• Dzama

The Reeds

You’re lucky, said Sherman. You’re luckier than any other kid. Here you are out in the reeds waiting for ducks, with your DAD! And your Dad gave you a GUN. Most kids would do anything to be holding a rifle like you are now.

I’m not holding it. It’s down there.

Well, pick it up, son! You can’t shoot a duck with it down there! In the mud! Treat it with respect. When his son didn’t do anything Sherman picked up the rifle and put it into the boy’s hands. Now sit quietly. We need full quiet now.

I am.

The sky began to lose light. Sherman glanced at the boy, who was staring down at the reeds. What are you looking at? He whispered. Ducks ain’t comin’ from down there. Be lookin’ above so you see them take off. Then- POW! Sherman grinned.

There’s someone down there, the boy said.

What? Where? He looked down to try to see what the boy was looking at. There’s no one out here.

The boy extended his gloved finger, pointing into the reeds sticking out of the water a few yards away.

What are you seein’? No one comes out here. I’ve never once seen someone out here. He took out a pair of mini-binoculars and scanned the marsh. I see reeds, water, trees, and sky. Here. He handed the binoculars to the boy. But just then a figure rose up out of the water among the reeds before them.

 

When the boy awoke he was lying in the mud and his father was gone. It was now night and a full moon lit up the marsh. He got to his feet and looked around but their guns were gone. In the shallow water he found the mini binoculars and some bullet shells that could have been theirs or maybe not. He felt his pockets and confirmed he still had his knife and wallet. When he went to climb the dark path back to the tent his knees buckled. They felt like rubber. But he made his legs work. As he ascended the hill he took out his knife and gripped the handle tightly.

The tent was shredded and bloody.

He didn’t investigate too closely, instead he continued up the path to where he remembered they left the car. Where the car had been was a melted slab of metal and glass with some busted rubber tires smooshed at the bottom. The plants around the slab were charred.

The boy studied the destruction, feeling sick to his stomach. It looked like someone has sliced the car in half with a giant torch. Then he climbed the nailed planks into their tree stand, hugging the tree so he wouldn’t slip. Up top he sat with his knife ready, and waited. He took out the mini-binoculars and scanned the ground below but the moon had gone and it was almost black.

Then he thought he was seeing figures moving around at ground level but it was too dark to make out their features. With his knife stuck in his belt he hoisted himself up onto the roof of the tree stand and when that didn’t seem high enough he climbed further up the tree til he was on one of the top branches, hugging the trunk.

Soon he could hear them directly below, in the tree stand. Hoarse whispers. Tuneless whistles. He wished the moon would come back so he could see something. He wished he was back in the cafeteria where he’d spent most of the earlier part of the day. He’d hated the cafeteria with its stench of ground beef and soggy buns but now it seemed like paradise.

A few minutes later the entire forest lit up. A huge insect-like spacecraft appeared and the dark figures all moved toward it. There were round porthole windows in the shell of the craft and he saw Sherman looking out at him. Dad! DAD! DAD! he shouted. His father continued staring out with a concerned expression, but oblivious, vacant eyes. The spaceships’ landing gear retracted into its segmented body. The craft rose above the trees and then shot up, up, up into the starry sky.

 

When the sun rose the boy was still up in the tree hugging the trunk. Some firemen forced him to loosen his grip before they carried him down a ladder to an emergency vehicle below.

 

A few days later he was back in the cafeteria, not speaking. Just sitting by himself at one of the tables, latching and unlatching his lunchbox. He had small notebooks that he scribbled in with a ballpoint pen. When the page was almost completely black with ink, he’s turn the page and scribble more.

In about a week his father showed up at the cafeteria, pretending that nothing happened. He was missing his left arm. The boy heard him telling the lunch ladies it was a hunting accident.

When they got home Sherman had a strange look in his eye. He tossed a few suitcases on the bed. Pack up everything, he told the boy. We’re going back out duck hunting. Only this time we ain’t coming back. The boy stood and stared. Then he slowly complied, folding shirts and socks and laying them into the suitcases. Soon they were in the truck, heading back out to the marsh. They drove with windows down and the wind was unseasonably warm. Say goodbye to Maple Creek, said Sherman, grinning. But the boy couldn’t bring himself to say it. He just stared out at the trees going by and daydreamed about sitting in the cafeteria under bright fluorescent lights.

 

 

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Raindrop

The four of them were having tea in a raindrop as it plummeted down toward a dirty city street. The first was Shuvamy Toawshuly, a professor of psychobiology at Hammersworth-Smithe but dressed as though ready for a 1980’s aerobic workout- neon spandex stretched taut over her curvaceous physique. Next was Felmore Snowcamp, a giant tortoise seated uncomfortably on a pink leather ottoman and using both fore-claws to raise a tiny teacup to his beak. Continuing clockwise we meet Snorvath Dumppe, an average-looking office manager in a white button-down shirt and stained slacks. Dropping three too many sugar cubes into his teacup he turned to the forth member of the raindrop teaparty, Yankfestle Toawshuly, younger brother to Shuvamy, himself a hairy man clad just in board shorts and sporting an anchor tattoo and a long and unruly beard. Facing Yanfestle, Snorvath raised his teacup. I propose a toast, Snorvath began. To all those living and dead who know the simple struggle of daily existence. To the sometimes insurmountable struggle to tie your own shoes in the morning. I toast to those who choose to pass though life without really paying attention.

Yanfestle grabbed hold of his own beard and pulled at it violently before proclaiming, Here here, and raising his own tea goblet.

Meanwhile Shumavy had turned her attention to her smartphone and her thumb moved erratically across the screen.

Felmore the tortoise had very carefully set his tiny teacup on the table beside the golden tea service and turned his scaly head to no one in particular. Now that’s good tea, he said.

Just then Shumavy lifted her doe eyes from the screen of her phone. We have three seconds, she said. Three seconds? Until what? Asked Snorvath, looking unhappily at the empty sugar bowl.

Until this raindrop hits the street, honey, Shuvamy said. Ridiculous, said Snorvath.

My sister ain’t never wrong, said Yankfestle, after a sip of tea. She’s a PROFESSOR. She knows more about what yer thinkin’ right now than you do.

I’m not thinking right now, I’m emoting! shouted Snorvath. DEATH!

We may not all die instantly, said Felmore.

What do you mean? We’ve been dropping from a twenty thousand foot high cloud to a very hard surface- Avenue D!!! exclaimed Snorvath. INSTANT DEATH!

Well, some of us have shells, the tortoise said.

Snorvath emptied six artificial sweeteners into a new cup of tea. His hands shook and the cup clattered against its saucer and spilled some on the way to his quivering lips.

Shumavy batted her eyelashes. We’re more than half-way, she said.

Well, what do you propose, sis? said Yanfestle, raising his voice. You’re the smart one in the family. We’re having tea in a raindrop and we’re about to make contact with cement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. What should we do now? I’m serious!

Shumavy got up from her chair and said, Okay everyone stand with your legs apart and rotate your arms in small circles like this: one, two, three, four! Now back two, three, four! Yanfestle and Snorvath set down their tea and followed suit. Snorvath kept up with the workout, wide-eyed and frantic.

And two, and three, and four, continued Shumavy.

The tortoise Felmore had managed to pour himself another tea and raised this one for a sip. He looked down through the watery curve of the raindrop floor and saw the ground approaching way too rapidly. Then he looked back at the others and their synchronized aerobics. He took one last drink before withdrawing into his shell, hoping for the best.

 

 

 

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Pin & Slinky

Pin lived in the alleyway under some corrugated metal but he showered at the Y and had a girlfriend named Slinky. In autumn the wind whipped down the Chicago streets but in the alley the air remained calm. One day when Pin was at a hardcore show he got knocked upside the head so hard he forgot where he really lived and ended up in that alley. He’d worn the same jeans and boots for almost a year now.

It seemed like his whole life was spent getting knocked upside the head one way or another. He was a fighter but not a very lucky one. Slinky met him in the doughnut shop one day. She’d run away from home and was happy to find him. They became petty thieves together, mostly of food.

One day the sky stayed grey and the traffic all around wouldn’t let up. They walked up the block as a few fall leaves floated down from above. What’s up, Casey? said a skinhead crossing the street towards them. Pin veered off with Slinky and they turned the corner but then suddenly the skin appeared right next to them. Pin turned his head just as the skinhead’s fist connected with his ear. He spun around and landed a punch on the skin’s eye but that only made the guy crazier and it was a mess.

Slinky stabbed the skinhead five times in the back.

 

Later that night the new tenant in the corrugated homestead was the skinhead corpse. Pin and Slinky decided to drive to California. They stole a car from Slinky’s aunt who lived in the suburbs and started driving. At night they slept in the back seat, waking up every hour or so just like they were used to doing in the alleyway.

You’re a good driver, Pin told Slinky. Slinky stared at the slushy road ahead as the windshield wipers cleared off cold rain every second. Mostly she didn’t answer him when he said things. She had an old hardcore cassette tape and pressed play.

You know, when we get to California I think we should listen to new music, Pin said. Slinky shook her head.

No, continued Pin. I don’t mean new music, I mean different music. It doesn’t have to be new. Just something fucking different. We’ll be in California.

Slinky mouthed the word “No”.

Slink, I don’t mean like the Beach Boys. I mean like something we like but different than this. Fuck this fucking shit. He hit eject and threw the cassette tape out the open window.

Slinky looked at him with intense violence in her eyes.

And then she laughed. And Pin laughed. And they drove with the wipers beating away.

Later they slept in the car alongside a big field of grain that rustled all night. You still have that knife? Pin asked. What knife? Slinky said.

The fucking knife. The knife. You still have it? Pin asked. Slinky nodded. When we get to the Pacific Ocean you should throw it in. Like off the Golden Gate Bridge or something.

We getting new knives in California? Slinky asked.

No, Slinky, Pin said. Slinky stared up at the roof of the car.

When they made it across the state line into California, Pin stole them two California Sunshine State shirts from a gas station. Slinky wouldn’t wear hers but Pin put on his right away. His old shirt had a picture of combat boots with red laces on it. It was grey and ripped. Slinky wouldn’t let him throw it away. She began using it as a pillow at night and always kept it close.

Finally they arrived at miles of beach extending in all directions. The setting sun turned the sky fuchsia and lit the water on fire. They crossed the beach, heading toward the water, Pin still wearing combat boots and rolled up jeans. Slinky was in her all black. There were a few families with beach towels and radios, soaking up the sun’s final rays. Pin took off his shirt and then Slinky took off hers, walking just in her bra. They looked like twins with their pasty white skin and tattoos and scars.

When Slinky looked back she saw what looked like two police SUVs moving silently across the sand toward them. They didn’t quicken their pace, walking straight for the water and then into the water. It’s colder than I thought it would be, Pin said. The next time they looked back the officers were fanning out across the sand. One of them started shouting orders into a bullhorn, sending the beach people scattering.

In the ocean with water up to their waists, Pin took Slinky’s face in his hands and kissed her a long, long kiss that didn’t end until they were being dragged apart by the authorities. By then the sun had gone down and it was a cold California night.

 

 

 

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Security

The doctor and the nurses were stuck in the elevator for what seemed like hours. No speaking but occasional sidelong glances. The security guard watched the whole thing on one of the surveillance monitors. He’s gonna say something, the security guard said. Why don’t he say something? But the three trapped in the elevator remained silent.

I think they’re gonna make out, said the second security guard who had just arrived to start his shift. No, they ain’t gonna make out, I been watching them a long time. He gotta be gay, said the first security guard.

Why someone don’t let them out? asked the second guard. We all tried, replied the first guard. Doors ain’t openin’ It’s stuck between floors. Elevator repair is on their way. At least they said so an hour ago. The guards stared at the three on the monitor. They studied their subtle movements. The doctor moved his head up and down slightly. The blonde nurse shifted her weight. The black-haired nurse looked at the elevator buttons. Then they all stared at the buttons. Then the doctor looked at the black-haired nurse. The blonde nurse looked down at her clipboard.

He’s goin for it, said the second security guard. They both stared but nothing happened. Now the three were looking straight ahead at the elevator door. If I was him I’d be tryin’ to pry that thing open.

Yeah, they all tried that like an hour ago, said the first guard. Then all three were on their phones. After he hung up, the doctor took off his lab coat and folded it over his arm. The nurses looked at each other. Then they all seemed to be looking up at the numbers above the doors.

The doctor moved toward the blonde nurse. She moved away. He tried to move in on her forcefully but she pushed him back. They struggled with each other, the doctor pushing the nurse against the wall of the elevator. The black-haired nurse pounded her fists on the doctor’s back, screaming something at him. Suddenly a violent melee erupted with all three and it was hard to see what was going on with limbs flying this way and that. Holy Jesus! said the first security guard. We gotta do something. He rushed down the hall.

When he got to the elevator he put his face against the crack in the door. SECURITY! STOP FIGHTING IN THERE! WE WILL PRESS CHARGES!

Meanwhile the second guard watched the monitors. The three fighters froze for a second, and he could tell they were listening. Then they went right back at it, even fiercer. The first security guard went on shouting to no avail. Finally he came back to the desk. They gonna kill each other, he said.

When the elevator repairmen arrived and got the doors open only the dark-haired nurse climbed up out of the elevator. Her face was scratched and her skirt torn. Blood dripped from the corner of her mouth. The other two were carried out and laid down in the hallway. I’m callin’ an ambulance, said the first guard.

The dark-haired nurse walked by, right to the front exit. Hey! HEY! Where you think your goin’? said the first guard. Both guards stared. Then the first guard jumped up and ran after her.

Eventually he returned. She gone, he said. When the ambulance pulled up the guards watched the doctor and the nurse get carried away in stretchers. Their skin was pale and they looked stiff. They gonna make it? The first guard asked an orderly.

They’ve gone to greener pastures, the orderly replied.

The shorter of the two repairman returned from the elevator. Elevator’s fixed now. You can go test it, he said.

Yeah, I ain’t testin’ it, said the first guard. Me neither, said the second, sitting behind the desk. The repairmen had them sign a clipboard and then they both left.

The first security guard put on his coat. You alright? he asked the other guard. Yeah, I seen worse, he replied. But when the first guard left and he was alone, staring at the monitor view of the elevator interior he found that he couldn’t actually remember ever seeing worse.

Later when it was raining he saw the dark-haired nurse standing outside the glass doors, dripping wet, just staring in at him and not moving. I ain’t lettin’ you in, he said. Hell no.

And the next time he looked she was gone.

 

 

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Foxes

Sunday was special for the whole family. They rode the horse-drawn wagon down a rutted, bumpy road to the old fisherman’s cabin by the sea. The father carried their weekend bags into the bedrooms while the children pedaled around on wooden trikes the fisherman had carved in the old days. Mother put tea on and opened all the windows. By the afternoon the kids would be exploring, sometimes up by the abandoned lighthouse, sometimes in the second floor crawlspace. The dog, a blue-eyed Australian sheepdog, would either be along for the adventure with the children or sitting at the hearth, presiding over the cabin.

Today was no different from any other Sunday and the family was spread out when the storm came in. The little boy and girl were up top the lighthouse, lying on their stomachs telling rude stories. The mother rested in the cabin with a book on the daybed by the window. The father was using one of the fisherman’s ancient scythes to cut some grass by the back shed and the dog lay nearby.

The sky turned an ugly violet and then almost black before unleashing massive torrents of rain. The father made a run for the house, arriving at the front door soaked to the bone, holding his dripping scythe. They put wood in the stove and lit all the candles, waiting for the children. The dog kept vigil at the front door, growling. What are you on about? It’s just Mother Nature, said the mother.

God’s angry about something, said the father, tamping his pipe with a pie-nail. Don’t say that, said the mother.

Why shouldn’t he be? There’s a lot to be angry about, the father said, walking through a cloud of his own pipe smoke on the way to the front door. What’s all this?

On the lawn outside the front door, in the rain, there were maybe fifteen or twenty foxes, bedraggled, all sitting and staring in at them. The dog’s growl didn’t let up. Just then there was a terrific thunderclap and the father jumped, his pipe falling and breaking on the wood floor. Marty! the mother called, rushing to stand behind him. The rain poured down and it became suddenly dark as night outside.

I’m going up to the lighthouse, the father said. I’ll bring the kids back. But he didn’t move from where he stood. We’ll go together, the mother said.

You stay dry, the father finally said, pulling on his mackintosh over a heavy coat. I’m taking this, he said, picking up the scythe. The dog followed him out into the night and the mother stood alone by the door, her eyes straining to see into the blackness. There was lightening and a powerful thunder blast and she saw the silhouettes of the foxes still there. Go away, she whispered.

Soon the foxes were scratching right at the door and howling with terrible, shrill, almost human voices. The mother backed toward the kitchen and took a long blade from the knife block. To get away from their howling she moved into the back of the cabin and finally up the ladder into the crawlspace. She lay up there, trying not to doze off, holding the knife to her breast and listening to what sounded like a hundred babies crying outside.

Her eyes closed and she dreamt of waking in the morning when the storm had moved on. In her dream the windows of the cabin had all been smashed, leaving wet puddles and broken glass. Her dream self walked up the stone path to the lighthouse and entered the stone building. All the way up the winding stairs she called the names of her husband and children.

When she got to the circular lantern room she found her family surrounded by the foxes in an odd tableau. We’ve become friends, the father said, his hand resting on the withers of a large fox. The children giggled, staring at her strangely. The dog lay with its head down, eyes following her movements. GET THEM OUT OF HERE, she wanted to say but she’d lost her voice. She went to lift the scythe but she found it was much too heavy for her. As she struggled with the scythe she was pulled out of her dream by her real-life husband shaking her by the shoulders. Wake up, the children are waiting outside in the wagon, he said. There’s another storm coming so we’d best leave now.

Dawn was just rising as the horse drew their wagon up the hill and out of the valley. A lone fox watched the family depart as once again the drops of rain started to fall.

 

 

 

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The Artisan

The artisan appeared small in the middle of the giant mosaic, face almost touching his work, moving an inch an hour across the courtyard. The princess watched him from her balcony as he crouched down, laying out the tiny tiles in an abstract pattern. He was like a hunched animal grazing on a field of green and blue squares.

Once she threw down one of her diamond earrings just to see what would happen. He continued placing tiles even as the second earring pelted off the rags on his back.

Why are you watching him? one of the ladies-in-waiting asked from the doorway.

He’s meticulous, she said.

He’s an animal, the lady said. Come have tea.

I won’t.

Suit yourself. The lady was gone. The princess took a gold coin from her purse and threw it down so it landed right in front of the artisan. By the third one the artisan stopped laying out tiles and picked the coin up with his dirty fingers. It glinted in the sunlight. He turned his head and looked back over his shoulder, up at the princess. She stared down. They stared at each other, frozen for minutes. Eventually the princess rose and withdrew back into her chambers.

This scene repeated itself every day for weeks. As time passed the mosaic turned from an abstract color study into a giant portrait of the princesses’ staring face. But when he got to her neck the tiles turned blood red with her elegant fingers clutching her throat. There were drips of blood laid out in tile staining her tile dress. That’s horrid, the queen said. I won’t have it. We’ll have him executed.

No, we won’t, the princess said. But the queen was gone, and the artisan was overpowered by all the king’s men and dragged to the dungeon. The princess left her room for the first time in weeks and went down to the courtyard to see the unfinished morbid masterpiece up close. Some unused tiles were scattered along with the artisan’s tools. She picked up the trowel and ran her fingers over the blade. Then, with a sudden motion, she drew it quickly across her throat. The ladies all came running as blood sprayed from her neck. Their gowns soaked in crimson as they lifted her from her knees and dragged her bleeding to the king’s physician, who tried to stanch the blood.

For days the princess lay in recovery, neck wrapped in bandages. The king had the courtyard paved over with cobblestones. At night the princess walked to her balcony and stared down at the empty courtyard, her face pale and gaunt. One night she stole down the stairs and continued all the way to the south tower where a long hallway led to the dungeon. She moved quietly down the hall, her bare feet on the cold stone, blood-stained bandages trailing behind her. When she reached the door she stopped and pressed her face against it, listening. Someone’s breath rasped on the other side of the thick oak. Suddenly there was a scream from inside that sounded demonic and the princess started, almost falling. But she went and fetched the keys from the jailer’s hook and twisted them in the lock all the same.

When she opened the door she could just make out a figure in the darkness, crouched and staring up at her. They locked eyes and the princess remained motionless as the figure rose to his feet. She could see it was the artisan but he was scarred and bearded now with a strange fire in his eyes. He stood before her in his dirty rags, his hair wild.

You and I will rule this kingdom, she said in thin voice. Come with me. She turned and he limped after her, down the hallway and up the stairs to the royal chambers, stopping only to get his sharpened trowel along the way.

 

 

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No Talking

My brother-in-law’s parents were driving us back to their house and my wife Cheri was trying to fill in the empty spaces with conversation. What was most awkward was talking around my brother-in-law’s disappearance, and my wife’s sister’s strange behavior. We’ve been doing a lot of gardening lately, my wife was saying.

We sure have, I said.

We’re growing cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, marigolds…

Squash.

Yes, squash. Tons of squash. It’s kind of taken over.

If you want any squash… I offered.

Oh, no, the dad said.

Are you sure? I asked. Because–.

Oh, no, we don’t eat squash, the dad told us.

What Monty means is he’s got a health condition that prevents him from eating… What are those types of vegetables called? Come on, Monty, it’s on the tip of my tongue!

Gourds? I offered.

I don’t like them. I don’t eat that, he said.

Well, that’s okay, you don’t have to, I said. We actually have many other vegetables that you’ll love. We have…

I don’t eat vegetables from someone’s garden, Monty said.

He doesn’t eat vegetables, the mom said. You never have, right Monty? Since you were a boy?

When I was a boy I ate them. I did a lot of things then. That sure doesn’t mean I do that now. That quieted down the car for a while. We were all lost in thought. I cracked the window.

Have you always lived out here in East Texas? my wife asked. But the silence continued. Finally the mom said, Monty, she asked you a question. When he didn’t answer she shook his shoulder. Then we started hearing these odd whimpering noises. I didn’t know where they were coming from, mainly because I couldn’t picture them coming from him. Then he drove onto the shoulder and we bumped along for a while before he came to a rough stop on the side of the highway. He’s taken this real hard, the mom said.

William is not missing, he said. I would have liked to see my face when he said that. At this point I was imagining grabbing my wife’s arm and us taking off across the cornfield.

He’s not missing. We took him back, Monty said.

You did? I asked.

Texas did.

Texas did?

Get out of my car.

Okay, I said, looking to my wife. But she stayed seated.

You mean he’s not missing? You know where he is? she asked.

I don’t. I have no idea where my son is. But Texas knows. Texas doesn’t let go of her children. She keeps ‘em. He locked his fingers together.

I opened my door. Okay.

A state, even a state like Texas does not take people or keep people, my wife told him.

Come on Cher, he asked us to leave, I said.

What? And be stranded out here in the cornfield? she asked. No, put the car in gear, Monty. You’re going to drive us back to civilization. NOW! Go ahead! Start the car!

Start the car, honey, the mom said.

I re-shut my door and it became more quiet. Then I heard the engine start up and we were rolling again.

He dropped us in front of an old drugstore in town. Then they all hugged each other but I hung back. Alright, let’s find a phone with service, I said when their car was gone. The clerk at the store looked just like our missing brother-in-law. You know, you look like someone we know, I said. My wife gave me a cold stare.

I get that a lot, he said. I’m a familiar face. He laughed.

Then I was with my wife out front sitting on the curb drinking sodas like I used to do as a boy in front of our store in Jersey. This tastes good, I said of the sugary soda. It actually tastes good for a change.

She had a cigarette going but she put it out. I don’t want to talk anymore, she said. Okay, I said. No talking.

We didn’t say anything as morning traffic picked up right in front of us. But a big smile widened on my face. It widened and widened until I finally felt good again.

 

 

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Frankie’s Take

But I thought I could have three of them, Sally said, shifting and tilting her head slightly. Three. She held up three fingers. There was a quiet as the mist rose up over the graveyard.

No, I never said that. Frankie looked at her and then back to his sandcastle made of dirt. No, it’s always been two. Sally raised her shovel over his sand castle. Don’t do that, he said.

I will, she said. She felt her mouth stretch into a grin. You never helped me, Frankie! Never! She toppled dirt spires and flattened dirt parapets. Frankie stood and watched her, getting sprayed with dirt as she swung the heavy shovel wildly. Then he took hold of it but she was ready for him and they wrestled, both gripping the shovel tight. They pushed and pulled until she slipped and Frankie was over her, forcing the handle toward her neck. You always make me overdo things, he said.

The wood of the shovel was just touching her throat when at the last second she gave him a vicious kick to the leg and twisted the shovel out of his grasp. She yanked the shovel free and gave his head a sound whack with the blade. He slipped and fell right down into the open grave. As he lay there she shoveled and shoveled furiously until he was covered.

As the sky took on light she was still shoveling, finally patting down the mound when the 8:15 could be heard blowing its whistle on its way into the city.

Sally was on the next train, her dirty hands deep in the pockets of her coat. When the porter asked for a ticket she said, No, ma-am, I have no ticket. But I have lots and lots of money. How much you want? And she grinned her grin, holding out a handful of Frankie’s take. The porter glanced over his shoulder before taking the whole handful.

Can I have your ticket please? he asked the next passenger, further down the car. Tickets please!

 

 

 

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The Wires

The wires around his wrists cut into his skin, kept him awake, and glowed at night. Raccoon was still out in the hills, watching him and the others probably on an old iPad taken from one of the original species. He could just see Raccoon now, tracing the trails left by the little green dots on the screen and tapping with her chipped fingernails on the cracked console. Marty’d been wearing a heavy, lead helmet and a lead neck brace but he could still feel her tracking him and he was sure it was through the wires.

When he got to the stream he disrobed and pushed off into the cold water. It tasted metallic. The wires on his wrists were still glowing, even underwater. He tried to swim deep down and drown himself but each time he tried he floated right back up and popped out, sputtering, into the daylight.

Why didn’t you follow me? It was Scout. He saw her reflection in the water but her actual body was invisible. You could have still made it. He dunked down and tried to reach the bottom. Again, up, and coughing out the dirty water. Scout was gone but there was a white dog on shore sniffing around where he’d left his clothes. The dog bit into the cotton and dragged the pieces off. Hey! Marty shouted. HEY!

By the time he got to shore the dog was gone and there were only a few torn scraps left of his garments. He sat in the gravelly mud and scanned up and down the beach. There was one of the abandoned turrets at one end and he strode off in that direction, stark naked.

The turret was mossy stone, with the barrel of its gun aimed out over the water at the memory of enemy armadas that used to come down from Hedden. Marty pulled a rusty metal ring attached to the turret door and it swung open. There was a rush of cold smoke. Marty stepped inside but immediately the wrist wires heated to the point of burning and he shouted, RACCOON! RACCOON! Take your damn wires! But no one was in there and the door slammed shut behind him.

From outside the turret banging and scratching could be heard. The white dog walked by and sniffed the slit under the door. Finally the noise quieted down.

 

When it was night Raccoon came down from he hills in her Jeep. She jumped out and took an M-16 from the Jeep’s rear storage compartment. She leaned her shoulder against the wooden door. You ready, Marty? He was quiet. Ready?

She unclipped a small plastic box from her belt. She slid open its cover and pressed a red button. There was a shout from inside the turret. Then Raccoon kicked the door in. When the smoke cleared there was Marty, naked, standing still and looking at her with piercing red eyes. Wrists glowing. She aimed the M-16 at his stomach. You coming? The white dog was back and looked in at Marty.

With some karate he knocked the gun out of her hand. But the white dog leapt and tore through his supple neck. After an ugly struggle Marty lay on the floor bleeding and the dog limped away. Raccoon had her gun again and aimed it down at Marty’s temple. You coming, Marty?

She had to shoot him though in the end and she hoisted his corpse into the back of her jeep. The white dog pulled itself up into the seat beside her, licking at its wounds.

As Raccoon drove back up the hill, Marty’s eyes popped open. The electric current spiked from the wire on his wrists and he convulsed. He sat bolt upright. Raccoon looked back and their eyes locked. Marty asked: What would you like, Master?

 

 

 

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Sabotage

Stahne slid into the missile compartment and pulled the titanium panel closed. Red numbers flashed by on a display directly in front of his face. There was the smell of gunpowder and Indian curry. He suspected Markil had been enjoying curry in the missile before being dragged out by the Teltas.

The timer appeared to speed up when it got to the single digits, and once it reached zero everything exploded, blowing the launcher to hell.

Why the missile never left the turret was anyone’s guess. The detonation was partial- Stahne was roasted, but alive. When the Telta creatures found him he lay face down on the burnt metal, plastic melted into his skin. The plastic had welded metal shards to his arms and legs and head, giving him the appearance of a spiked monster and as he lurched to his feet the creatures drew back.

He made it to the decontamination doors, pressed a few buttons before the burnt skin of his back was punctured by a thousand tiny arrows. The Telta creatures didn’t like anyone employed by the government and, even though he was just a Necturus worker, he qualified.

You poor dear, Maximussa cooed, gliding from the outer office in tight grey overalls as he staggered toward her, his mouth welded shut by plastic. She closed the decontamination doors with a tap of her nail before the next volley of tiny arrows tinked on the glass and clattering to the ground just outside. Lousy creatures, she hissed at them. Where are your manners?

Stahne fell, in slow motion, crashing and double-bouncing on the slick metal floor. When he landed bits and pieces of shrapnel shot off in all directions and Maximussa covered her eyes.

He was out cold for the next several hours and she carefully picked out the broken metal and plastic shards, cutting some away with an X-Acto knife. There was minimal bleeding and soon a naked slab of a government employee lay before her.

Why… he started, coming back to life.

Why did I help you? Well, darling, it’s the least I can do. After all, it was your father who developed the plans for the first manned Necturus missile launch and without him we’d all still be in the rainforest with the bamboo and the bad monkeys. Frankly, I couldn’t be more grateful to your father and your brothers, and, by extension, you.

She stood over him, watching as his eyes found hers. I’m a wreck, he said.

I know you are.

He got to his feet and she helped steady him down the hallway. I don’t know what went wrong, he said. The timer? The osphometeric?

It was me, Stahne. I stopped it, she whispered. You? he tried to pull away but she held him fast.

Yes, I didn’t want you to blow up with that bomb. I wanted you for myself. And for Russia. His bare feet slid on the metal, his skin a network of scars and gashes. He wrestled her back against the wall. I think I love you, he said. And they kissed, neither of them hearing the gunfire or the dull thumps of explosions in the distance.

 

 

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