Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guest Writer: Bill Floyd

Performance Art

The uptown critics finally take notice after my piece in the Tribeca loft, the one involving the John Doe’s remains and the forty lab rats, which I titled Winston Smith Redux. The cops take notice, too, of course, so I toss my cell phone in the Hudson and start crashing on the couches of various sycophants. Subsequent pieces are more guerilla in nature: the jettisoning of tissue and fluids from the skyscraper over Broadway; the flotilla of candlewaxed skulls bobbing ashore near Battery Park. Spectators are briefly engaged, but I realize with a sinking heart that it’s mostly just curiosity they’re experiencing, even the rhapsodizing bloggers and hipsters who pretend to be moved.

What I want is for them to feel, to react.

So tonight, for my ultimate performance, the audience is strictly by-invite only: the spear’s tip of the avant garde all congregated in a carefully scouted cite across the river in Jersey City. The building is an abandoned detainment facility, scheduled for demolition within weeks; the room is separated into a gallery and a holding cell. I sit facing them from behind dull but impenetrable bars as they file into the anteroom, until they’re all gathered pensively within and my assistants have sealed the exits as they’ve been instructed to do.

Initially I simply stare at them, taking their measure. Of course they can't stand this and within minutes they're calling me names, trying to provoke me. At my side is a table that has been covered with a velvet drop cloth. I remove the cloth and don the gas mask and some of them understand immediately and begin to bang on the doors. Once my mask is secure I turn the knob on the tank beneath the table. The gas is in no way odorless and within a few breaths they all know what's coming. Voices once taunting and jaded go high and hysterical. While some of them trample their fellows, it is much worse to witness the few who try to help each other. The doors won’t budge and they begin to slide to the floor and writhe in place as their oxygen-starved blood bursts internal dams and their skin turns blue. I impassively watch them fall, but for perhaps the first time in my entire life my pulse rate increases just a little.

The cops will ask why I did it and I’ll tell them, with clenched fist and locked jaw, my face still creased from the mask’s straps, “I made them feel something pure and genuine this time, didn’t I?” My own voice sounds high and strange now. Knowing all along that it was never about the audience at all.

© 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.

Guest Writer: Bill Lapham

You Have Your Drones...

I realized the look on his face was fanatical the instant he blew up. The sight of the fire and the sound of the explosion reached me at exactly the same time. I was that close. When you stand too close to a lightning strike, there is no pause between the flash of light and the sound of thunder. This was like that. If I had been farther away there would have been a caesura between the sight and the sound. But this was boom, shock, flash, dirt, screams, bam, now!
I always thought I would see, if I ever saw one at all, the pieces of a suicide bomber streaking through the air after he detonated himself. That wasn't the case at all. I saw none of the bomber's body parts, ever. The man vaporized like a puddle of water sitting too long in the summer sun. Alas, there were pieces of other people strewn everywhere. Surely, they did not awaken this morning with the thought that they might stand too close to a suicide bomber today. Nobody would do that.
When my shaken vision stabilized, the scene was from one of those Halloween horror movies. Some kind of Texas chain saw thing maybe.
A fire-fight erupted, right on the city streets, automatic weapons fire cracking everywhere. It was impossible to tell who was shooting at whom; the good guys looked the same as the bad guys. Everybody was shooting everywhere. So this is what Clausewitz meant by the fog of war, I thought, but not for long.
I dove behind a jersey barrier and grabbed for some earth. I have never been so friendly with dirt and never so glad to be in it and alive. I had my face smashed against stinging hot dust so tightly I could smell the microbes that live between the grains of sand. My breath caused little puffs of dust that got into my eyes and made them water; the tears tracked across my face sideways and formed a puddle of mud under my left temple. Bullets whizzed by and ricocheted off the walls over my head making a strange pinging sound as they headed off in another direction. I couldn't stop trembling. And I could taste a little bit of puke on the back of my tongue.
I admit to having those thoughts. You know the ones, the bargains with God. I asked forgiveness for ever doubting his existence. I promised to live a better life. I promised to be kinder to little old ladies and help the blind cross the street. If God would get me out of this shit alive, I promised I would quit drinking, tomorrow.
And then, just as suddenly as it started, the shooting stopped. It took a second for my brain to register the silence - the echoes faded - and before long I craved a shot of whiskey.
I rose to a crouch and just barely stuck my head above the top of the concrete barrier, just high enough to get an eyeball on the situation. Anybody looking at me probably thought I looked like that "Kilroy was Here" cartoon made famous in World War II.
Men were walking around without aim, stunned, exhausted, suffering from adrenaline hangovers, arms limp at their sides barely keeping a grip on their rifles. Some were taking a knee, trying to catch their breath before they passed out, others were crying. The women were gone, or sprawled on the ground dead. This would have been a good day to stay home and do the laundry, I thought.
It was so sudden and quick it made me wonder if it had even happened at all. My ears were ringing and my nose and throat stung from the acrid smell of coagulating blood and burnt hair and flesh. The smell of gunpowder hung in a blue haze. It was so hot it made it hard to breathe; there was no respite from either the heat or the terror.
This had been a coordinated attack with bombs and guns. They didn't use artillery, or Predator drones. They were more primitive than all that; they used a man who preferred death to life and strapped a bomb to his belly and placed a trigger in his hand. There was no warning - there never is anymore - no massing of troops on the border, no air raid sirens, no intelligence tip from a drone circling high overhead catching all the action on camera for the generals to review from their high backed chairs in the Operations Center.
All they saw on their big, flat, high-definition monitors before the blast were ordinary folks meeting to complete their meager business deals on an insufferably hot day in the nation's capital.

© William Lapham 2010

Bill Lapham is a semi-professional student and retired U.S. Navy submarine veteran. He attends grad school at the University of Michigan – Flint, and he’s been published at Six Sentences and the U.S. Army NCO Journal.

Guest Writer: Paul de Denus

The Amber Sea

The blizzard has picked up in intensity. It stretches along the horizon, fusing clouds, snow and iced air into one. It blasts up the drifts like white dirt dug from the earth, a frozen burial ground encircling our thin tent, entrapping us. It may well blow us clear off this floe into the arctic sea. Captain Wells has stepped outside to secure the rigging; “batten us down for the night ahead,” he said. St. John is bundled up beside me, asleep. His eyes twitch and roll as he escapes into the warm safety of his dreams. Lucky him… able to drift off so easily.

My fingers tingle. Frostbite I’m sure but what do I know for certain? They are remote from my hands, floating just beyond but I can still see them move. I can barely keep a clutch on the pint bottle. It is my true savior. My insides burn with its fire as it consumes my being, dulls my thoughts. If I could only climb inside, immerse myself in its warm amber sea. It is the color of the earth. Oh, the earth. What I wouldn’t give to have it under my feet again… green grass and the hot soil… the smell of clean rain… the seed of life bursting everywhere. There is no life here, only a bleak slab of frozen desert and a sorrowful wind that calls for me to venture out.

How have I come to such a desolate place? Was this not what I wanted? An escape? Her letter spelled out her wishes, a biting end to our engagement, pure and as cold as this foreboding landscape that surrounds my heart. Oh Emilee, I have tried but you… I cannot escape or forget.

I stare into this bottle and the calm amber rolls in a gentle wave, back and forth, side to side, leading my thoughts to a safer place -- oblivion -- slowly taking me down. I can hear it now, clearer, just behind the flap, a whispering call beyond these thin walls. The isolation has crept in; I can’t keep it out. It is colder, though only to that of which I can feel. Captain Wells? He should have been back by now. I lean into St. John but he doesn’t stir and his eyes no longer move. I’ll wait a little longer… before I go out. The wind is insistent though, with my amber all but now gone.

© 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.
The Amber Sea and other writings, and self published books appear at his blogspot:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Guest Writer: Jamie Hogan

Hope Finds Travis

Grey and rain, running down the plastic that covered the window in his room to spill onto the baseboard and the floor. Puddling there, furthering the rotting. Travis got up off the mattress and pushed at the baseboard with his toe. It gave a little, like a fresh loaf of bread.

He removed the tape and raised the plastic and looked out into the morning, the cool wet breeze against his face. Where his father’s truck should be there was nothing but a large brown puddle and something cold brushed against his back but he dismissed it. It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d risen to an empty house. They were most likely sleeping it off at Terry’s or Wanda’s or somebody they met last night’s house or in the truck on the side of the road or in a cell, depending on how ornery his father had gotten.

Tony had been in a good mood last night, and Travis had busted his ass mopping the diner’s floors, so he allowed him to take a couple of country ham biscuits for breakfast. He stood at the sink and gnawed them, looking out the window on the bare back yard and into the grim pewter quiet of the woods beyond. The rain was gentle but persistent, the kind his uncle John called a ‘good soakin rain.’ The kind that eases into the ground without running off. The kind that is medicinal for crops and restless souls.

He left through the back door and sidestepped the holes in the porch and squished through the yard and dissolved into the trees, a silver apparition enveloped by rain and fog and forest. The hood of his sweatshirt was quickly soaked. It was warm enough, but he shook anyway. He knew this wasn’t right but he also knew that he was tired of never having, of always wanting, always being the kid who borrowed or went without. Weaving through the woods along a path only he knew, deeper into the solemn flatlands, navigating a jumbled mess of pine and shepherd’s purse and sandwort crowding and looming. Rain ran into his eyes and he felt the thighs of his jeans clinging to his skin. He stopped to scan behind him, listening for footfalls through the numb pattering of the rain. Satisfied he was still alone, he pressed on.

The creek appeared soon enough, a thin crystal serpent sliding down a gradual slope toward his destination. The rain tickled its surface and Travis smiled the smile of a boy with a secret. This was his thing, scary and bubbling with dark promise and desperation. A dozen more soggy steps, and there it was. In a clearing no bigger than the barren kitchen he’d left half an hour ago grew the only hope Travis had ever known.

It had caused hell when the four plants had disappeared off of the back porch. His parents had gone at each other like wild starving dogs, each accusing the other of selling them off in hard growls through bared teeth. His mother being a sow and his father a reed, it was a fair match physically and they threw one another around the house and out the door and across the front yard scratching and screaming until his mother’s hand found a stray board and put it to the side of his father’s head. He lay in the front yard, blood crawling across his cheek and nose and lips to seep into the sand, as she roared away in the truck. The man remained prone in that spot for nearly a day, stumbling to his feet the following afternoon and achieving the front porch before collapsing again, a crusty crimson spider gripping the side of his face. Travis wiped the blood away without waking him. At some point during the evening, he listened from his room as his mother dragged him back into the house and dropped his gaunt, limp body onto the floor like so much kindling.

The plants hadn’t been sold. Yet. They were alive and well, thriving a half mile from the house under cover of other foliage, serenaded by the perpetual giggle of the stream he used to nourish them. He stared at them, four sentries, stalk straight and proud. He ran his hand over the leaves and wiped it on his jeans and did it again, like a father tousling his son’s hair. He bent and inspected their bases, working each gently to ensure they were still firmly entrenched, having no cause except that it felt like the right thing to do. Not knowing a healthy marijuana plant from a turkey sandwich, he still liked the look of them.

“What you got there Travis?” From behind him, across the creek.
He sucked air and wheeled, the hot blue wire of panic singing in his chest. A stocky, red haired man in grey pants and a brown shirt with a silver star on it, holding a wide brim hat in his hands instead of using it to shield away the rain.

“Plants, Sheriff Johnson.”

“Yep, looks like it. Plants.”

“How did you…

“I followed you, son. It wasn’t hard.”

“But your car wasn’t…”

“I pulled up as you were walking into the woods. You didn’t hear me with that hood on.”

The rain fell between them, slicing thin silver strips through that space and loosing whispers along the ground. Travis thought to run. He knew these woods and he was sure Sherriff Johnson didn’t. There was something about the man that held him, a reluctant and tender thing in his eyes, an austerity in the way he held his hat in front of him, squeezing the brim with both of his glistening hands, a sincerity in the slump of his shoulders.

“Am I in trouble?”

The lawman was slow and deliberate in twisting his hat on. He stepped over the stream and stood beside Travis for a moment, taking a deep breath and looking out into the trees like he expected a voice from their midst. Then he bent and pulled the plants from the ground, one by one, and tossed them in the water. Travis watched them ride away, their roots waving goodbye as they bobbed down toward the PeeDee River.

“No, you ain’t. Walk back up to the house with me. I need to talk to you about your mom and dad.”

By the time they reached the front porch of the old shack, Sherriff Johnson was done. Travis wasn’t surprised.

“How fast was he going when he hit the tree? Must’ve been rolling pretty good, if mama flew that far.”

“We reckon bout sixty. And that’s after rambling across thirty yards of pasture.”

Travis sat down on the steps. The rain had shriveled to something like dank cobwebs hanging in the air. He was shocked at the silence when he removed his hood, like the whole world was waiting to hear what he would say next. The clouds sat like a slab of slate over the trees and Travis tried to figure out why he was so hurt. They were abhorrent wastes of carbon who did literally nothing for him save show him how to enslave himself to substances and bury the institution of marriage in an avalanche of screams and booze and smoke and whirring fists. They had never given a moment toward earning his tears, but there they were, mingling with the remnants of the rain.

He wiped them away and cleared his throat hard and asked the only question there was to ask. “What happens to me?”

Johnson’s hat was back in his hands. He squatted to look Travis in the eyes. “Well, your Uncle John and Aunt Patrice are your godparents. They’re good folks, Travis. Don’t take offense, but you’d be a damn sight better off. If they will honor that commitment, you’ll go and live with them.”

© 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, September 15, 2010

Guest Writer: Harris Tobias

A Taste for Music

“Before you can save your world, you have to save mine,” the voice said. A few seconds before I had been noodling around with mom’s old cell phone and the inside of my new Play Station. Like everyone else on Earth, I had never even heard of the Lumi and then there I was conversing with them as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
I’m a kind of a gadget freak, always fooling around with electronics just for the heck of it. When I plugged the cell phone into my game machine, the screen got all fuzzy and weird. Suddenly there they were, talking to me like we were old friends. The image was indistinct. The Lumi appearing as fuzzy blobs on the edges of the screen. If you weren’t looking for them, you wouldn’t notice them at all. Even being aware of them as I was, I could hardly make them out. Speaking to them was easy though and the sound quality was pretty good..
“This is not what we look like, you realize,” said the Lumi. “You appear the same way to us— a rather dim, foggy blob on the edge of the screen. It must be an effect of the trans-dimensional shift. In our respective realities we might look very much alike.” I had no opinion on the matter. To me the Lumi looked like smudgy blobs and that was that.
“You want me to save your world?” I asked almost laughing out loud at the preposterousness of the suggestion. “Why me? I’m just an ordinary kid from an ordinary family in an ordinary town. I go to Mt. Clemmon’s Middle School. I’m in the seventh grade for Pete’s sake. Saving worlds is not something I have a lot of experience with. I play trombone in the school orchestra and not too well at that. I have English homework.”
“Why you is a fair question,” the Lumi said. “Naturally you wouldn’t be our first choice but, then again, we don’t have any other choices. You are, in fact, all we have. Communication across the dimensional divide is quite rare and yours is the only receiver we could find. I don’t know how long this connection will last so please listen carefully, the fate of both our worlds depends on it.”
“What makes you think your world even needs saving?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s easy. The Eaters are here now. They’ve already eaten the moon and they have begun devouring our world. Our continents are shrinking. When they’re through with us they’ll eat right through the dimensional barrier and start on your world next.”
“Isn’t there anything they can’t eat? Something to poison them or contain them?”
“Nothing we have here can stop them,” the Lumi said, “We were hoping there might be something in your world we might try.”
“Even if we had something, how would I get it to you?
”We are working on that, in the meantime, will you help us?”
I said I would do what I could but I really did have homework and my mother was calling me to walk the dog so I said goodbye rather abruptly and went down stairs.
When I got back on line, The Lumi were there waiting for me. Boy were they angry. “I hope this isn’t the way you’re going to treat us. This is not some prank you know? Just leaving us like that was rude. You don’t seem to appreciate how desperate our situation is.”
“I don’t know what you expect me to do. I can’t just stop my life because your world is in trouble. I have a hard time believing you are even real. What are the Eaters anyway?”
“Let me see if I can explain it to you. Many years ago we developed nano-technology to a high degree. We built microscopic machines to do our bidding. They made our world a paradise. We could have anything we wanted, all we needed to do was desire it and the nano-bots would make it for us. Want a new house, the nanos would scoop up the raw materials and construct it for you. Want a fancy meal, a new car, no problem, the nanos will do it. Overnight there was no more hunger, no more poverty, everyone lived well, drove fleets of cars, had boats. There was no end to our wanting and the nanos provided.”
“Sounds great,” I said. “I wish we had some of that here.”
“No you don’t,” the Lumi said. “After a few generations, our greed used up our resources; our world was stripped clean of every usable thing, Every tree, every mineral, every animal and plant. Our beautiful world was turned into a desert. At the same time, the nano-bots began evolving. They began using the things they had built for their own purposes. When we realized what they were doing, we rounded them up, packed them into a spaceship and sent them to the moon. I think you can guess what happened next.”
“They ate the moon and found a way to get back to your world. What do you call your world anyway?”
“We call it Lumi and once it was the most beautiful place. Now it’s wasteland filled with useless things. If we don’t stop the nanos we’ll lose what little we have left.”
“What are they doing with the stuff they are eating?” I asked almost afraid to hear the answer.
“They are making more nanos and building a huge machine powerful enough to cross the dimensional barrier. When it is finished they will be coming for your world next.”
“I don’t know what you expect me to do. I’m just a kid,” I said.
“There must be a reason we made contact. Maybe you have the answer and you don’t even know it. Tell me something about your world. Maybe you have a weapon we can use.”
“Even if we had something, how would I get it to you? This is useless.”
“Please,” the Lumi said, “you are all we have. You said you went to school. We have schools in our world. You said you were in the orchestra. I don’t know what that is. And you play a trombone? What is that?”
“You mean you don’t have music in your world?”
“We do not know the word “music”.
“Well. Stay right there and I’ll show you.” I ran and got my trombone from the closet and put it together. As soon as it was assembled, I played a simple tune.
The Lumi clapped for joy. “That’s wonderful,” they said. “That noise you made, that is music?”
“Well I’m not very good but if you wait a second I’ll play some real music for you. Here’s what an orchestra sounds like.” I turned on my CD player and blasted a few minutes of whatever I had in there. I think it was the Beatles. When I stopped the recording, the Lumi were very excited.
“That was amazing. I think we can use that. The nano-bots won’t know what to make of such complex sounds. It might scramble their tiny brains and change their destructive behavior. We would like to copy some of your music, maybe amplify it and see what effect it has on the nanos. This is very exciting. Music, ha! We knew there was a reason we found each other.”
I spent the next several hours playing CD after CD. The Lumi were transfixed. I went through my music collection playing everything from Mozart to Metallica. I felt good that I could be of service. The Lumi sounded positively up beat about the prospect of cleansing their world of the eaters.
I didn’t hear from the Lumi again although I tried to contact them many times in the weeks and months that followed. My Play Station communicator remained blank and silent. I hoped the Lumi triumphed but if they did you think a thank you would have been in order. As the days wore on and the school year drew to a close, I thought less and less about the Lumi and their problems. When I did think of them I tended to think the entire episode was a hoax. Some internet prankster who some how managed to hack into my game box.
The last week of school was the big concert. Our orchestra had been rehearsing for it all year. It was a sellout crowd. I took my place on the horn section and took out my trombone and warmed up a bit with the rest of the kids. When we were all ready, Mr. Thiery, the music director, tapped his baton on the stand, we raised our instruments and waited for his signal to begin. But it never came. First the baton dissolved in his hand. Then the instruments began disappearing one by one. I watched as my trombone vanished before my eyes dissolving away from bell to mouthpiece. At first there was a stunned silence in the hall then Marion Allen, our first violinist, screamed as her instrument and bow disappeared completely. That scream set off a scramble for the exits in which several parents were injured. No one could figure out what was happening, but I knew. It was the eaters. They had crossed the dimensional divide. They were on the Earth and they had developed a taste for music.

© 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, September 8, 2010

Guest Writer: Salvatore Buttaci

Hazy, Hot, and Humid

On a scorching day like this, it was hard to believe six months had gone by since she had first met Foster. It was cool then. Now at a traffic dead-stop, all four windows open, Carolyn regretted not having taken the Chevy to the auto shop to get the air conditioning repaired. Who the hell expected a heat wave?
She punched the radio off. It annoyed her that suddenly everybody on the radio was a weatherman. "The three H's again today," said a disk jockey on WHOO-FM, "hazy, hot, and humid." Reports already placed the number of heat exhaustion deaths in the state at two hundred. To make matters worse, the water had been shut off in most of the outlying areas in order to prevent further shortages.
Record-breaking temperatures made early evening rush-hour anything but rushed. Long snake lines of cars were jammed in both directions of Route 46. Some of them, overheating, puffed white smoke from under uplifted hoods.
Now and then somebody blew a horn, but for the most part it was quiet outside. Nothing moved. The highway seemed quiet as a cemetery.
The word "cemetery" raised hairs on the back of her neck. She thought of Foster dying, perhaps already dead. He had called her about an hour ago, desperate, pleading. She could hardly decipher what he was struggling to say. But this much she knew for certain: he was in some kind of deep trouble and he needed her now. That was what love was all about, wasn’t it? The one she had loved, the man she would’ve died for, hardly had voice to beg her help, and she was running––trying to run in stand-still traffic.
"I'll call the police!"
"No! No! Don't do that. Hurry!" he said in a voice so tremulous and far away.
And here she was--stuck in the middle of Route 46, the nearest exit a mile away. Trembling hands whitened as she gripped the steering wheel as if squeezing it could somehow––magically––start the traffic moving. Foster needed her. God, get me there before it's too late!
Guilt wormed its way inside her head and sat there like a nagging mother. Only days ago she had finally decided to call off the whole affair. Affair? There never had been an affair. Foster said he loved her; he wanted to marry her. Yet, in all these months, since that cool February morning they had met outside the science lab, he had never even kissed her. At first she was excited by his aloofness. How different he was from the usual out there who thought kissing on the first date was old-fashioned, nothing but a waste-of-time preliminary. Foster was not at all like other men.

February over, March roared in unpredictably as ever. In fact, though some days were warm, for the most part the month was cold and snowy. She hadn't seen Foster during most of March. He said he hated the cold. As a kid he had loved it, especially the snow, but he had come to hate it, so much so that he rarely left his apartment during the winter months. Luckily there was the telephone, both of them calling each other and spending what she referred to as "long-distance quality time." Still, it was a weird kind of relationship. She had fallen in love with a very brilliant, generous, and handsome man--maybe the handsomest she had ever laid eyes on!--but he did not as yet demonstrate in any physical way this undying love he insisted he felt for her.
Funny, she did not even know his first name. "Call me Foster," he had said. "Everybody else does. I'm Foster and my uncle is Dr. Foster, head of the Science Department here at the university."
Two years before, Dr. Nathan Foster had won the coveted Academy of Science Award for his groundbreaking work in botanical genetics, particularly with flower hybrids. It had been Dr. Foster who had given the world its first taste of the now famous edible Tomato Rose, the reddest, most fragrant of the velvet-soft roses that bloomed throughout the summer months. In early autumn, when falling rose petals start to discolor and wilt to a dry thinness, the huge petals of the healthy Tomato Rose are picked and added to salad bowls or placed inside sandwiches. What had been a rose of beauty to admire in spring and summer became a tomato more delicious than any natural tomato had ever tasted. Dr. Nathan Foster had opened the eyes of scientists everywhere to the unlimited possibilities of cross-pollination.
Carolyn found it hard to believe that Foster, the timid recluse with whom she had fallen in love, was really the nephew of the outgoing, creative genius who restructured botanical genes.
It was true, however, that Foster was also a scientist of sorts. He had told her that he was seriously involved with his uncle in another of his scientific projects, one that required much of his time. He hoped she would be patient with him, at least until he managed to publish his findings in one of the prestigious botanical journals.
When she had first met him in February, he was exiting the university lab as she was entering. At the time, Carolyn was in her final semester, taking science, never a favorite of hers, just one of the left-over, save-them-for-the-end courses she had to sweat through in order to graduate.

Three months later, at the end of May, Foster was there at the ceremony to watch her receive her B.A. in Communication Arts. He said she made him proud.
Up ahead Carolyn could see the traffic moving, not as quickly as she'd like, but a highway policeman was now directing cars around stalled vehicles. At least she was moving.
She wondered what she’d find when she got there. It would be the first time she'd see his apartment. He had always put her off with, "It's not a pretty sight. A mess is what it is, but it's the only place I can get my project going." Now, weeks later, on the phone, in his desperation, he had blurted out, "The Harlowe Apartments. 23 Davison Road. Hurry!"
On the radio Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand were singing to each other, "You don't bring me flowers. You don't sing me love songs." She had to smile at that one: Foster didn't think it was right to yank flowers out of the ground just to satisfy weddings or funerals or women who would do better to look, and touch, and smell the flowers where they lived and grew.
Oh, let me hear it one more time! she thought sarcastically. Tell me again, damn it, that the weather out there is hazy, hot, and humid. "We're having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave," sang the disk jockey in mock overkill. “No shit, Shakespeare,” she said through clenched teeth. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Like what made Foster so puzzling? Something about him that downright scared her. Sure she had loved him; sure he still claimed he loved her, but love wasn't everything.
"It’s like a flower," her philosophical mother told her often enough. "You water it, give it sunlight, take care of it day by day and that flower will grow. Neglect it and love will die."
I've done all I can, she reassured herself. What have you done, Foster? But when she had asked him for answers, he had none to give. He was too busy with his work; he hated the cold; things would be better once the spring and summer came.

For awhile, during May and June, he had kept his word. They took in movies, went out to dinner, though Foster rarely ate. "But don't mind me, Carolyn," he'd say. "I love to watch you eat!" Then he'd pop some more of the countless number of vitamins he took every day and swallow them down with a tall glass of water. When the heat wave came, Foster made himself scarce again. He did not like the cold; he did not like extreme
heat. For God's sake, what the hell did he like?
Finally she could feel what little warm wind was out there drafting through the open windows of her car as she accelerated to fifty-five. Should she call 911 and let the police find Foster? Instead she mulled over how love that seemed so strong and promising could possibly just end? The sad part was Foster had no idea she had been considering a way to end it. He had this naive idea once his project was over, they would marry and live the proverbial happily ever after. Carolyn was sorry she'd have to hurt him, but what choice did she have?
At last she swung left onto Davison Road and parked the panting Chevy inconsiderately straddling two reserved spaces in front of The Harlowe Apartments. Hurriedly she moved towards the numbers on the apartment units, searching for 23.
"My Uncle Nathan," she remembered Foster telling her months ago, "says the Tomato Rose is only the beginning. He honestly believes the day will come when beautifully fragrant flowers in all shapes and colors will be genetically manipulated so that they will live as long as you or I. And humans who seem so determined to kill each other off, will in time learn the peacefulness, the contentment, the velvet softness of the flower."
Carolyn raised a fist to knock, then decided instead to call out, "Foster, Foster," but he did not answer her. She turned the doorknob. The hallway was beastly hot. Still, she could feel the cool breeze that was blowing through the crack in the opening door. She could hear the loud whirring sound of a fan inside.
At first she did not see him. Looking into the kitchen, she saw it was bare except for a very bright fluorescent light that shone like a kind of sun on the dirt floor.
Cautiously, and more than a bit frightened, she turned towards the bedroom, tiptoeing towards it. Flowers everywhere! Their cloying scent pinched her nostrils, gagged her almost to nausea. Flowers of every imaginable variety; flowers in every conceivable size and shape: an explosion of fragrance and color.
Here too the floor looked like someone's backyard dirt. She walked carefully so as not to step on the stalks and stems of flowers growing out of the dirt, but not carefully enough. Carolyn screamed. Then she screamed again and again and again.
Beneath her feet lay Foster whom for a few months she had loved so much. His handsomeness was gone. In its place thin green stems sprouted like whiskers from every pore on his face.
Instead of dark-brown curly hair, thick spokes of yellowing grass grew tall and unruly; patches of dirt marked his scalp. In place of eyelids, wilting pink rose petals fluttered above his blue eyes. He resembled a humorless Scarecrow, a pathetic figure made of grass dying to hay, frightening enough to keep away crows and humans. His lips moved to speak. Lips red and velvety, sweet as roses, thin petals trembling in the breeze of an overhead fan. In his gnarled, brown, tendrilled fingers of bark he held the spigot end of a long green garden hose from which only a few drops of water dribbled in the dark cracks of his hand.
"Water," his lips said in a voice soft as summer, gone the deep, resonant voice of the once handsome Foster. "Please. Some water."
There was no water anywhere, not for hours. Not for who knew how long. Carolyn could not save him. From the corner of her eye, she saw the fluttering two notes under the paperweight on Foster's desk.
Reaching the notes, she saw that he had written them in crude cursive print, then she turned from the pathetic look of Foster's lips gasping “wa…wa..“and from his fluttering petaled eyes and read one of the notes: "Help me, Carolyn," then she read the other: "Uncle," he had scrawled in hardly legible, feathery thin strokes, "A rose by any other name?"

© Salvatore Buttaci 2010

Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer who writes everyday. His collection of 164 short-fiction stories, Flashing My Shorts, is available from or from

FLASHING MY SHORTS (by Salvatore Buttaci)

Friday, September 3, 2010

HoW 2010: New Orleans

House of Writers meets in New Orleans, Labor Day Weekend 2010
l. to r.: Dwight, Julia, Jared, Mike, Sandra, Gita, Teresa
not pictured: Shauna, Michael

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Guest Writer: Brittany Beltram

Emotional Geography

As a young adult I spent so much time skimming stones over the troubled waters of my adolescence, wanting to change, trying to run away from the familiar, trying desperately to create an existence that was far removed from the nest made by my parents. The comfort and safety brought by their twigs and grass was stifling to my newly molted exterior screaming for independence. Like a seed that is released into the wind and haphazardly takes flight; attempting to germinate anew with bigger blooms seeded by brave determination on a prized hill top location to bask in all the sun's glory.

At first, independence was a child of four, filled with fury, parked at the end of the driveway with a suitcase packed full of the essentials—Barbies and clean panties. I was anxious to escape the dysfunction that ruled a nest meant to foster and feed. Then as the feathers fell and I was a teenager, independence was running away with temporary friends while clutching to the tailgate of an old Ford pick-up truck following the fork in the road that led me back home—defeated and despondent. My first solo flight was in a lover's arms as he cradled me over his troubled and addictive behaviors trying to help me fly with stoic but toxic charm. I later learned to fly alone but with the broken wings of addiction which when I gained height and distance my transgressions would find me plummeting towards the ground to taste the asphalt of reality.

The geography of my freedom was filled with new ground that was visually unfamiliar and all consuming in its landscape of strangers and big city indulgences. I created my own towers to scale in flight that left me feeling a master of my own chaos.

Whether a city or forest dweller, over time my mapping skills changed and I epitomized all the destructive behaviors that my parent's nest, filled with hovering hands and a flora of ultimatums, wanted to prevent.

As time moved forward and the tree of my existence was rooted with love and eventually bore fruit, I too began the journey that my parents did before me by stitching the squares of my past together forming a cloak to shelter my own precious chicks from harm.

We are all plagued by the desire of wanting to be free—to roam, to fly and just to be.

So as my children grow and begin seeding their tomorrows with the experience of today I know their eyes will eventually turn skyward. Soon they will spread their blanketed wings that have been fabricated by me and with outstretched arms and the will of Superman they will set forth and fly.

© Brittany Beltram 2010

Brittany Beltram doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up... but hopes it involves telling stories.She blogs at

Guest Writer: Cath Barton

Not a Good Start to the Weekend

“Michael!” she yelled up the stairs at him. “My coat is completely covered in your cat’s hairs.” Oh, it was his cat today, was it?
“Well, you shouldn’t have left it lying on the floor.”
“I didn’t leave it on the floor. The ruddy cat pulled it down.”
Michael had by this time reached the bottom of the stairs, where Franny, fierce-faced, was holding up her once-black coat. Noise was still coming out of her mouth.
“Okay, okay,” he said. “I’ll get the cat’s comb and brush your coat for you.”
“You better had.” Franny, very red in the face, stomped upstairs.
Michael spent the next ten minutes searching for the comb. He knew the cat was moulting. But then so did Franny. They had both wanted to get the animal, though it was not the time to remind her of that. He couldn’t remember when he’d last used the comb. He rooted through drawers and cupboards, resolving, for the umpteenth time, to have a good clear out one day. Meanwhile, no comb. Sod it, he thought. What a way to start the weekend. This of all weekends.
“Franny,” he shouted up the stairs, “have you seen Merlin’s comb?”
No answer. And, come to that, where was Merlin? Gone to spread hairs somewhere else apparently.
Michael thought he’d better go out and buy a new comb. It wouldn’t exactly cost a fortune. He picked up his wallet, put on his (so-far-untouched-by-Merlin) coat and left the house. He knew that along the road and down the second turning on the right there was a short parade of shops. One of them was a sort of general store where he’d bought bird food in the past. He was pretty certain that he’d seen dried pigs’ ears there, and these were for dogs so it was a fair bet they’d have stuff for cats too.
Bugger! He thought to himself. This is not what I was planning on doing today. Making an effort, he straightened his back and took a deep breath. He was jolly well going to act as if everything was fine. Which it was supposed to be. Except that acting it didn’t quite work. He noticed the clouds coming over rather than the blue sky, the dog poo on the pavement rather than the daffies in the gardens. And wondered how and when there was going to be a calm moment to tell Franny his news.
As Michael approached the ironmongers Franny was out in the garden, looking for the cat. She was, to put it mildly, not feeling well disposed towards it. Blasted beast. Who in their right minds got a long-haired white cat? The hairs got everywhere. Merlin! Where was he?
Franny was worried. This was the first weekend for ages that she and Michael had been home together, and it was already going Horribly Wrong. They had to sit down and talk sensibly. She turned towards the house. The sun was glinting on something near the back door. As she walked up the path she could see that it was a key. She bent down to pick it up but before she could do so she was distracted by a small miaou. The sound was coming from under the mahonia bush. Merlin? The cat came towards her very slowly. He was holding up his right front paw. Oh, Merlin! The paw was hugely swollen and looked like a boxing glove. “My poor Merlin.” She spoke gently, but the cat backed off as Franny tried to pick him up, and retreated into his prickly den.
Franny snatched up the key and flung it onto the kitchen table as she went in. Seeing it had given her a funny sinking feeling but there was no time to think about that now. She had to call the vet. Damn! The surgery wasn’t open on Saturdays. She’d have to find out where there was a vet doing an emergency service. She felt by turns worried, cross and anxious and then the feelings all swirled together inside her and she burst into tears. Merlin crept through the back door and peered up at her. His paw looked awful. Oh, where was Michael?
Sod Michael, she thought. She’d take the cat to the emergency vet herself. She rang and found out where to go and then fetched the cat’s box from the cellar. She set it on the table and lifted the lid.
At that moment, unheard by Franny, Michael arrived back at the house and let himself in. As he reached the kitchen door he saw her, with her back to him, fastening the leather straps on the cat basket.
“What the hell are you doing?
Franny jumped. “I could ask you the same thing. Where have you been? “
“Out,” he snarled.
At that moment the cat, now shut in the basket, let out a piercing howl. “What in the world is going on Franny? What have you done to my cat?”
“Michael, the cat’s injured. I haven’t done anything to him but we need to get him to the vet.”
The emergency vet gave Merlin an injection of antibiotics. The cat recovered quite quickly, as cats do. That story had a happy ending.
Unfortunately the bigger story did not. Michael tried to explain how that key came to be lying outside the back door of the house, how he’d simply dropped it. Franny didn’t believe him – though she should have done, as it was true. Neither did she believe his story about getting a shiny new job, with a new shiny salary. Which was also true. He’d been planning to tell her that morning.
She threw him out. But kept the cat, who is still leaving his white hairs all over her clothes.

© Cath Barton 2010

Cath Barton lives in Abergavenny, Wales, where she writes, sings, gardens, walks and generally enjoys life. You can read her blogs on the 6S Social Network.

Guest Writer: Jenny Picciotto

Digging Up the Past

The trees stood like sentinels in the falling sunlight, silent witness to the falling leaves, fallen rotted fruit. Soon it would be first frost. A fox stole across the lane between the trees, eating, quickly, the remains of the red life-giving apples.

It had to be done. The house was up for sale. He had to finish it now, before the ground was frozen. He kicked at the stinking apples, fermenting where they fell. Chink, Chink, Chink. His spade cut into the earth, seeking the shallow grave. The corpse was rotting too. “It must be here” he thought.

The trees shivered in the chill air; brittle leaves rustling. He was sweating, his flannel sleeve sopping as he wiped his forehead with the back of his arm. Hitching up his worn overalls, he began to dig again. Night was falling quickly now. His wife would be home in another hour. He would have to work fast. He imagined the corpse turning in its cold earthy embrace, evading him in death as she had in life. “I’m sure this is the place:” he thought.

His shovel finally bearing down on the body, the image of her face rushed back at him, crushed by another shovel. She had been running, bare footed, past the watching trees. He was chasing her, flying, fleeing, her feet flapping softly on the firm muddy orchard soil. His leather boots pursuing, arms reaching for her streaming hair. He grabbed her, a red rose blooming on her cheek as he struck her; back of hand like a stone.

“Where d’ya think your goin’?” he taunted.

He fell on her, his chest covering her mouth so she couldn’t make a sound. Hands gripping, tearing open her blouse, her lacy bra strap pulled taut – until it tore. He clawed at her, hungrily. Holding her with one arm across her chest, with one hand he tried to unzip his jeans, but she struggled free and ran again, half nude, past the silent trees and into the woodshed.

He saw a startled fox escape behind the woodpile. She was inside. She tried to brace the door shut with a shovel, but he pushed it in. She was scrambling backward to the far edge of the dark shed. He didn’t know she had found a knife, was holding it to her bare chest. He fell on her again, his hot lips gnawing at her face. She plunged the knife into his side; steamy sticky redness welling up, soaking his shirt, running down his leg.

“Bitch!” he screamed, backing away. Finding the shovel, he raised it over her head, leveling blow after blow onto her face and arms, until she was drenched too; red with blood; red like the apples on the trees in her father’s orchard.

© Jenny Picciotto 2010

Jenny Picciotto is a writer, massage therapist, yoga instructor, mother, wife and office manager. She has written poetry and short stories for private consumption for most of her life. Her work was included in the publication “6S – Mind Games”, a collection of stories told in 6 sentences.

MDJB at GoodReads

Michael D. Brown's books on Goodreads Bastille Day reviews: 2 ratings: 3 (avg rating 5.00...