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Nolan fidgeted nervously rubbing the penny between his thumb and index finger. His four year old patience always wore thin by this point in the morning. It wasn't his fault really, or at least that's what Grandma always said, boys will be boys and boys like to run and play, not sit and listen to momma play piano all day. It felt like all day anyway, at least to Nolan.

Momma didn't play as much anymore, so he knew he should be a good boy, sit properly and listen nicely. He mustered up the last of his patience putting the penny carefully into his pocket and sitting up straight. Most days now Momma just slept and went to see Doctor Gallagher. Nolan didn't like the doctor, even though he always had a teddy bear in his office for him to play with and a sucker for him if he'd sat quietly when Momma had to bring him along to appointments. The office always smelled like those horrible mints Grandma liked, Nolan had tried one once and told her it tasted like burning.

His mother slowed her rendition of Moonlight Sonata, even at four Nolan could recognize the notes she missed, her focus was gone. Grandma must have noticed it too because in an instant she was at her daughters side, "Lori that's enough for today why don't you go lay down," said Grandma, her hands grasped firmly on Lori's shoulders as if she were trying to hold the younger woman together.

"I told Nolan I'd take him to the park," Momma replied flatly, Nolan knew the tone all too well, she felt bad, and he never wanted her to feel bad, he wanted her to be happy like she used to be.

"It's ok Momma, Grandma can play in the yard with me," he choked out the words trying not to cry, only babies cried and he was a big boy now, he could count to 100 and jump off of the second branch of their apple tree, he'd had lots of practice climbing that tree.

"Right," Grandma retorted guiding her daughter out of the living room and off to the room she rested in, that room smelled like the doctors office and Nolan seldom went in, even with an invitation from his mother he preferred to stay out in the hallway to talk to her, all the pills and creams and potions that sat on the side tables made him nervous, the room was always dark and somehow seemed colder than the rest of the house.

Nolan tried to shake the image of the dark resting room out of his head as he wandered out into the yard. The hot July sun beat down on the lush green grass, he listened carefully to a small flock of sparrows splashing in the neighbors bird bath chirping and fluttering into the gnarled old apple tree, curved and bent leaving lots of opportunity for climbing. He hesitated at the base of the tree, Grandma tended to worry if he got up too high, especially if he was out by himself and got caught. The path out to the back shed was an old cement walkway cracked and crumbling in places, pieces of it pushed aside by the beginning of an anthill.

The ants loved the cracks in the cement poking their funny little heads up looking for food. Nolan hated the cracks especially in that sidewalk, he used to run up and down, jumping over the cracks, singing to himself not really paying much attention, that was before Momma got sick.

He'd tried explaining it to Margo who lived next door that you couldn't step there anymore, "in fact," he'd said, "just stay off the sidewalk, walk on the grass," he'd told her.

Margo was terrible at following rules, and she'd happily pranced across the sidewalk, cracks and all, while Nolan shrieked at her to stop, "you don't understand!" he'd screamed, "you'll make her worse! It will be my fault, stop it Margo!" but Margo had just stood there right on the biggest crack of them all looking at him with a strange and confused look on her face, and so, Nolan had pushed her into the grass, he hadn't seen the small stick and of course she landed on it scraping her knee. Margo hadn't been over to play since, sometimes though she'd call through the fence in her singsong voice "don't step on a crack or you'll break your momma's back," just to taunt him.

"Are you watching the ants?" Grandma asked. Nolan wasn't sure when she'd come outside but there she stood staring at the cracks in the cement right along with him.

"Do you think it's my fault Momma keeps getting sicker?" he asked tears streaming down his face.

"Oh heavens child no, it's not your fault that your mother is sick, why would you think that?" she replied hugging his shoulders the same way she had his mothers moments before.

"I was thinking about Margo and how she stepped on the cracks and how I didn't stop her and maybe that's why Momma's back is so broken," he whimpered, as the summer sun baked the tears onto his skin.

"No sweetie, that old rhyme has nothing to do with why your mother is sick," Grandma offered reassuringly, "now come on, lets go in and get some lunch."

Nolan looked up at her, but he couldn't make out the expression on her face, he couldn't be sure she wasn't just trying to get him to stop crying, be a big boy again. He took a slow deep breath and steadied himself on his feet, grabbing grandma's hand firmly he walked the path back into the house, watching intently as they both avoided every crack in the pavement.
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Our story begins with our heroine bravely stocking the shelves at the local Valu-Mart, on the midnight till 8am shift. Her neon purple and black dreadlocks pulled back into a bun that somewhat resembles a moldy blueberry bagel, her septum piercing wiggles as she sighs dramatically hoisting package after package of Valu-brand toilet paper over her shoulders, trying desperately not to catch her 00 gauge neon orange silicone plugs as she goes along. The distant patter of a cold March rain echoes through the mostly empty store.

"Becca," Kurt, the night shift supervisor calls from aisle two, "I can hear your frowny face from here, remember, turn that frown upside down and keep a hap-hap-happy face on in front of our loyal Valu-Mart customers."

"Got it," she replies, plastering crimson lips into a distorted grin, intentionally pale skin contrasting her jet-black eyeliner and long fake lashes obscuring eyes that glimmer an excellent tone of aquamarine.

"I mean it Becca, there's no "I" in team, and we need to make sure we're all on the same page!" Kurt carries on his usual stream of cliches, hurrying over to her aisle. "Presentation is important here Becca, we don't just stack the packages, we display them."

Our heroine rolls her eyes, sighing deeply, "I know Kurt, you can scurry along back to the office now, I can handle stocking the TP."

"Bathroom tissue, sweetie, and don't forget I'm assigning you a brand new buddy today, Ms. Lilly will be here shortly, make sure you get her in the spirit of the Valu-Mart team and remember--"

"I know, make sure she doesn't get lost on the north stairs up to the break room," Becca finishes for him.

"Right, because we all know how that works, such high turn over in this place!" Kurt says, pushing his square framed black plastic glasses back up to where they should have been sitting on his face, his hair immaculately spiked with it's frosted tips glistening under the glow of the fluorescent lights. He flutters away, returning moments later with a small blonde girl in ratty sneakers, "now you two play nice, Becca, why don't you take her to the break room and find her a nice little uniform ok? Ok then."

"Hi, I'm Lilly!" Squeaks the blonde.

"Great," Becca replies replicating her best fake smile, "this is going to be peachy keen. Come on lets get you up to the second floor."

The pair walk silently towards the forbidden north stairs, "you'll have to watch your step back here, one of the stairs isn't safe to step on, in fact it's kind of, not there, well not exactly missing so much as, well there's a kraken, it's the third one from the top, so just step over it ok? I'm not supposed to take newbies up here but the only other staircase is out the front door on the side of the building and there's no way I'm going out there in this rain," Becca states rather flatly as she climbs the stairs.

"A crack? In the stairs? Like one's missing? Or like there's a crack in one of the steps or what?" Lilly asks confused.

Becca turns around, "no, like a kraken, a giant cephalopod, that lives in another dimension who's only access point to our reality is under this missing step in this staircase and if you stand on it the sea monster will raise one terrifying tentacle drag you down into the depths of its watery dimension and sell your soul to Cthulhu, God do I have to explain everything?"

Lilly, blinks a few times, then starts laughing, "look I get it, I'm new, I'm blond what-ever, but I'm not stupid ok," she pushes past Becca in one brisk movement, jogging straight up the creaking old staircase, "so where's this crack? Cause I don't see anyth--" and like something out of a bad science fiction story, an enormous glowing tentacle wraps itself around her leg dragging her down in a shower of spurting green water. The poor girl hasn't even a chance to utter one last horrified scream.

Becca sighs, "Kurt," she yells, "we've lost another one. I swear to god I warned her but she just wouldn't listen. Do you want me to claim she didn't show up? God we've gotta do something about that thing, this one didn't even get into uniform. I'm getting sick of all this paper work."

Kurt pokes his head around the corner "Becca, I've told you, there's no "I" in team, now I'll get to the paper work if you handle mopping up the floors, darn thing brought half his ocean with him this time! Gosh golly, what a mess!"

Becca rolls her eyes again heading for the broom closet for the standard mop and pail, "whatever, Kurt, I'm taking tomorrow off, I have like, stuff I wanna do, like reading or something, you still need to hire someone else, like I can't be here all the time just cause you have trouble finding decent staff."

"Oh alrighty then," Kurt replies sounding somewhat defeated, "it's just good help is hard to find."

This was my feverdream of an entry for week 2 of The Real LJ Idol, topic: The Missing Stair. Voting this way. Thanks for reading.
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Earle sits in his tattered old lawn chair, you know the kind, with those maybe-plastic, maybe-cloth woven straps on a cheap metal frame, the kind that your pudgy aunt Martha fell through last summer at the family reunion? Yeah one of those pieces of shit. Every day Earle sits on that chair on the left side of his wrap around porch on the corner of Middleton Street and Sassbury Bay without fail, every day at noon, rain or shine, summer or winter Earle sits out there and sips his old mason jar of home brewed beer. In the summer months he'll strike up a conversation with lady Gwendolyn the friendly older lady next door while she pulls up the dandelions in her flower beds, making more room for her lilies and creeping violets.

Earle aint exactly friendly, sure he likes old lady Gewn alright, probably because she stays out of his way, doesn't even complain when his grass is overgrown and full of weeds making her garden ripe for their seeds to spread, nah lady Gewn's just plain nice, but Earle, he's a real bastard when he wants to be. His kids are grown now, the wife left some 20 years back took the kids and they never came around after that, left Earle with a big old basset hound and his beers, the basset hound sat out there with him every day after she left, never took his sleepy eyes off the old man sippin his brew.

That dog died some years back, I was about 11 or 12 at the time, it wasn't long after that, that my momma started sending me down to mow the lawn and shovel the snow for the old man. She said it would "build ya some character" to deal with the old coot. At first I was just plain afraid of him, the grumpy bastard drinking his beer sneering at the neighbors.

"Boy," he'd yell at me, "y'aint got the gumption in ya ta cut that grass right, kids these days are too damn lazy for push-mowers."
"Sorry Sir," I'd mumble looking at the laces in my sneakers.
"That's Captain Sir, to you kid. Aint got no respect for us vets ya damn kids don't, Imma get up off this porch and whip ya good if ya missed a spot." He shouted.

Never did get to whip me good, and I think my momma knew he wasn't really able to beat the piss out of me like he'd holler about. Old man with a cane and a bum leg, sitting on his military pension just drinking his beer and hatin the world. But my momma, being a good neighbor, a good church goin lady wasn't about to let old Earle "fall to shambles" as she called it, so over I went being the oldest and only boy in our house to help with repairs and keep up with the old shack.

As I got older, he'd tell me stories, some of em I just hoped to God he made up, gruesome stories where peoples limbs were hangin on only by the threads on their clothes, stuff like that, others he claimed were funny but I guess I was "too young and too dumb" as he called it to get em really.

He'd holler at me with his slow scrambled drawl after one too many beers, while I nailed another new board on his front porch "the enemy only attacks at two times" he'd say, "when they're ready an when you aint."

My 14 year old self never seemed to get much outta that line, but it stayed in the back of my mind anyway, every time he'd say it and then tell me I had shit for brains.

These days he's tamer, still tellin bloody combat stories and bad jokes, just the other week, he got into his fourth beer and started in.

"There was this group o new soldiers standin in line on base. The Drill Sargent shouted "All right! All ya idiots fall out."
Well all but one o dem soldiers walks off, so the Drill Sargent walks right over till he was eye-to-eye with that one remaining private, and then he raises just one eyebrow. And that soldier he says, "Sure was a lot of 'em, huh, sir?" ya get it kid?" Earle grinned, "ah Jayus Chripes kid how'd ya ever get anywhere with yer fancy pants schoolin if ya didn't even get that joke?"

"Sorry Captain Sir, guess I'da been that one poor bastard standin there after all the smart ones had gone," I replied.

Old Earle broke out in an ear to ear grin, "yer alright boy," he said, "even if I aint need no help around here. Yer momma taught ya good, you'll do alright."

"Thank you Captain Sir," I replied.

"Ah, kid, ya can just call me Earle, I think after all this time, ya done earned it."

I still go back there every Sunday after church, did all through my schooling to become a "fancy pants mechanic" as he called it, make sure old Earle's holding up alright, guess momma did teach me right. And some days, I just sit there and watch him drink his beers, talking about the war, and bitchin bout the weather, sittin on that frayed old lawn chair hatin the world.

This weeks topic was: "Jayus" Definition for those unaware: "From Indonesian, meaning a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.”

Thanks for reading voting is this way. :)


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