Category Archives: short short fiction

“Bijou” to be Published on Flashes in the Dark…

Do you remember the two gangsters in the closet trying to rob Mimi Del Sarte of her precious jewels?  If you recall, they ran into a problem with Mimi’s pet, Bijou.  It was a fun story to write and I like to re-read it every now and then.  Well, the folks over at Flashes in the Dark will be posting “Bijou” on their website on July 1st.  While you’re there, you might check out some of the other great stories they post from other authors.

I’ll be back with a new story tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by.


The Finger of God…

I had a job once, trying to help people get from situations that bordered on hell – ok they WERE hell – and get them to places where they might try to take a breath and move toward some peace.  It is very difficult to describe how humbling it feels to be in the presence of people who have survived such degradation and emerged with such grace.  From Auschwitz to Tuol Sleng in Cambodia (where I spent one creepy and emotional afternoon), the world seems littered with the remnants of these violent convulsions that appear to have no basis in rationality.  But they were orchestrated by everyday humans. Darfur. Rwanda. Srebrenica. Little Fucking Big Horn.  The recent arrest of Ratko Mladic in Serbia and our recent tornadoes here in Massachusetts are to blame for this story:

 

The Finger of God

I cannot recall how long it has been since these things spilled out of the wind and took our world from us. The terror seems ageless. Memories of laughing children and familial bonds are today nothing more substantial than the faint outlines of a half-remembered fever dream.

We had little warning of the storm. A distant rumble every now and then.

The morning it arrived, my wife Sukarna had been out winnowing rice in the back yard. She screamed and entered the house, pointing West.

I ran to the back door and nearly fainted. I saw an enormous tower of black wind, snaking back and forth across the land. And I could tell – no, I could hear – that inside that tower was endless hate and undoing. There were angry shouts, unintelligible to me, but their meaning clear somehow. Destruction was the only message.

Shouts of warning sounded up and down the village streets. We watched the snaking black wind get closer and closer. Finally, admitting there was no way the storm would pass us by, many of us crowded into the basement of the teachers college, where we peered out the basement windows with growing horror.

As the circle of wind passed over the village, we saw trees pulled completely into the air and then propelled into the faces of neighbors and friends still outside. Little children were ripped from mothers’ arms and sent dashing into concrete walls.

The eye of the storm settled over the teachers college and the storm moved no further. It just continued to churn all around our village. After a while, seeing the storm was unmoving, we climbed out of the basement. A horrible smell pervaded the village. We walked in a daze to the spinning black walls surrounding us.

We were not able to pass through the wind to reach the outside world. We were trapped in the eye of the storm. The smell of dirt was mixed with a coppery stench of rotting blood –there were things longer dead in that wind than just our recent losses. As the wind raged past us, we saw fractured lumber, pig heads and, occasionally, the tortured faces of loved ones. We could only turn away. Move back to the center of the eye and not look anymore into that brown-black swirling.

Looking up through the center of the funnel, we could see only blackness punctuated occasionally with intense flashes of light. Down the funnel came the sounds of rape and torture.

Later that first morning, the things came out of the wind. Black, shapeless things seen only out of the corner of your eye. We kept our eyes lowered in their presence, sensing that to look directly at them was to invite unspeakable pain.

They were black ghosts. They darted and swooshed around our houses and the official buildings. If they ran into you, they knocked you off your feet. But any blows delivered against them found only black mist and shadow. This was the fate of Bao, the butcher. At one point, he charged one of the things, cleaver in hand. His blow sliced the black air only, leaving the cleaver buried in his own right shin. Bao had yelped in pain, but they took him to the teachers college where we heard him scream with more fervor all through that night. Then, all at once, just before dawn, Bao’s awful screaming stopped.

The schoolrooms of the teacher’s college were transformed into torture chambers. People under suspicion (under suspicion of what, we did not know) were taken to these rooms and came out bloodied corpses several days later. What information was gained, and how it was used by the shadow things was a mystery to us.

 

We are now formed into work groups, each with a specific need to fulfill. I am assigned to firewood collection. Unable to get past the swirling tower and fell trees in the surrounding forest, we have started to dismantle houses for the fires.  Of course, we realize we will run out of food soon, being confined to eating only what we can find here in the circle of the storm’s eye. Sukarna, working on a vegetable team, keeps back a small portion for our family to eat a couple of times a week.

The black things seem particularly interested in our children. As the days, weeks, and months inside the storm have passed, it is common for us to wake to find a large group of children sitting before the things, apparently being educated about – or indoctrinated into – a way of being that is so foreign to our traditions we no longer trust our young.

This morning, my youngest son, Preth, is standing in the school compound with one of the black things whispering to him over his shoulder. Now, a small group of children drag Sukarna across the muddy compound. I start to run for her but several teenaged boys wielding machetes block my path.

I’m too far away to hear what is said, but Preth, sounding angry, points at his mother and makes some type of speech. For her part, Sukarna is on her knees, raised palms together. She pleads, but is not heard. Preth withdraws a large wooden club and beats his mother. I scream and struggle against the machete boys, but I am too weak to get through. After Preth throws down the bludgeon, and Sukarna lays motionless before him, I am allowed to run to my dead wife. I pray to our God to deliver us from this nightmare. To descend from the sky, to emerge from the ground, to seep out of the rivers, to stop the twister, and crush the black things. Make them call out in pain for what they have done. I no longer care for my own continued existence. I scream angry words at the black things. I disown Preth and spit at him. I take Sukarna’s broken corpse to the edge of the wind wall, her head rolled away from my chest at the end of her limp neck.

The wind’s roar is deafening. I look back. They are all watching me. Motionless.

I sit down and weep. Sukarna’s corpse splayed at my feet.

At least, sitting out here next to the storm’s wall, I won’t have to listen to the screaming from the teachers college. I do not know why they are allowing me to stay out here.

It does not matter anyway. The old world is over.

This storm can’t stay here forever. Someday it will move on to another village, taking the black things with it.

Then what?

Will forgetting save us?

Or does salvation lie in never forgetting?

Sukarna’s blood leaks into the ground at my feet.

_______________________________________________________________

Image by Mark Rain


An Unexpected Guest…

An Unexpected Guest

A person lacking Margo’s training would surely have slept through – or completely disregarded – the muffled thump from the first floor.

The digital clock on the bed table read 3:13 AM.

She widened her eyes and quickly did the math: in bed for six hours and twenty-three minutes, plenty of time to have entered N3 sleep and therefore she could be 60-80% sure that the thump she’d heard was the initial stimulus.

Her two-year-old daughter, Ursula, was warm and still at her side. Margo put a hand on the child’s shoulder, which rose and fell with comforting regularity.

No one else was in the bed.

Margo snapped her head around.

There it was again: a soft impact tremor emanating from below, but closer this time.

Someone was definitely coming up the stairs.

Margo emerged from under the blanket and swung her feet soundlessly down to the carpet, being careful not to awaken the child.

Adrenaline tingled up and down her torso, front and back. She closed her eyes, tried to remember her training: shallow, silent breaths; a posture she could hold without lactic acid accumulation; and most importantly, a vantage point that kept her concealed while allowing the maximum flexibility for aggressive response.

Margo’s mind flashed through questions and answers:

Q: Does Abrams have another job to push on me?

A: I haven’t heard from him since entering the program.

Q: Someone I crossed while I was active?

A: I left most of them dead or maimed. Can’t recall anyone with this kind of stealth ability or the contacts to track me down here in the program.

Q: Did Abrams finally decide I know too much to be running free in suburbia?

A: Unlikely, given the fact that he’s aware my attorney is in possession of a detailed affidavit in a sealed envelope with instructions it be made public in the event of my ‘accidental death.’

Q: A random B-and-E? Maybe a rapist?

A: I can only hope it’s that straightforward.

A breeze blew in the open window. Margo heard the rustling of the linden tree’s leaves and wished the window were closed so she could focus more clearly on the approaching danger.

She stepped quickly to the walk in closet and removed all the hanging clothes from one of the wooden rods. She eased the rod out of its brackets, and moved to the side of the master bedroom door. Margo assumed a batter’s stance and, like a slugger with three balls and no strikes, prepared to swing away.

Creak.

Directly outside the door now.

Suddenly Ursula started to whimper.

Margo raced back to the bed like a panther. She lifted the little girl with one arm and cradled her against her chest.

She bounced by slightly flexing her knees, trying her best to keep the child asleep and quiet.

Night terrors. At times, the girl would begin screaming for no apparent reason. As a single parent, it fell to Margo to manage each of these incidents, cooing, cradling the child until the terror passed, and she was able to drift off again.

Of course, Margo blamed herself for these episodes. Felt they were in some way related to the incident with her first daughter, also named Ursula. Many years ago.

She often wondered if it could be possible that the horror of her first daughter’s death could have been passed on to this Ursula. Could the horror held deep in a mother’s heart be passed to a child during pregnancy? Margo’s guilt compelled her to think it could be so.

The doorknob turned.

Margo placed Ursula in a laundry basket in the closet and, as quietly as possible, slid the door closed.

She then resumed her position next to the bedroom door.

The door fell ajar, letting ambient light from the hallway spill into the bedroom.

A large man entered. A hulking but silent shadow.

Although just a silhouette, Margo could tell he walked with a slight left-sided limp. She immediately decided to pulverize that leg once she’d incapacitated him with a head shot.

Margo took no chances.

The man was holding something in his right hand, but she couldn’t make out what it was.

He was completely in the room now.

Margo swung hard, hitting him directly at the base of the skull. She didn’t swing to kill. She needed information.

The man fell forward onto the carpet.

Margo strode forward to attack the left leg as she’d planned, but the man whirled around and clutched her ankle, pulling her down on top of him.

“You are so dead,” she said, gritting her teeth.

“Margo, stop,” the man said.

She stood and drilled his left knee with the end of the rod.

The man held his leg with both hands and moaned. The thing from his right hand lay on the floor next to him.

Margo ran to the light switch by the bedroom door. “Now, let’s have a look at your sorry ass before I take another pot shot at your leg.”

When the overhead light came on, Margo nearly passed out.

How could he be here?

“Dan?”

“I’m sure that knee will need replacing.” He dragged himself up to a sitting position.

“Dan?”

On the floor next to him were a doll and a toy pistol.

He noticed what she was looking at. “I didn’t know what to bring. Did we have a boy or a girl?”

Tears filled her eyes. “Dan?”

And Margo slammed him again with the rod.

___________________________________________________________

Chuck Wendig is at again with another flash fiction challenge. This time out, the story needed to center on the concept of an unexpected guest’.  Well, I simply couldn’t resist another Margo story. If you’re new to this blog,  you should read earlier Margo installments (“Margo in Rome” and “Hermosa Beach Heartache”) just for some context. As I’ve noted previously, I’m serializing Margo’s bizarre story in this blog. It’s great fun (and a great challenge) to approach each installment as a stand-alone flash piece as well as another addition to an ongoing story. Hope everyone enjoys the story!

Image by Nathan Eckinrode


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


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


The Natural Selection of Gordon Dunlop…

The Natural Selection of Gordon Dunlop

Gordon Dunlop put on his gray jumpsuit, grabbed his push broom, and went out onto the zoo grounds to start his day.

As he passed the administrative offices, he heard the corporate liaison, Larry Hawkins, on the phone discussing the zoo’s finances with somebody.

Gordon took great pains to escape the management’s notice. He hurried past Hawkins’ open door with his head down.

Gordon was changing the bag in the trashcans outside the monkey house when he looked up and saw the new baboon, Aja, staring at him.

He pushed the fallen leaves in front of the monkey house into a pile. He looked up and was shocked to see the baboon mimicking his movements.

Huh. Look at that.

The baboon scratched its ass and continued looking out at Gordon. Unblinking.

Now intrigued, Gordon bent down as if to pick something up off the ground. Aja did the same.

Gordon looked around to see if anyone was watching them. No one he could see.

“Hello there, monkey. What do you think you’re doing?”

Aja stared back.

“I’ll teach you some tricks. Just to pass the time.”

So each morning, Gordon showed up a little earlier and went to the monkey house to work with Aja. He showed the baboon how to unfurl and open the large plastic bags for the trashcans. Aja could perfectly spray window cleaner and wipe it up with a paper towel. The baboon was a fantastic student.
Gordon felt there was nothing Aja couldn’t do.

One day, Larry Hawkins called him into his office.

“Gordon, I wanted to speak with you about the baboon.”

Gordon was sweating although it was a cool morning. “Sir?”

“We’ve noticed your- how shall I put it? – interspecies interaction.”
“Oh dear. Have I done anything wrong?”

Hawkins thrust himself forward and said, “Not at all, Gordon. Corporate actually wants you to step up your activities with the baboon. We feel there’s a chance here to reinvigorate the zoo’s commercial viability.”

Corporate, thought Gordon. Now you’ve done it.

But, for the next few months Gordon taught more and more of his job to the baboon, Aja: the monkey emptied trashcans; he swept the parking lot; he even started punching a time clock, just like Gordon.

The accolades this activity brought to the janitor were frightening at first. But as time went on, he became not only comfortable; he positively reveled in his new found status.

Pictures of Aja and Gordon holding their brooms started showing up on the bulletin board in the employee break room. The local newspaper ran a story on the duo, and thousands came to watch Gordon and his baboon go through their daily motions.

And Gordon was getting raises. Big ones.

One afternoon, Larry Hawkins again called Gordon to his office.

When Gordon entered, Hawkins rose, his hand extended. “Thanks for coming.”

As he approached, Gordon noticed Aja was sitting in the other chair in front of the desk.

Hawkins said, “Gordon, upper management has been ecstatic with the recent income expansion, as you know. You and Aja are a certifiable hit.”

Gordon noticed Aja would not meet his eyes.

“But,” Hawkins continued, “the number-trending indicates this attraction may have maxed out its profit potential. It needs to be re-engineered, so we can leverage what’s working, while re-imagining the matrix and underlying principles.”

“Wha-?”

Aja was fidgeting in his chair.

“What we’re proposing, on just a trial basis, mind you, is that you and Aja…well, switch roles for a week. Think of it as cross training for maximum intercorporate synergy.”

“You want me to sit in a cage like a monkey?”

“Now, Gordon, don’t react emotionally. I need you to be data-driven here. We just want you to let Aja be the lead on the team, if you will.”

Gordon took a moment to try and fully understand what was being asked of him. “I’ll need to sleep on it.”

“Of course. Aja will bring you to the monkey house.”

Gordon’s eyes widened. “Mr. Hawkins, you’re not suggesting I stay there. Sleep there. With the other baboons.”
“Of course! What better way for you to fully understand the role of your coworkers than to walk a mile in their shoes?”

“He’s a monkey! I do all the training. I’m the one who speaks in the interviews. He just copies what I do. I’m the one who can think things through and get the job done. It’s me who’s had this job for the last sixteen years!”

“Now, Gordon_”

“No! I know: let’s have a competition. A sweep-off! I know how to make the decisions as to what needs doing. He can’t do that. You’ll see. Tomorrow. If I clean up better than the baboon, then you forget all about changing roles. We go back to the regular way.”

Hawkins sat back, rubbing his chin. “Could work. It would be an incredible media event. I need to get on the horn to the local papers now. Thanks, Gordon. You’re on.”

Gordon said, “Yes. Tomorrow we’ll see who’s who.” And shot an icy glare at Aja, who returned the look.

That night, Gordon stood in front of his mirror in his dimly lit apartment.

He flexed. He made angry, determined faces.

“Get set, baboon,” he said between clenched teeth. “That corporation ain’t gonna make me sit in the monkey house. Do you hear me?”

He grabbed a broom from a closet and started swinging it wildly about the room.

He thought to himself: I’m a man, godammit.

I’ll beat that stupid ape.

I am John Fucking Henry.

He smashed the mirror with the broom handle.

And for a long time, he stared at his fractured image.

______________________________________________________

I started this post on May 1st, inspired by International Worker’s Day. Ironically, I was starting a new day job and had to fly off to orientation and training and couldn’t finish this until today. But this story is really about the great lesson I learn from writing fiction: Every person who has ever lived, and every character in a piece of fiction, is the central character in their own story, regardless of who I think is the main character. I find it useful to remind myself of this in my everyday life, as well as in my stories.

Photo by Tai Strietman


Night Swim…

Night Swim

Out on the road, somewhere west of Tucumcari, New Mexico my dead son starts speaking to me through the CB.

I’m two days out of Salinas with a trailer full of avocados and Cole says, “Papa, get off  next exit.” Like he’s here in the cab with me. Clear as a fucking bell.

I look at the CB as if I’d never seen one before.

“Papa.”

I reach down and click it off.

“Papa,  next exit.”

My whole body is going cold. My hands are shaking so badly, I’ll be lucky not to jack knife the rig right across Interstate 40.

The therapist AA set me up with said it wasn’t unusual for someone in my situation to have delusions, even hallucinations. Because of withdrawal, you see.

Or it might be that when you kill your kid, he comes back to haunt you.

“Papa turn here.”

Now I’m crying in terror and shame. “Cole? But how? Can you hear me? Cole, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. I’m -”

“Now Papa!”

I turn off where he says.

I know what lies down this road.

Cole traveled with me a few times.  Janice and I let him take a couple days off from school to head out with the old man and see the world. Just regional hops. But it was a grand adventure to those seven year old eyes.

I remember how he’d just goggle at everything. Took him to the Canyon once. We hiked up over a rise and there it was, all spread out before us. Cole stopped. Didn’t say a word, but just reached out and took my hand. We stood there in the breeze, looking at those vultures riding the isotherms, and taking in all that color and majesty.

And each day I try to find my way back to that time. Because, I know what comes next and I want to make it not come. To do it over.

“Papa, the motel. Go.”

My skin is all gooseflesh. What’s going on? I start seeing Cole’s pale corpse on the seat beside me, out of the corner of my eye.

I won’t look over. I looked at that corpse a year ago, when I awoke after a boozy night to find the EMTs pulling Cole’s limp body out of the swimming pool at the Arrowhead Motel. Now the smell of chlorine makes me wretch.

I haven’t had a drink since that day.

My sobriety wasn’t enough for Janice, though. Can’t blame her, really.

I pull into Ray’s Long Haul. My hands shaking so badly I can hardly steer. I fumble with the door handle and try to push down the thought of a cold, wet hand clutching me before I can get out.

In the bathroom, I splash water on my face and look at myself. Without the booze, I look healthier. But there’s no life in those eyes.

Over the intercom comes Cole’s voice again. “Time to go, Papa. Just a few more miles.”

Can’t anyone else hear this?

I’m losing it. Toys in the attic. That’s all there is to it. I should just go check myself in somewhere until this passes.

Or better yet, I could drive the rig out into the mesa lands and ditch it. Just walk out into the desert and shoot myself under that blaze of stars.

That’s how I’d like to end it: under those stars.

What do you want, Cole? A life for a life? Or would a long life of abject misery do it? Misery for the long haul, unchanged through all the years of my life.

I hide in a stall and sit down, head in my hands. When I look up, the graffiti on the door says it all: PAPA, THE ARROWHEAD.

All right then, Cole. I’m coming. I guess I owe you that much.

When I pull into the Arrowhead, it’s already midnight. A few cars parked in the lot.

I check in and I’m not surprised at all to be in the same room as that night a year ago. I guess Cole has this all figured.

I’m coming son. You can do with me what you will.

I walk past the swimming pool. No one in it. Just checking.

I throw myself into the huge depression in the center of the bed.

Jesus Christ, I wish I had a drink.

I must’ve dropped off, because the next thing I’m aware of is the door to my room clicking shut.

No, it can’t be.

Cole?

My back to the door, I can’t bring myself to turn around. I fix my gaze on the glowing numbers of the alarm clock. 2:45 a.m…

Something climbs into the bed behind me.

Now comes the stench of chlorine.

A thin, white arm drapes across my shoulder.

I reach out and caress the hand.

I realize I am crying now.

“I’m sorry, Cole. I am so sorry!”

“It’s alright,” he says. “Come swim with me, Papa.”

I have to look at him. My son.

I turn, expecting only a dead-fish grayness. Instead, a radiant Cole blinds me.

He leads me down to the pool.

The Arrowhead sign is off for the night. A few crickets. So peaceful.

We slip into the water.

He swims up to me and opens his arms wide. We hold each other tightly as we submerge.

At first I struggle. Only natural, I suppose.

Then, Cole releases me and I sink to the bottom.

I look up at those magnificent New Mexico stars. They send silver shafts dancing into the water all around me.

Peace.

Atonement.

I inhale.

___________________________________________________

Image by Paul Downey


Margo in Rome…(Hermosa Beach Heartache prequel)

Margo in Rome (prequel to Hermosa Beach Heartache)                                                                                                                      

Margo winced as a mosquito stung her in the neck, but she made no sound. She peered out into the blackness.

“Who is it, do you think?” she asked.

Dan squinted, trying to make out any detail that would help them identify their attackers.

“Dunno. Wait here. I’m going to try and outflank them over there by the entrance to the palazzo.”

She grabbed his arm. “Be careful.”

He looked at her with a bemused expression. “Wow. Pregancy’s doing quite a number on you.”

“Maybe if you could keep it in your pants, we wouldn’t be in this position. I used to be so professional. Now, I’m eight weeks pregnant, crouched behind a dumpster in Rome, my wedding gown is ruined, and someone’s trying to kill me.” She smiled, pulled him close, and kissed him. “We’re going to have a baby. Don’t be stupid out there. You take the gun.”

Dan looked like he was searching for words, but she pushed him off. “Move!” she whispered.

Dan crouched and scurried off into the darkness.

She wouldn’t see him again until the baby was two years old.

Margo sat with her back against the dumpster, her gown smeared with garbage.

No gun, she thought. Stupid.

Then it really hit: Jesus Christ, Margo.

She sighed, rose to a crouch, and prepared to run.

A baby?

She smiled.

Yeah, a baby.

____________________________________

Margo just wants to have her story told. I’m thinking of serializing it in this blog. I realize the piece above  doesn’t really qualify as a full-blown story. It’s more of a prologue (if that, even). If your new to the blog, please read “Hermosa Beach Heartache” also. You can read them in any order (I guess). I’m not entirely sure where this story is going yet, so please keep checking in for further installments as occasionally I put them up.

Again, the image is courtesy of Nathan Eckenrode


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