• Dzama

Showdown in Briardale

The two of them lay on an inflatable raft floating and spinning slowly down the river. His skin was partially torn off, revealing robot mechanisms and wires beneath. Her skin was mostly intact. She lay with her head on his chest, listening to the pistons extending and contracting his mechanical heart. Birds chirped in the tree branches that had grown over the river. Now and then a fish jumped out of the water to catch a dragonfly in its mouth. The robots’ eyes were closed but the female’s hard-drives were running, purring as they sorted information.

Spinning around a bend in the river the raft floated past some soldiers in Revolutionary War patriot uniforms who were coming down a path through the woods. As the soldiers set up a picnic of pheasant on a large rock slab, one of them spotted the raft floating by. Hey, look at that! A young soldier said, pointing a pheasant drumstick at the outlandish raft. An old man plucking pheasant feathers took notice as the raft floated out of view.

Further down the river the raft encountered some rapids. It was thrown around and almost capsized but the robots didn’t open their eyes, they just held each other tighter.

The raft floated day and night, for miles through forested areas. Occasionally delinquent kids, out smoking in the trees, threw rocks at them. Dragonflies alighted on their foreheads. Now and then the raft snagged on roots extending from the riverbank but every time the current pulled them away.

After about a week they reached the outskirts of the small town of Briardale. The male robot’s eyes popped open, glowing red. This is it, baby, he said, squeezing the female’s shoulder. Her eyes popped open too, glowing magenta. They hand-paddled the raft over to the shore. Pulling themselves up onto a small dock they left the raft behind, heading towards a few small buildings with people working on boats nearby.

Even from a distance the mechanical precision of the robots’ gait looked unnatural and the dock-workers stared. Anyone who got too close was instantly lacerated by laser beams shot from the robots’ eyes. Word spread and by the time they reached the town square a rag-tag militia had assembled, crouching behind the old stone walls, mismatched muskets pointed at the intruders. The mayor of the town, with muttonchops and hair tied behind in a pigtail queue, stood on the stage of the central gazebo and addressed the intruders. Thou shalt step not a foo—and he was brutally diced with double laser beams. This set off a torrent of bullets from the militia that ripped the skin clean off the robots, revealing spidery silver skeletons. Smoking, the robot skeletons continued to advance across the town common.

Just then the patriot soldiers arrived from up the river. The trained soldiers jumped the robots and the sheer weight of their bodies pinned the robots down. But even with fifteen men per robot it was a struggle. Now and then one of the patriots would get thrown, landing some yards away. Keep them down, said a voice. The old man who had been plucking feathers at the picnic came wobbling across the grass. He pushed between the soldiers and opened a panel in the back of the male soldier’s head. He pulled some wires apart. There! he said and the robot froze in position. But just then the female robot erupted in fury, throwing off her attackers in every direction. She blasted a laser beam at the old man but he tumbled out of the way and lost only one of his legs. Blood gushing from where his leg had been, he lifted the male robot’s head and, operating controls inside the back panel, used the head to fire laser blasts at the girl robot, forcing her to dance back and forth. They traded laser blasts until finally the female robot unleashed a tremendous magenta fireball incinerating the old man and the patriot army soldiers and creating a huge crater in the town common. When she realized she had unintentionally melted to death her robot companion she let out a terrible siren-like scream and took off like a rocket into the sky, the likes of her never to be seen in Briardale again.

 

 

Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment

Getting the Can

Everything was just so. There were tables laid out with body parts and one table with brains. It was Josh’s job to put everything together and have a set of functioning humans for the show in an hour. He knew if he put the pieces together incorrectly the thing wouldn’t work and there’d be one less human walking out on stage. He started with the toes, attaching them to feet where they clicked into place like magnets. He wore a headlamp and thick, round glasses. When Marcie came in he almost had a full body going. We’re on in thirty-five minutes, she said, looking at her phone. I am aware of that fact, he said quietly, not looking up.

I’m seeing one body not even done yet, she said, picking up a brain from the table and turning it over in her hand. The first one always takes the longest, Josh said. He clicked the brain into the skull. See, look. He plopped the frontal bone and the parietal bone on top of the head and clicked them all together.

It has no eyes, she said.

I’m getting to the eyes! He picked out two matching eyes from the eye table and tapped them into place. The body suddenly came to life. Hello, nice to meet you! he said to Josh. Josh looked at Marcie and grinned.

Well, you’ve got nine more, Marcie said before leaving the room. Josh went and turned up the music. New York Hardcore always made him work faster. Can I help you? the newly assembled human asked.

No… Uh… Just stand over there, Josh said. The new human complied. He stood by the wall naked, watching Josh work. Before long Josh had a second one ready, a woman this time. Now go stand over by your friend, he said to her.

That’s not my friend, she replied.

Okay, I just mean that guy. Stand over by that guy.

I don’t like that guy, she said. Josh stared at her. What’s not to like? he said. He was just born –just like you! But she wouldn’t budge, standing a few feet from Josh, naked like the first one. Okay, okay, Josh said. Just let me focus. I’m running out of time.

How much time do you have?

Josh checked his phone. Sixteen minutes! If I don’t stay focused I’m going to screw this up so please—

You’ll never make it.

Josh glared at her, then pressed ahead. Soon a third stood in front of him and he clicked the ears on. Oh, hello there, the new girl said.

Okay please stand over there by him while I finish the rest of you, Josh said.

Why can’t I stand here, with her?

What’s wrong with that guy? said Josh. Just stand over there!

Why doesn’t she have to?

Listen, all of you, just stand in one place, you’re distracting the fuck out of me!

Can I turn this music down?

NO!!!

Geez, sorry. What’s with him?

He’s been like this the whole time, the first girl said. Then Marcie appeared at the door and looked in. That’s what I thought. Just give me what you have, she said.

Look, here’s another one, Josh said, fitting two arms onto another male.

That’s not the right head for that body.

Yes it is.

No it’s not. Just give me the others. Do they have names?

Not yet. You can do the honors.

Okay, Human One, Human Two and Human Three come with me. The naked people followed her out through the door toward the stage. When she was gone the new one turned to Josh. Is my head wrong? he asked Josh. Josh stopped working and stared at the body and head combination. No, she’s smoking crack. Quick, you might still make it! He pointed to the door. The new guy went out. Josh looked at the time on his phone. Fuck! FUCK!

He dropped down onto the couch. He stared blankly at a half-assembled human in front of him. Need help with that? Josh turned to see the fourth human in the doorway. They wouldn’t let me on stage, he said. Show already started.

The fourth walked over to the half-assembled body and began adding body parts to it: ribcage over the lungs, pectoral muscles over the ribcage. How do you know how to do that? Josh asked.

I just do.

Josh watched as the fourth assembled six more humans perfectly, in record time. The newly finished naked humans conferred over by the soda machine. The fourth walked back and stood over Josh. Since it’s too late for us to go out on stage we’re just going to go, the fourth said. Then all seven filed out the door, heading to the elevators.

Josh sat there. He reached up and turned off the music. It had started bumming him out. Then he lay back on the couch, putting his feet up. He lay there staring at the ceiling, wondering how long it would take for someone from head office to come down and give him the can. He glanced over at the table. There was a single eyeball staring at him. How could they forget that? he asked himself. And then he started laughing. He was still laughing when Marcie came in and told him to get his stuff and clear out. Even down on the subway, cardboard box in his lap, he continued to laugh. The sour expressions of the other subway passengers struck him as hilarious and he erupted in loud guffaws that made his eyes water. When he arrived at his stop he wasn’t laughing anymore but he still had a big smile on his face. With a spring to his step he pushed out through the turnstile and ran up the stairs into the light.

 

 

Posted in Short Story | 2 Responses

Trident

Three rust-colored leaves floated past Sala’s balcony and landed on the water below. The sun smoldered just above the horizon. Drawing on a pipe, the captain gazed over the railing from his white wicker chair. Sala was still in bed, her little form resting on top of the blankets, sweaty and feverish.

The dog’s head lifted from the rug and his ears went up. The captain took notice. He stood and leaned over the balcony. There they come, he said. One after another green, spindly fish-men lurched out of the water, gills pulling in the cold air. The girl watched them through the balcony balusters without moving her head. Are they coming for me, Captain? she asked.

The Captain smiled. He could hear the fish feet slapping the wood floor downstairs. No, you’re one of us now, he said. Soon three of the fish creatures crowded through the bedroom doorway and stood dripping on the rug. The dog growled and then barked, backing away. You can’t take her, the Captain said calmly. The glassy fish eyes stared. She’s one of us now. But just as he said that a harpoon pinned his right hand to the railing. He yelled. Another one shot straight though his chest. The fish-man lowered his harpoon gun. Then the other two fish-men went for the child with a weighted net. You’re too late, she said, rising up on the mattress before they could reach her. She held up her hand and spread apart her little fingers. No more webbing! She ran her hand down the side of her neck. No more gills!

The fish people stared. A fourth fish-man pushed through the doorway, raising a spear above his head. The girl stood tall and let out an ear-piercing screech. Before they could react she jumped off the bed and ran out down the stairs.

Soon she was outside on her bike, pedaling like mad up the muddy road.

When she arrived at the old cottage it was nightfall. Smoke floated up from the chimney. She banged her tiny fist on the red door. But out of nowhere fish-men rose up behind her, blocking the moonlight. She banged on the door more urgently then tried the knob and it opened. She slammed it behind her and slid the lock closed. I’m human now! she shouted through the door with the biggest voice she had. You’re not my family anymore!

She stood by the door, listening. It was quiet. Minutes passed. Is that you, Trip? asked an old woman seated by the pot-bellied stove at the other end of the room. Sala turned. Hi J.P., she said to the old woman. It’s me, Sala.

J.P. rose from her rocker and looked deeply into Sala’s eyes. You have clear eyes, she said. Not fishy.

Thanks to you.

Yes, I remember, J.P. said. She walked slowly to the window and looked out into the blackness before drawing the curtain. You will have to face them one day, you know. Your family, that is, she said. Sooner better than later, the old woman continued. She opened a large trunk. Take this. She handed Sala a glittering trident. Sala beamed and touched the three impossibly sharp tips with her finger.

Later J.P. made a bed for Sala on the couch. Sala smiled up at J.P. as the old woman covered her with a large quilt. She was still clutching her new trident and smiling as J.P. blew out the candles and went upstairs to bed.

 

 

Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment

Night of the Prospector

This guy was frozen solid. Me and Marty stood him up and leaned him against a tree and he stayed in that position: arms out, almost Christ-like. Frozen hair spiking every-which-way. Eyes glassy and staring. His expression a twisted scowl. I brushed some powdery snow off his forehead with my glove.

You hungry? asked Marty. Cuz I ain’t eaten all day.

What, and leave this guy here?

He ain’t goin’ anywhere.

Yeah, but what about them kids? It was decided: we lifted the frozen man and set him in the back of Marty’s pickup truck. We threw a furniture blanket over him so no one would really see anything.

Later at Spidelda’s Inn we sat finishing onion rings. There was a large chandelier made of antlers overhead and a fire burned in the fireplace. How long do you suppose he was lying there frozen? Marty asked.

I don’t know. But hardly anyone wears clothes like that anymore. Maybe he was an old miner back in the day.

Miners don’t dress like that. Maybe a prospector.

What do you think would happen if we un-froze him?

He ain’t comin back to life.

Why not?

You can’t freeze someone and have ‘em come back to life. That’s science fiction.

A red-headed waitress named Rosa came over. You gentlemen finished with yer onion rings?

 

Driving back out to Spurry we couldn’t help wondering what would happen if he really did come back to life. When we got to the trailer we leaned him against the wall right by the space heater. Then we went back out to the woods to finish tapping the maple trees and all but forgot about him. It was dark when we returned to the trailer that evening.

Did you turn off the outside light this mornin’? asked Marty.

No. Maybe it burned out. We walked up the steps and kicked snow off our boots. Marty pulled open the outside door and then the inside door. It was dark in the trailer and there was a silhouette of a figure on the couch in front of the TV. It’s the prospector, Marty said in an excited whisper. Hello, sir! Marty said but the figure rose up and lunged at us, holding a pick-ax high above his head. I was out of there in a flash, the door slamming itself shut behind me.

 

Back so soon? asked Rosa when I showed up out-of-breath at Spidelda’s. I could not get a word out. Here, I’ll get you a coffee so you can warm up and tell me what happened, she said and went back behind the counter. Just then something crashed through the plate-glass window behind me. I turned to see the old prospector, still blue from the cold, with his pick in one hand and Marty’s disembodied head in the other.

Rosa pressed a shotgun into my hands. You want to do the honors? she asked. It took multiple shots to bring him down. Afterwards I stood with Rosa over the body with its frozen blue skin. The bullet holes were clean and bloodless. You know, I wish he didn’t have to die this way, I said. Rosa hugged me to her breast. You did the right thing. What’s an old prospector gonna tell us that we don’t already know?

I returned the hug and the hug turned into a passionate kiss. That night we did some serious drinking in her cabin and I found myself staring into the wild flames dancing on her hearth. I confessed to being haunted by the image of the blue-skinned prospector holding my friend’s head. Forget about them, she told me. Forget, baby. She smiled and narrowed her eyes. Come join me by the fire.

 

 

 

Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment

Moon Mob

When Arthur revived, he was in a panic. He quickly dug himself out from under a pile of moon dirt with gloved hands. His heart pounded in his spacesuit. His breathing was ragged. The moonscape was empty except for two human forms in similar suits lying half-buried in the white dirt not far away. Arthur had no memory of how he got here, or of even training for a mission like this. He only remembered childhood scenes at a farmhouse with a long hay bale elevator rising up to a loft in the barn and the heady smell of cow manure. He remembered running barefoot in the mud, catching chickens. But he had no memory of any recent events. Like where did this oversized spacesuit come from? How did he get up here? Earth was a distant crescent just above the horizon.

When he got to his feet he bounced into the air and spun a little, causing instant nausea and vertigo. But after a few bounding steps he made it over to one of the other humans. He put his gloved hand on the shoulder and flipped the body over. A stunningly beautiful face slept behind the glass. He shook her by her shoulders and they both bounced in the zero gravity. Her eyes did not open. Releasing her he bounded over to the next body.

To his surprise, she had the same outlandishly beautiful face as the first, also apparently asleep. He carried her over and laid them side-by-side.

As he bounced around the moon he found more and more versions of the same beautiful woman, all of them unconscious. He brought them all to one general area and put them close together, all the faces identical.

After what seemed like hours of collecting he sat on the edge of a moon rock, resting his bulbous space head in his gloved hands. Behind him was a field of maybe fifty unconscious young women in space suits. As he sat gazing out at the sparkling diamond stars of the Milky Way and the blue-green slice of Earth, there was movement behind his back. Soon the crowd rose up and came closer. Then suddenly there were hands grabbing every square inch of his body. He tried to push his way out but some twenty gloved hands held him fast.

They carried him over several dunes and up a steep incline, finally reaching the edge of a live volcano that was puking molten lava into the sky. He was then tossed into the burning pit of liquid rock.

 

In an hour he was crawling back up out of the volcanic crater, his suit burnt black and his flesh inside charred and raw. The women’s footprints led to a spacecraft that was just now taking off in the distance. The vacuum of space deleted his frantic yelling. He waved his arms.

The moon rocket continued soundlessly upward, arcing out toward the Earth. He stood still and stared until it became a silver speck. Then he turned toward the cliff. He walked back uphill, losing a little oxygen with every breath.

 

 

Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment

This Has Got to Stop

Whatever happened to Marcy?

Well, she’s on top of a building right now. Investigating. There are a bunch of bones up there and no one knows anything about it.

TUESDAY: Marcy’s police dog pulled her through the red silks billowing from clotheslines on the roof. Whoa, Cody, she said. He led her to a pile of bloody skulls in the corner by the parapet wall.

Dr. White appeared: well-dressed, glasses. You should have seen them this morning, he said. There were like twenty vultures up here. Big, huge wingspans. He flapped his arms. Picked all the flesh off.

Marcy lifted one of the skulls and stared into the eye sockets for maybe five minutes.

Later she sat with Dr. White at a cafeteria table under buzzing fluorescent lights. Marcy: Who would you rather have eat your flesh- vultures or maggots?

 

Marcy remembered shopping in a crafts store. Dr. White had filled his blue basket with balsa wood and Styrofoam. Marcy walked around in a dream-state, leching after a young women shopper with high-waisted shorts.

But now here they were back up on the roof, stacking actual bones and heads into wooden crates. A janitor stepped out of the stairwell door and saw them. Hey, what are you guys doing? Why you got bones?

Twenty full skeletons, said White. There was a bloodbath and then the vultures picked them clean.

Bloodbath? asked the janitor.

Gunfight, the doctor said, holding up a skull with a bullet-hole straight through. Some guy was a really good shot.

The killers still at large? asked the janitor.

Yes.

Hey, said a muffled voice.

Who–? said the doctor. Above them a figure in black sat cross-legged on the roof over the door to the stairs. A black bandana covered the lower portion of his face. A tall black cowboy hat was lowered to just above his eyebrows.

Marcy stepped forward, police beretta drawn. Cody growled. Hold yer fire, the man in the cowboy hat said, his voice muffled by his bandana. I seen it happen. It was rainin’ hard. These fellas come up over the wall there and these other fellas came out of this here door. They all started shootin’. Not ten minutes later the vultures show up.

Marcy and the doctor looked at each other. The janitor bit his nails. I’d advise all of you to leave now, the black-clad cowboy continued. At five-twenty-six another crew comes over that wall. Then at five-thirty-six the vultures will be back.

 

Down in the cafeteria Marcy sat with Dr. White and the janitor. He was lyin’! the janitor said. And we believed him! He laughed. But just then: loud gunshots. Dr. White looked at his watch. It’s like clockwork, he exclaimed. Five-twenty-six!

 

WEDNESDAY: Marcy made out with Dr. White in his silver 458 Ferrari, rain pounding on the windshield, the thumping bassline of loud hip-hop drowning out their moans and gasps. When their clothes were half-off they heard a barrage of gunshots again. It was five-twenty-six. This ends now! the doctor hissed. He grabbed his AK and ran out of the car into the rain, shirtless. Marcy lay back on the reclined seat and closed her eyes. She imagined the girl with the high-waisted shorts coming to the window, drenched. Let me in? the dream girl asked.

Just then: BANGBANGBANG! Then silence. Ten minutes later, vulture sounds.

Marcy reclined until five-forty-six. Then she re-clasped her brassiere and buttoned her blouse. The rain did not let up as she drove back uptown, determined to put this episode behind her.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment

The Job

Purple horns stuck out of Maurice’s helmet from every angle. His face was carved and wooden and his arms were made out of grape gelatin. He crossed through the trees and sat down at his lopsided tree desk, arms jiggling. You want the job of what? he asked me.

I’ll do the watering thing. I’ll water the shrubs. I’ll be the watering guy. I drink a lot of water myself and I know how not to spill it, I said.

Maurice raised his droopy arms. A snake-like tongue shot out of the mouth-hole in his wooden mask face. You will do nothing of the sort, he said. What you’ll do is you’ll go down in the tunnel and rid the miners of fleas and other insects down there.

Tunnel?

Yes, tunnel. See that rise over there? He flopped his arm in the direction of a small hill. On the other side is a tunnel entrance. That’s where you go and sign in at the window. There’s a chain gang of miners down there.

I’m actually very unqualified in dealing with insects, I said. Here’s my resume. I unfolded and handed over a torn piece of paper towel with the words WATER BEARER written in marker above a list of water-related activities. Maurice held the soft paper in tremulous Jello fingers. You see, Mr… Gravelstroke… You see, that’s not how it works, he told me. How it works is you go down in the tunnel… Down there, where I showed you… And you sign in. They show you how to catch bugs. You then catch bugs for a number of years. DON’T FORGET to sign out at the end of every day. You’ll need to fill out all the forms at five PM every day. List the number of bugs of each type and also how many allowances you’re going to take regarding to your taxes, etc., etc., etc. That form-filling is very important. Otherwise, no monetary compensation, you hear me? Simple.

I stared at his flat wooden eyes. The snake tongue darted in and out. Sir, I said. I know how to fill out a form but I know zero about bugs. I can’t even remember the last time I caught a bug.

Listen, here’s the deal, he told me. Four types of bugs. Red, white, black, and spotted. The chain gang in the tunnel is infested and if those bugs start spreading to the sunlight world we are in big trouble. If you do your job right, you’ll be a national hero. Now get down to that office before it’s too late.

I got up from the slanted desk and moved towards the rise. After a few steps I looked back. Go on, he said. Everyone’s waiting. Just then I took off running, boots crushing the dry leaves, twigs snapping. But Maurice swung one of his rubbery arms and pulled me back with a gooey lasso.

Soon I was standing at the base of some mud steps looking through a barred window at a girl with black glasses and three buns in her hair. Have you done this before? she asked. No, I told you! You’re going to have to show me everything, I said.

Show you?

If no one shows me how to do it how am I going to know I’m doing it right? I asked. She stepped out of the booth and unlocked a large metal door with the ring of keys on her belt. She led me onto a very dirty down escalator that was barely moving. The escalator hummed and chugged along, deeper and deeper into the tunnel and I stared at the back of her little head with the ridiculous buns. What are you staring at? she asked. You know, if I wear my hair long the yellow spotted ones latch on. Plus, it’s regulations.

At the bottom of the escalator she led me to a dirty hamper full of plastic bags, stained with old blood. Take three of these, she said, handing them to me. You separate the bugs into each bag by color. At the end of the day you empty the bugs into the corresponding vat. She gestured to four giant vats with ladders bolted to them. I heard a whistle and watched as a miniature train came around a corner, with miners sitting on the cars. The miners were all chained together and had crazy beards. They wore construction helmets with small headlamps and were shirtless and very skinny and hairy. After a few more whistles and squeaks the train came to a stop a few yards away. The miners sat there and waited, occasionally scratching themselves.

I’m sorry, I said and with a violent yank I ripped the key ring right off her belt loop, knocking her off-balance and sending her sailing across the stone floor. Then I ran to the miners and unlocked them from their chains. They took off like mad up the down escalator. I hopped on the train and switched it to manual, hitting the accelerator lever, causing the train to lurch and then shoot down the tunnel. I braked at the next group of headlamps and unlocked the next chain gang, and they all took off running as well. After freeing the forth chain gang I saw something out of my peripheral vision. It was a hammer arcing through the air then making contact with my left ear. I went flying off the mini train and landed in a pile of sharp rocks. The girl with the three buns stood over me, holding her hammer high. You don’t know what you’ve done, she growled. And her hammer came down on my head.

When I came to, I was lying in a bed of leaves in the forest. It was almost night and I could hear the familiar cicada orchestra around me. I got to my feet and walked off toward the sunrise, feeling itchier and itchier with every step.

 

 

Posted in Short Story | 2 Responses

Mint

Geoffrey S. Bhene requested that, upon his death, he be buried with his entire comic book collection. I made sure that’s what we did. I personally built a forty by forty foot cube out of pine boards and Pete and I packed it floor to ceiling with Bhene’s comic collection. We left only enough space for a human corpse to rest in the middle. Now and then while loading the box, Pete and I would take breaks to page through the comics, reading sequences involving rare or inhuman individuals reaching their breaking point or achieving almost godlike power. The old newsprint had the distinctive smell of history. After hours of sweating and stacking comics Pete and I would sit on the stacks with our lunch boxes and discuss the impossible deeds undertaken by the bigger-than-life protagonists.

The day we finished stacking, we placed Mr. Bhene’s lifeless body on his bed of back issues and covered him, as he’d requested, with an entire series of Psycho Fables comics, published by a no-name publisher in the Sixties. These comics were the first that had given Geoff nightmares as a toddler and had remained close to his heart. Once we packed everything just right we nailed the top on and bulldozed the dirt over him and didn’t think about it for years.

But then one day I got a call from Pete, who was living in a rented trailer and broke. Actually I almost didn’t pick up the phone because every call from him these days was asking for money and I made such a pittance at the cemetery I had none to give him. Remember burying old Geoff? he asked me.

Yes…

Remember that Psycho Fables comic with the soldier who fights the Russian android? I certainly did. In fact, we’d discussed it over lunch the day we’d first stumbled upon it. The inks and colors were crude and the story made little or no sense but we’d both been very impressed by the impossible physique of the sexy Russian android and the sadistic paces she put the army colonel through. Well, bud, that was the first appearance of Sparterrax.

Sparterrax? I don’t even remember him in there.

Well, he was. And that comic book’s worth over a million dollars.

 

We were both back out in Hadleyville that night with shovels. It was a quiet night except for a few local dogs barking in the distance and we commenced digging, aided by the light of a full moon. After hours of hurling shovelfuls of dirt over our shoulders we hit the pine. That’s when Pete started up his chainsaw. We knew where the issue was and had to tear through stacks and stacks of less valuable comics to get there. The chainsaw cut through the newsprint like butter, creating smoke and clouds of paper dust. The closer we got to Geoff the worse it smelled. But we kept on cutting away, the old newsprint charring black from the heat of the chainsaw. We crawled deep into the tunnel we’d made and finally when the dust cleared we saw what we’d come for. Geoff’s skeletal fingers clutching the first Sparterrax comic. I reached forward and gingerly slid the comic out of Geoff’s fingers. PERFECT MINT CONDITION, I said, turning back to Pete. But behind Pete a cloud of smoke was rising from burning newsprint.

We both rushed with the mint origin issue back up the tunnel. Protecting the comic under my jacket I pushed through a wall of smoke and flames and barely made it out alive. Pete was not so lucky. I had no choice that night but to bulldoze the grave closed again and cover it with fresh sod. When the sun rose I had in my possession the invaluable first appearance of Sparterrax but my face had been disfigured by the fire and I’d lost an accomplice. I decided to lay low for a few months at the cemetery, watching from the shadows for intruders who may or may not have been coming for me. Months turned to years living alone in my little cemetery shack, the Psycho Fables Sparterrax edition hidden under the floorboards beneath my mattress.

When I finally emerged from hiding and sold the comic it was worth much more than I had dreamed. But instead of using the money to reconstruct my face I purchased and resurrected the Psycho Fables brand, and set up an operation with pencilers and inkers to create new issues every month. I created an even bigger fan base than the original series and would still be doing it if a detective hadn’t read the incriminating issue #96. In that issue I couldn’t resist telling the tale of that night, and finally admitting to myself via comic book panels that Pete wasn’t entirely dead when I bulldozed the dirt back over the grave. When the authorities excavated Geoffrey’s grave they found a scene almost identical to the one found on page 18. The mind will play tricks on you over the years but sooner or later the truth is bound to come out, if only through a “fictional” story like mine…

 

 

Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment

Awesome Times

Emerging from the subway tunnel after work always felt like being born –into a night world. When I hit the sidewalk there were scintillating lights with the aroma and music of dining and dance. One night I came out of the tunnel and found my friend Apaulsté. He stood at an outside table and was dressed to the nines in a shiny pink suit and hat. After he finished his champagne he threw the glass at the sidewalk with aplomb. Broken glass shimmered everywhere. I asked this diety Apaulsté, If you were me what would you do?

If I were you? Here’s what I’d do! Apaulsté exclaimed as he launched into a high volume song and dance, the former acrobat pirouetting effortlessly and swinging around every lamppost. Without missing a beat, he took fireworks from inside his jacket and shot them out of the empty bottles on his table. By now a crowd had gathered around, humming and oooohing to accompany his soaring melodies. A juggling mime appeared out of nowhere on a unicycle and joined in. I stood there, awkwardly shifting my weight. As he careened by I backed up, crunching glass under my shoes. His volume increased as did the speed of his spirals. I backed up further, this time bumping into an enthusiastic transgender woman. Isn’t he just amazing? Why aren’t you singing? Come on, boy! Sing along- it’s for YOU! she told me. I tried to, but my voice was weak and I honestly couldn’t catch most of the lyrics. What came out was a tremulous jumble of mis-heard notes and tuneless non-words. At this point I was backing down the steps to the subway just as throngs from every walk of life rushed in to follow his every spin, belting out his lyrics like they’d known them their entire lives.

The routine culminated in a grand finale where Apaulsté did a double back flip and landed singing: AND THAT’S WHAT I’D DO IF I WERE YOOOOOOOOOOUUU!! He had landed in a kneeling position, pointing a white-gloved hand right at me. All the dancing and singing stopped and the entire mob froze, awaiting my response.

I found myself forcing a smile that I knew looked fake. Th-thank you Apaulsté! I coughed. That’s just what I will… do…do… My voice faltered and I could see the stares of a million disappointed eyes. I withdrew further down into the subway station, tripping over my own feet and almost falling, waving as I lurched on toward the bright fluorescent lights, leaving the crowd as frozen silhouettes above.

Finally I sat in a subway car shuddering back downtown. The indifference of the other passengers was wonderful. I love you guys, I thought to myself, looking around at the depressed and sickly vacant stares. You guys are my favorite.

 

 

Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment

Close Call

Sam wore a plum skull cap and a wool sweater but no jacket, standing out in the snow by the fir trees. The moon was up with a “fox tail” around it, predicting worse weather. She knelt and washed the blood off her hands with snow. Then she cleaned the kitchen knife with snow, drying it on her thigh.

When the station wagon rolled to a stop on the gentle slope below her she was all cleaned up. Without turning off the lights Marble got out. You ready? he asked. From the shadows she stepped into the headlight spotlight. Her knife glinted. Here I am, she said with a strange, weak voice and kind of smiled.

Well, get in the car then, Marble said. Go on, get in. She floated over to where he was standing and then moved swiftly with the blade.

Soon she was driving sixty down the icy dirt road back towards town. She inspected her nails as she drove and saw a little blood still, even after a second washing with snow. No one will see that, she said, even though she was alone in the car.

On the highway she worked to overpower an invisible force that wanted her hands to spin the wheel violently. The force would pull at her and pull at her, drawing the car toward the curb but she’d always correct it before she got to the white line.

But after hours of fighting this battle she finally lost strength and her hands jerked the wheel, causing the station wagon to spin and flip, leaving other cars to swerve and crash around it.

She came to in a ravine, barely able to extricate herself from the collapsed steel and shards of blue glass. Dazed and bloody, she walked back across the highway, now a mess of twisted and crushed vehicles, across another ravine and on to a service station and rest stop. She went into the restroom and carefully took some headphones out of her pocket. She was staring deeply into her own eyes in the mirror and listening to music on her smart phone when Marjorie found her. Police are here, Marjorie said. Just wanted to warn you, sugar. Sam ignored her, bobbing her head to some heavy metal on her phone. Marjorie gently took the knife out of Sam’s hand. You don’t want them to see that, said Marjorie. They might think you did it. Marjorie slid one of the floor tiles and dropped the knife into a little hole beneath. Then Sam hit the pause button on her phone and stared at Marjorie. Why are you helping me, Marjorie? she asked, reading the name off the woman’s nametag. But Marjorie disappeared out the door and Sam was alone again in the ladies’ room, wondering if she’d imagined her.

When the adrenaline began to ebb, Sam’s consciousness was flooded with the myriad consequences of her actions. She started to sweat and her skin got clammy. If I get out of this, I will begin a totally vegan diet, she told herself. I will quit drinking coffee and I will meditate every day. If I get out of this I will wake up every morning with a huge smile. I’ll call my mother. And I’ll get a tattoo on the back of my hand that reads, CLOSE CALL, to remind me of this day.

 

 

Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment