The Alphabet Challenge: “S” Story No. 3 of 3 — Simon Says

This is the 19th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “S“.

Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.

In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.

The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.

Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.

Here we go. Presented anonymously, the third of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “S” as submitted by its author.

Simon Says

Copyright 2020 — Gary Broxson

(4,307 words – approx. reading time: about 16 minutes based on 265 WPM)

Simon says – stand up.

Corey pushed his chair back from his desk and stood up straight, like a soldier.

Simon says – take it out of the drawer, the voice was electronic, modulated to be deep and distorted. It was coming from a half-broken laptop on the floor.

Corey leaned forward and drew open the desk drawer.

Simon says – get it out and load it.

There was no need to load it. Corey was a professional. He kept his service weapon, a Glock 22 loaded and ready to use in the event of a home invasion, or bears, or zombie bears; why have a gun if it’s not ready to kill? It’s like having a dull knife. This was his philosophy.

Simon says…kill yourself! Save your family.

Corey didn’t have to flip a safety on the Glock; he knew it was ready to fire. He took careful aim at the blinking red eye and pulled the 5.5 pounds necessary to fire the weapon…

~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~

18 months previously…

Corey and Tess Sanders were the perfect couple. He was striking in his pressed navy blue uniform; the contrasting silver of his shield and shoulder epaulets told the world that he was a federal law enforcement officer, an LEO for short. His rank also established him as a senior instructor; a man of real-world experience and relevant arrests. Not bad for a 32-year-old former homicide cop fresh from the projects of Hyde Park in Boston. His real street cred had come as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Corey had followed the bloody trail to a backyard boat where the teen-idol terrorist had hunkered. Corey had actually fired the first shots to flush the terrorist out.

Tess was the perfect cop wife. She suffered silently as her husband had worked way too many murder cases in Bean Town that were simply unthinkable unless you read the horror fiction of Poe or King. She did read horror, romance, and who-dunnits, but was never more amazed than when Corey spoke of the madness, mayhem and mindlessness of the real-life whackos he encountered.

There had been some issues early on in their marriage; her new officer wives friends told her these were just growing pains. “That’s why they don’t give us guns, Honey,” one of her new friends had half-joked as they sat across the table drinking lemon tea and swapping husband horror stories. The new friend slipped a small flask from her purse and discretely dosed her hot tea. She winked at Tess and proffered the ergonomic flask toward her steaming cup with a raised eyebrow. Tess closed her hazel eyes and shook her head; she instinctively placed her palms on her bulging belly.

“Maybe next month,” Tess replied, with a nauseous smile. She covered her tea cup with her left hand, the tiny diamond on her ring finger dimmed like a zirconium under the steam. She was nearly nine months pregnant. She began to understand why many Asian cultures count newborns as one-year-old the day they are born. She felt like she was already lugging a toddler around in her womb and no amount of spirits-spiked tea was going to lift her spirits. Tess was ready to crawl into the bottom drawer of their chiffarobe like a stray cat and get on with the business of birthing.

After they had moved to more moderate climes so he could take the instructor job, Corey got up early every morning. In part to get his four-mile run, but mostly to avoid the early morning nausea and drama that was Tess’s maternity routine. While she vomited pickles and ice cream from the previous night’s foraging, and whined about her baby-battered body, he quickly laced up and ran alone in the dark, a creature perfectly aligned with nature, a nocturnal predator. Along the squared suburban blocks, Corey ran past amber-lit windows in the neighborhood. Good citizens were rising for the new workday.

Corey stopped in mid-stride. He huffed under the yellow glow of a streetlamp that buzzed with beetles and lost moths. His dragon puffs of expiration rose like cartoon thought balloons. His thoughts, however, weren’t of G-rated Disney dragons; they were PG verging on R, as he watched a girl move gracefully about her well-lit room, the curtains only half-drawn, enticing, tempting. His body wanted to stay with the pace of the run as his heart pounded a drumbeat, but his brain, his primal brain, focused on the slender silhouette of a young woman stretching and dressing in front of the picturesque frame of her bedroom window. No nude painting in the Louvre could have captured his attention more.

Corey knew his neighbors; hell, he was the captain of the Neighborhood Watch. This raven-haired sprite was Rosaline Ramirez. Corey and Tess had taken a fruitcake over to the new family as a house-warming gift. The patriarch…was it Miguel, Max? (Corey prided himself on recalling names; he surprised each new class of trainees by calling each one by their full name on the first day of class). Max, that was it; he was a self-made man. His lawn care business was the best in the county and catered largely to the cop community. The trailers his crew hauled from house to house were professionally painted and cleverly titled Lawn-Enforcement; the pun was not lost on this LEO neighborhood.

Under the blanket of the darkest hour, Corey recalled a recent email with an attached application regarding the admission of young Rosaline Ramirez to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) as a new recruit. Her church, also Corey and Tess’s, had sponsored her as a local walk-on, taking up a moderate collection to pay for incidentals if she were admitted into the respected institution.

Corey pretended it was a Herculean feat, shaking his head when talking to her parents, promising nothing. But in his position as Sr. Instructor he easily leveraged his influence to get Rosaline adopted into the FLETC interim program. She thanked him effusively. After her first week of training as a plebe, Corey invited her out to the 10-8 Club to meet some other instructors and hang out with her peers in a less restrictive, more social atmosphere.

A few beers later, Corey gallantly took it upon himself to make sure his young protégé made it back to her dorm room safely. Alcohol quickly eroded the barriers between instructor and student. Her gratitude and his attitude were like double-shots of Tequila; a no-regrets chaser. Passions flared and Rosaline strove to repay Corey for the opportunities that he had made possible for her; he gladly received payment, with interest.

Corey kissed Rosaline’s forehead as he prepared to leave her dorm late that evening. He winced only slightly, recalling how he had pressed a similar kiss on his wife’s cheek before he departed that morning to run in the neighborhood.

~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~

When Tess finally went into labor, Corey was not at home. He was conducting another nocturnal dorm room inspection at FLETC and had turned his phone off. After a particularly energetic tryst with Rosaline, he turned on his phone and was bombarded with voice and text messages.

By the time Corey got to the Southeast Care Center, he had missed the birth of his first child, a chubby girl they would name Monica. Corey apologized profusely to Tess for the mishap, quickly inventing a logical lie about bad cell phone service and Wi-Fi blind spots on FLETC due to its Top Secret security status. Tess never complained, she just cooed over her new baby and said it was alright and that everything had worked out for the best.

Seeing Tess and their newborn together, Corey’s heart grew like the Grinch’s. He made a decision to break it off with Rosaline right then and there. He thumbed a curt but certain text and pushed send. It was over. Corey had made the transition from boy to man, from adulterer to adult.

~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~

Nearly a year and a half later, Corey and Tess had really come together as a family and little Monica was the gooey glue. They argued playfully when Monica said her first words. Tess said she heard ma-ma while Corey swore he heard her say da-dah. They were both there to celebrate when Monica took her first steps; their phone cameras flash-froze the precious memories.

Rosaline Ramirez was long forgotten until church service one Sunday morning. The pastor, with a sorrowful look on his face, had asked the congregation to lift up the Ramirez family in their prayers, not citing any specifics. The name brought back dark, suppressed memories to Corey. After the break-up text, he had received dozens of pleas and pix from Monica begging him to give her another chance. These unreturned missives became more and more desperate, but he ignored them.

Soon after, with poor grades and lackluster performance at FLETC, Rosaline dropped out and seemed to disappear. Now the pastor confided to Corey after the service; the deranged girl had swallowed bleach and had died horribly. The pastor and Corey shook their heads together, one in disbelief, the other in sheer relief.

Following a family-only funeral, the Ramirez family returned to their quaint home in Corey’s neighborhood. Now there were only three. Max and Marie Ramirez were left with only their young son. Corey’s morning jogs past the Ramirez home would never again reveal the living portrait that had steered him down such an unrighteous path. Corey was certainly upset about the tragic events but reminded himself that it took two to tango and that he could not be responsible for another person’s actions or reactions. He felt a little better.

A month later strange things started to happen. In the middle of the night, Corey was awakened by the doorbell. It ding-donged with an insistency that bordered on panic. Corey passed through his den on the way to the front door wearing only boxers. He padded on bare feet as he retrieved his Glock from the desk drawer. He peeked through the blinds first, saw no one, then flung open the door – he was met with cool autumn air – nothing more. Corey checked on Monica, she was asleep, then he crawled back into bed with a purring Tess. The rush of adrenaline kept Corey up almost all night.

While guzzling coffee at work the next day, Corey received an odd text. Simon Says – wake up sleepyhead. At first Cory thought it was a coworker jabbing at him, but he did not recognize the number – it was blocked. As he strained to identify the sender his phone buzzed in his hand; already jittery, he almost dropped it. A new text from ‘unknown’ read Simon Says – at the end of October, you can sleep forever. Corey looked around the office, everyone seemed occupied with work, no phones were out, no half-smiles indicating a poor-taste prank. Corey turned his phone off.

It was the first week of October and a chill was in the air. Tess, Corey, and Monica sat in the living room around a ceramic log, gas fireplace. This was Monica’s first real experience with fire and she was fascinated by the flames. She toddled to the edge of the hearth and Corey would haul her back to the couch again and again, giggling. It became a game to her.

Before bed, while Tess was tucking Monica in, Corey checked his tablet for messages, a red 1 popped up with a bing. He tapped it automatically and a message appeared: Simon Says – burn in hell. There was no identifying information, just the bold type words. Corey had brushed off the Simon Says texts as a wrong number, but now his tablet was getting hacked. He went to bed with a troubled mind.

Only half-dozing around midnight, Corey realized his sheets were damp. He was sweating, and Monica was crying in her crib. “Why is it so hot in here?” Tess sleep-mumbled. Again, Corey got out of bed and made his way down the hallway, his first stop was the thermostat. The emergency heat light was on and the temperature was set at max. He turned it off. That’s when he heard the hiss of the gas fireplace.

Corey ran into the living room, the fire was raging but was still mostly contained in the fireplace. He could not find the remote so he took the emergency key from the mantle, it was red hot. He tore off his T-shirt and wrapped it around his hand, then took the large key and twisted it into the socket, turning off the exterior gas and the fire. Tess was now by his side, soothing Monica. Their faces were bright red. “Did you forget to turn off the fireplace before bed?” Tess asked with piercing eyes.

“I-I, I’m sure I did, I mean I didn’t forget; but now I can’t find the remote,” Corey stammered.

“You mean this thing?” Tess picked the candy bar size remote up off the couch, and then took Monica into the kitchen for some cool water.

Corey took a personal day off the next morning, calling into the office with a fake scratchy voice. Tess took Monica with her out shopping and running errands. Corey had a friend in the Bureau that might be able to help him track down this Simon character. He made a call, then sent a couple emails with screenshots to his connection. He promised to get back to Corey if he could dig up anything.

That’s when a new email popped up. The subject caught Corey’s eye right away: Simon Says – break a leg. Cory was immediately interrupted by the ringing of his phone. It was Tess, she was talking so fast he had to tell her to stop, slow down, and repeat. “The brakes went out, nothing, I couldn’t stop! I had to steer into a telephone pole to stop the car from crashing into traffic. My leg, I think my leg is broken.”

“How’s Monica!?” He screamed back at the phone.

There was a long moment of silence. “She’s fine; I had just dropped her off at pre-care.”

Another email appeared atop the last one: Simon Says – you’ve got until Halloween. Trick-or-treat? Then his computer screen started flashing. Trashy pop-ups sprang from nowhere. Corey tried to delete the porn ads as they appeared, then froze. These weren’t random naked women, this was someone he knew… this was Rosaline Ramirez.

They were mostly selfies of Rosaline in various states of undress. There were awkward ‘come hither’ smiles, a naive young girl trying to look like an experient temptress. Then there were the obscene widespread invitations. Corey couldn’t look away. He closed the laptop like a bear trap and flung it across the room.

By the time Corey arrived at the hospital, Tess was waiting for him in the lobby on crutches with a plaster cast on her lower leg. There had been a mix-up. Tess had originally told Corey that the ambulance was taking her to Southeast Care Center, 20 miles away, but the ER desk had no admission under her name. “Apparently,” Tess later explained, “the EMTs changed their minds and brought me across town here to Hartsfield Trauma instead. Inside an ambulance and an ER, I didn’t know where I was. I’m just glad you found me.”

“It’s okay honey, but shouldn’t I talk to the doctor or finish the insurance paperwork?”

“All done,” Tess said. “And really, Corey, I just want to go home.” She cried on his shoulder and he did as she asked.

It was now Halloween afternoon, the deadline, Corey thought morbidly. The neighborhood was decorated with pumpkins, witches, and even a giant spider. He had heard nothing back from his friend at the Bureau. Maybe it had all been a crazy hoax and whoever was behind it had tired of the game and had moved on. Corey thought about these things as he raked the falling leaves from his front lawn.

A trailer rumbled past and Corey waved to the man in the Lawn-Enforcement truck. Max, that was it, Rosaline’s father; her mother was Marie, and then there was… Corey had prided himself on remembering names, but he couldn’t recall the name of Rosaline’s younger brother. She had talked about him on occasion, a gaming nerd she’d said, but Corey was never really interested in anything she had to say. This tiny blank in his brain, however, bothered him like a missing middle-piece of a puzzle. It somehow seemed very important. He dropped the rake in the yard and dashed to his den.

Corey went to his files and pulled out a folder labeled “Neighborhood Watch.” He flipped past the ‘By-laws’ and ‘Zones of Responsibility’ to a list of names and addresses. He found ‘Ramirez’. There it was: Max, Marie, Rosaline and Simon.

His phone rang. It was his Bureau buddy with news. After a cursory check on the IP address, he had determined that the email had come from someone local, someone within a 20 mile radius. It would take more time and satellite intel to pinpoint the exact location. “Never mind,” Corey told him, and removed his Glock from the desk drawer, then quickly put it back when he heard Tess in the kitchen.

Halloween night crept in on spider legs; Tess had dressed Monica up like a Raggedy Ann doll, with bright red bows and curls with matching red freckles. She squealed every time a group of trick-or-treaters came to the door. Tess handed out candy until just past 8:00, then turned off the porch light. The Eve of Hallowed Saints was over.

Around 10 P.M. they were all tucked in. Corey listened to his wife breathe rhythmically; he was wide awake in the dark. The doorbell rang and he sprang to his feet as if it had been a starter pistol. Tess woke and said something about late trick-or-treaters, but Corey was already reaching for a gun and a doorknob. He turned on the light and saw something dark and lumpy on the welcome mat. It was a doll, a Raggedy Ann doll. It had a knife blade penetrating completely through its fabric center and stuffings. A note was attached; it read: Simon says…You? or Her? Da-dah

Tess screamed deep inside the house. Corey threw down the dreadful doll and knife and sprinted to Monica’s room. Tess was standing over the baby’s crib, seeming to shield her from something. She then carefully lifted the sleeping child out of the crib and backed away from it. “What the hell is this?” she screamed, as Corey ran into the room.

“What, what are you talking ab…,” then he saw it. The musical mobile hanging over Monica’s crib was different than before. The twinkling, smiling stars had been replaced with serrated steak knives; they revolved slowly over the bed, the stainless-steel tips just out of Monica’s reach.

“I don’t know what’s going on here,” Tess said sharply to Corey, “but we are leaving.” She quickly packed a few items in Monica’s diaper bag, bundled up the whimpering child and limped toward the door, her plaster cast still an encumbrance. Corey pleaded with her not to go, promised again he would protect them. But as Tess walked out the garage door, he stopped begging. Exasperated, he suddenly realized he couldn’t protect either of them. On the back of Tess’s cast was a message. Written in bright red marker, it read: Simon Says – Last Chance.

~ 0 ~ 0 ~ 0 ~

Simon says – stand up.

Corey pushed his chair back from his desk and stood up straight, like a soldier.

Simon says – take it out of the drawer, the voice was electronic, modulated to be deep and distorted. It was coming from a half-broken laptop on the floor.

Corey leaned forward and drew open the desk drawer.

Simon says – get it out and load it.

There was no need to load it. Corey was a professional. He kept his service weapon, a Glock 22 loaded and ready to use in the event of a home invasion, or bears, or zombie bears; why have a gun if it’s not ready to kill? It’s like having a dull knife. This was his philosophy.

Simon says…kill yourself! Save your family.

The noise in the small room was deafening, but at least he was still alive to hear it. The talking computer went silent. Corey had destroyed the Internet receiver box and had severed all communications with the Simon avatar who was dictating demands on the other end of the Ethernet.

Now Corey would find the real Simon, as he had found the Boston Marathon Bomber, and terminate him as well. Corey put on his FLETC 5.11 tactical pants and strapped on his holster and pistol. The cold night air stung his lungs as he made his way past a long row of familiar homes toward the Ramirez house. He stopped in front of it just as he had, so long ago. The interior lights were burning, only now one bedroom was dark, like a missing tooth in a smile.

“Simon says, come on out!” Corey roared. “You are under arrest!” Poor tactics, Corey knew, but he was ready to end this madness tonight, now. He was beyond the breaking point.

The front door of the Ramirez home creaked open; the interior light silhouetted a thick, square man with an ancient pistol held down to his thigh. There were other ghostly gray apparitions moving behind the frightened father.

Corey estimated the range, he envisioned the shot. He would break leather and drop to his knee simultaneously; the shot would be center mass. He had rehearsed this move a thousand times at the firearms practice range. The Mexican was a dead man.

“Mr. Ramirez, your son Max is under arrest. Send him out now and there won’t be any more trouble.”

Corey heard the teenage boy speaking to his father from behind the door. He overheard words like ‘him’, ‘Monica’, and ‘bastardo’.

Max Ramirez shakily replied to Corey, “Go home, Gringo. We have had enough of your tricks and treats, and this is the honored Day of the Dead. Please, leave us alone for our daughter’s sake, for Monica.”

Corey remembered the standoff with the Boston Bomber. It would take action to resolve this conflict, and he was more than ready to end it.

Just as Corey dipped to one knee; he saw a dark shadow appear behind the shaking lawn man. Then fire and fury overwhelmed his senses. Just a boy with a shotgun; that would be his downfall, his destiny. He felt each piercing pellet just as he realized his myriad of tactical errors.

Corey took the full brunt of young Simon’s shotgun blast. He had stood behind his faltering father, frightened, hoping that this action would not be necessary, while secretly praying it might become his fate. He had known of his sister’s secret affair, had listened to her deluded dreams of marrying The Man, The Gringo, the dying man that crumpled before him now. As the armed officer folded in their front yard, a streetlight from the curb elongated his dying shadow.

Max Ramirez recognized the car that turned from the main street to shine high beams onto the injured FLETC officer. It was Tess. She swiveled the fender-bent SUV directly into the Ramirez’s beautifully manicured yard, in front of a blow-up black widow spider, and just behind her fatally shot husband.

As the Ramirez family quailed in the doorway, Tess walked, without a cast or a limp, toward her dying, lead-laden husband. As he lay there in their neighbor’s well-trimmed yard, bleeding out, fertilizing, he puffed out stuttered thought balloons, shaped like gauzy question marks. Tess knelt and drew Corey’s crimson head to her bosom. She held him close and spoke clearly into his ear.

“Simon says, you are dying,” Tess whispered. “Simon also says, you are a dumbass when it comes to hiding your fucking affairs. But that’s okay. While you were having your fucking affair with that Tequila twit, I was taking care of family affairs, including your life-insurance policy-I doubled it. Rest assured,” Tess whispered into Corey’s ear, “Monica and I are going to be so much better off without you. For the record, since you are dying anyway, she’s not even your kid. Your buddy from the Bureau, Evan, is the real father.”

Corey twitched involuntarily, his eyes lit up like the SUV headlights.
“You idiot; those ‘Simon Says’ tricks were not even tricks, Corey. You never listened,” she shook her head. “Everything in the house is set up on remote control: Your computer, your phone, the thermostat, even the front porch light and doorbell. That was all remote; she held up a phone he did not recognize.”

“But this is for real.” Tess pulled Corey’s head close to her breasts. From the vantage of the Ramirez threshold, they were longtime lovers saying sad goodbyes. Sirens wailed liked sleepy ghosts in distance.

Tess held Corey tight, very tight. While pinching his nostrils closed, she screamed for the Ramirez family to call 911. In her care, he lurched, she held, he pawed at her hands, she held tight. “You thought you were so smart. Everyone knew about you and that girl. My FLETC girlfriends knew even before their stupid husbands did. You humiliated all of us, but now you have a chance to make it right. This is your chance to finally do the best thing for your family.”

Tess whispered just one last time, before the paramedics arrived, “Simon says, die.”

The End

If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.

If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:

Sam <<Link

Soldier <<Link

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