Thanks for having me on your blog today, Tanisha! You inspired me with your great idea for taking a famous movie/book line and using it as a springboard to write something in a different genre. You also inspired me with Serenity (for any new visitors to Tanisha’s blog, definitely check out this dark and sensual tale – you won’t regret it!).
For my opening, I chose a famous line from the 1987 thriller flick, Fatal Attraction, and turned it into an urban fantasy short featuring an everyman hero, the Grim Reaper, and an element from one of my recurring nightmares – a GPS that really talks back.
I hope you enjoy!
“I’m not going to be ignored, Dan.”
“What?” he muttered, certain he’d misheard. Between the radio blaring whatever the hell passed for music these days, the jackass behind him laying on the horn, and his damned cell phone, it was a wonder he could hear his GPS at all.
“Dan?” Man, all those years of whisky and cigarettes sure had turned his ma’s voice into a metallic rasp that might be mistaken for a robot.
“Yeah, hold on a sec, I’m not ignoring you. I just missed my turn,” he said, executing a one handed sharp left so he could plow his way into the next lane while giving the finger to the horn-blaring idiot behind him. Take that, jerkoff. UPS truck, 1, Mercedes, 0.
“Dan, you still there?”
“I said I just missed my turn. Look, I don’t need you to bring me dinner, okay. I’ll pick something up after my shift.” He shouldn’t argue. If he gave in, she’d get off the damned phone so he could drive already. And he really needed both hands to cross another couple lanes of traffic. Besides, whatever pot roast nightmare his mother came up with couldn’t be worse than the diner. More importantly, though, she was at the diner. He smiled, thinking about the other reason he enjoyed his favorite neighborhood haunt, but it turned to a grimace as he pondered the near miss with his ticker last month…
“You need to eat so’s you can get your strength back.”
He barely stifled the curse after slamming on his brakes to keep from running down the cab in front of him. I gotta get a Bluetooth. “Listen, Ma, let me call you back. I’m gonna have to hang a u-ey.” And dodge a half a dozen potholes and a few pieces of concrete when one of the empty buildings littering this part of the city finally keels over. He didn’t wait for her reply before ending the call and tossing his phone back into the cup holder.
“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered. “Quit your bitchin’. I’m on it.”
“There’s no need for profanity, Dan. If you stop ignoring me, I will take you where you need to go.”
He froze, chest squeezed in a vice grip as icy pinpricks of fear shot up from the base of his spine. The familiar female voice from his Garmin remained devoid of inflection, cold and electronic. But the words…what the hell? Was he having a stroke now? He knew his heart was about to explode.
“You’re holding up traffic, Dan. Continue point five miles on Main Street, then turn left onto 5th Avenue South.”
Operating on autopilot, he drove until he hit a red light and then paused to turn down the radio with a shaking hand.
“Remember to breathe, Dan.”
Oh, right. He let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, and after a couple of seconds, let out a shaky laugh. “Okay, I get it. I’m on some reality show, right – Joke’s on the average Joe? Where’s the hidden camera, Siri?”
“I am serious, Dan. And don’t call me Siri. I’m Jill.”
“The light is green, Dan. Please drive point one miles and turn left onto 5th Avenue South.”
“Please drive, Dan.”
He drove on and took the left turn, looking for a place to park the truck so he could get the hell out. Rush hour downtown made it impossible. He wondered how much crap he’d get for leaving it on the street. A quick glance in the mirror did nothing to calm his nerves. The guy staring back at him was bug eyed, pouring sweat, and more than a little green around the gills.
“Don’t worry, Dan. Everything will be fine. Please turn into the alley on the right.”
“Christ, everything will be fine? I’m having a conversation with my GPS and pulling my big ass truck into a blind alley, and you’re telling me everything will be fine?”
“Arriving at destination. Good luck, Dan.”
“What destination?” he yelled, unleashing his fear and anger on the dashboard with his fists. “There’s nothing here but dumpsters, hobo piss, and maybe some deranged crack addicts!”
No response came from the box on his dashboard. The twinge in his chest forced him back to stillness. He put the truck in park, then rested his head on his forearms and took a few deep, cleansing breaths. Unfortunately, things didn’t look better when he lifted his head and opened his eyes. Same dingy brick walls and pockmarked asphalt, same reeking garbage and urban decay, washed up and wasting away, kind of like the guy staring back at him from the rearview mirror.
He ran a hand through his hair and gave his head a good shake. Sighing, he shifted to reverse and started backing the hell out of the alley so he could go and get his head checked. When he turned around to look out the rear window, the vice squeezing his heart tightened and he slammed on the brakes, cursing.
He shifted into park, hopped out of the truck, and stomped toward the guy blocking the alley. “What the hell, man? I almost ran you over!”
The corners of the man’s mouth curled into a smirk, though he made a polite, old fashioned bow and removed his hat. His three-piece indigo suit screamed mob boss and stood out against the grim backdrop. Grey around the temples, but not many lines on his face, the guy could’ve been in his thirties or his fifties. His cold gaze held a glint of amusement, like he was enjoying a private joke at Dan’s expense.
Well, screw that. With the all the other crazy shit going on, no way was he going to let some big shot in a fancy suit laugh at him.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Gallacher. Thank you for coming.”
Dan stopped a few feet away from the stranger, suppressing a shiver. He’d admit to being scared shitless, male pride notwithstanding, but the temperature seemed to have dropped at least ten degrees since he got out of the truck. The Suit stood still, hands behind his back and head tilted to one side, waiting.
After a few moments, Dan managed to force words past the lump of dread in his throat. “W-who are you and how the hell did you do that thing with my GPS?”
The Suit inclined his head and said, “Forgive me, Mr. Gallacher, for a bit of indulgence. I so rarely get out as of late, you see, at least outside of official business. So many more cases these days.” He sighed and looked heavenward with a small shake of his head before returning his gaze to Dan. “Besides, my associates were in the vicinity and offered to help.”
Dan spun around as the sound of footfalls echoed through the alley. Two gangly youths approached him, dressed identically from their skinny jeans to graphic tees emblazoned with ‘I keep pressing esc but I’m still here’ logos, with unkempt dishwater blond hair and both busily texting on identical smart phones. They stopped at a respectable distance, but it didn’t escape Dan’s notice that he was now surrounded and would have to either go through the Emo twins to get back to his truck or The Suit to get out of the alley.
One of the boys paused long enough to look up and flash Dan a toothy grin before saying, “You know, if you play your cards right, we can get Jill and Siri to talk dirty for you.”
“That will do, gentlemen,” The Suit said, shifting Dan’s focus back to the obvious honcho. “You’ll have to excuse Boyce and Boice for their youthful…boorishness. While unrefined, fledgling demons are understandably rather more in tune with technology. As for who I am, I am a client, or at least I hope to be. I find myself in need of a courier.”
Demons? The guy must be delusional. “You got a strange way of scheduling a delivery, mister.” Dan said, with all the bravado he could muster. It wasn’t much.
“Oh, I’m not expecting a delivery. Not this time. I actually have an item for pick up.”
“So go online and schedule with corporate.”
The Suit’s grin widened. “Oh, but this pick up is of particular importance, Mr. Gallacher. Very delicate situation, you see, and discretion is key.”
Dan almost took a step back, but then remembered the first rule he’d learned on the streets–show no fear. He squared his shoulders, ignoring the twinge in his chest and the tingling sensation in his left arm. “Whoa, there. I don’t know what kind of operation you’re running here, but I don’t freelance or illegal shit no matter who’s paying.”
“No need to fret. I’m not asking you to violate any of your laws.”
“My laws? Who the hell are you, CIA? NSA?”
The Suit threw back his head and laughed. The asshole actually doubled over, laughing until tears streamed down his face. “Oh my,” he said between gasps for breath. “NSA? Now there’s one I haven’t heard before. Bravo, my boy, for an original response! I knew you’d be an excellent choice. I always know.”
“Look, I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but I want no part of it–”
The Suit grew serious once more, brow furrowed as he pierced Dan with an icy gaze. “Too late for that, Mr. Gallacher. You became a part of it as soon as they wheeled you into the cardiac care unit of St. Josephs.”
The ache in his chest intensified to a crushing weight, bringing him to his knees in a wave of dizziness, nausea, and the certainty of impending doom. The Suit knelt down next to him and placed a heavy palm on his shoulder, and a fresh wave of shivers wracked his body.
Oh God, I’m dying.
“By all rights, you should be dead already, Mr. Gallacher. Forty-five, former chain smoker and habitual greasy spoon patron, you’re lucky I didn’t come calling ten years ago. But, as I mentioned, there are so many more cases these days.”
“No.” It came out as a whisper, powered by a thousand and one regrets and two faint slivers of hope.
“No? Interesting.” The Suit sat back on his haunches, pulled a Smartphone out of his breast pocket, and let his fingers dance across the screen, typing and scrolling, “Let’s see. Ah, here you are. Mr. Daniel Arthur Gallacher: divorced more than ten years and single since, you have one son whom you see maybe twice a year, and you live less than five miles from Mommy… you have a decent job with benefits, but really, anyone could do it. Middle aged with no prospects, you spin your wheels, but where are you going? What could you possibly have to live for?”
Jackson… and… her…
“Ah yes, your estranged son. Not the most original plea for leniency I’ve heard. In fact, children are the most common answer. As for that other reason, well, those come in a close second,” he said with a wink. “But I have to wonder, if dear Jack is so important to you, why haven’t called him since your little episode? Of course, you haven’t made any progress on the other front, either. No, not you, spinning, spinning, spinning. You know, Dan–may I call you Dan?–many men would see your near miss as the proverbial wake up call.”
“Thought,” he paused, gasping for breath as the crushing pressure in his chest intensified. “Thought I was okay. Thought…I had…more time.”
“Don’t we all,” The Suit said, managing to sound rueful as he checked his watch. Then he leveled Dan with his gaze. “Now then, you aren’t a bad person, nor are you a particularly good person. You are, in fact, the very model of an average Joe. Not that it matters, mind you. I’m not known as the great equalizer for nothing.”
“T-thought… you were s-supposed to… show up with a scythe.”
The Suit chuckled. “A scythe? Why that’s positively Medieval. Boyce!”
“Remind me to contact PR when I get back to the office. We really need to update our image.”
Boyce rolled his eyes, still managing to text while doing it. “Dude, you been sayin’ that since 1869.”
The Suit glared at Boyce, then turned his attention back to Dan. “We’ll discuss that later, since I don’t think dear Dan can take much more. As I was saying, what you have or haven’t done isn’t particularly important to me. What is important to me, and to you, assuming that you want more time on the hamster wheel, is that my package makes it safely to its destination. What do you say?”
Released from the crushing weight and agony, Dan fell face down onto the rough pavement. Not that he was complaining. Asphalt rash seemed like a tickle compared to his former anguish. After sucking back a few deep breaths, he heaved himself off the ground and stood face to face with Death.
Death smiled and pulled a small package from his pocket, the fine white gloss finish of the high wall box shimmering in the ambient light. Dan accepted with trembling fingers, relieved when the damned thing didn’t burn him. The textured surface of the box was bare aside from a small silver bow adorning one corner.
“What is it?” The words fell out of his mouth before he could ponder the wisdom of questioning the thing standing before him.
Death cocked his head to one side and seemed to consider for a moment. “A fair question, I suppose, and there’s no harm in the telling. The package contains a reprieve, rather like the one I’ve granted you.”
Dan glanced down at the box in disbelief. He wasn’t sure what shocked him more, the idea that he literally held someone’s life in his hands, or the absurd sense of wonder at Death’s generosity. Really? Two in one day? Folks will think you’ve gone soft, buddy.
One of the boys, Boice maybe, snorted, reminding Dan that his thoughts weren’t exactly his own. “Sorry,” he muttered. “This is all a little, uh, you know…”
“Yes,” Death replied, chuckling. “I do know. And just so we’re clear,” he said as the laughter in his tone faded, “I’ve not gone soft. In fact, I’m the original hard-ass, and you’d do well to remember that, buddy.”
Knives of white-hot pain pierced his chest once more, the agony so intense it might have brought him to his knees again had it lasted more than two seconds. Death arched an eyebrow in question. You picking up what I’m putting down, son?
Oh yeah. Point taken.
Clearing his throat, Dan met Death’s gaze and asked, “Where do I take it?”
Death’s smile grew broader, crinkling the corners of his eyes. “Don’t worry. It will take you where it needs to go.”
Dan opened his mouth to ask what the hell that was supposed to mean, but Death cut him off. “Time runs short, Mr. Gallacher, and you’d do well to remember that yours is borrowed. Deliver my package safely and, if I may offer some advice?”
“Your life isn’t to be ignored, Dan. Get off the wheel.” Death gave him a polite nod of dismissal and strode past Dan to join his associates. The boys put away their phones and smiled at Dan before turning to follow Death.
He knew he was pushing his luck, but he couldn’t help himself. “One more question, if you don’t mind.”
Death stopped and turned back to face him.
Death looked him over, and then turned once more to resume his walk down the alley. Just before fading into the shadows, Dan heard the cultured voice echo back across the gloom. “I may be a hard-ass, but I’m also a romantic at heart. See you around, Dan.”
“Arriving at address 2714, on right.”
Dan waited, heart pounding in nervous anticipation. Jill the GPS didn’t offer any further commentary or instruction. After spending a half an hour driving aimlessly around the city, waiting for inspiration, he finally gave up and drove where his life normally took him after a shift.
So much for getting off the wheel.
Still, he’d sent a text to Jack after grabbing some tickets online for Saturday’s game. To his surprise, Jack replied a few minutes later with an ‘OK.’ It was a start.
After parking the truck at the curb, he took a moment to finger comb his hair and straighten his uniform. Hell, maybe he should have stopped by the apartment and changed? Too late now, borrowed time and all.
He caught sight of the small white package resting on the passenger seat, silver bow glimmering.
I’m not going to be ignored, Dan.
And suddenly, he knew what do.
Grabbing the package, he stepped out of his truck and paused outside the diner, peering through the plate glass windows until he spotted her coming out of the kitchen.
She must have been on her feet all day, judging from her slow shuffle through the crowd while balancing a large tray full of greasy delights. Still, she managed a smile for the family sitting at her table, bending to pinch a small boy on the cheek after she’d delivered the last plate. A few stray blonde locks fell out of her ponytail, caressing one lightly lined cheek.
She wasn’t tall. Soft in the middle, though shapely, what she lacked in bosom she more than made up for with that tight little apple bottom. Still, she wasn’t what you’d call striking. Eyes set a little too close together, and with a bit of a snub nose, she might have been considered cute in the bloom of youth. In middle age, though, she wasn’t beautiful.
Until she smiled–one of those rare, spontaneous, bursts of delight, like finding a dandelion in winter.
He’d seen that smile once, a little over a year ago, when he’d first set foot in the diner, and he’d been a goner ever since.
Time to get off the wheel.
Dan walked in and took his usual place at the counter. One of the other waitresses came and took his order, raising her brows when he told her all he wanted was a salad. He sipped his coffee and reveled in the simple pleasure of watching her.
She turned her gaze in his direction and smiled, one of those smiles, and walked over to stand in front of him. She glanced at her watch and then looked back at him, eyes glinting with mischief. “Running late tonight?”
Dan smiled back. “Yeah, I had an extra delivery today. A special one.”
“Oh?” she replied, absently tucking one of those stray locks behind her ear. “Who was it for?”
“You,” he said, handing her the white box.
She furrowed her brows in confusion, but accepted the box, running her fingers over the embossed surface and examining it before turning her gaze back to him. “What is it?”
“My life,” he said, and waited. Waited for her to laugh, or for a look of wary suspicion to wipe away the joy in her expression, waited for her to walk away. Instead, she examined him through narrowed, but not unfriendly eyes, inviting him to elaborate.
“Look,” he began, “I’m an ordinary guy, divorced with one kid, with an average job, an average life, and nothing special in the way of expectations. Hell, I mostly just go through the motions. But when I come here, and see you? For a few minutes each day, I get a little piece of extraordinary. And let me tell you,” he said, working up the nerve to touch her arm. “Sometimes, a little piece of extraordinary makes all the difference. I, ah, I just wanted you to know that, and to say…thank you.”
She didn’t pull away, but she didn’t speak either. After a few moments of awkward silence, Dan let go of her and looked down at his feet. “So, ah, thanks again…Renee.”
He fumbled for his wallet, plopped a twenty on the table, and then turned to leave. A light hand on his forearm stopped him. Mustering the last of his courage, he looked up to meet her gaze, breathless.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Dan. Dan Gallacher.”
“Dan,” she said, then smiled and held out her hand. He accepted it, warm and small in his own. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Special thanks to my critique partner, Sophia Jones, for the edit and beta read. If you’d like to learn more about me or my work, feel free to visit my blog or website. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
But first, go check out Serenity. I’m serious. It’s good stuff!
D.B. Seiders: A Short Bio
I was born and raised in East Tennessee and spent a great deal of my childhood hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains and wading barefoot in creeks, chasing salamanders, fish, and frogs. We camped a lot, and we loved to tell stories while sitting around our campfire.
Those days of frog chasing sparked my interest in biology, which I pursued in college and later in graduate school. I am a working scientist by day, but I never lost my love of sharing stories. I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember and am thrilled to be working as a writer.
I live in Nashville, Tennessee with my husband, two children, two cats, and my very active imagination.
Visit D.B. Sieders at http://www.sieders.com/dbsieders/ or follow her at http://dbsieders.wordpress.com/