Tag Archives: horror

Midnight Cruisers

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Anna lay next to her husband, watching with satisfaction the effect the nightmare was having on him. His face contorted, he thrust his legs out straight, kicking at something. Occasional whimpers slipped from his lips which pulled back from his teeth like leeches recoiling from a flame.

Anna could understand why he was so terrified. She knew that in his dream Kevin was staked out in a starlit desert with an enormous black snake taking meaty bites from his thighs, making its bloody, painful way to his crotch.

It was not a recurring nightmare that Anna’s husband was experiencing, something he had confided to her through their speedy courtship and single year of marriage. No, this was a completely new nightmare, and it was going to kill him. His heart rate was going to escalate. It was going to stop in his chest as the snake finally opened its jaws and ripped his dick out at its root.

Anna knew all this because she had sent the Cruisers to her husband’s sleepworld to do her bidding.

The next morning Anna took great pleasure in calling Kevin’s assistant, Casey (the slut), to report his death. Nothing but silence on the other end of line. Perfect.

And then Anna began making her plans for Casey’s bad dreams that evening.

The first time they had come as spiders, their hard, black legs pushing through the plasterboard in her closet. Twelve year old Anna heard them scratching and clawing at her clothes. The hangers rattled and fell to the floor. The door bulged and she saw the spiders tumble out onto her white carpet, hissing, the size of dinner plates, hundreds of them. And she had sent them down to her father’s sleepworld. She had often wondered how she had been able to call them (and what were they, really?). But since that time she had grown more adept at controlling them, and they had served her many times. Always hurting the hurters.

Anna got the impression they came from far away. She didn’t know how she knew that, but deep inside she felt that was right. She called them The Midnight Cruisers, because of her impression that they traveled far and wide and she was only one of many beings in the universe they visited. And they only came at night. Mostly, she simply thought the name was cool.

Through the years, the Cruisers had come as shiny slugs with vicious human faces (for the gym teacher) a lion with a dirty mane and bloody teeth (for her mother), a twisted bare tree that whispered terrible truths (to the Greek fucker at the dry cleaners who always leered at her).

When she had discovered that Kevin was screwing his secretary, she debated whether to do him first, or start with the slut. Anna felt the cruisers were keener for Kevin, so she sent them down to his sleepworld last night where they knew exactly what form to take to stop his heart. They were spectacular and, as the years had proven, reliable and loyal.

By the time the morticians had carted off Kevin’s carcass the sun was already sinking, sending shadow fingers up her lawn, reaching for her doorstep.

Anna downed a nice glass of merlot and savored the thought of Casey in the grip of the  nightmare the cruisers would manufacture, just for her. She thought of that first night, the night of the spiders, when she’d sent them down to her father’s sleep world. Never again would she have to lie awake, dreading the squeak of her bedroom door.

From that night on, whenever there was justice to be done, a hurter to be hurt, Anna could stare into the darkness and call the Midnight Cruisers to turn her enemy’s sleepworld to hell.

Easy on the merlot, girl, she told herself: lots to do tonight.

She went to the couch and laid down. A few minutes of rest before calling them. It had been a fulfilling but long day.

When she rose from the couch, she went to her room and put on dark clothes. It was easy enough to get the slut’s address from Kevin’s computer. She felt it was now late enough. Casey would be sleeping and Anna didn’t want to miss the show. She could call the Cruisers from here, but then she would be deprived of watching Casey writhe in terror as they scared her slowly to death. What would they choose for the bitch? Anna could never know beforehand. Only when the nightmare was underway did the Cruisers allow her to dip into the sleepworld to see them at their work.

Parking under a linden tree, Anna sauntered to Casey’s house, a pale, yellow ranch set back behind a six foot hedge. The wind was cool on her back as it blew dead leaves across the street. She circled the small house, judging few people would pass by at this hour. Casey’s bedroom window lay at the back of the house. Moans came from the bed.

Anna walked quickly to the window to see what was happening, too excited now to be careful.

Casey writhed under the duvet, saying something Anna couldn’t quite make out, but she was sure  they were words of entreaty to whatever hideous aspect the Cruisers had presented to her.

A twig snapped directly behind her.

She spun around and screamed. Her father, worms and spiders spilling from his eye sockets, grasped her and pushed his green tongue into her ear.

And then Casey was speaking to her through the bedroom window screen. “I knew you were acquainted with the night things. After you called about Kevin, I was sure of it. I call them darklings, but I’m sure you have your own name for them. We all do. Of course, you realize you’re sleeping on your couch back at home right now?  Your dear father is simply the demon the darklings felt you should be sharing your sleepworld with tonight.”

Anna was getting sick from the stench of her dead father. “How?” she asked.

“The darklings feel you’ve been abusing your power. You’re the hurter now. They are not allowed to kill those they serve, so I was called in. I’m what you could call a cleaner. Enjoy your death.”

And then Anna was no longer in Casey’s back yard. She was back in her childhood bedroom, in the nightmare.

The hinges squeaked lightly.

A silhouette appeared in the doorway.

“It’s just the Cruisers, only the Cruisers,” she said to herself and closed her eyes.

Her heart was a dying slab in her chest. Pain shot down her arms.

Knowing what she’d see, she slowly opened her eyes anyway, and she screamed until her heart stopped.

And then the Cruisers were on her.

_________________________

I was browsing Flickr and found this arresting photo of a young girl lying in bed, thinking some deep thoughts. She got me wondering what in hell she was thinking and what type of adult she would become. I had Steely Dan’s “Midnight Cruiser” blaring into my headphones. The title of the song and the photo gave rise to this strange little story. Written on a gloriously sunny, post-blizzard Sunday morning with a cuppa good joe at my favorite market. The idea of cruisers to do one’s bidding is appealing, but who could ever control that level of righteousness?

Image by Alyssa L. Miller

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All the Colors of This World…

The teacher’s day started like thousands of winter weekdays before it. She made up the twin bed, drank half a cup of instant coffee, fed the cats, put on her wool coat, and walked across the street to the school. She seated herself primly at her desk. The empty rows of desks reminded her of a barren, November garden. She awaited the imminent clamor of arriving children, children whom she would ignore today while she contemplated the dull grayness of the tenements outside her window and considered what must be done.

Today is the day, she thought. Let the nightmare end.

The teacher had left no note of her plan, but she had filled many notebooks describing her despair and her musings on the different methods one might employ to end one’s life. She would exit the world unheralded and unloved, just as she had entered it thirty-four years earlier. Why had kindness and warmth never bent in her direction? Her body had known no pleasure save for what little she, on those rare mornings, was able to provide herself.

A wasted life, best ended.

And then the new girl was presented to her, all large, sad slate eyes and dirty, coppery hair, and of course she had to be introduced to the class and found text books, and writing implements, and wasn’t this just the worst day to have this type of distraction?

But the teacher was one to fulfill her duty, no matter the inconvenience. She escorted the new girl to a desk where she immediately drew the stares and taunts of the class. The teacher, distracted, vaguely admonished the children to leave poor Agnes alone and get along with their lessons, please.

The tik-tik-tik of the freezing rain against the window mesmerized the teacher. The bells rang for recess but she merely sat, thinking of oblivion, until the children bolted of their own accord, casting worried glances in her direction. All except the new girl, who stood motionless in front of the teacher’s desk staring, holding a pink rose between her right thumb and forefinger.

And the teacher accepted the flower. She pushed its soft pink petals against her nostrils and inhaled deeply, so deeply her ribs ached. But the teacher did not release that breath. She closed her eyes, sat back in her chair, and held her breath, refusing to release the scent from her head. As if in a dream, she noticed that the sun had broken through a crack in the clouds and bore down on the large east windows. Shimmering light bathed her face, and from a place deep within welled up images of love directed at her, the teacher, the woman who never knew love, and then the teacher was startled awake when the new girl said, “Pink can heal.”

The teacher opened her eyes and wept and did not stop until well after the other children wandered back in from recess with fearful looks on their faces.

And so the teacher did not end her life that day. The teacher’s feelings blossomed as each day the new girl brought her another flower. And the new girl always seemed to know which flower was the right flower to present, as if the new girl could read her mind or her heart and apply the just right remedy. And the teacher learned.

She learned blue hydrangeas soothed. And orange nasturtiums thrilled. And white poppies intoxicated. And there was no end to her pleasure while she smelled the flowers, but in the evenings, she still could be counted upon to burn or cut her forearms until the kitchen table was slick with blood and tears.

One day the teacher asked the new girl why the feelings the flowers brought her were only temporary, and the new girl said, “Because you want to die, they will not take root. You are barren. I’m doing my best.”

And the teacher became angry at being called barren for the third time in her life, and she  shouted, “I don’t understand! Where do you get these flowers? I want to see where they come from, do you hear?” And she shook the girl back and forth and tried to reach into her pocket and pull out a flower to sniff, but the little girl threw the teacher off with unexpected strength.

Then it suddenly seemed to the teacher that it was sunset, although the children were at recess weren’t they?. The sky was dark, and a fiery red sun looked in on her and the new girl from just above the horizon, like some malevolent one-eyed god.

And the new girl was changing too. She grew taller, her head elongated and horns thrust themselves out of her forehead while her eyes migrated off to the sides.  She produced an enormous red rose from the pocket of her jacket and with a low, growl said, “Red means wrath.” And then the teacher was no more.

The teacher was never found, but everyone assumed the worst for in her desk were discovered several personal notebooks, written in her own hand, describing her black depression as well as her thoughts on ending her life. She also described a person she referred to as ‘the new girl’.

The bottom drawer of her desk was filled with dead flowers: azaleas, poppies, lilies, roses.

No one could make sense of the flowers.

And there had been no new girl in the teacher’s class this year.

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This is one of those stories that was completely unplanned. I had not the faintest idea of what the ending of this story was going to be when I sat down to write it. Many times, one knows the ending and the writing is just a blazing of a trail to get there.

I hope people will continue to find the blog and read the stories. I’d like to think the stories provide some invitation to ponder or just a little entertainment on the train, the bus – some stories that don’t require a huge time commitment from the reader.  If you’re so inclined, please leave a comment thanks for stopping by. Hope you come back.

Image by studiobeerhost


Avenging Angel…

Avenging Angel

Linda reached for her vibrating cell phone on the nightstand. She didn’t need the ringer; she wasn’t sleeping well these days.

“What?” she mumbled.

“Linda, we’ve got another one.”

Linda sat bolt upright. “Like the others? You’re sure?”

“Propped up on all fours. Tail, mane – the works. This one’s extra special, though.”

Linda waited, her eyes wide. She looked at the photo of a young girl on the nightstand.

“For Chrissakes, Marty, spit it out. This isn’t a game show.”

“This one has…more accessories. Just get down here and see it.”

“It? These were people once, Marty. Have some fucking respect.”

“Says you.”

Lieutenant Linda Einhorn took down the address.

The details of the report she’d been writing earlier that evening played like a movie across her mind: three murders so far, all known perps. Pedophiles. Overpowered, restrained, throats slit, dressed up to resemble what appeared to be horses and left propped on hands and knees. They’d been found in abandoned warehouses around the outskirts of Boston.

No prints.

No witnesses.

No leads.

But something, a faint echo of insight, tugged at the edge of Linda’s mind, depriving her of sleep.

Linda arrived at a warehouse in Revere. The parking lot was loaded with official vehicles, the blue strobes flicking off the stained brick façade of the building. The Revere cops stood around looking resentful while the Staties conducted their investigation. As a State Police detective, Linda was allowed to enter immediately.

Marty – State Police Lieutenant Martin Sutherland – approached her from the shadows.

“Upstairs in the back office. Just follow your nose.” Marty accompanied her to the base of the stairs and yelled up, “Alright, clear the fuck out of there and let Einhorn have at it.”

Linda ascended the stairs, steeling herself. The sweet odor of rotted flesh and blood forced a hand to her face.

As the last of the crime scene techs walked past her, Linda entered the office. It was small, cramped, but with a large window through which, she assumed, a manager could supervise the floor. Linda looked up. Brown stains spread like old maps on the suspended ceiling tiles.

A spotlight stood in the corner to her right, illuminating the star of the show.

White male, approximately forty-five years old. He was naked and draped over a low-slung bench. At first glance, one would think he was up on all fours.

As expected, a broken mop handle protruded from the victim’s anus, the mop giving the appearance of a bushy tail. He’d been spray-painted white and stood out in stark contrast to the bloodied, dirty office décor.

There was a transverse slit across his throat. On his head was a silver-pink wig, like a horse’s mane. Under his chin, a section of rusted pipe held his head up. His milky, lifeless eyes were frozen in a rictus of surprise and horror.

Then Linda noticed it: an ice pick with a spiral white handle planted firmly in the victims’ forehead.

“A unicorn,” she whispered to herself.

Her mind raced through the prior crime scenes.

A pink painted victim with blue mane and tail.

A black ‘horse’ with his forearms broken to make it appear he was prancing.

“Oh my God,” Linda said to no one. And it all fell into place.

She rushed back down the stairs.

Marty was waiting at the bottom with a cup of coffee.

“That was quick. How’d you like the ice pick? Nice touch, eh? We’ll be here all nigh-“

“A  carousel. He’s making a carousel, Marty. Look where the bodies were found. Revere, the North End, Braintree. He’s making a carousel around Boston.”

Marty grabbed her arm and pulled her into a corner.

“It’s not him, Linda. Stop torturing yourself.”

Linda stared through the ceiling up into the office and thought of the Unicorn up there.

Her daughter, Sammie, had loved unicorns. Each time she and her ex-husband Peter had brought their little girl to the Salem Willows, Sammie had only one desire: to ride the unicorn on the ancient carousel.

The day Sammie was taken, Peter was playing Skee-Ball in the arcade next door. Later that night, the Salem cops had found Sammie – or what was left of her – in a dumpster at Pickering Wharf.

Linda had of course focused all her grief and anger on Peter. The marriage was over. How could they make life whole again with Sammie’s violent absence living in the house with them?

“Where were you?” How many times had Linda thrown that in his face?

Peter had left before the divorce was final. Almost two years now.

Then, about four months ago, the bodies started showing up.

No one could know about the carousel. But Linda’s suspicions were now confirmed. She knew it in her bones that Peter was the one.

“Hey, kid. Why don’t you go home? I’ll clean this fucking mess up and we’ll regroup tomorrow at the barracks.” Marty could be tender on those occasions when he remembered he still had a heart.

“Thanks.” Linda was stunned. Not sure what to do next.

At home in bed, Linda wept as she hadn’t allowed herself to weep for the past two years.

In the fetal position, she finally dropped off to a tortured sleep.

In her dream she heard the carousel’s crazy carnival music. The lights blinked and the sun glinted off the many mirrors on the ride.

Sammie, as usual, rode the tall, white unicorn with its flaring nostrils and gleaming brilliance. Peter stood next to her, making sure she didn’t slide off the oscillating beast.

With each revolution, Sammie’s faced grew paler and started to putrefy. Finally, Linda saw Sammie come around, dead, mutilated, gripping the pole that rose up out of the unicorn’s back.

Linda was sobbing in her sleep. In her dream, she was screaming.

On the final revolution, Peter came into view laughing, holding an ice pick aloft.

And he descended from the carousel toward Linda, like an avenging angel.

____________________________________________________________

Image by Dominic’s Pics

This is the latest Flash Challenge for Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.


“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


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


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


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