Welcome to Can't Win Productions!

This page will be a place for you to come and read my short stories with all their unedited grammatical errors and all plus other ideas that I may have. Hopefully you will like my work. Check out all three pages. Thanks for reading! Come to my Facebook page to let me know what you think. 

 

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Content

Page 1

* The Princess in the Cardboard Castle

* S. Rane

* ...but much to young to care (alternative) 

* To Whom it May Concern 

 

Page 2

* Return of Rane 

* Much Too Young To Care (song)

* Loan On My Soul (song?)

 

Page 3

The Revelation of Rane

 

Page 4

Lost In Paradise 

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The Princess in the Cardboard Castle

 

                She had found her castle. It was the most beautiful palace that she had ever seen and it was all hers. This little princess, who had lost so much, had finally found her home.

 

                She once thought of her life as nothing more than routine. She was lost her mother and father at a young age though. They no longer were there to raise her to be the proper heir to the throne. They hadn’t even left her a castle to live in. She was left to be raised by people she didn’t know. She couldn’t have that, so she took it upon herself to make her new kingdom, to find her new castle. And here she was, on her throne. Her only companion along this trek was her small teddy bear. He was the last reminder of her old life… her old kingdom… her pain. Now there was happiness. Now there was a new home. And even with the rain falling she was warm and safe.

 

                Her companion’s name was Taddy. He was old and wore and missing an eye, but he was the best friend a princess could have. He was there for every smile and he was comforting for every tear that fell.  His princess, who he called Princess Ruby, never let him out of her sight… not for one moment. What kind of friend would she be if she did? Taddy would tell Princess Ruby stories of a time before her birth… stories of her mother, who he had once belonged to. They were the loveliest stories of a happier time… not that the time he spent with his best friend Princess Ruby weren’t happy.

 

                The little princess and her teddy bear fought many battles to win this home. They would fight evil knights of blue. They chased her and try to keep her from her kingdom. They would try hard to take her back to the people who would say it was in her best interest to be with them. Who were they to say what was in the best interest of royalty? She was a princess.

 

                She was a princess and this was her castle. This castle made of cardboard. And in this castle made of cardboard she sat on her throne of rags clutching her teddy bear. As she fell asleep for what would be the last time she smiled a sweet and the first happy smile in what had been one hard life for a little princess. 

 

S. Rane

 

                From where I’m standing I can see my roommate, Kimmie with a large man’s hands wrapped around her neck. She has tears streaming down her face. I can see she wants to cry out but the man’s hands are nearly cutting off her airway. This pissed me off even more, but we can’t let our anger get the better of us. No… we use it to fuel the adrenaline that makes what happens next easy.

 

               Now directly in front of me is a man holding a gun. Now his gun is pointed at me. The words he chooses to use were actually backed up with firepower. I give him credit for that. So many threats aren’t backed up. So, even though my friend was being held captive by a large animal man, I put the majority of my attention towards the man in front of me.

 >

                So, I have to point out that there are several other people in the room. Most of them were raggedy rebel types. There were lots of dirty people that really weren’t into the kidnapping situation that they found themselves in. I only give them a glance. Most were trying their best to back away from the guns being waved around with anger. Did I say guns? Of course I did. You wouldn’t think for a second that I would kick through a door and start threatening people without something to back it up. Would you?

 

                Ok, so let’s get into the reason I’m here and Kimmie is over there and the other people are where they are. You see, this group of “rebels” is known as the N.B.O. or Natural Body Only. They are fully up in arms about the whole cloning business… which happens to be a very profitable business. That in turn makes these “rebels” labeled as terrorists by the governing bodies, who of course were owned fully by the companies. I’m sure that you are now thinking that since I am staring down the barrel of this terrorist’s gun that I must work for the companies… or at least the government. Nope. I’m actually well known for riding right down the middle of this particular issue. I’ve worked for both sides. I’m not exactly one for choosing to believe in anything so strongly that it makes me responsible for a belief.

 

                So, why am I here? Well, let’s find out.

 

                The thug in front of me, pointing his little taze-pistol, which was humming at full strength… just enough to kill the average size person, that would be plenty more than is necessary to take down my 5’5” petite frame, was threatening me… like I said earlier. Let’s listen in, shall we?

 

                “Ok, bitch. I’m a gonna give you a choice. Number one… you work for us from now on. You do what we say and when we say do it. Or…”

 

                The bullet that split his head open, completely obliterated where his nose had been. He drops the gun a split second before his body hit the floor. The thug holding Kimmie drops her and his mouth dropped open and his eyes grew wide with fear. That’s the way I like eyes to look at me. It gives me the strength that they lose along with their bowels.

 

                Kimmie gasps for air and the man who I had thought would be my second obstacle just bursts into tears. The bigger they are the harder they… cry? Really?

 

                “He… You killed him? You killed my husband.  Why would you do that?”

 

                “Look, big fella… he gave me a choice, be your slave or… I figured the ‘or’ would lead to ‘fight our way out’. I chose to fight. So, put a bullet through his head.”

 

                The large man made his way past Kimmie clumsily. I thought he was coming at me so I raised my gun and pointed it at him. But his eyes never looked back at me. Instead he fell to the floor next to his husband and fellow rebel. Then it occurred to me that maybe I should start looking at the other people that frequented this room. I look up and see most cowering in the corner. Others have looks of confusion on their face. I figure there were mental questions of if they should attack or run. Thy instead froze up like the motor on my 2132 Harley Tread-wheel soft tail. I’ve been meaning to get that fixed. It’s been hard to find the parts though… it’s an antique, you know.

 

                I directed my attention to Kimmie who was crying but getting up to her feet. “You ok?”

 

                She instantly shook her head ‘no’. I held my hand out for her to come to me. She started shakily to me and slipped in the dead man’s blood splatter. The fall was hard but as much adrenaline she had pumping through her, she managed to jump back up and slip and slide her newly blood covered body to me.

 

                I pointed my gun at the big man once again after waving it at the group of people still watching. “I wouldn’t follow us if I were you.”

 

                “Fuck you, skank. Get the fuck away from us.” He spit out at me.

 

                “No problem there.” I said as I push Kimmie out the busted door behind me. “As for the rest of you morons… you might want to scatter. The police are already on their way. You do realize that this girl is the police chief’s daughter?”

 

                Why the hell did I just warn these people? Well, they maybe misguided rebels but they are also ridiculously stupid to get involved with kidnapping. Wait… that didn’t answer the question. The fact is they are good people for the most part. As I was looking at them I noticed several people I had helped in the past. Why would I risk the lives that I had once saved? I’m no monster. I’m just someone who does her job well… very well.

 

                My name is Susan Quinn. The name on my office door says S. Rane, Private Detective. It was cheaper to just leave it at that. So, now I’m called Rane. I like it. Kind of reminds me of the old flat screen vid-films… They probably would have called me a S. Rane, “private eye” or “gumshoe”. Kind of ace if you ask me.  Kimmie calls it ridiculous. We all have our opinions.

 

                Now this night didn’t start this bloody. Actually it started with an argument. I came home from being out. It doesn’t matter where I was. It just matters that I had just walked in. I laid my coat down and pulled my hat off and let my hair free from the band that tied it together. It felt good to let it free.

 

                Kimmie started in on me as soon as I put my hat down. Shiva only knows why I came home when I knew she would be awake. I guess you could call me glutton for punishment. I guess when the hat flopped on the table the shit hit the fan. She came out verbally swinging.

 

                “Really? Really, Suzy?”

 

                No one calls me Suzy, except my mother.

 

                “You can’t even hang your dirty ass man hat up? You hung your coat up. Is it so hard to do the same with that stupid hat, Suzy?”

 

                Well, my mother and Kimmie.

 

                “I spent all day cleaning the damn apartment and you just fly in like a tornado and fling your shit all over the place.”

 

                I picked up my hat and hung it over my coat.

 

                “Where have you been? Hmm? Avoiding me? Rent was late again. I had to ask my dad for a loan again. Every month, Suzy… every month I have to ask him for money to pay our rent. I come up with my half. Is it so hard for you to just pony up the money? I know you’re making some. You always have plenty to by that damn alcoholic mixture from the underground. Believe me, missy, I don’t want to be here when the police storm our unit and bust your ass. That shit is illegal.”

 

                “It’s good though.”

 

                “Oh, ha ha. It’s good. And how would I know? You never offer me any. Maybe you should at least offer me up some of your rent money… jerk. You know what? Maybe… I don’t know… maybe you should get a solid job again. I’m not saying you should go back to the police force… or maybe you should? It’s not like it was that...”

 

                “I told you I would have the rent by the end of the week. If I don’t have it by then kick me out. Curse my name. I don’t care. Until then… shut the hell up.”

 

                “But Suzy… we’ve been friends forever. I want to see you do better for yourself. This path you’re going down…”

 

                “Is the path I want to take.”

 

                “Why is it so bad to be a cop? My dad is a cop. Your dad was a cop. It’s a strong job… a good way to make solid credits. Then you could pay rent and buy your hooch.”

 

                I turned and looked m my best friend. Where the hell had she learned a word like hooch?

 

                “Suzy… please think about it. Dad said he would take you back in a second.”

 

                “I was an operator. I answered calls. I wasn’t a cop. The force is a bunch of misogynistic shmucks that treat woman as play things and slaves. I’m no one’s slave. I’m sure as fuck not a damn operator. I think if this province needs another operator then I’m sure there are tons of weak ass pantie droppers who would jump at the chance. As for me I do what I do because I’m good at it and I like it.”

 

                “Oh, what? Looking for corpses and shooting people?”

 

                You see I’m basically a searcher of lost things. The things in question are often the corpses in question and by corpses she means bodies… either ones that have been cloned or are about to be cloned. That’s where I get most of my work. See, old rich people… usually the heads of the corporations like to clone themselves as a means of postponing the inevitable. They take stem cells and use them to clone a new body. While they live out the rest of the old life they let the new bodies ripen to an age appropriate for running a company. They transplant their brains from one body to the next and boom… instant immortality.

 

                I walked back to my hat and jacket and put my hat on with my hair loose to do what it will. Then I pull my long brown coat back on. Kimmie just looked at me in shock.

 

                “Where are you going?”

 

                “Out.”

 

                “You just got in. Where is out?”

 

                “Not in.”

 

                “It’s raining.”

 

                “It’s always raining.”

 

                I reached the door and held the handle in my hand. I felt Kimmie’s hand gently lay on my shoulder.

 

                “Don’t go.”

 

                I thought about staying for a second but I figured that it was in my best interest to find somewhere else to be. So I shrugged her off and went out the door. As I did I heard Kimmie say one last thing.

 

                “Great. Now what am I going to do with my night?”

 

                At that moment I thought to myself that it wasn’t my problem. I crack myself up sometimes.

 

                I went to my usual haunt. It’s a dive that calls itself a night club. Really it’s just a place where people craving the bottle go to get some alcohol and peace. I found out about the place when I was on the force. Since the alcohol ban of 2155 the only places you find the stuff are usually found and busted. Of course this place pays their dues to the police and is the only safe dive in the Georgian Province. The nice thing is it’s only two blocks away from the apartment. Makes it easy to find my way home after a good bender.

 

                This night though I didn’t feel like drinking more than my fill. In fact I cut it off after one drink. Something about leaving Kimmie the way I did made me feel uneasy. She was after all my best friend. It’s not that I don’t see her point on me getting a steady job. And hell maybe if the force wouldn’t have been so… manly, I would have stayed on. Wearing a badge was always my dream. My dad put that into me.

 

                My dad was a man who dreamed of the old days when being a cop was more than being a corporate flunky. It was supposed to be like the flat-vids. People respected the police. The police were there to serve and protect. He still believed that was what being a cop meant. He was so naive. I loved that about him. I miss that feeling. I’m still glad he got to see me join the force. At least he saw that before he died… let me rephrase that… before he was murdered. I don’t want to discuss that though.

 

                Instead of drinking to get drunk I drank just a few sips to get comfortable. Then I decided to go back and apologize for walking out. Sound like a married couple… actually we almost were but that is another story for another day. This story is about to lead to me putting a hole in a kidnapper.

 

                I walked up to the freight elevator in our apartment… the only elevator working. Chalk that up to nearly hundred year old buildings and a slum lord being too cheap to get anything fixed in the dump. Either way I took a step down to the floor of the elevator and shut the gate. I hit the button and was on my way to the top floor.

 

                When I stepped out of the elevator I walked down the dimly lit hallway to our door. I pushed the lock code into the door and opened the door. I saw the room was dark, which isn’t abnormal. So when I kicked the box on the floor I had to look hard at it to see what it was. The outline of the box finally came into view. The first thing that came to mind was the old saying “Good things come in small packages”, but you know what… so do bombs.

 

                “Kimmie? You here? Did you leave a box on the floor?” The silence was only cut by the hum of the air system. “Kimmie? I’m going to open it. If it’s your head I’m going to be very upset.”

 

                I opened the box carefully still on the floor. It moved easily so no head. I looked into it but the lack of light made it hard. I didn’t see anything. Seriously? I just got fussed at about putting my hat down on the table. She left an empty box on the floor. I reached down in in at felt a holo-chip sitting in the middle of it. I pulled it out and looked to see if anything was written on it. Again it was hard to see, so I just stuck it in my hand pad and the only thing to come up was a picture of Kimmie in the grasp of the big man from the beginning of my little story.

 

                “Kimmie, this is just as bad. This better not be a joke. If it is, rent will be the least of your worries.”

 

                Now at this point I decided that it would be in my best interest to turn on the light. So I stood up from my box crouch and walked over to the light switch and pushed the button. The light came on and I looked around at the very clean room. How the hell does a person get kidnapped and leave the room in one piece? If it were me everyone two buildings over would have known I was being kidnapped and every item in the room would have become a weapon.

 

                I look in the box and see written in what could be blood or maybe jam were the words we will be in contact.

 

                “Damn tootin you will, dumb fucks.”

 

                I dropped the box and headed out the door of our unit. As the door shut behind me I realized I forgot my gun. Who forgets their gun? I instantly turned back around and stepped back in. As I pulled my gun out of its safety case I heard the familiar sound of Kimmie’s hand pad chirping out a message. It took a second but I found it on the floor near the sofa. I picked it up and looked at it. I saw that it was from Kimmie’s dad. Damn… maybe I should let him know his daughter has been kidnapped.

 

                I slide the answer button and a holo of the Chief popped up on the pad.

 

                “Suzan?”

 

                “Hi, chief.”

                “Where’s Kimmie?”

 

                “Kidnapped.”

 

                “What?!!!”

 

                “Yep. Just found out myself. Your timing is impeccable.”

 

                “My daughter has been kidnapped and you’re joking?”

 

                I looked at the man who I once called boss and gave him a dead serious stare.

 

                “Fine, Suzan. If you find anything out please let me know. I’ll have the squad on the lookout. Send me anything you have.”

 

                I pushed the screen on my pad. “On its way.”

 

                He looked down on his end then back up. What had been shock was now pure hatred and anger.

 

                “You better find her first, Suzan Quinn.”

 

                “You know I will, chief.”

 

                His holo disappeared and I was left with the same predicament that I was in before I answered the call. Where is Kimmie? It took me twenty minutes to find her. I’m good at my job.

 

                Now after all was said and done I was taking Kimmie out the door of the room where the large man was left grieving over his dead husband and behind us the people were scattering. Now in front of us was what seemed to be the full police department spilling out of the elevator? Kimmie’s dad was in the lead with a couple medics. As the reached us the other officers passed by us and headed into the room hear the screams of the people who had not already escaped and then I hear the scuffle between “Tiny” and the officers.

 

                The medics took Kimmie off my arm and try to set her on the floor close to a wall. She of course was being her usual prissy self and not wanting to sit on the floor.

 

                “Kimmie… you’re bleeding and breathing poorly. You can burn the clothes later and shower. Let the nice medic treat you. Maybe he’s single. You don’t want to scare him away.”

 

                She glared at me and then smiled sheepishly at the medic tending to her neck. I just smiled at her knowingly. I stood up and was face to face with the chief. He was not smiling.

 

                “Chief.”

 

                “Why the hell did this happen?”

 

                I shrugged at him. “Apparently I’m a very desirable woman and the best way to get to a woman is to get to her best friend too.”

 

                “Look at me you little bitch… don’t you dare act like this is some kind of joke. This was my daughter’s life on the line.”

 

                “Pardon me, Chief but I seem to recall you laughing right after my father was gunned down in front of the whole precinct. Now your daughter is my best friend and I sure as fuck wouldn’t be joking around if I wasn’t doing my best to hold my pure rage in. The whole damn building is luck to be standing after I got that fucking picture. I know that her being kidnapped is because of me but if not for me she would have been dead already. Your little team of jack asses would still be walking around with their collective hands wrapped around your cock stroking you and your ego off. So don’t come in to my world and tell me I’m not taking this situation seriously. Now if you will excuse me I will be following the medics out with my best friend and you can supervise your fluffers.”

 

                I helped Kimmie stand up again with one medic on the other side of Kimmie and we began to walk towards the door. As we did I turned back and saw the officers bringing the large man out. Most of his front was now covered in his husband’s blood. I almost felt bad. As they got nearer I pulled Kimmie to the side to let them pass.

 

                If they would have just passed things may have gone a little differently, but this is the real world. Shit happens. That’s what my dad always said. He also said there was nothing worse than blood… it’s sticky and at the same time very slick. Makes it hard to hold on to things some time… or people. The large man was already a lot for the officers to manage. Add in a little slick blood and it made it nearly impossible… hmm… nearly. I guess it was completely impossible. The next thing anyone knew the man breaks free from the officers and he lunged at me.

 

                I did a quick turn and he seemed to only graze my back side. I was getting ready to turn back to the man but before I could I saw the bullet from my own gun burst through my chest and slam into Kimmie’s side. She slammed back against the medic and I watch him do his best to hold her. I looked down at the hole in my chest. There were bits of bones sticking out and the blood that wasn’t already splattered out across Kimmie, the medic, and the wall was pouring out. I felt no pain. Does that make sense? I didn’t think so personally. I look back with what strength I had left and I saw the officers tackle the man and my gun going flying. He stole my gun. That’s pretty fucked up. Shot dead with my own gun. As I slumped down to the ground the only thing I could think was … fuck. I’ve been shot.

 

                Well… guess I get to see if there is an afterlife. Maybe I will finally get to tell my dad that I was proud of him and that I love him.

 

...but much too young to care. (alternative)

 

                He reached over to his phone that was lying on what he called his bedside table. In all reality it was nothing more than two old tomato boxed filled with old comics. He picked up the phone, which was telling him it was time to get up.  He did what he did every morning at seven a.m. He sighed.

 

                Once he had finished brushing his teeth he stepped out of the small bathroom and walked over to the only seat in the living room that wasn’t covered in cans and dirty clothes. He plopped down in the seat and leaned over to get his boots. This had been the daily routine for nearly fifteen years. H had no more finished tying the boots and he sprung up out of the chair and stretched his lanky frame up as high as he could reach. Being as tall as he was though it wasn’t much of a stretch. He groaned out like it was the best stretch he had ever done though.

 

                He pulled on his button up work shirt and was getting ready to walk out his front door when his phone once again went off. His first thought was he had set another alarm by mistake. It took him second to realize that someone was calling.

 

                He looked at the phone and a confused frown took the place of his usual somber 9demeanor. He hit the power button and place d the phone to his ear.

 

                “Hello?”

 

                The phone was filled with silence at first. He pulled it away and looked at it again. He heard a voice say his name on the other end and he put it back to his ear.

 

                “Hello?” He once again greeted. This time with much more question behind the call.

 

                He listened to the voice on the other end as he heard news he never thought he would hear. News that he never thought to even think of. When the voice paused he heard a sound come from himself that he had never heard. It could have almost been a gasp but in hind sight it was more of a high pitched moan.

 

                When the call was through he found himself sitting in the floor. He had no recollection of how he had ended up there. The last real thing he could remember was answering his phone. Everything after that felt like a sick sad dream. This would turn out to be one of the worst days of his whole life and for this poor man that was saying a lot.

 

 

 

 

                When he got to the hospital he only had to turn the corner to find almost everyone he had ever called friend. Right in front of him was his sister. Her face was filled with tears. All he could think was how could she cry like that? This is all some bad dream. One he would wake up from drenched in sweat and heart racing. This wasn’t really happening and she should be laughing at him for rushing over so fast… but it wasn’t fast. It had taken him an hour to drive so far from home.

 

                When he saw his mother coming towards him he nearly fell on the floor. This was no dream. This was an all-out nightmare. This was the end of his youth. This was true death. And the next thing he knew was that he was surrounded by people who he loved. Some knew it and some were just as clueless as he was to why something so heinous was allowed to happen.

 

                “Son?” His mother asked as if she didn’t know the man he was. No… no it was asking if he was ok. No. He wasn’t ok. He was far from ok.

 

                She held him against her chest as if he was a tiny baby again. She held him and he sobbed. What started to go through his brain next was more or less logic intervening. ‘Why is this happening? Why am I here? My mother doesn’t like me this close to her. Why is she allowing this? Everyone is here, but where is…?’ Oh… but he already knew the answer to that question. That’s why he’s here.

 

                “Baby?” His mother’s voice said a million miles away. “It’ll be ok. It’ll be ok. He’s not hurting. Just remember that he’s not hurting anymore.”

 

                ‘Sure.’ He thought. ‘But I am. How is this going to be ok?’

 

                “Trip?” Another question of who he was? This one from his crying sister. What right does she have to cry? She hasn’t seen him in nearly two years. “Are you ok? Would you like to sit?”

 

                ‘Hell no I don’t want to sit. I want to go see my best friend.’ He thought but couldn’t bring the words to his lips. Instead he just nodded yes. ‘Why not? It’s not like he’s going anywhere.’ This latest thought brought more tears. Why would he think that? Why would that even come to mind?

 

                As he was sat in the closest chair, one that most normal people have issues sitting in due to the small gap between the arms, not Trip the string bean though, he started to shake unable to stop. Was it cold? No. Something else... fear? Maybe, but that doesn’t seem right. Was he hungry? Maybe his sugar was off.

 

                As he sat there shaking a young woman he had seen nearly every day for fifteen years and even farther back all the way to grade school walked up to him. She also was crying but not as hard as his sister. He understood her tears. She was close to them… him and his friend and his friend’s wife. In fact she would often come over on weekends and they would all do what thirty something’s do on the weekend, drink beer, listen to music and discuss the week’s shortcomings.  He had a crush on this girl for years, but that was so far in the past it barely seemed real anymore.

 

                “Hey, Trip.” She hugged him. This made it all worse. Why would she make it worse? She sure did feel nice though. Why would he think that? His best friend was dead and he was thinking about a girl that he hadn’t thought of this way in years.  “He’s left us.” The first real words uttered since all this shit had happened.

 

                He stopped shaking and pulled the woman closer and held her. She fell to her knees and they just held each other. What a terrible way to bring love into your life. Loss is a strange thing. Death is so permanent and yet a new life would come of this one chance meeting. One that only loss can bring. He would take her home that night and after they would finish their physical love they would lay in bed for hours laughing and crying about all the things that Ozzy was to them. Stevie and Trip… those names would end up together many many years later on a stone. It was a love born of loss but a love that had never been truer.

 

                “I don’t know what we will do without him, Trip. But what with Rose do?”

 

                Trip had thought of Rose many times on his trip to the hospital. What would she do? Would she be ok? What about the kids? Where are they now? They wouldn’t allow them in the room? That would be cruel wouldn’t it? Sure… they are older now. Teenagers, right? They are nearly done with high school. Or are they babies? Jesus only knew. Trip couldn’t come up with the answer right then.

 

                “Rose?” His voice seemed horse. Was it from the screaming he did at God and all around him as he drove for an hour to come to his friend’s side? Which friend though? One no longer needed him. He wasn’t here anymore. Maybe he was here for Stevie? His mom? Not his sister. Wait… were they there for him. Oh God. They were. They were there for him. All his friends… they were there for him.

 

                “She’s in the room with the boys. His parents just came out. They were taken to the chapel.”

 

                It wasn’t their first rodeo. Before Trip had met his best friend for life… maybe that can’t apply anymore… best friend in life? Either way before he knew Ozzy and his parents, Ozzy had an older brother who had died of cancer. Ozzy had never talked of his brother much to Trip. IT was painful, but he had once heard that if not for his brother’s death, Ozzy wouldn’t have met Rose… the love of his life. Trip had always thought about that and realized that it would be true too that he wouldn’t have met Ozzy if not for his brother’s death. How odd that tragedy could bring about such love and friendship.

 

                “She’s going to need us, Trip.”

 

                He let loose the hug for the first time. He looked in the beautiful woman’s eyes and saw that she was a strong in tragedy as she was walking the floor of the factory carrying a box that should have been too heavy. She was the rock Trip needed. So with her words he shook his head and pulled an arm back to wipe his face. Strong… his friend would have been strong. That was for sure.  Ozzy was the strongest. Damn glad Stevie was here to take up that mantel because ‘screw that’. He thought.

 

                “I’m here. I’m sorry.”

 

                You have no reason to be sorry, baby.” His mom said over his left shoulder. “This is going to be tough.”

 

                ‘Wait. You said it’ll be ok. Why the hell is it tough now?’ He looked at his mother and saw how tired she was. If only he could make her less tired. She deserved a break. She has worked his whole life. That made him sad in another way… one that he didn’t know he had room for this night.

 

                “What happened?”

 

                “Drunk driver.”

 

                They all looked over to see Rose. There were no tears… none that Trip could see. Trip’s mother and sister all went over to hold the woman who he had loved as a sister for so many years. Stevie took her turn after they gave her room. Now it was Trip’s turn. He had managed to stand… but he couldn’t move towards her. He didn’t even have to. Rose was already holding him before he had the ability to move. She held him so tight she nearly broke his spine. This was the time that he was needed. This was his way of being there. She started to shake as tears poured from her face. His arms where what he was there for. This was his moment. The two friends cried. They cried until they couldn’t seem to cry anymore.

 

                “Trip, I want you to see him.”

 

                ‘Oh no. She can’t ask this of me. I can’t see him. He’s no longer here. He left us.’

 

                He never said a word but Rose knew this was going through his mind. “Please.” She said softly.

 

                He nodded his head and they walked hand in hand towards his best friend’s room.

 

                “I asked them to give you time to come before they took him. He… he told me before he died to tell you he loved you. He wanted to say goodbye… but he couldn’t. He loved you like his own brother.”

 

                “He is… was… he’s my brother.”

 

                They turned more corners than Trip took count of. ‘Where am I? It’s all the same. It looks like the school’s halls.’ The thoughts were coming randomly but the lack of his whereabouts started to gnaw at him. He started to feel scared. Was this what Hell was going to be like? Tight halls of horrible yellow? Was she taking him to Hell? Why would she do this? Didn’t she know his best friend would go to Heaven? Maybe that was what this all was… this is a ruse to take him to Hell. Maybe he deserved it. There were so many things that made that true.

 

                If Ozzy was here with him he would point this out and remind him of the time they went to the tattoo parlor and the stripper gave him an impromptu lap dance. Or maybe the time that he slept with that older lady… what was her name… while Ozzy waited outside to go to work. ‘Ha! Remember that, Ozzy?’ Oh… he’s not here.

 

                They made their way to busy area and she pulled him along to a side room… ‘Oh my God. Is that blood on the floor? Surely not.’. IT surely can’t be coming from that bed. The one that Ozzy is laying in. Nope. Can’t be from Ozzy.

 

                He felt the sting return to his eyes. Or had it ever really stopped? She let go of his hand and he nearly fell over. He stepped back and she touched his arm.

 

                “You can say good bye. I won’t listen.”

 

                “No.” He jumped back.

 

                “It really is ok, Trip. This is still, Ozzy. He’s just asleep now.” She covered her mouth and started to cry. “He’s my sleeping angel.” She choked back a sob. “And he will be with us always.”

 

                ‘No. Don’t say that. He’s gone. This is a nothing… a no one. Ozzy left us.’

 

                She backed out from behind the curtain that held Ozzy’s forgotten physical self. This left Trip alone. He couldn’t handle it. It was Hell. He was right. All he had done wrong in life was leaving him all alone forever. All because some ass hole had to drink and drive. This person thought that taking Trip’s best friend from him was what would hurt him the most. He was right. This is one thing that Trip would never truly heal from. No one would take the place of Ozzy. No one could.

 

                He looked at his best friend. He just moved? Right? No? Shit. Trip just couldn’t do it. He turned to leave and a thought hit him like a ton of bricks. ‘What the hell are you doing? Why are you trying to run away from him? This is my best friend. Turn the fuck around and say something to him.”

 

                “What am I supposed to do now?” His back was still turned away from what life leaves behind when we go on to another place. “How am I supposed to stand here and say good bye? I don’t even say that when I leave. You fucking know I hate good byes. What if it’s the last time? What if you die?” He stopped and turned around. “Why are you making me do this? Why? Can’t you just wake up and tell me you love me and you won’t leave me?”

 

                ‘If I did that then I would have to do it for everyone and we know I hate to be center of attention.’

 

                “Bullshit. That’s what this is. You left me and you left Rose and Stevie and the boys. You left your parents… what about them? What am I supposed to tell them?”

 

                ‘Tell them you loved me and leave it at that.’

 

                “Leave it at that.” He said softly. “I more than loved you, ass hole. You are my best friend and you are my brother. You made me who I am. God knows what I would have been if you hadn’t been there. A drug addict? Dead? Who fucking knows? And now you’re fucking dead? Why the hell would you leave us?”

 

                ‘It was my time.’

 

                “Bullshit. Bullshit Bullshit.” His voice rose up enough for the curtain to rustle and a doctor look in.

 

                The doctor looked at Trip and then at Ozzy and just nodded and left the two alone.

 

                Trip lowered his head. He still hadn’t had the ability to move any closer to Ozzy. He made an attempt but was at a loss.

 

                “I love you, man. I love you and I love the kids and Rose and… and I love you, man.”

 

                ‘I love you too.’

 

                “But I loved you.”

 

                ‘I know.’

 

                “But… what do I do without you?”

 

                ‘Love. Love Rose and love my boys and love Stevie and, Trip love yourself. You know that that is the most important thing. Love yourself.’

 

                “You were always full of shit, Ozzy Hutch.” He muttered the next little bit. “Love myself.  That’s some of your hippy tree hugging bullshit lines you would spit out at me. Maybe I don’t want to love myself. Ever think of that?”

 

                ‘I know. That’s why I was there. I was there to love you enough to let you know it was ok to love yourself.’

 

                Trip made a step forward. He reached out and tried to touch the end of the bed and missed. This made him jump back two feet. ‘Shit’ He thought. He looked at Ozzy for what felt like the first time. He saw barely a scratch on his face. How the hell can that kill him? Ozzy can’t die from a scratch on his face. ‘Bullshit’.

 

                “You know… you shouldn’t leave Rose? You should wake up and be here for her. She needs you. The boys need you.”

 

                ‘I can’t come back. It’s too late.’

 

                “It’s not too late. It would be just the right time. I could go back and make everyone happy because I got to tell them my best friend is back.”

 

                ‘Trip.’

 

                “No.” His eyes sharply turned down and he refused to look at Ozzy. “No. Don’t say my name like that. That’s how people who are about to say sorry start. Trip, I’m sorry. Hell no. I won’t hear that bullshit. You aren’t allowed to be sorry. You are supposed to say ‘yes Trip. I’ll wake up and be here with you when Rose comes back’. And all will be ok. Rose will be happy and I’ll be happy… your boys.”

 

                ‘I’m sorry, buddy.’

 

                “I told you not to say that.”

 

                ‘What would you like me to say that I can say? Because we both know I can’t come back.’

 

                “Say… say…” He walked up to Ozzy. “Say you’ll meet me on the other side. Tell me that I won’t be alone forever.”

 

                ‘You’ll never be alone. Hell… if I can I’ll come back and haunt your ass.’

 

                “I’ll have a beer ready for you.”

 

                ‘Don’t buy the cheap shit.’

 

                “Oh hell no. That’s what your ass deserves for this shit.”

 

                ‘This wasn’t my fault.’

 

                Trip walked up to Ozzy. He reached down and took his hand in his. He looked at his friends face and his closed eyes.

 

                “You do look like you’re asleep.” He held his friends hand and leaned down and touched his cheek. “I will never forget you. You will always be here with me… and you better remember that when I’m in the bathroom to stay outside. That’s my personal time.”

 

                ‘You have no problem with that, sir.’

 

                Trip smiled. He held his friends hand in silence for some time before Rose came back in.

 

                “Trip.”

 

                He turned and looked at her. “Hey.”

 

                “Are you ready?”

 

                He looked back at Ozzy for a moment. Then he put his hand down on his chest and looked back at Rose. He nodded and she came to him and the two oldest friends looked at the man they loved and took each other’s hand.

 

                “Rose… I’m no Ozzy, but I’m here always.”

 

                “Like the plague.”

 

                He looked down at the small skinny girl next to him and smiled.

 

                “You know…” She said “He loved us so much that he knew if anything ever happened to him that we would be ok.”

 

                “He made us. He brought us together. Of course we will be ok. We have each other.”

 

                She squeezed his hand tightly. “Have you ever seen so much peace from so much evil?”

 

                “Yeah. When he asked you to be his girl.”

 

                She slapped him with her free hand. “I wasn’t evil.”

 

                “All that pink you wore was.”

 

                She laughed and then quickly pulled her hand away from Trip and covered her mouth.

 

                “It’s ok.” Trip reached over and hugged her. “He knew the pink was evil too.”

 

                She laughed from behind her hand and he just hugged her tighter.

 

                ‘I love your laughter, my loves.’

 

                Rose looked up and Trip did too. Then they looked at each other and smiled.

 

 

               

 

                Later on Trip was driving home and he looked around at the green grass and the blue sky. He saw children playing in a yard. He looked he was stunned as to how the world was still moving forward. He thought how can this be happening? What in the hell is going on? Don’t they know that it’s cloudy and raining and that the world just stopped forever? They should be ready for this. But they weren’t. People were smiling and laughing and playing… they were living. Work was still there. Life would go on with or without Ozzy Hutch.

 

                As he was driving along he felt light… like he could float away if he just let go of the steering wheel. When his phone rang he nearly run off the road. He was shaky but managed to answer the phone.

 

                “Hello?”

 

                “Trip, it’s Stevie.”

 

                “Hey.”

 

                “Are you ok?”

 

                “Not really.”

 

                “Would you like me to come over?”

 

                “I’m not… home yet. Are you?”

 

                “No. I’m just getting a cup of coffee at the McDonalds. I thought maybe I could come over.”

 

                “That would be really nice.”

 

                “Ok. Well, I’ll see you in a while.”

 

                “Ok.”

 

                “Ok.” She said as she paused a second. “Trip?”

 

                “Yeah?”

 

                “I like you.”

 

                “What?”

 

                “I don’t want to hang up this phone until I tell you how I feel. I don’t want you to not know. I really like you. I… have for a long time. I thought it was Ozzy who made me stick around after school… but… you’re goofy ass smile and that damn halfhearted attempt to ask me out. You just always made me feel good about myself. I didn’t really feel that way before you.”

 

                Trip thought of a million different things to say every time he was around Stevie, but couldn’t come up with one thing. So he was silent.

 

                “Um… I just thought you should know… I… you know. I like you.”

 

                “I like you too!” He blurted out. “Sorry. I like you too. I tried to say it forever, but… I like you too.”

 

                He couldn’t see Stevie through the phone but he knew on his end he was smiling.

 

                “I’ll see you soon.” She said from the other end.

 

                “Real soon.” He agreed.

 

                He put the phone down in his lap and looked ahead at the road.

 

                “What do you think about that?” He said to no one in particular. “Damn it Ozzy. I can’t even tell you what happened.”

 

                The light floating feeling had suddenly become more grounding. His heart hurt but started to feel something other than pain for the first time since he pushed the answer button on his phone. He looked over at the clock on his trucks dash and saw the time. It had been six hours since he received that call. His life had changed so drastically in such a short period of time.

 

                “Jesus… I didn’t call in to work.”

 

 

 

 

                The days had passed as if there had been no change.  Only the obvious hole in his heart let him know of the change. But the day had come when they would bury his dear friend… the day when everyone that called Ozzy friend and even some who knew him for a very brief time. They would come and say nice things about him and all describe the loss they felt.  And for this one day no ill would be spoken of the man.

 

                Trip found himself feeling less and less like he belonged among people he had known for so long. When Stevie walked up to him he felt a small splash of calmness lick at his heart. She never said a word. She just pulled him into a tight hug.

 

                “You are ok, Trip. You are ok.”

 

                He heard the words as more of a reassurance than anything. That’s’ when he realized he had tears coming down his face. They had been there even before Stevie walked up. He just let them fall as this woman, who had held him every night since the accident held him once more. The more he cried the tighter she would squeeze. And after a time the tears subsided.

 

                She let go of the lanky man and he stepped back just far enough to let her breath. However if it was up to him he would never get farther than he was from her at this moment.

 

                “You ok?”

 

                He nodded yes to her and she just pulled at his tie to straighten it.

 

                “You look very nice dressed up, Trip.”

 

                “Almost like a grown up, right?” He said softly with a weak smile following.

 

                “I’ve never known you to be otherwise… in your adult life.” She chuckled a little to herself. “There was a while there we thought we were going to have to start worrying though.”

 

                “Why grow up? It’s more fun to be a goofy kid.”

 

                “If you didn’t grow up, Mr. Adams, you may never have caught my attention.”

 

                He smiled a genuine smile at the woman in front of him. She had a way with him. She really always had. He just let go of that when life had become all about making a living instead of living to the fullest.

 

                She had told him a few nights before as that sat slowly sipping beers and reminiscing of the past that she had once thought of Ozzy as more than just a friend. She told him how he and her had talked at the end of the school year about being a couple. Of course she went out of town for a several weeks to spend time at her father’s. In that time Ozzy and Rose had managed to fall in love. That truly was one that everyone could see. It didn’t hurt Stevie. In fact to her it was the just a reassurance that love was real. And their love was one for the movies.

 

                When she told Trip of her near encounter with his friend he was not in any way shocked. In truth he understood perfectly. He had seen the way Ozzy was with people. Ozzy was the quintessential good guy. He was what all should strive to be. When she was done speaking about him, Trip went ahead and told her how he had felt for her for all those years. She simply kissed him.

 

                “I saw your name in the program. Are you going to speak?”

 

                “Um… sort of. I’m going to play a song on my guitar.”

 

                “That’s perfect. Ozzy would have loved that.”

 

                Before he knew it Trip was standing in front of a crowded church holding his guitar. The people in attendance went silent as he walked up the aisle. He had never stood in front of such a large group. His heart was nearly pounding out of his chest. He could feel the sweat dripping down his back and as he reached for the strings of his guitar.

 

                “I’ve never done this in front of more than a few friends, but I know this was Ozzy’s favorite song. I apologize though. I’m not much of a singer.” He started to play the chords to Amazing Grace. Then when it was time to join in his voice filled the small church. “Amazing grace how sweet the sound… that saved a wretch like…” His voice which had already began to crack suddenly left him. He kept playing the music but just started to shake his head and tears slowly dripped from his eyes onto the body of his older well used guitar.

 

                “I’m sorry. I don’t know if I can sing this song. If you don’t mind I would rather just say a few things. I will continue playing and you can sing or listen. It’s up to you. Either way won’t hurt my feelings.”

 

                No one said a word. They listened to the man standing in front of them play the beautiful song and talk.

 

                “I was never much for going to church. I never really felt much in the way of faith. I just lived my life and the other day…” He swallowed back a sob and continued. “The other day what little faith I had was crushed when I… when our friend was taken from us. I know Ozzy was deeply into his faith. He took his family every week on Sunday to this church. He invited me several times but never pushed me to come. I wish… I wish I could take him up on his offer Sunday. I wish he could be her just to offer me his faith once more. I could use it today. I would love to feel what he felt when I played this song. To me it’s just a pretty song that someone gave me the chance to play.”  He let the song play for a few moments before he continued. “I’m going to go home tonight and I’m going to drink a beer in my friend’s name. It’s not faith. It’s what we did on Saturday’s. I’m going to play a song off of that terrible alternative album that I told him twenty years ago was crap and I’m going to remember him the best way I can. I know there are a few of you who know me and know where I live. You are more than welcome to join me.  Now though I’m going to try my best to finish this song. You’re all welcome to join me.”

 

                He continued playing and started to sing the song from the beginning. This time he was joined by the whole room. Their voices nearly drowned out Trip’s playing but for the first time he could feel just what Ozzy felt when he heard the song. It was a song of love. Trip was one lost and now he was found.

 

 

                That night after the burial and the after funeral get together that the south was famous for, Trip found himself driving along the twilight lit roads going home. He looked over at the six pack he had sitting on his seat. He had every intention of finishing it off as quickly as possible.

   

                He pulled into his drive and got out of the beat up old pick up and walked slowly onto his porch. As he went to unlock his door he heard a vehicle pulling up behind him. He turned and Sat Stevie getting out. She smiled at him and he smiled back. Then out of nowhere several other cars and trucks pulled up and started parking in the yard and across the road from his home. He looked around at all the people getting out and waving at him.

  

                He looked over at Stevie who had made her way to standing beside him. She just shrugged and smiled at him. “You did say to join you.”

 

                “I think I may not have enough beer.”

 

                 Stevie latched on to his arm and leaned in close. “I think it’ll be ok. We’ll manage.”

 

                Trip looked down at Stevie who stood no less than a foot shorter than him and smiled at her with a mixture of happiness and sadness. Then he looked up to see Rose pulling up in her car. He and Stevie watched her get out and sadly look up at them and wave. She walked through the see of people pulling folding chairs and cases of beer out of trucks and cars and up to her two friends.

 

 

 

                “Ozzy would have been so proud to see the two of you together.”

  

                “I’m happy to see you, Rose.” Stevie said. “We didn’t get much of a chance to talk earlier.”

  

                “Where’s the boys?” Trip asked.

 

                “They are staying at Ozzy’s parents. It keeps them all occupied. His parents think they’re keeping the boys at ease and the boys think they are keeping their grandparents at ease. That keeps me at ease.”

 

 

 

                “I didn’t expect you to come here. Actually I didn’t expect all these people either, but you… I figured you would stay with your family.”

 

                 “I am with my family. Besides… except a hand full of times where have I ever spent my Saturdays except here?”

 

                 “You are always welcome here, Rose. You are after all the sister I never had.”

 

                  “Trip, you have a sister.”

 

                  “Yeah… she’s the sister I never wanted.”

 

                Alissa walked up to them after getting out of a truck with her boyfriend in tow. “You’re an ass hole, Trip.”

 

                  He smiled at her as he flipped her off.

 

                 She instead turned to Rose. “Hey, Rose. How are you?”

 

                “I’m good as long as I’m here with the lot of you.”

 

                “Well, come on in. Let’s get this place open for business.”

 

                 The night went on with several toasts to Ozzy and stories being told all around. Trip played the guitar and people would sing and laugh and cry. Then Trip put a cd in his stereo and played it over and over singing along with songs he knew by heart. Songs he professed to hate but more than ever wanted to listen to. As the night wore on people slowly dwindled away until it were just Trip, Stevie, Rose, Alissa and her boyfriend left. They were sitting on some random chairs around what had been a large bonfire. Now it was just bright red coals barely giving off enough glow for the group to see each other.

 

                “So there we were driving back from the movie and Ozzy was doing his best to talk sexy to Rose… all because he thought I was asleep and I just started laughing my ass off. I had totally killed his mac.”

 

                 “The boy never had mac, Trip.” Rose interjected. “I just took the initiative and made his ass love me. The boy was clueless most of the time.”

 

                They all laughed.

 

                 “I’m going to really miss him.” She said starting to cry.

 

                 Trip popped up from his seat and nearly jumped over the coals to reach her. He pulled her up from her seat and held her until she finally was able to stop crying.

 

                “I’m ok. I’m ok. I’m ok.” She was telling herself to believe it more than anyone around the fire.

 

                  “No. You’re not… and that’s ok. I’m not ok and that’s ok too. We will be ok but it’s fine to be hurt. We’re alone without him. I’m just glad we have each other.”

 

                He held his best friend’s wife as close as he could. The smoke from the coals rose slowly around them. His closest friends were all within feet of them… all but one.

 

                 ‘Take care of them, brother.’

 

                Trip looked down at Rose and smiled at her. “I’ll take care of you, Rose.”

 

                 She wiped the tears away and gently pulled back. “I’m ok, Trip. I really am. Thank you.”

 

                 “I mean it. You’re family.”

 

                 She hugged him again. “Thank you.” She turned to the rest of the group and smiled. “Thank you all.”

 

                They all smiled and gave their love to the frail young woman.

 

                “What are you going to tonight?” Trip quietly asked her.

 

                 “I’m going to go to my parents. I don’t think I can go home right now. It wouldn’t feel right.”

 

                 “Ok. If you want you can stay here. It’s not very clean but it’s home.”

 

                 “No. I’m going to be ok.” She shrugged. “In fact I’m going to head out before it gets any later. I’m sure they’re already worried about me.”

 

                 The group all gets up and says their good byes to Rose. And then the rest slowly make their way to their vehicles. This left Trip with Stevie. He looked down at the woman he was falling in love with and hugged her. They waved as the last car drove away and he leaned down and kissed her.

 

                 “You ready to go inside?” She asked.

 

                “Yep.”

   

               They turned to go in and Trip stopped and turned back and picked up an unopened beer that was sitting next to his chair. He opened in and sat it on the chair.

  

                “You not bringing it in?”

 

                 “No. That’s just me keeping a promise.”

 

To whom it may concern...

 

To whoever finds this letter,

 

                If you find this then I want to tell you who this woman is. This is Ruby. She saved my life twice. The first time was when this god forsaken bullshit started. She was a homeless person and she pulled me out of the way of a car that was racing right at me. The driver had been bitten. He was right at the part when the last of the humanity dies out. She pulled me back and gave me another chance at life. Too bad this is the life I’m here to live.

 

                She was amazing. I only ever saw homeless people as weak and a nuisance. I never thought one would be as strong as her. Why would we think that? These are people who spend a portion of their lives learning to fend for themselves and they are resourceful. She led us along and kept us alive. She found food and weapons in the most unlikely places. She was amazing. I want you to know this woman was my hero. She was full of heart and soul. She was a beautiful woman who had life taken from her twice. The first time led to her position in life before this hell. The second… was to save me. It wasn’t even the dead. She pushed me out of the way of a falling wall in this ratty decrepit town. She was killed by a wall. What kind of way is that to die? All I can say is she pushed me. She pushed me to survive, not just to save me from a wall or a car.

 

                This is the ninth letter I’ve written. Each one of the people we met along the way and had joined us has had one left with them. Each one should be remembered for who they were. Some I knew better than others, but each had a name. If you find the letter then their name will not be forgotten, at least not yet.  If you find me you will find a letter I wrote soon after this began. It tells you my name, Zander. You’ll know me by the nice “Hello my name is Zander” tag sewed on my jacket. That is providing no one steals my jacket. Believe me; I’ve seen it come to that.

 

                Ruby was my friend and she saw humor even after the rest of us saw only death. She always called me frail. She probably would have found it funny that I’m the last survivor. She taught me so much. I hope it’s enough. My aim is to survive this outbreak long enough to find more survivors. For now I’m alone. I’m heading south. I know that’s probably not the way most will be going, but it seems to me that with the state of things that if I go north the weather will become harsh since it’s close to winter. I’m not prepared for that on top of everything else. Besides that was Ruby’s plan. She said something about the state of decay of the dead… something about cold weather keeping the bodies from rotting faster. She believed if we could just out last them... “Let the bastards rot” she said.

 

                 She will be remembered by me until I am no more.  If this letter finds you then I know she will live on a little longer. Keep your eyes out for me. Hopefully you won’t need to take my head. Good luck to you and to me. Maybe I will see you out there.

 

                                                                                                               Love and peace to you,

 

                                                                                                                           Zander McCain

 

               

 

P. S.       I miss my cell phone.