Category Archives: microfiction

Black Kedo (A Nagasaki Memory)…

Black Kedo – A Nagasaki Memory

When the black rain hit us, we thought we would die.

But we were wrong.

My wife looked up at me as we struggled to breathe.

“Where is Kedo?” she said.

I shrugged, not feeling myself at all.

After the brightness, all the air was sucked out of us.

A piece of cedar from the doorframe was sticking out of my wife’s neck.

I tugged at it, absentmindedly, but she slapped my hand away.

Kedo.

We looked all around the house but couldn’t find our daughter.

Then, finally, we noticed it: a perfect charcoal outline on the south wall of her room.

A shadow burnt into the wood.

We called her Black Kedo.

That was many years ago.

She would be fifty-seven today.

With bent back, I shuffle to the south wall and light some incense.

Happy Birthday, Black Kedo.

___________________________________________________

Image by kedoink kedondeng

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I Am No One…

I Am No One

Your employee identification number is on the back of your badge in the lower left hand corner. Right here, see?

Some new hires get confused and use the number on the front right corner. That would be your badge number. Now, don’t ever confuse your badge number and your employee ID number; you don’t even want to see how ugly that can get.

Me? I’ve been here…oh, let’s see, coming up on my seventeenth anniversary. Has it been that long?

Lots of changes since I came on. Look here: employee number two forty three.

OK – just a couple of things to get you oriented.

As you’ve probably seen, office attire is business casual. No one really knows where the line is between ‘business casual’ and ‘too casual’. If you have any doubts, ask your line manager. It’s easy to just look around and see what your coworkers are wearing and, well, fit in.

If you don’t stand out, no one can ever criticize you, right?

Now, get all your training out of the way as quickly as possible. I know it can seem overwhelming that you have three hundred and thirty seven Standard Operating Procedures to read and acknowledge in the next week, but just do the best you can. The SOPs are there to ensure we all do things the same way. Otherwise, there’d be chaos, right? Am I right? Sure I am.

Here’s your Intercorporate Behavioral Standards and Guidelines Manual. This is a living document. We’ve added to it continually over the years to account for nearly every conceivable interpersonal interaction and we’ve leveraged what we feel have been the most effective interventions and approaches.

For instance, need help giving feedback to a peer? It’s in here, Section 4.2.1.3a.

Think your kid’s drug problem is affecting your productivity? Just have a look at Chapter 12.

Want to know how to blow off steam at the afternoon spin session in the company gym instead of bringing a high-powered rifle to the office? You got it: it’s in there.

No matter what type of problem you might be facing, if it affects Corporate Productivity – and in the end, don’t they all? – The Manual will provide you with a step-by-step procedure to get back to peak production levels.

I remember when my wife and I were having some issues. See? I’m a manager who takes the training to heart: I can share some of my personal travails with you to show you that I’m as human as you are. It builds rapport and that sort of thing.

Well, as I was saying, a few years back, well, I guess it’s been about eight years now, my wife felt I was spending way too much time here at work. She never really took to the culture, you know? Pity.

It made it hard for me, because I had divided loyalties. I mean – it sounds awful to say this, I know – but I felt more at home here. I’d grown to love the predictability of the culture, the comfort of knowing any confusion could be dispelled by reviewing the relevant SOP. Home was just…uncontrollable.

Well, the folks at the Employee Assistance Program were great. They emphasized the fact that this type of thing was common and blah, blah, blah. Then, the counselor said something that completely illuminated my way forward. She said, “Success is nothing more than a matter of making the right quality choices despite adverse precipitating circumstances.”

I mean, I’d never had someone speak to me in such a straightforward manner before.

Long story short, my wife and kids left, and I’m still here. Obviously.

OK – enough about me.

Let me show you to your workstation. I prefer that term to ‘cubicle’, which has drawn considerable negative connotations in popular culture in recent years.

I know your first few days can be a little overwhelming. I suggest just keeping your eyes open. See what others do and try to blend in.

You want to find that sweet spot between being seen as a slacker and being seen as a show-off. That’s the ticket. Don’t give anyone cause to single you out.

Then, you’ll gradually move up the ladder mostly through attrition. Just hang in there, year after year.

Remember, I’m living proof that borderline operational competence can be successfully counterbalanced by a strict adherence to corporate policy and procedure.

Anyway, welcome aboard.

If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to drop by my workstation. Over there.

The name is Noone.

Spelled just the way it sounds.

___________________________________________________

Image by Derrick Tyson


Comfort Me with Apples…

Comfort Me with Apples

Tonight, she was sure of it: she’d been entered.

The stillborns and miscarriages of her recent past mocked her.

In the still of each evening, she heard them cackling and cooing as they romped through the deserted and darkened nursery. Vases occasionally tumbled and shattered.

She saw darting movements out of the corner of her eyes. Sometimes an entire child-image. Other times, just the quick shadow of a tiny foot as it whisked around a corner.

Of  course, he didn’t believe her. Not that he was cold or indifferent. Another man might have deserted her by now, leaving her yoked to barren solitude.

But he tried to make her laugh. To forget.

But they would never let her forget.

Each night in her dreams, she was assailed by tiny, blue faces. Shriveled. Accusing. Milky eyes staring up at her. Small monkey hands that reached up out of her bloodied bedclothes until she sat up screaming and he would comfort her, easing her back down until her bird’s heart returned to normal.

Tonight, another being had warmed itself beside her. Waiting to be invited in.

She put down the potato she was peeling and inhaled deeply. A sweet aroma of ripening apples entered her and she had wept. Another had chosen her.

In the hallway, she heard a picture frame slide down the wall and smash on the hardwood floor.

When he returned from work, she’d told him what had happened and what she wanted to do. He’d listened and agreed, as she knew he would.

She entered his study. He was sitting at his blood red writing table, staring out the window as the sun descended behind the Parliament building.

“Are you ready?” she asked him.

He turned to her and held out a red rose and a tightly wound bundle of sage. “Yes.”

They went to the fireplace and she thrust the sage bundle into the glowing embers. Its musty scent immediately filled the apartment.

“Come,” she said.

They unlocked the nursery door and entered, the smoking sage held out before her in a shaking hand. The end of the sage bundle glowed an unearthly orange in the semi-darkness. The smoke scent mingled with another, more ancient stench of corruption.

She grabbed his hand and strode to the very center of the room, sage held high, and screamed. She ran to each corner and thrust the smoking bundle upward. She demanded to be left alone, to be free of unnamed children.

The walls shook, the floor buckled. And outside, an unnatural orange glow filled the sky.

The woman and the man held each other tightly until the room stopped convulsing.

They walked back to the blood red writing desk in his study.

She draped herself onto his lap and lay back.

She took his hand and pulled it to her waist.

“Here,” she said. “Put your hand here. I smelled apples and then he was living right here.”

The man cradled her stomach and kissed her.

A delicious silence settled on the house as the orange glow faded to purple in the west.

She looked up at him with shining, wet eyes.

“Just like apples,” she said.

________________________________________________________

Today I was at the home of a close friend. We were discussing books and life etc.  Conversation turned to whether or not there were such ‘things’ as individual human souls. I was of the opinion that the notion of  eternal souls is a delusion (not that I am in any way qualified to make such a statement.) My friend told me of her experiences with failed and successful pregnancies and I was fascinated. Moved, I wrote this story.

Image of incredible Chagall painting by Shawn Rossi


Summer of Love…

Summer of Love

When I got your letter about the divorce, I’d already lost my legs.

Now, sitting on this hill looking down at The Cliff House, I’m wondering if coming here to see you is a good idea.

I see you stand up tall, out of your station wagon.

The kids scatter all around your legs and you point at the big rocks completely covered in birdshit.

You have on your big Sharon Tate sunglasses that I love so much. Your yellow sundress billows in that the San Francisco breeze.

You look happy, really happy, with your new family.

It’s so ironic that you’ve come all this way, all the way to California, to get away from me. And I was just up the street at the VA Hospital on Clement Street, not five minutes from where you stand right now.

He puts his arm around your waist. You settle against him. It’s like I’m seeing all this from another dimension – somewhere far away.

I’ve actually been to The Cliff House a couple of times. They wheel us down there from the VA and carry us in. You know, just to get away for a few hours.

We get a few stares. Some of the guys just look down, or over at the birdshit rocks. Me, I just stare right back at them. Until they look away. Boo-fucking-rah.

I see you look around, almost as if you can sense me up here, but of course, that’s impossible. Even in this wheel chair, I can still make myself invisible to a target.

The counselor at the VA thinks I’m dinky dau, but she don’t know shit about shit.

It was really no problem to locate you. Why did you run away? I wouldn’t have hurt you or the kids. You have to know that.

If you don’t want me any more, that’s ok. I’m not going to make a Mongolian clusterfuck out of the situation.

But I have to draw the line at another man taking you on. Not to mention the kids.

It was obvious to me during my last R and R that you’d already checked out and poisoned the kids against me.

But to file papers while they were hacking my legs off in a hot LZ in the Central Highlands? That’s just cold, baby.

This midday heat has me sweating. Snakes of sweat crawl down my stomach and wrap around my scrotum.

You said it would be forever.

It seems, wherever I turn now, there’s no fidelity to promise.

With Nixon and Kissinger, it’s all about peace with honor, and fuck winning the war.

With you, it’s all about understanding how we’ve grown apart. What the fuck does that mean?

The hippies at Golden Gate Park spit on me. I can’t chase ‘em ‘cause I got no legs.

But I do have this sweet little .222 with a scope.

I won’t hurt you or the kids.

Just that guy you seem so hot on.

From up here on the hill, it’s an easy kill.

Once he stands up from behind the station wagon, I should have a wide-open head shot.

C’mon, man.  Binky’s back in the world and ready to play.

Just a little higher and I’ll have you.

C’mon, let me light your fire, man.

I can’t walk or fuck. But this? This is second nature.

Just a little higher.

Right there.

That is just….

Perfect.

____________________________________________________________

Image by Ed Bierman


A Little Birthday Horror…

A Little Birthday Horror

The sunlight spilling in through the large bay windows of the Gould’s living room is comforting. Despite my physician’s warnings, I feel I was right to keep working after all that’s happened.

Poor Olivia. They say she’s stable now, but what do they know? They didn’t see what I saw, nor did they hear what I heard that night.

But I need to focus on today’s performance.

I couldn’t leave a traumatized fourteen year-old home alone, so I’ve brought Devin with me. I parked her wheelchair over in the corner, away from all these screaming kids. She remains largely catatonic since the incident, but I can tell when she gets anxious.

The doctors say the trauma of seeing her mother in that hysterical state caused Devin’s mind to go into a sort of hibernation. Of course, they refused to render an opinion on what I told them about Olivia’s, well, growling.

Olivia was irresponsible to pull Devin into her experiments with conjuring. Hindsight, I know.

The birthday girl’s baby sister is Bailey – a one year old. She pulls herself to a standing position by grabbing the spokes of Devin’s wheelchair. She babbles something. My daughter just looks off into space. And drools.

Devin and her wheelchair drew occasional stares at the start of the party, but Mrs. Gould redirected the kids to the magic show. Now all eyes are on me as I move into the meat of my performance.

I ask for a volunteer and, as expected, hands shoot up, vying for my attention. I choose a boy with loose fitting pants. I give him a black marble and ask him to put it into his pocket. I spin the boy around three times, mumbling a phony incantation, and finish with a series of dramatic hand motions. I’ve picked his pocket during the turns and now ask him to produce the marble, and of course, he cannot. The boy looks at the crowd with wide-eyed bewilderment, his arms extended, palms upraised, his shoulders hunched to his ears. I produce the marble from behind his left ear to much applause and an ensuing announcement from Mrs. Gould that they will sing “Happy Birthday” and have cake and ice cream in the adjoining parlor. The children run out, squealing with delight.

I need a cigarette. I go over to Devin, stroke her black hair, and tell her I’ll be back in a moment. Nothing. Mute, vacant. Little Bailey crawls by again, cooing.

Ten minutes later when I reenter the room, it’s obvious someone has vomited. The stench is overpowering. Soldiering on, I ask that the curtains be drawn and candles lit for the finale, in which the birthday girl, Brittany, will produce a rabbit out of a hat. I have the hat set up on a small table with a hole over a box containing the rabbit. Children always love this one, and the candlelit semi-darkness just adds to the drama.

Brittany’s arm descends into the yawning mouth of the top hat. “And now Brittany will amaze you with her new powers!” I announce, looking about the room. There’s a small bustle within the audience, kids looking down smiling, pointing. Bailey crawling through to see her sister’s trick.

“It feels yucky.” Brittany says, rummaging around in the box under the hat. “Oh gross, it’s wet, too.” she says, grimacing.

“Has anyone seen Bailey?” It’s Mrs. Gould.

“And sticky.” Brittany says.

Mrs. Gould is throwing off my timing. I look over at Devin, who is now staring right at me with a demonic grin on her face. Her eyes, like her mother’s that night. And what in God’s name has happened to her teeth?

Where’s the baby!” yells Mrs. Gould, more insistently now.

The smell of the puke and the jumping shadows on the walls are making me sick.

The kids in front jostle as they open up to finally let Bailey through.

But it’s not Bailey.

It’s the white rabbit.

With a small grunt, Brittany finally pulls her prize out of the hat. There’s a beat of silence, and then Mrs. Gould screams as she sees what Brittany is holding.

A candle’s been knocked over and the drapes are burning, sending shadows that look like dancing demons onto the walls.

And now Devin rises slowly from her wheelchair, turns her lizard’s eyes onto the scattering children.

And then she is upon them.

________________________________________

Image by Gabriel S. Delgado


The Couple in the Basement…

The Couple in the Basement   (A love story in three sentences)

The ancient house – dormant, decaying, silent – lies deep in a forest of black trees, undisturbed for a thousand generations, but for skunks and rats that die bloody and wriggling in the jaws of the long-forgotten couple in the basement.

The sudden distant squeals of children invite their attention upward out of the radium gloom and a ball bounces over the stone precipice and pop, pop, pop, lands in his lap.

From deep inside them comes the shadow of an echo of a distant memory displacing endless flesh-hunger with a delicious, warm anticipation of a child’s radiant smile.

_______________________________________________________________

Awesome freaking image by Casey Muir-Taylor

This is one of those images that contains, to me anyway, an endless number of stories.


The Ice Hive…

The Ice Hive

The wind roared outside the tent as Dr. Terry Silva pulled on her boots.

She ran outside to the waiting jeep.

“It’s like a freezer out here,” she said, climbing into the passenger seat. “Is it true what they said about finding the queen?”

Peter Matthews, her graduate assistant, smiled and said, “It’s all true, doc. She’s big, she’s frozen, she’s dormant. Oh, and she’s got about a million workers frozen in there with her.”

“Dormant? Have they verified that? She’s revivable?” If what Peter said was true, she would be completely vindicated. And Russell would have to grovel at her feet.

Peter pulled up in front of a large ice cave. The wind continued to howl and blow snow horizontally. Terry’s eyes were stung with ice crystals. She got out of the jeep and ran into the darkness of the cave.

When her eyes adjusted, she could see people running around in obvious panic.

“What is it?” she asked as a man with a headlamp and wild eyes tried to shove past her.

“She’s thawed! They’re all thawed!” he pushed Terry out of the way and stumbled out of the cave.

Terry felt a panic rising in her gut. If the bees were no longer dormant, they’d be looking for immediate food. There was no telling how long they’d been dormant in the Arctic ice. The scent of human flesh would send them into a feeding frenzy. But who would have thawed them?

Russell.

She staggered further down into the hole. Why had she let him come? Did she want to ensure he would be there in her moment of triumph? To see the look on his face when it was finally her, and not him, bathing in the adulation of the crew?

Terry could now hear the awful buzzing of the giant bees echoing up from deeper in the cave.

She could feel them coming. The air vibrated with the beating of their leathery wings.

From behind her came a small rumble. The ice shelf was unstable. Shifting.

Terry turned to flee the cave but was stopped by the blinding light of someone’s head lamp.

“Leaving so soon, Terry?”

She recognized the voice. “Let me by, Russell.”

“Oh, but I thought you wanted to go down and feed your big, frozen bees.”

“Turn off your head lamp, Russell, so I can see you.”

“Not a chance. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate all your hard work and research on the possible genesis of the colony. Quite fascinating, really.”

“Russell, everyone knows this is my project. Peter will – “

“Oh, Peter. Yes, well, he had a small accident. National Geo here I come…”

The ice shelf quaked and rumbled. From below them in the cave, Terry could hear the approaching swarm.

“I’ve got the fail safe detonator with me, Russell.”

Russell switched off his head lamp. “My dear, I don’t believe you’d bury us both in this ice just so I could be stopped from stealing your big find.”

Inside the pocket of her parka, Terry pushed the button on the detonator.

There was a bright flash as the magnesium of the thermite charge ignited. Russell was blown forward into Terry and knocked her back toward the darkened hole.

They both turned their head lamps on.

“Light won’t last long,” Russell said.

“Neither will we, you asshole.”

Below them in the darkness, the bees sped upward.

To feed.

___________________________________________________________

Well, this is one that didn’t quite  work out.  In keeping with the spirit of the blog, I make every effort to get a story out each day. Sometime, life gets in the way of that happening.  The story of the frozen bees will make another appearance in another story. I’m going to keep after it.
Photo by Patrick Wallace


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