Fly in Amber 

Part 3


After a second or two, he looked down in puzzlement. Come on, let’s go fella, he thought, I need to pee so bad it hurts; let’s cut loose. Finally a dribble of urine started, but not his usual strong flow. The stream of urine increased, became steady, but was still weaker than normal. Now he began to wonder about his prostate. Or maybe he had a urinary tract infection. The good mood generated by the smell of fresh coffee had completely evaporated now. His wife was spending them into the poorhouse, he was losing his hair, and getting fat, and there was something wrong with his bladder or his prostate. He was in an absolutely foul mood now. He shut off the faucets with an irritated twist, dried off, and went into the walk-in closet to get dressed. 

And stopped, stunned into immobility. 

All of his clothes were gone. Every single stitch. The wooden bars were sagging with Margie’s clothing. Only one pair of jeans his size and a tee shirt, tossed over the wicker hamper, looked like it might fit him. And sitting on the floor next to the hamper was a pair of tennis shoes in his size. But he didn’t recognize any of it. He pulled open the dresser where he kept his underwear and socks, and found nothing but Margie’s bras and panties. 

What the hell was going on? 

If he didn’t want to run around naked or in a towel, he had no choice but to put on the jeans and tee shirt, the only things in the closet that would fit him. He dressed quickly and marched downstairs, ready for a fight.

In the kitchen, the coffee maker was just dripping the last few drops of fresh brew into the pot, and something wonderful and aromatic was cooking in the oven. Margie and the kids were nowhere in sight. “Margie?” He waited, and got no answer. “Suzie, Ron? You guys down here? We need to get a move on, daylight’s a-burnin’. All the good picnic spots will be taken if we wait too long.” Still no answer.

Part 8


“I can’t do this any more” she said, tears trembling through every word. “It hurts too much, Jim. I love you, and I always will, but I just – can’t – do this – anymore.  Goodbye Jim.” And she left the kitchen.

The dark haired one looked at Jim.

“Sorry, Jim.” He could hear real sympathy in the man’s voice, and his terror reached its zenith.

“No, Margie, come back, no, why are you doing this, oh God, please Margie, please, help me, I love you…”

And as he begged and pleaded, he could hear huge gulping sobs coming from the living room, and he knew that it was Margie crying in anguish, but she wouldn’t come back into the kitchen, and he couldn’t get to her, to comfort her.

“Let’s go Jim, let’s go,” said the dark-haired man. “Dr. Kenyon will explain everything to you, I promise. We’re not going to hurt you, but you need to come with us, back to Shady Glen.  If I let you up, will you promise to be good? No more fighting or biting or any of that shit?”

Jim said nothing for a moment, then he nodded his head. The world seemed a distant place, something he was observing from far away.

“Oh shit, Rick, he’s going out,” said the quiet one.

And then there was darkness.


######

Jim loved waking to the smell of coffee in the morning. Yawning, he stretched and sat up, pushing the snarled bedclothes aside.  In the daylight, he noticed the pattern on the sheets was new. When had Margie bought new sheets?  How come he hadn’t noticed this before bed last night? He would have to warn her about her spending again. After all, they weren’t rich. Comfortable, yes, but they still had children to put through college. Every extra dime helped.  He felt stiff this morning, not like his usual self, like he’d gone a few rounds with the champ. Rubbing his lower back, trying to massage the knots and kinks out, he stood, and noticed how cold it was, cold for July. 

 

​​​​Story by J A Miller

Art by Zach Smith


Part 1


“I may venture to affirm that we are nothing but a bundle or collection of different sensations, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.”  – David Hume, 1711-1776


Jim loved waking to the smell of coffee in the morning. Yawning, he stretched and sat up, pushing snarled bedclothing aside. In the daylight, he noticed the pattern on the sheets was new. When had Margie bought new sheets?  And how come he hadn’t noticed this before bed last night? He would have to warn her about her spending again. After all, they weren’t rich. Comfortable, yes, but they still had children to put through college. Every extra dime helped. He felt stiff this morning, not like his usual self.  Rubbing his lower back, trying to massage the knots and kinks out, he stood, and noticed how cold it was, cold for July. 

But no matter the temperature, today was going to be a good day. It was the Fourth, and they were going to start the day off with a picnic at the park. The kids had been asking to go since the weather had improved, and he hadn’t had the time because of work. But today he wouldn’t let anything get in the way.

He wiggled his feet into the slippers on his side of the bed, and they felt different for some reason. Looking down, he realized they were new. Margie had spent money on a new pair of slippers as well as sheets, when his old pair still had plenty of miles left in them. Now he was irritated. This profligate spending had to stop. 

As he shuffled into the bathroom, he looked down, and noticed his paunch. Good Lord, he was getting fat. Time to cut back on the fast food. And look, there were some gray hairs mixed in with the brownish thatch that normally grew around his belly button.  Fat and old. But he was only thirty-one, wasn’t that a bit soon to be going gray? His father had gone gray early, but he was more fair complected than his father, much more like his mother, who had kept her natural color till she was almost fifty. Maybe there was more of the old man in him than he realized. Or maybe it was bad nutrition. Definitely time to cut back on the McDonalds.

Part 4


He decided to go ahead and pour himself a cup of coffee and sit down to wait. He took his favorite mug down from its usual spot, and noticed that it was now chipped. Disappointed, he wondered when that had happened. Margie must have dropped it yesterday after breakfast, because it had been fine then. He poured the cup full of steaming black liquid, and sat down at the kitchen table. 

The chair felt a little wobbly, and he made a mental note to fix it. As he sat there, sipping from the mug, he noticed that his pants seemed a little tight in the waist. He looked down, and realized he was getting paunchy. Jesus Christ, when had he gotten this fat? And where were Margie and the kids? They were going on a picnic today. If they didn’t get a move on, all the good spots would be taken. He took another sip, and wondered why his back felt so stiff. What had he done yesterday to make it so balky? It was awfully cold for July, even in the kitchen with the oven going.

“Margie?” he yelled again. He waited and got no answer. “Suzie, Ron? You guys ready yet?” Still no answer.

He heard a vehicle pull into the driveway. He turned to look out the kitchen window, and saw a white van come to a stop. Both doors opened and two men got out, dressed casually in jeans and polo shirts. He rose, and the men came to the back door and knocked.

He pulled the door open, and looked at two men in their twenties, both pretty good sized. They hadn’t looked that big when they got out of the van. He began to question the wisdom of opening the door to a couple of oversized strangers without knowing who they were first.

“Jim?  Good morning. Are you ready to go?”

How did they know his name? And go where?

“Do I know you guys?”

The black haired one who had spoken glanced at his partner, and sighed.

“Yeah Jim, you know us, and we know you.  It’s time to go. Is Margie here?”“I don’t know you, and I don’t think you know Margie either. I know all our friends. Now who the hell are you and what do you want?” Still no answer.

Part 6


“Run Margie! Run to the neighbors, call the police!” He expected one of the men to abandon the struggle and chase after Margie as she ran for help. But neither let go, and he then heard Margie again.

“Stop it! You’re going to hurt him!” 

Margie was being foolishly brave. He knew she couldn’t help him, not with these two bruisers, she would only get hurt. Their only chance was for her to run to the neighbor’s house for help. What the hell was she doing?  And where were the kids? God he hoped they were safe.

“Hurt him?” said the dark haired one. “I’m the one with the broken nose.”

“Margie, go!  Go get help!” Jim screamed again.

“Jim,” she said, her voice strangely calm, “stop it, you’re going to get hurt.  Please stop fighting with them.”

What the hell was she talking about, and why wasn’t she going for help? Two strange men were beating the tar out of him, and she was just standing there. She must not understand what was happening, must not get it.Maybe she was frozen with fear.

Or she was in on it?

No, that couldn’t be, not Margie. 

“Margie, what’s going on? Why aren’t you going for help?”

“Jim,” she said, and he could hear the gentle tone of her voice, and along with it a well-remembered undertone of resignation and frustration. It was the voice she used whenever he prevailed in an argument, the voice that preceded the voice of forgiveness, the make-up voice. “Jim,” she said again, “you don’t understand. This is the way it has to be.”  And now he could hear something else in her tone: weariness. “You have to go with these men.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” He had stopped struggling, all the energy drained out of him as he considered the horrifying possibility that Margie had hired these men to hurt him, maybe even to …

“Are you with them, Margie?  Why Margie? I thought you loved me.”

“I do love you Jim.”

“Then why are you doing this? Why?” He could hear the incipient tears in his voice, and his eyes started to fill. Margie was betraying him.

Part 7


“How long have you been planning this?” he said, and now his voice was cracked and bitter, and he felt like he was ten years old again and being punished for something he hadn’t done.

“Yes Jim, I’m with them. And I’m with you. It amounts to the same thing. And I’m not betraying you, it has to be this way. I couldn’t take you myself, not this time, they had to come and get you. I’m so tired of all this.” She said this last with a note of ancient weariness of which he would not have believed her capable. 

Now he tried to see around the two men, to look at Margie. Instead of blocking his view, as he had expected, the dark haired man moved aside slightly so he could see his wife.

Jesus God in heaven, what had happened to her? 

It didn’t look like Margie. Her hair was short, and died a different color, and there were deep lines around her eyes. There was a faint age spot on one cheek. She wasn’t wearing any make-up, and she looked older than was humanly possible for a thirty year-old woman.

“My God, Margie, what happened to you?”

For a moment, anger flashed in her eyes, and that was the Margie he knew.

“The same thing that happened to you, Jim. I got old.” Through all of his dismay at her betrayal, the bitterness in her voice still stung him. What had happened to her?  Why was she so old looking, so bitter sounding?

“Where are the kids, Margie?”

“California, Jim.” Now her voice was merely resigned.

“What are they doing in California, Margie? What’s going on here?”

“They live in California, like they have for the last ten years. They stayed there after they graduated from college.”

Now he almost felt like laughing. Suzie was ten, and Ron was nine. 

“Don’t be ridiculous.” But his voice was confused and weak. He didn’t understand what had happened to Margie, and why she was helping these two men, and why was she making up wild stories about the kids.

EerieStories

Part 2


In the bathroom, the vanity mirror was gone. So was the mirror on the medicine chest. 

What the hell? Where were the mirrors? Had Margie ordered a remodel and not told him? This was too much. Now he was angry. He reached into the shower and turned on the water, and saw that mold had made a mess of the caulking around the faucet handles. That stuff moved fast, you really had to stay on top of it. He would need to get some more of that bleach paste, stop it in its tracks. As he stripped, he looked down again, and saw that his paunch was bigger than he had thought; the pajama bottoms had hidden some of it. He actually had to bend over slightly to see his penis. He was becoming what he always said he would never be – a paunchy old man.

Time to get back to the gym, and time to cut back on the snacks. He tested the temperature of the water with a finger and stepped into the hot shower. He lathered up with the bar of Dove. After he rinsed himself off, he looked around. Where was his dandruff shampoo? Had he run out? Seemed like he had a pretty full bottle yesterday. Instead, he squirted a dollop of his wife’s shampoo into one palm. One more thing to put on the grocery list Margie kept on the refrigerator.

As he lathered up his hair, something felt wrong. He paused in his scrubbing, and started to probe his scalp. Jesus, was his hair actually thinning? It felt like he was going bald. When the hell had that started? Now he was really upset: paunchy, graying and thinning. He was barely over thirty. Maybe it was time to go to the doctor, get a checkup.  For a few moments, he wondered if he had cancer. But did cancer cause you to become fat and balding? He didn’t think so. You usually went the opposite direction and wasted away if you had cancer. A sudden need to urinate overtook him, and he realized he couldn’t wait till he got out, decided to let loose in the shower.

Part 11


He stood long enough staring at his crotch that the toilet bowl refilled, and in the faint reflection from the water, he saw what looked like an old man peering back up at him.

“What’s going on here?”

Now he was getting scared. He hurried away from the reflection, not wanting to look any more, and left the bathroom. There was a man in a white coat standing in his room, the door just closing.

“Who are you?”

“Good morning Jim, I’m Dr. Kenyon. Relax, and I’ll explain everything to you.” And then the doctor, in a voice that sounded like a third-grader repeating the pledge of allegiance for the hundredth time, something that he had repeated so many times the words had lost their meaning, began to speak.

“You had a cerebrovascular accident twenty-seven years ago, Jim, on Independence Day.  It was a sudden thrombosis in the posterior circulation of your brain, and it caused something called Korsakoff’s syndrome. It did damage…”


THE END

Part 9


But no matter the temperature, today was going to be a good day. It was the Fourth, and they were going to start the day off with a picnic at the park. The kids had been asking to go since the weather had improved, and he hadn’t had the time because of work. But today, he wouldn’t let anything get in the way.

He wiggled his feet into the slippers on his side of the bed, and they felt different for some reason. Looking down, he realized they were new. Margie had spent money on a new pair of slippers as well as sheets, when his old pair still had plenty of miles left in them. Now he was irritated. This profligate spending had to stop. 

He noticed that the room was different. In fact, this wasn’t his bedroom at home.  It looked more like a cheap motel room. What the hell was going on? Where was he?

The door opened, and a man in a white coat entered. Beyond him, through the slice of open doorway, Jim could see a long corridor with a double bank of fluorescent lights marching down the length of the hall ceiling in a straight line, and other people in white uniforms. Was this a hospital? Without preamble, the man began to speak.


“You had a cerebrovascular accident twenty-seven years ago, Jim, on Independence Day. It was a sudden thrombosis in the posterior circulation of your brain, and it caused something called Korsakoff’s syndrome. It did damage to the part of your brain that allows you to form new memories. The long and the short of it is, you have been incapable of forming any new memories since the day of your accident. If I leave the room now, and come back a minute later, you won’t remember me, or that I was even here just moments ago. You live here at Shady Glen, as you have for almost thirty years, and every day is the Fourth of July…”

Part 5


The dark haired one turned to his partner. “Great. Now we have to do it. This wasn’t the deal. He was supposed to be all ready when we got here.”

Jim’s confusion was giving way to fear.

“You guys get the hell out of here, or I’ll call the cops. Go on, get lost.”

When neither man made a move to leave, he started to shut the door. The dark haired man moved quickly to block the door open with one shoulder, and his partner was right behind him. He struggled to keep them out, trying to get the door shut so he could throw the deadbolt. That would give him time to call 911…

The combined strength and weight of the two men overwhelmed him, and the door flew inward. He fell backwards, hit his head on the chair he had been sitting in, became dizzy. He realized in his panic that this was a home invasion of some kind, that these men were here to rob him Or worse. He began to bargain.

“Take anything you want, just don’t hurt Margie and the kids, please!”

The men said nothing, and both piled on top of him, pinning him painfully to the floor.

“Jim, you need to calm down. You need to cooperate, Jim,” said the dark haired one.  He turned to face his partner. “Where the hell is Margie?”

Oh God, they wanted to hurt Margie, maybe rape her… he renewed his struggle to get free, but it was useless. All those hours in the gym, and he was weak as a puppy when he needed it. Through his fear he realized the quiet one had allowed his arm to drift near his mouth.  He bit down on a muscular, hairy forearm. The man screamed, and momentarily let up on the pressure he had been applying. He managed to get an arm free, and began hitting the dark haired one in the face. He felt the man’s nose give way, and a bright flow of red began gushing down the man’s lips and chin.Then he heard footsteps as someone else came in the kitchen door, and then he heard Margie scream. He tried to warn her.

Part 10


Jim was too frightened now to listen closely. What was this doctor talking about? What accident? He was telling Jim there was something wrong with his brain. But he felt perfectly fine. And where were Margie and the kids? What had this man done to them?

This supposed doctor’s story was preposterous.

“Where’s Margie? Where are my children? What have you done with them? And what is this bullshit story you’re trying to tell me?”

Dr. Kenyon sighed, and at that moment his cell phone went off. He looked down at a message, and said “Excuse me, Jim, I have to make a quick phone call. I’ll be right back.”

The doctor exited, and Jim looked out the doorway at the rapidly disappearing slice of the corridor and the doctor’s white-coated back till it clicked shut. He looked at the closed door for a few moments, then shook himself out of his reverie. Where the hell was he?  It looked like some kind of cheap motel room.  And where were Margie and the kids?

After a few moments, he realized he needed to urinate. He stood up, and went in search of the bathroom. When he pulled his pajama pants down, he was stunned to see how fat he had become. Jesus Christ, when had this happened? It was definitely time to go on a diet. And what the hell was wrong with his bladder? He was peeing like an old man, just dribbling into the bowl. And what was with this bathroom? It didn’t have any mirrors.

Where the hell was Margie? He flushed the toilet, and stood for a moment, marveling that his pubic thatch now had gray hair in it. What had happened to him? What was going on?