Friday, April 30, 2010

After Hours at the Surf & Turf Express

Wayne lay face down with his fingers interlaced behind his head.

So this is the way it ends?

And the men in masks yelled out commands. They demanded money, more cash. They screamed and yelled and fired bullets into grease-stained ceiling tiles.

Maybe if I could just reach up and grab the fryer basket? Maybe I could toss it into his face? Maybe? No, don’t be stupid. The other dude would just shoot you. But maybe it could create a distraction? Stop it, Wayne! This isn’t a movie!

Wayne heard Jill the cashier whimpering next to him. He knew why she cried. She had a baby at home. She would be wondering if she would ever see her baby again. She wondered who would take care of her baby. But the gunmen ignored her fear. They ignored her tears.

It’s not like the movies. I might die right here, right now. There is nothing here. No hope. No choir of angels. No music. No light. There is only desperation and greed.

One of the men held a gun to the manager’s back. “Unlock the safe!” he demanded. The manager complied. The men took out a black plastic deposit bag. It was thick, but not too thick. It contained perhaps two thousand dollars in assorted bills and change.

So, this is the cost of my life? The cost of all our lives combined? This is all we’re worth? A few thousand dollars? What are dollars? Meaningless. Paper symbols of imagined wealth.

And then the men with guns left. They walked out into the parking lot, leaped into their car, and drove away. Jill’s tears became tears of relief. Wayne stood on shaky feet.

I think I’ve had enough of the fast food biz. I think I’ll take up another line of work. Something safer. Maybe I’ll be a rock star? If nothing else, music will be there with me. I’ll make my own choir.

*Inspired by an actual robbery at Long John Silvers as reported by Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips ( Many artistic liberties taken, only bare facts used as inspiration. Soundtrack Recommendation: “Watching the Planets” by The Flaming Lips, from the album Embryonic:*

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Empty Sacrifice

The dog fell among the carnivorous flowers on the riverside. I saw her glassy brown eyes, her wet nose sniffling with fear, and she whimpered. Greenery wrapped around her and held her tight. Toothy flowers suckled like the hungry mouths of newborn babes. She looked to me with trust in her eyes, with a fading glimmer of hope. I had no choice but to drop her leash and turn away.

The woods ahead were silent. I was alone and lost and scared. The trail was only hinted at, hardly ever used – but still used far too often – and I tripped among overgrown strands of ivy and kudzu littering the forest floor.

A trickle of water gurgled on a nearby granite wall where a small creek had hewn stone into a steep cliff, and I pondered the immensity of time, and for a moment, lost myself in thoughts of the eternal.

Then the sunlight glared down at me through the trees as if to shock me out of my random reflections. I stopped thinking and began walking again. Forward to the village, onward to civilization, or at least the remains of civilization, towards my new home where they would welcome me with open arms as one of their own now that I met their requirements.

At the gate of my new home I was met by piles of bones and the buzzing of flies.

I had sacrificed all that was dear to me, so I was able to enter, but I knew part of me would always remain on that riverside. That part of me was washed away with the eddying currents. I just hope that the muddy river led that part of me towards a world better than this.

Inside my new home I looked around. I touched my hand to the rough walls of the fort. I felt rusted aluminum, a patchwork of salvaged fiberglass, and the drying husks of ancient fallen trees. I looked up and saw a noisy haze obscuring the sky -- a cloud of hungry mosquitoes. I looked around and everyone looked just like me. Distraught, I sat in the dirt and wasted away and thought about how much better everything might have been had I simply retained the mental fortitude necessary to go it alone outside girded walls.

But, in the end, we all must make our sacrifices. Society demands it.

I thought I would sleep better once enclosed in the safety of the fort; I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Reunion (Based on a True Story*)

With thanks(?) to Berrien Henderson. This one is your fault!

The doublewide sat in a field littered by clumps of crabgrass, rusting tricycles, and the random husks of automobiles propped up on crumbling cinderblocks. Waylon Jennings crooned through an open window, but we could hardly hear him over the sound of our riotous laughter and exaggerated gossip. Uncle Vanya passed around a bottle of white lightning -- he drank the stuff like a baby drinks milk -- and we all took turns sipping and spitting fire. Cousin Geli -- affectionately nicknamed “Sasquatch” -- ate all the potato salad. She didn’t share any of it. That boy of hers, Tommi, jumped her -- the crazy ass fool -- and sucked bits of devilled egg and mayonnaise from the chest hair on top of the fleshy bosoms exposed by her tight hot pink halter top. Geli giggled, giggled, and giggled some more as we pulled Tommi away. I slapped him on the nose and chastised him. We decided it would be best if we cut him off -- he’d had enough for the day. We locked him in the tool shed out back, and he howled like a hound dog.

My brother, Skinhead Charlie -- so-called due to his hairstyle and not because of any ideological reasons, at least as far as I know (or his wife either for that matter; hiding it from her would be difficult indeed) -- stumbled around singing my long hair can’t cover up my redneck as loud as he could, and I laughed because the irony was totally lost on him. His wife, Clarista, and his boy, Natanyon, shook their heads in embarrassment. They looked around with apologies written on their faces. Her brown eyes met mine. I nodded to her, leaned over, and ruffled Natanyon’s overgrown knot of tight curls. I winked to Clarista to let her know it was all good, nothing we haven’t seen before, and besides, the night was just getting started. I’d met them in the city where they lived once. I spent the night in their clubs and grinded and bounced while the MC scratched records and the smell of sweet cigarillos filled the air. It was a good time, but she was wrong if she thought that that was the extent of what it means to party. That wasn’t a party. It was a good time, yes, but not a party. Our reunions are a party. If they survive, they’ll know the difference and never forget it. If, when morning rises, their sanity is left intact, they will be one of us. Yes, they’re family now, but there’s family, and then there’s family.

So, I got up and grabbed a Bud from our ancient mud-stained cooler, cracked it open, and licked the foam from my fingers. I walked over to the grill where Granny wore her finest plaid apron inscribed with the words “IF YOU SAY IT AIN‘T DONE ENOUGH, YOU CAN KISS MY ASS!” She had her own jug of moonshine. It hung from her pinky finger. She brought it up and took a big old side-sipped swig without even making the hint of a grimace. She smiled and pointed to me with the tongs she held in her other hand and asked well, what the hell you looking at, shit head? I smiled back and gave her a kiss on her wrinkled cheek. Despite the heat of the day, her skin felt cold. I said I was just coming by to check on the vittles, and she said fuck off. With a jerk of my hand I grabbed one of the ribs from the rack. It fell off the bone, tender as pudding. Granny slapped me on the back with her tongs and laughed. Then she kicked me in the ass, so I stumbled away.

And then the real festivities began. The sun dipped low in the sky. The surface of our small fishing pond shimmered in alternating bands of orange and red as the water rippled. The wind picked up and we smelled it -- the life of the party. A tentacle shot up out of the center of the water. I shouted and pointed.

The music stopped. Everyone stopped. We waited.

Uncle Vanya walked to the pond. His eyes were rolled back into his head; all we could see were the whites. He held back his neck and sang his song, a single wavering note. I heard Natanyon and Clarista ask what was going on. I would have told them it weren’t nothing to fear, but that’d be a lie, and besides, being scared is part of the fun. Uncle Vanya paid no mind to anything besides his song. We all sat in silence and listened to him. His skin began to pulsate around his ribs. It opened, just a slit, and the single note became a loud creaking croaking. The croaks emanated from his inner depths. He reached up a fist, his wiry arms covered in burly dark hairs, and thrust it into the slit. He reached around a moment -- you could see his arm moving under his skin -- and then grabbed something and pulled it free.

The catfish flipped and flopped in Uncle Vanya’s fisted hand a moment. The shell of skin that had once been Uncle Vanya collapsed in on itself. The catfish walked on its spiky fins towards the pond, but we all knew it wouldn‘t get very far. The water began to roil. Tentacles reached upwards and waved towards the dimming sky as if trying to grasp the stars that had not yet appeared. There was a thunder of applause and we hooted and hollered. Granny walked down to the pond’s edge and picked up the bloated catfish and tossed it into the water. She kicked Uncle Vanya’s shell behind her. The tentacles scooped up the worthless bag of skin and tore it apart. As the tentacles sank back down into the water, we could all hear Uncle Vanya laughing, laughing, and we laughed with him, and I was a little jealous. A selfish part of me hoped it would be me this year, or at least Granny -- lord knows she’s waited around long enough -- but we love each other, and celebrate for each other, and don’t hold no grudges. I sipped Vanya’s white lightning and said cheers under my breath, and I knew he heard me. They all heard me, all my relations, and sometimes, when I’m fishing, I can hear them down there. They’re always partying whether we're here for the reunion or not. For them, the party never ends.

Once Vanya was gone, and the ripples faded into a smooth glassy surface which reflected the rising moon, we all turned away. Skinhead Charlie pulled out his banjo and played his twangy version of David Bowie’s Let's Dance. I did as the song asked and danced with Clarista -- her eyes were wide with fear, or maybe wonder, but glossed over by confusion -- and I told Natanyon to cheer up, to stop crying.

It was a party, after all.

*No, not really. Just goofing off. My family is actually much weirder than this one.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Screech

He walked forward into the woods until the vines strangled the path so that he had to duck and dive through briar-littered lengths of new growth, and dying leaves fell from the sky in slow lazy pirouettes, and the world lost all luster, and the grey bark of towering trees threatened to overtake the horizon, and deer leapt past him and ignored him, and the sun set behind the hills, and it grew dark, and the brook burbled, and frogs splashed as they jumped into cool depths and out of sight, and there was a screech on the horizon he could not place – was it some strange breed of owl or mountain lion? – and he did not know, nor did he care, and the world went on and on and on without him, and the world did not know anything of him or that he was missing from the cradle of civilization, and his boot tracks were a twin trail behind him sunk in wet red clay, and he kept walking forward on a trail long overgrown, and the briars scratched and ensnared his tattered clothes, and he ignored the tiny cuts, and the trail turned upwards, and, despite the chill, sweat beads rolled down from his forehead, and his shaggy hair plastered to his clammy forehead, and he breathed heavily with his exertions, and the sky grew a pale salmon then a deep purple then faded to black, and stars peeked out of the blackness overhead, and a pale orange moon smiled down on him from between the boughs overhead, and he lost himself in shadows, and he heard another screech – this one was closer – and he looked around and tried to make some sort of sense out of the nonsensical ideas which filtered through his head, and he remembered bogeymen and vampires and werewolves and zombies and men in masks carrying machetes and other oddities remembered from the television screens of his fractured childhood, but then he remembered who he was – what he was – and he smiled, and he touched the blade of the knife sheathed in his pocket and found it sharp and hungry, and he walked down the hill and towards another quiet little suburb of another sleepy town just waiting for a wake-up call, and he could see the lights through the windows where silhouettes of families dined together, and he imagined how they would react to his sudden entrance, and he laughed, and he realized that the screech had only been the echoes of his own twisted laughter all along.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Walking out on the downtown streets, I watched piles of trash float in the water coursing down the gutters. A used condom stuck to the bottom of my shoe. A bearded skeleton of a man sat naked in the rain, shivering.

People walked by as if they could not see the pitiful figure sitting on the curb. Seeing him, I realized I had walked past him many times, but never noticed him until now. I looked up to the dark clouds overhead, watched a bolt of purple lightning strike between the clouds and felt the rain splash my cheeks. The rain camouflaged my tears.

The crowd walked around him, and began to walk around me. I stopped, but the crowd moved on without me. I saw my coworkers pass me by, heading to the refinery, getting ready to work that stinking Martian clay into fuel. I took my black trench coat off my shoulders and bent down to drape it over the naked man.

He looked up to me with his wrinkled and hardened face. A glimmer of a smile appeared through the veil of his beard: pale rotting teeth and bleeding gums.

"Thank you," he said to me.

"You're welcome."

"I've been here for five years now. No one has noticed me. They walk past me, leaving me here cold and shivering in this unending artificial rain."

There was another flash of lightning overhead. I saw his face, saw through his face, and saw something majestic, but just as quickly as it appeared it was gone. The wrinkled visage returned.

"Look at them passing us by, looking forward, looking to their work, looking to their paychecks, looking to get wasted, looking to get laid, make babies, and send them off to Institution. They don't see us. They're obstructed by their own self-imposed blinders. Do you know why horses used to wear blinders back on Earth?"

I shook my head, bending down closer to hear his raspy voice over the howl of wind and the roaring rain.

"The old stagecoach drivers would put the blinders on so the horses wouldn't be spooked by what was around them. That way the horses could only see the trail ahead and not be distracted by the dark shadows hiding in the brush lining the trail. It kept them on course."

His smile widened and he pointed across the street.

"With your blinders off, what do you see?"

Wasted and crumbling buildings lined the other side of the street. The remnants of an old mine now used up. Beyond it the world ended. There was a maroon waste beyond a clear Plexiglas wall as far as the eye could see.

"Now look at me."

I looked back to the man. The lightning flashed again, and this time the brightness seemed to linger. In the light, I saw the true features of the figure below me. He unfurled his wings and glowed against the dingy world surrounding us.

"Do not be afraid. I come with tidings of great joy."

I felt a smile widen on my own face and fell to my knees. I held up my hands to the figure rising above me.

He reached down and touched my mouth. It burned as if touched by flaming coals, and my lips were sealed.

He floated further up and shouted down at me. "Spread this message because it is good! Let it take root! Once you do your part you may join us."

The sky parted and I saw others in an unreal whiteness above the clouds. Above the Plexiglas dome I glimpsed ultimate knowledge and unity before the clouds closed to me.

I sat naked on the curb and looked around.

No one had seen. The patrons of this world walked around me. They always looked forward thanks to their self-imposed blinders. Wondering how long I would have to wait for the next prophet, I sat down naked and began to shiver.