Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Ending, Another Beginning

With installment number thirty-one, Spare Change comes to an end for now. I'm much happier with how this one turned out compared to Mossy's.

I've got another story in the works but that will have to wait for the new year. Happy holidays all, see you in 2009.

- Marc

Spare Change #31

The morning traffic outside the window must have woken me. It takes me a few moments to remember where I am – I’m still getting used to this room, this apartment, this life.

I look over at the alarm clock; eight am, that means it’s Sunday and that means I have a long day of peace and quiet ahead of me. I slip out of bed and find my slippers, a house warming gift from Karl, with my searching toes. Such an extravagance, slippers. I would never have thought I’d own a pair, much less receive them as a present on the occasion of moving into my own apartment.

“Rise and shine sleepyhead!”

Sorry, our apartment.

“I don’t even want to know what time you got up,” I say in the general direction of the kitchen where, from the smell of things, TJ has been hard at work. I stretch my arms over my head and let loose an appropriately large yawn before shuffling out to join her.

“Do you always sleep in this much?” I think she’s actually serious. I open my mouth to protest but she carries on. “Anyway, I made scrambled eggs and toast, help yourself. I think there’s a bit of juice left in the fridge.”

I shake my head and wisely keep my mouth firmly shut as I grab the plate with the second fewest chips and cracks in it; TJ already has the best one, the one with reindeers and Christmas trees on it. I throw the remaining breakfast on my plate and join TJ at our wobbly kitchen table.

“I like your hair like that,” I say around a mouthful of eggs. She has it tied up in a short ponytail with a few curly strands hanging down the right side of her face. “You should wear it like that more often.”

“Living together three days and already he’s telling me what to do with my hair,” she mutters but I can tell she’s pleased. “You sleep okay? You were tossing and turning quite a bit last night.”

“Just the usual bad dream,” I reply. There’s no need for further explanation – I’ve been having the same dream every night for the last two weeks. If I close my eyes right now Tommy and Ashes would be there waiting for me; Tommy with his gun, Ashes writhing on the ground like a wounded animal.

“It will stop sooner or later,” TJ says tenderly. “It just takes time. You still haven’t heard anything from Tommy?”

I shake my head and take a sip of orange juice. The man had disappeared into the night like a ghost; the police still haven’t found the gun. I don’t think we’ll ever hear from him again but Tommy is full of surprises so I guess I can’t count him out just yet.

“Maybe it will be better after the sentencing,” I say with a shrug. “Knowing Ashes is out of my life for a set amount of time, hopefully years, can’t hurt.”

After a few minutes of silence TJ gets around to asking the question she’s wanted to voice for at least a week. I’m glad to be done waiting for it.

“Do you think Tommy did it on purpose, letting her live?”

I close my eyes and go back two weeks in a heartbeat. Ashes' screams echo off the walls as she presses her hand into the gunshot wound in her right shoulder. Tommy walks over to her slowly, keeping his gun on her while I remain rooted to the ground.

“What do you think J?” Tommy asks me casually. “She seems like she’s in a lot of pain – should I put the bitch down?”

I open my eyes to find TJ’s concerned eyes on my face.

“The first shot I’m not sure about but I think he just missed,” I say slowly, not wanting to remember. “The second shot I have no doubt about – he just wanted her to suffer. At five feet he could have put that bullet anywhere.”

TJ nods and returns to eating her breakfast in silence. A few more minutes pass before she changes the subject.

“So DJ is hooking you up with another part time job?”

“Yeah, if things work out I’ll do three days a week at the music store and three days a week at his buddy’s book store,” I say. Right now I’m working at DJ’s six days a week but he can’t afford to keep paying me for this much work so he’s trying to split the load without me losing out. I owe my new life to him.

And to the woman sitting across from me.

“That will be so great,” TJ says with a captivating smile. “It’s a brand new world out there J.”

It really is. Change has finally arrived and it’s not nearly as terrifying as I expected.

It feels… good.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Spare Change #30

It was the last thing I expected. I was still ten or fifteen feet away from Tommy, my legs were on fire and refused to carry me any faster. Ashes was closing the distance, her knife held hard and low by her side, full of sinister promises.

And Tommy just stood there.

He was not frozen by fear or shock or anything like that. He looked at me and then slowly turned his head to watch Ashes approach but he made no move to run. I was about to yell at him again but then he said the one word I least expected, the only word I could not have seen coming in that moment of madness.


I stumbled to a stop; his words had planted a brick wall in my path. They did not, however, have a similar effect on Ashes – she kept coming, a hideous snarl forming on her lips.

Where his words failed, his next action did not: he pulled his gun out of his jacket pocket and levelled it at her head.

She skidded to a halt without a word, I stood panting shocked white clouds and Tommy stood like a statue, not an inch of him wavering. And now here we are, in a poor man’s Mexican standoff: words against a knife against a gun.

“Tommy... don’t do it man... this isn’t the way to end this,” I tell him, my voice hoarse from disuse and the cold.

“I have to say I disagree J,” he tells me without looking away from her face. Her hatred is plain to see, I don’t know how she’s keeping it all inside her head – mine would have split open by now. “I have to say that this is the most perfect, most fitting, most just way to end this nightmare.”

I can’t pretend that this is not a deeply tempting solution, the only one that would ensure Ashes never interfered in our lives again, but I can’t let Tommy become a murderer. Obviously a good case could be made for self-defence but right now this would be cold-blooded homicide.

“We need to get the cops, get her locked up and finish this the right way man,” I plead but I can tell already that he won’t listen to anything I have to say. His eyes are flat and determined, there is no anger there: only certainty. “Tommy if you do this they’ll put you away instead, that’s not how this mess should end up!”

“I’ve got places I can hide,” he says from a faraway place. “If they ask, you were never here... tell them you were with TJ, she’ll cover for you... I’m sure Karl would too. You’ve got people that look out for you; I hope you know how lucky you are.”

Ashes remains silent – that’s the only thing I’m grateful for right now. One word from her could set this powder keg off... but I can’t see a way to get out of this without that gun going off and ending two lives. Hell, it might end mine as well – I bet Officer Cruz would jump all over this chance to get me behind bars: he’d find a way to prove Tommy and I planned this together, he might even put my finger on the trigger.

What can I say, what can I do... I should have brought Karl with me, he would know the right thing to say to bring sanity to this situation. I should have brought the cops here yesterday, maybe they could have staked it out, caught Ashes before any of this could have happened. I should have –

“Get out of here J, get somewhere you’ll be seen so that you’ve got an alibi,” Tommy tells me the same way he would tell me to go get a bottle of tequila from the corner store. Calmly, confidently, matter-of-factly. “I don’t want you to get caught up in this -”

Tommy is cut off by Ashes’ feral scream as she rushes toward him with teeth and knife bared. My heart stops beating, my lungs stop breathing. Tommy blinks once, twice, then pulls the trigger.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Spare Change #29

Her face is partially obscured by long, greasy black hair that shines weakly in the moonlight but I can see a pale nose, black lips pressed tightly together. Gloved hands carry two plastic shopping bags filled to bursting, swaying gently back and forth at knee level.

There is a knot tightening my stomach, blood seems to have abandoned my head and the struggle to remain still is making my legs tremble. So this is Ashes. Or is it? Maybe Tommy has found some new companionship already. That doesn’t seem very likely though - the experience with my half-sister should have sent him packing to a monastery, not into the arms of another woman.

I let my held breath seep out slowly through cracked lips, wishing the white puffs would dissipate faster. Is she just going to stand there, waiting for Tommy to show up? No, she has to check inside to make sure he isn’t there already... unless she knows he’s not. I’ve got no way of getting out of here without being seen and I don’t trust my legs to carry me at more than a limping jog at this point.

Ashes swings her head from left to right, lank hair reluctantly mirroring the motion. She cocks her head to one side as though listening for something, then turns her gaze to my hiding spot.

The urge to run is overwhelming. I hold my breath again, ignoring the protests of my lungs and join the staring contest. A weak breeze crinkles her shopping bags and burns my cheeks and neither of us moves.

A movement at my feet breaks the standoff and I look down to see a rat chewing on my shoelaces. A choked, coughing scream escapes me as my whole body tenses. I hate rats, oh my lord I absolutely despise these filthy creatures.

I whip my head up to see Ashes drop her bags and reach inside her jacket with her right hand before the terror of an unseen rodent at my toes brings my eyes back down. Get away from me you disgusting beast, get the hell away from me!

I sneak another glance at Ashes and my eyes go wide – she is striding towards me with a very, very big knife in her hand. She’s almost halfway here already. I need to run but my body is frozen in place. By cold. By fear. By shock.

The rat places its front paws on top of my left sneaker and I’m forced into action. I flick my foot and send it fleeing into the light, towards the advancing maniac. I shift my weight, legs shrieking in protest, and prepare to run. But a scream stops me short.

I look up to see Ashes backing away with a horrified expression painted on her face, her eyes locked on the rat scurrying around in circles between us. I guess at least one thing runs in the family.

She backpedals to her bags, slips her knife inside her jacket and shakes her head furiously. She gathers up her things and, with another quick look around, disappears into Tommy’s place. Now is my chance to escape but I don’t move. I can’t let Tommy return home to this psycho, I need to warn him.

But what if I can get to a telephone booth and call the cops before he shows up? They would have Ashes behind bars and we could both rest easy again. The stress and fear would be gone, I could stop looking over my shoulder every ten seconds. This could all end tonight.

My eyes are glued on the dark entrance to Tommy’s place, straining to detect any movement, a pair of eyes waiting for me to reveal myself. I need to make a decision – wait for Tommy or go now. Could I live with myself if Ashes kills him while I’m away? Can I pass up this chance to lock her up and be free of her?

Tommy’s arrival takes the decision out of my hands. As soon as I see him at the corner of his building I step out of the shadows and move quickly towards him. He stops short but relaxes once he realizes it’s me. I put a finger to my lips to forestall the question forming on his and risk a quick glance at the entrance to his place.

I almost trip over my feet when I see Ashes climbing out of the darkness with her knife in her hand and a crazed look on her face. I swear and break into a stumbling run.

“Run!” I scream at Tommy. “She’ll kill us both!”