Thursday, December 30, 2010

How We Met

The Geek loped in circles after the chicken. His gangly arms and legs swung in clumsy arcs. Thick drool trailed from his chin. When he ran, translucent plumes of snot and saliva erupted from his face as he gasped and laughed. He would jump towards the chicken, the chicken would veer off at the last second, and he would grunt as he hit the dirty ground, sending up a cloud of dust.

The gathering audience laughed and cheered.

The chicken ran in circles while it clucked with terror.

Bawk. Bawk. Bawk.

The Geek smiled and followed the clucking chicken with his eyes which were large, glassy, shining, black, and empty. His pupils contracted into tiny condensed dots full of darkness. The crowd could see The Geek’s posture shift as he made slow calculations with whatever it was he kept contained inside his large, conical, and bald skull. The Geek crouched low and leaped. The chicken clucked. The Geek grabbed it tight and pulled it up towards his open mouth and revealed jagged, uneven teeth.

Bawk. Bawk. Wet crunch.

The Geek chomped the tiny skull and smiled. A thin trail of blood and spit coursed fresh rivulets down the thick layer of dirt and dust coating his filthy chin.

The crowd groaned because it was expected of them to be disgusted, but their eyes still smiled. They feigned horror and pulled out their wallets, hungry for the freak show to begin.

I saw it happen. I was there. I was eating fire. My mouth tasted like gasoline spiked with cheap vodka. My tongue burned. My inner cheeks burned. My eyes and lungs burned thanks to the harsh chemical fumes wafting off my torches. I saw you, and I felt everything. I noticed everything. Through the haze, I found something resembling clarity.

You know because you were there. I noticed you because you cried. You were the only one who cried, and right then, I knew I wanted to leave the freak show behind. I just wanted to drink your tears. I knew they would taste sweet. They would be cool and refreshing. They would wash the chemicals and fire from my mouth and leave me healed. I would be baptized in the purity of those tears and reborn as something better.

I approached you. You took my hand when I offered to help you up. I saw the faint hint of a smile borne from my own act of kindness and felt a real sense of purpose for the first time in my life. I could show you kindness, and through my kindness, help you forget, or at least forgive.

For you.

My heart. My love. My wife.

We left the freak show hand-in-hand.

Sometimes, in the years that followed, I would turn around. I would hear the applause, the jingle-jangle of loose change, the laughter from The Geek, the shout of The Barker, and I would consider returning. I would remember the taste of fossil fuels and alcohol and fire. Sometimes, I wanted to taste those poisons again. But always, your hand was there – and then other hands, smaller hands – and together, you and the family you gave me would pull me back so I could remember what really matters and understand.

My heart. My life.

The Geek smiles only because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

You know. You care.

And now I do too.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Running in Circles

George Orwell ran inside his red plastic wheel. The metal bits had not been oiled in quite some time, so it squeaked loudly as his little paws pushed the wheel round and round and round. He enjoyed running in circles.

Margaret Catcher, a rather obese orange and brown tabby, rubbed up against Orwell’s cage. “Good afternoon, George.”

“Afternoon,” Orwell replied. He breathed heavily and the word came out as a rush of air. He almost turned the word into one syllable instead of two. He slowed down so that he might speak more clearly. He enjoyed Margaret’s company. He knew this was odd, with him being a gerbil – a rodent not too much different than a rat, really – and she being a cat and all, but still, they tended to get along rather marvelously. He had known her from the time she was a wide-eyed and innocent kitten. He remembered when they first met. She had not been much larger than himself at the time, after all.

Margaret stretched out her front paws. Pearly white claws extracted and retracted as she stretched. She had never been declawed. She had learned to scratch her post instead of the furniture at a young age. She rather liked her claws and was not too keen on the idea of losing them in the event that she ever had to defend herself or was forced to catch her own food. The lady who owned her was a silly, delirious old thing, a wannabe writer who lived most of her life inside dusty old books, and Margaret worried the poor old bag of bones could fall over dead at any time at the slightest provocation due to her numerous nervous conditions, and then where would she be if she did not even have her claws? This was a dreadful thought, more than enough to motivate Margaret to scratch the post instead of the sofa.

“Why do you run?” Margaret asked.

“Because I like it, of course,” Orwell replied. His breathing was steadier now as he had slowed down to a steady jog. The squeak of the wheel quieted some but remained audible. It released a metronomic screech, screech, screech, as it went round and round in an endless slow circle.

“But why? You’re not really going anywhere, are you?”

“Perhaps not,” George admitted thoughtfully. “I guess it’s not the destination that matters, however. They say it’s the getting there – wherever there is – that matters, but really, I don’t think that matters too much if you get there in the end. Once you get there, the journey stops and there’s nowhere to run. And if it is the getting there that matters, than why should I worry if I never get there? What’s the point of even having a destination if getting there is the good part? Perhaps we’d all be better off if we forgo destinations altogether and just enjoyed our rides? Besides, I’ve seen some of the destinations of my brethren. I’ve heard stories, you know: crushed under rockers; starved to death; no offense, but some I hear have been eaten by cats; embraced too rigorously by small, well-meaning children with strong, chubby hands; and then don’t get me started on what I’ve heard some adult humans do with us … where they, uhm, put us.” Orwell stopped running and shuddered visibly. “Yes, there are worse things in life.”

Margaret had grown bored during Orwell’s diatribe, no matter how brief it might have been, and began licking her paws. His speech had not once mentioned her or cats at all. It was all about himself and gerbils. This was quite a boring speech for a cat to have to endure, obviously. Once he stopped talking she looked up at him and decided she needed to say something, just to remain polite. George was her friend, after all, even if he only talked about himself and his kind. “I suppose so.”

And that was that. Margaret Thatcher walked away to rub up against the legs of the old lady sitting in her reading chair. She had not moved in quite a long time, and Margaret rather hoped that the old bag was still alive. Not that Margaret was worried about her owner’s well-being, mind you, but because Margaret was a fat, hungry cat and hoped the old woman might open a nice tin of tuna for her to eat.

George looked at the cat as she walked away and was grateful to have a friend, no matter how self-obsessed she might be. She was still his friend, and that was quite good enough. The entirety of his life was rather good enough, he decided, and he began running again. The inadequately oiled metal parts of the little wheel screamed as it worked itself round and round and round while going nowhere.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A (Kind of) Fairy Tale

Sheila clutched a Swiss army knife in her hand. She extracted a small blade to carve an opening in the cardboard box surrounding her. This released a blinding stream of light that poured down like a phosphorescent waterfall. She closed her eyes and then opened them slowly, allowing them to adjust to the new light. It had been a long time since she had looked outside. A very long time.

She peeked through the new opening and saw that the world had not changed. It was still the same as it was before. The river coursing over the rocks had straightened a little. It no longer curved the same way. The white water had calmed somewhat, but other than that, the world was no different. The leaves were still green. The sky remained blue. The birds still sang.

Then the leaves fell and then winter came and snow collected on her new window. Translucent stalactites of ice dripped over her opening and distorted her view. She shivered, decided it would be better to hibernate, and fell fast sleep.

The world was her bed and it was soft and comforting. It made sense when nothing else did. She woke as the snows began to thaw, and she tried to remember why she was here, where she obtained the Swiss army knife in her hand, why she was in a box, but decided that these were worthless questions. She was here because she was here and that was all. This is no different for anyone else, no matter how strange or sensible or senseless they might happen to be. People aren’t all that different, though they often like to think they are special. She had had time to think and no longer clung to false notions. Maybe she wasn’t special, she decided, but at least she was free. She said, “Freedom is in the mind, not a physical state of being,” and she chanted this over and over and over until she almost believed it, but not really, because she was a protagonist, and this, by default, made her special. At least it made her special in her own self-contained universe. Without a character there can be no story, after all, and without a story there is simply nothing to tell.

Then the box dissolved with the raging rains of spring and she emerged during a storm. Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, but then the winds swept the storm – and the dissolving remains of her box – away. As the clouds broke apart to reveal the sun, she outstretched her arms. Her joints popped. She ignored the pain and bloomed. Delicate and colorful petals flitted with a soft breeze. She was beautiful and fragile and, ultimately, meaningless.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Sitcom

Ted fought against the metal mountain as he climbed. The thick cloths and leather straps wound around his hands and feet grew snagged and tattered and worn as the level ground – covered only by a thinning blanket of dead grass and glittering permafrost – fell away beneath him. As he climbed upwards, the smoldering heap of rusting steel smoked in places. Red lines stained crags and eddies. Ted was unsure if the stains marring the mountain were rusted iron or ancient blood. Both had been offered over the years to appease The Monster. Yet, The Monster was never appeased, not fully. The Monster looked down on what was left of the world with a toothy smirk. The Monster’s giant lips frothed with blood. Tremors rising from deep inside the core of the earth told Ted that The Monster hungered. Wings creaked overhead and blocked the pale light of a dying sun as The Monster stretched.


“Why must you do it?” his mother asked him. She ran around the kitchen. The spotlights overhead and the yellow flowers on her wallpaper kept her cheerful, kept her smiling. She whisked something in a bowl. Scrambled eggs maybe? The beginnings of a cake? Cookies?

Ted did not know. He stared down at his hands. They were caked with dried blood.

His mother tsked. “Ted, you tell me right now, what is it you want to prove?”

He looked up to his mother and saw her. Really saw her. She was beautiful, radiant. Light streaked out of her eyes and warmed the chill in his soul, but he still felt cold. His brother was gone. His mother tried to remain happy, wore a permanent smile, but even as young as Ted was he understood this was her front, an act. He knew she was lonely. Since The Censors invaded she had been forced to sleep in a tiny twin bed. She no longer knew the embrace of her husband. She no longer knew what it felt like to be kissed with the exception of chaste brushes of indifferent lips against her cheek. The Censors wanted her pure. The Censors did not care if that false purity killed her soul.

“Mom, I just killed my brother. Dad made me do it. He said it was in the damn script!” Ted tugged at his crew cut hair. “I need answers!”

The laugh track erupted into a joyful cacophony of canned emotion.


“Why do you climb, boy?” The Monster asked. He had no name. He was simply The Monster. That was enough.

Ted lay sprawled out on a small metal platform. His hands and feet pulsed and wept with blisters and blood. “Because I have to know.”

“What do you want to know? How do you know I have the answers? How do you know, if I do have the answers, I will give them to you? What makes you think I can be trusted?”

Ted laughed. “It’s not about trust. It’s about truth.”


His father never came home from work. No “Honey, I’m home!” or tumble over furniture, no canned applause for his clumsy, over-stylized entrance. Instead, the house grew silent.

Ted looked at the fourth wall. The cameras had stopped rolling. The studio audience had been left deserted. A tumbleweed from the western that was filming on the set next door rolled across the linoleum kitchen floor.

“Why do you do it?” his mother asked again, softer this time. She fell over and shivered.

Ted wanted to rush over to her, to hold her, to cry over her. Instead, he sat at the kitchen table and ate his cereal, trapped by an unforgiving and unyielding script. His mother died as she slept: alone.


Ted spoke between clenched teeth. “I just want you to answer one question, you sick bastard. Who are you?”

The Monster smiled. “I think you know.”

“Why do you do this?”

“Just to see if it works.”

A shock of lava and smoke erupted near Ted. Some of it splashed down against his outstretched arm and left instant whelps and burns. “Well? Did it work?”

Sheets of typed paper were crumpled into a ball before being tossed into a trashcan littered by empty beer cans.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Family Portrait


There was one man in a room. He sat alone and looked out a dirty window. There was nothing outside besides parked cars lining a quiet street. The stoops in front of the duplexes were all empty. Behind the man, the filter of his nasty aquarium whined while lumps of algae and dead fish floated and twirled in the artificial currents. He poured himself a glass of cheap whiskey and adjusted himself on the couch because his left leg had fallen asleep. The motion sent a spray of dust mites into the air. They twirled in a slant of sunlight like pixies, but they weren’t pixies. It was only dust.


The mother sat at the kitchen table. She pressed her hands against her temples as she stared down at a pile of unpaid bills. Some of the unpaid bills were written in red print. Far too many of the bills were written in red print. She pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes to dam up swelling tears.

In the next room, something crashed to the floor. The sound startled her. The mother looked up and saw that her boy had broken a lamp. His dirty bed sheet was tied roughly around his neck like a cape. He had been pretending to be Superman again. He told the kids at school that Superman was his father. When the other kids asked the boy where his father was, the boy explained that Superman flew away.


There is a picture on a wall showing a happy family. The family is posed in front of a lake, framed by trees, and the sun casts a golden glow as it sets behind them. The mother, the father, and the boy all wear smiles. No one would know it by looking, but the smiles are fake. At least they are for the father and mother. As for the boy, his smile was real enough, just all too fleeting. Shortly after the photograph was taken the mother’s eye would be bruised and black. The father would be drunk and screaming and throwing furniture around. The boy would be cowering under his bed, reading his Superman comics, and thinking about his own father’s strength as furniture crashed against the wall.


The boy is now a man. He sits in a small economy apartment. He sorts through stems and seeds on a dish looking for any decent leaves for his pipe. The pipe is stained with thick resin. The past stains his mind. He wants to fly away like Superman. He looks at the crooked spot on his finger where there had once been a wedding band and thinks about his father. He thinks about his father’s fists. He thinks about his own fists. He really was Superman’s son. He releases a clipped chuckle and throws the glass pipe against the wall. It shatters the framed picture of his family vacation. He looks at the fresh shards of glass and hopes they don’t cut him too badly once he eventually feels motivated enough to pick them up off the floor.