Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Guest Writer: Nicole E. Hirschi

The Battle for Time

Tick… Tick…
Tock…
The music’s stopped.
Eerie silence
Haunts-
Frozen in time,
Where circles abound
My heart beat,
In my ears
Pound.
Their voices
Once prolific,
But up until now
Only silence
Was to whom
I’ve been bound.

Tick…Tick…
Tock…
Writer’s block.
Great wonders hidden
In small packages
Unlock the door
With missing key.
Unleashed,
The Muse purrs
“Pandora’s Box
Open it, its yours.”
The missing world,
Once-silenced Voices,
Rush back
And time is
Mine again.

© Nicole E. Hirschi 2010

Nicole E. Hirschi writes when Muse and Time agree with her. Also known as Coraline J. Thompson, her short flashes can be found splashed acoss the net and in a few books as well. Read more of her work at http://WordVamp.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Guest Writer: Michael D. Brown

Timepiece

There are verdant woods and a river
In the mountains where I dream,
Though perhaps it’s not a river
But just a sun-drenched stream.

There are faces on the rocks and trees.
Oh, I know it’s a trick of light
And shadows and my perception
That they have thoughts and sight,
But I like to think they’ve watched the women
Wash clothes and children play –
Standing to ponder eternity
As generations pass away.

Through gaps in the leaves on the ridge,
I see boys and girls aglow,
Practicing their dance-steps,
Unaware of this ¨life¨ below.
When these children are men and women
And have children of their own,
The ancient rocks and trees will stand
And know what they have known.

There are verdant woods and rivered rocks
In the mountains to the east
And perhaps they will be standing there
When all the dancing’s ceased.

© Michael D. Brown 2010

Michael Brown is from New York and resides now in southern Mexico where he teaches ESL to teenagers. He is also the maintenance man on MuDJoB and loves to read and write.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Guest Writer: Harris Tobias

Time Traveler

The future hasn’t happened yet
And the past has come and gone
There isn’t much a man can do
To mess around with time
You can’t go back and alter
A single word you said
You can’t undo the things you did
You can’t speak to the dead
You can wish that things were different
You can wish upon a star
But time is locked and shuttered
That’s just the way things are

So how do you explain this thing
I built inside my room
From bits of old computers
And a cell phone from my mom
I hooked the thing together then
I plugged the damn thing in
I thought that nothing happened
So I switched it on again

It flashed and popped and chattered
Then smoked and made a spark
I thought I’d popped a breaker
Cause everything went dark
I started down to check the fuse
To see what I had caused
But halfway down the staircase
I turned around and paused

Nothing looked the same
As it did an hour ago
It looked more like a house
A century old or so
What lamps there were were kerosene
Or maybe they were whale
The whole room looked like it came
From grandma’s garage sale

I went back upstairs and looked inside
Another room instead
Two people I had never seen
Were in my parent’s bed
I didn’t dare to wake them
there was nothing they could do
I was starting to get worried and
As my apprehension grew
I went back into my room
And quietly closed my door
I saw the lifeless pieces
Of my machine upon the floor
Without electric power,
I knew my goose was cooked
I’d never find an outlet
No matter how I looked
I guessed that I was stranded
A century in the past
I wanted to get out of there
And I had to get out fast
Before the household woke up
And forced me to explain
Exactly what I was doing there
They’d think I was insane
Even then they knew
Time travel was a dream
And who ever thought a kid
Could build a working time machine
The only thing that came to me
It popped into my mind
Was to gather up the pieces
And leave the house behind

I was leaving through the kitchen
When I noticed on the door
A calendar that gave the date
As 1894
I shut the door behind me
As quiet as a mouse
And walked through foggy streets
Until I could not see the house
I walked until I noticed that
The streets I walked down
Were not the streets of Philly
But of foggy London Town
Talk about a pickle
What was I to do
Lost a hundred years ago
In a place I never knew
I wracked my brains
I walked the streets
I didn’t have a clue
Then I had a bright idea
That rang some mental bells
There was one man in London then
His name was HG Wells
I’d read a lot about him
He wrote The Time Machine
He knew about time travel
He might have a scheme
To get me back to Philly
Back to mom and dad
I was getting desperate
Perhaps a little mad
I wandered aimless through the streets
How long I could not tell
I stopped and asked a bobby
If he knew of Mr. Wells
He didn’t but he helped me
Find the address in a book
He gave me directions, then
Walked off without a look
I don’t know if you understand
My predicament was strange
I dare not tamper with the past
Or the future might be changed
Just by talking to that Bobby
The fabric might be torn
And the future could be altered
So that I were never born

I walked through crooked streets
Gaslights relieved the dark
Several times I blundered
But I arrived at Regent’s Park
I found Hanover Terrace
And I knocked upon his door
It was late and he was angry
At least that is what I saw
I hurriedly explained my plight
He seemed to understand
He asked me in and offered tea
And made his one demand
“I want to see what brought you here
This device of yours
It’s hard to credit how it works
All the science it ignores.”
I showed him all the pieces
And how I thought it worked
When I mentioned electricity
I noticed that he jerked
To attention. Electricity it seems
Was something he was toying with
To power his machines.
It was something new he said
And was gratified to learn
That the future held such promise
Then he said that in return
For helping me get back home
I’d have to tell him tales
About my life in the future
And leave out no details
We talked all night, I told him
Of a world that was to come
He filled his notebook up with notes
And when we were done
He took me downstairs to his lab
And what a shock to see
So many strange devices
To produce electricity
I saw a Tesla coil
And some other things he had
I couldn’t name but I’d seen
In my High School physics lab
He hooked things up and turned things on
It stood my hair on end
He shook my hand and waved goodbye
I felt I’d made a friend
There was a mighty crackle
Then a flash and I was glad
To be back inside my Philly house
With dear old mom and dad
I couldn’t ever make it work again
No matter how I tried
The original would never work again
All the pieces had been fried.

It wasn’t till years later
When I was reading Wells
I marveled at how accurate
A future he foretells
I knew the reason he could see
A future so sublime
He had the notes he made that night
When I traveled back in time.
The future hasn’t happened yet
And the past is done and gone
There isn’t much a man can do
To mess around with time
You can’t go back and alter
A single word you said
You can’t undo the things you did
You can’t speak to the dead
You can wish that things were different
You can wish upon a star
But time is locked and shuttered
That’s just the way things are

© Harris Tobias 2010

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Guest Writer: Paul de Denus

Going to Find Out on Christmas Morning

Late Christmas morning, Nick slid from his crumpled bed. His head was afire, his cider-filled brain shouting and pounding like an aching old tooth. He sat with his feet barely touching the floor and scratched his belly. He wondered if he was going to puke, and then decided against it. “Always too much,” he thought. It was always this way. Downstairs in the kitchen, he could hear his wife frantically preparing hot pots of coffee, working up “the perfect breakfast feast” just to please him and the guests. He stood and tottered to the window. A carved coo-coo clock ticked loudly next to him on the wall, its monotonous tocking hammering a spike through his swollen brain. His eyes, thin as dimes stayed locked on the horizon as he raised one large craggy hand and with a full powerful grasp, crushed the clock to dust. “That… will be… enough… of that,” he growled.

A white fog had settled over the barren snow-covered fields, leaving them flat like white canvas awaiting lines to be drawn. Below, the trees in the yard hung heavy with snow and ice, their branches bent, about to break. “They will break,” he said softly. “Everything breaks. Eventually.’ Last night during all the festivities, he had seen many things broken: hearts, dreams, homes, bodies, promises. Yes, promises. Every year it was the same. It wore him down and there would be a steep price to pay.

As he rubbed his head, he caught his reflection in the pane. It painted him a ghost, almost transparent, his white hair exploding up, his long johns pewter gray and as thin as his thoughts. His weathered face was heavily lined with what his wife called ‘smile’ lines. “Not for long,” he scowled and turned away quickly, grabbing for his boots. “Take care of the dear ones first,” he muttered, his body aching, his back cracking as he straightened up.

On a bench in the kitchen near the cellar door, a group of elfin figures much like young boys huddled and waited nervously. Through a window, they watched Nick stomp past on his way to the shed carrying two buckets, one of fresh hot gruel, the other warm flavored milk, the way the reindeer liked it. The ground under his boots crunched loud and firm like crisp cornflakes. The missus was busy cutting up loaves of bread for her guests. She hummed a familiar Christmas jingle, “he knows when you are sleeping… he knows when you’re awake… he knows when you’ve been bad or good… lada-deeda-lada-dee!” One of the elves leaned and whispered. “I watched old Nick last night…he had that list again… longer than last year’s. He took his time going over it. He checked it twice.” His small voice shook and cracked. “He’ll show no mercy. He never does.”
Then the kitchen door flew open and Old Nick was upon them, flying past, bellowing:
“OHH I KNOW WHO’S BEEN NAUGHTY!… OH YES I DO!!!”
His face was a red blaze and he swung a heavy switch in his trembling hand as he roared like a fire down into the cellar.

Along the frozen basement floor, thousands of burlap sacks tied with heavy rope writhed and squirmed like boiling serpents. From within, soft moans and child-like pleading hung suspended, frozen in the frigid air. Old Nick glowered over them, his dark switch racking stiff against his knee. “So many promises broken. Now a price to pay.” He moved slowly among them tapping his switch along the bags. “Everything breaks eventually,” he said lovingly. “Everything.”


© Paul de Denus 2010

Paul de Denus is a graphic artist by day, writer by night. He has been published at Six Sentences (the Love Book, Word of Mouth & 6Svol3), Smith Magazine, Fictionaut and Espresso Stories.
Going to Find Out on Christmas Morning and other writings, and self published books appear at his blogspot: metheothertwin.blogspot.com

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guest Writer: Bill Lapham

Stonehenge

Truth be told, the stones of Stonehenge have always been here in this configuration. They were waiting here when man arrived. The stones are mass, gray mass, and they cannot be dated, nor can they be moved. They have achieved a balance in the universe that man can only dream of achieving. They are immortal as forever; always have been.
Theories abound as to their origin and placement, about how they were brought here. They seem to beg for an explanation, how they were carved out of some English mountain with some mythical power and rolled here on a carpet of logs and hoisted into place with sand pits and rudimentary cranes made of posts and hemp lines, manipulated by brawn, muscle and sinew.
None of that is true, but the truth is what we seek. Our theory is that the stones have always been here. Always. Since before the Earth was formed, by the power of whatever god you choose to believe in, they were here. All that is the earth formed under them.
I am Professor Joe Jackson (yes, some of my friends call me “Shoeless,” but usually only after a pint and a shot) and I am accompanied by my (beautiful) graduate assistant Michelle Champion. When we got here yesterday, we found green grass in the surrounding fields; each blade offering its chlorophyll face to the sun for its blessing. We saw a blue sky; some would call it azure, but I would say blue. There were wispy clouds thousands of feet overhead, but no chance of rain.
And there were the stones, elephantine in their mass, they are mass itself. Moss grows on the north sides and looking at them from that angle makes them look ancient, ponderous, heavy, like any one of them could crush a man if it toppled over on him. They won’t, though. The ground is bedrock around here, solid. These stones have been here forever. They were here even before the earth was here.
We are at Stonehenge, in the south of England. Winter is approaching and we’ve been planning for an observation on the day the season changes – at Stonehenge, in Stonehenge, with Stonehenge. We think a universal constant—a fundamental number—is hidden in the arrangement of these stones and will be revealed to us on December 21, 2012.
We are standing at the center of the circle waiting for the moment the sun rises on the shortest day of the year – the Winter Solstice. We’ll mark the spot on the stone where the sun appears and measure the distance from that spot to the center of the circle and divide that distance by the height of the stone and multiply the dividend by the volume of air displaced by that stone, record that figure in our notebooks and then search for other relationships. We think there are many—perhaps all things, all physical formulae—rely on this constant for stability in this chaotic milieu we call the universe. We think this ratio may be the number upon which all other relationships can be described.
Unlike many of the other people present for this occasion, we do not believe this is the day the world will come to an abrupt end. It is, however, the day when our equator points directly at the sun and we find ourselves in alignment with the equator of the Milky Way galaxy – our galaxy. That makes it a special day; a good day to take measurements, test hypotheses, and observe natural phenomena for the sake of observation alone, because we will see things no other human being has ever seen before, or ever will again.
We are here with many other people. We are not alone. They touch the stones in the same place and with the same tenderness and consideration, with the same sense of awe, as every other human being who has ever touched them. How many people is that? How many humans have touched the stones of Stonehenge and wondered at their origin? How many languages have they spoken? How many different gods have they summoned to explain these massive forms and their arrangement? How many of those gods remain?
Maybe none.
There are many other people here today, each with their own story, their own reasons, their own theories. There are scientists with fantastical mathematical formulae and mystics with fantastical mathematical formulae and faith and there are priests from many different churches and religions, each with their own idea about the key to the entry into life everlasting. But they all believe, or want to believe, that the object of their personal search for a clue to the hereafter is to be found here, in the present tense, and the present place, Stonehenge.
The sky lightens in the East and it’s almost time to take our measurements. We prepare for our test just as the others prepare for theirs. Everybody’s got a theory to test and you’d think the place would be abuzz with conversations regarding various hypotheses, but there is no talking at all. The place is quiet, as if the beauty of the place has penetrated our shells and become part of us. We are in it, a part of it. We are integral.
We are ready at the precise moment the sun tips over the horizon. There it is. Michelle fires a laser at the spot where the sun appears above the stone. She takes the measurement and records it in her notebook. It is the measurement that we think will lead to the key of understanding: the fundamental number, the universal number, the number that will unlock all the mysteries mankind has conjured over the millennia. We have it.
We pack up our equipment and take a seat on camp chairs while other scientists and charlatans continue following their logical and illogical whims. We watch them with some amusement, I must admit. Why is it that we each think we are right about our assumptions and everyone else is wrong. Perhaps it is human nature to play zero-sum games: for one of us to be right, every other one of us has to be wrong. Think of it: how much time and effort will be spent on seemingly fruitless efforts?
“Professor?”
“Hmm?”
“Do you think there is any value in wasting time and energy on fruitless efforts?”
“Certainly,” I reply. “How could anyone make a conclusion before they conduct the experiment? Perhaps we only know the right answers by eliminating all the wrong ones. Somebody has to discover all the dead ends. We just don’t recognize those efforts with awards like the Nobel Prize. Maybe we should.”
“Do you think we might have wasted all this time and energy we’ve put into this experiment?”
“Absolutely not, dear. If nothing else, we will have discovered that there is no relationship between these stones and the rest of the universe. It might very well be that these stones were cut out of a mountainside and placed here with haphazard abandon. They have no significance to offer at all.”
“If that is true, will you be disappointed then?”
“If that is true, I will be happy we discovered a piece of the truth.”
Actually, I tremble at the thought. We will have expended a lot of time and energy, not to mention university resources, on a wayward scheme for little return. But not yet. We’re not done.
Then I hear a low rumble, like a heavily loaded freight train straining against the leash of inertia.
“Do you feel that?” Michelle asked. “The ground, it’s moving.”

© William Lapham 2010

Bill Lapham is a retired U.S. Navy submarine veteran (Chief of the Boat) and a recent graduate of the MLS program at The University of Michigan, Rackham Grad School, for which he thanks the GI Bill. He’s been published at Six Sentences and the U.S. Army NCO Journal.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Guest Writer: Harris Tobias

The Bay It Buzz

I knew they were lying.
"Don burry Bill, ebry thing bill be all bright," in that crazy accent of theirs with their "B's" and "W's" crossed.
The house was a horrible mess. The furniture was dirty and old. What pictures there were were crooked and not of anything anyone in their right mind would hang on a wall--a photo of a toilet seat, a painting of a crumpled sheet of paper. The yard was littered with trash; the lawn was some sickly tufts of wiry grass; the gate was hanging by a single hinge.
"Ebry thing bill be just the bay it buzz," he had said.
But it buzzn’t…er, wasn’t..
It wasn't just that the house was a mess, it's what lay beyond the gate that really stunned me. Desert. There were a few forlorn little houses like mine and then nothing but scrub and dust and tumbleweed as far as the eye could see.
"You call this the way it was?" I said to Bork. The alien stood a full seven feet tall and grinned down at me with its idiotic grin and its shiny suit. It looked human but you could tell he wasn't really.
"Bell, it buzz harder den be thought. Wut, all in all, not too wad."
I could only groan for what was once a lovely Midwestern town in the corn-belt. Put through Bork's analyzer it was supposed to be digitized and reassembled exactly the way it was. But it didn't take a genius to see that the reality that went in wasn't what came out. In went my gorgeous sofa with the art deco arms and the fabric I searched all over Chicago for; and out came this dumpy Sears hide-a-bed I wouldn't even sit on. In went my little dog, Muffy, and out came this cat-like fur beast.
"Stop" I yelled. "You're getting it all wrong."
"Don burry," Bork said and squirted me with something that knocked me out for a week. When I came to, things were pretty strange and Bork and his pals were gone. He paid me though, just as he promised. I have a stack of hundred dollar bills in the basement. Every one has a picture of George Bush on it.

A Fish Story

It was a dream come true for Geraldine Fisher. All her girlhood fantasies, her dreams of a fairy tale romance had happened. She met Hans. She’ll never know what made her answer that classified ad but the fate that led her to it was a strong force and made the impossible happen.
On their first meeting, when Hans rolled his wheelchair to her door she would be he first to say that her heart sank. But he was so beautiful and charming and funny and quirky that his disability was soon forgotten. After ten minutes she was thinking “keeper” and after a half an hour they were confessing their love for one another.
Hans had a curious accent and always kept a blanket on his lap to cover what Geraldine assumed were his withered legs. He was very reticent about his past and avoided direct questions about his family and where he grew up. But he was so kind and good natured about it that Geraldine suspected nothing.
They saw each other very often that first year. Hans was always a gentleman. He took her to the most fabulous places and bought her more and more lavish gifts. Slowly his mysterious past was revealed
He was, he explained, not really of her world.
“You’re an alien?” she asked.
“I’m not from another planet, silly,” Hans replied. “I’m from Earth but I’m what your people would call a merman. You know, the male equivalent of a mermaid.” Hans explained to Geraldine’s incredulous gaze.
To prove what he was saying was true, Hans lifted his blanket and let Geraldine see for herself his magnificent fishy body beneath the robe. Geraldine gasped and almost fainted. When she regained control of herself, Hans went on to reveal his secret past.
“I am a prince in my world and I am not crippled. It is only here in the air that I cannot walk. As you can see, I have no legs but beneath the sea I assure you I am both agile and graceful.”
“But how can I be with you my love? I cannot live underwater,” said Geraldine, her eyes already welling with tears.
“I have given it much thought since first we met,” said Hans, “And I have a solution. If you will consent, there is an operation that will supply you with gills and with a bit of practice, you can feel quite at home beneath the waves.”
Geraldine had never heard of such an operation but so great was her love for Hans that she trusted him entirely. He told her he would be paying for the whole thing and that it was really quite safe. That night they talked for hours. Hans told her of his home and the wonders that awaited her. Geraldine was entranced. It sounded more grand, more wonderful than she ever hoped. A man like Hans would have been enough but a castle under the sea was beyond her imagining. She agreed to have the operation.
Everything went well and Geraldine was pleased to see that the gills did not detract from her appearance. Two small slits behind her ears were hardly visible. The best thing was how well they worked. It took practice and patience but Geraldine mastered her innate fear of breathing underwater and got comfortable with her new organs. Hans was thrilled that he could soon take her home to meet his parents. He’d already proposed and given Geraldine an enormous diamond. Geraldine was a little sad that she wouldn’t have any of her friends or family at the wedding but Hans assured her that he would make a second one just for her. He seemed fabulously wealthy. He promised they would spend half a year in his world and half in hers. He was so agreeable and kind, Geraldine could not refuse.
Now Geraldine was a modern girl. The idea of sex, even pre-marital sex was not foreign to her; but Hans would have none of it. “Call me old fashioned,” he said “but I would much prefer to save all that for our wedding night.” Even that became a part of the charm and mystery of Geraldine’s new life.
The day came when Geraldine had to say goodbye to this world. She quit her job and kissed her girlfriends and family goodbye. Then she set out on a boat with Hans. The boat took them far out to sea. When it reached a certain spot, Hans and Geraldine clasped hands and jumped together into the deep warm sea.
Down they swam into an underwater world that was more beautiful and marvelous than anything any mortal had ever seen. Hans introduced her to his parents. There was much jubilation, music, dancing and elaborate dinners. Everyone loved Geraldine and she loved them back. Geraldine was given an enormous suite of rooms and several mermaid servants to wait on her. She was thinking how wonderful it all was.
The days flew by and before long it was time for the wedding. The castle was lavishly decorated. It seemed like the entire population of the city was in attendance. Geraldine’s heart was in a giddy whirl. The wedding ceremony was something out of a storybook. She and Hans danced the night away.
Tipsy and deeply in love, the two newlyweds found their way to Hans’ bed chamber. This was the moment when their love would be consummated. Geraldine had dreamed of this night since she first confessed her love to Hans over a year before. She disrobed and slid naked beneath the covers. Hans swam over and took off his wedding finery revealing his muscular body for her examination. He truly was a beautiful specimen. As they moved together beneath the sheets, Geraldine arrived at an awkward realization. Hans had no erection. He was not impotent, he simply did not have normal male equipment. Just as this troubling truth struck her, Hans let out a groan of pleasure and the chamber filled with a milky fluid. Hans had spawned.
“How was that for you,” Hans asked, considerate gentleman that he was.

© Harris Tobias 2010

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guest Writer: Brad Rose

Clown Art

I’d been driving around LA all day, the better part of Friday, aimless as a misfired starting pistol. Who wouldn’t? After the near-beating I took at Doogie’s, that Irish bar that’s so crowded on weeknights, nobody goes there anymore, not even Casey Stengel. I don’t like to drink and I can’t stand darts, but my buddy, Toby, enticed me into a “friendly” game there, last night. So I took him up on it. Hey, as it turns out, I have a talent for throwing sharply pointed metal objects, which, by the way, makes me really good at my job at Ringling Brothers. (I get paid a lot of money by ‘RingBros’, although I hate to wear that damn costume with the fuzzy orange hair and two-foot long clown shoes. The former is itchy and hurts my head, and the latter, hurt my feet—so, basically, I hurt at both ends whenever I’m dressed for work. But that’s another story)

Anyway, I threw those darts--one, two, three--and I’ll be damned if all of them didn’t land right in the middle of the bulls-eye. Toby said, “You are a cheater---nobody gets three bulls-eyes in one round. Nobody!” To which I replied, “Toby, I’m not just some nameless ‘nobody,’ I am ‘Blopo the Clown’, lest you forget.”

Toby is a dear friend, but I hate him, and his memory is not so good, so I sometimes have to remind him that I am not just your average, run-of-the-mill clown. I am “Blopo.” With or without the fright wig.

“Where did you learn to throw darts, like that?” Toby accused.

“I didn’t ‘learn’ to throw darts, it just comes naturally. It’s a talent”

“You expect me to believe that bunch of cowplop?”

“Well, yeah, it’s the truth”

“Everybody has to practice their art, even clowns—even fancy schmancy ‘famous’ clowns-- if they want to get good.”

“Oh, Toby, what do you know about art?”

“I’ve been to the MOMA once or twice. I saw a bunch of the modern masters there.”

“That doesn’t mean you know anything about art.”

“Well, I know what I like. And I don’t like that you just threw three bulls-eyes in a row, on your first try.”

It wasn’t a pretty picture. There we were, an off-duty clown and his inebriated friend, debating the necessity of artists perfecting their art through practice. Practice vs. raw, untrained talent. Chicken or egg, argument if you ask me. But don’t ask me, because you know what I’ll say. It’s talent, natural born talent. Pure and simple.

Anyway, Toby got so mad he picked up an unopened bottle of Guinness and started to charge at me like some kind of drunken matador, which is precisely when I realized that art and friendship are diametrically opposed to darts. I ducked and pivoted---just in time, I might add--and fled in an elegant canter toward Doogie’s exit. Toby was a little bit tipsy, so he was unable to keep up with my highly practiced clown pace. I ducked out the door, faster than 10 clowns can pile out of a little compact car, and before Toby could even dream of catching-up with me, I was out of there, like a shot out of a cannon. Which is why I started driving, aimlessly, all over LA. For the better part of Friday. I don’t know where I’m headed now in this white Bronco, but I sure as hell know I ain’t going back to that bar again. That place is a complete circus.

© Brad Rose 2010

Brad Rose was raised in southern California, and lives in Boston. His work has appeared in Third Wednesday, Off the Coast, Boston Literary Magazine, Tattoo Highway, Imagination and Place, Right Hand Pointing, SleetMagagazine.com, Six Sentences, Espresso Stories, Fiction at Work, Monkeybicycle, Staccato Fiction, Six Little Things, and other publications. Links to his poetry and fiction can be found at: http://bradrosepoetry.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Writer: Leviathan

The God Tree

As a kid, my brother Danny had a little too much faith in legends, and he always ended up devising his own meaning out of them. He was the kind of kid who would believe that dubious little shepherd boy every time he heard him crying wolf. And who would never for all of his life’s worth suspect that trickster in sheepskin clothing of lying. Probably because when it came to big bad wolves chasing scared little tykes down in the deep forest, Danny had his own share of cries, and tears to shed. Because, in his story, the wolf was real and because, unlike the shepherd boy, Danny would always fail to get back in town in the nick of time, no matter how hard he tried to run away from the snarling beast on all fours, chasing Danny down with his bloodshot eyes never leaving him.

In the end, Danny always ended up dying, no matter how hard he tried. But he always came back, if only to die better. In short, Danny should have died for good so many times in the whole of his life. But he continued to show up around us, wounded and healed, like a worn out dream that we could never shrug off from our lives for good.

A lot about my brother Danny was make-believe, or so I thought back then. And one of the earliest legends in his life, the one that I think he believed in the most and which had the greatest effect on him, was that old Oak Tree in the town’s old Central Park.

Danny even had a name for that ancient tree; he called it the God Tree. Though it wasn’t because Danny thought the God Tree represented God in a way or something, but because he believed it to be a good tree.

For me it was all too puzzling back then, because why call that tree a God when there ain’t no God in it. I wondered, and especially with that tree probably being at the fag end of its life, dying out a little more with each day that went by.

In those days, we were just a couple of small town kids who would every now and then, on the way home from school, hunker down on the bench and look at the God Tree for as long as we could afford to without getting into trouble with our parents back home. And it didn’t take much kid-sense on my part to figure out that mother wouldn’t like Danny’s favorite God Tree one bit; because as a human being my mother has missed out on a lot of qualities, including that of imagination; which is why I believe Danny had never been able to forgive her for the rest of his life, though I don’t really blame him for that.

Because Danny was a magnet to weirdness, a force inside of him driving him towards all forms of craziness that he could reach out to in this world. It was as if he could look beyond the exterior of every person he ever came across, searching for a little bit of craziness inside of him or her that he could relate to, and feed on. It was almost as if Danny needed it for his own self to stay alive, and gladly there was enough of that craziness around the place he grew up in, in order to make a living.

And when he found none of that in his mother, he spent most of his childhood and the grown up days running away from her, aggrieved and disappointed.

In those days we spent most of our afternoons at the old Central Park, on our usual bench, which looked awfully rusty and made a creaking sound from the hinges gone loose, and with little Danny tucked up, staring up at his favorite God Tree that he saw standing a few yards from the bench, while I would take my place next to him, waiting for us to get home.

I remember the first time when I asked him. “Why do you call it the God Tree”?

“Why?” Danny wondered. “I dunno, maybe because it’s so old looking, and quiet. Or could be because most people fail to notice it, they walk all around it, and never even realize how close they are to it, to something special, not even for once, which is amazing to see. But I am not sure, though I do like watching this tree a lot, probably because it is a good one.”

“What’s so good about this one?” I asked.

“Because it feels good to be watching it,” Danny said and took a pause, now looking back at me. Then, looking somber. “And because Grandpa loved it too, when he was a kid. He believed it wasn’t from this world, he knew it to be special. But then he grew up, and the love thing stopped, which was sad. Because he had a lot of faith in that tree, and in the place it came from. He used to believe in those things so strongly that he probably was responsible for making them happen.”

“What do you mean”? I asked. “Grandpa made them happen? You mean he made those places and the trees up, that they weren’t real?”

“Something like that,” Danny replied. “But it’s not like they aren’t real. It’s like he made them to be what they are. He made them real enough with what he believed in. But sometimes I think he had a little too much of it, the believing stuff that is. And it wore him out eventually.”

“Why?” I asked. “What happened?”

“I guess it was because Grandpa finally decided to grow up.” Danny spoke, his eyes distant as if in deep thought. “I’m not sure, because it’s all so complicated. But it could be because when you grow up, you tend to lose faith in trees and all”.

I remembered the sad old figure of Grandpa, stuck in a wheel chair day in and out. Not moving, but watching all with his eyes open, not missing a thing. Only refusing to talk, or move. Just like what mom had told us, that Grandpa was gonna stay the way he was, and we’d better not say a nasty word while around him, because he was listening. And because mom said that’s all you can do when you grow old, you stop moving and start listening. Picking up on things you have missed out when young.

“Even in good ones like the God Tree?” I asked.

“Yes,” Danny replied. “Even the ones which are good. Or maybe especially in the ones that are good. I … I think so. But I am not too sure.”

“Do all grown ups end up like Grandpa?” I asked. “Surely not all of them lose faith like Grandpa did.”

“I believe they do,” Danny said. “But I guess it happens all too slowly, so much so that they don’t get to realize it at first.”

But I didn’t believe him, like I never believed most of what Danny said or did back then or later, even when we were much older. The world around me was full of evidence that everything Danny said was not true. Because I remember that mother always went to church, even when she grew old, old enough to just drop flat on her face and die out. Because you don’t need an excuse to die once you are old enough.

But even when old, mother didn’t lose her faith. With or without imagination, she never missed a Sunday congregation, not that I could remember. Something must have driven her to do what she did. And it could only be faith.

Danny continued. “They don’t really see it happening, for a while anyway. Losing faith is a bit like what you’ve seen in the movies. A guy getting shot in noisy background music, and for a while he wouldn’t have it figured, till someone points it out to him, and that’s how he ends up dying. He wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been told he was shot.”

“Why do you think that happens?” I asked.

“Why?” Danny gave me that you-are-so-dumb look of his. The kind of look I hated, because it made me feel small. “It’s because the background’s too noisy.”

“But that’s all in the movies,” I protested. “It’s all made up.”

“Now don’t start talking like grown ups, Jimmy,” Danny scolded me. “Movies are real! How many times have I told you that?”

“No, they are not.” I didn’t want to believe him. “Movies get shot by a camera, with a bunch of people pretending to be somebody else.”

A curve of a smile appeared on Danny’s face. It was a smile of satisfaction. “Yes, they do. Because that’s what grownups do, when they stop believing in the God Tree. They go around pretending to be somebody else.”

I looked away and didn’t say a word for the rest of the afternoon. Not because I had nothing else to say, but because it was almost as if we spoke in different languages, and no matter how long we would argue, me and Danny, we would never make any sense to each other.

Couple of months after that afternoon, Grandpa passed away. And when he did, Danny locked himself up in his room and cried for three days.

When I went to him upstairs, followed by my mother, and asked if he was all right, that’s when we found out the real reason behind his prolonged grief.

“The God Tree,” Danny sobbed. “It’s gone too.”

“What do you mean, gone?” I asked.

“It’s gone. Somebody took it,” Danny said. “Somebody took it as soon as Grandpa passed away. Or maybe Grandpa took it with him. I’m not sure. Maybe he thought he would need it where he went.”

Mother looked puzzled. “What God Tree, Danny?”

“The God Tree,” Danny shrilled. “That old one in the park, mommy.”

Mother looked puzzled and looked my way. I shrugged and said. “He’s referring to that old Oak Tree in the central park. He thinks it’s gone, since Grandpa has died.”

A look of understanding dawned on mother’s face. I felt relieved. She looked back at Danny, now allowing herself a smile. The smile that said, oh I should have known, Danny.

And her voice, firm as always, remained neutral as she spoke. “Danny, you listen to me now, and listen well. Don’t make me repeat it, son. There ain’t no Oak Tree in that central park, Danny. You listenin’? That park’s been there since the day I first went to school, and there ain’t ever been an Oak Tree in that place.”

I saw my brother shrinking, becoming smaller with each word thrown at him. Getting small enough to fit into that invisible shell he would carve out for himself whenever forced to face the convincing lies and the deceitful attempts that the rest of the world brought against him, hoping to deprive Danny of his faith, hoping to lead him astray like the rest of the lost souls Danny saw around him and pitied.

Danny didn’t say a word to mother that day, and he never once mentioned to her about the God Tree. But in secret he remained true to his faith, staying firm to his sense of otherworldliness against the raw hardcore reality of the world, against the raging wolf chasing him down in the woods.

© Leviathan 2010

Leviathan, a recent NaNoWriMo winner, writes out of love for all things that await us in the dark. He writes to serve the demons that haunt us all. His favorite quote is (here paraphrased from Nietsche), “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
You can read some of his short stories and serialized fiction on his blog at http://moresulphurthanclay.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Guest Writer: Laz Farrell

A July Morning

As always my iPod was on as soon as I stepped onto the tube, Brit pop from Oasis mixed with classic 70’s rock from Zep and the Who. I have always felt uncomfortable about the way people are packed onto the trains and buses during rush hour, so music for me elevates any feelings of apprehension. I was travelling on the Central Line at approximately 8:50am from Leyton in the east end of London to Liverpool Street in the city district.
When we arrived at Bethnal Green station the driver made an announcement that we would not be going on to Liverpool Street. The train stopped but didn't open its doors and the driver in a very English way calmly and politely stated that the station ahead had been closed due an emergency situation, Bank station was also closed due to a 'power failure'. My feelings were that something was going on, but the calmness and professional manner of the driver had the right effect and no one appeared nervous just pissed at the possibility of being late for work. I kept myself amused in the meantime by eying up a young brunette and cranking up the volume as Nirvana played in my head. Twenty minutes passed before the doors finally opened as we were told the train would be terminating here and we would have to find alternative transport to get us to our destinations which was greeted with much cussing and dismay. I could walk to work within an hour and there was bound to be several of my co workers having the same difficulties and therefore confirming my excuse for being late again.
I emerged from the underground into the bright July sunshine my earlier feelings of apprehension and that something was wrong now gone despite the unusual sight of hundreds of passengers exiting the tube as I had been caught up in power and line failures enough times as a London commuter to see it as no more of an inconvenience. I switched on my cell only to see the phone network was down so I started off at brisk pace in the direction of the office totally oblivious to the large number of concerned faces and frantic phone calls being made around me as the stones blared out "Sympathy for the Devil."
As I approached my office building the first I noise heard was not the blast, but the constant stream of police and ambulance sirens shortly followed by people crying and screaming in the street from what they had seen. I ran into the buildings reception where staff were crowded around the plasma TV on the wall. The news stream reporting that a third bomb had just exploded on the London underground and another had been detonated on a bus in the west end with many casualties, Police now believed these were possible suicide attacks and the entire transport network was paralysed, The office was shut down and we were told to remain in the building for fear of further blasts and potential attacks. The scariest part was loved ones were travelling throughout London and the phone networks could not reach anyone travelling on the underground but what could we do? Many just stood frantically calling until the network connected for a split second to get that piece of mind, ticking people off their list as they realised they were safe. Reports spread like wild fire through the office of the casualties and what was happening in our capital city and more precisely in Aldgate only a short walk away the scene of one of the attacks.
Once we were allowed to leave the building we followed the thousands of workers amid reports that Kings Cross station had also been bombed and soldiers were on the streets hunting for other potential suicide bombers believed to be on the loose, thankfully this was untrue and we were able to take a long nervous journey home and away from the city on foot like a scene from some Hollywood disaster flick as the entire transport network had been closed. Also, in all this the battery had died on the iPod.
This was unlike the IRA terrorist attacks in the 70s and 80s, which I lived through as a child in London. Then, we received perverse 'warnings' that a bomb was due to go off in a public place, usually reducing the number of possible casualties. This was something different all together. The thought I could be standing next to a complete stranger on the very same train the following Monday morning who would be willing to kill himself and take so many of his fellow citizens with him made for the most nervy journey to work in my life. Needless to say the iPod was fully charged that day.

© Laz Farrell 2010

Laz Farrell is a London-based bored office worker, musician, father, writer/novelist (one day). He blogs at: Six Sentences

Guest Writer: Jeanette Cheezum

What if...?

I had downloaded my boarding pass. The bags were packed and I was about to call the taxi. Then it suddenly occurred to me . . . what if the taxi gets into an accident? Or if we get to the airport and an airplane runs off the landing strip. Or if we get on the plane sit for hours and then take off only to go down over the water? I can’t swim, so I’d probably drown if I couldn’t get that vest blown up in time. And if I did get the vest blown up, then maybe a shark would come by and take a huge bite out of me.
Now if none of those things happened, surely I’d step off a curb and be ran over. Mashed flat as a pancake right there on Fifth Ave. My YSL brief case knocked away in the other direction where some druggy would grab it hoping to swap it for some Meth.
If that didn’t happen surely I would get food poison from the restaurant we were supposed to meet to discuss designs with the new customer. Or maybe you wouldn’t show up and I’d get drunk and he’d get me pregnant.
Second thought . . . I think I’ll just stay home where it’s safe. Gosh I wonder if something will drop out of the sky on my house.

Underground Hope

Angelique kept secrets from the township; things she’d put in motion that only her husband should know—secrets that could get her hanged.

While seeing patients daily, her mind was on the slaves that would soon hide below her
Practice; usually smuggled in at night six at a time around midnight.

She’d remove the ivy-vine covers in the dark, and open the double doors for them to slip down the cellar stairs; where others would welcome them with whispers of hope.

Some needed medical help, but most of them were just hungry and tired.

Her husband would pass out the chicken that Angelique’s patients used to pay her and fresh bread she had made earlier in the day.

After a few hours of food, water and rest, brother Ezekiel would pull close behind the house with a covered wagon, and load the slaves for their journey to freedom after saying “God Bless you Dr. Angelique.

© Jeanette Cheezum 2010

Jeanette is a veteran of several online sites and gets most of her inspiration from watching life around her. She loves to write all types of fiction and has.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guest Writer: Jamie Hogan

The Rumor of Oregon

The young man rode the sun down as the darkness bled up in the east. Finally over a rise and Fort Laramie bustled and smoked in the shallow valley below him, the first thing that had made him smile in two weeks.

He walked Trooper through the teepees swarming the grey and brown adobe walls of the outpost, a nod to the men folk and a side-step or two to keep from tripping over the running children. The women cast no eyes his way, busy with sewing and younger ones and the salty cooking whose smell overtook him with the zeal of a lover long missed. It was good to be amongst people again.

A tall and gangly guard directed one of the Indians to take Trooper to the corral, and he watched the faithful old roan led away, head low, the endless days on the plains weighing as heavy on the horse as on himself. Rest, old man. You earned it. The sun’s last efforts rolled in from the west and over the walls to spill a lonely and worn light into the courtyard of the fort. The guard led him across it, to a small room containing a desk, two chairs, a window to the west, and one equally tall but slightly thicker officer who instructed him to “Have a seat and state your business.”

The words ricocheted against the rough walls, back and forth and above and below and through him. Business? He had only a destination. The coal-haired officer held him in a needlessly hard gaze. Dust floated in the air between them, lit orange and yellow by the setting sun, weightless meandering stars. He determined to keep this as simple as he could. “I’m taking the Oregon Trail up to The Dalles.”

“And what is your business there?”

“No business. I got family there.”

“Where do you hail from?”

“Scott’s Bluff.”

The low brooding hills to the west were finishing the sun and the shadows reached long and thin across the earthen floor to climb the walls, as if feeling for a crease by which to escape. A snap and the flare of a match, and candlelight burned them away. “And what’s possessing you to leave there?”

The young man looked out the window, staring through the horizon and over the gentle bend of the earth and into the black forever. “The dysentery kilt my mom and dad and little brother. I ain’t got nothing there no more.”

*

The Indian girl had been bathing in the shallows of the Sweetwater River, the water sparkling on her cinnamon skin and dripping from her black hair and rippling around her like laughter. He had sat Trooper and watched her hands, how they roamed and tickled and sang over her glistening surfaces, busy yet delicate tempests. Sun-thrown diamonds bobbed by her and disappeared and resurfaced and conspired with her nakedness to hypnotize him.

Now he and Trooper skimming the surface of this golden tumbling ocean called the Wyoming Territory, losing ground to their pursuer with every mile, tatters of the surreal events in the river streaming out behind them. The girl’s surprising beckoning, and his even more shocking obedience. Her slick breasts, cold and then warm and urgent as they pressed into his chest and the hungry hands that he watched wander her skin now gliding across his own. The scream of the Indian man who found them and her lust instantly morphing to feigned panic, splashing and flailing and slapping and wailing underneath him. The realization that she was faking being raped – well – and scrambling out of the water and onto Trooper. Barely reaching the next rise before the Indian blasted across the river on his own mount, shrieking like a damned soul and riding like the ground was on fire. His horse was young and strong and Trooper was neither, and minute-by-minute the Indian reeled them in.

The first few arrows whispered past to lodge in the ground ahead of him. He heard his father ask what he was thinking, saw his mother’s face covered in a dark veneer of shame, heard his brother yelling at him to ride harder and faster and he wanted to say that he was sorry. That he knew it was stupid but that he was cripplingly lonely and that those people he was supposed to find in the Oregon Territory might as well be ghosts. That he just wanted to touch somebody.

Pain, iceblue and pure, ripping through his right shoulder as an arrow found its mark. His cry arced into the dispassionate, limitless blue overhead. When the sky had swallowed the sound, he pulled back on Trooper’s reigns and waited for the Indian.

They measured one another, one proud and calm and the other hollow and hopeless, the only sound the whistling of the thin high plains air through the horses’ flared nostrils. The young man dismounted and walked a few steps away from Trooper, the starved prairie grasses crackling under his boots. “Do it. Whatever you’re gonna do, get it done so I can see my folks.”

The Indian didn’t understand the words but took their meaning perfectly. He was on the ground and advancing with a glinting silver blade when the sound of hooves rumbled over them low and determined. Another rider, advancing on them at a desperate speed, from the direction they’d come. The Indian squinted at this apparition bearing down on them, shimmering in the waves of heat that might just as well have been pounded out of the ground by the drumming hooves, then sheathed his knife and stood waiting.

The new rider was also Indian, but older, perhaps twice the age of his attacker, and by the time he arrived the fire in the young man’s shoulder was cooling toward numbness. The older Indian pranced his horse sideways the final few yards, remained mounted, and glared at the younger Indian. When he spoke, in that strange halting language that sounded to the young man like the voice was sliding down a washboard, the words were hot and irritated. The younger Indian protested once, was silenced by an even stronger, choppier barrage, and fell silent. He shot the young man a look every bit as piercing as the arrow quivering in his shoulder, then mounted up and put his horse in a hard eastward gallop, riding angry.

The older Indian turned his attention to the young man, sweating and pale and pitiful under the taut sky and vengeful sun. He breathed deep and heavy, shook his head and began to dismount. By the time his feet found the ground the young man had collapsed face first, raising a thin cloud of dust in the air before Trooper.

*

The fire twisted and chuckled in the night. Shadows and stars and the timeless breathing of horses as the Indian pulled something from a stick and reached it wordlessly toward the young man. He took it, nodding and allowing an “Mmmm” at his first taste of rabbit. His shoulder throbbed terribly where they removed the arrow, but the Indian had smiled at the wound after cleaning it, and had applied a poultice.

The Indian augmented his tortured English with drawings in the dirt and eventually wisdom took shape for the young man. The girl was his salacious daughter, who had become fond of using indiscriminant sex as rebellion against him. His tempestuous son hadn’t enough years to realize that killing an innocent white man was like pruning a healthy plant. Cut one stem, and three replace it. Dead white men bring nothing save more white men. There were reasons good enough for killing white men, he said, but one look into his daughters eyes told him the young man had not earned killing today. The young man responded with a tale of cholera and of slow and wasting death and the hollowing of his soul and the rumor of Oregon.

There was an easy silence for a while, the two of them looking into the fire as if it might hold stories that needed telling, glowing orange sparks hissing skyward in vain attempts to join their white brethren in the deep nothing overhead. When it seemed right, the Indian reached into a pouch and produced a necklace of stones and what appeared to be wolf’s teeth. He rose and walked over to where the young man lay, placing it around his neck.

“Protect,” he said, “safe.”

The young man fingered the teeth interspersed with the stones. “Thank you.”

*

Trooper pressed on through the soft morning, upward into the hills. The Indian had been gone when the young man woke. The necklace rested heavy and comforting against his chest. Feeling its weight and the new day crawling up the sky behind him, he wondered if the Oregon Territory would be as green and sincere as it had been in his dreams.

© Jamie Hogan 2010

Jamie Hogan is a husband, father, and aspiring novelist who manages to hold down a Training and Quality position to pay for the necessities. He lives in central NC, and occasionally throws random thoughts out on his blog at the Six Sentences Social Network.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guest Writer: Grey Johnson

Requiring a Swift and Precise Adjustment

We exchange several evocative emails in the beginning, and your quick responses when we write leave me sputtering to keep up. Everything I say seems to come out of me distorted, stretching and twisting, pausing and leaving gaps. Already you influence something as basic and personal as my speech, and you have rendered me incomprehensible, at least to myself. I feel as heavy and sodden as the earth. My wits are covered with a crust that is miles in depth. Wishing to tell you my thoughts, I feel as though I am trying to explain to a cloud what it is like to be lava, buried.
You seem to think I am a brilliant writer, and claim to be seduced by me. This makes my legs feel shaky when I pass near my computer, and you know it. I lean on door jambs, tables, desks. Chairs are not stable enough. If I could find a giant oak, I would press my face into its mossy bark and cry, for I know already you will show me no mercy, because I will not admit to needing it. I am a child on a swing, and while I watch the sky, your spirit widens in it like a thunderhead. There is lightening sparking from you, and the majesty of you leaves me blinded to the small world on the ground, where my feet are supposed to go. I ignore the fact that all of this is occurring electronically.
My imagination creates a house for us, and we seldom venture outdoors, since you don't know you live here. You spoon me and I become a gate, loose on its hinges, feeling as if I clang when touched. You rock me, and the clanging in me builds with a dangerous resonant frequency. Inside, my heart shakes like thin vibrating metal, making rattled offstage storm sounds. When we do go outside the little house I made for us, you want to be chased. On my favorite chase, you ran along the entire clothesline, snatching each item off with a hearty snap. Clothes pins shattered and flew like popcorn. We ran laughing, but I was afraid that something was about to happen, perhaps the line itself would snap, and sting, and leave a mark for others to see. I stopped chasing after you, and crouched, sweating, in a tumble of beautifully scratchy leaves. Feeling them crumble against my cheek, I found that the only item I had been able to grab was an intimate one, and sadly worn. It took four days, but I wrote a kind of poem about the evolution of this singular, imaginary garment. I even know what it tastes like, and how it feels in my mouth.
I know approximately one person in the physical world. He begins to look at me oddly, I think. To me, it feels as if you and I are a heavy, ponderous thing, with one eye trying to see two, or even three, worlds. Are we a storm? Do we live in the wild center of it for a moment? Are we to become a refreshing shower, still and settled afterward? I think of my skin as our barometer, but it does not say what kind of weather we are.
In what is my own actual home, I lurk and worry like a doubtful guest. While fiddling mindlessly with the hose, pretending to tend the garden, and ignoring the soft clash of the pots in the kitchen, I pull the collar of my coat up to my ears, turn my back to the wind, and wait. Soon, my hair, as I knew all along it would, is whipping the sides of my face. It is suddenly long and black, and enters my lips. It spanks my eyelashes.
I do not recognize myself. I have become a different person. My real person does not recognize me, either. We make a trip to the doctor. Adjustments to my medication are executed with swift precision.
Someone is faintly calling me home, and it is not you. There are sirens, gaining and receding. You do not understand these alarms. There are stinging nettles of rain, and their speed is such that they make me bleed. My lips bleed first, where I have spoken too much. I feel punished. So, like a good girl, I run inside and throw myself against the door, pushing hard, pushing against the very same air that I breathe in order to live. Suddenly, the wind stops, sucking all the air out and away, snatching the door shut fast, tight, and hard. I find myself, in a kind of relieved brokenness, with my hand on the doorknob, looking through the window. I am watching for me, and I see myself alone and quiet. In a few days, I will put on my worn and muddy garden boots, and apologize to the weeds as I pull them. In a few weeks, I will relearn how to sleep, and be unable to recall how any of this felt.

© Grey Johnson 2010

Grey Johnson lives in a small town in northeastern South Carolina. Her garden is very important to her, and so are her dogs. She reads and knits rectangles, but seldom knows what to do with them. She doesn’t have a blog or website, but writes some on the Six Sentence Social Network. You can also check out a brilliant little collection called Your Pajamas by Grey on Issuu.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Guest Writer: Callan

Fade to Black

In the oppressive heat and darkness of my apartment I lay naked listening to hot summer rain fall. I struggle to put my thoughts in order. I am out of food and drugs. I fish around in the cushions of my sagging orange velveteen couch and locate my cell phone pressing the buttons slowly, my fingers stiff from lack of use, how long have I been lying here? Time is an abstract concept.

"Chuck, I need to see you."
"Whattaya need, mama,"
“I am out of food and money.” I state flatly. My own voice sounds far off, the voice of a stranger.

Chuck is 500 pounds and bleeds money out his ass. He gets a limitless supply of hydrocodone, which he sells, and what he doesn't sell he takes in massive doses. There is some sort of fissure, a tear caused by his fat. Once you know how he gets the stuff you don't ask any questions.

"Look, I just need to get out of here and my car is out of gas. I am sober and depressed, can you lend me money and some pills till payday?" I am confused and desperate, no time for small talk.
For a moment I hear nothing but heavy breathing and chewing.
"All right, Mama, but you’re gonna have to ride with me. I have errands to run."
"Fantastic. Perfect. How soon can you get here? I’ll wait outside.”
I’m thinking to myself, what errands could Chuck possibly have to run?

Later at the food bank, I sit in a hard plastic chair trying to calculate how many children Chuck has fathered. He stands patiently in line. I do not resent Chuck’s many children, nor his abuse of the system. What bothers me is that at the food bank they only give you milk if you’re over sixty-five or have children ten and younger in the house. Chuck gets so much milk, it totally pisses me off.
I love milk. I thirst for it constantly.

Sitting at the food bank for the second time that day got me to thinking about abortion. The nineteen abortions I had were undoubtedly nineteen of the best decisions I ever made, I never regretted them till that moment. If I had kept even one kid, I could get free milk.

Time collapses folds, then stops as I sit there waiting for Chuck to get through the line. I inspect people face by face; not a looker in the bunch. Even the young girls, whose bodies snapped back after childbirth, have tired, worn faces. Their children are dirty; destined to stand in the same line with their own children. They will have an endless supply of milk, and one another.

“What are you reading?” The voice startles me as an ancient woman sits next to me.
“Oh, its an examination booklet. It’s for a test I have to take at the university, an exit exam. It’s the history assessment test. My major is in...”
She cuts me off. “What part of history are you assessing? I mean, how do go about assessing history?”
I open the book to show her the 20,000 multiple choice questions, and the answers I am supposed to memorize. I carry the booklet with me almost everywhere. Sometimes, I open it and do something similar to studying.
“I don’t have to assess history. The test is assessing me and my knowledge of history.”
“What are you majoring in, history or something?”
“Yes ma'm I am majoring in history.”
“History is boring it’s already happened. What are you going to do with a history degree?”
The eternal question, I am so sick of being asked. History has always been my favorite subject, but the question makes my heart race. Where will I go? What will I do next?
“I don't know what I’m going to do, ma'm.”
“You’re not a bright girl,” she tells me.
“Yeah, well you’re a horrible conversationalist. I am majoring in history because I fucking want to, because I find the rise and fall of civilizations, of governments, of man’s remarkable ability to keep going interesting. That is why. Is that okay? Is it okay with you, bitch, if I major in history?”
I feel splendid. The rush of saying exactly what I want is wonderful.
The satisfaction is short lived. Her face crumbles, dissolving into tears. She is very old, she probably has no idea how irritating her questions are, none.
“Look,” I say to her, “I’m really sorry. You didn’t deserve that. I just like history, and it took me so long to finish my degree, and everyone asks me the same thing. “What kind of job are you going to get with a history degree?
“Teach, people suggest to me, but that’s more school, more loans.”
She pats my leg, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” Now she is soothing me. I am crying now and on the verge of hysteria. The old woman’s voice fades,
“It’s okay. You have your whole life ahead of you.”
I am inconsolable, “But the economy!” I wail, “Unemployment is up. I have no health insurance. When are things going to get better?”
I throw my head back and grip my hair at the roots, pulling slightly. I like the way the pain feels. I draw a sharp intake of breath, and try to regain composure. People are staring over at us, except Chuck. He is texting the mama of one of his many babies.

Than the misery contest begins. All the seated people begin telling their woes, trying to outdo one another in tragedy. I will not be able to compete, but am happy to have been forgotten.
“My daughter has diabetes. The medication has driven us into poverty. We lost our house. My husband lost his job, so we didn't have prescription coverage.”
A tiny woman in ill fitting boxy clothing, probably from St. Vincent de Paul’s, one-ups her, “My daughter has diabetes. My son is tri-polar, and my husband is dead. I have ADHA and diabetes, and lupus, my autistic daughter was raped and became pregnant by her second cousin. My husband knocked up my step-mom. Then, they ran off, and left me with the kid.”
And we have a winner, I think. She absolutely deserves her milk.
I stare at the floor glad to be forgotten. I leaf through the history assessment exam, but I can't focus. I start thinking about the leafy darkness of my front room. the perpetual twilight creates a slovenly paradise.

Inexplicably, Chuck has reached the head of the line. Time has started again. He calls “Annabelle. Hey, Annabelle!” I get up and go to the front of the line. He hands me the keys to his truck and tells me to pull it around to the warehouse where they distribute the food.
I can’t get out of the food bank fast enough.
I whip the truck around a corner, hitting the sidewalk with the tire and skidding into place behind the other waiting indigents.

Chuck gets in the truck to wait, “Hey, Annabelle, can you drive back? I swallowed a bunch of soma and Valium, and I didn’t think it was working, so I took more.” His speech is slurred. “I think they just kicked in.”
“Yeah, sounds like it, Chuck.”
“You’re okay to drive, right? I mean you have a license right, or didn’t you get a D.U.I?”
“Naw, for reckless indifference. I just got it back.”
We inch up a few spaces.
He looks perplexed, “Reckless indifference? What is that?”
“It’s when you are indifferently reckless.”
“Yeah? How do you catch some one being indifferent?”
Chuck is really wasted, so I tell him, “Well, I can’t say for sure, but I think it was my neighbor upstairs. He doesn’t like me. I think he called the cops on me and told them I was in my apartment with intent of being indifferent, dropped the dime on me so to speak.”
“Asshole.” He clearly has no idea what I’m talking about, but anyone anywhere calling the cops is always an asshole.

Finally, it’s our turn. I load the groceries in the back of the truck, and then we are off! We zip to his trailer set way back off highway 13.
I take the groceries out of his truck, leaving several gallons of milk. Chuck stumbles around his yard, which is littered with rusty engines, forsaken cars, a baby crib, pizza boxes, a plastic play house.
Oddly, the plastic house is pristine amongst the junk. Two of Chuck’s daughters are inside speaking conspiratorially. Their beautiful black eyes flash. They hold hands and do not smile. It is almost as if they are survivors of a war, and they sit alone in a bombed-out house that wasn't damaged. It begins to rain, not hard but steady and persistent.

A cousin of Chuck’s stumbles out of the trailer and down the steps clutching her swollen belly. She makes her way to one of the abandoned cars, lays down in the back seat and goes into labor. Her agonized screaming is indescribable, but it doesn’t seem to strike the family as odd. One of the black-eyed girls from the plastic play house puts on a tiny white lab coat and stereoscope and approaches the car, calling behind to her sister, who calmly walks towards the car carrying two buckets of water. Everything seems to be running smoothly. I turn to the matter of the milk.
“Listen Chuck, I’m gonna drive your truck back to my place. You’re too wasted to drive, and I’m taking a couple gallons of milk, okay?”
“Yeah, mama it’s all right. I’ll call you in a couple hours, I need to sleep this off.”

I drive back to my apartment in a hurry, I crave the darkness of my messy living room. I cannot wait to wrap myself in a sheet and drink milk, glorious milk! Over ice. straight from the gallon, out of a wine glass. Not to mention the six or seven soma Chuck palmed me as I left. There is pleasure in my immediate future. Which is about as good as it gets.
The rain continues. In the evening, there is timid knocking at my door. I come to on the couch, an empty gallon of milk on its side, pills scattered on the end tables, my vision is blurry. While I was high I opened the windows of the front room, and the mixture of rain and well-nourished plants fills the room with an exhilarating freshness. The knocking comes again, more assertive this time. I pull on an oversized shirt and open the door.
Chuck's dark-eyed daughters stand there, the newborn is swathed tightly in yellow bunting, squirming within its fresh new flesh. They step inside my apartment. They are soaked through to the skin. It’s miraculous how dry the newborn is.
They do not speak. They lay the baby on the couch and begin to scrub one another roughly with a towel they’ve retrieved from my hall closest. I feel proud of myself that I have a clean towel. I go to the closet and retrieve another towel. Then, I assist them, twisting their long black hair and ringing out the water. It pools on my cheap floor.
Once they are dry, they collect the baby and inventory their clothing. The taller of the two extends her hand to me. I hand her the key to Chuck's truck. If they can deliver a baby and walk several miles in the rain, I find no compelling reason not to. Wordlessly, they take the keys from me and head towards the door, where they turn and flash their eyes at me.
After they leave I flop on the couch and listen to the rain, swallow some pills, breathe the fresh rain-scented air, and wonder what they named the baby…
fade to Black

© Callan 2010

Callan left Orange County, Ca. in 2007 and moved to the country to focus full time on her writing. Her work is featured at Six Sentences and her blog www.theworksofjanecallan.blogspot.com

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Guest Writer: Bill Floyd

Horror Novels and Real Terror
A Halloween Special

Bill committed to posting one piece per day on the Six Sentence Social Network throughout the month of October, all related to subjects associated with Halloween or autumn in general. All the archetypes made an appearance: monsters, ghosts, haunted houses, unstoppable slashers; there was a mix of fiction and essay and memoir, nostalgic evocations of his youth with its toxic costumes and wanton juvenile delinquency; and there were recurring themes and characters, all adding up to some ghoulish good fun in the spirt of whistling past the graveyard, which is what the season is all about.
[The preceding is adapted from his introduction to the series, and the following posted on 11 and 12 October, and 23 October, nicely sum up his influences and inspiration. –MDJB]

Paperback Horror Novels, Part 1
By the time I left for college, I must have accumulated hundreds of titles, all of them crammed into the bookshelves of my bedroom: books by John Farris, Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, Edgar A. Poe, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury. A boy's club for sure, and most likely marketed directly at my lonely, alienated teen-aged ass, but they did their duty, seeing me through innumerable solitary afternoons and nights, at first because I had no choice in the matter and then maybe a bit obsessively and unhealthily later on when I'd made some flesh-and-blood friends. My own nascent forays into writing were poorly disguised rip-offs of Jaws and The Shining, at first handwritten and then pounded out (and I do mean pounded) on my grandmother's old manual typewriter, one of those cast-iron beasts with a carriage that would shift the entire desk to one side when you palmed the lever to return it. Most of my work was derivative and hackneyed (and some would say not much has changed!) but I was learning to be the very thing I wanted to be, at least if I couldn't actually inhabit all those stories as a vampire-vanquishing hero. I hadn't yet realized that all those ghosts and monsters were just stand-ins for the really scary things in life. But those books helped me navigate nonetheless, they kept me from channeling the anguish and helplessness I felt into real-world violence or perversion, so seriously guys (many of whom I now realize probably did not make much money off this stuff at all) THANK YOU for pretty much saving my life.

Paperback Horror Novels, Part 2
It felt like autumn just opening one of those books, whose covers ranged from the lurid to the abstract. A company named TOR published a lot of them, although at the time even mainstream publishers were not afraid to sully themselves with a title here and there, given Stephen King's ascendency. (Another offshoot of the "King Effect" was that every other novel was entitled The ______, as in The Wolfen, The Glow, The Tribe, The Fury, The Manitou, The Cipher, The Nesting, etc.)
As for the quality of the work, well, in my memory John Farris's Son of the Endless Night and Peter Straub's Shadowland still thrill (although the less said about Straub's most recent work, A Dark Matter, the better) along with a few books by Kathe Koja and Clive Barker.
I mostly outgrew the genre in my early 20's, but without these novels to instill in me the love of prose and character and imagination, I would never have discovered the likes of Pynchon, DeLillo, Atwood, Wallace, Gaddis, McCarthy, Morrison, or Updike.
Autumn is forever calling to me, autumn echoes down the years, every night when I open whatever book I am currently reading and offer up a prayer for the mid-list and the genre aficionados whose hunger carries the rest of the industry through its troughs and then they stand fuming on the sidelines, relegated yet again to the literary ghetto when the market rebounds.

Real Terror
Of course we all know it's only cartoons. None of these movies or novels or sixes is anywhere near as frightening as what is right outside the door, or just beneath the skin.
Car crashes; cowards with guns or missiles or suicide vests and the whole world coming down around them; the tumor blotting the x-ray like a misshapen egg floating in the dark sea of the surrounding tissue.
Our cartoons help us manage the real fear so it's not so damned insurmountable and debilitating; our cathartic diversions prompt the development of tools that assist us in confronting the day-to-day world in all its dire reality. Otherwise we would be paralyzed, reduced to shambling shock-sufferers drowning in our own thousand-yard stares, because every living thing has been due its own judgment day since the Big went Bang.
Autumn calls us each in turn, and sometimes the only way to sustain the fading light is by throwing shadows.

© William Floyd 2010

Bill Floyd is a writer from North Carolina who is feeling his way around the on-line world of micro-fiction. He blogs occasionally at Six Sentences, and you can check out the rest of his terrific October Series by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Guest Writer: Bolton Carley

Crazy Is As Crazy Does

Seriously, everybody’s got one. No matter how hard you try to hide it, people find out. Accept it. There’s a whack-job in your family, and you better consider yourself lucky if it’s not you. The only thing worse than dealing with crazy is realizing that you exist in a whole family of fruitcakes. Oh, how little my husband and I knew when we united two sets of freak-shows. But wow! We got more than we bargained for! All I can tell you is that there’s been plenty of praying in our house since our families collided. Sometimes we thank Him for seeing us through and sometimes we wonder how He created us from the same loins.

“Normal” is not a term fit for our household. There are only “typical” days in our world. Quite frankly, I think Tony and I agree that we’d jump at “normal” anytime. But alas, our days are one giant cluster after another. Like today, I made the mistake of answering the phone. Why’d I do it? Yeah, I’m still asking myself that same question. I guess I was feeling guilt from the last five calls I conveniently “missed”. After all, I’m not a rude person by nature, and it is his mother. Or as he prefers to refer to her: my mother-in-law. (he quit claiming her the day he could start passing her off on to me.) Anyway, I picked up the phone to the sound of a cuckoo-cachoo, and I ain’t talkin’ about no bird, unless you guessed a loon. She was already blathering before I could get hello out of my mouth. Boy, sometimes I wonder if the crazy fairies just actively swarm around her with the brilliant ideas she bestows upon us. Discussions with her leave me wondering if Tony was mixed up at birth. Sometimes, I bemoan my interactions with her, but I know it doesn’t hold a candle to the way Tone reacts when I share the conversations with him. I think he cringes when he hears her name.

I figured I’d better break the news ASAP. “Hey Tone, your mom called today.”

As my poor husband rolled his eyes, he said, “You handled it, didn’t you?”

“No, I told her you’d be home by eight. She’s all yours.”

“Thanks a lot. I see how it is. No loyalty. She is your mother-in-law, you know. You could take one for the team.”

I didn’t have the heart to make him think he’d have to chat with her tonight so I coughed up the dirt. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I did take care of it, even though I should have left you hung out to dry. She was in rare form.”

“Dare I ask?” came with a “I’d-rather-be-hit-by-a-herd-of-wild-buffalo” look.

“You know your mother. She’s decided to sell her house because she can buy a big fancy-shmancy house for practically nothing in this economy. Never mind that she has to sell her house first.”

Tony’s cheeks puffed like a squirrel, his fists clinched involuntarily, and a raised voice responded, “She’s selling our house?”

“That’s what she said. But, don’t worry honey, it gets better!”

“What?” his exasperation exploding like a balloon pop. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to ask, but it was scarier to not know the rest.

“She’s decided that to sell her house, it needs to look different than everybody else’s. In her infinite wisdom, she thinks that painting the house lavender and having an artist paint flowers all over it like a work of art will make her house the best one on the block.”

I got a blank stare, followed by, “You’re kidding, right?”

“This is your mother. Do you really think I’m kidding? Do you think I’d come up with that on my own?” Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have been quite so harsh. But seriously, what mother would think to do that????

“Okay, but you said you handled it. What exactly did you say?” Calm seemed to be restored again on my husband’s face. I like to think it was his false sense of confidence in me.

“I told her it would probably cost a lot of time and money to get somebody to paint all those flowers and that maybe she could just have one really special painting done that we could frame and put on the porch, next to the door.”

My husband looked at me funny. “And she agreed to that?”

“Well, it took some convincing, but when I agreed to get the house paint picked up and find a painter, she bit on it like a pit bull. You know her – if she can get us to take care of the real work, she’ll agree to almost anything.” Again, I might have been a little mean, but obviously, it was the truth.

“Did you really agree to paint the house lavender?” Skepticism oozed from Tony.

“Well, that’s what I agreed to. But you and I both know that she’s half color-blind. I figure I’ll find a shade of gray that looks lavender in the right light and make sure the painter refers to it as lavender, and we’re all good.” It seemed the best plan of attack to me.

There was almost a half-smile when he sucked up with, “I knew I was smart to marry you.”

“Yeah, you married me so that your family would look sane!” We have to laugh in our house about these things even though if we really thought about it, we’d be more likely to cry and drink heavily.

“Speaking of your family…” Tony gave me “the look” reserved for the supremely outlandish family faux pas.

Apparently, it was my turn. “Uh-oh. What else happened today?” I already had thousands of scenarios popping into my head. None of them good.

“Your brother stopped by. His company is sending him to Arizona to work for a month.”

“Woo-hoo! That’s something to be excited about! Can you even imagine how nice it will be without all of Peter’s drama for a month?” I can see it now. We might actually be able to visit my dad without one of my brother’s many lady-callers moaning in the basement.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Believe me, I know that expression of doom.

“Why? What’s the problem?” horror, anticipation, and panic were setting in on me like vultures to a dead animal.

“There’s a little matter of the boys.”

“What do you mean ‘little matter’? He isn’t taking them with him?” Now my voice was sky-rocketing upward.

“They’re in school, honey. It’s not like he can take them out for a month without anybody noticing.” Oh, they’d notice. They’d probably be thrilled, but this can only mean one thing…

“So let me guess: we’re taking care of the boys while Peter’s gone, huh?”

“Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Give the lady a prize!” Sarcasm might be one of husband’s strongest assets, but also his most annoying quality in a situation like this. I glared at him.

“When does he leave?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

“Oh, baby. When did you think? He’s leaving tomorrow, of course.”

Shrieking, I replied, “WHAT?” My husband had the good sense to just not respond at this point. I wasn’t kidding. There’s an insane one in every group, except in our family where every single one is half-cocked. I’d like to tell you that it hasn’t always been that way, but I can’t. The funny part is, well, there isn’t really a funny part.

Luckily, my husband and I have come to the logical conclusion that we will do our best to survive in any given family catastrophe, make fun of them at nauseam, and then hide in our own house until the crisis is over. We’d also like to figure out how to bucket up sanity, but that’s one of those things on the to-do list that just never quite gets done. And there was no use discussing this any further, I simply sighed and said, “So, I better get the guest bedrooms ready, huh? Did you buy some extra cereal?”

A teddy bear grin shown my way, as Tony held up a box and a bottle. “Fruit Loops and Jack Daniels. I think we’re all set.” Boy, do I love my husband.

It takes a brave man to walk into the face of disaster every day, day in and day out, and that’s why at times like these, I can only bow down to my knees on a cold tile kitchen floor and pray,
“Dear Lord, thank you for giving us this house 15 miles away, our marriage of sound minds (although I’m not sure how long that will last at this rate), and the ability to find humor in freight-train wrecks. Please look after our families. Help us to have good health, safety, and happiness. Grant us the strength to survive our family dilemmas, the money to afford all their debacles, and the patience to not kill them. Amen.”

© Bolton Carley 2010

Bolton Carley mostly writes young adult books like her verse novel, Hello, Summer Vacay! which can be purchased on Amazon, but she has branched out to flash fiction and blogging at www.boltoncarley.wordpress.com.

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