Friday, December 23, 2011

When the Doors Opened Wide

The light at the end of the tunnel was not what you expected it to be. Instead of bright and warm and comforting, you felt it burn. It felt tight in your chest. You turned your face, your eyes, or you tried to, but you were not you any longer. You just were what you were, whatever that was.

No pulse. No breath. No skin.

You cried out and thought of so many things: sins, dreams, loves, lusts, wishes, desires, faces, names, places, sights, and screams. Their screams.

You did not want to be here. You wanted to be back there.

The house was falling in on itself. The wallpaper peeled. The moldy ceilings dripped when it rained and sometimes when it was just damp outside. Breezes chilled you there with the lack of insulation, with the cracks in the walls. It was no mansion, but it had been home. You had been free to be yourself there. You could be anyone, do anything. And you did.

You believed in nothing. You read your philosophy books. You once wanted to believe, but you decided you Kant. Not after what happened to you. Not after all that suffering. Not after what she did to you.

So, you made do. You did what you felt needed to be done. You did it to person after person.

You never wanted to suffer alone. So the world suffered with you. The world feared you, and this excited you.

Bodies upon bodies and news clippings in a soiled scrapbook.

You took Polaroids, too. You wanted to capture every single agonized face, every engorged strangled visage.

But no one saw your face when it was your turn. No one called your name. No one ever knew it was you, so it was all wasted.

There won’t even be a Wikipedia article on you.

The light at the end of the tunnel turned off and you fell back into your skin.

The light was just a fridge light. The tunnel had just been your vision fading out as the oxygen left your brain. But you came back. Just long enough to see yourself one last time.

The pain in your chest tightened. You clutched your shirt.

Milk spilled all around you, and you drooled. You wet yourself.

You looked up to the rotting ceiling, at the black spreading mold. In that mold you saw yourself staring back at yourself and you laughed. Or you tried to.

There was no breath left in your lungs.

Then the mold opened. It became a door. You felt yourself lifted up by cold hands. You looked around you, and there were many doors. Inside the doors there was only darkness and screams. You recognized their voices.

They were happy to see you again.

You wished you could say the same.

You look backwards but there is nowhere to go.

They call your name.

You scream.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shoegazing/Negative Space

I spent my days searching for the hidden spaces between colors, the silent tones hidden in melodies, and listening for the unsaid words in every conversation. Negative space, they call it. It is there. The meaning, that is.

I found you there. Your hair was a dark brown braid, your voice was a wind chime of laughter, and I heard you say “Here.”

I looked again and it was just a rusty railroad track, unused and covered by kudzu vines, sapling pines, and locusts. I could smell honeysuckle in the air, and it almost smelled like a woman, or a girl, it almost smelled like you, but you were not there.

Did you hear me call your name?

I fell backwards in space. Time is just another dimension of space.

We fell together and separated into two. We were once joined together, one, in love.

In pieces.

And there should have been another conversation here somewhere. Another word, or string of words, or maybe even a simple goodbye would have sufficed? But no, I would have still looked.

“Stop staring at your shoes!”

But I’m not staring at my shoes. I’m looking through them.

To something that looks a little like you and a lot like me…

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Everything Matters

Nothing matters, she said, but only it did. Everything mattered.

Fuck you, she said.

I love you, I said.

She took my hand in hers. She held it to her wet cheeks. I leaned down and tasted her tears. They were bitter.

She took my hand in hers. She held it to her breast. It was warm. It moved with her breaths, and I held my own breath, afraid to move, afraid that the feeling would stop.

I shouldn’t have worried. The feeling remains. Even all that came afterwards, even after what she did to me before, the feeling remained.

Even now, it doesn’t matter that she is no longer breathing.


I stared at the spot on the wall. I watched it grow. Maggots fell from rotting sheetrock. They squirmed on the ground without legs, just pale bodies grown fat and useless. I know what they feel like. It’s frustrating to sit around waiting for something that may never come, unable to feel like a grownup, being unable to fly.


She hid from me. Somewhere. I never found her. I cleaned my blades. I washed the floor with bleach.


Sometimes, she took my hands in hers without taking my hands. Her hands were so cold and stiff. The fingers hardly moved. I think her pinkie broke off.


One day her mother came by.

Where is she? she asked.

I don’t know, I said.

She finally up and left you, huh?

Yeah. I guess so.


I never liked her mother very much.


One night I lay in bed and stared at the stains and holes in the wall. I heard breathing. I held my own breath, but I could still hear the breathing. Almost like a heartbeat in another story but not quite. The sound didn’t disturb, it comforted.

She breathed in my ear and told me everything is going to be okay.

I believed her.

I always believed her.

Even when I knew better.


Time moves like a sick turtle. It crawls and lurches, and every now and then, it hides in its shell. I like my shell. It is covered in ancient faux wood siding. It hasn’t changed a lick since my parents died. Except there are holes in the wall and a lot more flies. Her scent pervades the house with the smell of the others.


Nothing matters, she said, but only it did. Everything mattered.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

7 Messages

Curtis emerged from his tent and relieved himself behind a nearby tree. He wiped longish hair from out of his eyes with the back of his arm. His clothes, soggy and heavy with dew, clung against goose-bumped flesh. He shivered and returned to the campsite. He pulled four split pine logs he had wrapped with a small blue tarp the night before and stacked these over three large handfuls of fresh pine needles which were kept protected in a plastic Walmart bag inside his tent. He struggled with his lighter and patiently waited for the small flame to take hold of moist kindling. Once the fire blazed hot, he sat next to it a few moments to warm up. He set up his ancient, fire-stained coffee kettle, poured a can of beans into an aluminum skillet, and roasted the remains of a rabbit shot the night before over a spit. He looked out from his perch high atop the Smokies and watched grey tendrils of steam rise to meet the obscurity of the grey, predawn sky. He thought about his pregnant wife Sharon and how she hated camping and smiled.

There were only ten miles between him and Sharon, but that was a good day's hike away through a winding trail of steep mountainous ascents and descents. He was completely severed from her, completely free. She was down there with her sister, Jenessa, and her best friend, Cathy. They were enjoying the tourist traps and shopping while Curtis enjoyed the real joys of a Smoky Mountain vacation: nature and isolation and absolute freedom.

He breathed in the wet morning air, inhaled the scent of dew-soaked pine, the acrid smoke of the fire, the sweet stench of roasting rabbit flesh, and fresh coffee. He exhaled and reached into his coat pocket for the flask containing some homemade applejack that his brother Jimmy had whipped up a week before this trip. He sipped the sweet liquor, grimaced as it burned on the way down, and twisted the lid back into place.

He turned the spit a few times, grew impatient, and ripped away a chunk of medium rare rabbit flesh. Warm, thin rivulets of blood dripped down his stubbled chin. He gobbled the entire can of beans. A pleasant and satisfying ache throbbed in his extremities from the previous day's exertion of hiking and hunting with a heavy backpack. He poured thick black coffee into a pewter cup and sipped as he examined his gear. He took a moment to oil his rifle. He sipped his coffee again. He pulled out his fold-up fishing rod and light tackle. He drank the last drops of his coffee before lifting some nearby rocks in hope of finding some worms, grubs, salamanders, or other bait. He found a few large worms and placed these with some dirt into a Styrofoam cup: litter from a previous camper he was more than happy to recycle for another use. There was a stream down the hill, and he hoped to be able to catch a bass or trout for lunch.

He picked up his rod, looked down over the mountains again and noted the rising steam. He now understood why they called this range the Smokies. He examined the skyline and found where Gatlinburg would be nestled in a hidden valley. The smoke seemed thicker there, too thick. He squinted and realized the steam rising from the direction of the city was black, not shades of pale white like everywhere else – too thick for pollution. Besides it was a tourist city: no factories, no mines, no industries. There was nothing in the town below capable of making that much smoke.

He rushed over to his tent and pulled his cell phone out of his backpack and turned it on. There were seven messages:

Message #1:

Hey baby. Hope you're having fun. Me and the girls hit the shops this afternoon. I bought some stuff. Hope you aren't mad at me, but I found the cutest little baby dress. It's white with all these ribbons and will be perfect for the Christening. It was a little expensive, but those pictures are going to last forever you know. Anyway, hope you're having fun up there, you wild mountain man you.

Message #2:

Hey Curtis. We just left the aquarium. You would have loved it. They had the biggest catfish I've ever seen. They were from South America or somewhere like that. Simply huge. There was this thing were you stood on a people mover and moved through a shark tank. There were even hammerheads. It was neat to be able to see the sharks up close, from the side and even from below. They're really cool animals. Anyway, we're heading out to eat at a little barbecue place back in Pigeon Forge. Janessa says they have the best ribs. We'll see. Anyway, I'll call you later. I wish you'd leave your phone on. I miss you. What if there was an emergency? Anyway, I love you.

Message #3:

It's gotten dark. I hope you set up your campsite in time and didn't forget anything. I know you probably didn't. "Be prepared" and all that Boy Scout crap you're always going on about. Well, we're eating funnel cake and sitting across the street from the Ripley's Museum watching the drunks walk by. There are a bunch of drunks tonight. There are so many people stumbling around stupid, incoherent, asshole drunk. I'm surprised with all the Baptists around here. This always seemed like a family friendly place before. This one guy bumped into me and didn't even seem to notice, no apology. He was looking up at the sky and drooling. It was kind of creepy, like Night of the Living Dead or some shit. Speaking of, Janessa told me that Jimmy whipped up some of his spirits before we left Gadsden. I hope you're not drinking too much up there all alone or doing something stupid like that. Remember, you've got a little girl on the way. I don't want to raise her as a widow because my irresponsible husband got drunk and fell off a mountain.

Message #4:

Are you ever going to turn on your phone? Seriously, what if there was an emergency? Fuck! Curtis, you can't do this shit to me anymore! We have a baby on the way. You need to take this seriously. I need you. You can't just go running off into the woods all alone all the time once we have kids. You need to be more responsible. Mom and Janessa say you'll never change. You say you don't like when they say that sort of thing. Well, prove them wrong! Man up. Be there for me. That's all I ask. Just leave on your phone for me. That's not too much to ask, now is it? A baby step, okay? Anyway, I'm sorry. It's just been a weird night. It's like the whole town decided to get smashed. It was weird, creepy. We're back in our cabin now. Janessa and Cathy tried to enjoy the hot tub, but had to come inside. Even up here we can hear the drunks in town down the hill. They're loud, but it's weird. They don't sound like they're partying. There's no music, just screams. You know in movies when some girl's about to get raped or killed or something. I keep hearing stuff like that. I'm kind of scared. I wish you were here. Anyway, I don't mean to lecture. I don't want to be some bitchy nag. I hope you're having fun. I really do. If you get this message, please call me, okay?

Message #5:

Shit! Please turn on your phone...

Message #6:

There's a fire! Curtis, there's a forest fire! I called 911, but there was no answer, just a busy signal. Earlier we saw people outside and some of them were on fire, but they were still walking. They're walking up the hill and spreading flames. There are some drunks outside right now pounding on the doors and windows. I don't know what they want! We asked them but they won't talk. They just moan. We locked the doors and propped furniture against the windows, but I'm scared it's not enough. Fuck! Wish you were here. Screw you for not being here! Fuck you, asshole! Fuck you!

Message #7:

Curtis, it's me. I hope you can hear me. I've got to be quiet. Janessa's dead. They ate her. Cathy and me locked ourselves in the bathroom, but they're right outside. We have a kitchen knife, but that's it, and it wasn't enough for Janessa. Screw you for not being here, Curtis! Fuck you, asshole! Shit! They're banging on the door now. I don't think it's going to hold. Damn it! Where are you?

Curtis put the phone down. He looked at it. He dialed Sharon. No answer. He dialed again. No answer.

"What the fuck?"

He wiped a tear from his cheek as his pulse quickened and grew erratic with panic.

He picked up his shotgun, left the rest of his gear behind, and ran down the trail towards a burning town. He paid no mind to the views and the natural world around him that he had enjoyed so much the day before. None of that mattered. His freedom no longer mattered. He no longer wanted to be alone.

He ran for two miles before he realized he was screaming. He fell over, exhausted, unable to catch his breath. He grew silent and listened to his own fading echoes as they bounced off the empty mountains.

He rose to his knees and screamed. "Sharon!" It was a plea and a prayer and completely meaningless. He understood she would never return his call.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Way Back Home

The trail rounds a bend, and I spy a granite wall. Inside that wall there is a cave. Inside that cave lies darkness. I have returned. I smell her. I smell him. I smell them. They call to me with the wind through the trees. Their voices sound from the gurgle of a small creek coursing downhill over mossy stones. They call me home.

Leaves fall around me from the tall maples, oaks, and hickories. Across the stream, a dervish of pine straw sweeps through the shady dark trunks of a patch of slash pines.

I don’t belong here.

I look at my hands. I see my wedding band. I shake the watch I received as a gift from my eldest daughter on my too-skinny wrist. I remember my girls. I remember their hair, their smell, and their laughter. I inevitably remember they are gone. I note my fingernails and how clean they are. I turn my hands over and touch the bumpy line running up my arms. That line is ugly and purple and seems to grow larger every year. I remember a crimson river collecting as a cloudy delta in the ocean of my bathtub.

I don’t belong here.

But it started here. I think. I don’t know because it was all so long ago. It seems a nice enough place for it to end, all the same.

I hear birds sing a song and know the words. Some people might say they are not words, but those people would be wrong. There is meaning. That’s all words are in the end. Songs convey meaning. Music carries emotions. The forest has a song all its own. That song is nothing if not meaningful.

A shock of cold creeps up my leg. I look down. I see myself walk into the stream. My pants grow dark with creeping moisture. Chill bumps rise on my arm. A shiver slinks down my spine. Overhead, a trio of crows caws as they leap from branch to branch to branch. A flurry of leaves, nuts, and pinecones shower down in their wake.

I hear a rustle and see something dark and large – A bear? A deer? A mountain lion? A wolf? A troll? A dragon? – creep through a patch of underbrush. Twigs rattle in the wake. There’s a growl or a cry or a laugh; it is hard to tell the difference. I think I see fresh hoof prints outlined in mud. Worms wriggle up and fill the dark indentations like anemones.

I don’t belong here.

My daughter had been a little girl once. She sat on my knee. She held my hand and dragged me around everywhere as little girls are wont to do with their daddies. I let her carry me. I thought I was the parent. I thought I was in charge. I thought I was the protector. I thought I was keeping her safe and sound. I never dreamed she was the only thing keeping me from being lost. That’s what I am without her: lost. I need her hand in mine so I don’t slip away.

I trudge forward through the creek. I splash as I lose my footing. I slip on moss and algae. I scrape my hands. Loose moss sinks beneath my fingernails. My arms are slick and white with cold. My teeth chatter, but I hardly recognize this. I don’t feel the cold even though it eats at me and sends my pulse into a frenetic fury.

I come closer to the cliff I first saw when coming around the bend. The gurgle of water becomes a roar. I look up and see the waterfalls. They cascade down from above. Beneath the base of the falls, I can just make out the dark outline of the cave. The walls on either side of the opening appear soft and languorous, worn smooth by an eternity of erosion.

I don’t belong here.

I look back behind me and realize I am on a rise. This is a natural overlook. Below me, a river snakes through a valley. A city sits on the bank of that river. Cars drive on streets. Children play on playgrounds. Adults sit in offices or work construction. It is Halloween. Once the sun sets, the carved pumpkins will be alight with fire. Families will take to the streets with glow sticks and bags for candy. People will smile and visit and knock on each other’s doors. They might not knock on each other’s doors any other time during the year, but they will on that night. At least the children will. The adults will hang back and watch from the curb or sidewalk or simply stay at home while getting drunk and watching horror movies.

I always liked Halloween. But not this year. Not last year. Not the year before.

Every little girl, no matter the costume, looks just like my little girl. I find myself wondering if she might be underneath that wig? That make-up? That mask?

I belong here.

The cascading water slows and then stops. Lingering puddles in the rock drip. The birds stop their song. The crows land next to me. They stand silent and regard me with obsidian eyes.

A tree falls behind me, then another.

A dragon sweeps by blowing smoke and fire.

A troll rides on the dragon’s back. The troll picks its nose and laughs. It sings a song whose words are meaningless and untrue. I hate that troll.

The dragon knocks the cliff with a spiked tail. I’m not sure if the action was on accident or on purpose. I doubt that it matters. The impact of the beast against the cliff breaks the stone apart. Rocks fall around me. It grows dark. I am buried. Water seeps through cracks above me. I relent. The chill overtakes me until there is no chill, only numbness.

I touch the scars on my forearms. They vibrate and pulse. I dig in with my hands until I can feel myself. Pink light erupts from my torn skin and muscle. This blushing illumination lights my way. I dig and dig. My hands grow wet. I will keep digging until I find myself, until I find my way back home.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Along the Lonesome Trail

Trace turned just in time to see something move away. Vines swayed along the brush in the wake of the unseen thing. He could smell it. It smelled like animal carcasses on a warm day and burning leather, overpowering the familiar scents of dry air and falling leaves. There was a howl, and Trace tightened his grip on his rifle.

“C’mon out you stinking bastard,” he said through clenched teeth.

Something stirred further in the brush. Leaves and pine needles rustled.

Trace pulled the rifle up and set his sights down the barrel. The full moon overhead glinted off the steel of his gun. He cocked with his thumb. He pressed against the trigger, ready to squeeze at the slightest provocation.

He looked up and down the trail. He found it empty. It was just him and Buttercup, an aged mare grown fat in pasture. Buttercup’s eyes were wide. Hot breath steamed out her nostrils as she shuffled her aged legs.

“Still, Buttercup. Still.” Trevor patted her greying coat. He walked down the trail and looked off into the brush.

Buttercup looked from side to side. She turned her head to regard the brush and screeched a pained neigh. Something large was atop her when Trevor turned around.

Trevor aimed his rifle and fired.

Something roared.

Trevor ran forward.

When the smoke cleared, Buttercup lay on the ground, a gaping hole bleeding from her side. Her hide was peeled back in three parallel shreds.

The leaves along the brush rustled and swayed, but the trail and clearing were empty.

“Damn!” Trevor reloaded his rifle. He stood over his horse and looked Buttercup in the eye. She stared back, her eyes moist and wide. She shuddered. He lifted the rifle to her head and fired. “Damn.” He didn’t look down at her again. There was no need.

“Come back here! Face me!” Trevor roared at the surrounding forest.

Somewhere in the distance there was a sound. Almost like a laugh, more like a bark.

Trevor looked up and down the trail. It remained empty. The dark mound that was once Buttercup lay lifeless and still. “That was my favorite horse, you monster. Now you’ve done it. It’s one thing to eat a man’s goats, but another thing altogether to eat his horse. I’d had her since I was just a boy. She was like a sister. Get out here!”

He stood silent and listened. There was no movement, no sound, just the wind.

Trevor turned around.

Something blocked the trail. As a shadow, it looked like a man – a very large man, but a man nonetheless – but Trevor knew it was something else, something equally as bad if not worse. And that was saying something considering Trevor’s opinion of humanity in general.

It stood still, blocking the trail ahead. The moon stood high above the form, making it a mere silhouette. Trevor pulled up his gun and fired.

Smoke rose into the sky. The bullet pinged as it ricocheted off a boulder somewhere in the distance. The thing was gone. It dissipated and came back together.

It laughed. The laugh turned into a howl.

Trevor quickly reloaded and fired. He reloaded and fired. He reloaded and fired. And then there were no bullets left.

“Die! C’mon. Die!” Trevor cocked his empty gun and fired off a click. He looked at his rifle. "Shit."

He looked ahead. There was a glint of sharp teeth raised into the facsimile of a smile inside a cloud of dark smoke.

Trevor took in a deep breath of air and raised his shoulders back. He tightened his grip on his rifle and prepared to swing.

The thing solidified and ran at him. The ground shook beneath Trevor’s feet.

Trevor reared back the rifle in his hands. As the form of the creature approached, he swung through the air, connecting with nothing.

There was a sharp pain in Trevor’s side. He dropped the gun, reached down with his hand, and pulled it away wet with blood. “That just ain’t fair!”

“Whoever the hell said life’s fair?”

Trevor fell to his knees.


There was a laugh that turned into a roar and then the thing was upon him.

Trevor’s scream echoed along the lonesome trail.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Last Hope

When the diamond fell into Brother Matthias’s hands, he worried it might burn. But there was no fire, no pain. All was well. He looked at the steaming diamond, held it to the sun, turned it, and stared through. Cloudy at first, it became clear. Another world on another side in another time looked back. Or at least her face did, and that was enough for him to smile and shed a tear. She summed up that other place: Beautiful.

He understood then that we are all outcasts here. We are all alone. Glimpsing her face renewed faith, reminded him there was more to our larger existence than hot asphalt and hazy air, than the buzz of fluorescent lighting, and sleeping on a bed of litter beneath the overpass. There was something and someplace better, and he had been there before. He would return.

The woman inside the diamond smiled at him, and then she grew smaller. She lifted away, carried by wings of glass. He heard the ethereal tinkle of her feathers and closed his eyes. It was the most beautiful song he knew.

He missed her already.

He opened his crying eyes, and the diamond was gone. In its place was a Steel Reserve tallboy. He looked at his palms. They were blistered and red and black. Bits of skin peeled away and blisters burst as he dropped the can from his tight-fisted hand. His hands smelled like the barbecue rib joint down the block. He looked up to the hot August sun. He fumbled with swollen fingers, gasped as he reached into his tattered jeans’ pocket for a crumpled pack of USA Golds, lit a cigarette, and inhaled the bitter blend. He watched the cloud of smoke drift away and disperse until it resembled her shadow.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


My first day at the office, I noticed nothing foreboding. Sure my boss had a forked tail jutting out from the back of her skirt. My partner was a light shade of periwinkle blue and had horns covered in blood, but she had a nice smile. Still, no matter what, it beat my last job as a telemarketer. Besides, I had my very own desk, my very own cubicle. Who was I to complain?

My second day at the office, I asked them to turn the heat down. They laughed at me. I noticed the other guys weren’t wearing suits. Some of them only wore little loincloths to cover their red, wiry-muscled bodies. So, I decided business casual would work. A polo shirt beat a suit in that heat. The only fashion accessory that seemed a must was a pitchfork. I don’t even know where to get one of those. They don’t sell them at my local J.C. Penny’s. Maybe I’ll try asking at the farmer’s market this weekend?

A few weeks went by and I got the hang of things. I kept my inbox down to a comfortable level. Mostly I was in charge of proofing and writing out contracts. I had to close any open clauses. These were strange contracts, too. It appeared our most important commodity was souls. We bought souls. I don’t know how this company could turn a profit with just souls. I’m glad I decided against the stock option when I filled my benefit forms on my first day.

Months went by. I started dating my partner. We kept it a secret. We tried to hide it from our bosses. Her periwinkle blue skin was so sexy. She was so hot! No, I mean, she’s really hot. Like, on fire! She wanted me to cuddle her at night, and I would do it sometimes for a little while – at least until she fell asleep, but then I rolled over to my side of the bed and kicked off the covers. She always left me sweating. We got along fine, but I needed to find some better quality sheets. She charred her side of the bed. Perhaps a higher thread count would have lasted a little longer? She never asked me over to her place. I wonder why?

During my performance evaluation, I received high marks. Apparently my contracts were bullet-proof. I managed to have 100% retention on clients served with my paperwork. Every clause was tight. My manager began smiling at me. Her tail rubbed up and down my leg beneath her desk. It became clear she liked me. I worried this could become awkward. She was a very attractive woman, her purple skin was very nice, but blue had always been my favorite color.

My manager came to my cubicle at least once a day. She sat on my desk and crossed her legs next to me as I worked. Her forked tail ran through my hair. I tried to be polite, but she made me uncomfortable. I thought about reporting her to HR. My partner grew a little angry about it, I could tell, but she was helpless and didn’t want to rock the boat – not in this economy. Her performance evaluation was not as good as mine. I knew I had to complain. What choice did I have?

Apparently HR was at the center of a labyrinth in the basement. I went down there and found it very unpleasant. Many of my coworkers were doing a Zoomba class as part of a fitness initiative, and I got slapped by a forked tail and nearly stabbed by thrusting horns at every turn. I thought it was strange to do aerobics in a labyrinth, but I understood they didn’t have a formal workout room in the office. I guess they made due with what they had. Anyway, I made it through the maze and found the HR office. A large minotaur sat behind a metal desk surrounded by filing cabinets. I told him about my manager, that she was hitting on me and making me uncomfortable. The minotaur snorted steam through his nose and mooed. After a few minutes, I realized that was it. Our meeting was done. Now I had to wait.

My partner was skewered. I came into work one day and she was cut apart and put on a large metal shish kabob stick with a bunch of gigantic Portobello mushrooms and red onions. My manager was turning her over a large flame.

I turned in my two weeks’ notice.

I hated to be unemployed again, it took me seven months to find this job after my last layoff, but there are worse things than unemployment lines.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Shanna, a therapist, goes down on one knee next to her client. “Hey sweetie, I see you’re playing with some toys. Is there a story behind your game? Why don’t you tell me a story?”

The little girl looks up to the therapist with shining eyes. She smiles. She always seems to smile. “Okay. Diddy Pop is a happy little dog. He wags his tail. He likes to eat treats. Camantha is Diddy Pop’s mommy. Diddy Pop could be a naughty dog sometimes. One time he barked too loud. Camantha slapped him until he cried. Diddy Pop died that one time. But Doctor Potato made him better. Camantha said she was sorry, but she still hits Diddy Pop if he barks too loud or too much. Diddy Pop still wags his tail. He stays happy. He doesn’t know any better.“

“So, do you think it’s right that Camantha slaps Diddy Pop? How’s that make you feel, sweetie?”

The little girl does not look up to the adult. She stares at her toys. She makes the little girl doll, the one called Camantha, slap a little stuffed puppy. The stuffed puppy’s ears fly forward with the force of the impact. Camantha’s tangled yellow braids fly in violent circles as the little hand thrashes the toy around. The doll bumps into the stuffed puppy again and again and again, each time a little harder than the time before.

Shanna goes from a kneeling position down to a sitting position. She looks over the toys and into the little girl’s face. The little girl doesn’t look up. She smiles, lost in her game. “Did you hear me?” the therapist asks.

The little girl nods. “Yes. Diddy Pop is a bad doggie.”

“What makes him so bad?”

“He’s loud. Camantha doesn’t like it when he’s loud.”

“Are you loud?”


“Does your mother like it when you’re loud?”

The little girl does not answer.

“Did you hear me, sweetie?”

The little girl puts down her toys and looks up at the therapist. A slant of sunlight comes through the window. Her brown eyes shimmer in the light. The little girl smiles. She squishes up her face so that one eye looks smaller than the other. “I’m not stupid, you know.”

“Oh, I know. I know, sweetie.”

“Don’t call me sweetie. I don’t like it. It makes me think you’re talking to me like I’m a dummy. I’m not.”

“I never said you were. I’d never say that.”

“Not with words. But actions are louder. That’s what Daddy says.”

“Daddy?” The therapist scratches her head. “You see your daddy often?”

“Every day.”

“Can you excuse me a moment?”

The little girl shrugs.

The therapist walks out of her office and into the waiting room. She strides over to the little girl’s mother. “Can I ask a question?”

The mother is looking down at a cell phone, her thumbs are moving furiously on the touch screen.

The therapist waits a moment. She grows impatient. “Excuse me, Mrs. Carlisle, I have a question.”

Mrs. Carlisle raises one finger.

“Our time is almost up. Chelsea just said something interesting. She said she sees her father every day. My admission paperwork shows you listed as single with nothing listed about a father. Is this a boyfriend or an ex or something?”

Mrs. Carlisle looks up. “That’s impossible.” Her eyes are bloodshot. Her face is too pale. The therapist sees tiny blue veins outlined in Mrs. Carlisle’s face. The tiny blue veins spread out like miniscule river deltas.

“I know this may be a personal question. It might be unimportant and stuff, but would you like to come back to my office and discuss this?” The therapist looks around the waiting room and sees other parents looking at her and Mrs. Carlisle. She wants to respect Mrs. Carlisle’s privacy, and worries she said too much in public already.

“No. I’d rather stay out here.” Mrs. Carlisle holds up her phone. “I’m in the middle of something here.”

The therapist hides the exasperation she feels. She controls the tone of her voice, her breathing. “Well, who is this Daddy that she says she sees every day?’

“You got me. There’s no dad. I’ve no idea who the father even is. Maybe some dude in Panama City, but I’ve never really worried about it. There’s no guy in my house, that’s for sure. Well there is sometimes, but I don’t like to let them get too attached, and usually only when Chelsea’s over at my mom’s for the night. I have no idea what she’s talking about. You’re the therapist, right? Why don’t you ask the little princess, okay?” She holds the phone up and blocks the therapist from her sight.

The therapist wants to grab this woman by the shoulders and scream at her in the face. Instead, the therapist apologizes for disturbing Ms. Carlisle. Ms. Carlisle does not acknowledge the apology.

The therapist returns to the room. Chelsea isn’t there.

The toys are on the floor. They are standing in place. The stuffed puppy begins to bark and wag its fluffy tail. The yellow braids of the little girl doll fly around as the dolly begins slapping the puppy. The barking turns into pained yelps. The little girl doll keeps slapping. Soon the puppy is nothing but torn fabric and fluff. Tufts of the fluff float up and fall down slowly. The doll turns her head towards the therapist. The button eyes gleam in the slant of sunlight coming through the window.

The therapist walks towards the doll. It crumples to the floor as if lifeless, as it should be. The therapist looks out the window and sees Chelsea in the clouds. The child’s hair is on fire and she carries a flaming sword. The sword’s name is TRUTH.

The therapist reaches out the open window and falls three stories. The concrete stops everything.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Trees

Look at my arms. They are scaling and falling to pieces. Shards of bark fall like my autumn leaves, multicolored and fading. Look at the veins in my leaves. How brittle they are. Once these hands ran through your hair, and now I no longer have hands. I am incomplete.

Once we knew love. Once we knew each other. Once we touched and came together.

Now we are no longer what we were.

I look at you: A rotting stump. Crickets hide inside you and sing.

I stand still. The air is stagnant. I soak in the sun. I soak in the rain. I stand unmoving.

My arms are branches.

You don’t even have that luxury. You can no longer reach up to the sky. You are there, in the ground, rotting. Salamanders call you home.

Birds make their nests on my arms. I hold them tight and protect them from storms. I watch the young birds leap from their nests. Some take flight while others fall.

At my feet lie the bones of broken birds. They no longer sing. Yet, they still serve their purpose as food for ants and maggots. These things are necessary, too, no matter how unpleasant they might be.

You are necessary. You feed the earth. You feed termites.

I stand above and shelter you in my shade. I remember you as you were, as you used to be. When we touched and merged as figures of warm flesh and love. I remember the afterglow. I remember your green shoots and flowers.

I’m sorry I cut you down.


But now I am old and the termites infest me. I feel them crawl past my bark and into the deepest of my many rings. Each ring is a year of life, and there are so many years. How many was it before I cut you down? I can’t remember. Not that it matters. You sit there and rot, and I will join you soon. I know this to be true. The sun will be hidden from me as the other trees surround us and hide us in their shade.

Kudzu moves in, and mistletoe steals the rain from my soul.

I am so thirsty. My roots are nibbled by moles and rabbits. My tangled wooden subterranean knots are now the home of a nasty family of gnomes.

The sky cries for me, but the tears offer no relief. I am drying from the inside.

I am just like you.

Once we were more than trees. You were more than a stump. You were everything.

Now I stand alone.

My last leaf has fallen, and the sound of termites crunching wood overwhelms my senses. I feel myself crack and break, little by little.

Lightning flashes, and I thank God for fire.

Friday, July 29, 2011


My name is Jim. I’m not a Lord, and this isn’t an autobiography. I’m going to tell you the story as I heard it from someone I’d rather not name who heard it from someone else he decided it was better remain nameless (and, why yes, I am distancing myself from this as much as possible).

Recently, I’ve been reading stories. Two come to mind: “How We Keep It Fresh” by Christian Tebordo (Pank, 6.01/ January 2011) and “Afterglow” by Sandra Odell (Ideomancer, 9:3/September 2010). These stories, among others whose names I can’t remember, relate a desire to return to the womb. I heard there is a term for this. When you Google “unbirthing” you obtain disturbing links to odd furry fetishes I don’t understand (and don’t really want to know too much about – I say leave the bedroom in the bedroom), but still the fact that this is a modern fetish (which I assume belongs to more than one individual), and there is actual paraphernalia designed for the specific purpose of acting out this fantasy says something about modern culture. I think. Even popular music makes references to unbirthing: Beck sings about a girl leaping into a volcano in his song “Volcano” off the album Modern Guilt. Beck asks, “Was she trying to make it back/Back into the womb of the world?”

Is this a modern phenomenon? What is the interpretation? I’m not going to go all Jungian on you. I promise. That’d be dull. Besides, I’m not smart enough for that kind of thing, and neither is the person telling this story (or the nameless narrator, for that matter). I won’t look for mythic roots, proof of collective unconscious, or point out older texts referencing these kinds of things (not that I couldn’t do so, but I’m feeling too lazy today). You can do all that yourself. Google and Wikipedia are good starting points, but always verify with other sources, preferably in paper format inside the rotting walls of a library reeking of dust and neglect and other modern clichés.***

So why return to the womb? Why is this a fantasy and a fetish? Why is this event expressing itself in literature and music? Is it coincidence that this image haunts me? No, this is not an interpretation. What follows are simply my unenlightened observations.

A quick note on the positive traits of life in utero*:

  • It’s quiet. All sounds are muffled. Sometimes mommies and daddies and others talk to pregnant bellies, and when they do, it’s always with a soothing, cooing tone. Sometimes people even read stories and play music, deluding themselves they will increase the child’s brain capacity, when in actuality they are only decreasing their own. **

  • There’s no friction. Everything is well-lubricated and without sharp edges. If you trip and fall on your umbilical cord, you won’t get hurt. I guess you could get tied up in the cord and choke and die. I’ve heard of that happening, but thankfully, this is unusual.

  • Mothers protect you in the womb. Sometimes they do this outside the womb, but when you are actually inside their body, they are even more protective. Perhaps it has something to do with you still being a part of them, physically, at that point in time? Whatever the reason, this is nice.

  • When inside the womb there is blind optimism directed your way. Parents dream big for their child, buy footballs or art sets. Parents live out their own fantasies through their unborn. You haven’t disappointed anyone. Yet.

  • It’s dark all the time. You can sleep whenever you want. This means lots of dreams, and in dreams you can be whatever you want to be. Even if you want to be a giraffe on the plains of the Serengeti, you can do that. Or you could be an alpaca tied up in a trailer park in Mississippi, or an inside sales representative, or a short order cook, or whatever. Endless possibilities. Personally, I’d dream of being an entry-level data entry clerk or maybe the back seat of a 1970 Chevy Nova . Dream big!

  • Anyone who hits a pregnant belly is a jerk and can actually have attempted murder – or even murder – charges brought against them. Once you’re born, people can hit you all they want. As long as you live, it’s only assault.

  • There are no temptations. There are no vices. You haven’t fallen. Not yet.


  • You’re kind of trapped...

  • There are no mountains to look at.

  • You can only hear the ocean, not see it.

  • Music is muffled and you probably only hear the beat and not the details of a melody.

  • Voices are muffled and easily misunderstood.

  • Range of movement is limited.

  • There’s nowhere to jog, hike, or fish.

  • You’re kind of trapped…

All the same, this is a cultural desire (and not just mine, whoever I am). The pros outweigh the cons. Besides, how often do you have days you simply don’t want to get out of bed? How much better would it be to be in a womb? It’s warmer, softer, quieter. Sure there’s no light for reading, but you still have time to dream. That’s worth something. Also, you are a blank slate. You are perfect.

Unlike me. I screwed up so many times. Too many times to count and disguised as many different people.

So, I went back. But there’s not much room in here, to tell the truth, and I really, really need to stretch. It kind of smells funny, too. It reeks of failure and other clichés.***

* …and a certain Nirvana album cover comes immediately to mind just like that!

** “"There are no studies on the effects of stimulation before birth on intelligence, creativity, or later development," says Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist who studies fetal development at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.” ( -- Yes, I researched this online because I’m lazy. There’s no proof that if my mother played music to me or my father read to me in utero that I would be any less lazy. I’m also a hypocrite sometimes as you can see from my not following my own rules about using libraries to verify.)

*** Why does the verb “reek” often accompany so many clichés? Perhaps I’ll ask my friend to ask his nameless narrator. It might make for a good story.

Friday, January 7, 2011

TOUCH -- Chapter 1: The Guardrail

Bill Wake’s clothes fluttered in the wake of cars and trucks as they sped past. Sometimes drivers honked their horns. The sound beleaguered him for only a moment before trailing off into a droning moan. Occasionally someone shouted out an open window. The muffled syllables drifted down the highway and away from him. Occasionally, at intersections, people would yell out obscenities and various indignant terms. He heard their voices – usually male and usually only a few octaves past adolescence – call out words such as “rag head” or “terrorist,” but these vacant sounds didn’t faze him; they were just empty syllables and nothing more.

He ignored the cars as he walked. He ignored their sounds. He ignored the voices. He tried to ignore everything.

But he could not ignore his clothes.

He wrapped himself as completely as possible with cloth to hide himself from the world, to protect the nerve endings everywhere along his epidermis. He had heard it said that the skin was the largest organ of the human body. He hated that it was also the organ which gave him the most trouble.

Everything he touched told a story. Whether or not he wanted to hear the story was irrelevant.

Even the stitching of his clothes – the tiny threads and various fabrics – left their impressions. He saw writhing silkworms or content sheep. He saw cotton stalks waving in large fields under sunny skies. There were tiny hands pushing fabric through machines. There was the raucous noise of factories and voices in other languages. Sometimes needles pricked skin, and sometimes children were not allowed to be children. In the cloth itself he could detect the faintest hint of pain. The pain was there. It was everywhere and in everything. He wondered why it had taken him so long to notice the pain imbedded in all things. He could not understand how other people could not feel it, too. It was so tangible, so real, and so obvious.

He stopped on the road to rest and squatted down. He rested his thin arms on his bony knees. He leaned back against a guardrail. It was slick with rain and scarred by innumerable accidents. There was a dent beside him which exposed the shine of fresh steel. Lines of black paint marred the metal surface. There was red paint there, too. The metal was stained by the blood of at least two cars.

Too late, he realized there was a hole in the elbow of his shirt. He tried to stand away from the dented scar in the guardrail. As he stood, his skin touched the cool metal. He froze.

A woman sung along to the radio. It blared out a pop song. Bill had heard it many times. It had been popular when he was younger. He could remember Shelby singing it as she washed the dishes at the home they had once shared together before things went wrong.

The woman singing the pop song nodded her head back and forth in the front seat of the car. She was dressed in a conservative grey business suit and a white blouse. A baby sat behind her dressed up in a pale green onesie. A tiny hand reached up towards a mobile. Tigger and Pooh spun around and around and rocked with the movement of the car as it rocked over the shoddily paved highway.

Bill remembered that his boy Chase had owned a mobile just like that one. It had been passed on to his little sister Chastity before eventually being given to the Goodwill once his kids were too old for such things. They had grown too old for so many things, and they continued to grow. He could not stop it, could not face it. He had to leave the very feel of his former life behind. There was no other choice. His touch was too strong and too horrible.

Something vibrated in the plastic cup holder near the driver’s seat. It was a cell phone. The woman stopped singing and turned off the radio. The pop song was gone, and, for a second, all was quiet except for the soft hums of the wind, of the engine, and of wheels spinning over pavement.

The woman reached for her phone and flipped it open. There was a message for her. A big smile demonstrated her pleasure. With her thumb, she started to reply. She hit the send button. A moment later, the phone vibrated again. Her smile widened and her thumb began working the buttons once again.

A car honked. The woman looked up, her eyes grew wide, and she twisted the driving wheel. The car swerved. The baby’s mobile flew around in frantic circles. The clasp holding it in place came loose, and it clattered to the floor of the car. The baby cried. Angry little fists defied the forces working against the little baby. It screamed out in anger at the world which had so unfairly taken its toy. The baby was tied down and could never reach the mobile. It would never see the mobile again, and this was unfair.

The woman in the driver’s seat breathed deeply. The phone vibrated again.

Bill cursed at her and screamed out in his mind, Don’t pick up the phone! Don’t do it! It isn’t worth it!

The baby’s cries became louder. It was as if it protested what the mother was doing. It was almost like the baby knew what was coming. Bill conceded that this was in fact possible. There are many ways to perceive the world, after all.

Leave it alone! Bill protested in his mind once again. He knew it would do no good.

As expected, the woman didn’t acknowledge Bill. She couldn’t. He wasn’t there – not at that physical place, or more accurately, not at that physical time.

She cursed under her breath and reached for the phone. She flipped it up and a smile crossed her face. Her thumb began working and then she lurched forward.

There was the shattering of glass. The windshield broke apart into tiny little beads and flew outwards.

The baby cried louder as steel crunched steel.

Little fists flew outward, clenched tight.

The woman yelled. Her eyes expanded and revealed a primal fear at the moment of her understanding.

And then all grew quiet. The baby no longer cried. The only sound was the dripping of some fluid or another as it dribbled against cold, hard asphalt.

For Bill, the silence of the once screaming child was the worst part. The child had given up and given in to the universe working against it. The poor baby never had a chance. It never had control. It was just a passenger. What happened was no fault of the baby. All it had wanted was to play with its mobile. It never even asked to be born. It had never asked to be a victim, but Bill had seen enough to understand that no one ever asks for that. Never. Yet everyone is victimized in one way or another.

He had seen enough. He never asked to see this, had never asked to feel this.

Bill jerked away from the guardrail and looked at the dented metal scar where the flesh of his elbow had contacted cold steel. He shook his head.

Even the guardrail was a victim in its own way. It would live out the rest of its life – if such an existence can be called a life – with this scar. That scar would never go away. The paint may wash away in time, but the dent would remain along with the impression of all that had transpired.

Bill could identify with the guardrail. He wore his scars, too. Some of them were physical; if asked, Bill could point them out on his skin. Others were mental. Some of them had not even happened yet, but he knew they would, and that knowledge alone scarred him deeply in its own vicious way. It was a kind of scar that no one could understand – the scars of events yet to transpire.

The visible scar of the guardrail was a result of its past. Those kinds of impressions were fairly easy for Bill to read with his touch – sometimes too easy. The past had already happened and its events continued to reverberate into the present. Those indentations and scars and marks on all things would continue to reverberate long into the future: the more powerful the event, the more powerful the recollections and visions.

Bill left the past behind and hoped to find ways to avoid a future he feared.