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.