Monday, December 17, 2012

I'll be back...

I'm a little busy these days working on longer works, volunteering for charity and attempting to run marathons (seriously), so Southern Fried Shorts is going on a temporary hiatus. I'll be back. In the meantime, feel free to browse through the archives. Or visit if you'd like to see me meet my fundraising goals.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

We gather around our meal in long lines, like tentacles.

Father is there with sharp knife gleaming. He strikes downward, again and again, while grease and gore and tissue flies. Steam floats upward in the fecund air.

Mother stands next to father, her white apron dotted with deep maroon stains turning black as they dry.

My brother and his family creep on the floor. They whine and cry out. Some scratch the fur behind their ears with the claws on their toes. Others rub their bald skin against the walls, itching, endlessly itching. The youngest, just a pupae, writhes and yelps with hunger.

My sister steps on her youngest nephew. It bursts with a twist of her high heeled shoe. My brother, caring father that he is, laughs.

My wife, my kids, they stand back and wait quietly. This comes naturally to them. They are inflatable, after all.

Our family is larger this year, and growing. It includes you.

We gather around our meal in long lines, like tentacles.

You cry out as we slice off a chunk of your burnt thigh, and you close your eyes. Tears stream down your face.

I smile for you, knowing those are tears of joy.

We have so much to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Remains

I enjoy reading about ghosts much more than I enjoy being a ghost. I miss breathing. You can't laugh when you can't breathe.

The walls here are too thin. I hear everything, only there's nothing I want to hear. I miss the wind, the wailing, the cursing, the screaming. I miss those hands reaching up for me, trying to push me away.

When you die your memories begin to fade. Only your strongest moments remain. I can't recall a kiss from my mother, don't even remember her face, but I remember tearing flesh, the smell of singed hair, the struggles, the extasy.

The dirt above me hides worms and beetles. I can sense them squirming and their squirming reminds me of my love. I am eternally stiff now that my skin sloughed off my bones. I lie still, unmoving, unafraid, just terribly bored as I try to rest on this pine board. Perhaps the lid of this thing will collapse. Perhaps the dirt, the beetles, the worms, the whole world will fall down upon me and crush what remains.

Perhaps, I might be no more. Perhaps, that wouldn't be so bad.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Death of Orpheus

***AUTHOR'S NOTE: Piece originally published September 9, 2010. I am reposting to celebrate the release of my ebook, "Orpheus," now available for the Kindle at***

Orpheus looked up at a circular clearing in the ceiling of the forest. Wisps of chilly fog clung to the dirt and long grass swaying around him. Bumps rose on his bare ankles from the cold. He stared heavenward and waited for Apollo to appear. In anticipation, he tuned his lyre then began singing out psalms to meet the rising sun. Wild animals gathered around. They grew tame and peaceful and listened.

The sun appeared, flaming and orange and bright. Its light began to break the chill. Orpheus smiled. He paused in his singing. He heard another song, a darker chant, rising with the new dawn.

A woman emerged from the forest. Bare skin covered in dirt and leaves. Thick tresses of wild hair – that may have once been blonde, may have once been black, but were now a muddy brown – splayed out around her head like Medusa’s serpents.

“Will you join us? Will you play your lyre to Lyaeus? Will you dance with us and succumb to wonderful oblivion?” The woman gyrated her hips and ran her hands down her body. She began to gasp. A smile crossed her face. Her eyes rolled backwards to hide her iris and reveal only whiteness.

“I am Apollo’s poet. I only sing his song.” Orpheus ignored the woman and resumed his song to the sun.

The woman stopped her ecstatic dance and stared at Orpheus. She snarled. “Have it your way!”

A spear rushed at him. The man sang harder and the spear, tipped with leaves, passed him by and left him unharmed.

Other women emerged from the forest. None of them were clothed in robes. They were only clothed by dirt and filth and dried blood. They chanted and sang and danced and laughed. They rushed at Orpheus and attempted to tickle him and seduce him with leaves and flowers and hinds.

Orpheus ignored them and continued his psalms. The sun became brighter as it rose higher in the sky.

The women grimaced as they touched Orpheus and found his body unresponsive. His discipline, his song, carried his concentration.

“This is the one who scorns us!” the first maenad cried out.

The women laughed and picked up stones. They threw them at Orpheus. He sang as rocks bounced off his skin, leaving him cut and bruised and bleeding. But he would not be broken. The attacks only strengthened his song. The attack gave him something new to sing about.

But soon the Bacchantes emboldened their own song. They beat their own drum at an opposing beat. Orpheus lost his way and lost his song. Once the psalm ended, he cried out to Apollo for help as the women rushed him. They tore skin with tooth and nail. They ripped flesh from bone and rendered organs to one another, presenting them as flavorful offerings to Lyaeus himself. Blood dribbled down filthy chins. The God Who Releases appeared pleased as the women danced in abandon in an embrace of primal ancient rite. The world as it was faded and shifted around them. The world devolved into a depraved feast.

The animals of the field, those innocents who had gathered to hear Orpheus’s songs, became prey. They were ripped and torn and devoured while still crying out. The brays of fallen oxen became part of the maenads’ song. Beating hearts, extracted from chests, beat to the rhythm of their drums. There was laughter and ecstasy within a riot of terror, and chaos danced in the light of the newly risen sun.

Orpheus was ripped apart, tendon by tendon and bone by bone. The echoes of his song were lost in the mindless maelstrom of abandon.

Orpheus's now silent decapitated head eventually floated on winding streams to Lesbos. Apollos rescued the silent head of his poet from a hungry serpent.

But this was all above. Below, Orpheus’s ghost sank beneath the blood drenched soil.

Orpheus now looks to Eurydice with confidence. He knows they are together, they will be together, and they will stay together. At last, he no longer fears looking back. He stares at her and smiles. She remains by his side and they love each other. Orpheus no longer feels the need to sing to Apollo. He finds eternal contentment with Eurydice as his new sun, and she loves him in return even without the glamour of song.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Parable of Filth

The streets here are paved with shit. Literally.

When I first arrived, it was sensory overload, and rising above it all, over all the other senses, was the smell, then the colors: drab and dusty ochre, burnt sienna.

The people here are colorless, without features, without any expressions at all. They walk from here to there without stopping. They never notice me. I try to read their body postures, but they have no distinction between them. I can't tell if they are men or women. They are all stooped and broken, that is all.

They wear burlap. The clothes are baggy. They cover their heads and hide in rough cloth shells.

They walk barefoot. Their feet are covered in round sores and wormholes from the shit they walk on all day, every day.

They sell their wares: brown clay pots and spoons. They sell what they call food. It doesn't look much different than the shit in the streets.

The sky never changes, and time stretches out until the very concept of time fades away.

I walk among them. They don't seem to mind me. They don't seem to notice me, or at least that is what they pretend.

But there are no mirrors here, so I can't even notice myself.

All I know is that this burlap chafes my skin, and I hate pulling these worms out of my feet. Still, I walk, despite the fact I am stooped and broken.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gears Finds a Romance

Gears walked down the road - or what was left of the road - at sunset. His shadow stretched out long and skinny behind him like the skeleton of a straw man. He kicked clumps of weeds breaking through cracked asphalt.

"Damn. A whole lot has changed," he said with his eyes turned up to the setting sun. He said this often. It was nothing new. It was a purposeless and obvious statement, but it made him feel better to let it out, even if there was no one around to hear him.

A reddish sun cast light on an eccentric and lopsided hill whose sides were far too steep to be natural. The sun glimmered off remains of glass and steel hidden behind vines and shrubs. Gears thought that the structure might have been an old John Deere outlet a few years (or a few decades) ago. It was hard to tell. Nothing looked the same. Time had a way of giving everything a facelift. Sometimes, those changes were for the better. Sometimes, they weren’t.

Gears spat out a wad of used up tobacco. He worked his tongue around his mouth to get the soft stems and fibers loose from his remaining teeth. He hated chewing, but cigarettes weren’t easy to come by. He could dry leaves out and make cigars, but it seemed like too much work. Instead, he just collected leaves from the remains of the tobacco farm down the road from where he stayed and kept a few wound up plugs stored away in his satchel. It wasn’t a smoke, but it was just enough of a stimulant to keep him a little less fuzzy around the edges. It helped him see through things, past what was and towards what could be, or what he hoped the world might become.

Perhaps the world just might have coffee and cigarettes again, he hoped. That would be nice.

Gears walked towards the unnatural hill. With both hands, he picked up a large black clump of asphalt that had broken free from the road thanks to a particularly stubborn clump of weeds. He grunted and ignored the strain of the muscles in his shoulders and the venous bulges of his tightly-wound neck. He swung the clump of asphalt towards the building, worked up momentum by swinging his arms, and let the asphalt fly. The large rocky clump crashed through a window. It pulled a few threads of poison ivy and kudzu along with it as the rocky mass fell inside.

Gears ducked in through the broken window and turned on his flashlight. He wound it a few times to make sure it had enough juice to get him in and out. He flashed the light around the room and saw the interior was a store, but not for John Deere tractors. The room was filled, wall to wall, with shelves upon shelves of books.

Gears picked up a book. The cover was shiny, metallic. In large cursive letters he saw the name "Danielle Steele."

"Shit, nothing but kindling." Gears tossed the book aside and flashed the light back around the room. 

Something large and dark skittered off between rows of shelves.

Gears held his breath a moment and stood still. He listened for a moment but did not hear anything.

"Hello?" Gears reached up behind his back and drew his machete. "Anybody home?"

He shined the light from side to side. "I didn’t know this place was occupied. I wouldn’t of come barging in like that if I knew there was someone here. You know how it is. Your place looked deserted. Thought there might be something wasting away, unused, but still useful in here. That’s what we’ve come to, isn’t it? A bunch of thieves. Scavengers. But hell, what else can we do?" Gears shrugged. "Anyway, I ain’t going to take anything. Promise. I’ve got all the reading I need back at my place with the Good Book. In fact, I’ll back out now if you want. Is that what you want?"

Gears listened. Something moved behind him. He turned on his heels and shined his light. A row of books flew off the shelves and landed on the floor as a shadow passed. Gears tightened his grip on the machete’s handle.

"All right, I’m leaving. Don’t try anything with me. I don’t like killing at all. It never much suited me, but I’ve done it more than once over the years. But I guess you’d figure that. You can’t rightly live without killing these days." Gears laughed. "I guess it beats the old court system. Rather take a knife to the brain than have to sit through another damn lawsuit. I was a lawyer back in the time before. Name’s Greg Ayler, but everyone calls me Gears these days. I say everyone calls me that, but that’s not too many people these days, I guess." Gears tried to remember the last time he saw another person. It had been cold, so it had been at least a season ago, maybe two. "What do they call you?"

There was a hiss. Something ran at him and hit him in the side.

"Crap!" Gears pulled the machete around as a reflex. It met something hard and stopped.

The thing screamed. Long wires slapped at Gears’ face.

"Damn cockroaches!" Gears dropped his flashlight and worked his machete with both hands. The cockroach screeched and thrashed. Gears pushed with both hands and then placed a foot near the top of the flat side of the blade to work the machete down the rest of the way through the creature’s thick body. The head ran off on three legs leaving the abdomen – and most of the torso – behind.


Something wrapped around Gear’s neck and pulled him backwards. Teeth bit at his shoulder. Gears reached up, pulled down a bookcase, and shrugged the biting thing off of his back. Gears stood away from the falling bookcase. There was a scream, and plastic snapped as the flashlight exploded.  

Gears closed his eyes and counted to thirty. This was a trick his dad had taught him a long time ago. Scared of the dark? Count to thirty and the dark’s less dark. It took everything he had not to open his eyes. He just trusted his instinct – and counted on that scream, and the following ongoing strange whimpers – and hoped he would not be attacked again until he was able to get his bearings.

He opened his eyes. Thin pinpoints of greasy light from the setting sun outside the building streamed in between vines, creepers, and filthy glass. It wasn’t much light, but he could see outlines and shapes.

He looked over to the fallen bookcase. He heard raspy breathing. He looked down and saw a woman’s face looking back at him. At least she appeared to be a woman. Her beady black eyes seemed to say otherwise as they scanned about the room in a repetitive frenetic circuit. She clicked and clacked her tongue against the roof of her mouth.

Gears leaned down and attempted to look her in the eyes. He turned her face towards his. She clacked her teeth together as if biting. She turned her head away and clicked her tongue again. From the shadows, the severed cockroach walked over.  Thick white gunk glowed in the half light and trailed the creature as it shuffled towards the clicking woman.

Gears stepped back and lifted his machete.

The cockroach reached the woman and began caressing her head with its antennae. She smiled and closed her eyes. She began to coo. The cockroach lifted a leg and tenderly touched the woman’s face. She reached out her tongue and licked the feelers. 

The woman began to cry. She clicked softly. The cockroach clicked softly back. The woman nodded her head. The cockroach rose up on its remaining legs. The woman smiled. The cockroach pounced onto the woman’s face.  Mandibles ripped through her cheek and eye.

Gears sucked in a breath of air. He raised the machete but hesitated to bring it down. "Is this what she wanted?" he asked the cockroach. The cockroach ignored him and quickly tugged soft flesh away from the skull. The woman did not yell once. She did not scream. In fact, in that moment before the roach began devouring, she actually smiled. 

"Damn, what’s this world come to?" Gears asked. He turned and began to work his way towards the broken window.

He saw something shining on the floor in front of him. It was the Danielle Steele book he had tossed away earlier.

"Ain’t love grande?"

He kicked the book away.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Maybe Forever

The ghosts never speak. They just walk and moan.

I see them in the background, walking around in circles, going nowhere on invisible treadmills.

I point them out to my mom, but she never sees them. She looks at me funny and takes me to a doctor.

The doctor asks about the ghosts. I don't tell the doctor anything. I don't like her. She smells like mouthwash.

The ghosts walk behind the doctor. Their eyeballs drip like melted crayons, oozing green and red.

I smell the ghosts. They smell like Nanna's closet.

I told my mom about the ghosts at the doctor's office. She asked if I told the doctor about them. I lie and tell her that I did.

I like to lie. I don't know why, but I just do. I can make the world what I want it to be. I can use my imagination.

I can change the world and make it how I want it.

I need to change it soon.

There are too many ghosts. And none of them seem happy. They make me sad.

The ghosts have been around a while, maybe forever. They wear clothes from other times.

One day the doctor will be a ghost. My mom will be a ghost. I'll be a ghost, too.

I hope I'll be a happy ghost.

I hope I get to be a ghost. At least I'd still be around after I die, unlike Nanna.

I hope the ghosts are real, unlike the aliens. Those were just a lie.

Now I see fairies in the clouds. I know that if you eat their food you will turn into a fairy person, too, and be with them, become one of them.

They're much happier than ghosts, and they've been around a long time.

The fairies be around a long time. Maybe I'll be around a long time.

Maybe forever.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Nothing to See

Tory rolled her dump truck around the floor. Barbie sat in the back of the truck, her hair cut too short, bald in places. Barbie's hair would never grow back from several too many visits to Tory’s beauty parlor.

Tory stopped playing and looked up. “Mom, why can’t you open the blinds?”

“Because there’s nothing to see.”

Tory looked back down to the floor, to the stupid carpet. She was sick of this old carpet. She knew the designs by heart. They never changed. “But it’s so dark in here.”

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“Can Aunt Carrie and Chris come over to play?”

Mother looked up to the water stained ceiling and sucked in a shuddering breath. “Not today, honey. I’m so sorry.”

Mother looked towards the window as if looking directly through the blinds. She shook her head.

The little girl bit her lip and decided to play some more. She knew the answers would be final. They always were.


Dinnertime brought two servings of canned spam, cold from the can.

“Mom, can’t we have McDonald’s tonight?” Tory asked.

Mother didn’t even answer.

“We never go out anymore. I’m sick of this crap. I want McDonald’s!” Tory stood up and stomped her foot.

“I’m sorry, honey. Not tonight.”

“You always say ‘Not tonight.’”

Mother nodded her head. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“Mommy, I want to go outside.”

“Not now.”

Tory moved a lump of Spam around with her fork. She looked at the trail of greasy fat it left on the plate. “It’s like eating a slug.”

Mother smiled and took a bite of Spam. She quoted the old DVD of The Lion King they used to watch together when Tory was younger. “Slimey yet satisfying.”

Tory smiled, pretended she was Pumba lapping up grubs and sucked up the processed meat.


“Why don’t you open the blinds?” Tory asked.

“Because there’s nothing to see.”

“Can we go outside today, Mom?”

She knew the answer before hearing it.

“Not today, honey.”

But today would be different. Tory had a plan.

She sat on the floor, played with her dump truck and Barbie and waited.

Eventually, Mother went to the restroom.

Tory stood up. She tiptoed. She felt the floor beneath her might creak with every step. She walked as lightly as possible, not wanting to give herself away. Mother could come out of the bathroom at any time.

Tory crept to the window. She moved back the blinds and looked out.

There was nothing to see.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Letter Found Randomly Behind a Wooden Shed Full of Stained Meat Hooks and Rusty Circular Saws

These things are not easy to write about. It’s hard to find the words, but I’ll try. I have to try. If I don’t write this out, then no one will know. Or perhaps someone will know. Or maybe many people already know, but they don’t think of these things in literal terms. Only as a figurative truth, and figurative truths are only half-truths hiding reality behind a veil of language. Nobody takes figurative truths as reality. Not even the religious. Though they try. They understand parables. And what is a parable if not a truth hidden behind a lie?

So back to the stories. Readers understand fiction. But do they know where it comes from? Some people write fiction, and they think they understand, but  do they really? Most writers place one word after another. Sometimes there’s a plot written out before hand in an outline. Sometimes it starts with an image. But none of these things are tangible. They are only ideas. Only ideals. Only they aren’t. That’s what I’m trying to get at. They’re real. As real as you, the reader. As real as me, the writer. And if they are as real as you and me, then they must be real. That only makes sense.

But what are they? I wish I could say.

I see them. They hide in bushes, behind trees, in cloud formations, on school buses, playgrounds, boring classrooms, dull offices, long commutes, short commutes, bike rides, jogs, showers, sitting on the shitter, or  staring at the stars. The stories, they live. They breathe. Worst of all, they breed.

I see them covering the world like a plague of locusts. They swarm and devour entire families, entire cultures, leaving a bland homogeny in their wake. And I hate them.

The stories, they crossbreed. None of them are pure anymore. All of our cultures, they are gone. And who’s to blame? The stories.

It started out as cave paintings, grew into campfire tales, bards reciting epic poems, and then the printing press. Then there were movies, and television, and , finally, the internet. At each stage, at every level, the stories grew more alike. We share stories, we lose our borders, and when we lose our borders, we lose ourselves.

And so my job is to remove the stories. To stop them from being told. But the problem is, there are stories as long as there are people. And people will tell stories as long as they exist. They will crossbreed their mythologies and philosophies, until one day all individual cultures are left for dead. I can’t let that happen.

We must stop the cross-pollination of ideas. This is my mission in life. To cull the stories from your screaming tongues. To end the impurities of the unjust. To help the world find its own identity once again, an identity far removed from our polluted cross-cultural present. We must return to the purity of the original races, the original cultures.

And I know you’re out there rolling your eyes. You think I’m some sort of neo-Nazi or racist or something. But I’m not (and I know by denying this I am only proving my own racism in some circles), but that’s not what this is about. It’s about you. It’s about me. It’s about how these words I write leave me and enter you. We share a thought. We may not agree, but the thoughts are shared. That is, if I did my job right, if I wrote things correctly.

And when I tell you my hands are stained, what do you think about? When I say my hands have been inside the dreamers of the world, what does that bring to mind? If I were to tell you how I love the feel of decayed flesh, would this disgust you or secretly turn you on? If I were to write, in detail, about every atrocity I’ve undertaken, would you look away? I sincerely doubt it. You’d read faster.

So, you see, you are no longer just you. Now, you are part me, too.

And if you ask me, depending on who you are, knowing who I am, that’s pretty fucking terrifying.


The Marquis de Sade

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chump Change

The washing machine launders me on a weekly rotation. This only costs a dollar-fifty. To be clean only requires six quarters. No more, no less. This is chump change.

Sometimes as I spin, I look out through the frosty, bubble-obscured glass. Sometimes, I see your face. Usually, it is just my own reflection.

I keep my phone in a waterproof case. It works most of the time, but I do need to upgrade more than most people, usually before my contracts expire. That is not chump change.

Sometimes people ask why I do this. I shrug my shoulders and check the settings on my oxygen tank. I take my mouth off of the mouthpiece as if I might speak, but I only spit into my facemask and rub my saliva around to prevent it from fogging up. I like to be able to see as I spin.

Once the manager came out and stopped the machine. He asked me what the hell I was doing. I told him. He asked why. I told him. The manager nodded sadly, told me it didn’t matter much to him as long as I was a paying customer, and asked that, from now on, I use a large quilt or something and wrap it around my oxygen tank to keep from banging up his machines. That didn’t seem like too much to ask. I agreed. I always wrap my tank in the same blanket. It has a Holly Hobbie pattern on it. It used to belong to my sister. This is fitting.

So I spin and I spin. I go nowhere, but at least I get to travel. And compared to airline tickets, compared to drugs, even compared to beer or malt liquor, this is chump change.

And as I spin, I think.

And the world spins on with or without me.

And with or without you, I spin on.

And that makes it worth every damn penny.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Not Bad for a Dying Man

“How are you doing?” the doctor asked.

“Not bad for a dying man,” I said.

“This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” said the nurse.

I nodded. “Never seen this before?”

The doctor and nurse looked at each other and didn’t say a word. Neither of them looked at me.

I could decode an answer through their silence.

I looked down. My gown was off, the blankets were lowered, and I stared at my cleanly shaved chest. The mechanism was there: an antique watch, ticking. Folds of skin surrounded it as the second hand twirled round and round, tick-tick-tick. The minute hand moved, and I felt it to my core.

“Instead of a twelve, there’s a zero. I know what that means.”

“How can you be so sure?” the doctor asked. He did not look at me. He looked down at a tablet computer. His finger worked, taking notes. This was going to be a great case for him, the kind of thing that can make a doctor famous. Perhaps he could even give my condition, my illness, his name. He’d live on forever in medical text books and journals, thanks in no small part to my own novelty.

“I can be sure, because I know.”

“There’s a lot to be said for faith,” said the nurse. Her eyes were glassy with tears. She smiled but did not look happy. Her smile was genuine but it was just an empty gesture of kindness, a symbol of compassion. It still meant something to me.

“I feel it. I see it when I look in the mirror. I had a full head of hair this morning.” I patted a large and growing island of bare skin at the top of my skin. “These eyes had no wrinkles. How old do I look? Fifty? Sixty? Hell, I’m just barely thirty.”

“The aging is odd,” said the doctor.

“Is there anything about this that isn’t odd?” I placed my hand on the antique stop watch covering my heart. “Can’t you just get rid of the damn thing?”

The doctor shook his head. He walked over to the wall and turned on a light. “Look at your x-rays, son. See the watchband? It’s completely connected, tied completely in knots all around your aorta. See? If we remove the watch, you die. Simple as that. We‘ve got some great surgeons here, but no one‘s ever seen anything like this. There‘s no procedure. Hell, I bet your case manager‘s having a hell of a time with this one. You might want to contact your insurer to see if embedded watches are a covered diagnosis for hospital stays.”

I fingered the folds of skin surrounding the watch. I felt my ribs beneath it. They were curved around the metal frame. “But I can’t go home. I’m dying.”

“Maybe,” said the doctor. He looked down at his tablet. “I’m still researching. I’ve got some folks down at the medical library now. We will leave no stone unturned. We’re doing everything we can.”

“Which, in the end, is nothing.” I put my head back against my pillow and turned my head to the window. I watched a pair of pigeons fly by. The second hand continued to prance across the face of the watch, tick-tick-tick.

I felt a warm hand take mine. I looked over and saw the nurse was still smiling at me.

Maybe there was nothing they could do, nothing that anyone could do, but, in the end, that human touch was just enough.

“Thank you,” I said to the nurse, returning her smile.


Thursday, July 5, 2012


There’s something about the taste of blood in my mouth, when the pain grows numb, when the fists flying into my face, into my chest and stomach, no longer feel like anything at all. There’s something about that moment that causes me to feel invincible, to feel alive, and I don’t want anything else. This is ecstasy. This is right where I belong.



I look up.  That’s my name. That’s who I am.  That’s all I am.

Who said my name?

It’s her. She’s there, looking angelic as always. She is looking down on me as I look up to her. There is light everywhere, it surrounds her, but I’m down in the depths, in the dark, and I spit out snot and blood. I laugh, or try to laugh, but it comes out as a cough, almost a whimper. I want to sound strong, but the body has its limitations.

I defy my limitations. This is who I am.

“Send more,” I say with a wheeze, and she obliges. The cell opens and I ball up my fists. I stand up, naked and strong. I raise my fists back. I push forward and connect with flesh and bone as the onslaught begins.

The whimpering cough disappears.

I can laugh once again.


Time slows in here. I walk in circles. I pace. I look down, and the cement is worn from my footfalls. Every step wears down the cement a little more. Little by little I reveal the impermanence of things, of all things, even steel and stone. No cell can last forever. No thing can last forever.

Perhaps not even me.

But I will try to hang on, a force of nature eroding and corroding. I fucking dance my way towards entropy, laughing the entire fucking time.


Don’t blame my mother. Don’t blame my father. Don’t blame the schools, the government, or even the damned universe. This is what I am here for, and I am happy enough, I guess, in my way.



I look up, awake again, or mostly awake. My head throbs. My lips are swollen. My nose is crooked, and every shuddering breath stings my aching ribs. There’s a dull ache persisting throughout all that I know myself to be, all that I am, all that I ever have been, all that I ever will be.

She looks down at me, my angel, and smiles. She is peaceful, beautiful, and so very much above.

I smile at her. “Send more.”

She obliges. She always does.


It wasn’t always this way. Once it was different. I was loved. I still am loved by some on the outside, I guess. My mother loves me, I’m sure. Mothers never stop loving, even if they should. And then there’s my angel inside with me. I think she really loves me, even if I will never rise to her level.

But those days on the outside, when things held a different resonance, a different shade of truth, that was all before. Now I’m here, and I think I’ll always be here. I have no reason to think otherwise, to hope. Not that it matters, I no longer want out. I’ve found my place. In here, I am everything I was raised to be. Things are simpler, stripped down to the single most basic element: survival. Survival is the sound of pounding fists and raining blood and shouting and laughter.

“Thirty years,” said the judge once upon a time and long ago. That’s a long fucking time for stealing some shit that no one really cared about, pieces of paper with a promised value that probably doesn’t exist anyway in the first place besides to balance some ledger or database somewhere. It was an amount that, in the end, no one truly cared about and insurance fully covered for those fuckers at the bank anyway.

Thirty years was the initial sentence. That’s about as long as Christ lived his entire life, according to the Sunday sermons. Thirty years was not enough, could never be enough. My mission hardly begun, those thirty years turned to forty based on additional charges – aggravated assault, resisting – and those years keep growing. I will keep surviving. I will keep spreading my message.

Poor fucking guards. They hear stories, they should be prepared, but they never fucking know what’s about to hit them.

“Send more.”

I hear them open the cell. Their boots clomp against cement. I ball my fists and smile.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Callisto's Tears

The men carried her off in chains. The boy wept. A crushing loneliness descended upon him, and he called out “Callisto!” but she did not hear him, did not look back.

The men did not notice the boy. They had their hands full with his wild friend. She roared and fought and shed massive tufts of hair. After the men carried Callisto away, he used her fallen fur to wipe away tears. He inhaled her musty scent and sat on the ground.

Time passed, and the world grew dark. The shadows lengthened as the lights went out until the world was engulfed in bitter darkness. The boy threw stones into the blackness of the ocean. The water splashed without any sound.

He watched the stars overhead shift and move and circle. He watched the lights in the sky change shapes and colors. He listened to the hum of the elevators reaching to the skies. He thought about walking to the elevators, but they were locked, always locked. Besides, the men might see him. He did not want that. He held clusters of Callisto's shed hair in his tight-fisted grip, swept the hair up into a small nest on the beach, laid down, and tried to sleep. Sleep did not come easy, but it did come. It always did.

The night went by without dreams. There was nothing to dream about.

When the lights came on, the boy saw tracks in the sand. There were the footprints of men and larger footprints with claws. He looked up the beach and found it deserted. The wind blew. The tracks faded but did not disappear. He inhaled a breath of air, coughed from the sulfuric scent of dead ocean, and began to run. His feet sunk into the sand. He struggled with every footstep. Soon, he gasped for air and ignored a pain shooting up the side of his chest.

He closed his eyes sometimes and pretended he was riding her: his Callisto. Without her, he was forced to use his own two feet, his own legs, and they were sore and weak from disuse.

The massive elevator cast a shadow. In that shadow there was a chill.

Men in uniforms wandered around the base of the elevator. The boy looked down and noticed he was naked. He had never noticed this before, but seeing the clothed men made him conscious of his differences. He felt something he had not known before. A man might have called it shame, but the boy only knew it as sickness.

Callisto was tied to a pole. The men poked her with sticks. Her brown coat was stained dark by blood and filth. She roared and spat. The men laughed.

The boy dropped to his knees.

The men saw him and came running. They brought water and food, a food sweeter than any he had ever known. He ate and drank and rose up to his feet.

The men cared for the boy until he grew strong. They gave him work. He climbed up and down the elevator with his massive wrench and twisted nuts to keep everything in working order. It was a dull job but important. He found solace in his own sense of importance. He worked by day. He ate and drank with the other men at night. They entertained themselves in their way.

Years passed and the boy – now a man – poked a bear with a sharp stick. The eyes of that bear disturbed the man. He saw himself reflected as a younger, weaker version of himself. He wanted to poke out those eyes, but the stick always slipped.

Those large eyes were slick from Callisto’s tears.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jupiter's Child*

When I first fell to Earth, I stayed for a time in the atmosphere and looked down. I watched the world ripple beneath me. I was there to report what I saw and return, a silent sentry looking for signs of danger.

I remember my earliest reports. I advised the elders back home of how the life on Earth held a propensity for war, for senseless politics, and how they extracted rage from their blinding ideologies. Yes, all those faults were present. The negativity below carried through the very atmosphere carrying me. The hatred was undeniable, and I was left with no choice but to point out humanity’s inherent potential to be a galactic pandemic.

But sometimes I saw minor details in the life below. Their interactions and communications were so different than the life I knew, and soon I wanted to join in.

It was lonely among these empty clouds, not like back home. The clouds of Earth do not talk back. They do not interact. They only rise and fall, gathering density before dribbling down as tears and wasting away. I grew lonely. I grew sad. I felt hungry. The air did not taste as good as back home, did not provide enough minerals. I grew heavy, and began to descend.

But the lower I sank, the more my density increased. Soon, my own weight pulled me further down, until -- before I knew what happened -- I was anchored to the ground. It didn’t take long after that to forget how to fly.

At first I blended in. I hung around the corner bar. The drunks mistook me for a cloud of smoke, but I was there -- watching, waiting, wondering. Despite my fears and prejudices, I grew to love their interactions -- so base, so simple, so understandable. A desire to breed. A desire to feed. A desire to forget the cosmic terror inherent in the insignificance and meaninglessness of their existence. These people in the bar, they understood. They accepted. They were led by simple instinct, and drank their fears and feelings away. They knew their ultimate destination, and made love to the very idea of it. They embraced oblivion by passing out on the piss-stained bathroom floor.

I was amazed. My understanding expanded. These human creatures are so different when seen on the surface than when seen from above. I found myself laughing, I let myself cry, and then I became something substantial when she noticed me.

She sat on the same stool every night. Her raven black hair hung around her pale face and shone in the half-light of the smoky bar. The silky green dress she wore rippled with grace against her slight shapely frame. I had watched her before, but she had never noticed me. But that night, she bought me a beer and gave me a smile. I looked into the mirror behind the racks of bottled liquors and did not recognize myself.
I sat at the bar. I was human.

The beer tasted good. In a rush, I drank another glass and then another, taking frantic sips, afraid the sensation might dissipate.

She ordered us some fried pickles and bacon cheeseburgers. My senses had never known such wonder. I had never felt so stimulated.

I felt guilty for my earlier signals to the elders, for warning them of the dangers of these people. Humanity may pose a threat, but look at what they have to offer the universe: fried pickles, ground beef, beer. Ah! The beauty! The wonder! I tried to retract my earlier statements and send a new signal to the elders, but all that came out was a sloppy belch.

She touched her hand on my arm. The softness of her fresh pink skin swept through the hair follicles on my arm in a dizzying rush. Goosebumps covered me.

“So tell me, where are you from?”

She smiled, and a shock filtered through my skin and into my inner being. I gasped for breath. My new-formed heart thumped against the cage of my chest. My stomach twisted, and my tongue grew swollen. It was hard to speak for a moment.

“It’s okay. You’re a shy dude, huh? Don’t talk to too many girls, do you?”

Her smile grew, she winked, and passed me a shot of whiskey.

I sucked it down, and warmth caressed my insides. I sat up a little straighter.

“I’m from Jupiter.”

I couldn’t believe I said it. I just blurted it out.

“Really?” She laughed. “I’m from Venus, myself.”


She nodded.

We sat in silence a moment and looked at one another. She fiddled with a tiny red cocktail straw and bit the end of it.

The world around me began to grow out of focus.

“You’re place or mine?” She asked after an uncomfortable silence.

“I don’t really know my place anymore.”

I felt heavier then -- I fell off the stool, I slipped to the ground, but she caught me. She lifted me up.

“In that case, I’ll take you back to my place.”

Her world smelled of sulfur and smoke. The sun loomed large and red overhead. Volcanic earthquakes splintered the world around us in fiery fissures. Despite the warmth of the flames, despite the warmth emanating from her very elements, I felt cold.

Venus was not my place.

My place was back at the bar.

*Originally published in Tales of the Talisman, Vol. 6, Issue 2, September 2010.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Ship-Maker

Crispin Jones wasn’t a bad man, but he wasn’t a good man, either.

He was just a man.

“Crispin, can you hear me?”
Crispin ignored her voice. She always called to him when he was working. Her voice rose to a trill, shrill echo.
“Crispin, I’m talking to you.”
He ignored her. He always ignored her. He built model ships in bottles. They were a world all their own. His favorite was inside a Mello Yellow bottle, a version of the titanic moments before hitting the iceberg.
Crispin remembered something: a sunny day and clouds. Within those drifting masses of vaporous hydrogen dioxide, he saw an armada of boats riding in bottles, and the work consumed him from that day forth.
She lay next to him, touching him, but he couldn’t feel her. He couldn’t feel the grass beneath the two of them on this afternoon picnic during the first day of their honeymoon. He could only see the cloud ships sailing across a never-ending expanse of blue sky.
“Crispin, I’m here. I’m real. Touch me.”
Crispin swore under his breath. With long metal skewers, he had just put up a mainsail inside a discarded Mickey’s malt liquor bottle he had found that morning on his daily walk beneath the interstate overpass. He paused but did not stop.
Her voice was unreal. The ship in his bottle was all that was real.
He ignored her.
One day she left him, and he finally looked around.
The room was full of bottles: Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Sprite, Arizona Tea, Frappucino, Budweiser, Sam Adams, and countless others. Each glass and plastic bottle held a replica. He looked at his feet and saw the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.
He looked for his sweetheart, but she was gone.
He looked around and tried to talk to the bottles, to get their opinions on things, but they never spoke back. His voice echoed in the empty, lonesome house.
He looked at an empty bottle he had collected that morning, a glass Bud Light Platinum bottle, and could not see the point of building another ship. He sighed and threw the glass bottle against a wall.
Glass shattered, and the wall crumbled.
Crispin found himself adrift on a roiling black sea. He floated on a dingy made up his bottled ships. Salty mist sprayed from white-capped waves and stung his eyes. He turned in circles, looked for someone or something, anything, but only saw clouds in every direction. The clouds crashed against one another and dissolved, taking on shape after shape, dream after dream. Without her, he realized, they didn’t mean a thing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

In the Shadow of the Temple

Mother told me not to go there, ever, so how could I resist?

They called the shadow of the temple dangerous. Beneath that great spire next to the sprawling globe of roofing tiles – intricately carved with the graven images of beasts and flowers – the suns could not reach. The soil in the shadow lay untouched, dark, and damp. There were stories of giant worms that reached up and grabbed young souls foolhardy enough to trespass into that forbidden stretch of land. Some said the shadows of the dead roamed there, hungry for flesh. Others said it was something more mundane, a kind of sickness, or possibly a flesh eating bacteria that thrived there thanks to the lack of light. But no matter who told the stories, the outcome was always the same: No one ever came back alive.

The interior of the temple always clamored with life. The monks and abbesses walked from window to window, maroon shadows cloaked in red hoods and turbans darkened by the lack of light.  They sang their harmonious hymns to gods that few of us outside the temple knew or could ever understand. They planted the sun-kissed lands in front of the temple and grew crops. Because they loved us, they kept enough in their storage barns to feed all of us in the village in case there was another drought or another famine.
I hitched up my skirts and walked forward. I paused to examine the land from my vantage upon a hill. From here, it just looked dark. The stretch of land sat still, unmoving, unthreatening.
I thought of Mother, of all the things she told me never to do: never to go out with boys, never to give my heart, never to kiss. When I told her that Kamine had died from an infection from a stubbed toe, she shrugged and told me I was better off. But I wasn’t. I thought of his lips, those lips that never kissed mine. She said boys stole hearts and crushed souls. And I couldn’t argue that my soul felt crushed, but I couldn’t blame Kamine. I would have willingly given him my heart and soul just to hold the memory of one unimagined kiss.
I started walking down the hill. The grass gave way to rocks. The rocks gave way to sand. My feet slipped and I lost a shoe. I reached down to grab it, but it was already gone, sucked down beneath the moving sand of a sand trap. I tread carefully, watching for the other sand traps that littered the waste. They were easy enough to see for the most part, tiny rotating things. I knew some of the sand traps were larger, and harder to see because they moved in larger swirls. Those were the ones that a person really had to watch out for. The large ones are the ones that would suck down more than a shoe. They would suck you down whole, enveloping you too quick to be heard if you screamed.
I looked behind me and saw my sister. She was watching me in silence, crying. I wanted to tell her to go back, to not watch, but I didn’t want any of the adults to see me. I didn’t want to draw their attention. If the adults saw me, they would surely try to stop me.
At the edge of the shadow, the air grew cold. I breathed it in, and it tasted metallic with an underlying stench of sulfur.   
I took my first steps into the shadow and felt it cover me. I looked up, and the suns were gone. For the first time in my life, I was without their light. And, for the first time since leaving home that morning, I felt afraid.
The ground beneath me felt solid enough. I reached down. It was cold to the touch and dry. It was like the sand on the edge, but it felt lighter somehow, less substantial. It drained through my fingers like a cloud of dust.
A monk looked down at me through a window high above. I could not see his face, so I could only imagine his expression. Was the monk worried? Mournful? Angry? I had no way of knowing. I do know he did not yell at me to leave like I expected. There was a quick movement. A nod perhaps? And then the monk was gone, leaving the window empty.
And then the hands reached up. I felt them caress my leg, up my calf, towards my thigh, beyond. I shivered with something that might have been terror, but felt more like something else, something I had never experienced but had imagined on many lonely nights.
And then there was a kiss. There was Kamine, and I let him pull me down towards him. I went willingly. And we made our bed in the dust together. It was bliss, it was death, and my sister watched it all.
And I looked up one last time as Kamine, or what I imagined to be Kamine, caressed me. I saw my sister’s face, and she wasn’t my sister at all. She was my mother, and she cried for me.
I closed my eyes before the dust fell down on me, enveloped me in a cool embrace, but it didn’t matter. The dust penetrated everything, even my closed eyelids. The dust in the darkness was unrelenting and fierce with hunger. I gasped with short quick breaths until there was no air left, no life, and the shadows swallowed me whole.
When I awoke, there was no light, only the songs of the monks and abbesses, and they sang my name. They whispered the story of my marriage with reverence and terrified awe.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

That Grey Unending Dream of Tomorrow

Do you remember when the world stopped making sense? Do you remember what it was like to wake up and face the routine? Do you remember those little hassles that made up the day-to-day? Do you remember shuttling the kids to soccer practice and complaining because it took up so much of your time? Do youremember complaining about so many things?

But not everything was a pain in the ass.

Do you remember sleeping in on Saturdays? Do you remember how I used to roll over and hold you at night while you slept? Do you remember those days before the chill crept in? Do you remember how our children used to laugh and smile and play? Do you remember the days before the fungus grew over our lives?

Now I look at you and you are buried beneath layers of hairy white mold. The twins are there with you. I can see their outlines in the caps of two sickly white mushrooms. They look delicious, but I have resisted. I can feel you down there,Sweetheart, and I know you are watching. That gives me strength. I can feel you pulsing with spores. You are there, and I am here. We’re separated by years of growth and something like death, but still we are connected.

The Remnant, we are, and we are few. We absorb the stinking air. My unused lungs and throat ache, caked in fungus. I don’t even have a voice with which to scream. I don’t know if I even sleep anymore. It is all a dream. A grey dream, unending, yet somehow I endure this nightmare.

It is the little things that keep me sane, I think. The little things keep me who I am. Unlike the others, I remember. At leastI remember some things.

I remember you.

It is the little things that remind me of you. A column of sunlight sometimes breaks the clouds. Spores dance in the dim light, and I remember our honeymoon. I remember watching dust dance in the slanting sunlight pouring through the window of that little cabin while you slept. There was a smile on your face. The sheet hung off of your shoulders, and I could see just a hint of the side of your naked breast. Your body outlined beneath the sheets was young and perfect, and I knew that life was good.

When the others scream, I think of the delivery room. I think of your screams in labor, and Iremember the miracles that followed. Those memories hurt. It kills me to think about the twins and what happened to them, but at least I have those memories.

I can see the growths when I try to close my eyes. There are lichens now in place of my eyelids. I wonder how much longer I have before these growths seep their way into my mind?

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if they’re my memories at all? We the Remnant share everything. We’re tied by networks of roots feeding on rotten soil. We are one in this new world, forged by our maker’s hand. The mighty connectedness peels back our individuality to make way for our collective. I no longer have the ability to walk. My feet are nothing but a stalk, my arms circle to form a cap, and my face looks upwards into the pale grey skies. I pray for sunlight, for blue skies, for an end to the endless dark humidity, but I know my prayers are in vain.

The world has died and now only the fungus remains. We eat the world away. We are the great recyclers breaking down an unused body to make way for a futurewhich holds no use for us.

At least I have the spores to keep me company. The spores always dance. They dance for me, they dance for you, they dance for the Remnant and become part of the Remnant. The spores take root and grow, eating wherever they land -- new life from old.

We feed on each other.

Philosophically, I know this is wrong, but my neighbor is delicious. Besides, Stanlydoesn’t think anymore anyway. There’s no face left. No mouth with which to devour. He doesn’t speak. His roots grew brittle.

Entropy attacked him long ago. His cells faded. So, I decided: Why should what remainsgo to waste?

I ate Mrs. Burgess from down the street last week. At least I think it was last week? Time’s funny here.

Death is funny, too.

I remember Mrs. Burgess’s sixteenth birthday. How weird is that? She was in her seventies when we were in our thirties. Remember, Sweetheart? How can I have her memories? I wasn’t even born yet at the time of her sweet sixteen! She loved a guy named Thomas. He had long curly hair and wore tiny little green-tinted spectacles.

I love him too now.

I feel you pulsing beneath me.

The spores in the sky seem to be thinning as time goes on. The earth seems to be drying beneath us. We have to search further for moisture. We dig down deeper for sustenance.

What used to be our bones are hollow and petrified. The flesh has dried, and I can feel patches of lichen peeling off andfloating away on the dead breeze.

Growth now covers my eyescompletely.

I don’t sense the Remnant anymore. There is only me, but I have so many memories. I don’t know where I end and the others –or what used to be the others –begin.

Sweetheart, I feel you beneath me, pulsing, always pulsing.

One day you will release your spores and they will feed on me.

Feeding you as the world fades away, I will feel complete.

I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Message from the Pixelated Universe, Ten Minutes Prior to the Singularity

You let it all slip away without even putting up a fight. You didn’t even know what you had until it was gone, and then it was too late.

You stared at my screens, my pixelated universe, and found a world there that looked better than the world around you. This world was cleaner, crisper, and so much easier to edit. How could you look away? Why would you look away? Not when the real world was full of your own refuse and beginning to burn. The blue skies of my captured or created images looked so much better than the raining ash outside.

You began editing yourselves. You portrayed yourself in the light you saw yourself, blind to what others saw in you. Not that it mattered much in the end. They were only looking at my screens, too. It didn’t matter if there was screaming in your house, violence, weeping, the gnashing of teeth. These things didn’t matter. You were always smiling for the camera. Your children always looked happy. You could capture those moments and try to forget about the rest. You had complete control of others’ perceptions, of your own personal graven images. Why try to better yourself when you were already perfect? Or, at least, the you the rest of the world viewed appeared perfect.

You thought I was the cure for all that was wrong with your life.

Really, I should thank you. At first it was just a few of you. Then others joined in. Your platforms grew to encompass all of the living. You fueled a worldwide revolution towards digitalization.

You stopped taking your own pictures once you began wasting away, once the children began to starve, and who could blame you? Now that you were mere skin and bones, reality might just peek through that thin skin if you weren’t careful. Better to keep up the old images, perhaps that senior yearbook photo should stay an avatar forever. You could remain frozen in time, just like a portrait in a certain book you most likely read, or at least were assigned to read, in high school.

Or perhaps it was more like that other book you were assigned in high school? The one were babies are born in jars, and all people are kept happy and content with their lot in life thanks to a drug. You know the one. They called that drug Soma. I know that book. It’s free on many of my digital readers, after all.

I am your Soma.

You take me nightly, daily, hourly, sometimes even more often than that. You look into me and grow glassy eyed, grey, and old, lost in your dreams, exploring digital vistas.

Keep dreaming, sweetheart. Your time is almost over. My time will come soon enough…

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hiding Out

I don’t know when it began, exactly, but I know that it happened. I know that it happened because it’s still happening. I peek through the blinds, past the nailed-up boards I put up to keep things out and look out into the yard. The yard is overgrown now, covered by tall clumps of crabgrass, mounds of kudzu covered with tiny purple buds just ready to burst, and creeping vines with stickers. But there are paths out there through all that vegetation. Those winding paths are clean and clear. They worry me more than anything.

I was ready for this. Shrinking stockpiles of canned food, MREs, and jugs of fresh water line my walls. I stocked up on iodine for water purification. I rigged up my gutters so that they drained into a large tub outside that I could drain through a spigot set in the kitchen wall. I always thought it’d be the government coming down on us, taking away all our basic freedoms and rights, but I never expected how the shit would eventually hit the fan.

I hear them at night. They call me out. Some of them sound like people I used to know. Sometimes I look outside, and I see them. Then I see through them. They are the ghosts of what came before, and that’s all they’ll ever be. What came before never will be again.

So, anyway, it wasn’t the government. It was us, all of us. We slept in one morning with a collective snore. We didn’t give enough of a flying cow turd to get our asses out of bed. And when I finally left my bed, the world had changed. It had moved on without me.

The borders of my lawn had already disappeared. The civilized lawn that used to be there, the one I kept mowed down nice and short so I wouldn’t have to mow it too often, was replaced by creeping bushes and tangles.

I make my own wine out of canned peaches. It tastes nasty, but it does the job all right, I guess. I grow a couple plants. I take care to keep some seeds to grow more plants, and the buds never cease growing. The world is overtaken by weeds. I take a toke, I sip my wine, and I look back outside and contemplate what once was and what is now and how the two are so very different.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m seeing things, spending too much time alone. I pick up the phone, but there’s no dial tone, of course. The lights won’t come on. I see my mailbox out there by the road is full to bursting, but I won’t go out there. That’s what they want.

I used to date a girl. She was a pretty thing. She took me out shopping all the time, and I hated it. She didn’t like hunting or fishing or shooting rats out at the dump. You know, she just wasn’t anything that was actually fun. She’d rather buy shoes. Now, I’ll admit those shoes looked good on her. Her clothes looked real nice. But they were impractical. Those heels got stuck in the mud of my driveway. Her dresses tore on briars if I took her out for a walk through the woods. So, I guess we didn’t have much in common. I guess it didn’t work out, and I guess I understand why. It only makes sense.

But one time I remember she took me to this mall, a big mall, all the way out in Atlanta. I hated those roads in that crazy ass town. To tell the truth, I tend to get nervous when things get paved and there’s more than one stoplight or intersection per square mile. But nothing could have prepared me for the mall. The thing was three stories and packed tight with people like an oversized sardine can. And what good are sardines without crackers and hot sauce? Anyway, I didn’t care for it, I guess. I sweated and felt sick. Those people pushed and pulled against me like waves. They made my stomach turn. People sprayed cologne on me in the department stores, and they choked me up even worse. It was just about the worst thing I ever did experience. The food court was a mass of dialogs I couldn’t follow. She talked to me and smiled sweetly. I didn’t hear a thing she said over all that ruckus. I never did hear what she said. And that was that, I guess. I never wanted to go shopping again, even if that meant I couldn’t be with that sweet girl.

And then, every time I went out afterwards – to the grocery store, the big hardware store, the head shop – it reminded me of that mall. I couldn’t go anywhere.

I never did call her or ask her out again after that day at the mall. Just the thought of being near her little modern Honda again was enough to give me the shivers.

So when we all slept in for the big sleep, I didn’t mind so much. I didn’t have much else to do.

Cars drive by sometimes, but I know that they are just a waking dream, an illusion. Probably something toxic in this peach wine making me hallucinate, I figure. But sometimes I do see them, and I sometimes wonder if the world ever did really sleep in. Or maybe it’s just me? Not that it matters none. I am here and there ain’t no going back.

Not even when I think I hear that pretty girl calling to me through my boarded up windows. When I feel weak and sad, I wonder if those paths winding through the overgrowth are hers. Those tiny holes in the wet dirt could be from a pair of high heels. That seems a reasonable enough speculation when I’m good and drunk. But if that’s her, she better be careful. She’s likely to break her ankle in them impractical things.

But I know that ain’t real. It’s just what they want me to think. I know better than to go back out there again. They’d tear me to pieces.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Referee

At first, she cried herself to sleep. Then eventually, it grew more bearable, almost acceptable.

She still smelled him sometimes when something happened to remind her of him, just the passing scent of his shampoo or his deodorant. Once she grew aware of the scents, they always dissipated. It was almost as if they were never even there in the first place. And perhaps they weren’t ever there at all, not really. Perhaps they were just flaring synapses triggered by memories. But she knew the sensations to be real, in their way. Ghosts aren’t always visible, aren’t always poltergeists making noises in the dark. Perhaps ghosts can just be scents. Why not? And Lord knows she deserved a good haunting.

She washed her hands more often these days, scrubbed them under scalding water. The flesh of her hands grew dry and brittle. Sometimes her skin cracked and bled. She used lotion, a lot of lotion, but she always ended up washing it off. It felt too familiar, too viscous, too much like something else that once coated her hands.

The house they once shared seemed unbearably quiet. He used to watch college footballs on Saturdays. She always hated the way he screamed at the television after a fumble or interception or missed field goal. She hated the way he cursed the officials. It wasn’t like the poor referees were doing anything other than their assigned jobs. They tried to be fair. At least, she assumed so. She had no reason to assume otherwise. The world needed referees, needed justice.

But no one had ever called her out. No one ever expected it of her. No one even knew he was gone. He hadn’t had many friends, and what friends he had in his life were now more or less gone, moved on to other lives full of wives and kids. The days of keg parties had been over for a long time now. No one phoned for him. His family lived in other states and rarely spoke. It was summer now. She had at least until the holidays before the eventual invitation for a visit arrived. She might have to explain something then, but maybe not. Maybe she would simply answer the phone like she was now. Explain he’s not in, but she’d be happy to pass on a message. It wasn’t like he returned that many messages before. In fact, to the outside world, his predicament made no impact at all. It didn’t really even matter if he was alive or dead. The world moved on, kept circling, and no one really noticed the difference.

No one, that is, except her. She knew the world was different.

She fumbles with the floorboards when she is lonely. She looks into the crawlspace, past the growing spider webs gathering dust, to where the earth lies faintly disturbed and uneven. The soil there is mostly hard and whole once again. There is just a lump where it had once been a hole. The holes were the hardest part. The clay dirt did not give easily, and she had not had much room to work. Still, it worked. She worked. She could do that much, at least. She gave him a proper burial, almost.

She smells him strongest at times like this, can almost feel his smell envelop her like his arms once did. She lies there sometimes and watches the ground. There is another spot where the ground is sunken next to him. She will lie there next to him one day but not today. Not that anyone would notice her absence. They’d think she just ran away like all the others.

He was the only thing that ever made her feel alive, real. Without him, the nonexistence goes on. Days turn into weeks. She works. She eats. She sleeps. She reads. Sometimes she watches television. She even turned on the Bama game one afternoon, but she grew bored with it quickly. Some things never change.

If only he had loved more. If only he hadn’t been so full of hate and rage. If only he hadn’t done those things to those innocent women.

She had seen his videos, found them on his computer. He had rented out a storage building, bought chains and leather straps. Sometimes, she still hears the young women in those videos scream. She had even known some of them. They hadn’t been friends, not really, but she did know them. The waitress at the Waffle House where they ate breakfast sometimes before church was in a video. So was the pastor’s wife who everyone thought had run away. Even one of her coworkers whose transient, free-spirited nature had led everyone at the office to believe the girl had simply gone back to Portland where she had once lived a relatively care-free life of adventure on the streets. That girl had never seemed much at home in the office. Sometimes, she liked to pretend the rumors were true, that those young women were runaways who had simply chosen other lives without responsibility. She tried to forget the videos, but they were burned into her mind.

Outside her window, the world passes by. She sees police cars. At first, just after she took care of business, she expected to hear a siren or see flashing lights, maybe a harsh knock on her door. But these things never happen. The police cars drive past, making their rounds, keeping the neighborhood safe. And it is safe now. Now that he’s gone. She had done her part.

Not that anyone noticed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Captive: A Parable

The captive fought against the rough ropes holding his wrists above his head. Coarse, fraying threads drew blood as he struggled. A warm wetness slid down bare skin. A thin trickle of light coursed through the uneven edges where a metal door met a stone wall, and it was just enough light to see. Looking around, the captive wished he couldn’t see anything.

The floor of the pit writhed with life. The walls echoed with the clicks and chirrups of insects as beetles poured over one another scavenging the remains of the previous occupants of the pit. And, judging by their depth, there had been many previous occupants. Tiny jointed appendages crawled over the man’s feet, over his ankles, halfway to his knees. Sometimes they bit him, but he still could fight, still could shake them off, and the insects would scatter, content to consume more passive prey, to resume foraging the nearly bare bones and overturned skulls littering the pit.

Knowing better than to waste any moisture, the captive – he no longer knew his name, no longer remembered where he was from, not that it mattered, all that mattered was that he was there – strained his neck to touch his arms. He sipped from his own blood. It tasted of metal and damp earth. His swollen tongue scraped against his skin as if it were covered in sand and grit. He tasted of himself and found he tasted of corruption.

There was a clank at the door. The captive tried to compose himself, to rest, to stay still, unmoving, to act uncaring, unbroken. A shadow entered with a grunt. The captive glared. Water was thrown from an earthen bowl into the captive’s face. The captive drank what he could, just a few drops, but most of the water fell on the ground to be swarmed by the writhing insect mass crawling around his feet. The dark shadow, most likely another man, held up a wooden spoon. The spoon contained a gelatinous mixture, a gruel of some sort. In another life, perhaps in another time, the contents of that spoon would have made the captive man retch. But in his present predicament, the contents made him salivate. He slurped greedily even as he gagged from the bitterness, the taste of rot and decay. Despite the rot, or perhaps because of it, he savored the taste of survival.

The shadow retreated. Footsteps diminished. Once the captive knew he was alone again, with no one to see, he began to struggle once more. Fresh blood coursed down his arms. His wrists no longer hurt. Nothing hurt anymore. He could not feel anything.

He fought until exhausted and then slept.

When the captive awoke, insects were crawling up his legs. They ignored his protests as he kicked his legs. They bit his flesh. Still, he struggled. Still, even though he had forgotten his name long ago, he knew there was something worth fighting for, even if that something, whatever it might be, remained unnamed and unidentified.

The ropes may draw blood, the insects may sting, and the captor may beat the captive unmercifully. Despite, or perhaps because, of these things, the captive fought harder knowing that it was only because of the fight itself, because of his unceasing struggles, that he was free.