by David Henson
I don’t know how Effingburg, population 9,800 and surrounded by cornfields, can support a 50-story luxury hotel, but it sure makes a nice place to stay while I’m here for my twentieth high school reunion. As I revolve in, a woman exiting catches my eye. I think it’s Linda Malone. I tap the glass, but she looks away. Guess she hasn’t forgiven me after all these years.
Huge chandeliers shine like galaxies inside the lobby. An artificial stream flows amidst a plush seating arrangement. A string quartet sweetens the setting with light Mozart. I go to the only station at the front desk without a long line. The clerk has her back turned and is talking on a mobile phone. I clear my throat. She ignores me, giggles and says something to ‘Donny.’ I ding the little bell; she turns toward me and frowns. It’s Linda Malone.
‘How did you…’ I start to say, but she flips me her back again and resumes her conversation with Donny.
I wait another minute or so then tap my knuckles on the desk.
‘Reservations for Winfred Melon. Can you please check me in?’
Linda wheels toward me. ‘Sir, step away from the desk.’
‘Step away from the desk, or I’ll call Security. Now, Sir.’ Her forcefulness startles me back.
‘It’s me, Linda, Winfred Melon. I just want to check in is all. I have reservations.’
When I refuse, the mountain of crystal over my head shudders and tinkles. I step back. Linda picks up the phone and turns away again.
The other lines are longer than ever. I’m at the desk in a huff. Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding.
There’s a pop and a buzz overhead. Mozart screeches to a halt, and Linda Malone’s voice booms. ‘Security to front desk. Security.’
Before I know it, two burly guys are hustling me from the hotel.
‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ I say, but they’re silent.
Outside I’m shocked to see a squad car flashing blue and red. Can’t be, I think, but sure enough, the two goons spin me around, and a police officer cuffs my wrists behind me.
‘Officer, this is some kind of crazy mistake.’
I turn and face the cop. It’s Linda Malone. She pushes my head down and shoves me into the back seat.
‘Linda, I just wanted to check in. Is this about what happened at prom? Where you taking me?’
‘To the courthouse. Save it for the judge.’
We soon arrive at a steel and glass skyscraper — a far cry from the courthouse I remember, a brownish stone building with a tall gable and wedding cake clock tower. Officer Linda parks the car in an underground garage. She yanks me out, prods me with her nightstick to an elevator, and presses SL40. We plunge downward. The doors slide open, and Officer Linda prods me into the courtroom.
‘All rise,’ the bailiff says. The judge enters. It’s Linda Malone.
‘How does the defendant plead?’
‘I don’t understand any of this. I was just trying to check in.’
‘The court finds the defendant guilty,’ Judge Linda says. ‘Remove him.’
In no time Officer Linda has me back in the squad car, and we’re making our way to the outskirts of Effingburg. Suddenly what looks to be a full-size replica of the Tower of London looms ahead of us. We get out of the car, and I’m horrified to see a crowd gathered around a woman kneeling at a chopping block. A masked executioner raises a large axe and brings it down on her neck. But it’s a glancing blow, and the woman jumps up screaming, her partially attached head lolling to one side. She runs toward the crowd, to me, and smiles.
‘Next?’ she says.
I fight Officer Linda as she leads me to my doom, but people from the crowd pitch in and force me to the block. The executioner leans down and pulls off the mask. It’s Linda Malone. ‘Just a little pinch.’
The next thing I know, everything is spinning around — the crowd, the sky, the ground, the sky — and I realize I’m seeing from my decapitated head rolling about. Then the Tower and all of Effingburg starts receding below me as my soul rises. Soon the earth is just a spec, and I soar into a bright light.
Finding myself before a robed man with a long white beard, I quickly kneel at his… painted toenails? When I stand, God yanks off his beard. Linda Malone.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I shouldn’t have abandoned you at prom.’
Linda stares at me. ‘Kimmy McGimme.’
‘She was there without a date,’ I say.
God Linda doesn’t blink. ‘The homecoming queen!’ Her eyes look right through me.
‘She stuck her tongue in my ear. What could I do?’
‘Away from me.’ Linda flicks her hand, and my spirit begins to plunge. Down, down into blackness I fall, fully expecting to end up in Hell.
Almost right. I’m in the Rocket Motel. I can’t believe this dump is the best lodging Effingburg has to offer. My feet stick to the carpet as I walk into the bathroom, which smells like a mixture of urine and Pine Sol. I fill the sink and splash cold water on my face. Straightening up, I look into the mirror at my reflection. Staring back at me – Linda fricking Malone.
David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years. They now reside in Peoria, Illinois. In addition to Fictive Dream, his work has appeared in Literally Stories, Fiction on the Web, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Eunoia Review, Dime Show Review, Theme of Absence, 365 Tomorrows, and Bewildering Stories (upcoming) among others.
His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com.