Mulroney’s Mariachis. Free Flash Fiction.

The Covid Cantina is closed for the moment. But the authors who participated wanted to keep on writing, just at a slower pace. So, every Wednesday we will bring you a new collection of stories. One a week. I have the honor to go first, and I hope you enjoy it. 

We hope you’ll visit the other authors who comprise this collection: Paul Bennett, Robert CelyDerek Elkins, Jamie D. Greening, Kathy Kexel, and Joe Shaw. As always, there’s no fee, we’re doing this to help you pass the time. We do ask that you buy our books/audio books to help pay the freight here. But that’s up to you! Mine are all on the right margin of the blog.

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MULRONEY’S MARIACHIS

Frank Mulroney sat on the edge of the bed, thinking he’d found peace at the end of his 27 year quest. The cell door was old-fashioned, the kind that had bars and an open slot, versus a solid door with a food port. Classic county jail in New Mexico. Exactly where he knew he could finally sleep.

He hadn’t really slept for more than 2 hours at a time since 1993. It had been hard, and the cause of two marriages breaking up. But he’d been on his own since 2010, nobody able to deal with his moaning in the middle of the night, and his begging the phantoms to be quiet. 

Tonight – tonight he would finally get some rest. 

The detective had been quite shocked when he’d walked in earlier that morning, and it had taken a while to locate the file. But once the facts started to fall into place, the detective became less skeptical, then a bit harsh, and finally sympathetic. He offered Frank the chance to go home and return the next day once he’d been booked, but Frank insisted that the cell was where he had to be. 

Now, sitting quietly in a cell that had no other occupants, in a wing of the facility that had only two teenage kids awaiting bail, he had plenty of time to think about how marvelous this felt. 

October 31, 1993 had been a normal Halloween for most people. Frank was 25 years old, doing well in his job at the power plant, and had more than a few coins in his pocket. He’d headed out bar-hopping after work, and his Zorro costume got him a handful of phone numbers before midnight, but no takers on his invitation back to his bed. 

With no targets in sight, Frank hammered down a couple of Harvey Wallbangers in the final hour of bar service and poured himself behind the wheel of his Probe.  It was a piece of junk, but it ran well enough to haul him around town. It looked much better than it ran, and soon it would give up the ghost. He didn’t mind, plenty of mint vehicles here in San Juan County to choose from when the time came.

Fifteen minutes later, while navigating the back roads on the way to his trailer, Frank rounded a sweeping bend in the road and came to an abrupt halt. 

Abrupt, because he’d just driven through six men in Mariachi band outfits, all of whom were lounging next to their car while the seventh man changed the tire. It was one of those barge-sized Cadillacs from the 70s, and it had been turned into a beautiful low-rider. 

All six were instantly dead, mowed down like ducks in a row. The seventh was less fortunate, he’d merely been clipped by the front fender and was obviously hurt badly, but still conscious.

Frank, once he realized he’d stopped, got out to see why. The last two wall-bangers he’d consumed soon decorated the hood of his car. The gore was incredible. 

Whatever else you wanted to say about that model of Probe, the bugger was tough. there was virtually no damage given the slaughter, and the headlights were already recessed because he was driving by moonlight – one of the reasons he never saw the band until too late.

Backing up, and listening to the sickening crunches from the bodies, he came off the pile of gore and parked. Working by flashlight, he examined his car and found no real damage. All of the men had been sitting, or squatting, next to the car while number 7 changed the tire. 

No damage. A chance to get away clean. Frank didn’t even think twice. His trailer was just a mile away, and he escaped without notice. 

The next morning he spent an hour with a pressure washer cleaning the undercarriage – and it was good that he had: there was quite a collection of rhinestones when he was done.

For the next few weeks he’d walked on egg shells, but nobody ever knocked on the door. The papers carried the story on the front page, and the television couldn’t get enough of it. All of the men were from Mexico, and had been turned around out in the country most likely. The bodies were all shipped back to their homes across the border, and a large memorial was held in Aztec, the nearest city to where the accident had taken place. 

The night of the memorial service had been the beginning of the visits. Shortly before two in the morning – the time of the accident – the door flew open and the Mariachi band marched in blaring an old tune. They would play for  1 hour and then leave. Some nights the phantoms would come back three times. On one Halloween they stayed the whole night, and followed him to the power plant the next day.

Over the years Frank tried to drink them away. That and drugs cost him his job at the plant, and he subsisted on more and more menial jobs over the following years. The trailer became more decrepit, the Probe died and was replaced with a succession of really rotten junkers. But nobody ever asked him about the accident.

He decided that he should get right with the law, and God, by turning himself in when the Mariachi band started playing just two songs every night: Folsom Prison Blues and Jailhouse Rock. He endured almost six months of that before walking into the Sheriff’s office this morning, explaining the accident and signing a confession. None of the deputies had been on the force when it happened, and they had to dig out old records from the paper storage unit. But by six that evening he was finally in a cell by himself, breathing easy for the first time in almost three decades.

Just after midnight Frank heard a noise and opened his eyes. The Mariachi band was just standing around him in the cell, staring. No instruments, no singing, just staring. For a long time.

Finally, the one he assumed was the band leader based on his outfit knelt next to the bunk. In slightly accented Spanish he said, “You really think this will help? I mean, we’ve been dead a long time and we haven’t been at peace. I think, Frank, you will be spending all of your days with us. Now, tonight we all introduce ourselves, and tell you what you took from us.”

Mulrooney just nodded. That seemed fair. He didn’t mind talking. 

“But tomorrow, Frank, the instruments are back. And since ghosts don’t get tired, we’ll be playing your favorite tunes 24 x 7. Pretty soon they’ll put you in a cell by yourself in the pysch wing. After all, only a madman hears music at 103 decibels all day. True?”

Frank could say nothing. He listened as they told their tales. And at four in the morning the bandleader said, “See you in four hours Frank. Enjoy the silence while it lasts.”

Four hours later, Frank began crying. And the deputies remarked that they’d never seen a man cry and sing old Cash and Elvis tunes at the same time. Too bad he had to go into isolation for his own good.

“This Feels Like Normal.”

That quote came at the end of the fireworks on the Fourth of July. By a neighbor who didn’t know exactly how profound she was in her observation.

 

Chewy dressed for the event.

Now, a bit of background. I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The grocery store where I used to shop got looted during the riots. A number of places I love and have shopped at for decades are no longer as a result of the riots and the Chinese flu. Combined, of course, with the SUPREME DIKTAT of Governor Walz of Minnesota. He’s decided that he needs his power unfettered until the emergency is over. You all remember that emergency, the one that was going to last two weeks into April? Yeah, that one. Well, in Minnesota the threat is looming at all times that things will shut down again, and it’s a damned oppressive place between protest marches, governors drunk on power, angry mobs blocking traffic on the freeway (*you are no longer a protester when you block the freeway*), and the annual arrival of yellow jackets.

But Saturday night did feel like normal. The neighbors gathered on the front porch of her home, ate deserts (which were awesome), drank beer from the cooler the other neighbor dragged over, and watched the little kids light snakes and sparklers. Around 7:30 the foot traffic in the neighborhood picked up substantially, and hundreds of people gathered to watch an amateur fireworks exhibition in the park. 

Now, usually I’m not a big fan of people doing this themselves, the stuff is very dangerous. But it was clear that whomever had paid for the night had hired pros to set it up. Mind you, a rack did tip over and strafe the crowd, but no casualties I saw. 

As the night wore on, the fog grew thicker – there was no wind and the smoke from the gunpowder hung in the air. People came and went, chairs were lugged, coolers dragged, a good time was had by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. 

All of this, every delicious drop of it, was done with no government regulation, no permit *that I know of*, no special tax, and not a single mask in sight. 

That’s right – the common man is done with masks. This crowd was acting free on a day celebrating liberty. I’m guessing there will be a gigantic spike in cases of Wuhan flu – or not. I mean, we don’t do statistics at protests and riots, so will they insist on knowing if you attended a celebration of freedom?

But it felt normal. It was normal. It was what a free people do when they are free. 

I loved it. It gives me hope for my nation. It makes me proud of who I am. And not one person stopped another and said they were not welcome based on appearance. Not one person was shamed into wearing a mask. Because that’s how the real America rolls: we love each other. The press needs to shut up about their selective vision. I dare them to report honestly on how Americans deal with each other in their own neighborhoods. Neighbors hanging out with neighbors – and my neighborhood is a vital mix of different peoples.

But it sure felt normal. And it felt good.

Frankie The Wonder Dog

We wrapped up the flash fiction stories about the Chinese flu about 10 days ago. But I knew this one was coming. It’s a true story, and I was told the tale in the depths of the panic over Whuhan virus spread. So, being a good boy, I saved it until a better time. I hope you enjoy the tale of Franky.

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Andrea fosters dogs on a short term basis. And while she loves dogs, especially since her own furry friend died somewhat recently, she loves rescuing them even more than keeping them.

One day, Moe – a little dog with a big heart –  wandered into her orbit and she started to share his story on social media. More pictures, stories of his quirks, his life, his joys. She was in love with her foster dog and wanted him to have a great home.

And across the internet a heart opened. Yolanda had been without a dog for three years since her last dog had died. The attraction was immediate, and so strong given those pictures of Moe, that it drug her out of the Covid-19 Quarantine to meet this pooch. 

It was love at first belly-rub. Moe went ballistic over his new friend, Yogi. Yogi, being a wise women, said she’d have to ask her husband. All good decisions take time to marinate.

The next day there was a frantic call from Andrea – Moe had been assigned to another rescue and she had to surrender the dog the following week.

Rapid planning ensued – the rescue was not giving any quarter, Moe was going to Chicago-land to another rescue to find a home. Fees had been paid, things had been done and Moe had to go to the next rescue. He’d been paid for and consigned. Done.

Would he be dog-napped? Would he be “lost” and found by Yogi? Would aliens select him for interstellar transit?

Instead, prayers started to bang on the gates of heaven – via St. Francis of Assisi. Yogi enlisted family and friends, everyone she could think of who knew God to join in this prayer war.

Tuesday was surrender day. Andrea took Moe to the meeting, where he was to get a final look-over by the rescue manager to make sure he was fit to travel and join the new rescue up north.

Andrea couldn’t help but plead his case, and the rescue worker said Moe still had to go pending the inspection. 

A little later, she returned with Moe, a sad look on her face. “He failed. I can’t send him on.”

Andrea, who had taken a huge interest in little Moe was surprised. 

“Failed? What’s wrong with him? He’s perfectly fine.”

The rescue worker just smiled and shook her head. “Nope. I’m afraid he can’t travel.”

“But why?”

“I’m not sure yet, but I’ll come up with a reason. Now take your dog and love him enough to get him a forever home with your friend.”

And so it is that Moe became “Frankie.”

Frankie, naturally, being easier to say than Saint Francis to whom they’d prayed for intercession. And a bit less obnoxious to the faithful. Some object to dogs being named as Saints – even when the real Francis would love the story, and the loving family that gave him the name, as much as anyone could imagine.

You see, this isn’t flash fiction: it’s the real story of Frankie the amazing rescue dog. 

But it sure could be fiction – and we’re glad to share it with you.

 

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I’m Not Dead. I’m Just Having A Little Lie Down.

Hello, Polly.

First, my thanks to all the amazing writers I’ve worked with the last 3 months on the Covid Cantina stories. We are not done. As a matter of fact, starting in July, we’ll be publishing a new work of fiction each Wednesday.  Probably not Wuhan Flu related, but a great range of stuff.

I will resume writing blogs next week. I was busy this week finishing up the final Michael DiMercurio audio book: VERTICAL DIVE.  Loaded it up to the servers for the sound engineer this morning. ON SALE IN MID-LATE JULY.

 

Now, I need a few more days off. See you Tuesday.

What About The Window?

Welcome to the end of the free flash fiction marathon here on our blogs. We started these on March 24th, and a truly extraordinary group of writers has contributed to the effort along the way. I would be very remiss if I did not thank the others for their beautiful contributions. But, first – a teaser: there’s some more to come down the road. Read the post for the whole story.

These kudos are not in order of anything except my looking up their links.

First, I’d like to thank Dr. Paul Bennett, who contributed a ray of sunshine and southern charm to the effort. Paul is the only author who did not write on on the COVID-19 theme, because he’s treating the patients. He did not need to write about it as well. Click his link and buy his books. He’s written beautifully of the Civil War and we are indebted to him for his contributions.

Robert Cely is guilty of  bringing science fiction, horror, and God to the concept in about equal measures. His work during the past several weeks has run the gamut of themes and tones. His wife Elizabeth gets extra credit for beating him on a regular basis and making sure his posts looked good. Like Paul, he has a couple of great books you need to buy them at his website.

Derek Elkins comes to us by way of Neptune. I think. His stuff was always very edgy and shocking. I loved it. More than anything else, we were glad that we could drag him into the concept, as he hadn’t done this kind of madness before. Buy his books as well!

Kathy Kexel stepped right into the muck without hesitation. Not a writer of late, she came through with some very haunting tales. Stuff that made you think – which is dangerous for me. And she did a great job. She has no books for sale – yet. But keep an eye on her, because she’s got the mojo.

I don’t know what to say about the next two that wouldn’t sell them short. So let’s start with the one who shares my name: Joe Shaw. Shaw, as Shaw is want to do, started off with killing dogs and people. He had nowhere to go but sideways after that one, but what a ride. He provided us with a multi-parter that was very well done, gripping, whoo-boy-good! Joe is also lacking his first novel, and I know he’s working on remedying that little oversight. But he’s part of the trio that came up with this concept.

The final member of the team is Jamie D. Greening. I got nothing. Like Shaw, he’s a good friend. We’ve hung out together over the years, and I love his story telling. He’s got a bunch of books on Amazon like some of the others. He’s also one of the ones who brings God to the stories in unique ways. Without him, this would have been a very different two months of work. 

So, now we’re at the end of the free stuff. But did I mention that there will be a book coming out this fall with all the stories? Like, in time for Christmas? And, God willing, an audio book?  Yeah, baby. With some original, never before printed content. That’s right – some new stories. What kind? Guess you’ll have to pony up a couple of bucks to find out the answer to that question. 

But we all thank you for riding along with us through the panic, illness, anger, frustration, and hope of the quarantine. We’re leaving the bunker now and setting our blogs to the normal setting for a few months. I will continue to post weekly, and make sure you keep an eye on the others. But we’ll be back in the fall with a Christmas present for your favorite readers. In the meantime, we’re all still writing, and all still selling books.

Now, for the final story in our free binge. God Bless.

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Miguel had never enjoyed the company of other people. Coworkers were an annoyance on their very best days, and on the bad days he was amazed that he didn’t bring a straight razor in and start venting not only his anger, but their carotid arteries. 

Working from home was something he’d dreamed about for the last decade. Not only was his employer stupid, but they’d ignored his well-researched documentation regarding the cost and productivity savings that would result. Instead, they insisted he be confined to a cage peopled with morons. 

It was the thirteenth week of his blissful exile at home. His cat, Blinky, was more than pleased with his presence. He’d never owned a dog, but Blinky was evidently much more like one than a cat from what he’d read. In any event, Blinky spent most of the day coiled up at his elbow in the room upstairs he was using as an office. It was the only room he could use for all the work computers he’d been forced to lug home, and the card table he was using was exactly 23 inches taller than his bed, which he used as his chair. . He had observed a ritual, shutting down the computers and spending his early mornings and evenings away from the bedroom. Work and sleep, but not in the middle.

There it was again. Chainsaws. It had to be chainsaws. But the window had been covered for 15 years to keep the outside world out while he slept. He was too busy with work to get up, walk downstairs, and look out his front door. They’d better not be cutting down the trees in front of his house, but it sounded close. 

The computer had crashed, yet again. After calling his tech support person, he found out that the VPN (Virtual Private Network) he was working on had hacked up a hairball and would be down for another hour. 

Pushing the table back from his bed, he stood and stretched. The noise of chainsaws inundated him as he reached the apex of his stretch. Angry, he went to the window, raised the blinds, and pulled loose the tape holding the piece of foam insulation in place. Gently prying around the edges, he pulled the cover away in a cloud of dust. Sunlight flooded the room, and in between his sneezes he blinked repeatedly.

The chainsaw crew was across the street in the park. His beloved Oak trees were safe. He’d started to push the light blocker back into the spot it had occupied for almost 20 years when his phone rang. Setting the piece of insulation off to the side, he spoke to his tech support person and logged back into the network, back on line much more quickly than he’d planned. 

Hours went by, and he ate his lunch at his desk to make up time for the outage. Blinky moved from the bed to the chest trunk next to the window, basking in the sunlight until it had passed to the other side of the house. 

Miguel found himself staring not at his display screens, but gazing out at the park across the street. He rarely was home on a weekday, and even with the virus keeping people apart, there were an amazing number of parents walking their children and dogs. A couple of young people were ignoring the quarantine and playing catch with a football. Probably brothers. 

At the end of the day, he shut down his computer, pushed the table back, and went to adjust the blinds. 

He found himself standing in the same place for over an hour. He watched the sun’s fading light casting long shadows across his view. A gentle scarlet hue bathed the walkers, human and canine, and he felt a peace he hadn’t known in years. 

Closing the blinds, he went downstairs, made his supper and turned on the television. It was back off after just three minutes. The sense of peace he’d felt upstairs was peeling away like a rotten onion skin with each bobble-headed announcer on the newscast. 

He picked up a book he hadn’t read in a very long time. It was sitting on the radiator shelf next to the couch. 

Gently pulling it open, he turned to the place where the tassel had stayed for almost as many years as his window had been shut. He began to read. 

Three hours later, he set the book down and wiped away his tears. 

He’d misjudged others. He’d judged others. He’d isolated himself for so long, and stored up so much hatred for others, that he’d poisoned himself. 

Setting the Bible aside, he cleaned up his dishes, washed out his tea mug, and shut off the lights downstairs. Setting the alarm, he climbed the stairs and was surprised to see the glow of the streetlight, and the vista of stars on the horizon, washing in through his window. 

He sat there, talking to God, until after midnight. He couldn’t fall asleep. He had so many things he wanted to do, to try and make right. 

Grabbing his robe, he went back downstairs, turned off the alarm system, opened the front door and sat on his front steps until sunrise. It was a new day, and it held the promise of a life free of his past. Of hiding in his darkened room. Of loneliness.

It was glorious. 

He was free.