And Also the Trees… (2009)

Roads. They wound up on themselves and through the greens and browns and blues, sometimes aging worse than the cars and people that traveled on them. This Harvey knew. He’d spent plenty of time on rough nights after a screaming match with his fiancée, out floating along the curves until he wished back home floating his fingers along her hips. Even though most of those drives were when the outside was black and obscured out passed the reach of his headlights, he knew it was still beautiful despite man’s progress and its attempt to stifle it. The greens and blue, reds and yellows, and everything in between flourished… and probably bided their time. Beauty that disarming didn’t come without consequence. This was also something else Harvey knew. Emily, his fiancée, was a smoking gun in God’s right hand, but along with the sugar and spice it seemed a dash of malice or spite had slipped in. For all her gorgeous angles and sweet words, the woman was a vicious wolf in dainty sheep’s wool. He’d once seen a kid torn into by a rabid wolverine and he’d come to feel a sense of comradery with the child, much like being the lone survivors of a great tragedy.

He hit the brakes lightly to hug a curve and heard the hum from the tread of his tires rolling over the blacktop. The wind came through the window in bursts, fluffing his hair violently while a white-hot sun hung in the middle of the bleached sky. They didn’t have a fight today, Harvey was only on a joy ride drinking in the scenic beauty at 60 miles an hour while his camera rode shotgun. The passenger was there in case something completely gorgeous or grotesque came across his path, or near it. Harvey was only a photographer by hobby, not by trade, and that’s all he felt it could be in the digital age where any idiot with a cell phone could make “art”. The profession was crowded with wedding vultures and pretentious would-be geniuses as he saw it anyway, so he stood content with doing math for money and leaving the lens-gazing for downtime. Hundreds of pictures littered his hard drive, flowers, seeds, trees and landscapes, bones and decomposing shacks in ruin and all always just feet off the road. It always started with a glimpse of something different and lead to a collection of frozen windows of time.

The engine hummed a series of repetitive v’s in different inflection as Harvey eased on and off the gas pedal. Trees and bushes waved at his passing, like they were saying hello and goodbye all at once. In front of him, the road laid out like a giant black and yellow serpent as it twisted a path to nowhere in particular. It was exactly where he wanted to go. Yellow squares with black arrows stood guard at the edge of another curve. They guided him away from a careless wide turn that would otherwise lead him astray. On the opposite embankment, at the bottom of the slanted road, a guardrail held the green at bay inside the curve. Leaves and branches leaned over the steel and threatened to take something back from man. Harvey’s eye twitched at the corner as he came upon the curve. The green behind the guardrail looked like a giant face. It wasn’t completely human in its reflection, but the very basic formation of two eyes and a giant, gnarled nose was prevalent. His heart smashed against his ribcage until he realized it was only the overgrowth. He loosened sweaty palms from the steering wheel that they had instinctually throttled in fear and pressed his foot back on the gas as the cold hallucination washed out in the tiny beads of sweat from his pores.

He pulled the wheel toward the inside of the curve. The leave all pulled back tightly around the face Harvey had thought he’d seen. The car floated by the inside of the curve and the face turned to follow it. Leave and branches had tucked firmly together and defined more features than before. A green, rustling brow pulled together in the middle of the face, smashed up in an aggravated grimace while a deep, hollow wind howled through the trees. This time Harvey knew the face he saw from the corner of his eye was real and not another trick in his mind’s eye that haunted him like some post-jitters paranoia. His foot sunk into the gas pedal. Behind the giant, green face more leave pushed out with knotted branches and trunks behind them. They rammed against the driver’s side door. Harvey’s face slammed into the window and caused a spider web crack where his head hit. The frame around the window had become grossly distorted. His head felt like a baseball tossed into a solid wood bat. The car spun to the top of the curve, nearing a full circle, and faced back the same way on the road while he foot was still heavy on the pedal. The tires smoked and start to gain traction. The rubber squealed against the blacktop. Before the car could lurch forward and away, more tightly woven branches came back like an angry god-fist and caved the frame in further. Slits in the metal opened and curled while shards of glass littered the road and leather interior.

Harvey’s left eye stung, salty with blood as it ran from his scalp. A jagged piece of scrap had peeled away from the frame in the impact and had sunken itself into Harvey’s upper thigh, he felt it scape against his femur. The squeal of the metal on his bone reverberated through the meat of his body and turned his stomach in heavy knots. A third hit sent the car off the road and into a ditch on the far side. The front wheels hung inches off the grass. Harvey pulled his foot back and let the battered engine idle as it choked out its last breaths. He glanced up in the rear-view mirror. The living embankment was behind him. The leaves had drawn tight again and in a blink he heard the trunk of his car collapse like an aluminum can. The car lurched further into the grass and dug into the earth below. The grill planted itself like the head of a spade while the crushed rear suspended from a moment before gravity pulled it down. The grill pulled open a gash in the skin of the earth.

A tornado of steam and exhaust rose up from the car and filled the cab. It seeped into Harvey’s lungs. He gagged and choked. His eyes pooled and blurred and everything worsened from the smog of the car. He tried to free himself, but the piece of the metal in his leg had him pinned. It was still attached to the door frame. Metal scraped against his bone again. He felt slices of it peeling off like bark from a stick. Bile climbed up his throat and sat in his mouth. He swallowed it down, hard, and reached for his thigh. With as much strength as he could gather, he pushed the flesh of his leg down with his right hand and slowly pulled the frayed piece of metal out with the left. Blood spurted out more and more vigorously then closer he came to freeing himself. It oozed from the hole and washed out over his pant leg. His left hand shook. The jagged piece had been at least three inches inside of him and now it wouldn’t give anymore as it hovered barely an inch outside of his skin. Harvey tried to move his leg, but when his muscles tensed more blood left him and unbearably sharp pains crashed into the nerve clusters in his body. The blood loss was beginning to show its hand, as well. His arm quivered ferociously. He was barely able to keep the scrap out of his leg. He unlatched his seat-belt and rolled toward the passenger seat. The metal slipped from his fingers and caught the outside seam of his pant leg. It tore away a generous chunk of denim. His leg, though freed, was saturated in blood. He dragged himself across the cab to the undamaged passenger door. A trail of red smeared across the seats like thick, watery paint. He opened the door and fell out onto the upturned grass. The brown earth clumped and stuck itself to the blood all over him and even worked into the wound. It burned as it unleashed new elements into the gash. Harvey pulled his shirt off and did the best he could turning it into a makeshift tourniquet. His head swam. All of his concentration had started to wane with his composure as it all leaked out his leg.

The ground shook beneath him in patterns like slow, plotting drums. They were spaced apart enough to seem like long, drawn out footsteps. Confusion built inside his dizzy mind. Each thrum shook harder and soon audible thuds began to accompany them like small avalanches over in seconds. Harvey pulled himself passed the cover of his car and stared out blankly to the horizon. The clutter of trees that lined the edge of the tame field had begun to rise like a series of randomly firing pistons, though once they were at their peak they didn’t return back to their casing. And the trees began to walk away like they’d given up on the ages they had tried to coexist with man, or worse: they were revolting. Harvey felt his heart drop in his chest. He questioned, for a moment, if he wasn’t delude from the blood loss. It was completely plausible that he’d had a terrible crash and imagined everything else after the fact while he remained unconscious. There was only one way to have any proof if what he was seeing was real. He pulled himself back into the car and reached for his camera. Quickly, he wiped the lens with his sleeve and pointed it toward the edge of the woods and shot.

For the One That Got Away (2007)

How did I end up here? To me, that should be the most important question for this point and time, since I’m standing over a drugged-out ex with her current beau chopped into pieces and scattered through some trash bags around my feet. It’s not the logistics that I’m worried about, I know that much: two rights off Main Street and an eight block hike through some alleys. The evaluation that I need to make is how severe this psychotic break is. I’ve obviously taken it upon myself to act as an “agent of karma” with exceedingly biased and malicious hands. What she did to me happens to everyone, but you only hear about the crazies taking it this far when it airs on Snapped. But I’m not an exceptionally unstable person (or at least I thought I wasn’t) and I’m usually no more violent than the average red-blooded American male. Hell, anytime I hit something on the road I feel terrible, though I always try to swerve and miss it. So why is it that I’m standing here wondering what the worst and most terrifying thing I could say to her would be if she came back around prematurely? Not to mention: the clown suit.

Honestly, I already know the answers. I’m only trying to make myself feel more human than what anyone will ever see me as again. The reason I’m here is because I’m bitter and something inside of me broke when the whole truth of why she walked out on me came to light. And knowing the privileged things that I know about her through those long post sex talks, I’ve come to make sure she’s just as fucked up as I feel. She has abandonment issues and a terrible phobia of clowns just like most kids exposed to IT when they were too young. I had my doubts about the execution, but once I saw them together the adrenaline started and the bile came up to the back of my mouth. There was no backing down. I wonder if I got the erection from the smell of shit and fear or if it was seeing her sprawled out, naked body again. It doesn’t matter.

If it weren’t for the arrogant ignorance of the age of information I might have swept this one under the rug. I might have stayed balanced and normal. But some people just don’t seem to get the seriousness that anything can be seen online and even exploited for the right (or certifiably wrong) reason. It was all bread crumbs to me, a few at first to pique my interest, then a mess of crusts and crumbled loaves that lead to the bakery. I counted on them being drunk and if anything they were predictable. I could’ve used a drink before I started, but that could’ve fucked up everything. They left the bar and wandered back to his place, stumbling and leaning on each other like they were in love. Were they in love? I’m glad I cut out his heart, now.

You know, you can spend so much time with a person and never really know them at all. Day after bloodsucking day, you put yourself out there for them and what comes back to you? Lies. Fucking lies. It took me months to sift through all her bullshit because I put too much trust in her, to be honest. Finally, though, the spell broke and some scorned friend spilled the proverbial can of beans. It added up. I felt like confronting her would be like tearing us apart with my bare fucking hands. Was it my fault? Am I just a product of rejection? This is justified, right? I mean, when Cash sang about murder in the name of love that made it alright. No one came down on him.

I’ve planned this to the “T”, anyway. It’s air tight, fool proof, with an alibi and clown shoes. I have wetsuit underneath this eye-raping outfit and made sure to weigh down the shoes in such a way that if anything goes to forensics, my walking pattern and foot shape will be altered. It’s a pretty proud moment for me, actually. There aren’t very many opportunities in which I have a marriage of motivation and meticulous, pedantic planning. And whatever parts of my body that aren’t clean shaven at the moment have been glued down with makeup and prosthetics so I shouldn’t have any DNA left in this place after tonight.

Dammit, my stomach’s doing a weird thing again. Watching a body being dismembered in a movie and doing it for real are two completely different horses and color spectrum. I don’t usually get squeamish, but I need to hurry this along before I shit myself with anxiety about it. My patience is falling apart.

When they got back they had a nice drunk fuck, I watched it all. Maybe that’s when I got hard. They finished and laid like wet heaps of laundry on top of each other when I forced my way into the house. I’m glad he had a house, it would’ve been next to impossible to pull off if there were nosy neighbors in an apartment building. I stood next to them in the darkness, for what seemed like hours, and stared and waited. They were fucked out and exhausted. He wouldn’t be able to fight back so drunk and dehydrated and she wouldn’t be a concern. My heart was about to burst out of my chest in anticipation. I savored the moment, relished in it even. The duct tape I stole from the kitchen counter twisted unconsciously in my hand. Hurting him wasn’t really what I was after, but he was a necessary tool. I started to grin when I thought about how close I was.

This face paint is fucking amazing, too. I was sweating bullets and it didn’t run. Even when the drunken asshole pawed at my face before I took his alarm clock to his face, it didn’t smudge. I even checked his fingers on under his nails and nothing came off. Amazing. The alarm clock was worthless. Three good, blunt hits before it shattered against his skull. One of those blows, though, broke his nose and he was more concerned with that than trying to defend himself. I helped squeeze the life out of him. She didn’t do anything to stop me. She was drunk out of her mind and, well, I was a clown murdering someone she cared about in front of her eyes. The saddest part, though, was that I know he could’ve taken me, easily. He was in shape with abs like Jesus, but his brain was too fucked up to operate the guns. Here I am, out of shape and slightly pudgy and kicking his pieces around.

When I was sure he was gone, I turned my focus on her and bound her hands and ankles with duct tape, and gagged her for good measure. I made her watch as I pulled out thick sheets of plastic to cover the room like an impromptu butcher’s shop and stick her dead fuck toy like a pig and bleed him into buckets. I even held my tongue and just smiled big as Texas, ear to ear. I don’t know why she started to cry aside from the obvious. But I still wished I could’ve broke character and asked if it was the trauma and shock that shook her bones or if she thought that she would be next. Maybe if she knew it was me, she would have felt safer. But if I did that I would definitely have to end her and that was too easy.

The bile’s rising up in the back of my throat again. I really need to shit or get off the pot on this one. I’ve been standing here for nearly an hour. Of course, I could have been surer of the time if I hadn’t demolished the alarm clock with blunt force. She’s been passed out for a while now. I took a break from carving up the corpse to focus my attention on her.

She struggled and mumbled something under the tape over her mouth, but I couldn’t understand it. Truth be told, I didn’t care to. It would have been a heartfelt plea or some other bullshit that I have no reason to believe in anymore. When she tried to breathe, wet snot slowly oozed down her nostrils. It turned my stomach. I stood up straight and with calmed steps I moved toward her while her eyes poured out waterfalls of fear and anxiety. For a few seconds I stood beside her and I was quiet. Then I ran a calm white glove down through her matted hair. She became still like she was suddenly at peace with everything, though her eyes were still facets. Slowly, I ran my fingers through the tangles in her hair surreptitiously until I had a pleasing handful to yank her head back with. I soaked her tears up with the other glove and smiled smaller than I had before. It was almost genuine. The glove slid down along her jawline before it reached into a pocket and pulled out a syringe full of morphine. I’m not sure if it was too much or not, but it was enough to roll her eyes around in her head and put her to sleep. It’ll last.

I cleaned her up and put her to bed and now the shakes are getting worse and I can’t see clearly at all. Is this latent guilt? What made me think this was okay? I’ve got to push that down before I ruin everything. To stop now would be utterly pointless. I have to commit and see this through to the end so it reaps its rewards, I’ve already broken her. I saw it. Now, maybe, she’ll be too afraid to care about anyone ever again. Maybe not…

And this is the moment were the bile turns cold and though she’s unconscious and I have pieces of a dead man at my feet, I spit it out into the room to lift this sinking weight off my chest. I say, “When you take people for granted and think you can do what you want without consequence, this is where it gets you. You’re self-absorbed and ignorant and you’ve brought all this down on yourself. You’re not a good person and this is what you deserve and somewhere deep in the back of your mind this will always be there like a big, nasty blood stain on your brain.”

It felt good to put it out there, but it did nothing. Maybe it would seep into her subconscious and she’d always know. That would have to be good enough. I grab his cell phone out of his pants with his keys. I’ll text her something sweet from it in the morning so she thinks tonight was just a horrible dream. I’m beginning to think that, too. The cover of night’s already starting to slip away. I’ll have to load him in the trunk of my car still, since he doesn’t have one. This guy, really?

She’ll never be able to prove anything. It’ll all get shoved to the back of her head until she eventually comes to believe he left her and disappeared. Hopefully, it’ll stay with her for years and cause her to deconstruct anything she tries to develop with another person. Maybe that’s too far, but at this point the damage is done and I can only hope for the worst. And I don’t feel sorry anymore. The shakes are settling and that guilt and regret have dissipated.

I’m hungry. I could go for some breakfast.

The Deep Dark Beyond (2009)

This is it. I’m out here floating in the black, a little black coffin in the big black universe. I might have a few hours before the oxy filters deplete. Then, I suffocate. I’ve heard it’s worse than being buried alive, but I can’t say that I’ve ever met anyone with a firsthand accounting of it. That’s my loss, I guess. I wonder if I could bust out of here, take a deep breath and see how far I could get. I mean, it’s not completely unlikely that I’d still be underneath the Ark or maybe some salvage ship. Hell, I could even get lucky enough to be picked up by some scavengers looking to loot a dead body. But that’s one big fat fucking chance of luck that I doubt I have.

Besides, if (huge emphasis on the ‘if’) I could even break out of this reinforced hunk of lead on my own, I’d decompress in a matter of seconds. What do they call it? Black? It doesn’t make much sense. Something like ‘space suffocation’ or ‘hyper death’ would’ve been more accurate and a little less ominous. Black just sounds like a disease or cancer. It starts when all the oxygen is pulled out of the body into the vacuum of space. Veins bulge and eyes burst all within countable second. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and I’d rather not find out. This supposedly happens as a near instant freeze takes over your body, so if the numb hasn’t taken you before the pain sets in, I’ll bet the agony in near infinite. That’d be my luck, I’d feel it all and freeze slower than anyone else.

What can I do now? I could fall asleep before I freeze to death and maybe I’d suffocate while I’m unconscious. That’d be nice. It be leagues better than violent spasms and bile stuck in my throat. Fuck. My chest feels like it’s on fire. I’m making myself panic. My heart’s starting to beat a mile a minute and that’ll burn more oxygen. I need to calm down if there’s even a slim chance that I could be rescued. Very slim, I know, infinitesimally slim, but if there’s a chance, I have to stay hopeful. I wish I’d tested positive for psychic evaluation, then I might have been able to reach out… to her.

 

She was a pretty one… is a pretty one. I’m the one that’ll be in the past tense soon, not her. Almond eyes, dark brown velvety hair. It was soft. Always soft. And it always smelled just like spring, or what I imagine spring would smell like. We’ve all heard the stories about Earth’s seasons and how breathtaking they were. Unfortunately, I was born on a space station orbiting the dying planet. I’ve never set foot on an organic ground that wasn’t made by another man (or woman). The stations had holo-rooms, full of fluorescent sunshine and intangible grass. But it all smelled like motor oil and fucking. That’s all anyone ever did in there. Imitation picnics with humid, raw sex as the main dish. We weren’t that shallow were we, Summer? We were different. It was the little things that set us apart. Sure we had to get passed that cold metal feel under our toes, but it was almost real, especially with you. And eventually we were more than ecstatic to take advantage of the chance to discover new things about each other’s bodies, but it wasn’t so staged and cold.

She would dance on her tip-toes. Twelve years of training in classic dance theater and she had the legs to show for it. Long as liquorish sticks and twice as mouth-watering. Watching her dance did two things to me. The first was a more than notable and legendary captivation that I’m still in awe of to this moment, and the latter, a more crude tightening in my groin. It’s good to know that she still has that effect on me. An inconvenient time, but at least I don’t have to deal with the embarrassment of others seeing me at full mast.

Toward the end of our first full cycle together, I had this intense need to impress her. She had trudged up something heavy in me, something new and different and way more than just ordinary. And so I shared this with her. There was this one area of the station and it was only in the right place once a year for the view. We spent hours combing through the lower barracks, sweating hard between the thick metal walls with busted vents and propulsion engines on either side. But we made it, that window to the universe. It was the only time someone else was there to see it with me. My first time alone had been when I was seven. I swore that it was the last time my stepfather would ever hit me and I ran. I ran until my legs hurt too much and I fell down. And there it was. It was so beautiful that I’d cried, but it could’ve been due to the fact that I was seven, lost, tired and in pain. Every day after, I found the window, but not the view. It was a bitter first lesson in disappointment, but I wasn’t without my resolve. It was all in the alignment of the planets due to a solstice or whatever. No term will really capture it or evoke whatever god-like awe it put in me. For fifteen years I kept it to myself. There were times when I wished I had someone there or really considered using it just to get laid, but it just didn’t happen that way. And by the time I brought Summer, I’d forgotten about all that. It was a gift, for her.

We sat at the clear plate vacuum glass window. My hands were over her eyes while she fidgeted and tried to peak while tons of questions poured out of her. She was like that, is like that, she always tried to fit everything into her frame of understanding and if anything was out of place, she would restless ask until she understood it. It was a sort of robotic mentality, but she wasn’t cold or distant like an automaton. She was quite the opposite. She liked to be touched and held and warm places. Being with her was a lot like dancing in a way. To me, it felt like a way of living lost to the ages, a time when emotions were easy to break to the surface. It reminded me of the first time I saw her dance, warm tear trails on my face. She wasn’t playful like she was in the holo-rooms, she was possessed. I could have sworn that she had made it up on the spot, but she confess that months of planning and preparing had gotten her where she was with it. It was beautiful and it was when I knew I had to bring her. I faced her out toward empty space and held my fingers tight together so she couldn’t peek. She had a look on her face that was the look I’d imagine she would have had to feel the true sun on her skin. Neither of us had, of course, since the station had a wall of solar panels that blocked the sun from a direct line of view. I wanted to run my clammy fingers along her cheek bones, to kiss her lips and hold her until the end of time, but I couldn’t let her miss it. It started. I kissed her forehead and whispered, “Open your eyes.”

I turned her head out into the deep dark beyond. It was an endless midnight salted with distant stars. Slowly, like mercury at zero gravity, the Earth crowned against the black, followed by Mars and Jupiter, then Saturn, Uranus and Neptune while Pluto brought up the end. All their respective satellites floated like little jewels around them, glistening against the light of the sun far behind us. And for a moment they hung there in a row, like generations of bald gods laid out before us. In that moment, space didn’t seem so infinite a void like the big, black empty hole it was. The view was like a painting of pure emotions with the truest colors and hues, mixes and textures. Her hands floated out like lost astronauts and pressed up against the glass. This was my sixteenth year seeing it and it never became anything less than astounding. It was pure beauty.

Tears fell down her cheeks. Her lips curled up into a smile. I could’ve died the happiest bastard in the whole fucking galaxy. She started to say something. I put two fingers across her lips and nodded out to the gods, fading now, back into another year of pretending to be enormous hunks of gas and rock. She turned to me. I knew what she was thinking or rather I knew what I thought she was surely thinking because I was thinking the same thing. She fell into me and I held her as close and as tight as I could. Deep in my guts, I knew she was the only one I’d ever love. The top of her head brushed against my chin and she started to kiss my neck. I felt the wetness of her cheek on my skin. Her lips became possessed, more passionate and in my mind’s eyes it’s a haze of dancing color like most of the best things worth remembering. Details are for the pretentious and pedantic. The feeling, the emotion and physical feeling that make the memories memorable. People immortal. We would live forever, or so I thought.

 

Damn. I’ve just made myself depressed. I have to live now! How the hell’d I even get in this fucking space coffin? Floating. Alive. In the big black. If I thought it’d make any bit of difference, I’d punch my way out. They should equip these fucking things with an oxygen tank and a floater’s suit. I’d be out of this stitch and back to the Ark. My stomach’s tying itself in knots just thinking about it. I hope I don’t vomit. That’d be great, slowly running out of oxygen and the last bits of life I have smell like half-digested… whatever I ate last. Now I’m thinking about it too much… yeah… it’s coming. Oh god.

Chicken. Gross. Not real chicken, either. It’s that god damn space safe junk. What the hell’d I eat that for? Hold on, if I vomited that means decompression could be starting. I didn’t need to think of that, but I usually have a pretty strong stomach. I shouldn’t have puked. Not in here. It has to be the decompression… here it comes again.

More chicken… and yogurt? Disgusting. It’s all over me and I can’t even pull off any of these dressings to clean myself. At best it’s a bib and bibs are pointless when you’re stuck on your back or whatever since I’m sure I’m actually aimlessly twirling about. I can’t say that I was aware that the Black would get its claws in me in this air tight coffin, but I’m not an expert on my situation, either. I guess it’s slower, though, which is just my rotten fucking luck. Now I wonder if it’s the Black or the suffocation I’ll die of first. Great. I should scream and get all of the air out faster, beat the Black to the punch. But I’d probably just puke up more space chicken. Space chicken, what a retarded name. It makes me think of a chicken with a bubble helmet and rockets instead of wings. It stays down when you’re off the ground. What a stupid jingle.

Wait. All of the vomit is caked on me… shouldn’t it be floating around at zero g’s? This thing has a mini-scale grav chamber!? What a fucking joke. You’d think if I were some dead guy in a lead hyper-coffin, no one would give two shits about my body floating loose in a tight space. Actually, on second thought, oxy filters are just as dumb to waste on dead people. The dead don’t breathe. I’ll bet some bright engineer decided to half-ass some support system to keep any poor bastard accidentally alive in one of these things conscious for rescue, but forgot the most important part: a fucking rescue system. Unless… maybe there is a rescue system, a beacon or something. Shit. Yeah. They put a homing beacon on everything nowadays. I just have to look for anything that looks like it could be a button.

Wait… WAIT! I feel something! Behind my ass. It’s round. Feels like a button. Feels like I can press it, but I might need to think this through. Rushing into anything could leave me worse off. Dammit! Instead of thinking about the button, I should be worried about the decompression and how much oxygen I have left. My priority should be getting back to the Ark. Okay. Focus. Head in the game. There’s a button. What could it be for? Beacon? Hopefully, but what else? Fuck, I can’t concentrate on anything other than beacon. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Maybe I should’ve been an engineer that worked on these things and I wouldn’t have to worry about all this. I’d know everything about it… unless I was building something else completely. Never mind, just push the fucking button. Deep breath.

 

Three.

 

Two.

 

One.

Understanding in a Car Crash (2006)

I drove alone and tried to push thoughts that I was a monster out of my head, but I was beginning to believe that being a man picking up the pieces of the shattered boy I used to be had turned me into something else completely. Had she seen this? I couldn’t tear my mind away from the previous moments in which the words that fell off my lips were saturated in the kind of truth you don’t see in the movies. It was the real bones-deep honesty that life usually doesn’t afford us and for once I was happy with the way things had begun to go. I did what I believed should’ve been done in that moment and knew it was the right thing. I was finally taking myself back. I was taking charge of my moments of heartless, cloudy judgment and beginning to atone for whatever sins that seemed forgivable. This was part of the mature love that I knew was inside of me. It was part of that idea that the silver screen had led me to believe existed. Though I thought it was mostly a hoax to sell tickets and make money, I know now that it’s alive. It only hides in the dark corners of being alive and waits to be stumbled upon.

I waited for her in my car and lost myself in the rhythm of loneliness as the wind caressed the metal frame and hissed against the windows. It wasn’t five seconds before that her mother had passed me and turned into the driveway. I know she wanted to stop and invite me inside, but I’d pretended to be rummaging through the glove box, but I would have replied, “I think I’ll wait,” and cracked a half smile to send her on her way.

What would I have been searching for? My bag? No, I knew it wasn’t with me and I knew I’d never get into her bedroom again. I hadn’t slept comfortably in weeks. It seems, instead, that I was searching for hope, maybe to convince her that I was someone that she needed. I could have talked her into giving me another chance so that I could prove I was worthy of her. Perhaps I was only looking for courage to stand up and say the things I believed needed to be said. Possibly. In the end, it would only have been an act the fool her mother.

Headlights crowned from the shadows ahead and my heart raced like it always did when I knew I was about to see her. I never got passed that and to me that always meant something. Maybe it’s just a trick in the brain and I tied the two together because I didn’t know how else to handle it. I turned the music down while I waited for her silhouette to emerge from the car and slipped the ignition off. Unease rose up inside of me. She looked up at me, and smiled, “I didn’t know you were still in your car.”

“I was waiting for you. I didn’t wanna hang out in there alone, it would have been awkward,” I felt my voice flounder with a nervous quiver. I wondered if she hated me.

She led the way in. The house felt like home. It felt good to be inside. I shut the door behind me. Her dogs stared up from the bottom of the steps in a row. I wanted to believe they thought I was a good person, because maybe I was or maybe I just wear the skin and play the part. I’m sure they loved me as good as mindless critters love a scratch behind the ears, but the thought still haunted me. They knew a lot more about what was going on than they let on.

We walked up the steps, still under the animals’ watchful eyes. Her stepfather mumbled something, but I didn’t listen. I moved past her and took a seat on the edge of the couch. I didn’t know if I was truly welcome or not. Her stepfather made his way over to me once he’d finished with her and put his hand on my shoulder, “Hey man, how you doin’?”

“Good. What about you?”

“Well, I went to work for about half an hour, then they sent me home and I’m off for ‘nother seven fuckin’ days.”

I nodded without a follow up and stared back at the ground. My guts knotted up.

She moved around the kitchen before she finally sat down next to me. There were so many things that I wanted to do out of habit, but they were denied to me now. I did what was best for the situation, which was nothing at all. As the night moved along, she closed the space between us and would lay a hand on me accidentally, followed with an apology, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

Each new time would linger longer than the ones before, and every time I felt her, a ball of panic rose up in my throat. And every time she touched me, I didn’t push her away. I welcomed it quietly and sometimes thought to reach back. I wanted to hold her and tell her things, but I moved over to the larger couch and played the game that I knew we had to play. I bit my tongue and stopped whatever I could from coming out. I couldn’t help but think that we did this dance and reached out to each other because there’s something more we couldn’t understand.

Then it came. She quoted something I said before that had come out between jokes that she’d cracked to ease a tense air between us. Her jokes weren’t funny that night and what I had said and what followed were even less so. I broke off inside myself floating down a creek of regret with my face in the water. The damage was done, I knew it, but I still wanted to go back and try anything different. I couldn’t. My hands slid over my eyes and hid any sign of humanity that glimmered over my face. I had no right. I had no right at all. I couldn’t take back my actions. Those moments when I reveled in the sick satisfaction of seeing her in misery were cemented in time. It was all real. Who was I? What was I? Since that night, I’ve constantly questioned myself and the perception of who I really am. It was a process of self-dissection that was far from over, but I was learning.

I had retraced all I could of that night. I dug through the foggy moments and reestablished the facts as I saw them through my own eyes. When did I become so heartlessly cold? Was I always that way? I clearly remember the moment I lost control. I took the box cutter across my stomach, slowly, and watched the blood cover my skin. Blood wasn’t all that came out through the gaps. I can’t believe I left her alone. I became the very thing I’d told her I wasn’t. Did I lie to her? The things I said, the things I did when I should have made things right. I should have taken her home and lay beside her until she stopped convulsing. Instead, I went down a road that should have been closed off and sped down it recklessly.

The regret came through me in tidal waves and I felt my welcome becoming overstayed. I still hadn’t mustered up the courage for an apology, whether it would have made the difference or not. She should still know. Without a word, she grabbed the fingers on my swollen hand and guided me downstairs to her bedroom. It felt safe, but I’d betrayed that safety for my own selfish reasons and here I was again, back in the warm den. My hands shook and she looked at me with pitying eyes. It wasn’t long before the tears I had been at war with all night came down in torrents over my face. I was at their mercy, her mercy, the snot-nosed, drooling five-year-old I’d just reverted to like I’d cracked my head against the counter. My arms crossed over my knees and I stared at the blurry, shadowy ground. “Why is this so hard? I just wanted to make you happy.”

I didn’t know if it was right for me to stay or better for me to leave. The floor seemed well enough a place to be, so I stayed. I began to shake furiously and everything began to spill out of me. And after it had all come out, it was just my sobs that kept the air full of noise. She reached over and pulled me into bed. I tried to resist. I didn’t deserve her. She was only confused and I had made her that way. When I finally caved and lay beside her, the contours of the mattress calmed me quiet. We laid there for a while without a sound. A cat pushed through the cracked door. It pounced up onto her chest and I pulled a pillow over my face to keep it away. “I’m sorry…” I talked into the pillow, “I’m so so sorry… I’m such an asshole. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

I was the cold destroyer of life. I knew that now. It was all too clear. Her life was the first I’d fucked up. I’d done it to everyone I knew in some way or another. I walked up and took everything. At that moment, I knew I had to leave. I couldn’t do anything more to hurt her. I needed to be out of her life. I got out of bed and walked to the door, but when my hand got to the handle she stopped me, “Don’t go… not yet.”

“I need to…” the words felt forced and trite.

She grabbed my arm again and the next thing I knew her lips were on mine and I got dizzy in the head. Everything was perfect again in that moment, but the kiss ended. And so did the illusion. She pulled me back to bed with her and when I laid beside her, she held me. I needed her. I needed her like I wished she needed me. She began to drift in and out of sleep. I pulled her up to pay attention because I needed her to know and listen to the things that I needed to say. I wanted to spill the rest of it, but as soon as I had the spotlight the words froze in my throat. “I… I…” she put a hand on my chest and the warmth of her touch loosened the fear, “I’m sorry for what I did, I just wish I could take it back. I wish I could do things all over again. I’m in love with you, you know that, right? I…”

“Here, just lie down and tell me about it,” she said. I nodded my head and curled up behind her. “Mmm, this feels good,” she sighed.

“Yeah… it really does. It feels right,” and I didn’t want to say anything else. I wanted to let sleep come over me and never wake up again, but I trudged on. “I never wanted to hurt you. I wanted to be there for you and be the one you need, like I’m not.”

“No, you aren’t,” the words cut quick and deep.

“I… I want to be the person that can make everything okay.”

“But you can’t…” she said sleepily.

I wanted to leave again without another word. The sutures that were fixed in my wounds were pulled apart by the truth in her voice. I wanted to die. I’d taken everything from her and now she’d never be happy again. It was my fault. I had no right. The tears tried to fight their way back up to my face, but this time I choked them down. “I can’t say anything else. It won’t come out.”

“Well, maybe it isn’t the time for it to come out,” she replied. It made sense.

“I think I need to go now.”

“You don’t have to… you could stay here.” Her words were drowsy.

“No, I can’t. Not right now.”

She turned over and faced me. She put her fingers into the back of my hair and looked me in the eyes. Her hand pulled my face closer to hers and our lips pushed against each other again. I was lulled back into a hopeful heart. Everything could be great. I pushed my tongue into her mouth and put a clammy palm on her cold, pale face. Goose bumps prickled on my skin and I felt alive for a moment. She pulled away and buried her head into my shoulder. She started to drift again. “I’m happy right now,” she whispered into me.

“In the morning, you’ll regret kissing me.”

“Probably.”

“I don’t think that’s real happiness, then,” I mumbled as my heart sank.

“What is real?”

We laid there a while, quietly at peace. I ran my hands through her thin hair. It was soft like she always bragged. I missed it already. Her breath was light and she was cold and limp. I started to whisper in her ear like I was telling her a fairytale and held her for what was likely to be the last time. “I’m so completely sorry for what I did and I would spend every chance I ever had trying to prove to you that it wasn’t me. I want to spend every breath I have in me to make you happy. I want to hold you when you’re sad. I want to be there when you’re upset so I can make things better. I want to protect you,” I paused while the cat began to lick her hand. “I’m not going to stay tonight. Just until I’m sure you’re dead asleep. When you wake up in the morning, I won’t be here. I’m going to disappear.”

She shook her head, “Don’t…”

“I have to, but in a few days I’ll call you. You don’t have to pick up the phone, but I really really hope you do. I will call. I promise. We’ll see how it goes from there.”

I felt less like a coward then and more like the man I knew I could be.

She nodded and sighed. Her face dug deeper into my shoulder. It was the best feeling in the world and I’d never feel it again. I wished she could have been happy with me, but it wasn’t in the cards. I pushed my fingers through her hair again. Small clumps came out, but she was fast asleep. I knew it was time to go, so I gently got out of bed. She wasn’t fully asleep, but close enough to be quiet when I left. I got to the door again and touched the handle. I looked back at her for a second and drank in the last look. I walked out the door and slowly up the steps. A ghost in my head whispered in her voice for me to turn around and come back. I stood still, but in the end it was only silence.

From the top of the steps, a cat that had an eerie personality stared down at me. His name was Jack and he had only one eye. It almost seemed like he mouthed “bye”. I only nodded in return. I took in the last scent of the bitter house and opened the front door to head back out to my car. The lights didn’t take me by surprise, nor did the force in which I was shoved to the ground before I was restrained. In my head, it played out like the closing scene of a coming of age movie, in which the character has their final epiphany and sees things through clear eyes. The scene plays through in slow motion with the narration from their older self, reminiscing with nostalgia and growth. In reality, though, it was fast and hard. I was in the backseat as they cleared the house with black bags on stretchers and the neighbors watched with disgust and abhorrence. Uniformed men stood around to control the peace at best, while I closed my eyes and took a deep, peaceful breath.

In my head, the curves twisted had turned themselves in front of the headlights of my car. I felt a cool calm walk into me and for once, I felt alright. Life was looking up. I didn’t hate her. How could I? She was only confused. If it were me, I’m sure the damage would have been far more serious. I loved her, so how could I let a mistake destroy that? It couldn’t. As I stopped at every traffic light, I reflected on all that had happened. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t sad, either. It was a lukewarm feeling that sat inside of me.

I pulled into the parking lot and swerved into place. I lit a cigarette before I got out, to take the edge off the moment. It was the same parking lot it had happened in. The wind tossed my hair and I thought that tonight, loneliness had never felt as good. And for the first time, I felt like I knew what I wanted and where I could get it. It was the first night of my life and my eyes were wide open. I took another drag off the cigarette. The words on the paper were almost burning. She was still in my life and that thought alone was enough to keep me going. I smiled to myself and jogged up the steps to my door. The most bittersweet night of my life was over and I was finally okay.

Baby Girl, I’m a Blur (2009)

Commotion in the next room stirred the little girl from her very pink, very flowery dreams. Ginny sat up in bed and reached for Thomas Teddybear. When she found him, she pulled him close to her chest with sleepy fingers. In the other room, she heard the floorboards creak and thud while drawers were opened and shut. She pushed the sheet off of her little legs and slid from the bed. Ginny carefully tip-toed to her bedroom door and peeked through the open sliver. She didn’t see any shadows in the hallway, but heard the unrest plain as day. Quietly, she pulled the door open and stepped out of her room.

            Down the hall, her parents’ room was softly lit and filled with clamor much like the one that woke her. The sounds repeated, add the flutter of clothes that were crammed into bags. She walked toward the open door. A shadow fell over the threshold and paused to let out a long sigh. She watched the silhouette shrink from the doorway and heard the bed spring squeak. Teddy’s face was buried in her armpit. She walked through the door to see her father on the edge of his bed with a hand slowly rubbing his forehead. “Daddy…” Ginny squeaked.

            He looked up. Bags hung under his bloodshot eyes, “You’re up late, baby girl.”

            “You woke me up,” she pouted, “I was having a good dream, too.”

            He smiled, “I’m sorry, honey, let’s get you back to bed, then.”

            He stood and picked her up. She laid her head on his shoulder. “Oh no, did I wake Teddy up, too?” he asked.

            Ginny rubbed her eyes and nodded.

            “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Bear,” he scratched the back of the teddybear’s head.

            Ginny smiled a tired smile, “He said it’s okay.”

            “Well, let’s make sure the both of you get tucked in nice and tight.”

            Ginny’s father carried them to bed. He threw back the covers and laid her down in the middle of the mattress. She set Teddy next to her on his back. Her father walked to the foot of the bed and grabbed the covers. Ginny smiled and closed her eyes tight. He flicked the sheet up in the air and let it float down over her. It covered her like a soft linen cloud. Ginny giggled. He walked up the side of the bed, tucking the sheet under her legs and arms as he went. “There you go. My little burrito,” he kissed her forehead. “Now go back to sleep.”

            “Okay.”

            He smiled as much as he could. It slid off his face slowly, while the moon outside made parts of his face glow. Ginny’s eyes opened quickly, “Daddy, what were you doing?”

            “Nothing, Gin.”

            “It was a whole lotta noise for nothin’.”

            “Really?” he sat down next to her in mock surprise, “Well, I didn’t think it was that bad.”

            “Of course it was, it woke me and Teddy up. That’s noisy!” her eyebrows raised in exclamation. “Didn’t you know you are supposed to be quiet when someone’s asleep?”

            “I must have forgotten. But Teddy did say that it was okay, didn’t he?”

            “Teddy said it was okay that you were sorry, not that it was okay to make a ruckus while we were dreaming.”

            “Ruckus, huh? Where’d you learn a word like that?”

            “Television.”

            He laughed, “You’re pretty sharp, you know that?”

            “Yeah, Mommy tells me that all the time,” Ginny yawned.

            The small grin slid from her father’s face, “Yeah… Mommy tells me that, too.”

            “Daddy, you’re pretty sharp, too,” she pulled her arms free from the blanket and rubbed her eyes again.

            “Thanks, Gin,” he leaned over and kissed her forehead.

            Ginny reached up and wrapped her little arms around his neck and squeezed as tight as she could. He squeezed back. “I love you, Ginny. Don’t ever forget that.”

            “I won’t, Daddy.”

            “Good,” he lifted up and kissed her forehead again.

            Ginny shoved her arms back under the covers and her father tucked them back in. She closed her eyes and fell quick to sleep before he got up and walked toward the door. For a while, he stood there with his hand on the door frame and stared at his daughter while she slept. He forced a painful smile across his face and shut the door behind him.

            In the morning, Ginny woke up with her sheets bunched at the foot of her bed. Teddy had rolled over on his belly and hung his legs over the edge of the mattress. She yawned and rubbed her eyes and grabbed Teddy as she slid onto the carpet. The sun teased light through the shut blinds and put lined patterns on the lilac wall. Her door was wide open. She drug her sleepy feet through it and into the hallway.

            She found her mother in the kitchen. She sat alone at the dinner table with the back of her hand swiping across her cheeks and a paper lowered in front of her face. “Morning, Mommy.”

            Her mother smiled, “Mornin’, hon’ You want some breakfast?”

            “I wanna wait for Daddy,” Ginny climbed into her mother’s lap and hugged Teddy.

            A stormy look fell over her mother’s face and her eyes went to the letter in front of her. Quiet tears started down her cheek. Ginny leaned back against her mother’s chest and brushed the top of her head against her chin. “What’s that?” Ginny asked.

            “It’s a note… from Daddy…”

            “What’s it say?”

            Ginny felt her mother’s chest stifle a sob as she sucked in a snotty breath, “Well… it says that he loves you very much,” she traced her finger along words that Ginny couldn’t read, “and that he’s sorry, but he’s… gonna miss breakfast…” she bit her lip.

            There was a hard thump in her mother’s throat and her hands began to shake. Ginny grabbed her mother’s arms and pulled them around her. “It’s okay, Mommy, he prolly already ate breakfast, don’t be sad,” she turned in her mother’s lap and reached her arms around her neck and squeezed, “he’ll be back for lunch.”

The Old Man’s Faded Wings (2003)

George sat alone in the front room staring at floor model tube television. The screen was riddled with static. Frail cricket-legged antennae rest on its top. He rocked slowly back and forth on a sunken couch, already oblivious to the program he’d been watching off and on the whole afternoon. He rambled to himself, “Bacon’s in the skillet, George. Don’t burn the bacon.”

There was no bacon. He’d already forgotten that he said anything at all. In the latter part of his fifties, his mind had started to fail him and by the time his seventies grew over him like tangled roots, the gaps had widened. From time to time, he had glimpses of clarity that rolled over him like a tank, but before he could grasp the thought in its entirety it was gone again. It left him with a sense of gloom that he couldn’t explain when it happened. That aggravated him and the aggravation usually became misplaced.

He only had his wife, Rose, to rely on now. She remained in control of her own mind and withered body while she watched her husband slip into senility. It hurt her profoundly in ways that she couldn’t explain to watch the man she loved reduced to a husk. She hid her tears from him whenever he’d forget who she was. And often, in the night, he’d wake in hysterics and find his bedroom completely unfamiliar. Life had taken a plunge after their kids had spread out across the states and had families of their own. They rarely kept in touch. She only had George and his shrinking mind. It tied knot after knot in her chest. On the tougher nights, she would pray that both of them wouldn’t wake up so that they could find each other again like they used to be, in another life.

“Gawdammit!” George cursed to himself as he sent a lavender vase full of dead flowers to the floor. It shattered.

He leaned over to scoop the pieces into his hand. The noise had startled him, but the memory of the sound had turned to a distant echo in the annals of his tired brain. A generous collection of fragments lay stacked in his hand when he stood, knees popping, and walked toward the trash bin. Water from the vase pooled in his palm as it cascaded down the pieces. It was oddly warm and seemed endless. George tossed the pieces onto the overflow of garbage in the trash. The warm water poured off his hand, too. It was red, dark red, and fell in. He rolled his eyes. He’d cut himself somehow. Under his breath, he cursed the thin skin age had given him and started toward the bathroom.

The house seemed to grow around corners he didn’t recognize. It was maze he was lost in with a vague familiarity to the walls. His stomach got hard and he started to sweat. George made fists with both hands, his left was wet and stung when he closed it. He could smell the panic on himself as his frantic heartbeat thrummed against his brittle ribcage. It was hopeless, he thought, and started to accept the grim reality that he might not escape the house that trapped him. Ominous clouds seemed to loom over him and moved in, in a claustrophobic manner. His breaths were shorter, his throat was thick with fear. And then George found himself at the bottom of a circular staircase. The sun came through a high window and warmed the skin on his face. He lifted his foot on the first step and then another. Habit took over and walked him to the door of his bedroom. “I don’t remember it bein’ this many steps,” he sighed exasperatedly to himself.

He paused for a moment at the top of the landing and put a warm hand on the small of his back. George hated those damn stairs and wished he’d gotten a single story house. But Rose had been in love with this one and the work they’d put into it over the years made his chest warm again. His stomach gurgled.

The bedroom was on the right and the door was ajar. Rose must have been in there. George gently pushed the door open and crossed the threshold. He saw the shadow first. It stretched to his feet from the middle of the room. His eyes followed the dark outline to the body hanging from a fixture in the ceiling. Her skin was pale as the clouds that drifted in the window behind her. Silver strands of hair had loosened themselves from the neat, tight bun on the back of her head. George looked at the woman’s face. Her eyes irritated and red and were only held in her head by thin eyelids. She stared forward with glass eyes, a gaze that looked like it could see through walls. Her mouth was frozen wide in a silent gasp with her pale, dry tongue swollen passed her albino pink lips. Blood had run into the collar of her gown from the looped fishing line that circled her neck.

George studied her. His stomach twisted and curdled and tickled the back of his throat. He wondered who the woman was, he didn’t recognize her. She looked stiff as dried out wood. From the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of paper on the floor. He walked over and picked it up. It was a letter written to him, so he read it:

 

My Dearest George,

            I am so so sorry that I left you like this, sick and alone, but it was too much to watch the man I love become less and less of himself every day. You’re fading and that empty look that you give me when you don’t recognize me happens more and more. And it rips my heart to pieces. Age is finally catching up with us and losing you has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. I can’t bear living without the George that I knew. I’m sorry. Maybe we’ll be together again when you close your eyes.

I can only hope.

 

            All My Love,

Rosalyn

 

            The letter fell from his swollen fingers. Something inside of him should have broken apart into pieces and though he knew that rigid woman hung in front of him was his Rose, he still didn’t know her. Tears came anyway, not for the woman, but the idea that he knew of the Rose in his memories. She was young and beautiful with midnight curls that bounced below her ears. This dried out thing in front of him couldn’t be her. But the more he tried to remember her, the less he remembered until he stood alone in a wave of shock that a dead body lightly swayed, suspended in front of his old eyes. It was a horrible thing to be captivated by, but there was a tickle of intrigue that began to rise in the back of his mind. He stared at the brown blood stains on the collar of her gown and the discolored bruises and swollen skin that puffed up around the fishing line. His throat went dry and he fled out to the hall to spill his stomach onto the floor. He looked at the bile on the hardwood floor and shook his head. “Must’ve been somethin’ I ate,” he wiped his mouth and walked down the hall.

The late afternoon gave to dusk and dusk turned to another black night. George was back on the couch, in front of the television. His blank stare fixed on the static movement. A man with cracked lips and a broken face looked down from his horse to smile at a little girl in the loving clutches of her mother. “Take care, little wing,” he winked before riding off into the sunset.

It faded to a black screen before the credits began to roll. George felt spit roll out from the corner of his mouth. His eyes wandered over to the clock behind the television. “Looks like it’s ‘bout that time,” he yawned and covered his mouth.

He stretched out his arm and groaned, quietly. His joints popped in an awkward, out of sync quartet, and continued to whine under his skin as he walked from room to room killing the lights.

He found himself at the bottom of the staircase once again, ascending a step at a time with old, aching bones. He watched his shaky feet tremble and carry him up. At the landing, he stretched again, his spine popped in segments that sent small, relaxing shivers up his back. It felt good for a brief time before he could feel the vertebrae rub up against each other again. Moonlight bled in through the thinly draped windows into the sour smell of the bedroom. George wrinkled his nose up in the dark. It smelled like queerly bleached roadkill. He reached for the light switch before he noticed the odd shape in the middle of the room. Something felt out of place to him and when the lights burst on across the room, he saw her again, but for the first time. Her snow-white lips and swollen tongue, her tilted head and empty eyes. His own eyes grew wide at the sight of her and wrinkles bunched across his forehead. The surprise and disgust took him all at once.

A paper crumpled under his foot as he blindly walked to her, tears in his eyes. His faded Rose. He slid his quivering hands along the cold legs of her gown. She stared down at him. His finger ran over crusted fabric, stiff with time and waste. He was in too much shock to notice. “Oh Rose, what’ve you done?” he softly sighed with his face gently pressed against her.

He stared up her sagging body and fell to his swollen knees. The pain lasted for a moment before he went numb with disbelief. He looked down at his hands, old and ragged and shaking furiously. “I did this, didn’t I?” he mumbled, “My god dammed brain’s gone too rotten.”

Tears cascaded down his face and fell from his stubbly chin into his palm. He ground his loose teeth as anger started to rise inside of him. He stared up again. He wanted to hold her and tell her that everything would be good again. He’d get better, even though he knew he wouldn’t. Even though he knew she’d never be able to hear him. He at least had to get her down before he could do anything else.

A stool had been kicked to a corner of the room. He knew it was the stool she stood on in her last moments. He crawled over to it and dragged it back. It filled him with a bittersweet melancholy to touch the last thing she touched before she died. George carefully ran his fingers along the seat of the stool and smiled like a ghost to himself. He stood the stool in front of her and used it to get to his feet. Unsure, he rose and climbed on top of the stood. He was tall enough for the stray hairs from his balding head to graze the contours of the ceiling. He grabbed her shoulder and turned her body to get a better look at the fishing line around her neck. “Dammit, Rose,” he tittered to himself.

His fingers lightly moved along the line at her neck. There was no way to free her from it  without cutting into her skin. He didn’t think he was ready for that. George’s eyes followed the line up to the fixture in the ceiling. When Rose had knocked the stool out from under herself, the drop and weight had pulled the fixture down and exposed its roots. He knew it wouldn’t be as graceful as he liked to yank the whole thing loose, but he figured he could catch Rose’s dead weight and lower her safely to the ground.

George reached up to the line close to the fixture and gave a good tug. It moved and crackled, but nothing gave. He reached an arm around her under her shoulders and pulled her close to him before he tugged again. It still didn’t give. He cursed under his breath and pulled again, harder. White clouds coughed out from the ceiling. He’d have to pull harder still to get her free. George wrapped the fishing line around his knuckles and took a deep breath before he pulled as hard as he could. The ceiling cracked and opened up. George felt the stool slip underneath him and he and Rose went backward.

The back of his head was wet when he came around. He felt a pinch in his neck and his spine felt sorer that it’d ever been. He coughed and a cloud of white puffed up from his lips. Ghost pins poked throughout his arms and legs. He tried to raise himself, but the pain was too much, so he rested. Rose’s body was sprawled out next to him, her head rested on his chest. He smiled to himself. The must have fell asleep in the floor like they used to when they were young. He turned his neck, and disregarded the pain, to kiss the curls on her head. He remembered the first time he saw her. She looked bashfully at him and he could feel his heart beat go a thousand miles a second. She had soft, snowy skin and full, red lips. Her hair was jet black and curled carelessly about her head. She had the most rich and beautiful almond eyes. He thought she was passing by, so when she stopped, a lump caught in his throat. He couldn’t remember to breathe. She smiled a big, toothy smile and asked, “Your name’s George, right?”

P.S. (2005)

“He’s back…” the small girl called into the open door.

Just as she turned away, a pair of pale blue eyes appeared like two floating balls of flame in the darkness and black arms reached from the shadows to steal her. Lucas acted on instinct. He knew he couldn’t let it take her. It already had enough children. He jumped toward her. Emiley didn’t look afraid, but she pushed her arms out toward Lucas all the same. Their hands met just as the shadows grabbed her and pulled them both toward the black doorway. Lucas didn’t let go. He closed his eyes and caught his ankles against the frame of the door. His legs feel like unyielding steel. He pulled. Warmth ignited in his chest and became a blazing ball of determination. His spine tightened and he pulled harder.

 

Lucas mustered up the brimstone from his guts and spat into the darkness beyond Emiley, “Let go of her, you fucking monster!”

His heart played like primal drums in his chest. The sweat on his palms was beginning to work against him. Emiley slowly began to slip through his fingers, little by little. He tried again, but the fire had already been dowsed down by anxiety, “If you take her… I-I’ll hunt you down for the rest of my life…” he coughed out a milder defeat, “just take me instead…”

Lucas closed his eyes and ground his teeth. The grip on his hands started to loosen. He peaked through weakly open eyes enough to catch a pair of pale blue eyes wink at him.

Both Lucas and Emiley were sling-shot out of the closet. Lucas was on his back and Emiley an arm’s length away. He still had a hold of her. A wave of relief fell over him. She was safe again, because of him. It was a good feeling. Emiley’s fingers twitched lightly as he sighed. He rolled from his back to get a better look at her and felt the wetness at his side. Lucas thought he’d pissed himself in the struggle, but as he looked over to Emiley, he saw the truth of it was worse, much worse. Emiley wasn’t whole, her legs were gone and where they should have been was a ragged mess of torn skin and innards. The little girl that had been suffering her whole life of night terrors would finally get some rest. He felt bile and disgust rise to the back of his throat. Her eyes had rolled up into the back of her head. Lucas knew the shock must have knocked her out before she died. Two and a half years he’d treated her and in the end he didn’t save her. Her pale lips twitched like a gasping fish. Lucas crawled over to her and put a red hand over her eyes. He pushed himself up to his feet and stood over her in silence.

Then he heard the mangled voice behind his ears. It came in a gargled whisper, “Deal’s a deal.”

He turned in time to catch a pair of pale blue eyes before the black took him.

The Goatman Does Not Jest (2009)

To understand and enjoy this story you must first understand our protagonist at the very least. I’m not asking you to like him or really enjoy him very much, the truth of it is that he’s a very terrible and shallow person. And this isn’t the type of story that likens a probably mostly fictional character possibly based off someone close to the author to your warm, beating heart – no, it’s the kind of story that attempts to teach a lesson to you, dear reader – however basic or trite you might find it. Regardless, I’m introducing you to the leading man right now, before I find myself rambling on and on, on some irrelevant tangent. His name is Allistor McMatew. He’s the basic charismatic, charming type and gets his fair share of blowjobs. Actually, if you ask me (which no one usually does) I’d say he gets more than his fair share. I believe there’s only a very small handful of desperate girls that he’s ever met (and think of the amount of women a charismatic and charming might meet) that haven’t had him inside their mouth. Based solely on that are you allowed to make your horrible assessments of the man, those first preconceptions that determine how well you connect with this guy. Use those completely true facts that I’ve given you to make your judgment on his more compass and overall character, but remember: he is charismatic and that’s not an easy thing to deny.

By now, I’m sure that most of you are hating this Allistor guy, you’re pretty sure he’s a dick and doesn’t really have as many friends as he’d like to tell you about and that’s all good and well. But if you think he’s the only character, I apologize for misleading you in my brief efforts to entertain your imagination. Allistor is only the central character, the person that all this shit storm of things I have planned are going to happen to. In order to effectively progress the story, though, he needs a catalyst to help thicken the plot, which is why I’ve brought his brilliant friend, Thales, along. Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Friend? I thought you said this Allistor asshole didn’t have any friends!” That misleading is all of your own doing, I’m afraid. And you should really be ashamed of yourself for judging someone you don’t know so harshly. I would suggest that you take a break from this great and epic story to slap your hand… right now preferably and with something thin and flat. Perhaps a ruler would suffice. Done? Good. Now anyway, about this Thales character, he and Allistor are friends, you could even say the best of friends, but not from childhood. If they met any earlier in their sad little lives, I’d venture so to say thing wouldn’t have gone so smoothly between them, especially with the comic books and science fiction. As it is, though, they didn’t meet until much later in their young adulthood and of course by this time Allistor had already tainted some 89% of the mouths in the general area. Thales was a guy after Allistor’s heart (quite literally in a more sacrificial way than with butt sex), but he wasn’t really all that charming, he more or less traded the charisma for creepy, but to say that he was a creep (or creeper) would be completely absurd. He was just really easy going and laid back, in a creepy way, and just like Allistor, he liked to fuck mouths. Although, I’ll have to clarify that Thales was not as seasoned in mouth-jousting as his friend. If I had to compare the two as religious prophets in terms of getting blowies, Allistor would be the Jesus Christ of fucking mouths. Thales would be Moses, and I say that completely ignoring the blowjob statistics. What I mean to say is Thales had parted more than one or two Red Seas in his day and he’d probably be parting a few more in the following months, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now look at what I’ve done, spent two paragraphs blabbering on about the unsavory nature of two very respectable gentlemen. Hopefully, if ever they should find this transcript, I hope they will find it in their hearts to overlook my discretion. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking: “Wait, wait, wait, Mr. Author, I thought you said these were fictional characters.” To which I reply: “Check the by-line, asshole, my last name isn’t ‘Author’, and with a unisex name like mine, you shouldn’t assume that I’m a man. Although, I am, and I think you for recognizing this immediately by my written demeanor and not agitating my pride.” Oh, and: “I never said these characters were fictional, but I haven’t denied it, either.” But if you’d really stop distracting me with your questions, I’d really like to continue on with my story. It’s very important and may impact your life directly, so I believe we should carry on before it’s too late and you’ve passed the point of redemption.

As I was previously droning on about, Thales and Allistor were best friend, but they didn’t always share opinions. Allistor was more I-dig-secret-about-life-and-the-universe where Thales was a little I’m-sure-the-government-is-hiding-a-few-secrets-about-both-life-and-the-universe, so I’m sure you can guess they bump heads from time to time… and not penis heads. But that’s just the conflict and not the true beginning to the story. The story itself begins with a single word: cryptozoology. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s likely because you’re an uneducated yokel. All the world’s smartest minds have abandoned so much (i.e. creditability, dignity and sanity) to follow this elite ology and dawn the mantle of crypto-zoologist. Cryptozoology is the study of cryptids which are creatures of “urban myths” (notably the Jersey Devil, Goatman, the dreaded Chupacobra and Big Foot aka Sasquatch). I don’t mean to leave poor ole Nessie out, either, but she’s in Ireland… or England, whatever, point being she’s across the pond from where the focus of this story is, which is America. I’m American. The characters in this story are American. So it’s best we get that out of the way in the exposition so as not to confuse you, reader, of where my loyalties fall as far as things like the Patriot Act are concerned. Anyway, Thales, go figure, was the one who ignored his vast collection of pirated adult films (for a couple of hours because of the blisters) to become completely engrossed in cryptozoology. He spent hours on Wikipedia combing the cold, hard fact and becoming a fast and devoted expert to the brave new field of respectable science. In his journey to pack his brain with any and all priceless knowledge on the subject, he attempted to convert his close friend, Allistor (I bet you already forgot him with the dashingly handsome Thales in the spotlight, it’s a mistake many have made). The conversation that ensued happened exactly like this:

 

Thales: (Excited) Hey Allistor, you wanna go hunt cryptids with me?

 

Allistor: (Menstruating) What the fuck are you even talking for?

 

Thales: You know, things like the Goatman and the Jersey Devil. (Drool froths at the corners of mouth.)

 

Allistor: I’d kick the Jersey Devil’s asshole.

 

Thales: (Erection showing in pants.) But you’d be no match for the furious rage of the Goatman. He’s a ravenous beast-man that will beat you up and take all your toilet paper.

 

Allistor: (Nonchalantly) Whatever, he’s not real. Everyone already know it’s only the Jersey Devil that’s real.

 

            And thusly, Thales’ pride was mortally scarred and his dreams of being a profound name in the field of cryptozoology were dashed against invisible but very harshly jagged rock at the bottom of a very steep and imaginary cliff. He would never go on to publish moving articles and crazed rants on how mud footprints prove these creatures have probably existed in some form. No Pulitzer prize for an in-focus shot of Sasquatch. It would be a terrible night. Thales would wander home with a gaping hole in his heart after his car would break down in the middle of nowhere. After hours of tireless walking, he’d reach his apartment and his imaginary girlfriend would be waiting up for him and ask him why he was so late in getting home. He’d try to explain, but she’d never believe him. She’d slap him in the face with an accusatory hand and leave. Her stuff would be out in the morning.

But don’t worry about him, he’s not the main character and this story is far from over. With Thales out of the picture, we can direct our focus back on the charming Allistor again. Did you know that one time Allistor punched a baby in the face? True story. So anyway, with that annoying creep slobbering about Ms. Marvel’s perfect tits out finally out of his life (probably for good), he was free to do who he pleased.

Another of Allistor’s favorite pastimes, besides getting blowjobs, was tempting fate and seeing if he could get a blowjob that he wasn’t already planning on getting. As you do with fish, and other dumb animals that eat out of trash cans, Allistor set out some bait and waited for some mildly attractive girl to start that vacuum mouth for him to insert himself into. And as it was not foretold, but likely foreshadowed, not too soon after he planted the seed, he had dirt on his fingers, which I mean to say is that some floozy was already texting him back. She was a good hit above mildly attractive, too.

So instead of writing another paragraph full of boring pieces of exposition, like ones that other authors will usually put foreshadowing in or some sort of looming precognition as to the progress of the story… well, I’m not doing that. Instead, think of this as a fast forwarding through the dialogue in a porno and getting to the good part… which is the sex.

The sex of the plot:

We could call where they were “Makeout Point”, but I don’t really think it exists in our fictional town in question, but for the story’s sake, it’s a secluded area and very dark outside. There’s not a cliff with a romantic overlook of a beautiful nightly cityscape with all the building and streetlights, but if there were you’d probably only see the Wal-Mart. And it would be giving Allistor some standard, which I can assure you, he has none and doubly none with a girl like this. He just wants to fill her mouth with his hot, sticky seed and never talk to her again. He might use the Wal-Mart lights on someone a bit more attractive. Someone he’d have to catch off guard to sneak it in the front door. So the scene is this, dark and quiet and let’s say a dirt road led them to this wooded area, and please – don’t start getting scared, I promise there’s no guy with a hook creeping through the shadows watching Allistor trying to get a nut. There will be no scratching on the car door, although now I’m entertaining the thought so don’t hold me to that one. And there will definitely be no mouth to mouth. If I hadn’t made it clear: Allistor doesn’t fuck around when it comes to filling a mouth with daddy’s milk. He might as well be a shark with a hard-on. I’ll let you in on some of his more charming lines, probably the ones he’s using in the car right now, while he’s got Cake thumping in his speakers. And again, I present the dialogue in script form for those of you who are both pretentious and dumb, it’s just easier this way.

 

 

 

Allistor: (Wanting to get a nut.) Hey bitch! Can I get a nut?

 

Girl who isn’t important enough to make up a name for: (Innocent and big-eyed.) Do you like me?

 

Allistor: (Still wanting to get a nut.) Yeah, bitch… now can I get a nut?

 

Girl: Okay. (Pulls out Allistor’s smaller than average, but still kind of moderately-sized penis.) Wow, that looks about like I could feel it.

 

Allistor: You know it, bitch. Now s*** that dirty d***.

 

            You may have noticed the censorship in that last line of Allistor’s and, well, this is because I felt that his dialogue was sounding a little too much like rap lyrics… or rape lyrics… get it? Anyway, it was my intention to spare you, but if you’re going to get all shitty about it then you can go fuck yourself. Now I’m going to tell the fucking story, alright?

Remember how I said don’t hold it against me if there’s any car scratching? Good. You may not know this, but Allistor has a pretty nice car and I didn’t want to mess up the paint job, but… well, I had a conversation with the character I’m about to introduce into the story and he preferred he came in subtly. Unlike Thales or Allistor or the mouth hole. So: There was a long, whining scratch that crawled across the hood of the car, but Allistor was enjoying his Cake a little too loud. The as-of-yet unidentified and nameless character scratched again. Long and low, it cried. Meanwhile, Allistor pretended like he wasn’t about to pop so he could surprise Girl with a nice thick, salty present. Agigated now because he…er, they, the unnamed, had been ignored twice, the mysterious character of creepy calm (not Thales by the way, he was named and not very mysterious), walked over to the driver’s door. Allistor was too busy singing along to the Grease soundtrack (he’d changed it while the as-of-yet silent, but strong stereotypical character was walking around to the door) to notice a black silhouette move against the backdrop of the night. The very-patient-and-featureless-curiosity-striking-into-the-readers-mind character giggled to itself creepily and watched as Allistor’s face contort as if he was moving his bowels to the tempo of “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. Now was as good a time as any for the voyeuristic, nameless, sick son of bitch to raise a furry fist to the window, as the strange figure did, and knocked. Allistor muted Olivie Newton-John’s gloriously beautiful voice and rolled down the window. Gril tried to lift her head, but Allistor shoved her face back into his lap. Get ready for another conversation presented just the way you like them, down and dirty:

 

Allistor: Yes? (Eyes forward. Ignoring mysterious character at window.)

 

Mystery Character: Excuse me, do you have any Grey Poupon? (Leans in through window close to Allistor’s face – Allistor, in turn, becomes visibly uncomfortable.)

 

Allistor: (Nose cringes.) I think not, sir. You must be mistaken.

 

Mystery Character: What about some toilet paper? These pinecones are really aggravating my fissures. (Rubs furry ass.)

 

            Surprise and shock raped Allistor’s face like a feral spider monkey. I can even run with the analogy so far as to say that the sweat that poured down Allistor’s face looked as though the monkey had coated him in a porn-proud money shot. Then he (Allistor, of course) turned to face… (dramatic reveal:) THE GOATMAN. Allistor’s eyes floated up and down the furry mass. The Goatman’s head was, obviously, the head of a goat – horns and all. He was even chewing some grass just like a goat would. But his torso was that of a normal… well, grossly hairier, man with a happy trail to hell. It ran back into a mass of tangled fur, likely tangled with Goatman shit and semen and all that stuff he needed the toilet paper for. Of course, Allistor’s natural reaction was to begin crying and inevitably shit himself in fear, but instead he just screamed and blew a thick load into Girl’s mouth.

Girl wasn’t happy about this. Earlier her and Allistor had agreed that he would give her a signal when he was close and they’d get a towel from the backseat. Little did Girl know, that this was Allistor’s plan all along. There was no towel in the backseat.

Allisotr kept screaming while he pushed her head out of his lap and pointed to the Goatman, who politely waved. Girl was too busy waving back to the Goatman and choking back the remnants of Allistor’s seed to notice that Allistor had opened the passenger door and began to shove her out. Once free from the clutches of Girl (and still screaming like a bitch baby), he started the car and backed up. He pulled forward once, but didn’t cut the wheel enough to avoid almost hitting the Goatman. Allistor apologized with: “AAAAAHHHHH!” put the car in reverse again and inched passed the Goatman before getting clear and speeding off into the darkness. Once the silhouettes of both the Goatman and Girl had evaporated into the night, Allistor shat himself like he  just sucked down two vanilla milkshakes. (This is because Allistor was lactose intolerant.)

And there you have it. That’s the story. And one hell of a story if I must say so, I should know because I’m the writer. I’ve got a gut instinct that informs me of these things. Now, I’m sure those of you with closure issues or butt-hurt feelings about plot holes might be asking a lot of the same questions, such as:

 

-What happened to the Jersey Devil?, or

-Why did Luke get his hand chopped off?

 

Well, the magic of this story is the lesson behind it which has nothing to do with the answers you seek. And I’m sure you’re wondering what the lesson I’m talking about is, yes? What would be the point of forcing you through this poorly written story if I just handed it to you like that? Get a fucking clue, dipshit. Figure it out for yourself.

 

THE END

The Startling Adventures of Captain Whiskers Episode 3: Possum Kingdom (2010)

Let’s set the mood of this story, shall we?:

 

3A.M., give or take, it’s misty. A back road lit only by a white moon stuck high in the sky, white enough that the Arian’s would be proud. Both blacktop and grass blades alike are wet with dew and all is quiet save for the bastard crickets and their endless chattering. One lone driver is set on killing.

Now this:

 

            The asphalt was still warm from the friction of the rubber. A black paw with white toes tapped it tenderly. The rubber did not move, nor did the road. He pressed his pink, wet nose to it. He could still smell it. The stink of murder on the tire tracks. Whiskers, a Maine Coon stray with elegantly disheveled fur, could see the ghost of tails light off in the distance as they sped away. They stopped and began to rewind. The demon red eyes grew in size before the car froze in front of him. An image from his mind’s eye projected onto the misty early morning fog. The driver, in fact, has been long gone into the night, but Whiskers was gifted in putting the disarrayed puzzles of a crime scene together as he was doing now. The car was white, it’s headlights were off. Four doors and the passenger’s side bared black smudges that looked a lot like soot. His nose tingled. Inside the cab, pale white fingers wrapped tightly around the wheel in a bloodlust with a deep need to be sated. The warm body fate had served up was one poor, homely Doctor Orellius Possum. Whiskers’ tail puffed out, hairs on end, as he stood on his hind legs and pawed at the phantom glass of the driver’s window. The murderer’s still face was smooth, but other than the light blonde curls of their hair, no other features were distinct enough passed the shadows. His paws fell back to the pavement through the ghost car as it unfroze and sped on until it was swallowed by the night.

            Orellius’ body laid off to the side of the road, bloated and lifeless. His tongue freely dangled passed his pointed teeth. The tire tread had smoothed an area at his hip. The close call had sent him into shock and his instincts took over, presumably causing him to feign death. His fake death was good, too, it look like a real death as far as Whiskers could tell. His vitals remained unperceivably low, but Orellius was not, in truth, dead. Whiskers looked from the road in search of the droopy-faced Pepper Shanks to come back from the would-be killer’s trail with some evidence, but it had already been over half an hour. If she hadn’t come back with something by now, it was a surety that the search was fruitless. In nature, evidence lacked as it was and with the dew slowly settling on the grass and asphalt, there was little to hope for in hard proof. What little they might find had a small window before it expired, there were few field methods that could preserve evidence for an extended period of time. Even less of which Whiskers had at his disposal.

            Whiskers raised his head to the soft early morning breeze and pricked his ears. Aside from the few critters on the scene, the air was abnormally quiet save for the chirping of bugs. He’d planned on waiting for his partner to come back from the trail before he brought the doctor out of his self-induced coma, but the area had already been scoured. The longer Whiskers waited, the higher he ran the risk of Orellius’ memory gaps widening by the minute. That would get him nowhere beside a pile of paperwork and an opened case. Whiskers hated open cases. He hated them more when his pink pads were all over them. He checked the road both way and made sure the white car hadn’t come back for another pass.

            The shimmering road was clear. Whiskers crossed and stepped into the dew soaked ocean of dark green blades. Orellius hadn’t been moved since they had arrived. In most cases, detectives would let rodents that feigned death regain consciousness of their own accord because of certain consequences. On record, the Agency of Home Burrow Security had listed 437 account since 1995 that involved assaults on bystanders and authorities on scene by forced “resurrection”. Another 1,299 accounts of property and evidence damage since 2001, and 12 accounts of unexplained behavior that could only be describe as synchronized land-swimming. These “roadkill rodents”, as they were called, had the potential to be very volatile, which presented in itself a question to Whiskers: Why would the HBS monitor a no name doctor like Orellius in the first place? In this case, Orellius’ testimony was paramount and could possibly be the only lead that Whiskers would get so resurrection seemed the only option.

            Whiskers loomed over Orellius with his bulging yellow eyes. The possum’s chest was still to the naked eye. He gently pawed at Orellius’ tongue, but it coaxed no reaction out of the possum. Whiskers entertained a thought of licking the rodent’s eyes, but the smell was already pungent enough without the taste. There were only two fool-proof ways to wake the dead and Whiskers chose the more docile of the two. He turned his back to Orellius and marked him. The possum stirred, coughing and gagging, “Wh-where the hell am I?” his voice was gruff and congested.

            “Gogginsfield,” Whisker answered.

            “Am I dead?”

            “Not anymore, doctor.”

            Orellius wiped his face, “Did you piss on me?”

            “I’m sorry, Dr. Possum, but I couldn’t wait for you to come around on your own. The smell’ll only last a couple of days.”

            The possum coughed, “My god dammed eyes are burning.”

            “Just fan them,” Whiskers remained stoic, “if you rub them, it’ll get into your eyes and tear ducts and it’ll make it worse.”

            “The nerve…” indignation rose in Orellius’ voice.

            “As I said, doctor, you weren’t coming around on your own, so I had resuscitate you.”

            Orellius sighed, “Very well…” He plucked a wide blade of grass and brought it back and forth across his face.

            “Doctor, what do you remember about the incident that caused you to feign?”

            “I see,” he scoffed, “can’t let a possum get a foot out of the grave without starting in with the questions. Well, other than being rendered half bald near my ass and scared quite practically to death when some godless machine tried to crush the guts out’ve me?

            “Yes… anything other than that?”

            He scoffed again, but something dark crept across his face and pulled his focus away. The blade of grass slowed in front of him. “N-no… I can’t say there’s much else I remember, come to think of it.”

            Orellius nervous fumbled with his tail. “Nothing else?” Whiskers asked.

            “Not in the slightest, sir,” his eyes averted to his meddling claws.

            Soft, dull clacks echoed from along the road with hard, heavy breaths of a middle-aged bitch. Her tags clanged like cheap jewelry. Pepper Shanks had come back. Whiskers watched as the dark fell off her like satin. She stopped next to Whiskers, breathing heavy through saggy lips. “I didn’t think you’d be back any time soon, so I resurrected the doctor and questioned him,” Whiskers began, “but the good doctor here doesn’t seem to recall anything more than we already know.”

            “Doesn’t matter,” she huffed, “I found something… here…” Pepper Shanks reached behind her collar, pulled out a small baggie and handed it over to Whiskers.

            He held it up to the pale, white moon. A thin blonde strand of hair stretched from corner to corner. “We can track it?” Whiskers asked.

            “Of course… we can track it,” Pepper Shanks replied.

            Will Orellius confess to the dark and dismal secrets he’s been hiding? How can Pepper Shanks track a single strand of hair to an unknown killer? Can Whiskers close the gap between murderer and mystery? Stayed tuned for the return The Startling Adventures of Captain Whiskers, where all of these answers will be revealed!

Epilogue: Let Sleeping Giants Lie (2009)

Two years. Two years since everyone had turned. They all looked up to the bloody skies and something had reached inside of them and taken out their souls. Then they were mindless, wandering husks. Delilah was 15 then, afraid and alone. In the time since, the sky had bled out to a dark grey. The light of the sun threatened to catch fire to the sky again, like it used to, but it always sat just below the horizon. Everything looked sick without its true color. At some point in the chaos of the world turning, ash had fallen and covered all the world as she knew it. Landmarks became hard to distinguish which, in turn, made the traveling next to impossible. Sometimes she’d catch herself scavenging through the same areas three of four times. It was a wonder she’d survived this long.

Delilah weaved her scooter through the dead car left abandoned and broken on the interstate. She wore a helmet over a hood pulled tight around her head, goggles over her eyes and a scarf wrapped tightly around it all. It kept the ash out. Tall, wild grass stood like swaying sentinels at the edge of the pavement. By the looks of them, they silently planned on taking over the interstate. She sped up and avoided looking into the cars as they whooshed by.

In the beginning, not everyone had turned. There were news reports about the mass hysteria going on in the bigger cities before the broadcasts had gone dead, but all the reports had been the same. People were rooted in one place with their eyes glued to the sky, like living scarecrows. They stood for days. The people remained past the point of starving, their skin pulled tight on their skulls. And the smell, god the smell, the rancid baking shit and piss that pooled at their feet. Then they came back, changed. That’s when the violence began, a wordless mutiny against those that remained… human. Some people took to calling them zombies, but they weren’t. Delilah knew that. There was a difference between the gluttonous actions of the living dead in the movies and these silent, malicious creatures. Something about being stolen had twisted their features, bulged their eyes and curled their lips. Even their skin had turned an inhuman color. Some were cursed with lesions of eroding flesh spread across their body, but all of them had that rotten grin. It haunted her. Delilah had heard of the violence, but never witnessed any of it. She was from a modest and forgetful town in the middle of nowhere. But her mind recreated the grisly reports the news had spread before going down.

She cut to the middle lane to pass a jack-knifed semi that had crashed through the median. Dark grey waves rose off her tires and curled up in thin, weak clouds that existed only seconds. Delilah caught a glimpse of dark bones hanging from the side door of a minivan. They weren’t big enough to be an adult. In the back of her mind, she wondered what happened to the children. She’d never see one turned, but they all disappeared as quietly as the world had changed. In her town, she’d only noticed the crazies going after others their own size. Quietly, they’d stalk someone until the unchanged person was cornered and outnumbered, then they would forcefully fix their eyes upward. Sometimes it was bloodier than others. Her head was caught up in the horror of nostalgia, the wheels of her scooter crunched over the charred child’s ankles that hung out of the minivan. The brittle sound brought her back as it ricocheted off the metal tombstones around her. A hole opened wide in her chest, even though the guilt was pointless.

She focused on the path in front of her, though the sound of crumbling bones echoed inside her helmet and bubbles still rose in the pit of her stomach. The scooter hummed between her legs. Its weak, but constant vibration had rattled her hands numb as well as the lower part of her body. She’d been riding for hours without rest. And when tremors wrenched themselves from the deepest parts of the earth and into the tires and frame of the scooter, Delilah was none the wiser. The blanketed concrete median that had been to her left for miles sank into the dead grass. The opposing lanes pushed apart to let a strip of rolling hills pass between them. Jagged rocks glared at her in the median’s place, still bitter from the men that cut it apart to pave their roads. Another quake rumbled underneath the world and carried up into Delilah’s seat. A queer quiver rose from her tailbone to the middle of her spine. She quickly glanced behind her to see if something else had passed under her tires, but the ash she stirred was near impossible to see through. She thought of the kid’s bones again. She tried to clear her mind and put the worry behind her. Things would be okay. They had a way of doing that most of the time.

In the time she’d been on her own, she hadn’t run into another living human and only a generous handful of the turned, but they barely paid attention to her. She figured they knew she wasn’t much of a threat, if they even noticed her at all. After the ash had stopped falling, they seemed less driven than before, like they weren’t really aware they still existed. Delilah hadn’t seen one for months now, anyway, it didn’t matter to her anymore. The only thing that did was staying on the move and staying alive. It was a reflex now.

The smooth hills coasted passed her and disappeared for an overpass or two. Even the car began to thin out which let Delilah’s eyes wander more. The scenery, however drab and ashy, was still held some beauty for her. It wasn’t as breathtaking as the greens and blues used to be, almost sterling in her memory, but it wasn’t yet a wasteland, either. Though everything was dead or dying, the dull grey had its own miserable glamour. Another tremor rumbled from the stomach below the ash. This one more pronounced and agitated. It shook Delilah. She pulled the break and slowed. Her eyes were wide as she scanned the still landscape. Nothing but dying trees, hollowed out corpses of cars and dunes of ash. Nothing that could shake the earth. She waited, face forward and scooter humming. Everything seemed unnaturally still and quiet. Her patience was replaced with a sense of instinctual dread. She carefully moved her hand back to the throttle and sucked in a lungful of scarf-filtered air.

Delilah was seconds away from convincing herself that the Vespa she’d been riding hard for six months without maintenance was finally on its last leg when another tremor shrugged through the ash. It was violent and caught her off balance. Delilah and the scooter went to the ground. She felt a pinch on her ankle from the Vespa’s weight, she thought of the ankle bones she’d ran over earlier. It was karma. Her eyes rolled from the pain. It was possible, she thought, that her ankle had been broken, but she’d never had a broken bone before so she wasn’t sure. She pulled it from the scooter and sat up awkwardly. Another quake reached up through the ground and bounced her off the ground. A car door shook open and slammed into the back of her head. The echo in the helmet sent a shock through her. She pushed off the ground and tried to stand on her ankle, a spark of anguish shot up her bones. She fell against the car for support. The ground quivered then calmed, but the movement underneath refused to remain silent. Defiance trembled under the earth’s skin.

A hill between the north and southbound lanes began to rise. At first, Delilah thought the car door had thrown of her equilibrium to the point where she was seeing the land dance in an unusual way. Despite her, the angry rocks continued to rise and gurgle rebellion with a tremendous thunder. Ash avalanched down the forming slopes and sent black clouds rushing into the lines of cars. Before the wave blasted against her, Delilah saw the pavement join the hill in its mutiny as it pushed the metal husks aside and shed more of its ash-blanket like a child waking up for breakfast. The ash wave rolled over Delilah. It blocked everything from sight. She felt the rumble steadily grow as the deep hum of the earth shook her whole body. Her stomach churned, air bubbles rose in her throat. Some car alarms screamed while others only moaned. Other cars along the rising earth were lifted high from the ground and sent falling to mangle their derelict metal bodies. She could hear everything through the dark grey cocoon, the shattering glass and whine of twisting metal. Delilah was frozen in panic. Her eyes began to water and gather at the bottom of her lenses.

Her scooter slid into her. When the Vespa touched her, a rush of relief washed over her body. She hobbled to her feet and kept her weight on her good ankle, using the scooter as a crutch. It coughed to life and growled to tell her it was ready to go when she was, far away from the crumbling earth. She started slowly, guessing at what was the center of the lanes and hoping that she’d see a car’s silhouette in the dark ash before it was on her. The side mirrors of the cars reached out from the shadow and clipped the edges of the Vespa and guided Delilah on her crooked, narrow path. The wave of crunching car chased her and was gaining. She twisted the throttle despite caution and common sense ringing in her ears. The muffler of the scooter growled louder. Invisible cars hissed by with whispers and taunts of the death at her heels. She twisted the throttle as far back as she could, feeling the cars brush against her arms and legs.

Another side mirror reached out for her, and caught. Her arm yanked back and pulled the handle with it. The Vespa veered right, it grinded into the side of a car. Delilah jerked back in the other direction to get away. The scooter crossed the small gap in the dead, black traffic and met head on with the grill of another car. Its front wheel wedged into the car and catapulted Delilah into the air in its last attempt to save her from the wave of wreckage still behind her. She flew silently. The ash clouds swirled around her in slow motion like black and grey peppermints. She was an angel in the black. Her shoulder was the first to land, as it crashed into the top edge of a windshield and twisted her in the air like a limp acrobat. Though the first car had rejected her, the second was more welcoming and cradled her in spider-webbed glass.

Time passed. The thickest of the ash had settled again by the time Delilah regained consciousness. Her back was warm and wet, she could feel pieces of the windshield in her skin. When she tried to lift herself, her nerves protested in pain so she quickly gave up. It was hard to breathe. The ash had collected in a thick layer about her. She shook her head back and forth and the grainy shadow fell off of her. A thin fog still stretched out around her, ash making its way back to the dunes it was stirred from, but the sky was still black. Against this new midnight, the floating debris was exposed for the true grey it was as it fell against a backdrop of honest pitch black. A light vibration shook in through the ground in the glass shrapnel in Delilah’s back like a series of distant footsteps. She could hear the rumble of distant thunder. Delilah fought the pain and pushed herself upright, the remaining ash fell from her body. She surveyed the area, squinting through the dirty tint of her goggle lenses and into the foreign dark. It was strange, stranger than she had become accustomed to.

Midnight immediately surrounded her, but to each side miles away, there was a faint glow of light. She didn’t understand exactly what she was seeing. At first it appeared that the dim orange of the horizon had reached up to the sky beyond what she could see and split in two, so that two vertical horizons ran parallel. But something wasn’t right, she thought she could see the slight sway along the edges of what would be the bottom of the vertical horizons. Then it moved. It moved and she could see it for what it was. She was caught in a shadow and it had begun to pull away from her. Hours passed before the silhouette could be made out, the enormity of it defied even imagination. It had to be miles away longer than Delilah could count in a full day and it still eclipsed the sky. She had stood in the shadows of skyscrapers and even from such a distance, they could measure up. This giant dwarfed them. It would disappear behind the horizon before a fair juxtaposition could be made.

Delilah wondered what was to become of the world now?

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