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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

“So here we are. Out.”

“Don’t make fun.”

“Yes sir…”

“Stop.”

“…out…”

“Stop.”

“What?”

“You know. That tone. That look.”

“I’m simply commenting. I mean, this is what everyone is talking about. The food prepared in picturesque portions, like the photos of meals in Gourmet magazine; the lights craftily placed about the room, as to create an atmosphere of cinematic reality. People laughing, drinking, conspiring…”

“Don’t be a jerk.”

“So this is out. I’m unimpressed.”

“Do we always have to be in? We’re always in. Work and home. That’s it. People are living in random and wonderful ways. Spontaneous ideas that disgorge them from their daily routines. People not afraid to revel in the unknown, in the benifits of unplanned travel. Backpacks carried. Shoes worn. Ideas mapped. We have no ideas.”

Somewhere, a plate falls to the floor.

“What’s so awful about being in, anyway? I think being out is overrated. When you’re in there are no variables only constants. You can relax. Take off your pants if you want. You can dribble on your shirt and read obscure 18th century books on botany without ridicule. You can imagine a young woman, a Victorian train passenger, crossing her legs from left to right, traveling across the English countryside while humming the lines from the St. Swithen’s Day nursery rhyme to herself; softly, sweetly. Eat a salad without utensils. You can sit and smolder. You don’t have to form complete and articulate sentences…”

“This is you being articulate? You’re rambling if you ask me.”

“Bahwk…”

“Forget it.”

A few seconds pass.

“You weren’t always so anti-social? You weren’t always like this, were you?”

“Fwah…”

“Jackass.”

“Scheeeeeewp…”

A few more seconds pass.

“So here we are.”

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previously unpublished short story

Q: How did the invention of plastic change the 20th century?

A: In exciting and meaningful ways to be sure. Straws for drinks are one way. Before plastic came along straws were made of wood which sometimes left splinters in the lips. If left untreated, the seceded wood could infect the area in which it was lodged, eventually leading to amputation of said lips (I’m assuming). Assorted organs are transported across time-zones in plastic coolers of various primary colors, but sometimes the coolers are absconded with, relocated to far-flung locales, sold to the highest bidder. A similar scenario happened to a co-worker: desperately in need of a kidney transplant and the one he was to receive was kidnapped by organ thieves at gunpoint. That would probably be organnapped, in point of fact. And: plastic drop cloths. Dear God and Father Christmas Who Art in Heaven, plastic drop cloths are everywhere in the house! They cover everything. Furniture mostly. Available in both 1 and 3 mil. thickness. They keep everything from harm, from air-borne damage. Discounts are sometimes passed along if bought in bulk (but I didn’t tell you). Avoid putting plastic drop cloths over the head, though. They (the plastic drop cloths) tend to blur the world around you in ways that are wholly unpleasant. Another: plastic utensils of every size and persuasion―forks, knives, spoons, the rarely seen spork. Picnics wouldn’t be the same without plastic utensils. How would we eat all of the animals and animal related by-products stored in plastic containers (Tupperware, and their resulting parties) and neatly packed in the wicker picnic basket that we hauled into the large grass clearing near the graveled parking lot filled with the gleaming cars hot to the touch? With our fingers? Savages! How on Earth would we kill the army ants that deploy themselves at the very base of our food; battalions of ants enlisted against their will for the good of their colony, the good of their Nation?―with our feet most likely: rubber-soled or steel-toed, perhaps both. Or the ends of our fingers, the middle digit descending like a missile above the frontline of those enlisted ants, crushing them into oblivion upon impact. Using your finger in this fashion is so much more personal than using a foot; like stabbing someone instead of shooting them with a gun―or so I’m lead to believe from all the late-night movies I’ve consumed over the years. There are other ways. Let me count them. TV Ads. I almost forgot those! Without plastic we wouldn’t have advertisements for plastic related products, undulating and luminous as they move across our eyes, inserting barely perceptible urges into our brains. The one where the child touches the side of the father’s whiskered face always makes me cry. These are the kind of things you take for granted, because they’re always with you, you never envision your life minus these sorts of things, you never think, “gee what would have happened if the person who invented blank was run over by a car, or hit in the head by a large rock―the kind one would find at the bottom of a quarry―when would blank have come along?” There are also these: Plastic Safety Men. The one in the closet is made entirely of plastic, smooth and cool to the touch, the sound it makes when you run your hand over it like a sort of resistance. It is just like the blow-up Incredible Hulk punching bag I had when I was a kid, although this one isn’t green, or angry, in reality he is completely without emotion, as if a lobotomy had been preformed. Plastic Safety Men are meant to accompany those among us who are too afraid to move through this world alone. It is in there now, sequestered to the back of closet next to the formal shoes I never ware anymore, and the tennis racket that never presumed to have made contact with a ball. I have dressed it with a nice, crisp white shirt and a golf visor (no pants; Plastic Safety Men are born into this world without legs)―otherwise they’re simply inanimate vessels for your oxygen. The one made of flesh left and the plastic one replaced her. All that remains in the house is plastic. And the ant problem—did I mention that? I kill everything with my finger now.

Q: Have dramatic recreations produced for a TV audience altered the way in which we view historical events?

A: The other day I was excavating various unmarked cardboard boxes from the attic―an unwitting archeologist of my own buried past―when I came across a video tape of my 4th grade history class play about Custer’s last stand. I played Custer. This was me: yellow-bearded and perched on stilts hidden under my Calvary uniform pant legs; my teacher―long, spindly limbs, back pitched forward, a face rendered dull from years of mediocre experiences―insisting that the false height lent more credibility to my performance. Near the end of the play I was the only Calvary solider that remained alive, as per the script, the other students/soldiers playing dead, heaped in piles of strange death poses and my other classmates―those playing Indians―closing in on me; tiny fists turned dead-fish-white, clutching plastic butcher knives. It felt all too real. I panicked and began to urinate in my Calvary-issue pants. However, I was unable to leave the stage; the stilts made every step awkward, belabored. Then I fell. My classmates, red-faced, baring the whitest of teeth, closed in on me. Their heads seemed too big for their smallish bodies, like floats in a parade. I began screaming, “Custard has fallen! Custard has fallen!” my teacher watching―how do they say it―from the wings?, holding the script, franticly flipping the pages with fingers coated in colored chalk, no doubt to confirm her suspicion that I was improvising my lines. The warm liquid in my pants was already turning cold. I watch the video tape in my living room, the sound muted, sitting on the couch, holding the remote control with both hands, clutching my breath in my mouth, as if it were my last, as if it might escape and not return, the house silent except for the heavy panting of the dog in the kitchen, the hollow scratching sound of his nails echoing against the tile as he stretches. I try to think of the worst thing possible. This is the only way to eliminate this videotaped atrocity that has been unearthed. I imagine myself jumping out of a thirty story window, cutting through the air head first, the concrete below coming up fast, upon impact my head going straight through my body, and out my ass. I try to replace this image with the one that I see on the screen. Unfortunately it still remains―my frantic, static-forged likeness crawling off stage, blood-thirsty classmates trying to pull me back on, under those large stage lights that rendered everyone a bleached-out sweaty mess. The day after the play my mother stopped at a corner convince store for milk and tofu and was shot dead when she walked in during the middle of a robbery. I couldn’t help but wonder if the last thing she pictured before she died was me pissing my pants.

Q: Has technology enhanced or detracted from the way we interact with other people on a daily basis?

A: My leg for example. It is currently wrapped in duct tape―two rolls worth. No, wait. Actually, to be more specific, it’s what you would call electrician’s tape. There’s a difference, I’ve been told. One is for ducts, the other for wires. To begin again: my leg is wrapped in electrician’s tape―two rolls worth. I shaved my leg first (I’m not an idiot!) so that when I eventually extract the tape I will not (hopefully) be in an extreme amount of hair-related pain. Problem: I can feel the hair growing back under the duct tape even now.  At night, while I lie awake on my side of the bed, I hear the individual hairs emerging from beneath my skin, like bamboo in the forest. It’s lunacy, I know, I know. I am restricted to certain forms of movement, all of which seem overly dramatic, as if I were faking some sort of injury in order to gather sympathy from those around me. But it has to be done. No way around it. I have certain obligations to fulfill; specific experiments to conclude. I am a test subject, you see. For a company that manufactures electrician’s tape. However, for reasons stated in the contract, which I signed with my own hand, I cannot not proceed any further with this explanation. Rest assured this hasn’t stopped me from meeting people. On the contrary, I feel I am emboldened by the handicapping this presents. Video dating, internet dating, phone dating, inter-office/adjacent cubicle dating, park dating, bar dating, supermarket dating, movie theater dating, alley dating, hot air balloon dating, vehicle/bumper car dating, DMV dating, bookstore dating, blind/deaf/mute dating, dating abroad, dating while in mid-air, arms outstretched―I have attempted all of these rituals with certain vigor and a level of acumen I would classify as fair to competent. I am nothing if not thorough. When I am not occupying my time with all of these freestyle forms of dating I sometimes sit at my kitchen table and thumb backwards through a pile of outdated calendars that my wife collected habitually. Obsessively is a better word. Seasonal photographs of various country settings begin in winter, then transition to fall, then summer, then spring. She never threw calendars away; she thought it was bad luck. I pour over a stack of my old journals (I still fail to use the term diary, as if the very word were a knife poised to emasculate) that I have kept for reasons that having nothing to do with bad luck. I search for any indications of failure on my part, but there are only mechanical ones: the time I drove headlong into a neighbor’s picture window for example. I pay special attention to the entries that mark the first of a new year to determine if the resolutions I’ve made previously actually transpired. I have found that a life not lived in reverse is not worth living at all.

Q: Do you feel the government has done enough to address problems of pollution in this country, i.e. regulations, fines, etcetera, or do you believe more could be done to safeguard the environment in which we live?

A: The lake near my house is―to use a term of the slang variety―in a bad way. The chemical factory upstream has dumped God Knows What into the water over the years; chemicals of all colors and odor spreading its own patented brand of ruin across everything. Last year the factory was shut down and executives from the company were escorted out of the darkness of its placid headquarters and into the broad sunshine by plain-clothed government agents. They were ushered into unmarked cars, their sport jackets and raincoats placed over their heads as if in private contemplation. The following week I deposited myself over the landscape around the lake, looking for signs of chemical devastation in the wildlife that claimed residence there. I began to find squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and birds of all sorts, damaged in some way by the chemicals that had been poured into in the lake. I’m no vet, but I could see the resulting wreckage in their eyes. It was abundantly clear. Now: the animals are in my backyard, in the guest bedroom, in the garage. My dog has since runaway from home. Perhaps he was jealous of all the attention I was giving to the other animals. Selfish bastard. I strap birds to model airplanes and airplanes fostered from balsa wood, proxy wings by which they can fly. The birds glide through the air upon simulated wind and air currents provided by an array of various electric fans I have placed about the interior of the house. The animals migrate from one room to another. They are all in ceaseless pain, or so I am lead to believe by the way they look at me. I am on 24-hour suicide watch now.

Q: What other benefits that arose as a result of the industrial revolution still apply today?

A: Look in my garage. Wall to wall tools poised to cut-through, tear-down, break-up, nail-in, saw-off, adhere-to and split-to-and-fro objects that I deem necessary to alter. They hang there like hungry children waiting to receive a scrap of parental affection. We had plans, my wife and I. They (the plans) involved the building of extensions to the house, remodels of existing rooms, additions to existing rooms, the buttressing of interiors against the insidious decline of age. But the only remodels that we executed were those which involved our own failed structures; my wife underwent plastic surgery on her drooping eyelids, I on my crooked nose. The both of us were architecting remodels upon ourselves, tearing down that which was detracting or that had aged inappropriately. Curb appeal is everything these days. The house remained confined to plans which were still blue pencil marks upon graph paper, the unemployed tools meant to foster these designs loitering in the garage, a testament to those failed initiatives. Recently I have learned just this: Plastic Safety Man is not always reliable. Air escapes him, like exiting desires. Plus he is a man. I am not that way inclined. I have begun using the unused tools, constructing a new her from the ground up. This one will have legs, unlike Plastic Safety Man. There is much cutting of wood, forging of intentions. Yes, what I lack in woodworking skills I make up for in intentions. Intentions are as plentiful as the failures that followed them. It takes me a few weeks. Working into the night, toiling under mists of sawdust, festoons of curled wood that look like the fancy chocolate shavings they put atop ice cream in your better eating establishments. I nearly slice an errant finger with a table saw. I just miss impaling myself with a piece of rebar. There are several other near-accidents, but I am resolute. She is completed in the early hours one Tuesday night, the dangling fluorescent lights bathing her in a baptismal glow. She will assist me in my grief, unlike the Plastic Safety Man, that wretched bastard. The next night I am ensconced in a dream of myself and Veronica, the name I have bestowed upon the wooden woman. We are in the house, the house as my wife and I had dreamed it; the structure rising and vaulting, expanding and jutting-out, pregnant with the expectation of children. Even in my dream Veronica is still wooden, my quiescent imagination not sufficient enough to Pinocchio her up. I must then rely on myself for certain activities; she merely provides the color commentary. Then there’s my mom. Poof. Out of nowhere. She is wandering about the house, tidying up. She ferries a flowered vase to better spot. Adjusts pictures. Refills the ice tray in the refrigerator. The side of her head is gone. The grey matter is exposed, matter-of-factly. She looks small and shriveled, a balloon deleted of air. She stumbles upon Veronica and me; one hand on Veronica’s lovingly varnished breast, the other on my stiffened self. She tells me I’ll go blind and then she is gone. I awake in the garage, Veronica splayed into a position I am not aware that most figures made of wood can acquiesce to. I close up the garage and go to bed. I leave Veronica behind. She is not ready to move inside the house just yet.

Q: Are there are modes of transportation that might one day render the car obsolete?

A: Here’s one: Coney Island. I went to New York City once on a high school trip―you know the kind: excursions where parents who don’t trust their kids as far as they can toss them let said children go on a school expedition with little to no supervision. So: the girl that I had been dating at the time, Clair, she and I broke away from the group and ended up on Coney Island (or was it Carla? Cassandra. That was it. Like the sound a woman feigning seduction might make when she breathes the word snake). Cassandra was my first love, the first one I had crushed on. Her face, even now, was rendered in the most abstract of terms: a lollypop of sorts―her colors vivid as a cartoon, her scent sugary; the smell of adolescence. We spent the afternoon riding some of the amusements. We boarded the Ferris-wheel just as the sun packed its bags and went south. The air swiftly turned cold; neither she nor I were dressed for weather that was anything but considerate. Then, a few minutes into the ride, the Ferris-wheel suddenly ground to a halt and we were stuck at the top of the wheel, watching the ocean gobble up the sand then regurgitate it rhythmically. Cassandra was calm. A face of unblinking nerve. She placed a strand of stringy blonde hair behind her left ear, her fingers curled to form the top of a question mark. I, on the other hand, was flirting with panic. Had the guy operating the Ferris-wheel told us what to do in a situation such as this? Had he done so when I was concentrating on Cassandra’s blank expression? Maybe he hadn’t said a damned thing. Typical. Let kids board a dangerous machine and give them no clear instructions as what to do when it fails. The sky turned cotton candy pink. I vomited over the side of the Ferris-wheel, clutching the metal rail on the outer rim of the car, my knuckles drained of any color that might look natural. The pink of my vomit mixed with the pink of the sky as it went down. Leaning over the side I felt a hand on my shoulder, the carrier of the softest touch I had ever felt. I said Cassandra’s name aloud, but all I heard in response was the gritty, bottomed-out voice of the guy who was operating the Ferris-wheel telling me it was alright to let go.

Q: Has better hygiene in the last 100 years improved our overall health or simply made us more susceptible to newer diseases?

A: There are tiny animal corpses everywhere. I have become an expert of animal suicides. Squirrels climb to the top of the roof and jump off, pirouetting into space like tiny ballerinas. There I am in the kitchen, at the sink looking out the window and a little furry body goes screaming by in a colorful blur. I find raccoons that have drowned themselves in the pool. I scoop up them with a drooping pool net and cast them over the fence, into the neighbor’s yard. A robin tied to a balsa-wooded plane crashes headlong into a closed patio door. I hope the recently Windexed glass door was merely hard to see. I hope that was all there was too it. I disinfect surfaces and spray furniture. I build tiny coffins. The backyard is mined with little mounds of dirt where I have buried the recent dead. There is also the following to distract me: I move about the house attempting to discover bits and pieces of my wife, things she left behind. Her hair clogging the drain in the bathroom sink, nail clippings abandoned amid the cushions on the couch, pieces of dead skin that may have fallen into the shag of the wall-to-wall carpeting. I seek out her smell. It’s almost undetectable now; utterly eradicated. All that’s left are my own stale, awful smells that hang presciently in the air. At night I sleep as if my wife were still in the bed with me: curled into myself like a tick, at the very precipice of the mattress, her ghost-self splayed out next to me, arms open wide, as if waiting to embrace something from above. I am not so much losing sleep, as I am estranged from it. Still: I have a blouse. She doesn’t know I kept it. A white cotton blouse speckled with ivory buttons down the front. The same blouse she wore the day we bought this house. The same blouse she wore the day we brought our dog home from the pound. The same blouse she wore when I found her in the hallway one day after work, fidgeting with one of the ivory buttons, the fourth one down, her mouth working awkwardly, fumbling towards a sentence that was soundless. I can’t read lips, didn’t she realize that? Right now: I crawl inside the coat closet in the hall, next to the Plastic Safety Man and Veronica, and the apparitions of my mother and Cassandra. We are all in here, together. It is getting crowded. I raise the blouse to my nose. There’s a hint of a scent. It’s still there. I keep the blouse in a plastic bag with one of those sealing devices where the red has to meet the green. Did I mention everything in the house is covered in plastic?

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AmnesiaJane

I am usually working on various story ideas, often several at a time. Some start from descriptions of characters, or are simply would-be paragraphs looking for a larger space to exist within. This idea, shown above in illustrated form, started out as a quick outline:

A woman wakes up one day to discover she has lost her memory. She is also thought to be dead by those who have attempted to kill her. What does this all mean and why is she in possession of a large suitcase of money? Time is slipping away from her, just as her very identity continues to.

Very often these are the only scraps I have to go from; bits of ideas and plot devices that may or may not evolve into something later. I fill pages and pages of word documents with bits and pieces just like the latter.  I liked this one enough to come up with a mock comic panel of the main character, the Jane Doe of the story. For now I’m calling the story, Amnesia Jane. It’s kind of got this JG Ballard and Philip K Dick ring to it. Futuristic Film Noir? Comic or short story? Who knows?

Of course, it could simply be that I like drawing women smoking that have question marks tattooed on their shoulders.

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Exiting Eden

 

Once upon a time is how the scene begins (don’t they all?) and this is how it unfolds: first we see a sprawling lake, a supine giant, the water of which falls from emerald green to thick, murky browns. This lake has existed here, presumably for a thousand years or more. An old tire, fading, threadbare—a slight impression left in its center where countless children have hunched―hangs from the branch of one the hearty pine trees which populate the acreage that surrounds the lake―a vast, unbroken woodland stretching for miles, the majority of which will be burnt to the ground by arson in the near future.

Feces covers the floor of these woods, the copious dejecta part of an intricate topography of what animals have left behind―the shedding of skin and fur the least objectionable of the lot. The excrement is the by-product of various denizens of the lake region: black bears, chipmunks, skunks, snakes (do snakes actually shit? it occurs to me that I’ve never witnessed a snake having a bowel movement) ferrets, wolves, feral cats, and, of course, birds, the deposits of which are perhaps the vilest; smart bombs dropped from the sky. 

Hideous, filthy birds! cry the other animals.

If it were not for the ability to fly, the birds would be up shit-creek-without-a-paddle―this is, of course, in regards to Bird Vs. Bear, another such scene I have concocted previously: the bird’s wings broken, held together with the aid of tiny splints, must use only their wits, and possibly a well-timed stab of the beak, in a final showdown against the boiling rage of the bear, having been shit upon―literally and figuratively―by just such a bird one too many times. The ending of this scene is too horrible to recount here, although, it should be said, if black bears had a human counterpart it would be that of Charles Manson.

Meanwhile, back at the previous scene: The stench that surrounds this lake is so foul that not a soul dare breach its soiled shores. The lake, once picturesque in its beauty, now wallows in its own filth.  But what could possibly illicit such a deluge of droppings? Too much bran in the diet of the animals? A predilection for jokes scatological in nature? Or had they simply scared themselves shitless?

I have left the evacuation of animal bowels in this scene because it seems as much a part of the lore of these woods as the two people I have previously placed within it: a man and a woman, their lusts and desires anything but errant, their wills obscenely willful and free, roaming the land around the lake as if they owned the joint, naked as they day they were born, (“this isn’t a nudist colony”, I informed them again and again) frequently, unabashedly partaking in the rib. They were over-sexed, as horny as wayward adolescents, their constant copulations embarrassing, so I have since removed them from the scene. They will have to fend for themselves without aid of my pleasant and evocative descriptions forging the world around them.

But I digress.

Of particular note to this scene: the lake is similar in some respects to a lake I once frequented with my girlfriend of several years. We would smile brightly, sunning ourselves on the shore, making plans for the future as I inscribed arcane drawings into her newly sun-screened back; an index finger indexing our entire history together. We stayed in a cabin near the shore, one that was built by some pioneering spirit of the recent past. We had gone on like this for months, the insular beauty of the lake keeping us from the troubles of the outside world.

That was until three days ago when I found myself crouching in the dense underbrush beside the lake, covered in mud and leaves―partly for camouflage, partly for the obscene drama that it evoked―watching my girlfriend: she in the lake swimming nude with another man, the pruned-pair eventually conjoined; their bodies at work below the placid surface. Nude I tell you! Just like those two heathens in the previous scene.

Nonetheless, I am making plans for her in my head.

A few moments later we are talking:

She: Stop following me.

Me: I wasn’t following you. I just happen to be at the lake this weekend.

She: Covered in mud? Spying on us?

Me: I was bird watching.

She: You threw our clothes in the water!

Me: You looked cold, like you could use a pair of pants.

She: I have a restraining order!

Me: You don’t mean that.

She: I don’t love you!

Me: You don’t mean that.

She: Brian, get your pants on!

Me: You don’t mean that―

And then the fist of Brian―pants now on―hits me squarely on the nose, the crunching of bone loud inside my skull.

My girlfriend’s face is pinched, unforgiving.

The latter section is meaningless digression. I am creating a new scene concerning the lake in a darkened motel room off of I-7, scribbling on a notepad I found in the top drawer of the nightstand. I watch a compact TV bolted unceremoniously to the wall, the breaking newscast composed of quickly scrolling fonts and graphics and music built of menacing chords―

FIRE AT LAKE PONCHOTOCK

―the well-groomed anchor needlessly buoyant given the subject matter. A carefully edited montage of video footage follows—firefighters in action poses, blasts of water striking the towering flames with little to no impression. A wider shot, from a higher vantage point, reveals fires on all sides of the lake, the mad reflection of the flames gyrating obscenely upon the surface of the otherwise undisturbed water…

(I have been careful to leave all of this out of my previous scene—it has no substantive relevance, particularly the part where I initiate several small brush fires in the vicinity of the lake with the aid of an engraved lighter that my girlfriend gave me two birthdays past)

…wait, wait. Again I am drifting―at hand, the new scene: I am a bird―that is, I am myself dressed in a giant bird costume, taking wing across the lake, my girlfriend and Brian sunning themselves on shore as she and I had done so many times previously. I swoop down from the pale, dreadful sky and snatch her up with my yawing plastic claws, voiding my bowels upon Brian as I ascend. She lays limp in my grip, a fainted heroine in a b-movie, Brian on the ground below marshalling a look of hurt and surprise. Poor put-upon, shat-upon, Brian, shackled by gravity, effluvium rising in contrast.

The lake hums with vivid colors.

We soar above everything, altitudinous in our coupling.

I with my love―our convergence complete.

Happily ever after.

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The Bunker

I killed him, finally.

The nerve to do so had emerged inside me and I promptly took advantage of it: I raised the pistol and squeezed the trigger just like he taught me. Samson smiled mightily, let out a sputtering moan and fell to the ground of the bunker. I was surprised there wasn’t more blood. In the movies there is always blood, abundant amounts of it spilled everywhere, a menace of red. I killed him and he lay there with that particular face, the one he always brandished, the “what the hell are you looking at?” face.

I knelt beside Samson and did thing that priests do with eyes. But his eyes wouldn’t stay closed. I raised the pistol again and blew his face off. This time there was blood. This time it was just like in the movies only more so.

The portable TV was looping footage of the conflict again, the outside world on the verge, chaos teasing its way into the periphery. Then a quick cut to a newscaster—oily-faced and running-mouthed—analyzed the footage, which now looped in the background. He was joined by three other commentators in various locales, all appearing in boxes of different sizes on the screen. The reception was becoming poor, words dropping out, faces falling into static.

In here it was just me and Samson, and what was left of him. The bunker was stocked with an abundance of provisions: cans of food, TV dinners, dirty magazines, gallons of water, and boxes of ammo. This was how Hitler spent his final days, he and Eva Braun, holed up inside some underground fortress awaiting the end; perhaps watching home movies, playing cards, eating tea cakes. I tried to imagine Hitler eating tea cakes and watching home movies. I tried to imagine what kind of home movies I would have if any actually existed. Summers at the lake. Holidays. Birthdays. Those things belonged to other people. They even belonged to people like Hitler. But not me. And not Samson.

We had a pact, Samson and I.

He was to go first and then it would be my turn.

I began to perform the various Breathing Procedures that I had learned from the manual. There were many, several pages long, all of which had to be done in order for maximize effect—pages 23-30 of the Manual to be specific. We didn’t have a copy of the manual in the bunker, so I had to pull from memory. I inhaled and exhaled: various, subtle ways breathing, conducted over and over again. I sat near Samson’s corpse, cradling the pistol in my hands as if it were a small animal, working my jaw wordlessly as the air came and went. I was modeling myself after fig.3a on page 24.

My turn.

My turn to use the pistol on myself.

That was the deal which had been struck. The world falling apart outside, we decided to carry out The Plan, the one Samson had proposed to me in Salty’s Bar three months ago, after the AA meeting which was down the street from the bar. Samson was a blunt force of a man, forged of character that went out of fashion in 60s. He used to have momentum; it propelled his sturdy body through the world. Once, he had been a teacher of Russian literature; Dostoevsky was his favorite. That was before the allegations of sex with a student, the assault on a fellow professor, before the all-night drinking binges consumed him in vast quantities.

Now he bent forward in constant pain; now he shuffled along; now he forgot things. He no longer quoted Dostoevsky. He could barely remember what he had for dinner the previous night. Momentum had escaped him, it had canceled him out. How long had I known him, really? Even I had forgotten.

Still.

There was The Plan.

He had whispered it to me through whiskey-stained breath while we were bent over the bar at Salty’s.

My response: Was there a manual?

Did The Plan have a manual?

Everything these days came with a manual. Samson simply smiled and punched me in the mouth.

Too many questions, Samson said.

My instinct was to punch him back, harder, to break his neck perhaps. But what was the point? Samson was beyond reason, he moved through the world masking his true motives, allowing only what was necessary to be revealed. The plan was certainly one of those motives. Who was I to question him? Samson patted me on the back, like a child that had done his best but had come up short. He bought me another beer. I massaged my jaw and drained my third beer from the glass. Later that night, at his trailer, he showed me the pistol that he kept under his pillow.

I’ll show you how to use it. It’ll come naturally, you’ll see. It’s easy, he said.

Easy?, I said, as if any of this would be easy.

In my mind I was on page 26 of the Breathing Techniques section, and I was feeling calmer, even though I was attempting to acquiesce the best way of killing myself: I put the gun to my temple, aimed it straight at my forehead, I shoved it in my mouth. I was shaking a bit and my palms were slick so I removed all of the bullets from the chamber and tried various gun positions again. There was no sense in accidently shooting myself. It really should be done on purpose.

The fluorescent lights in the bunker flickered erratically.

Hours passed.

I was mentally on page 29 of the manual.

I reloaded the pistol but was still having trouble fulfilling my end of the deal. Did Samson not realize, when it came down to it, brass tax and all of that, I was really a coward? I hauled myself up from the floor and paced around as I finished the Breathing Procedures section of the manual. Someone on the TV was screaming, although it was hard to discern who as the reception had dissolved into a constant charge of static.

I lingered for awhile in the sallow light of the bunker trying to ascertain why Samson had chosen me for the pact when he could have chosen anyone else. I had forged a pathetic life for myself and yet he wanted me for his partner in death.

Jack-ass.

The TV went dead.

Then the lights in the bunker cut out.

I heard screaming, but this time it was from outside, a din shriller, more immediate than anything the TV could produce. In the blackness I wasn’t sure that Samson’s corpse was scuttling its way across the floor towards me. Ready to burrow into my neck. To relieve my entrails of their housing.

My breathing was shallow. My throat constricted.

I had strayed from the manual. I stuffed the pistol in my trouser’s belt and in the darkness felt my way along the wall to the ladder, knocking over cans and pots and pans. I closed my eyes, even though there was nothing to see. I climbed up the metal ladder to the hatch of the bunker. Everything was Technicolor in my head: deep and lurid colors that held aggression and violence and death. I had killed Samson and that was enough for now.

I unlocked and lifted the hatch, wondering what was next. I looked up into the sky expecting an answer of sorts.

There was nothing but smeared, deadened blue.

I leaned out and listened for an ending.

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What says Christmas more that Elvis? And what says Christmas even more than Elvis? How about a story about 1000 Elvises? Well, there you go…

 

Horse Elvis was arguing again with Table Lamp Elvis and Sausage Elvis (formerly Pig Elvis) in the dining room the three story dilapidated house on 5th street, the one with the pitched roof that was currently under siege from a colony of encroaching moss. The three Elvises were discussing the Surprise Birthday/Father’s Day/Exiting the Hospital Party for Mega Elvis—the King of Kings—father to all of the other Elvises that inhabited the house on a rotating basis. Horse Elvis wanted a peanut butter and banana ice cream cake with an edible picture of Mega Elvis on the top, the sort you can buy at Baskin Robbins. Table Lamp Elvis and Sausage Elvis were both of the mind that the birthday cake should be more austere, more refined—a tort or mousse of some sort. Horse Elvis whinnied and stomped his hoofs on the decaying wood floors, his towering black pompadour swaying atop his pate. Table Lamp Elvis rocked back and forth from the vibrations of Horse Elvis’ stomping, his light bulb clicking on and off. Sausage Elvis merely looked horrified at Horse Elvis’ sudden outburst, grease glistening under the tiny white jumpsuit speckled with jewels on the back side that formed the name Elvis.

     “You don’t have to get uppity!” Sausage Elvis stammered, wiping the grease from his forehead.

     “Look, I just think it should be an ice cream cake with his picture on top. I mean, who wouldn’t like that? Besides, Mega Elvis is not about fancy things like torts and such.”

     “All right, fine. We’ll go with an ice cream cake. Now, who’s in charge of decorations?”

     At that moment, Superman Elvis, and Superwoman Elvis–collectively know as the Super Couple Elvises — flew through the open window in the living room, carrying several boxes of decorations. As if on cue, a few moments later Super Couple Attorney/Accountant/Manager Elvis burst through the front door whistling “Blue Suede Shoes”, carrying a briefcase in one hand and a cell phone in the other. It was well established that Super Couple Attorney/Accountant/Manager Elvis usually appeared directly following the appearance Superman Elvis, and Superwoman Elvis.

     “We’ve got all the decorations, thankyouverymuch.” Sausage Elvis immediately struck his best Elvis pose, his top lip curling upward into the patented sneer.

     “That particular delineation of the Elvis sneer is trademarked by Superman Elvis and Superwoman Elvis, so I wouldn’t advise copying it unless you want a lawsuit.”

     “That’s enough Super Couple Attorney/Accountant/Manager Elvis, we’re among family here. No need to bring anymore lawsuits this week.”

     “Yes, fine…”

     “I’m sure we could always use more decorations, after all it is Mega Elvis.” Superman Elvis said cheerfully. Sausage Elvis stood back from the newly arrived threesome and folded his arms tightly, the stance of a defiant child. Sausage Elvis often felt usurped by the other Elvises, constantly reminded of his lowly status in the chain of Elvises. 

     Superman Elvis and Superwoman Elvis deposited the large boxes of decorations on top of the bulky, teak banquet table, and then quickly stood back, each smoothing back their pompadours adoringly. Super Couple Attorney/Accountant/Manager Elvis was busy filing the Super Couple’s taxes for the year while he was on his cell phone with the manager of a used car lot in Dayton, Ohio, making plans for the couple’s upcoming appearance at the grand opening.

     “Yes, their contracts are lengthy. You’re dealing with professionals. Yes. Yes. That’s right. Yes. No. No. Nnononononononono. No. No, that won’t do. A small photo-op at the end of the gig. Five minutes tops and then they’re gone. They have a grand opening of a tanning salon in Terra Hote, Indiana to attend later that afternoon.

     Horse Elvis blinked wetly.

     “He’s very thorough,” Table Lamp Elvis commented.

     “He ought to be for the percentage he’s taking in,” Superwoman Elvis said

     “But he’s family.”

     “Exactly. That’s why we can guilt him to work on holidays.”

     As Super Couple Attorney/Accountant/Manager Elvis dealt swiftly with various contract issues, Superman Elvis and Superwoman Elvis began hanging the previously boxed decorations about the house at lighting speed. Balloons, streamers, banners―they all went up within seconds.

     Soon more Elvises began to file into the house: Guy In A Gorilla Suit Elvis, George Clooney Elvis, ATM Elvis, Muppet Elvis, Elvis Impersonating The Early Years Elvis, Elvis Impersonating The Later Years Elvis, Soup Spoon Elvis, Sheep Dog Elvis, JFK International Airport Elvis (much too big for the house, he was told to mingle with Buckingham Palace Elvis in the backyard), Abraham Lincoln Elvis, Robot Head Elvis, Revival of All of Elvis’ Movie Musicals Elvis (this version of Elvis acted out all the roles in every Elvis movie musical including that of Elvis, his finely accurate renditions of the films often played out to a standing room audience of Elvises at Plastic Model Of String Of DNA Elvis even Evil Elvis (who was recently paroled after twenty years in prison for killing Good Elvis and was set to have his name officially changed to Recently Reformed Elvis at the county courthouse) among many others—all one thousand Elvises had RSVP’d (Mafia Elvis had made sure of this with a threatening message of his own sent in the same envelope as the invitation) and eventually be in attendance, for Mega Elvis’s Surprise Birthday/Father’s Day/Exiting the Hospital party, the largest gathering the House of Mega Elvis had ever seen.

     By the afternoon, Horse Elvis had returned with the peanut butter and banana ice cream cake, all of the decorations for the party had been hung around the house and the rest of the Elvises had arrived, all except Armored Tank Elvis who was escorting Mega Elvis home. All three stories of the house, including the basement were packed with Elvises. Elvises spilled out into the backyard, and side yards and into the front walkway and into the street in the front of the house. There was some loud grumbling about having no place to hide, until Invisible Potion Elvis had the timely idea of knitting a huge tarp that would cover all of the Elvises (to which Fancy Vest Elvis remarked in his usually condescending manner, why didn’t he come up with a potion for all of the Elvisis, he was after all Invisible Potion Elvis, to which Invisible Potion Elvis quickly admonished that he was only able to create small batches of potion at a time). And so, Woman At Quilting Bee With Large Beehive Hairdo And Poodle Sweater Elvis began knitting a gigantic quilt that would camouflage all of them before Mega Elvis arrived at the house. Once the quilt was done, all of the Elvises submerged themselves underneath the expansive, flower patterned comforter, its very size covering the entire house and yard in addition to a portion of the street. There was some “shushing” and moving of body parts at first, then the crowd quieted, breathing softly.

     The strains of “Love Me Tender” sung in a whispered refrain, echoed beneath the gigantic quilt.

     Sometime later Mega Elvis was spotted traveling slowly down 5th street, hovering in the air, held in place by ropes that were secured around various limbs, the ends fastened to Armored Tank Elvis who pulled Mega Elvis along like a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. His loft was minimal, just above Armored Tank Elvis. His limbs moved about slowly, his frame monolithic, at time blotting out the yolk of the sun, his prone girth almost unwieldy. When they arrived at the house, all 1000 Elvises threw off the giant quilt that Woman At Quilting Bee With Large Beehive Hairdo And Poodle Sweater Elvis had made and yelled “Surprise!” Mega Elvis looked haggard. He simply groaned, floating pass the throng of Elvises to the decrepit house that awaited him.

     Go home, he said.

     The Elvises stared.

    Go home, I need my rest.

     The Elvises lowered their heads and dragged their feet along the ground as if they were being punished.

     Now!

     The Elvises flinched in unison at the sound of his booming voice.

     Mega Elvis shrunk himself down to a more manageable size so that he might fit trough the balcony doors of his third floor bedroom and once having done so, floated effortlessly through the double doors, causally releasing the ropes that had been tethered around his limbs and torso. The double doors then slammed shut behind him, leaving the Elvises, all one thousand of them, to regard one another listlessly. There was murmuring and grumbled phrases of irritation at Mega Elvis’s refusal to participate in the festivities. Finally the crowd began to disperse, leaving the house and the front and back yards, leaving the street, some, like Superman Elvis and Superwoman Elvis (followed hastily by Super Couple Attorney/Accountant/Manager Elvis on a small motor bike) and Parrot Elvis flew away into the powder-blue sky, while others climbed into their cars and drove away from the house, and still others managed on foot, like Horse Elvis and Sausage Elvis and Table lamp Elvis both of whom rode on Horse Elvis, until, a few hours later, they were all gone, all 999 of them, leaving Mega Elvis alone, in the third floor bedroom, laying on his giant guitar-shaped bed, his body still a smaller version that its usual ‘Mega’ size. He sat with the peanut butter and banana ice cream cake on his lap and slowly, deliberately, began to eat the cake with his bare hands, grabbing handfuls, raising them to his gaping mouth, until the head in the picture (his) had been completely removed and all that remained was a body, crouched in the famous Elvis Position: legs slightly splayed, one arm back the other pointing towards the horizon, pointing at something not yet revealed, but there all the same.

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Halloween2009

That’s right, folks! It’s that time of the year again. When ghouls ghoul, and goblins, er, eh…globin. To get in a spooky mood here’s a story of mine that was published several years back on Word Riot, Father’s Parts.

And be sure to check out the website, Countdown To Halloween (which I’m a part of) a meeting place of all things Halloween, with lots of spooky posts all month long.

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