• Dzama

Out in the Woods

Branches scraped against the outside of the car and some dry leaves blew by. Jam and Mal sat in the back, each close to their own window, staring out and waiting for Mom and Dad to come back. There was what looked like a white wolf sniffing around the car but Mal said it was probably just a dog. All the doors were locked. When did Mom and Dad say they were coming back? Jam asked. For the tenth time, TWENTY MINUTES. Mal picked twenty minutes because she thought it sounded like a long time. But they really hadn’t said. Mom had said something like, Stay right here and don’t leave the car. And then their parents had left, locking the car with the keys that they took with them.

Did the wolf go away? I don’t see him.

Jam! I keep telling you, it’s a dog not a wolf! There are no wolves here!

But did he go away?

If you don’t see him, he probably went away. The sun seemed brighter as it sunk closer to the ridge and the leafless tree branches became black, spindly lace against the sky.

I’m gonna open the door and see if he’s still out there.

You better not, Jam. They said do not open the doors.

No, they did not. They just said to stay in the car. Jam unlocked his door and pulled the inside door handle.

JAM!

I’m just going to shut it right away if I see him! Jam said. Mal slid over and pulled the door back shut. Mal, you’re an asshole.

They want us inside here for a reason!

I wasn’t going outside.

You better not be. They sat quietly for a while, looking out. The car was some two hundred yards from the road, in the middle of the trees.

I think I see him over there, Jam said. Where? Jam pointed at something white out among the bare trees. It seemed to be coming toward the car. They both sat side-by-side and stared. It didn’t move like a dog or a wolf. It seemed to drag lightly on the brown leaves, floating just above. The sun was lower in the sky now, touching the ridge, burning orange.

When did you say Mom and Dad were coming back? How many minutes? Jam sat completely still. Mal re-locked Jam’s door. They heard something that sounded like an animal alternately whimpering and growling very close to the car.

Mal leaned up into the front seat and opened the glove compartment. She found a corkscrew and opened it so its sharp tip pointed out. She gave it to Jam. He took it in his little hand and aimed it at the thing out his window. He watched as it hovered and slowly dragged towards them. Mal went back through the glove compartment and dug through a manual, tissues, and some pens. Then she went through the door pockets. She felt under the seats. Hey, she said. Jam looked at her without moving his head. Look what I found. She held up a small black pistol from under the driver’s seat. She smiled at Jam and he gave a weird half-smile back.

The animal noises were getting louder. It sounded like it was under the car. The sun was gone now and everything was dark grey. The tree bark blended into the leaves covering the ground. The white thing now just hung suspended in the air about twenty feet from the car. It seemed to have a white head shape and wispy fabric flowing underneath. Mal held the pistol with both hands now. She aimed it through the glass. Roll down your window, she whispered. Jam looked at her with wide eyes. Roll it down just for a second. She cocked the gun. With one hand still tight on the corkscrew, Jam rolled his window down a crack. As soon as it was about a quarter down Mal fired and it sounded like a bomb had gone off. Now the white thing was right up against the car, undulating folds all around them, streaked with blood, and there was a dull banging on the roof. Roll it up! Mal shouted. He rolled the window up but the glass had a spidery crack going through it now. The thumping got louder on the roof.

Then it felt like the car was moving. It bumped around and they heard the wheels breaking twigs and branches as they rolled. Mal tore the tissue from the glove compartment and they both stuffed pieces in their ears. Then she and Jam huddled together. She fired the gun up at the roof where the pounding was coming from. BANG BANG BANG!

The white fabric blew away from the windows and it was now just black night outside. A dark liquid dripped down from the bullet holes in the roof. The car radio began to play a commercial jingle. But something didn’t sound right about the commercial. The singing gave way to a hacking cough and then barking and snarling and static. We’ll go out and find where Mom and Dad went, said Mal. They stared at each other, neither one moving. Then she took Jam’s hand. He held his corkscrew in the other.

Mal unlocked her door and they stepped out onto the dry leaves together. Don’t worry Jam, Mal said, holding up the gun. I know there’s more bullets left. The dry leaves crackled as they walked. They headed in the direction of the road.

 

 

 

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Mortals

It’s about these brothers- one is a priest, one is a rabbi, one is a Muslim. They all end up working for their other brother who’s a scientist. Together they come up with a way to live forever. In order for it to work they need to have sex with a different woman every day. The rabbi goes home to his wife and says, From now on I’m going to need to study late at the Temple every night. The Muslim says to his wife, I’ll have to pray late at the Mosque every night, and the Christian priest says, I’ll need to stay at the church to prepare my sermons late every night. None of the wives believe them and after a few months they are all divorced.

But the scientist brother says to his wife, I’ll have to sleep with a different woman every night in order to live forever. His wife, who happened to be a Buddhist, kills him.

 

So what’s the punch line?

There is no punch line but the funny thing is the Buddhist wife ends up marrying each of the other brothers, one by one, and then later shooting them all to death, one by one.

 

That’s not really funny. That’s actually sick.

Not to me. That woman was my mother.

Your mother? (coughs) …So which one was your father? Rest in peace.

None of them. My father was a surfer. He didn’t have any strong religious or scientific conviction one way or the other. He was just mellow.

 

How about you? What do you believe?

I take after my mother.

Your mother? But wait—what is that? A GUN? STOP!!!

BANG BANG BANG!!

AEEIIIIIIEEEEEIIIII!!!!

 

 

 

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New Chrystal

There were so many of them running across the field. So many. We hid in the drainage tunnel under the road. They had dogs. That was us, in the darkness, looking from one tunnel exit to the other and back for hours, hearing voices and barks echo down the curved metal walls. I don’t know how long we were down there for. A day? Two days? It smelled like death in there. I even drank some of the water. You ate rats. Remember that? That must have been day two. I watched you turn from from buttoned-down hostess into this hideous creature smeared with rat blood. Coming out of there our clothes stank so bad. We lived out in the desert for a few more days after that. We made a little oven out of some corrugated metal and slept in it at night when it was cool enough.

I started wishing I’d eaten those rats too. I’d hallucinate these rabbits hopping giant hops across the scrubby desert. Almost like they were flying, silhouetted against the sun. We should catch some of them rabbits, I told you. You gave me this face. What the fuck are you talking about?

The RABBITS! We should catch some and eat them! Instead of rats!

Where are you fucking seeing rabbits? That’s when I stared at you and realized the heat and starvation was getting the better of me. Because the rabbits were everywhere, crawling and hopping all over the place. So when the Captain showed up I didn’t believe in him either. If he hadn’t shown up there is no doubt in my mind that we’d both have eventually charred to death in that oven.

Instead we were back on the highway, stowed in a container his truck was pulling. We both got a set of woman’s clothes -mine were way too tight. Yours looked good that way. The captain took us all the way to Massachusetts, tossing us bags of fast food now and then and we gradually got our strength back. He dropped us off by a strip club in Revere and we both got jobs there. I got the better job- mopping up the place at the end of the night.

We crashed in a closet in the back of the place until we had enough money for an apartment. When we got a little more money and had guns again we hit the road.

 

After all these years I can’t believe you never got busted. I’ve been in and out so many times it’s just about normal now. But you never got busted once. When I went straight you still had about another five years in you. Seeing you now in that parking lot with your kids and your Mercedes SUV I wonder what it would take to bring back the old Chrystal, the one I knew when we were teenagers. The one who scared the fuck out of me on more than one occasion. Where did that girl go?

Now I lie on my hammock and drink coffee and read the news on my phone. If I woke up in the middle of the night screaming I’d tell my kids I’d just had a bad dream. I told my son Robbie, Don’t ever play with guns. Of course, kids never listen. Now I got no kids to speak of.

But tell me about this new leaf you turned over. I’d just love to hear a happy ending to all this, I really would.

 

 

 

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The Clearing

I stood completely still in the moonlight behind silver foliage, staring at the clearing. There was a rustling and a scraping and hisses and whispers and the nymphs dragged another human body to the crack in the ground and then gently nudged him into the abyss. Just like the first time, they laughed and teased each other before disappearing again into the forest. This time though, one of them stopped to inspect a leaf full of nectar that I had left there. When the others were gone she sat on a log and sniffed the nectar, sampling some with her greenish tongue. She appeared to look directly at me before taking the leaf and spinning off into the shadows.

I went to where the crevice had been and the ground was solid under my feet. Packed dirt. I took a long dagger from my boot and dug in the earth but found only more dirt. What are you digging for? The tall silhouette of my mother loomed above me. Get back on the wagon, she said. I clawed at the dirt with my fingers but there was nothing. Then I stood and brushed past my mother, pulling myself up into the covered wagon where my siblings were all fast asleep. I heard my mother’s hoarse whisper through the canvas, We leave in the morning –so get some sleep!

But in ten minutes I was out there again, staring at the clearing from my usual vantage point. The wind got cold and I heard howling. Then I saw them slowly emerge again from the trees all around. This time their flowing nymph silks were replaced by blood-stained, tattered rags and their eyes were black and sunken. Two moved quickly towards me, mouths gaping open with nine-inch fangs dripping blood. When I felt thin fingers with rough skin encircle my throat I couldn’t move. Before long I’d fallen and the grass and dirt and twigs scraped across my face as I was pulled into the clearing like all the others. I could see the crevice again, a widening blackness, and just as I slid into the void I looked back toward the wagon, seeing my brother swaying there in his nightshirt. In a second he was gone and I disappeared into the earth forever.

 

 

 

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Dead for Days

You and I used to float for hours, submerged in the barrel of the syringe in the blood and morphine, not needing any air. Then Marvin put his rig into a tight little bundle and back into his grandfather’s medicine bag and swore he’d never touch it again.

I’m back in the room. Someone has a chainsaw going, out on the roof. It must be Walter making his furniture smaller. The dog is lying on the dirty floor, staring at the door.

I started out as the guitarist but now I’m the singer playing bass. Charlie can really play bass we should get him but he’s sick now and I actually think he’s gonna die. He’s not responding. We put Mark on drums. He watches British football and plays Chinese checkers with himself. Or sits running sand through his fingers for hours –when he’s not drumming.

It’s my dog so I have to feed it all the time. That’s why when we don’t get paid I get pissed and fuck shit up. You would too. When are you coming here? I thought you said you and that guy broke up. What was his name –Hiawatha, right? So come on down. I’m actually wondering when/if people ever pay for their sins?

Let’s go outside. Come on. Come on Marvin. Marvin and me walk down to the gas station. We walk down the tracks all the way. Once we saw some serious shit on those tracks. But I’m purposely averting my gaze and honing in on the gas station. I don’t want to see anything today.

Inside the gas station the aisles are at weird angles. I told Marvin but he doesn’t believe me. The shelving looks like it’s about to tip over. Careful! CAFEFUL!!! Marvin is honing in on his purchases and ignores me. A little old man walking his cat on a leash comes in. I can’t even look at him. Come on WHEN are you coming out here? These scrubs are making me crazy! Remember when we built that tree-house in the park? And like lived up there for a week? There aren’t really any parks around here but we could still build something. Come on out and we’ll get some old wood and some nails. Maybe an old door with the paint peeling off and old windows with cracked glass. Build a fucking little shack out by the train tracks! We’d watch the kids go by in the dining car through our busted up old window. We’d watch the ticket-taker watch us as he goes by so fast.

We could have a little box with our food in it. Sleep on a couple of old boards. Play the radio. Write some songs.

I can tell you something else. My old man died. They found him in his kitchen, dead for days. I wrote a song about it. We just played it for Marty. I was jamming and remembering how we’d go down to steal shit from rich people. My Dad used to get so mad. He made me take it all back on Good Friday.

Now I’m waiting outside the gas station. I can’t believe Marvin is still in there. What the fuck, Marvin? You’re keeping me waiting but I gotta get back and get the dog this food. He’s been hungry for days and finally I stole enough for a big full dog meal. I wish that shit could make me happy. I don’t even like food. I don’t like anything really, except music. Music and you, if you’d ever come back, you fucker. Now you’re really pissing me off.

Me and Marvin are back from the gas station trip. I’m sitting here writing a song on Petey’s guitar. It goes something like this: Dad’s dead for days; you ain’t here Purple Haze… That’s all I have so far.

 

 

 

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Rosendale

We used to be hardcore. Hardcore in Rosendale. That meant running a series of underground tunnels with the Native American warlocks, keeping giant Smilodon tigers at bay. The whole town used to manufacture cement so there are these mining tunnels in the hills. Some of them you know about. The other ones the warlocks keep actual Cerberuses and sabertooth tigers in, waiting for their moment to pounce. They feed them farm animals to bide their time. I was on the payroll on Wallstreet but I’d drive up the Thruway every weekend to see the girls and the tigers underground. The lower you went the hotter it got and you’d have these three-headed dogs biting your leg and a half-naked dominatrix biting your ear. There was a Shaman who led me down there. Molten lava and sacred Indian rituals. They put some paint on my face and I’d sit there in the glimmering torchlight waiting for the visitation. I paid big money and then all I see is this little puny pink guy with what looks like a tinfoil wand. I remember thinking, He’s not even green. This “alien” told me a few things though.

After that I sold my car and homes and moved out to the desert. I forgot about Rosendale and lived in an Airstream, eating powdered soup every day. I’d been there about six months when Sabra showed up. I was outside under the canopy with my shirt off, smoking a corncob pipe. Red from the sun. I squinted at her as she towered over me. “Take this, brother,” she said, handing me back my old 9mm. I thanked her.

Once I had the gun I politely carjacked my way back to civilization. I found myself back on the train trestle in Rosendale with four dollars and enough pills to keep my conscience at bay for another 40 minutes. During that time I made it to the tunnel entry but was denied entrance. I did not draw my weapon. Instead I headed up the turnpike back to Manhattan and got a slice. Before long I was wearing a suit again, two sizes too small, standing in an elevator listening to the little bells with each floor passing. I reached my old office and the Shaman was there.

Later we were at the deli and still later we got to the airport. I’m glad to be back, I told him as we buckled into 2E and 2F. I couldn’t take another Airstream minute. You’ll like this place, he said as the plane left the ground. It’ll remind you of Rosendale.

 

 

 

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The Crane

You won’t remember this but you used to love watching the travelers come through the rye field in their dark suits, dragging the big rubber sacks. You’d crouch just inside your little princess tent cradling your stuffed animal dog. I’d lie on my stomach beside your tent with the binoculars pressed against my face, elbows in the dirt, waiting for the white crane to show up.

There came a day when you were finally ready to go up and meet the crane yourself. You’d outgrown your princess tent and the stuffed animals. Now you lay on your stomach beside me with your own binoculars. I think I see him, you told me. You’re right, I said. That’s the crane. Are you ready to meet him?

Yes. I looked at your bright face, your mouth very serious. Take this, I said and handed you my scythe. You rose up from the ground and pulled your hood over your head. You pushed through the rye, your black cloak flowing. It almost looked like you were floating. You brushed past all the travelers who still dragged their lumpy bags across the dirt.

The crane stood very still on its stick legs, feathers ruffled by the wind. He turned as you moved closer, your cloak flowing. Through my binoculars I could see your hand reaching out to him with your long fingernails. It looked like you were asking him something. Then he opened his sharp beak and spread his wings wide. He shrieked, sounding almost human, and in seconds the travelers surrounded you. But you swept the scythe like I taught you, parallel to the ground, and took them out two at a time, cutting through their dark suits. I watched as they piled up.

The crane took to the purple sky, still screaming. This time I knew he wouldn’t be coming back. Before long his wail was replaced by the noise of a police fanboat coming up through the swamp.

I was proud of you but sad too.

This is what I told your mother: She’s become an expert reaper. When she comes back she’ll do much better than we ever did. And your mother agreed.

 

 

 

 

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A Brief Gathering

Baht’s face pressed into the dry red and orange leaves, crushing them where he lay. He had collapsed half in, half out of the stone foundation of an ancient building. The air was full of black smoke and screams of monkeys and macaws. An arrow stuck straight up out of his forearm, pinning him to the forest dirt. The blood was dried and black and there were flies. An hour ago he’d been standing at the foot of the hill giving a speech “to his countrymen.” He’d waved his arms and shouted a lot, a rain of spittle exploding out every time he enunciated a great word. However, he’d been wrong to gather all the forest animals and try to educate them about the municipal legislative chambers, over which he presided. Even in his drunken state he should have chosen a better pulpit. What does a chipmunk care about percentiles and electoral divisions? A chipmunk is only interested in having his cheeks full of acorns. But they were gathered here just the same, to see the political suicide of a man who’d left his own species behind.

The badgers were the first to leave. The deer and the groundhogs followed. The venomous snakes were not far behind. The moles didn’t have far to go to get out of earshot. Still, he went on loudly extolling the virtues of his own political preferences and denigrating his enemies, now with an audience of some fire ants and a robin with a crooked foot. When he lifted his arm in a toast to his own political achievement, an arrow shot straight through his back, leaving a clean hole between ribs but missing, by sheer luck, any vital organs. He’d been born with a small lung on one side, thankfully, and the arrow merely singed it.

Stumbling then onto the old stones of the foundation he collapsed, only to have arrow #2 stick his arm to the earth. He lay in a bed of autumn leaves and opened one eye to behold his attacker: a spindly figure with dark eyes and a tall hat. The figure spoke even as he drew back his bow once more. That’s enough. THAT’S ENOUGH. He fired off the final arrow that brought first a stillness back to the forest and then the shock of complete silence.

But before long the chipmunks were chattering and flirting again and a pair of wandering sheep began to graze just over the rise. The dark figure straightened up and walked back across the moss and through the bramble patch before reaching his skiff and paddling quickly away into the violet twilight.

 

 

 

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All Robot Friendly

Salamander see something he do something. Salamander kill many people. Chased one man across field –right there! But Salamander only kill bad people. You no worry.

How many people have you killed, Salamander?

Seven. Ten. Seventeen. Some days I not remember. But for everyone I kill I make robot life form. To replace.

What does the robot do? How could a robot replace a living person?

They do. People don’t know difference. They replace them. They wear their clothes, hang with friends. Nobody know. Only me robot maker can see difference.

Have I ever seen one of your robots in the real world?

Many times. But they don’t go in water. If you want to see if man is robot ask him go in pool… Man you always see in lobby? He robot.

That blonde-haired guy?

Yes. You ever hear him talk?

No. He seems friendly though.

All robot friendly. I make them that way. But that one he no talk. I no get voice replicator working. Keep short circuit. So I just leave like that. Make so he smile and walk away. He replaced this bad man who steal people money. I kill him, put robot there. Robot no steal money. Robot smile people.

But what about that guy’s family?

His family don’t know. Think he no want talk anymore. But wife left him. She say he too creepy.

You shouldn’t kill people, Salamander.

I know…

Just stop killing people. Just don’t do it anymore.

 

Salamander, look at me. Why do you have to kill people?

Sometimes Sun tell me to do. Sometimes Moon. Sometimes Wind.

You don’t have to listen to those things. You can make your own choices.

Who you, my conscience? Why don’t you shut up? SHUT UP!

I’m just making a suggestion. I—AKKK!!!! EUCHHH—ERKKHH!

That’s what you get make suggestion. I no like suggestion. You make Salamander mad. He no like guy talk talk talk. Ask question, ask question. You die like rest. I make robot you. Much better. No talk so much. I ran out voice replicator anyway. I make robot just smile, make people happy. No talk talk talk. Talk bad. Robot good. Salamander make world better one robot at time. You thank me later.

 

 

 

 

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The Brutes

The one thing Nightmare didn’t anticipate was how loud the horses would be. She was at the lead, riding her blue unicorn and there must have been fifty horses behind her. The hooves hitting shale was deafening. Usually her pointed fairy ears were able to block things out, especially when it involved humans. This time it was hard- maybe because of their sheer number. In addition to the hooves and the horse grunts she was forced to hear the humans’ banal conversations about beer and roadhouse strippers. Even the sound of someone in the back of the troop scratching their neck or rolling a cigarette was annoying. She’d hear the fingernails grating against the sunburnt skin or the tobacco sprinkling on the paper and then the tongue sealing it closed. Humans were always smoking and chewing tobacco and drinking beer and all of these sounds were repulsive to her. She focused instead on the music of unicorn’s breathing- it was like distant sleigh bells and with every exhalation tiny twinkling stars blew out of the unicorn’s nostrils. She honed in on the sleigh bell melody and watched the sparkles and felt much better.

As the moon rose they reached the Great River. The wind picked up, carrying a smattering of snowflakes. This is where the ambush happened. They came from all sides, dropping down from the trees and springing up from the earth, tearing the humans’ necks open or ripping their hearts straight through their boney chests. These were bad fairies. Their mouths were overfilled with sharp black fangs and they had three horns sticking straight out of their foreheads. Nightmare grabbed a human baby from the arms of its fallen mother and took off into the sky just as one of the bad fairies ripped her unicorn’s flank. It shrieked and bled purple stars as they rose above the water. Another bad fairy landed on her back and bit one of her ears. She stabbed it with a twin-bladed magical dagger and it fell screaming down into the river.

Resting with the unicorn on a snowy cloud above, she rocked the crying human baby in her arms. She could only watch the rest being torn to pieces below. Those are your people, she told the baby. They are ugly, ornery, brutes that smell rancid but they don’t deserve to die like that. The baby became still and stared down at the carnage, moonlight shining in its brown eyes. Someday you will avenge them.

 

 

 

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