plates on the table.
With a pop, he opens a bottle of champagne and puts it on ice. He lights a candle on both ends of the table before moving a few feet away. I walk up to him. His shoulders tighten when I lean in and give him a kiss on his rosy cheek.
“Anything else?” His voice is scratchy and thin.
“That will be all.” I walk him to the door and lock it behind him. Turning off the lights, I leave the room in candlelight.
I pour a glass of champagne and look over the table. There are two settings, both plates hidden by silver covers. The champagne adds to the drinks already consumed, and I feel heat in my face.
“It’s time,” I say to the room.
I lift the covers to reveal a dinner of seared lamb chops with asparagus and roast potatoes. The meal is perfect. I cut into the lamb and smile. It’s rare, so the meat pulls away from the bone with little effort. My smile fades when the vision of the TV from earlier pops up in my head. I sample the meat but can’t taste it. I feel tears again, and this time, I can’t stop.
“The lamb is perfect, isn’t it, Ray?” I whisper. My voice sounds odd. I’m struggling to swallow the food as tears begin to fall.
“I saw you with her, Ray.” I manage to take a gulp of drink.
I force the meal down with more wine and then I sit as the candles burn.
“Ray, I hope you enjoyed dinner. Wait until you see my present.”
There is no response. The empty room surrounds me, staring at me and putting lonely fingers around my throat. “RAY!” I scream as loud as I can. I snuff out the candles with my fingers and lick the wounded skin before screaming again, “RAY!!!”
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Short Story Selections from SERVER by Stephen Moran
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THE LAST RIDE - An Ella Thomas Fiction
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"Intriguing and varied collection of short tales" says Helen Whistberry (review posted at Amazon)
Very intriguing collection of short tales in the spirit of Kafka and Poe, loosely related by their dark themes and sometimes ironic tone or plot.
Standouts for me were Love and Rockets, a pleasingly deadpan and strangely poetic retelling of a courtship gone disastrously awry; Journey of Loss, a folkloric musing on loss and evolution of self; A Dark Thread, a tale of (literal and figurative) alienation and madness; IEP, a too chillingly realistic sketch of a very modern-day horror; and moniker, a dreamlike meditation on transformation.
The stories are all quite varied in length, subject, and style, so I think fans of original storytelling will find their own favorites in this thought-provoking collection.
A young man sat in a late model Toyota sedan in a McDonald’s parking lot, glancing from a mobile phone mounted on an air vent to the front door. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he shifted in his seat trying to get a better view of the restaurant interior.
Come on, this is my last ride. Don’t make me cancel.
The timer on the mobile phone changed to blood red and a cancel button appeared. There was no rider in sight.
Now I have to find another ride fuck my luck.
He cancelled the ride and turned up the heat, the wintery mix was turning to freezing slush on the windshield. Jumping out of the car, the man banged the windshield wipers against the windshield a few times to shake the ice free. Before getting back into the car, he scanned the surrounding area. Ice. The roads were turning into a skating rink in mere moments it seemed to him.
A beep from the phone forced him back into the car. He managed to accept the ride request one second before the 30 second timer expired.
Please be close, please be close he repeated as the app grasped for a signal in the intensifying storm. The driver app managed to find the ride. It was at the driver’s current location but was not the rider he cancelled.
“Ella,” he said out loud looking at the screen. The profile pic was of a beautiful young blonde woman, pretty enough to be a model.
That pic fake as fuck but I don’t care it’s my last ride, come on let’s get this ride over before I die on these roads.
As if in answer to his stream of consciousness prayer, a young woman wearing a slicker yellow raincoat exited McDonald’s and approached his car, holding out her mobile phone and then checking the license plate on the car before getting into the back right passenger seat.
“Hi, I’m Ella.”
“Wow, you’re beautiful,” the driver blurted out almost against his will. “I figured that pic was fake. No worries about this ice storm, I’ll get you home safe.”
“Thanks, I guess.” She tapped at her phone a few times before catching his gaze in the rearview mirror. “Get me home safely and you will get a generous tip.”
The driver smiled and guided the car on to 146A N. He tapped the app screen to check the destination. ___ Mendon St, Uxbridge.
“Sweet. Real close. You’re my last ride.”
The blonde woman nodded indifference and kept tapping at her mobile. He watched her in the rearview, transfixed by her pale skin and perfectly straightened blonde hair. How does she keep it like that in the winter?
“You could be a model. That’s how pretty you are, I don’t mean to be a creep.”
The tires slipped in an ice patch and jerked the car to one side.
“Better keep your attention on the road then. Don’t kill us both. Just drive. I told you I’ll tip you. Cash.” The young woman pulled a thick wad of cash out of her jeans pocket and waved the wad in his direction. “Just get me home. Remember, models deserve rides too.”
“I’ll get you home safely,” he said, slowing the speed markedly. “Don’t worry, I drive full time. I can drive and still tell you that you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever had in my car. See, I’m not looking at you. Eyes on the road, but I gotta ask. How do you get your hair so unearthly straight. It’s perfect like out of a movie.”
The young woman gave no response and instead tapped a button on the mobile to place a phone call. “George, can you prepare a cocktail. The drive home is treacherous and lecherous and I’m in need of gallons of vodka. Be home in 15 minutes or so.”
“Treacherous and lecherous,” the driver repeated, smiling at her in the rearview. “Wait, does that make me the lecherous part. I didn’t say nothing bad, what are you thinking about?”
“I’m thinking about murders and executions so be careful how you speak to me. I’ve hacked men into bits for less. Still want to tell me how pretty I am? Make my day. As for my hair, if you ever learn that secret, it’ll mean your life.”
He whistled and for a moment became silent. The car passed Uxbridge High School and the driver maintained a very low speed as there were no other cars on the road.
“The fact you had to say all that instead of just telling me no means you’re interested. I like when girls play hard to get. Makes the getting all the sweeter.”
The car stopped at the 146A merge with 122. The Uxbridge Courthouse parking lot was almost completely empty. Court was finished for the day, closed early for the storm. Taking a left onto 122 N, the driver guided the car carefully over the thickening ice.
“More treacherous than lecherous so far if you ask me.” The driver slowed the speed to less than 25 mph. The only other vehicles to be seen were plows and town trucks sanding the roads.
The blonde woman laughed and placed her mobile in her lap. “You are quite persistent. If I told you I was a serial killer would you still want to fuck me?”
The driver pondered her question and approached the stoplight to RT 16.
“Are you a serial killer?”
“I am,” she responded immediately.
The driver whistled and turned onto RT 16, glancing at the app on his phone. Less than half a mile to Ella’s house.
“I don’t care. You can be anything you want to be with me. If you want to identify as a serial killer, have at it.”
Ella sighed and leaned forward, “Look for the driveway after the fire hydrant. No, not that one. The next.”
The driver pulled to a skidding stop in the driveway, tires slipping dangerously on the ice. “We made it.”
Ella peeled several bills from the cash wad and extended the money over the seat to the driver. “A serial killer keeps her promises.”
“Wow,” the driver said, quickly counting the money. “You gave me five hundred dollars. This makes my year.”
“I want something for my money. Pretend you never took this ride. You never saw me. You’ll never speak about it.”
The driver shrugged and stuffed the money into a pocket. “It’s going to be hard not to mention the tip and a rider telling me she’s a serial killer, but it’s your ride. Thanks for the tip, serial killer. You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever had in my car. Oh the things I’d do to you.”
Ella signed once more, closing her eyes.
“Do me a favor. Google my name. Ella Thomas.”
The driver tapped at his mobile and waited for the internet to return an answer. His face grew pale and he looked at Ella in the rear view.
“I…hope you have a n…nice night,” he stammered as he swiped at the app screen to end the ride.
“Don’t you want to come inside. I’ll tell you every detail about my hair routine. I promise it’s to die for…” Ella’s voiced trailed off into a smile.
The driver gulped for air and wiped at sweat collecting on his forehead. “The roads are getting bad; I better get going. Maybe…another time…”
He didn’t finish, voice fading into nothingness.
“Come inside. You only live once; every day could be your last ride.”
The driver attempted to speak but failed, his face getting paler, eyes wide staring at Ella in the rear view. “Call me Donald,” he finally answered.
“Do you mind if I light a cigarette, Donald. It’s been one hell of a stressful day.”
He nodded his consent even though he never let riders smoke in the car. But a serial killer that tipped $500? The smell of smoke filled the car before Ella cracked open the window.
“Don’t worry about the roads. If it’s too bad later, you can stay with me. You’ll be safe, I swear. Come inside for vodka martinis.”
“I…” Donald stammered again.
Ella opened the door and flicked the cigarette into the snowbank. Lifting the hood of her coat to block the wind and sleet, she stepped into the winter weather. “Come inside. We can get drunk and make a book together. I’ll make you famous.”
Donald remained silent and still behind the steering wheel. He gave no indication he heard Ella speak. She sighed and shuffled carefully around to the driver’s door. Pulling at the handle, she opened the door. Ella offered her hand to Donald and waited for him to speak or move or somehow answer.
“Don’t be afraid, you only die once,” she whispered into his ear. A chill ran down his spine and goosebumps popped on his arms and the back of his neck. Donald put his hand into hers.
“Ok, but I’m not really into books. I just want to show you I’m not afraid. I’m not. I will…”
Ella placed a finger on his lips, stopping him.
“Don’t make promises you won’t keep. Don’t tell me you’ll make me forget my name or I’ll get dick owned or any of the other shit you men say. Just don’t.”
He nodded yes and Ella led him from the car.
“I want you to know it’s whatever I decide. What you want has nothing to do with it. Be happy and quiet. You’re just a bag of pleasantly arranged flesh and bones to me.”
Ella approached the kitchen door along the side of the house. The door swung open, but Donald couldn’t see anyone in the kitchen when he followed Ella inside.
“George,” Ella said to the empty room, shedding her coat and boots and kitted scarf onto the island table in the middle of the room. “Two martinis followed by dinner service.”
“Who are you talking to?” Donald asked, confused.
“My butler.” Ella stripped the rest of her wet clothes and stood naked in the kitchen, spinning in a slow circle to give Donald a show.
At that moment an elderly gentleman wearing a tuxedo and carrying a drink tray with two martinis entered the room. He served the drinks and with a bow, made a prompt exit. But he wasn’t gone for more than thirty seconds; he returned with a robe that he placed around Ella’s shoulders.
“Will the gentleman be needing accommodations tonight? I’ll ready the guest room. It’s quite the storm out there.” George waited for Ella to answer, but she was busy with the martini. “If there’s anything else you require, Ella, do let me know.”
With another bow, George took his leave.
“I can’t believe you have a butler.”
Ella clucked her tongue at him, wagging a finger. “You just saw me naked and you’re caught up with the butler? Tsk tsk, Donald.”
She sat on one of the high back stools lining the island in the kitchen. Patting a seat next to her, she motioned for him to join her.
“Tell me about yourself. How old are you for starters?”
Ella spit martini onto the table and shook her head. “No, no, that won’t due. You said 35, right? Right??? I don’t have sex with children younger than me.”
“I’m not a child.”
“25 years old is the first year a man starts being a man. So, yes, you’re a child. Don’t argue with me. It’s not good for your health.”
Donald finished his martini and before he could ask, George whisked into the room and served two more martinis.
“I could get used to butler service. How much do you pay him?”
Ella placed an index finger against Donald’s lips again. “Never ask about money. Stop minding George and start minding me.”
She pulled her robe to the side to give Donald a better view of her legs.
“You promised you’re aren’t scared. Why haven’t you fucked me yet? We’ve been inside almost twenty minutes. Most men would be smashing me for the second time already.”
“I don’t want to die.”
Ella sipped her martini and tapped at her phone. Mozart filled the air, violins dancing in the space his comment left in the room.
“Even if you never truly live, you will still die. Would you be hesitating if I didn’t tell you? Weren’t you all but promising to fuck me…and well at that?”
Donald nodded but turned his eyes from her. Fear made his hands shake and he placed the martini on the granite island countertop to keep from dropping it.
“Tell me the truth. Do any men leave here alive?”
Ella tilted her head as if trying to remember. “In Uxbridge? In the house where I killed my father? I don’t know…”
Donald closed his eyes, his body shaking visibly. Ella placed a hand on his thigh, and he jumped on the bar stool.
“You’re scared like a schoolgirl. Is this your first time? Are you a virgin, Donald?”
He shook his head in the negative but didn’t speak or look at her.
“Not to tell you how this is done, but you have to put hands on me. Are you too scared to do this?”
Ella leaned into his body and placed the palm of his hand on her knee. Dragging his hand higher, she pushed under the robe, pressing his fingers into her thighs as if giving him instructions by touch.
“I don’t want to die,” he repeated.
She sighed and finished her second martini. Pulling the robe open a little more, she inched closer to him. “Are you guilty?”
“Guilty?” he asked, eyes finally locking on to hers. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Would the women that have known you say that?”
He stammered an answer she couldn’t understand, blurting out a string of words that didn’t combine coherently into sentences.
Ella began to repeat her question, but George entered the room and took a spot against the wall.
“What is it, George?”
“Your guest passed the FBI background check. He’s got a clean record. Almost Boy Scout clean. No priors, no pending cases.” George readied another round of martinis as if the information he’d just given was of no consequence.
Donald put a hand over his chest, as if to still the rapid beating of his heart. He watched Ella jump from her stool and tie the robe around her waist, the clock ticking and ticking. Blood pounded his temples, a drumbeat almost matching time with the grandfather clock. Ella extended a hand towards him, a simple invitation; to what he knew not.
Putting one shoe on the floor, he managed to stand despite waves of fear and nausea sweeping over his body. He drained the martini in one gulp and took a confident first step in Ella’s direction.
“What did you say? You only die once?’
Ella glanced at him over her shoulder. “Just the once.”
Donald followed her into the bedroom, the hallway floorboards creaking and under his weight. The moment he crossed the threshold, Ella slammed the door, plunging them both into darkness.
TO BE CONTINUED
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