• Dzama

I’m Lucky

Sam was always a barber, wore a red plaid shirt, smoked a pipe on Sundays, and had a horse he was betting on in this week’s race. The horse was ugly. Sam shrugged. Drank the rest of his coffee. Headed over to Millie’s swap meet to buy some new shears. He met some farmers at the swap meet and they all ended up in the bar across the street. Who you bettin’ on, Sam? Marty asked after they had polished off their first drinks and ordered seconds. Lil’ Never Late, Sam said. Marty and his twin brother Sven hollered and whistled.

Why you always pick the ugly ones, Sam? Why you always do that? The twins couldn’t stop laughing. Sam pushed off the bar stool and walked slowly toward the exit. Wait, you still got a drink comin’! Sam didn’t stop. He pushed through the front door into the blinding midday sun.

Outside a girl with her Western shirt knotted above her bellybutton leaned against a post and sucked on a piece of hay. C’mon Sam, you ready? And the two headed for the track across a large dusty lot. How come you always stick by me, Laurie? Sam asked.

Cuz you’re lucky, Sam.

What do you mean? None of these horses I pick ever win anything. He looked down at the cloud of dust they kicked up as they crossed the grounds. Laurie just grinned like she had a secret.

After all the betting and a couple of sandwiches at the track Sam and Laurie relaxed at a nearby motel. Laurie lay on her stomach on the bed flipping channels while Sam slicked back his hair at the big mirror with a comb made to look like a switchblade knife. Then Sam came over and sat on the edge of the bed. Wait, I liked that one, he said. We ain’t watchin no reruns, Sam, Laurie said and continued clicking through. Then there was a knock at the door. Sam looked at Laurie. She stared at the TV and kept pressing the button. But when Sam got up she watched him go to the door.

He’d gotten it halfway open when gunshots exploded through the gap. They peppered his right shoulder, nearly blowing his right arm clean off. Laurie jumped out of bed and fired back with a gun from her purse, killing the three attackers instantly.

Laurie turned back to Sam. You ain’t never usin’ that arm again. He held onto it, holding it close to his side. Laurie went out and stood over the bodies. In death their faces looked vacuous like dopey cartoon ghosts.

When the police arrived Sam had lost a lot of blood. One of the motel beds was completely soaked. Laurie was back to flipping channels and refused to look up when the officer asked her questions. Sam was on the other bed, on the soggy bedspread, staring straight up. Profession? one of the cops asked. Barber, he wanted to say but his mouth didn’t move. He looked over at Laurie without turning his head. She had the hay-stalk back in her mouth and was giving only one-word answers. Laurie, he thought, making the thought as loud in his own head as he could. Laurie! Finally she looked over. She smiled at him. Smiled as the police put her hands behind her back and cuffed her. Smiled as they led her out of the room. She was mouthing a message to him but he couldn’t make out what she was saying.

Then he was alone in the room. The cops were busy outside with something. He felt himself sinking into the bed. It was getting darker and he started to wonder if the cops were just going to leave him there, a key witness in the multiple homicide. But no one came back in. He didn’t hear anything either.

Nothing happened for hours.

Then a white fluffy dog came through the door, fluffy like an unshorn sheep. It came in, sniffing around. Then it went out and the room was completely silent again. Sam listened to his own heart beating until finally he couldn’t hear it anymore.

He was in the barbershop, securing a cape around a customer’s neck. When he looked up to the mirror he saw it was Laurie. He leaned down to whisper in her ear, Don’t worry Laurie, he said. I’m lucky.

 

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Herman’s Igloo

Polar bears sat in a circle inside Herman’s igloo and warned him of the coming storm. He listened while they talked, smoked his pipe, and said very little. When they left he stood alone and sipped beer from a can. If they were right his igloo would be demolished by the storm winds by daybreak. There wasn’t enough time to get to the snowcat, drive it back, load his things, and make it to safety. He heard the wind’s hoarse moans getting more and more urgent outside as a soft snowfall danced at the end of the entry tunnel.

Part of him suspected the polar bears were conspiring to scare him off the mountain. Then they would be the only ones here when the mother-ship landed. But he also knew they needed a human present when the aliens arrived in case there was trouble.

The beer wasn’t really doing its job. He began to feel cold and sweaty at the same time. Sitting down in front of the radio he pondered the loose wires and transistors. He pulled at some green and red ones but some small pieces came loose and scattered onto the rug. Before he could pick them up a strange yellow light shone in through the entry tunnel. He heard some polar bear voices. He didn’t leave yet, one said. No. He ain’t never leavin’. Then there was some scuffling and one of the big ones squeezed down the hall into the main room. Aliens are here, the big polar bear, Marty, said. So soon? Herman said, still holding the wires.

Yeah. They’re early.
Do they want me?
No. They couldn’t give two shits about you.
Oh.
It’s the girl they want.
Girl’s gone.
Oh really? Well you’re gonna have to tell them that yourself. And the big guy squeezed back out the tunnel into the yellow light. Herman finished his beer. Took a shotgun from beside his bed. And then went out to meet his fate.

But there weren’t any aliens out there. Just a fierce wind and snow. And there didn’t seem to be any bears around either. Just a lone puffin, barely able to stand up in the weather. They tricked you, Herman, the puffin said. Wha–? Herman started towards the puffin but just then he felt his flesh phasing. Hold on a second! Then he swung around. He dropped the gun before he completely dematerialized and was gone from this Earth.

The puffin shuddered. And then, dragging the rifle in his beak, he waddled slowly down into Herman’s igloo.

 

 

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Achingly Familiar

You don’t know anything about me. None of this is real. Inside my real head is a tiny head and the tiny head is being controlled by a pygmy terrier. But let me start at the beginning. When we first met and I said you reminded me of Schwagrovsky the classical pianist I wasn’t talking about the real Schwagrovsky and I wasn’t talking to you- I was talking to the girl seated directly behind you. So that was the start of our relationship and it’s gone around the bend ever since. What I’m telling you is, judging the book by the cover of the book is a terrible mistake. You open the book and it’s not a book at all, it’s a piece of pastry shaped just like a book.

But let me begin at the beginning. There was a tremendous void and then life happened and, before long, there were the two of us entwined in a slippery, drippy, love embrace. You were you but I was being remote-controlled by a little boy with a red hat topped with a blue spinning propeller. Eventually he lost interest and that’s where the pygmy terrier came in.

This may sound strange the first time you hear it. But believe me, on your second read-through it all starts sounding achingly familiar.

I was once a boy, you were once a girl, but beyond that it’s all invention and a precarious muddle of the mechanical and the biological. How did I get bionic eyes? It’s a long story. But that’s how I spotted you walking down the gangplank to dry land. You and your little dog Greenie with the mysterious toothy grin.

I’ve said this before but I’ve never seen anyone quite as enchanting as you and if just once all my parts and pieces could come to attention and form an actual, non-mechanical man I would make love to you and you wouldn’t soon forget it.

 

 

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Take Only What You Need

When the seagulls started getting big we took to riding them, fashioning saddles so as many as nine of us could ride at a time. We’d fly over the icy ocean or up the snowy cliffs, looking for more survivors to airlift back to the encampments.

Today I found six survivors, all women, who were just north of the Cape, trekking single file along the ridge. We swooped down and landed some yards ahead of them. I dismounted and waited, smiling to show that I meant no harm.

The first one came straight up to me and swung some kind of an ax, cutting clear through the front of my suit. I collapsed to my knees and fell forward as the six mounted the seagull and took off without me.

I lay there bloody until the sun spun to the horizon. I had no intention of letting the night radiation transform me, so I decided to end it all.

I took out my blade and went to cut my suit’s life support tube but just then I saw a miniature blue fairy hovering inches above the ground. Don’t, she said. She motioned toward a hundred other blue fairies hovering nearby. We need you alive.

I stared at them, the little naked hovering pixies, looking so innocent and harmless. But I knew the minute I fell asleep they would divide up my consciousness and consume it like candy.

I cut the tube and the exiting suit air hissed and whistled. The blue fairy shook her little fairy braids. Minutes later five of her fairy friends had sewn the tubes back together. The loss of air made me drowsy and just as I was dropping off I heard one say, This one has enough layers of consciousness for all of us. No one get greedy. Take only what you need…

 

 

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Going Up

This is the longest escalator- I feel like I’ve been on it forever. I’m not even halfway up. And it’s moving so slowly. The backs of the people ahead of me- not very flattering. And behind me there is an ocean of people staring silently up at me- their faces frozen a kind of hollow derision. My left hand grips my briefcase, my right rests on the oily rubber handrail, which is moving annoyingly slower than the metal steps I’m standing on.

The down escalator is within view across a stainless steel median, and now and then I’ll inadvertently catch someone’s eye. What a collection of doomed souls. They look to me like they’re begging me to take them with me, up instead of down. I stare back blankly. What can I do for them? Sooner or later our roles will be reversed anyway and I’ll be going down and they’ll be going up. I’ll be the one with the pleading eyes. At least then I’ll have been to the surface, inhaled some fresh air that was not recirculated ad infinitum. At that point I may as well be going down.

I look over and find myself inadvertently locking eyes with this red-headed girl on the down escalator. We’re locked in this stare when both escalators jerk to a stop. There’s an awkward moment where we both look away and then back. Then all the lights go out.

I feel a moment of clarity while everyone’s shouting and crying in the darkness. I calmly set down my briefcase and climb over the handrail, unsteadily spanning the median in the black void until I make it to the other side. I move towards where I think the girl was just standing and hear a voice that sounds like it could match her face. Hey, pardon me, I’m the guy from the up escalator. I was just staring at you before the lights went out. I’m reaching out my hand. At this point someone below us starts screaming a truly horrific scream. Maybe that’s what causes the girl to unquestioningly reach out and find my hand. I pull her up and, as the volume of panic increases all around us, we carefully climb the steel median, our hands locked together. Occasionally the steep grade causes us to slip but we don’t let go. We don’t even talk, we just hold each other’s hands like school kids and keep going up.

 

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Popcorn

Ten crabs crawling sideways to the tune of “Marker’s Melody.” They each have little top hats on, little canes…

Do they have those little tap shoes?

Yes, they do. In fact they’re tapping away as they crawl. The curtains are starting to close. But then they open again and the little crab pops out and takes a bow.

Are the crabs at least a different color from the curtains? Otherwise it’s red on red.

Yes, the crabs are blue-green.

Oh. Is the audience applauding?

They are barking away and clapping their fins. The audience is all porpoises.

Porpoises don’t bark! They’re not seals!

These ones bark. They’re dripping wet all over the theater seats, curled in uncomfortable positions. They bark like mad at this little crab, who is quite the ham. Finally the curtains close for good and the lights come back on. The porpoises slither up the aisles and slip out the front door back into the ocean.

What happened to the crabs?

They’re back on their tour bus heading to another city.

Why don’t they just go back into the ocean too?

They don’t have time. Now the theater is empty except for a skinny cuscus janitor with a broom.

A cuscus?

It’s like a possum. They have them in Australia. He sweeps up the place and then his sister picks him up. She shares a takeaway falafel and then they drive home.

Where does he live?

Oxford. His father works in the science department. So the theater is empty now except for the ants.

Ants?

Yes, they eat the popcorn. But there’s one bad ant who’s a pyromaniac.

Oh, no!

Yeah, and he burns the whole theater down. Sorry.

 

Did the whole ant family die?

Yeah, pretty much. They either died or got severely burned.

Leave the poor ants alone!

They should have done something about the bad ant before it was too late!

What should they have done?

Sent him on his way. Which is what the survivors did after the fire.

Where did they send him?

Catalina Island. He went on a long journey where eventually he learned to care for others.

Is that how it ends?

Yup.

 

 

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Thanks, Ladies

The encampments were hidden under the brown fall leaves, dug deep into the ground and fortified with stones. Back in May there were as many as forty-two people stationed on The Hill, designated as a transit point to Bruiksmark. The bears came in and wiped them all out. Even the little bears came in and bit the soldiers in their cots, while they were sleeping off a drunk. And the wild turkeys nipped and pecked and screeched, creating such chaos that the grizzly bears went unnoticed until they were close enough to lunge, leaving men bleeding out of deep gashes in their necks.

We always went up to The Hill, Petey and I, to rummage through whatever was left behind. Today Petey found an old, very useful camping stove. I found some ancient girly magazines and a metal box with some bullets.

But the bears must have smelled us because they came back. I was rooting around under an army cot when I heard Petey shouting. There was one gunshot then some branches breaking. I went out there and they tore a hole right through my jacket into my chest. I turned around, hyperventilating, blood spraying through my fingers, and I tried to pull my jacket back together. The big one took a chunk out of my back as I retreated deeper into the cave, holding one of the cots up as a shield.

There are no doctors on this mountain and no cars with any gas in them so I’m stuck behind this cot barricade for now with just a flashlight and these girls with faded airbrush tans to keep me from losing consciousness. Thanks, ladies. I know I don’t look like much right now, seeping blood as I am, but I love your smiles and when this is all over I’d love to make your acquaintance.

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The Guy Next Door

Before I do anything I go to this guy and he tells me what to do. He wears a black suit and works out of the apartment next door. If I get a call about a job I just walk over there. How much should I charge? I’ll ask him.

My wife is propped up on some pillows and wants to know why I’m nervous about her going through my accounts. I take the trash down the hall to the incinerator and on the way back I stop in to get an answer from this guy.

He sits me down on a molded Eames chair and puffs away at a cigar. He paces the room as I quickly fill him in on the details. Put your hand on her arm like this and tell her, ‘I have no secrets from you.’
 
In a minute I’m back in there quoting word for word. And in twelve minutes my wife and I are making love.

If I’m buying a new car I go to this guy. Even for something as simple as, Do I floss my teeth? he’s got the answer. I’ve been partway through a meal, about to order seconds and I step out to get “a breath of fresh air.” He tells me, Yes, have seconds. Remember, you skipped lunch.

Many an hour I’ve spent sitting on that Eames chair, breathing the cigar fumes, and getting detailed stock advice or a list of clothing brands to wear. It actually saves me a lot of time, believe it or not.

Yesterday I was over there, clouds of smoke, sitting on the chair in his empty room as he walked circles around me. In his raspy, smoker’s voice he laid out a gameplan for the rest of the afternoon.

He has me doing weird stuff this week, I’ll admit. I make it a point of not judging his directives but to be quite honest why am I buying all these weapons? Why do I have to hide them from my wife? The good thing is that I don’t have to know why. It always works out in the end. Do you know what a shuriken is? He asked me. I didn’t. It’s a throwing star. Go to Little Tokyo and come back with twelve of these. Keep them in the brown paper bag. Tape the bag to the bottom of the shelf on the right under the sink.

Later that day I was back asking my usual questions about floss and brushing teeth. He told me to take a shower (I never take showers at night) and then dress in my winter coat.

So I’m standing outside this warehouse at midnight in my winter coat, pockets weighted down with instruments of war from feudal Japan, wondering when someone’s going to come around and tell me what to do. Because it’s getting cold out here and frankly, I’m getting a little nervous.

 

 

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Chute Girl

Denise slid all the way down the chute and landed on a metal slab. Mechanical humming. A faint whistle. The whole desert smelled like burning. Just then Jason popped his head out of his tank hatch. We’ve got company, he said.

Denise shifted and sat up. The metal was cold on her naked body. She could just barely see the shape of Jason’s tank as it crested the hill but his silhouette was recognizable: the big round head and telltale methy twitches. Hey, she’s over there! The turret swung around clumsily. Denise reached her hand out toward the tank as it bumbled down the hillside. Her fingers vibrated, causing distant molecules to shift and displace themselves. The metal of the tank went from a cold army green to a smoldering orange in seconds. The soldiers screamed but Jason managed to jump clear with only second degree burns. He opened fire at her with his sub-machine gun but the bullets just went plink plink plink, bouncing off her white flesh.

As the tank twisted and melted away into the sand she moved towards Jason. The hot tank metal caught some brush on fire and soon there was a small blaze going, back-lighting Denise’s crazy hair and her bare shoulders. Jason continued to fire at her until all his ammo was spent. He threw some knives and then rocks, sticks, his canteen. Then he leapt at her, encircling her neck with his big soldier fingers.

When she was through with him he was a pile of black dust. She just kept going, listening as the other tanks circled the crater and men on radios shouted orders back and forth. This will be interesting, she said, and the flames rose and spiraled around her. I’m glad I came back.

 

 

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Dreams

Lara glared at me from her side of the hot bench seat. Popped open the glove box to see a .357 in there. Carefully lifted it out and pointed it at me. Are you scared? Laughed. Without turning my head I reached over and aimed the gun away. That’s loaded.

She pointed it at the windshield and pulled the trigger. The glass exploded all over us and I careened to a stop on the shoulder of the interstate. There were little pieces of glass all over both of us and all over the seats. I could feel glass dust and chips on my tongue. Whoops, she said. I thought you were kidding. You’re always kidding.

I went to grab the gun out of her hand but couldn’t pry open her fingers. What would you do if I shot myself right now? she asked. I’ve dreamt my own death a thousand times.

How does it end? Like this?

No. Like this. She grinned and squeezed the trigger. Freezing cold emanated from where the bullet tore through my chest. Then another deafening blast and I saw her fall back.

I slumped over the wheel, focusing my willpower on getting my hand up to the ignition. When I finally touched the metal of the key it took everything I had to twist it. Now blood was tickling down my ankle into my shoe. I hit the gas and we spun out, traffic screeching every which way. I swung the wheel back and sent us down into a ravine.

Two weeks later I woke up in a bed soaked in blood. Instantly fell in love with my nurse: ebony skin, kind smile. She spooned water into my mouth until I fell back into a deep sleep. I floated for a long time in a purple, swirling abyss as one thought after another appeared and then sunk away. Scrambled eggs with fresh ground pepper. Lara, cool smile, hair in her eyes. Spiders. Toby, counting bullets. My military fatigues on a hanger.

I rolled over and lost consciousness on sheets that felt like cardboard. My nurse was gone and the cold wind launched me back into darkness.

 

 

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