Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bill Floyd

Cataclysm

One of the worst parts is when the girl’s parents come by. They want to lay down flowers at the foot of the tree in our front yard. The trunk is splintered there where the Jeep hit it, but the tree is still standing. There is a great scattering of loose branches and pods strewn around the trunk. Jess and I stand in our front yard and we shake their hands, feeling wholly insubstantial. I tell the girl’s parents to take as long as they need to take, and then we walk up to the house. I linger by the front window a moment, watching them looking at the ground, and then Jess gently pulls me away.

“Leave them be.”

We heard the impact near eleven o’clock Friday night, just as we were getting ready for bed. The whole house shook. I ran to the front door and turned on the porch lights and called for Jess to dial 911. Other neighbors had heard the crash, too, and came running. Glass shards in the grass, the smell of engine fluids. Someone had brought a flashlight and everything was kind of encircled, images at the end of a telescope. The girl was in the passenger seat, twisted into an impossible shape. Later on, the reporter on the news said she was only seventeen. Just a kid. The flashlight briefly found her face, a fixed surprised look, pink lipstick and aqua eye shadow.

When I was just a kid I used to drive careening through the streets of my hometown, drunk and high on whatever was available to my grabby little hands, and sometimes I’d turn the headlights off in the middle of a curve. Sometimes there were people in the car with me. I steered on instinct, and my instincts were bad. A great bewildered hurt turning to fury inside. A tremulous bluff masquerading as "I don't give a fuck."

Thanks to the reliable twenty-five-year cycle of fashion, the culture of the 80s has recently made a sort of cosmetic comeback. I graduated from high school in 1986. My friends and I weren’t into new wave and we hated preppies and we hated rap. I saw Ghostbusters three times the day it came out. I remember the first time I fell in love, saying the words with no restraint, all heart and no future. Defiant. We knew MTV was bullshit and we watched it anyway. Nostalgia is for kids who weren’t even there, who seek a veneer to cast the present in a manageable light, an imagined culture that was in reality nothing but what little we didn’t scorn from the abundance we were handed. When I hear all the synth-y music the kids listen to these days and I see their popped collars and their aquas and pinks it doesn’t take me back to the prom or the good old days. It takes me back to that whirl of anguish and faith and headlong surrender to impulse that made me smash the bottle and gun the engine and suck in the smoke as deep as it could go.

Sometimes I still have difficulties breathing.

They found the Jeep's driver staggering through another front yard a block away. He was bleeding and dazed and in shock. He reeked of alcohol. When the police brought him back to the scene you could hear him saying he was sorry, over and over. But his eyes had the calculating look of someone accustomed to formulating lies, bald faced lies that were so ineffective they might’ve only served to muddy the waters in his own head.

I thought the parents might come up to the house when they were done praying or whatever it was they were doing. They didn’t linger, though. I wasn’t surprised when they never came back. Unimaginable, or maybe that's not really the right word at all.

I mowed around the spot for a while. Mowing the yard used to be something I looked forward to, a couple of hours a week mindlessly steering the mower back and forth, considering things in a purely hypothetical sort of way.

Eventually I threw the remains of the flowers in the trash. One day I came home and found Jess kneeling in the dirt out there, planting a rosebush. Talking to it, or to someone.

© William Floyd 2012

Bill lives in central North Carolina. His first published novel was called The Killer's Wife and came out in 2008. He's been doing more experimental work since then, but is currently trying for a commercial follow-up so he won't have to go back to a day job.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Patrick Trotti

Green with Envy

The plane’s constant moan kept Francis and Carol awake for the entirety of the trip. Francis wasn’t going to sleep regardless but Carol wanted to get there refreshed. Instead she ordered a procession of miniature sized cocktails and began flipping through glossy, trashy celebrity magazines. It was her one guilty pleasure. She felt safe up here, off of the ground. Safe enough in her anonymity amongst fellow travelers, faceless people she’d likely never see again, to blatantly indulge in her mindless hobby. Every few pages she’d glance over at Francis. She was amazed at him. Everything about him, his posture, his ability to remain still for hours after hour doing nothing except staring out the window into the dark, endless night, amazed his wife who was visibly giddy with excitement for their arrival and the beginning of their vacation. She was also jealous. But in a good way. She longed for his patience and his certainty of what he was doing was right in moments such as this. Carol wanted that and more from Francis. At the start of their relationship she’d gone out with him just to feel his energy vibrating off of him. She wanted to catch some of it, to somehow bottle it up and better herself, awaken herself because of it. Over the years, through everything, that energy hadn’t ceased. Instead it grew stronger and Carol loved her husband for that above all else.

Of course it wasn’t a vacation to Francis. Sure he could enjoy parts of the summer that lay before him. Moments of isolated solitude with just him and his wife enjoying a quiet breakfast in the city or a postcard view of the countryside on a weekend trip but those would be few and far between. His silence, although fooling his wife into a quiet admiration of him, was more of a muzzled energy that he turned inward, analyzing everything that he had to do once he touched down. This trip wasn’t a job to Francis; it was more, much more. It was a chance to reshape the economic and environmental future of his ancestral homeland. Up until now Francis had gone about his career with the acquisition of wealth serving as his guiding light. That certainness was his solace. The unceasing quality and value of money stabilized Francis in times of personal upheaval. Through hair lost, waistline expansion, even death to loved ones, Francis could always rely on his never ending quest to try and obtain more money. This goal was, at first, an attempt at the American dream, to provide his family with more comfort than he’d had growing up. It somehow morphed over the years. It was now a part of his personality; it was what made him feel whole, what got him out of bed in the morning. To resist this urge, to accept this job pro-bono and take on all of the expenses of the summer as an out of pocket loss, although he could afford to, was a defining moment in Francis’ life. He’d found a new mission thirty thousand feet above sea level over the dark, cold waters of the Atlantic.

It was early morning and the air outside the window had gone from a dark, uninviting blue that looked like a day old bruise after a fistfight to a light hue of powder blue sprinkled with rays of warm orange coming from the few places that the large, fluffy clouds allowed them to sneak out of.

Carol leaned in to try and share in the vision. She could still remember the first time she saw the west coast of Ireland. Its rolling green hills resembled a vast, never-ending quilt with its patchwork of different versions of green. She never knew color could have so many variations. That was before they were married. No kids, fewer responsibilities.

But now, with more than a dozen trips behind her, she took in the color and the quilt came to mind but the land, the vision, had more to offer her now. That quilt, once just a beautiful view now had a story behind it. She’d heard on her trips, around the fireplace at the pubs late at night in between songs or back at the cousin’s country farmhouse around dinner. She’d felt the knee-high walls separating Francis’ family’s farm from their neighbors. The cold, jagged rocks were stacked haphazardly.

She once asked why there were no large farms like back home. Francis looked at his feet. She detected a pinch of shame in his eyes.
“Because that’s all the Queen allowed them to have.”

Only in the early morning fog of one too many Guiness’ drank did he open up a bit more. Stories told of shared pasts, a common struggle. Carol didn’t share; she had no tales to tell. She listened, devoured it all. Each and every story. The famine. The wars and revolutions. The imprisonments. The struggle to somehow legitimize an entire people through government policies. The religious clashes. The anger now turned to guilt and shame. The repression of their native tongue in their own schools. The drunken revisionist debates over which leader to follow- Collins or de Valera. There was no wrong answer, only deeply personal allegiances. That much Carol was sure of.

As Carol saw the coast appear now she gently rubbed up against Francis resting at the base of his neck, just under the part of his neck where his stubble begins. She caught a glimpse of the coastline. That was enough for now. She had the entire summer. She focused on Francis. He hadn’t blinked since land came into view. At that moment, as her husband leaned his head up against the small glass window, faintly touching it with two of his fingers trying to desperately reach out and touch the beauty below, Carol knew that he was full. Full of joy, full of gratefulness, full of life, full, for the first time in his adult life, just full, of, life.

Before they touched down, making the journey complete and tangible, Carol’s appreciation of her husband’s contentment instantly vanished and was replaced by a deep, sharp feeling of self-guilt and loneliness. Maybe it was the other couples surrounding them, sharing in the excitement of anticipation, almost bursting at the thought of opening the door and stepping foot on Irish soil, or maybe it was the barely audible conversations: the mutual appreciation of the moment shared. Carol sat in silence. The seatbelt felt tight, constricting, locking her into place like the obedient partner she was. As Francis remained unmoved, his entire attention devoted to the bleak early morning view of the airport tarmac, Carol wanted to scream. Scream out to him, to remind him that she was there. That it was okay, somehow necessary, to communicate his feelings with her and make sure she was enjoying herself.

This wasn’t her trip; nothing about this summer was hers. She realized the childishness of her emotions but they were real, and growing by the moment. His demeanor reeked of fulfillment, making it difficult to penetrate. He’d built a wall around him and she couldn’t intrude. In times like these Francis reminded Carol of her father. His silence, especially in his later years, paralyzed the entire household, holding her mother ransom. She wasn’t going to let that happen to her. The plane finally stopped rolling, idling in place at the desired gate. Carol sat back and tried to let her feelings pass. This was important to her husband so, in turn, it was important to her. It should be that way; it had to be that way. Made things easier.

She wanted to take in the moment, own it somehow like Francis but something wasn’t right. She knew what the summer held for her. Lone trips to used bookstores, museums and historical sites. One ticket for plays, tables for one at small, family owned side street cafes.

Carol took comfort in the rationality of her feelings, her ability to work through it by herself.

The next three months would be the crowning of a life’s worth of being a plus one. Carol’s value was tied to the men in her life. Handed from her father on her wedding day to Francis. The old man silently nodding in the groom’s direction, signifying the unspoken transfer of modern day patriarchal ownership. She’d play the dutiful, happy wife. For his sake. His needs were paramount. Always had been. Carol recognized the imbalance in their marriage but this wasn’t the place to bring forth her argument for change.

She grabbed her bag from the overhead storage compartment and prepared to leave the plane. Francis grabbed her bag in one swift motion. No smile, no sincere declaration of manners just a simple act. Carol soaked in the moment; trying to hold onto it, somehow freeze it hoping that it would be sufficient enough to last until his next gesture.

© Patrick Trotti 2012

Patrick Trotti is a writer, student, and founder/editor of the online lit mag (Short) Fiction Collective. You can check out more of his work at patricktrotti.blogspot.com. Twitter:PatrickTrotti.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Leviathan

A God Dances Through Me

“I betcha don’t believe a word am sayin’. Betcha you one of them city boys who believe God won’t push the button no more.” The old man said. “Well, you betcha sorry ass He has.”

Crazy people tend to pray on the fears and vulnerabilities of the other people. Most of them could smell that in their prey like no other animal.

I told myself not to panic. A single click of the ignition could be all I need to put it behind, and a bit of faith that broken down vehicles in the middle of a highway have a way of sorting themselves out on the first sign of trouble.

And the old man was trouble. He was trouble all the way.

Feeling nervous, I asked. “And when do you reckon He did that?”

“It’s been two days straight, or a little over. When did you last switched onto your radio?” He pointed to the car radio. “Or does the damn thing work?”

The damn thing that the old man referred to did work. My Sony car radio looking a touch too battered by years of neglect.

He began pleading, as if reading my thoughts. “Yo’ sti’l plannin’ to head north, arentcha? Like the rest of them fools.” He paused, half expecting me to panic and race off. “God’s finally made up His mind to get back on us you see. You ever seen people meltin’, that’s what it looked like to me back there. And most of the newborns lookin’ half finished too.”

“You been in some kind of trouble, old man?” I asked, losing my patience. “Back there where you from.”

“Huhn. What didcha say?”

“Up to something no good back there perhaps? Got too drunk and whacked a fella, or touched a wrong girl or somethin’. Got an old limpin’ fool like you scurryin’ off like that.”

The old man stared at me, long and hard. “Now look here, young man. Don’tcha go smartin’ on me now. I ain’t tellin’ you to do nothin’. Dig your own damn grave if its fits ya. All am doin’ is telling you that back north, things ain’t the same no more.”

I reached for the ignition, praying for a miracle.

************


My initial reaction was to run the damn thing down, and I probably would have, had it not been for a broken down car in the middle of a fucking desert. And no, I ain’t crazy, I ain’t the killing sort of man. It was just this thing, you see. Something about him that … that just didn’t quite fit in. Looking drunk, starved and running as if to escape God’s little planet.

Or to ruin it.

A desert noon playing tricks, that’s all. I told myself.

Stranded on the highway, I couldn’t help but notice a figure running in the middle of a heated noon, waving about at the speeding vehicles, though there were none to speak of. The old man hardly had any clothes on. He cut a lone figure on the long deserted road, lingering a shadow longer than I had ever seen.

Fell for the worm as they say. Curiosity makes a fish of us all.

“Car trouble?” The old man asked once he got close enough, standing next to the car window with his eyes squinting, staring down at my face. “You headin’ north?”

He looked a forlorn drunken figure, probably in his early 70s, long hairs and sunburns. Yes, plenty of them, and they looked a lot worse up close.

But sometimes, you miss out on something that is right in front of your eyes.

I replied in affirmative.

“I ought to warn you off. Been doing that since I got off them towns, and none of those fools on the wheels payin’ shit to anything I said.” He paused. “Seemed to me that the whole world is headin’ north them last couple of days.”

Around us, nothing else seemed to move. Nothing else seemed bothered. The whole universe had dipped its fat round head in the intergalactic pit of sand against the face of this intruder.

I asked him to explain himself. Quietly telling him he was making no sense.

“There ain’t nothin’ in them towns but trouble.” He croaked. “You can’t be headin’ north. No one in his right mind should. Need you to turn around, and put as many miles behind ya as ya can.”

A crazy doomsayer on a highway wasn’t something I would have made my bets on when making up my mind for a trip back to my hometown after a decade of keeping distance, a decade of cold heartedness on my part borne of an unhappy childhood. Though the fact that my distant father has passed away recently made it a lot easier to go back to the things left behind. The trip wasn’t just about visiting him, but to bury him, and hopefully the memories that came with it.

I noticed the empty bottle of whiskey in one of his hands, knowing where exactly all of this was going.

The man looked back north, contemplating. “I been livin’ one of them towns. Them’s all too ugly now. All of them folks down there too. The whole bunch of towns’ lookin’ like scattered swamps, swarmed with bunch of creeps who once looked like men.”

He pointed down his feet. “Lookie! I got a bit roughened up ma self. Down the riverside I walked yesterday morn’, Got ma feet all nastied up in the water there. Ain’t looked like no water I ever seen in ma life.”

I needed to move on.

************


I told him that the radio worked just fine. I recalled listening to Cold Play’s Viva La Vida, Bill Withers’ Aint No Sunshine, and even to gruffly voiced Dylan getting feverish about death and dying. Telling us it was ok to die if you only put up a little fight, made it long enough and hard enough against the dying of the light.

“Been listenin’ to the news lately?” He asked. “It ought to be in the news by now.”

“Yes, I have.” I lied. “There ain’t nothin’ in them that I noticed.” I haven’t specifically been hunting for news on my trip so far.

“Hmm, well, maybe the news hasn’t reached them ears yet.” The old man didn’t reply. “Or maybe they ain’t no believers no more. Little city boys like you busting their asses off for a livin’ while the world’s running short on time.”

I took a moment to stare deep down into his bushy eyes, and saw nothing. Nothing of the madness pouring out his mouth.

I pointed at the empty bottle dangling on his left hand. “You been living of them cheap whiskey for too long, old man.” I managed a smile. A right amount of whiskey in the veins could bring the whole world crumbling down.

“Whiskey my ass”. The old man crooned. Smashing down the bottle on the road as if to prove it. “I been runnin’ down this road for two days straight and this damn bottle ain’t licked liquor for the best part of it.”

“You expect me to believe that?” I said.

“I expect you to turn on that darn radio.” He replied. “That’s what I expect you to do, good and proper.”

I looked at him, keeping a straight face. Thinking how crazy I would have to be to actually reach out for my radio, if only to make sure if the world was still round enough since I last checked in.

“Turn it on, wontcha.” A wide grin appeared on the old man’s face, unveiling the dark holes between the random set of crooked teeth and bad gum. The expression on his face seemed to be one of invitation. Daring me to accept the challenge.

“Turn it on and believe, city boy.”

He is from some other planet. A crazy thought occurred to me.

“Whatcha lookin’ at me for like that”. The grin just got wider. “You ain’t no smart city boy are ya. Can’t ya tell that a God dances through me? Can’t you see nothing beyond the busted cars and sunny radio sets.” Paused. “Can’t ya see nothin’ yet?”

I half expected the old man to change. To watch him waver and blink as a hologram would, failing to hold on to some mysterious relay gone momentarily stray, channeled off by some cosmic plateau none have heard of; a deep dark hole in space responsible for all this.

And I have fallen for the worm.

Looking back at the radio set, I watched my hand reaching for the little red button, trying to hold onto the part of me saying that all I have to do is to turn the damn thing on, switch to one of those news channels, and that would be the end of this whole crazy episode. Same part of us that laughs about things we don’t understand, pats us on the backs, and tells us that it’s nothing at all.

I froze. My fingers against the cold dreaded button, itching to home in. Telling myself I ain’t the crazy one here. Telling myself that all I needed is a little push.

© Javed Baloch 2012

Though a software engineer by profession, Leviathan tries to spend almost all of his time reading and writing down whatever comes to his mind. He enjoys brooding over and seeking inspiration from writers such as Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, John Steinbeck and Stephen King.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Harris Tobias

The Finger

The Poindexters were happy to be home. Janet was exhausted. She'd planned the trip to Europe down to the last detail. It was something she'd dreamed of doing for so long but at 65 she underestimated how strenuous it was going to be. Milton, on the other hand, was happy for a totally different reason. He spent the entire two weeks with a nagging, anxious feeling that he was being followed. Something menacing was stalking him. Often he'd turn around to see if he could catch sight of who or what it was. Of course there was never anything there. He never mentioned his unease to Janet. This was her dream vacation, after all, and he didn't want to spoil those few precious days on the continent with his paranoia. Janet was happier than he'd seen her in years as she marched them from castle to palace to museum. Eight cities in two weeks didn't leave a lot of time to get to know a place, but they each had their own cameras and snapped away trying to record every sight.
Now they were home and the anxious feeling was gone. The bags were unpacked and put away in the garage, the film was dropped off at the drugstore and the familiar routine of their lives was restored. A few days later, Milton picked up the developed prints from the pharmacy.
When they got them home, he and Janet spread them out on the dining room table, all four rolls worth. It was immediately obvious that Milton was a poor photographer. Many of the pictures he took had a big pink blob somewhere in the frame. When Milton saw them that anxious feeling returned.
"Oh Milton, don't you know enough to keep your fingers away from the lens?" Janet chided him. Milton shrugged and tried to laugh off his apparent incompetence. Janet sighed one of her "what can you do with a man like that" sighs and proceeded to put the pictures, both good and bad, in an album. It was a cherished record of their trip dragged out at the slightest provocation to show their friends.
Everyone got a kick out of Milton's inept picture taking. They all made jokes about the big pink blob that traveled with them throughout Europe but Milton wasn't convinced that the big pink blob was entirely his fault. He might not have been the best photographer but he knew how to use his camera and he could swear he knew how to hold it. But there it was lying across a roof top or lurking behind a building or down one of those marvelous cobbled streets in some medieval town. It struck Milton as odd that the finger always appeared on the edge of the picture. He studied it closely looking for proof that it wasn't his finger but proof was as elusive as the blob itself.
Matters rested there for several weeks until one fine summer afternoon when friends were gathered around the pool and Milton, with a scotch in one hand and his camera in the other was snapping pictures of guests and grandchildren drinking and cavorting in the sun. He caught a whiff of that almost forgotten feeling, that ominous presence he had in Europe. Here was a chance to prove to himself if there was something to his paranoia or not.
He took special care how he held the camera and how he placed his hands. He took a few random shots of nothing in particular to see if he could catch the finger off guard. He could hear Janet teasing him about those shots even as he took them. "What's this, a shot of the shrubbery?" she‘d probably ask.
When the photographs returned from the drugstore, Milton couldn't wait to see them. He eagerly shuffled through the envelope in the middle of the store. Sure enough, there was the same pink blob. It wasn't in every picture but it was in one or two of them. Especially the unplanned, random shots of shrubs and trees. On casual examination it looked like a finger. But if you really studied it with a magnifying glass, you could see that it wasn't a finger at all. What it was exactly, Milton didn't know but he was determined to find out.
In the following weeks, Milton became obsessed with capturing the finger on film. He'd taken to calling it "the finger" for lack of a better name. Everyone referred to it as Milton's finger anyway. He faced a lot of good natured joking from Janet but Milton was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. He bought himself a better camera, one with interchangeable lenses.
"Again with the camera?" Janet would say. "We need more pictures of your finger? And what's with the gloves?"
Milton explained, "I'm making photography my hobby. The gloves keep me from smudging the lenses."
He shot a dozen rolls of film before he had his proof. He'd taken to wearing white gloves when he went out picture taking. That way he would know that if it was indeed his finger it would be white but if it was "the finger" it would be pink. Milton roamed the parks and towns near his home looking for subjects and snapped away. His picture taking improved considerably. When the finger appeared it was always pink.
"Got you," Milton said looking through the latest batch of prints and finding one with a big pink blob in one corner. He tossed away the rest of the prints even though some were excellent compositions. He was elated. Here at last was proof that he wasn't being paranoid, proof too that it wasn't his fault. He didn't expect anyone would believe him but he now knew for sure—"the finger" was real and it was following him.
He rushed out of the drug store with the print in his hand. He was going to show Janet what he'd discovered. He was never seen again.

© Harris Tobias 2011

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.

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