What qualifies as a monster? Is it a furry, slimy, or scale-plated fictional creature covered in flecks and fragments of the skin and bone of recently devoured victims? Is it a demon, straight from the depths of Hell, entering-then-possessing the bodies of helpless souls? Bending said souls to its will—puppeteering the spitting of green bile and levitation, ultimately contorting the victim into positions impossible for the human form? Or can it be a man, a mild-mannered man popular among his peers—a man you respected as your new boss? A monster posing as a human. A skin-covered creature with a man’s DNA.
I never put much stock in horror stories, calling them the stuff that nightmares are made of. Not real life. But that was back then, when I was slightly less experienced, just beginning to test the waters and explore careers, searching for one I would enjoy or at least tolerate. I was trying to find a niche job at which I might excel, since college seemed out of reach for me—the poor son of a hard-working single mom and a classic underachiever. I yearned to travel, a mere six months, back through time. To restart life at the point where I still possessed an innocence born of those having been pampered by a helicopter mom. My mom was that mom, and I was her everything. My biggest challenge was deciding which grubby jeans to wear to school. Every single morning, I awoke to the smell of bacon frying and hustled to join Mom in our tiny kitchen with barely enough time to scarf down the bacon with a heap of pancakes and the final gulp of orange juice, before the horn began blaring. A jalopy-full of guys, my friends, punching each other on the short ride to the high school. Finally graduating with a middle-of-the-class ranking—making Mom sort of proud. But that was when I was excited for the next phase of my life to begin, life after high school graduation; and before I signed up for a seemingly innocuous internship at The Job Fair.
It was my first day as a brand-new intern; so as dictated by company policy, my first stop was the HR department for a brief orientation. As I entered a closet-like office space, void of anything reflecting personality (except that one circa 1970 Hang in There cat poster thumb-tacked just above the desk), a sandy haired 40-something-year-old man rose slightly, as a courtesy, from his armless rolling task chair to introduce himself.
“I am Toby,” he stated with a worn smile. “Go ahead and take a seat.” He gestured to a drab chair, located to one side of his wall-facing desk...fated to forever stare at the cat poster...then sank back down into his squeaky chair. Glancing down at a folder, he continued, “I see here that we met you at The Job Fair and you are a recent high school graduate. This your first intern position?” I nodded. “As the new office floater, you will be at the beck and call of our sales team. They may ask you to do various tasks to ensure their sales go smoothly.
"The guy you are replacing only stuck it out for three months before he quit. The guy before him only stuck it out three months before he quit. Same with the guy before him. Do you see a pattern here?”
I gulped, looking him square in the eyes, and squeaked, “Yes sir.”
“This has been on-going, through a cycle of six new interns who were also recent high school graduates. We scheduled an emergency conference call between corporate and the HR department at some of our other branches and collectively concluded that there was one common factor. Each intern had been doing an errand for a senior sales associate by the name of Stan the day before they quit.
"This is truly a mystery to our company and especially our human resources division as Stan is a personable guy and has been the number one salesman for the past 18 months. Before that, he was kind of a cynical loner and barely met his numbers each month. There was even some talk of firing him. He was the least productive and the least liked person in the office, well Hell, the whole company, if I am being truthful. The previous six interns didn't even bother to give a two-week notice...this is company policy, by the way. They just quit coming to work.”
I bucked up, intending to tell him that I had thick skin. I was a wanna-be mathlete and played in the marching band after all; and I’d had my fair share of bullying and pranks. Nothing got to me...even that one time I got pantsed just as I was walking into the gym at the Friday morning pep rally. I was carrying my tuba and beginning to play my short rift in “Smoke on the Water'' when...WHOOSH...pants down around my ankles. I never even missed a beat as I lifted one leg after the other, still in perfect marching synchronization, leaving a sweaty little pile of trousers behind. Sure, the whole student body broke out in rip roaring laughter and called me tighty-whiteys until I graduated, but did I quit school? No! I didn't even quit band when, from the bleachers, it rained tighty-whiteys on me at our final home game performance.
These thoughts all ran through my mind in an instant, kind of like when your life flashes before your eyes right before you get hit by a train; but I simply stated, “I have thick skin. I'm your man.”
So, I set out with a purpose, my goal to outlast the obviously subpar weaker other guys and find out the mystery behind Stan and his complete turnaround just 18 months...six interns...earlier. My plan was to get close to Stan. See what made him tick. Kill him with kindness and brown nose him if I had to. Stan would be my new best friend. Then maybe I would find out why three months, to the day, seemed to be the interns’ breaking points.
Things were going pretty well, overall. Nothing too major in the way of being the designated go-fer. Running out to get fancy coffees and deli sandwiches here and there. Getting a feel for the job, and even though I didn't agree with the humor, I threw out a few “That’s what she said's,” at choice times to the chagrin of the bumbling office manager.
Paying extra special attention to get Stan's lunch orders just right, was my main focus. He and I even exchanged a few words in the breakroom one morning. He seemed pleasant enough on the outside but there was something weird about him. I often caught him just staring into space with a Mona Lisa smile on his lips; then noticing me hovering, he would pick up his phone and start dialing numbers. There was something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Like one of those transformative portraits that looks perfectly lovely from one angle; but as you move, the painting changes until you may eventually find yourself staring at a monster.
HR Toby checked up on me from time to time, as I was coming up on the three-month mark, but everything seemed cool. I felt like I was one of the guys now. Running errands, keeping the team happy, while the sales numbers continued to rise with Stan leading the way. On the morning of the three-month mark, Stan called me into his cubicle and congratulated me on the three-month anniversary. He motioned me over, just a little closer to his desk and began to softly whisper so that I had to lean in to hear the stream of words flowing from his mouth. As I comprehended the meaning behind his words, my eyes widened in horror; and I left that day and never went back.
I drove. No. Sped home after that conversation and immediately planted myself at the compact table in the bacon-scented kitchen and opened my laptop. As Stan had instructed, I read then deleted the email he had sent.
The next morning, I started making the phone calls. I called nonstop from 8 am until 5 pm Monday through Friday. My mind wandered briefly to the previous six interns: the “other guys” that I had just a few months earlier, smugly called subpar and weak and I whispered a quick Hail Mary, praying for mercy on our souls.
My phone rang for days but I couldn't answer. I was too busy making my own calls at a table in a hollow kitchen that no longer smelled of bacon. When I finally listened to my voicemail, I had over 20 calls from HR Toby. He wanted to know what happened to my thick skin. What did Stan say to make me walk away without even collecting my small intern reimbursement?
I briefly considered letting HR Toby in on the terrible secret that was Stan but quickly changed my mind. I picked up my cell and continued making cold calls. Cold calls on behalf of a man named Stan...sometimes Stanley. Making the sales that I knew Stan could not make himself.
The lives of seven mothers, all kept deep in a cavernous basement below Stan's suburban home, depended on it. I looked at my calendar and knew that soon, there would be an eighth caller helping us keep Stanley's sales at number one.
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by a Reddit Writing Prompt
Coming soon to Horror Tree's Dark Nowhere Series for publication. Details to follow.
How do I say I'm sorry? Let me count the ways.
I am sorry for your loss.
My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Let me know if there is anything you need. I mean it.
I am bringing over a casserole.
I have a friend who lost her husband.
My father died a little over a year ago.
My mother, she has dementia, kept asking, "Where's George?"
We kept telling her, "He is up in heaven now. Remember how we held his hands and you gave him a kiss on the cheek after they removed the breathing tube?"
She teared up and then as we were leaving the hospital, she began to tear up again..which was very out of character. I only saw her cry twice in 58 years...and she said, "I thought we were forgetting your Daddy but he died, didn’t he?"
"Remember, Mama. He is with Jesus and the angels now."
"Oh, I thought that was a dream," and a single tear slid down her cheek.
I am at a loss for words. Sometimes it is best to just say, "I'm sorry."
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by her Mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s
[Reddit Theme Thursday Prompt] - Sympathy
Posted on Beneath the Surface News 5/2/2020.
There are a lot of haters out there. Trolls looking for the next person, place, thing, entity, organization, theory, political maneuver/stance, or policy to target with a vengeance. One of the more recent comments trending on some social media platforms are aimed at Joel Osteen and his church—yes, a mega-church—Lakewood, located in Houston. The anger seems to be directed at Joel and the roughly $4-million SBA PPP loan awarded the church, money that will be repaid. Not a grant. Not "free" money. I don't know any of the details of this type of loan and if it is interest-bearing, or the terms in which it must be repaid, or exactly how this money will be used; but that's not what this is about. I want to tell you a story about the Joel Osteen I once knew way-way back in 1981.
I was a sophomore at ORU (Oral Roberts University). The previous year, my freshman year, his sister Tamara Osteen had been on my dormitory wing in Claudius Priscilla Roberts Hall. She was a kind and gentle soul with a Texas drawl. So humble and gracious, that she never mentioned the mega-church her father had founded in Houston. In fact, our dorm was the lower cost option more in line with what poorer people, like myself at that time, could afford. She was not spoiled. Not entitled. I considered her a friend.
The opening week of the fall 1981 semester, Tamara’s younger brother Joel showed up, a shiny new freshman, and like Tamara, lived in the mid-priced option that was the brother dorm to Claudius, Ellis Melvin Roberts (EMR) Hall—nice but not as fancy as the Quad Towers—housing mainly middle to lower income kids. I met him that first week at a brother-sister wing introductory gathering and then spied him around campus from time to time. He was a shy quiet boy, easy to spot with that crazy head of hair. Hair he still sports today. Evangelist-hair.
One day out of the blue, my boyfriend at the time (my first true love) asked me to cut his hair. I thought about it for a minute then laughingly said, "I will do it but you must sign a waver. I will not be responsible for missing earlobes or the stigma attached to a person wandering around with a bowl-like haircut, a strong possibility since I have no idea how to cut hair!" He was fearless (or crazy) and agreed to the terms.
We decided to set up shop in his dorm in the large downstairs entry of EMR Hall, a popular social gathering area. We found a forgotten, creaky, metal folding-chair shoved off to one side and my arms were laden with what I imagined might be the tools of the trade for a barber: a broom and dust pan, a clean but raggedy towel, a comb, my only pair of scissors, and just in case…earlobe-sized band-aids. I am sure my scissors were fabric shears (I was a seamstress of sorts), not meant for hair at all; but that was all I had.
My boyfriend gulped as he sat down and I stood back observing then running my fingers through his head of thick blonde hair. It was lovely, hair any woman would envy, and I was scared I'd ruin it; but putting on my most confident face, I dove in. I combed and cut and stood back to think, then combed and cut some more. It was looking okay—not very bowl-like—and he remained still, trusting me to not ruin his hair or cut him. His trust in me gave me confidence and those scissors began to fly (picture Edward Scissor-hands).
I noticed a line forming. Other boys wanting or needing haircuts. I gave them the spiel, "I have no idea what I'm doing...yada, yada, yada." I cut hair and each boy paid me $5.00. It was money I gravely needed and appreciated, so this became a thing. Me setting up the metal folding-chair, every so often, and giving $5.00 haircuts. I became an accidental barber. Every haircut looked similar as I obviously had no game, but it didn't matter. The boys still lined up.
One day, a quiet young man sat in my chair and after working on his curly mane for a while, his hair conformed and looked just like all the other boys' haircuts, the ones brave enough to risk their earlobes—not great but passable. At the end of this silent boy's time in my chair, he handed me his $5.00 and quietly thanked me.
That was the Joel Osteen I knew and something I will always remember. Kind and unassuming, already a man of God that people liked—despite his questionable haircut.
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events
Published on Beneath the Surface News
My cell phone rang. (Your brotha's on the phone. Your brotha's callin' you.) I answered. It was my brother, no surprise—you know, the ringtone and all. I launched into my typical tirade. Words to hear myself talk.
Me: "You must have read my mind. I was just phone shopping online, and since you always have a Galaxy phone too; what phone would you recommend?"
My brother: "I never had a Galaxy phone. You should talk to Cooper about phones."
Me: "You did have a Galaxy. I remember that we both had the very first Galaxy at the same time. That's why I started down that path. The path of buying Galaxy phones."
My brother [grumpy]: "Maybe you're right. I can't remember."
Me: "I know I'm right, but anyway; what phone are you using now?" (I hear Lein, his wife, in the background. I hate when he doesn't tell me I am on speaker. I need to tell him to let me know from now on.)
My brother [slightly less grumpy]: "An LG."
Me: "Wow. We are on the same page. That is exactly what my thoughts were. I had an LG once and loved it." (I hear a voice over a loudspeaker in the background.) "What model is it?"
My brother: [silence] (Voice over a loudspeaker, Paging Doctor...)
Me: "Where are you? Are you at home?"
My brother: "No. The hospital. I had a mild heart attack last night."
Me: [finally silent, as I absorb this information from my 55-year-old brother] "Why didn't you tell me to shut up talking about stupid phones?"
My brother [chuckling]: "I was waiting for you to finish. Waiting for you to listen."
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by a real conversation. Her brother ended up with a quintuple bypass and a surgeon's suggestion to stop smoking. (10/9/2020)
By Lisa Owens
Inspired by current events - 6/15/2020
A 2nd Place Winner in the WOW (Women on Writing) Q-4 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest !
Clearwater and Pensacola, Florida 
It is a happy day in the manager’s living quarters at the Royal House Motel. Lois, one three recently hired maids, has given my dad an old car destined for the junkyard. His days of walking and hitchhiking to Liberty Bible College are over. Our days of bumming rides from anyone who happens to be "going your way," are over.
Dad, a former NASA aerospace engineer assisting in the design of the steering mechanisms for the original Apollo Space Missions in the early 1960's, is now the manager of a cockroach and rat-infested Florida motel...in a back-alley sort of area behind a Roses Five and Dime Store...as well as a full-time theology student at a tiny Pensacola, Florida Bible College.
My dad found Jesus in the early 1970's and realized from that point on, God had a plan for his life. He heard the Lord's voice giving him very specific instructions regarding everything from what to eat for breakfast to where to move his family of five for the next chosen career. The voice even told him which stocks to trade on the NYSE. I found it baffling that God would get so personally involved, down to the most minute detail with one person's life, but I was just thirteen, so what did I know?
"THE VOICE OF THE LORD" (the name we began to use to describe the voice) most recently told him to attend Bible College to become a pastor, so, in the summer of 1975, Dad quit his mechanical engineering job with Honeywell and sold the only house we'd ever owned. We prepared to leave Clearwater, Florida to make one final long road trip—450 miles—in the aged 1960 Volkswagen that, like the house, was the only car we'd ever owned. We were headed to the Royal House Motel in Pensacola, Florida, where a low paying management job that included housing awaited. Dad would begin his theological studies in early fall.
On moving day, we left before the sun came up, the six of us and our un-groomed miniature poodle, Fifi, squeezing into the tiny Beetle. The ride was going to be unbearable in the un-airconditioned car with my sister Julie, who was then eight-years-old, breathing into my hair from the "way-back" which is what we called the itchy wool luggage compartment that was her designated seat. Dad always said, "Get in the way-back," as he held the driver seat forward and his seat belt down for her to maneuver over and around on her short journey to the wool-lined hollow only meant for a small piece of luggage or a largish briefcase.
By now, she was too old and grown up to sit in such a claustrophobic space, but it was the only option until "THE VOICE OF THE LORD" got around to finding Dad a larger car. She complied, climbing in without complaining even though she immediately began to sound like she had a cold; but it was just the typical allergic reaction she had to the wool beginning to kick in.
"I need a tissue," she snuffled.
"Stop breathing on my head," I huffed and leaned forward only to be stopped short by the back of Dad's bright red hair and the comb-over, sparsely covering his bald spot.
"Scoot back! Now you are breathing on my head," Dad said. Mama looked back my way, briefly making eye contact. Her eyes brushed over the four of us kids, already sweating and irritable before we even made it out of our driveway. She rolled her window all the way down for maximum airflow, then fanning herself with the tri-folded Florida road map, turned away.
In such a small space, in order to make it work, we had a seating order. I sat behind Dad with Fifi in my lap. My brother Greg, who was ten, was directly behind Mama. Five-year-old Jeffrey was mashed in the middle while poor Julie seemed destined to live out her childhood in the "way-back" broken out in hives. They began to fidget and complain about the heat, so I tried to angle the tiny triangular back window to direct any poof of air our way, but that only blew dog breath in my face and I silently gagged. This was going to be another very long and cranky drive.
Months after we had gotten settled into the motel manager's living quarters, the Beetle's engine caught on fire, leaving us without transportation. I had mixed feelings every time I passed the parking spot, once occupied by the matte-sky-blue bug, now a graveyard for its charred and dull, skeletal remains. That little guy was part of the family and had taken us on some memorable rides for over fifteen years.
The thought of the donated car is exciting though because it is large enough for us. No more packing six people into a car really meant for two. It was humiliating to draw a crowd everywhere we went, the six of us a veritable clown show.
Dad, having put his free car plan into place shortly after we arrived at the motel, as the Beetle became more and more unreliable, is the master of getting things for free so even though a car is the most valuable thing he has ever elicited; it was not that unexpected.
Within earshot of anyone who would listen...usually when he was drenched with sweat from his long walk home after classes...he had been hinting about the "car situation" and "THE VOICE OF THE LORD" telling him that he would have a larger car soon. I have to wonder what else he said to finally convince Lois the motel maid and her husband Vern, to just give him the car. Dad's ploys are consistent so imagining the conversation is not the much of a stretch:
Dad: “It is a beautiful day, thank you, Jesus. A little hot though,” as he pulls out the folded hankie he keeps in his pocket, blotting forehead sweat.
Lois: “It sure is.”
Dad: “I noticed that you have been driving a different car the last few days. Is it a…hmm…third car for you and Vern?”
Dad: “What? Is that…erm…wood panel on the sides? Is it a Pontiac? Do you even have room in your driveway for a third car?”
Lois: “Yes. It's wood paneling. No. It's a Plymouth and our driveway is big.”
Dad: “I have been praying for a car. The Lord told me, ‘George, you won’t be walking to Bible College much longer. I have a car waiting for you.’ I am believing, in the name of Jesus, that there is a car out there with my name on it. I claim it. Hallelujah!”
Lois: “Okay. You look pretty hot, George. You should probably go inside.”
Coincidentally, Vern shows up two days later driving their old Impala. He extends his hand holding car keys toward my dad, “You can have this car.”
My dad shouts, “Glory!” Vern rides home with Lois, once her shift ends, in their new station wagon.
I guess I never really paid much attention to the car Lois was driving to work before because this thing is rough. Not safe to drive on the highway or really any road. It is big though and will easily accommodate the six of us with room to spare.
It is a sort of ecru color with some rust spots and those big church-pew-like bench seats front and back. The windshield has a long crack running diagonally across the entire width, but the scariest part about it is the front driver’s side door. It won’t close. In fact, anytime the car makes a left-hand turn, it flies open. All the way open. I am beginning to think my dad actually did Lois and Vern a favor by taking that car off their hands before one of them ended up falling out into the street.
The six of us stand around the car. Dad cocks his head to one side, and in an attempt to get it to shut, gives the driver’s side door a push with his foot. The bottom edge drops little rust deposits on the ground. Dad’s eyebrows shoot up. He opens the door all the way—as far open as it will go—then slams it hard. Metal clinks and a tiny piece of the door trim shoots out and bumps his shin. The door is still not fully closed.
The wheels are turning in Dad’s engineering mind and he heads to the janitorial closet, just off the motel lobby, and disappears for a while. When he returns, he is carrying a long piece of heavy-duty rope. He opens the driver's door again and slides in behind the wheel, the length of rope still in his hand. He gently pulls it shut behind him and wheels toward the inside door panel with a vengeance. His arms are moving furiously as he maneuvers the rope up and down and side to side as if weaving a macramé plant holder. I see his face redden and at one point, cranking down the window, he yells “Water!” When Dad says "Jump!" we ask "How high?" My brother turns and runs for the kitchen returning with a jelly jar of tap water thrusting it toward him. Dad grabs the glass, upends and guzzles, then hands it back empty. We nod in solidarity as Dad cranks up the window, exits, closes, and then out of habit, locks the door...The door isn't even closed, I think, rolling my eyes upward toward the heavens.
Dad strikes a carpool deal with his friend Ben, a fellow theology student. My dad will drive mornings, stopping to pick up Ben’s three kids and drop all seven of us off at Liberty Christian School, the school affiliated with the college, on his way to class. My poor mom would be abandoned to man the motel switchboard and check-in any guests crazy or brave enough to want to stay at the cockroach-infested Royal House. Ben would be the after-school ride home, which was a much better deal for him, since he was driving both ways before.
On the first day of the carpool, my stomach feels a little queasy worrying about the driver’s door and rope situation. Greg, Julie, Jeffrey, and I tentatively approach the car. Being the oldest earns automatic shotgun so I sit in the front. I notice that the dashboard is glistening with moisture and there is a light fog on the inside of the windows even though everything was buttoned up semi-tight (there was that one openish door) and locked when we left it the day before. I touch the glass to my right and pull my finger back wet. I quickly scribble “HELP" then look to my left.
Dad is behind the wheel tying the loose end of the rope, in what appears to be a granny knot, around his waist after carefully threading it up, under and around the steering wheel. The other end, the end he had previously used the macramé technique on, makes a figure-eight from the window crank—to the door handle—then up through the little armrest affixed to the inside door panel. He gives the door a flat-handed push and nods his satisfaction that the door remains fast. Even though I am fearful of him falling out while making a hard left-hand turn, my dad, having been a pilot in the air force as well as a rocket scientist, knows all about safety and tying fancy knots. Still I rotate away and add "SOS” to my window message. "THE VOICE OF THE LORD" doesn't seem to care very much about our comfort or safety.
“Why is everything so wet?” Jeffrey, always inquisitive, inquires from the backseat.
“It’s Florida. It's humid,” Dad says.
“But why is it wet inside the car?” Greg asks in a concerned voice from behind.
“Must be because of the crack in the windshield,” Dad says, pulling out the hankie and clearing a head-size spot on the glass in front of him, the rope somewhat hindering his movement.
Three voices in harmony shriek as fingers point skyward, “And WHAT is that?”
Wrapping my arms around my head for protection, I gaze up at the ceiling. It is covered with a slick, mossy green and black growth.
Dad glancing up then back down, chuckles, “Oh. It’s just a little fungus among us.” He snugs the rope a little tighter around his body, cranks the engine, and off we go.
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events - 1975 Clearwater and Pensacola, Florida
I am hungry. Did I eat?
I go to the kitchen.
I ask my daughter.
She said I'd had hard-boiled eggs with toast;
But if I was hungry, she would fix me a snack.
I nod and move to sit on the sofa, where I will wait.
I go to the kitchen.
A familiar lady is fixing cheddar cheese on crackers.
"That looks good," I say.
"It is for you," the lady answers.
"I like cheese on crackers. Cheddar is my favorite. How did you know?"
"I am your daughter. I know the things that are your favorite," she smiles sweetly.
"Your smile reminds me of George. Where is George? I will share my snack with him."
She doesn't answer, continuing to slice the cheddar thin, like George and I like.
I go to sit on the sofa to wait.
I go to the kitchen.
"It was so nice of you to come and visit me," I say to a lady making cheese and crackers.
"Mama, go wash your hands. Your snack is ready," the lady says as she carries the snack on a tray to the sofa, setting it down on the coffee table.
I go into the half bath just off the entry-way.
My tiny bag containing lipstick and George's wedding band lies partially open on the vanity. I wonder why George is not wearing his ring.
I unzip the bag and lay it back, fully open. I spy little squares of yellow paper just under George's ring.
I lift the one on top. It is a note in my handwriting.
George is in heaven now.
Then I remember as I unfold and read one note after the other. Little notes everywhere. My life becomes clear.
I go to sit on the sofa to wait.
I see a tray with cheese and crackers on the coffee table. I hope the cheese is cheddar. I will share my snack with George. Cheddar is our favorite.
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by her mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease
Published on Beneath the Surface News
Selected as a finalist in the Q1-2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest hosted by WOW! (Women on Writing).
I pinch myself on the arm hard enough to say “Ouch!” I am awake...not dreaming as I first suspected...and have come to the realization that I am walking around Vanderbilt University looking for something. I don't know how I came to be walking around this stately campus, and more importantly, why I am here. Walking and walking and looking for a street name I can’t remember. Is there any money in my wallet? I don’t think so.
I pause to glance at a couple of girls giggling while watching a lone girl study her phone. One of the gigglers begins a woeful love song directed at the solo girl. Heartfelt and boisterous, tearful and tone-deaf, she continues to the end not mindful of the gathering crowd. When she finishes baring her soul, I applaud and say “Bravo!” then move on.
Where is that street? Why am I here? Still walking, I decide to find a place to stay, maybe take a cab, then spying a Gothic university hotel; I remember my cash-poor situation and continue on. Bet it won't be cheap. I pass two young ladies talking and laughing, the younger of the two, leaning on the other in a moment of hilarity. A cab pulls up. I look hopeful. Maybe I can...the leaning-girl motions me over.
“Are you lost?” she asks.
“Sort of and I need to get to a hotel,” I say, shifting my gaze downward.
“Want to share the cab? We can drop you wherever,” she offers, opening the back door.
We three pile into the back seat, squished together like sardines. The leaning-girl turns my way, face joyful and flushed, a small bead of sweat on her upper lip.
“I have a very important day. There will be a gathering like I’ve never seen before. All there just to see me. I’ll be the star of the show.”
Her companion, silent up to this point, smiles at me and nods, a tear forming in the corner of her left eye.
“That’s right. A special day. My sister is going to be the star. The one everyone is coming to see.” She is glowing with pride. “This is the moment we have all been waiting for and it could really change her life.”
I am stunned by the beauty of them; the older sister with her arm around the younger who is soon to be star of the day. Star of the show. The star is weak with anticipation. Is she a budding actress? Is this her big break, the one all actors dream of while slinging hash at demanding diners day-in and day-out only leaving to rush to the next audition?
The older sister reaches into her purse pulling out lipstick and a tissue, dabbing at the sweat mustache on the budding actress. Perfectly-Pink lipstick is gently applied next. “You’ll want to look your best for the team.”
The cab begins a right-hand turn into a parking lot. I reach for my bag ready to make my exit and leave these lovely sisters to continue on. Looking over, I see the older sister reach for the door handle as she hands the driver a wad of crumpled cash.
He glances my way, “We’re here.” I twist my head to see. Not a hotel. A hospital. No, a research center.
“I decided to drop them first. Okay with you?” I nod. They exit; the older sister is supporting the star. As they make their way, a medical team meeting them at the door is all smiles. The glowing star is ceremoniously seated...a plastic princess crown placed atop her curls.
Her team begins to push her wheelchair toward a new life. She looks back at me. Smiles. Waves. Mouths, “I’m ready for my show.”
I think how being the oldest of three siblings, I found myself playing the role of "Mama" at a young age. I was expected to make school lunches, clean house, babysit, and exist without emotional support of any kind. Never allowed to whine or cry; help, in any form, would have been truly life-changing.
My reason becomes clear. I reach into my wallet pulling out a mysterious ten, nonexistent up to this point. Thrusting it toward the driver; I exit the cab. “Wait up!” I shout, running to take the older sister’s hand.
By Lisa H. Owens
Her very first story, inspired by a dream (April 2018)
Published on https://www.beneaththesurfacenews.com/post/star-of-the-show 5/2020
Beginning Wednesday, March 26th, like so many other Americans, I was relegated to WFH (Work From Home) referring to employees doing their jobs from home in a self-quarantined attempt to not catch or spread the COVID-19 virus. On occasion, I would be driving the 30 miles to work when it was necessary for me to access certain files in order to create reports that were not possible to create at home. I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. The virus was now officially in my county with multiple confirmed positive tests.
Tuesday, my last office day, I entered the building and was immediately handed an envelope with my initials “LHO” penciled in on the top right corner and the words "Essential Service Correspondence" typed in 48-point font...easy to read for anyone wearing hazmat gear, I guess. It contained a one-page letter explaining our business—environmental engineering—and how our scope of work is essential to the nation. If it ever became necessary to mandate martial law with checkpoints for people out and about, this letter would verify that I am commuting to a job vital to the country. The new addition to my business cards, in bright red letters enclosed in parentheses, read: (Essential Service Provider). I was instructed to keep this envelope along with the new business cards in my car glove compartment.
After putting my contact lenses in…I can only tolerate the mono-vision effect for short bursts of time without getting the feeling that my eyes are filled with sand and either over or under focusing…I sat down and completed everything stacked on my desk in about four hours. Before saying goodbye to stay home for an indefinite period, I grabbed a canister of Lysol wipes and proceeded to clean every surface in our building touched by human hands—light switches, doorknobs, refrigerator handles, the microwave handle and control pad, coffee maker buttons, computer keyboards and mouses (…or is it mice?), wall thermostats for temperature control, the security-code key-pad, copier/printer key-pads, the faucet handles and finally, toilet flushing levers. I wanted a clean, germ-free slate once everything got back to normal and our staff returned.
On day one of WFH and having completed the limited scope of work I could do without access to the files kept at the office, I decided to make the most of my downtime and do those handyman (handy-woman in my case) projects that I had been putting off. My dad usually broke as well as a cheapskate, dubbed me his apprentice early on in life. He was a mechanical engineer and though he over-thought some things to the point of paralysis (over-analysis-paralysis) he was very skilled in doing most things that related to keeping a household up and running without paying a professional to come in. He had a small set of Sears Craftsman tools that I would pass to him as we did various projects, reminiscent of a surgical nurse passing scalpels and various instruments to a surgeon.
After he passed away in October of 2018, I kept what was left of those tools to remind me of those times we had shared.
I ran out to the garage to grab his set of socket wrenches, excited to use them for the first time since inheriting them. They were still in the original burnt-orange hinged box—now slightly dented and speckled with little rusted areas. Stuck to the lid was a peeling, discolored piece of masking tape that read “Top/Up” in his handwriting. Woe be it to you if you opened his set upside-down, spilling sockets, extenders, and the like all over the ground. I saw him do it once while we were working on a project and it was the only time I heard him curse. Unsnapping the two closures, making sure the “Top/Up” was on top, I was not at all surprised to see that each socket was in the groove marked with its respective size and polished to a bright fingerprint-less sheen. He was nothing if not organized.
I walked over to retrieve an adjustable wrench from my stash of tools housed in a bright red wheeled storage cabinet. “You can’t be over-prepared,” my dad’s words echoed in my head. He was usually right, even though I never liked to admit it.
Due to the current situation in my city as well as the entire world, I decided, as my first project, to install the handheld bidet that I had ordered a week earlier on Amazon Prime. When I noticed the empty shelves typically loaded with toilet paper and paper towels, I decided it was time for a "Plan B." Citizens of other countries have been using bidets since the dawn of indoor plumbing and we have all heard how antiquated and weird they think Americans are for not using them. Being unfamiliar with the bidet in general, I watched a "How To" installation tutorial on YouTube…twice…before scrunching down between a wall and the toilet, in an area even a toddler would have trouble fitting into. My guest bathroom setup consisted of an alcove with a wall 12 inches from either side of the toilet. I folded myself into a pretzel-like position with the bidet kit and my plethora of tools and did my best to copy the guy in the video even though he had all the room in the world...not a wall in sight… around the example toilet.
First, I removed the tank lid, then turned the shutoff valve, located on the wall near the base of the toilet tank, one half of a rotation to cut the water off.
Next, I flushed the toilet, holding the handle down, until the tank was empty and put a plastic tub…a recycled deli meat storage container… down to catch any dripping water. I unscrewed the water line located on the flush valve at the bottom corner of the tank, then carefully wrapped the threads with the plumber’s tape that came with the kit.
Then, I replaced it with the two-way water splitter, also in the kit, and attached the handheld sprayer to the flush valve on the front. I then hooked the stainless bracket used to hold the sprayer when it was not in use, under the tank lid, and hung the handle of the sprayer in it for safekeeping. So far so good.
The hose I had originally detached from the flush valve, which provided water to fill the tank after each flush, was then reattached to the backside of the two-way splitter. All said and done, it took about 15 minutes.
I turned the water back on to check for leaks. Finding none, voila, we were back in business...prepared if the world ran out of toilet paper. If that time should come, I will have to watch a "How To" video on using that handheld sprayer without soaking the entire bathroom in the process.
Americans and bidets. We are so out of touch. Updates to soon follow!
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events .
Published on Beneath the Surface News.
On my second day of WFH (work from home), having completed my work, I couldn’t think of a project to begin that wouldn’t require a trip to my local hardware store. That would kind of defeat the purpose of work from home's concept of actually staying home. I decided to take a walk before it got too hot and humid, having already gained five-pounds-and-counting since the gyms closed. I quickly showered, put on sunscreen, my largest and brightest pair of yoga pants and a sleeveless tank top, then stepped into a stretchy lycra fanny-pack of sorts, hiking it up and around my waist. I dropped my phone into one of its many expandable pockets then as an afterthought, in separate pouches, added a tiny bottle of water, two tissues, and a ten-dollar bill. I felt prepared for any mini-emergency that might arise.
Buddy, the only one of our three rescue dogs physically able to walk long distances, was prancing around my legs as I tried to scoot him out the side door without the other two guys getting out. Dingo has trouble walking as he is over 15 years old with doggy vestibular disease, and Fred is so small that my normal pace has him sprinting the entire way. A survivor of heart-worms, any distance over a mile is more than his little heart can handle.
We finally wiggled out the side door, while hemming Dingo and Fred in the living room, and off we went. I glanced over my shoulder to see Fred's tall schnauzer ears, pug under-bite, and chihuahua eyes...he is a designer breed gone horribly awry...peeking over the lower edge of the windowed door. Keeping the social distancing standards, I blew him a kiss as we began our walk, heading down the driveway and into the street.
It was trash day and I noticed that each home had more than the normal amount of trash piled on curbs alongside their driveways. I began to take an interest in the boxes, stacked neatly at some homes and haphazardly scattered at others. People were preparing to hunker down if and when a shelter in place order was mandated.
As I neared one house, I heard the sounds of grunts and dull thuds echoing from an open garage. I was immediately concerned as my finger hovered over the “9” on my phone keypad, preparing to dial 911. Was there a violent spousal disagreement going on at that very moment? I thought back to times when my husband and I had gotten riled up over the most minor of things. Control of the television remote, not putting a dish in the dishwasher, forgetting to fill the dogs’ water bowls, who ate the last piece of cheese. Take this irritation and magnify it by one-thousand as people, already trapped indoors with one another for days and weeks, began to melt-down over life-changing situations. Unemployment, money to pay the bills, the ongoing threat of being infected by a virus no one yet understood, separation from loved ones and more, had tempers flaring. It was plausible that I was hearing a murder in progress.
Just at that moment a physically fit man, covered in sweat and wearing boxing gloves, stepped out of the garage. I looked toward his trash pile and there was a large box labeled “Everlast” followed by a long explanation of the “Benefits of a Heavy-Bag Workout” including how it would increase tricep and bicep strength, sculpt deltoids, sculpt the entire leg and define abdominals—burning up to 281 calories in a 20-minute workout. I was sold.
I whirled around…Buddy falling over his own feet at the abrupt change of direction…and speed-walked back toward the house. A brand new heavy-bag and a pair of boxing gloves were in my future. Look out, five-pounds-and-counting, you are about to be eliminated.
Just as I turned into my cul-de-sac, something in my neighbor’s trash caught my eye. The always recognizable Amazon box…in the midst of the uncharted water we cross with this pandemic…still smiling.
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events - 4/1/2020