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Ding-Fiction by JD Baker
The Boy With the Straw Hat-Fiction by Steve Carr
Vickie's Revenge-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
The Confession-Fiction by Joan Leotta
My Affair-Fiction by Elena Smith
Sulfur-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Treehouse-Fiction by Andrew Davie
The Biggest Fans-Fiction by John J. Dillon
Guarding the Koi Pond-Fiction by Cecilia Kennedy
The Only Way to Fly-Fiction by Tom Andes
Written by Slade Stevens-Fiction by Chris Alleyne
Slaying the Siren-Fiction by Dionisio Traverso, Jr.
An Education-Flash Fiction by Jon Park
Don't Move-Flash Fiction by Pam Ebel
Fashion Statement-Flash Fiction by Bill Baber
No Pepsi, Coke-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
Sasha Takes Another Shot-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Bloody Daydream-Poem by Wayne Jermin
9173, 1803, 0094-Poem by John Doyle
Postfontaine-Poem by John Doyle
The Bullet of the Assassin-Poem by John Tustin
The Monster-Poem by John Tustin
Rely on the Moon-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Trembling Shadows-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Caught, hooked-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
I'm Swimming and It's Late Autumn-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
Don't...!-Poem by Harris Coverly
Helios Grimm-Poem by Harris Coverly
Hunter-Poem by Harris Coverly
immobile death mask-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
moonless night-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
moonlit breeze through a forest-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
shadowu-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
A New Life-Poem by John Grey
Matilda-Poem by John Grey
Moira Walks Home Late at Night-Poem by John Grey
The Head-Poem by John Grey
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

88_ym_ding_hstanton.jpg
Art by Henry Stanton 2021

DING

JD Baker

 

 

I'm never leaving the house again.  Can't bear the creeping anticipation pressing into the base of my neck, cold and sharp like the tip of an ice pick.  Looking for her face around every corner.  No rhyme, no reason.  Just...there.

Don't even know how long I'd been seeing her without seeing her, you know?  But it was three months ago that I really saw her.  Sitting in a content meeting with my editor, Zach; she brought him a cup of coffee.  I only caught a glimpse of her from behind and a little to the side, but there was...I can't really say.  Something about the hair, I guess, maybe the tilt of her chin.  I knew I'd seen her before.  Totally distracted me, and I couldn't focus on the rest of the meeting.

Riding the metro home, going past L'Enfant, that's when it hit me:  I'd seen her the day before when I stopped to pick up a bagel at the L'Enfant promenade.  Only yesterday, she'd been ringing the bell just inside the south entrance.  The memory came back vividly, like a waking dream.  I was fumbling with the bagel, my briefcase, wallet and change as I walked toward the exit.  I dropped a quarter and it rolled away from me.  I followed with an awkward stumble, dropped the bagel like an idiot, but I scooped up the coin (small compensation) just before it rolled down the steps to the metro tracks. 

I looked around to see if anyone saw my virtuoso performance of clumsiness, cursing in annoyance at the loss of my breakfast.  That’s when I saw her.  The bell had been ringing in the background of my consciousness, and the sound came into sharper focus as she met my eyes.  She looked at me expressionlessly, her arm moving up and down almost mechanically, like a human metronome.  The Salvation Army kettle was the bright red of fresh paint.  I waited for a smile or nod, some sort of indication or acknowledgement that she'd seen my stumbling and bumbling.  You know, like you'd expect from a fellow human being.  But there was nothing.

I wondered then if she'd truly seen me or if she was just staring off into space; I know that’s what I’d do if it was my job to stand around all day hoping to score some loose change for my employer.  I don't know what it was, but for the first time since I'd stopped drinking, I started to feel a little belligerent (I tend to be a mean drunk, and it's one of the reasons I quit).  I snatched up my bagel and walked over to her, slamming my dearly departed breakfast into the trashcan on my way.  I held up the would-be escapee and plunked the quarter into her bucket, never breaking eye contact.  Still no response, but I could tell that she was seeing me and wasn’t lost in some sort of daydream.  Her eyes followed my every move.  All along, that arm went up and down, but it was the only part of her that moved.  Ding.  Ding.  Ding.

When I got home, I called Zach.  "What's up, Jim?  Forget something?"

"Not really, just curious.  Who was the girl who brought your coffee today?  You get a new assistant?"

"Well, two things:  one, what am I, your matchmaker now, and B, what are you talking about?  Stephen’s still the gatekeeper.  You know, the guy who showed  you into my office this morning?"

"Come on, don't mess around.  Young thing, reddish hair, little too much makeup?  Black skirt?"

"Seriously, I'm not even being sarcastic here--"

"That'll be the day--"

"—but I honestly have no idea what you're talking about.  Stephen brought the coffee, not some redhead."

And that was the start of it, or at least the start as far as I can tell.  And it never stopped; the dam had broken, the floodgates were wide, whatever tired metaphor you want to use.  Once I realized that I'd seen her, not a day went by that I didn’t.  It was never the same place or time twice, and never in the same context.  It was like she was different people.  Sometimes she was at a distance, like the time I caught a flash of red hair and the dark smudge of eye shadow from across the canal on my morning run.  Sometimes she was so close I could have touched her, like when she just slipped through the closing doors of the elevator and rode three floors by my side in absolute, immovable silence.  We stopped on six, the doors opened with a soft ding, and she was gone.  It was only after I got off on my floor that I realized I hadn’t seen her even push a button.  Once, I swore I even saw her slouching in the back row of my Wednesday morning meeting, but she was gone the next time I turned around.  Terrence, my sponsor, was just as incredulous as Zach had been.  After a similar "what girl?" back and forth, I gave up on the idea of trying to talk to someone else about it.  No one else was seeing her.

And she never spoke.  A dozen times I made up my mind to say something—anything—to her.  But in those instances when she was close enough to hear me, sometimes even close enough to touch (though I only tried that once), I couldn't speak.  I wanted to.  I had a million things to say, ultimately some variation of "who are you and what do you want with me?"  But even as the words formed in my mind, in my throat, they died when I opened my mouth.  And then she'd just stare at me with those green eyes.  They were flat and dull, like matte paint.  She never blinked.

Three days ago, coming out of the dry cleaners, and there she was.  It'd been three months since that day in Zach's office, and that cold, sharp ice pick was prodding at my neck every waking moment.  I was thinking about the barbecue place down the block (but really thinking about the package store next door and a paper bag-wrapped bottle of something cheap, brown and harsh).  When I pushed my way out, the bell on the door gave a little jingle (a little ding), and I half-saw a red kettle and the robotic, listless swing of an arm just before she floated into full view from the corner of my eye.

It was the ice pick, the thoughts of booze, the sound of the bell, but I couldn't take it.  I crossed the space between us in three quick steps.  She was leaning against the wall of the building, red hair blowing in the chill breeze, one leg bent and braced against the wall.  Staring at me, as always.  I meant to grab her by the shoulders and give her a shake, try again to force the questions out.  My fingers barely brushed the bare skin of her upper arms. 

And I was sitting at my kitchen table with an open bottle of rye.  My favorite brand.  The good stuff.  I'd poured myself a good three fingers' worth.  I licked my lips, fearing (hoping) I'd taste the sweet caramel and pepper I used to (still) love.  I was relieved (disappointed) to taste only salt and skin.  I poured the bottle and the glass into the sink, shaking like I hadn't since an ugly bout with the DTs back when I first stopped drinking.  The smell rose up out of the drain like a swamp of sick dreams.  I backed away, resisting the urge to stick my head as far into the drain as I could manage.

 

I thought about calling Terrence or Zach.  Then I thought about her shine-less green eyes, red hair in the breeze, her bare arms in February, and the chime of the bell.  Ring-a-ding, baby.

The next day, sitting at the same table, looking at the dried ring from the whiskey glass and rubbing alternatively at eyes that felt full of gravel and a face that seemed to be covered with sandpaper, I did call.  I told Zach I was going full free-lance.  He said I was crazy, and I said I was sick of having to go downtown every other day.  He offered full telework, I said I'd get back to him.  Terrence was less sanguine when I told him I was going back home to Omaha.  He wanted to know when I was leaving, where I was going to stay, and if I'd found a meeting or two to attend, and what my game plan was for working the steps.  His deep voice, normally so smooth, was rough around the edges and charged with concern.  He was a tremendous sponsor, and he didn't want to let me off the hook.  Took a lot of convincing, and a promise I never intended to keep to call him every day until I was settled.

When I hung up with Terrence, I wiped the ring off the table with a wet paper towel, then scrubbed at my face with it.  I was actually feeling pretty good about my chances of maintaining sanity and sobriety.  I'd always been an introvert, and the prospect of shutting myself in wasn't exactly terrifying in that context, not when I held the idea up against running into her again.  No shortage of carryout places nearby, and there was nothing I needed in life I couldn't buy online and have delivered.  And I had told Zach the (partial) truth; I could go freelance and still live within my means, thanks in large part to the money I was saving by not hitting a bar or three a few times a week. 

And, in spite of everything, I still hadn't taken a drink.

The doorbell rang (ding-ding, I was going to have to replace install a knocker instead).  I looked through the peephole and saw the crown of a FedEx hat swimming in the fish-eye.  I should have known when I opened the door it would have been her.

The red hair was tucked up under the cap, but the downcast listless green eyes, the smear of eye shadow, the over-red lips, the set of her shoulders were immediately familiar.  The old ice pick was back, poking away.  It was just too much.  The words forced themselves out.  Finally, blissfully free.  Of course, they came out garbled, more of a "wha-tha-fah" than what I intended, but the meaning was clear.

Her eyes darted up, fixed on mine.  Off at the edge of my vision, one of the neighborhood kids came flying down the street on his bike, the playing cards threaded through the spokes of his wheels sounding like a soft chainsaw.  For the first time, her mouth opened to speak.  She looked almost surprised as the blood poured out; it was the first real expression I'd ever seen on her face besides a flat acknowledgement of my existence.  It flowed down her chin and spattered across the welcome mat.  She raised a hand and pressed at the doorbell.

Ding-ding. 

The rider, couldn't have been more than twelve, blew past on the opposite sidewalk (clickety-clickety-clickety) with a whoop.  And it was the bike that did it, finally. 

I backed away, gasping.  She followed me into the house stiffly, shuffling like her bones were made of shattered glass.

“I'm sorry," I said, trying to breathe.  "I didn't mean to.  I never saw you!"  She didn't say anything back.  Just stood there, mouth open.  Blood still leaking over her lips.

And I there I was:  behind the wheel, checking my texts, the screen of my phone reflecting against the night-dark windshield.  The smooth burn in the back of my throat speaking to the evening, a well-enjoyed blur.  Huh.  Must’ve forgotten to turn on the headlights.  Oh well, be home in a second, why waste the effort?  A glimmer of motion from under the streetlight, a series of impressions and sounds more than anything else.  A light crunch from the right front corner of the car, a short scream and the flash of copper hair, dark eyes, red lipstick.  The smack of her head on the windshield and the hollow crack of the glass as it starred out from the impact.  The scraping thumps along the roof.  The squeal of brakes, too late.

And there I was, standing at the edge of the sick yellow glow, never remembering stepping out of the car.  Looking down at the mangled ruins of a red bicycle.  Handlebars at my feet.  I heard a gurgling grunt from the other side of my car.  Saw the blood on the fender, the windshield.  Something again from the other side, a wet and whispery sound, somehow plaintive.  Begging.

No way I was going to go look at what had made the noises.  I stepped back, unsteadily.  Ding.  The sound was so shocking, so incongruently cheerful, I almost fell down in surprise.  I looked down at the handlebars again.  Damndest thing, there was a little bell on them.  Like a child's.

I stumbled back to the car, slid behind the wheel.  Drove away and never looked back.  Put the car in the garage, covered it with a tarp, and started taking the metro everywhere.

A wet cough, the surprisingly gentle spray of blood across my face, brought me back to my living room.  My shoulders were pressed against the wall, and the girl was standing before me.  So close, like she was coming in for a hug.  She leaned in, and I could hear the broken wheezing of her lungs, like cogs grinding in a bucket of sand.  Her mouth moved in the parody of a whisper, but only a mist of blood and the sound of the bell came out.  Ding. 

Her arms came up, her hands cradled the back of my neck.  Right over the spot where the ice pick pressed its cold point into my skin.

“No,” I said, but my own arms rose.  I tried to force them down, but they moved on their own.  I could see the muscles standing out in my forearms, felt the ache in my shoulders.  I couldn’t fight it.  I drew her close, in the parody of an embrace, and her smashed body melted against me.  Her rasping exhalations were lukewarm against my ear, but her blood was hot on my chest, soaking through my shirt instantly.  She was a small girl, but she was suddenly incredibly heavy in my arms.  Her weight was as inescapable as the blood, the breath, and the flat green eyes.  As relentless as the chimes that came with her.  She pulled me down into the soft darkness.  The darkness smelled of whiskey.  It sounded, faintly echoing, of the sound of the bell.

Ding.






JD Baker is a former counterintelligence agent and combat veteran who began writing speculative fiction to cope with PTSD. His short fiction has previously appeared in the North Woods Anthology, the Dan River Anthology, and the 101 Words Flash Fiction Anthology. He recently completed his first novel.


Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High Shelf Press, Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry, PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz, Rusty Truck, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William and Mary Review, Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama, among other publications. 

His poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry.  His fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest and was selected as a finalist for the Pen 2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.

A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings are currently on show at Atwater's Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website www.brightportfal.com.  A selection of Henry Stanton’s published fiction and poetry can be located for reading in the library at www.brightportfal.com.

Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art Reviewwww.therawartreview.com.


In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2021