Archive for the 'writing' Category

28
Feb
09

New Short Story–Part 1

The Welder

 

I been thinkin bout this thing for a while now. I gots to tell someone bout it.

I been thinkin bout what makes people go. Well, what makes them do good in life. How come some people’s so sad and others strut around all giddy and happy.

 So what came to me was Jake Stephens. Ol Jake lived in a trailer down my driveway right next to the garage. Skinny? You aint seen a man skinny as Jake, but he’d work as a horse every day. Every damn day. Never had friends ova. Don’t know he had any cept maybe the guys he worked with.

“Beer?” Jake’d ask me anytime I went to check on him. He’d hold out a cold can. Kept nudgin it at me. “Beer?” Now I don’t drink much. Can admit there’s a day or two when a sip of Single Barrel does me some good, but not too often.

See, here’s what was strange about Jake. He was the only man I ever met seemed happy without connections.

“That’s life,” he’d say before taking another sip of beer. “You wake up, go to work, come back home, have a little somethin’, get up do it again.”

He had eyes brighter’n a light house. But like an icy color–blue. Arms like taut ropes, always movin, doin somthing. Always got a project.

“I’m a mechanic, John. That’s what I  do, jus like my father did.” He’d pull out a smoke  after he’d said something like that. “That’s alls I got to offer anyone. What a man does is what he is. ” His eyes would sparkle like you wouldn’t believe when he start talkin and drinkin a few. Still be in green Dickys, holes burned through all over like someone’d poured holes out a shaker. His hands had cracks on em, an his fingers were knotted up. Looked like driftwood.

Then he’d say this after he kept drinkin: “Yep, a man is what he does. That’s what Dad use a say.” A man jus layin there don’t mount to much. Some people likes ta think a man’s worth somethin even when he’s layin round. I say he’s worth less than nothin. He’s takin, not makin.”  He’d take a few more sips.  ” An a man either has a family or’s tryin ta get one.”By then Jake’d have a sheen coverin his eyeballs. A glow bout his face, too. He’d fall asleep for two minutes at a time. Think he’d be sleepin anyway, then his eyes’d pop open an he’d start jabberin away again s’if he’d been pretendin ta sleep. Maybe he’d jus been thinkin.

“You know I love ma boy, John. Evey day I get up an go and do my thing so I can be a man worth bein, jus hopin ma boy’ll see me an be proud for the first time. Proud a his papa.”

Now Jake never said a word bout his boy till he’d made a twelve pack disappear. But the beer washed away all Jake’s surface thoughts so that the thoughts he’d been thinkin without even knowin it came out.

I guess I’d known Jake then for at least fifteen years. Knew him from when we used to have breakfast at Jill’s Diner. Heard he was a drinker, but just sos you know, I never known him ta miss a day’s work on account of it. When he’d start talkin about the work he’d do on the cars and some weldin job he had comin up–I knew he was the real deal. I’m a welder myself.

When Jake got his divorce, only thing he had left was his camper–trailer. I had plenty of place to put him on my lot, so I let him settle down by my garage. He was down there, I’d say, bout three years. Didn’t change his schedule much. Sometimes he sucked up some overtime at work on Saturdays. Generally, we’d have breakfast most everyday at Jill’s, and most nights Jake’d pull down another twelve-pack.

Then, bout four months ago, somethin clicked in im. Jus somethin I could see was different. Despite everything, divorce from his wife an the beer an not havin his house, Jake was such a happy guy. Least he seemed it.

Right before Christmas I think it was, yeah I remember cause it was about twenty below with the wind that night–I went down to make sure Jake didn’t need anything.

“Common in, John”, Jake said. He stepped away from the door and fell back into his chair, which should have hit the dump about ten years prior. The way he fell back looked as if he’d given up on somthin. Normally, Jake’s a wiry lookin fellow. All stringy an jumpy. But that night he was kinda swishin around all loosy–goosy. His eyes told the rest of it, cause even when Jake was three sheets to the wind, his eyes normally sparkled.

He started in on me.

“John,” He looked like he’d start bawlin. “You know a man’s either got a family or’s tryin ta get one?” He chucked an empty can he’d been holdin, right over his shoulder. It bounced off the bathroom door an settled back by his foot.

“Yeah, you said that before an I guess you’re right.”

“An I’m glad for a lot of things, you know. Got a good job. That’s more’n my father had most a the time. Prolly worse a man not have a good job than no family. Wanna hand me anotha?” He flicked his hand at the beer case, which was torn open an layin by the front door. Bout six left in it. Guess maybe a draft was keepin the beer cool cause there was a pile of snow hedged along the bottom of that door an I could see flakes flyin up from the wind gettin in. I did what he wanted.

“Mind?” I said. I held another beer in my paw after he’d grabbed his.

“Plenty more where tha came from, John.”

So I popped it open and took a draw.

“This is it, I think.” Jake took me by surprise when he said that.

There was a long time before I said anythin. Just sat there waitin for him to finish.

“What’s it?”

“This is the last Christmas, I think.” He cleared his throat, settled down a little further in his chair. But then the old Jake showed up, a little grin on his face. “Sent Bobby, ma boy, Bobby, a letter. Told im how good I’d done. Told im how sorry I was for all the stupid shit I’d done long time ago.” His grin went down. “Sent the letter last week an told his mother ta tell im to look for it. Ain’t heard back yet.”

“He’ll  get it, Jake. Just take it easy. Why not come up to the house an have some pumpin pie? Vanessa made it today. She puts extra cinnemon in it. It’d win a ribbon somewhere.”

“Naw. That’s alright. Think I’m settled in for the night. Jus thinkin.”

“Don’t think too much,” I said. “it’ll get you in trouble, is all. All the thinkers out there, seems ta me ain’t done much but get us in trouble. Don’t get much done, an others seem a take their ideas places they weren’t meant ta go.”

01
Feb
09

Part 3 Free-ebook project

Continuing Chapter 1

Or click as it were. David even gave a theatrical jump as if a bullet had really passed through his Medulla Oblongata. He fell back onto the bed, dissatisified with the experiment. His ability to carry out his own assissination could never be proven beforehand. That was the problem with all models. They really didn’t prove much. They just made people–mostly labratory-bound scientists–feel secure and smart. Like prophets. He hid the pistol under the mattress. The phone rang.

***

“It could get worse”, said Andrew. He dropped a magazine from his assault rifle, pulled a fully loaded one from his battle vest and stuffed it into the mag well.

“I really fucking hate it when people say that.” Trindle Drake stopped firing just long enough to glare at Andrew, both of them huddled like rabbits in a hole. Their hole happened to be surrounded by sandbags, their only protection against the withering fire that had kept them pinned for two hours now. Trindle returned to firing at the figures some 100 meters away behind a rock outcropping. “How the hell could it get worse?” He squeezed off a burst, then snapped on the mic on his helmet. ” Space Superiority Ship, Hoden, this is Reaper Eight, do you copy, over?” He leaned his head down near the damp clay at the bottom of the hole so that he could hear any reponse from Hoden’s crew.  Andrew was firing again.

“Tell them I’m running out of ammo,” said Andrew over his own gunfire.

Hoden, do you copy?” He could only shake his head. The Russians were already too close. It was only a matter of time before they’d pull a suppress and flank manuever. Trindle was surprised he and Andrew hadn’t caught a spiker grenade already. He removed his next to last magazine from its pouch and slammed it into his rifle. “Single shots. Go to singles. We’re purely defensive now.” He watched Andrew flip the fire selector on his rifle then go back to a supported position.

“This is Hoden, Reaper Eight, we copy. What is your grid?”

25
Jan
09

Octavia Butler

Science Fiction Author, Octavia Butler

Science Fiction Author, Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler, who passed away in 2006, was the only female, black, science fiction writer that know of. I’m going to try to find some of her novels here at the library. It’s very interesting to me when someone steps outside of their demographs comfort zone. She won a bunch of awards, including the Hugo Award, which is one of the highest honors of science fiction.

I’d like to see how much Butler was able to, if at all, to stay outside the easy, politically correct tide. I’ve read some of her interviews and I’m very impressed. For instance,in one interview which took place around the time of Hurricane Katrina and the openings of the Iraq war, she was asked how she felt at that time. Her answer impressed me in that, while she was not happy at all with either of the situation, she didn’t think it was the End of America. Here’s Butler: “But that doesn’t mean I think we’re all going down the toilet, I just don’t see where that hope will come from. I think we need people with stronger ideals than John Kerry or Bill Clinton. I think we need people with more courage and vision. It’s a shame we have had people who are so damn weak.”

Precisely, Octavia, and bless you for saying so.

She was also asked about what fiction had her attention at the time, and she responded about a book called Crater of Doom, by Walter Alvarez. On this she says: “It’s a history of the finding of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs. I like it because it shows more about how science is done than most books that you read about the subject. It’s talks about how the way we think about science can become religious if we are not careful. There were people who were firmly entrenched in the belief that things can only happen one way, they found it difficult that it could happen another way.” 

Butler’s views are almost assuredly left-leaning. For one thing, that seems to be the current science fiction trend, as most sci-fi assumes a godless universe. None the less, I’m willing to give anything a shot. Maybe I’ll learn something along the way.

I’ll give some book reviews to tell everyone what I think about Butler’s work.

My favorite science fiction authors are: Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut, Roger Zelazny, Lucius Shepard, Robert O’Brien, and most of all–PK Dick.  I almost added William Gibson to this list but I think he’s overrated in hind-sight.

I tend to avoid “hard science fiction” as I believe it’s an effort to dazzle an audience with scientific knowledge, most of which is probably actually quasi-scientific. I like sci-fi to tell me a good story, get me involved in the characters and effectively transport me to another reality. Hard sci-fi seems stilted and void of humanity. There are exceptional stories is the sub-genre of course, but such legends as Asimov and Arthur C. Clark

Till then.

04
Jan
09

Story Hits #1 on Helium.

Here it is: http://www.helium.com/items/488564-short-stories-life-lessons

23
Dec
08

Story I wrote a while ago

I wrote this story today. It’s short but says something. I think.

“I support a woman’s right to choose. It’s as simple as that. It’s her body.” Linda repeated the statement as mantra, just as she’d heard it said to her so many times by her classmates at Stanford.

“But it’s a baby, or it could be,” said Neil. He sipped his coffee and leaned back in his chair. He smashed down a rising anger within.

“It’s the mother’s body,” she repeated.

That evening, Linda went to bed with the normal and human expectation of waking the next morning. She had no terminal disease of which she was aware.

But aliens from the planet Halmatrus decided that they wanted to experiment with human ethical reasoning. How far could the Halmatrusians stretch the ethos of any given human being? Linda happened to be one of the subjects chosen for the alien’s scientific experiment which consisted of this: A person was chosen who held strong opinions on a given subject. The human was then transported back in time, and placed in a situation that challenged the person’s ability to remain faithful to his or her professed beliefs.

“You will be sent back in time, Linda Higgins,” the chief scientist explained to her. “and there, you will make some very important choices that could change the future.”

Linda thought that this was a grand opportunity. How many people get the chance to change the future? She had several things in mind. Several ways in which she could make the time to come much better than it had turned out in the future.

One day, in the past, Linda found a young woman, about the same age as Linda herself, crying at a bus stop. It took Linda several minutes to calm the lady down.

“What’s wrong? Can I help?” Linda loved to feel as though she were helping those who couldn’t help themselves.

“I just found out I’m pregnant,” said the young woman. “I can’t bring up a baby alone. My parents will disown me.”

“There are options you know.” Linda reassuringly ran her hand over the crying woman’s hair. “There’s a family planning clinic down the street. Have you considered it?”

“I couldn’t.” The woman looked up at Linda, searching for Linda’s argument. It was then that Linda delivered the most beautiful, succinct speech on a woman’s right to choose if she gave birth or not. The speech was soft, yet strong; she gave all of the reasons that a woman should only have babies that they felt were fated for a good life. “This is a bad world, a tough world,” Linda said. “why bring a life to it that has less than it will need to thrive?”

When Linda was done talking, the woman felt better. She wiped the tears from her cheeks. Only a rose colored glow gave evidence that she had been crying. She was convinced and relieved. The woman knew, now and thanks to Linda, that she would not have to live with the burden of an unwanted baby.

Two weeks later, the woman scheduled an appointment with a doctor at the family planning clinic. And two weeks after that, she went in to have a procedure done. A procedure that guaranteed that the fetus growing in her womb would not grow too large and become what we call a baby, and that baby would not have to deal with the pains of life. That was how the woman made herself feel better about what she’d done. She’d spared the child unnecessary pain.

Guilt may have taken root in the woman if she had known the effects of her actions. Just as the doctor completed the procedure, Linda blinked from existence. She simply disappeared, leaving a void in space for a nano second. The void closed with a crack, leaving no evidence that Linda had ever existed.

If only Linda would have asked the young woman her last name. If only. She may have recognized the name as her mother’s maiden name. And then, Linda may have considered the metaphysical aspects of her actions, that she had endorsed her own wiping from history.

Back on the planet Halmatrus, the scientists there were awed by humanity’s ability to stand up for what it believed in.

21
Dec
08

Whiskey diplomacy

The soldier limped under the weight of his large, canvas duffel. Tired yes, from jet-lag, and yet energized by the possibilities that lie before him at his new German duty station.

Several other soldiers walked with him, through the hospital-like cleanliness of the Frankfurt Airport. Monotone voices–Teutonic and feminine–rose on invisible intercoms, as if parroting some 1970s movie on a future and numbing Dystopia. But the soldier was glad to be back in the real, if alien, world. The people smiling, and the thin clicking of female pumps on waxed tile. He could tell by the metronome sound of a person’s gait, their sex and build. Somewhere too ,within that resonance , he was sure much more could be told about a person. Maybe the type of car that they drove, their favorite novels, their political affiliations.

He and three other soldiers stepped into the elevator. It deposited them on a the ground floor, where they were led by a contracted employee to a seldom-used exit. Once removed from the elevator, the fragrance of cigarette smoke and drying urine wafted to the soldier’s nose.  In a small foyer area, at the top of an escalator which led to the laberynthine tunnels beneath the airport, three vagrants sat on a low, metal window sill. Upon seeing the soldier, dressed in his duty uniform, all three of the vagrants seemed to lose their masks of perpetual victim-hood. One of them, a lady as best the soldier could tell, smiled then tugged at a cigarette, it’s end glowing angrily. The teeth that remained in her mouth sported brown nicotine paint.

One of them stood from the sill and walked spryly to the soldier, extending the darkened hand of the homeless. Fingernails resembled claws and face bore two days of facial hair.

American Whiskey. Very gut, ja. American Whiskey and Obama. Obama is gut.” The man smiled and unabashedly showed his own dental gaps. The smile revealed the homeless man’s sycophantic soul, where power replaced the Golden Rule. Where a life of begging had robbed him of the ability to contemplate morality. There was only cigarettes, a sandwich–and the next bottle of American Whiskey.

A murder of chuckles burst from the the vagrant’s comrades, followed by those of fellow soldiers. The soldier nodded in acknowledgement as he shook the rough, dirty hand. He smiled thinly.

When the damp German air swiped his face out on the sidewalk, the soldier knew now that the world could love America again. The world only needed a small excuse to love the soldier’s homeland, which had given so much to so many. An excuse that would remove the thinly veiled jealously which many Europeans felt toward their American allies.

It was that easy. Whisky and Obama.

Writer’s Note: This is a true story, stylized for literature. .. It happened to me when I was leaving the Frankfurt airport this year to come to Wiesbaden.

09
Nov
08

Possibly the best book I’ve ever read

0939767287 When I worked at the police department, I found a little paperback in a metal desk’s drawer. The desk was inside the commanding officer’s glass cubicle. It was called Night Dogs, authored by Kent Anderson. At the top of the book was an endorsement by James Patterson, probably the best selling author of suspense and police procedural books. He said that Night Dogs was the truest and best police book he’d ever read. Heavy props…

I took the book home and began to read. I was drawn into a psychologically dark world, where the main character, former Vietnam-vet and now Portland, Oregon police officer, Hanson, battled not only against crime, but his memories of the war in Indo-China and against the greatest war that can be waged: The war against self.

The book is semi-autobiographical. Kent Anderson himself was a special forces sergeant in Vietnam and a police officer in Portland in the seventies. He knows what runs through a cop’s mind, the constant battle of violence against benevolence. At once, a cop must be a servant, and then a warrior ready to kill. No easy task. In one scene, which reminded me of several instances I’d encountered, Hanson goes to a call for service where a mentally ill Vietnam-vet is causing a noise disturbance. Hanson speaks with the vet inside his apartment. The veteran is mentally deranged, still wearing old army issue clothes with pictures of his war-buddies pinned to them, speaking ominously about laser beams being shot through his windows and all along there is an air of danger, that at any moment this man may snap and try to kill the police officer. Hanson thinks to himself about what he’ll do if he’s attacked, and decides he’d probably have to punch the man in the throat, that that’ll stop anyone, but he concludes that you never know what a deranged person can withstand and still keep going. I remember dealing with some mentally ill people. They’d stare and speak as if they knew something you didn’t, saw into worlds that only they knew existed and sometimes they were convincing enough to make you wonder if that other world really did exist…

I highly recommend this book. I’m not even sure if it’s in print, but I think Random House still puts it out. There’s also a prequel, called Sympathy for the Devil. It’s about Hanson’s time in the Nam.


06
Nov
08

Writer’s block…yeah it sucks

I’ve been blocked for six months now. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the time I’ve been in training with the Army. But it’s a horrible feeling for a writer.

I read once that one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, used to worry that he would lose his gift–his writing ability would simply vanish. I have the same fear. I wonder if my ideas will dry up and I’ll have nothing left to say.

When I’m relaxed–my creativity flows and the writing process is trance-like. My first book was almost easy, if not published…. I’ve begun a second, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever finish it. That’s not to say that I won’t begin another one, though. Before I went to basic, I published the first chapter of my second book here: https://magus71.wordpress.com/2008/04/19/my-second-novel-chapter-1/

Well–here’s the secnd chapter….

Chapter 2

 

The best thing about being out of prison is air conditioning. I know that’s a strange thing, but Jonny really likes air conditioning. Growing up, it always seemed that people who had air conditioning in their homes had their shit together. This air conditioning is blowing through the vents of Nameless-Man’s Lexus. Jonny reclines in the leather seat, arms folded across his chest, eyes closed. Put your seatbelt on, Jonny. He can’t hear me like you can, just a habit I have. He’s not wearing his seatbelt, partly because he never completely shucked off his rebel nature, and partly because a sliver of him still wouldn’t mind being vaulted through the front window of a nice car. With air conditioning.

     “First thing’s first. You need clothes, a car, and a woman.  Any preferences?”

     “I don’t do suits. Something fast. Anyone who won’t make me nuts—more nuts.”

     Nameless-Man nods. “We can do that.” He spins the steering wheel a hard right. The car bumps up into a car lot. “Anything you see here?”

     Jonny’s eyes pop open. He shades them from the light with his hand while surveying the lot. He points. “That right there. The black Acura.”

     They both step onto the hot tar, walk to the Acura.

     “That what you want?”

     Jonny looks inside the tinted window, trying hard to ignore his own reflection. He hates his reflection. Six speeds, onboard nav-computer. “This is the one.”     

      “Be right back.” As Nameless-Man trots off toward the office, Jonny continues examining the leather upholstery. Through the tint, he can’t see many flaws; just a few crumbs wedges into the creases of the passenger seat.

     “She’s all yours.” Turning, Jonny’s hit in the sternum with a set of jingling keys. He catches them before they hit the ground, presses the flesh of his thumbs into the key grooves as he studies the man in front of him. “I’m going back in to finish some of the paperwork. You know how to get to the Seven Eleven, up the street?” The man thumbs north. Jonny nods, opens the car door.

     Inside the car, he can smell the leftovers of someone’s dog, some sort of Sheppard, Jonny decides, from the long hairs woven into the floorboard upholstery. That doesn’t matter. This is still the best car Jonny’s ever had. He slips it into first, and rolls to the edge of the parking lot, turns right onto the road.  He reaches the Seven Eleven, pauses the car in the road, staring through the dark lenses of his sunglasses at the parking lot. Who the fuck is Joe, he’s thinking. And why should I talk to him, when I could just fuel up, grab a case of Bud, and be done with all this shit. He edges his car to a back corner of the parking lot. Sits for a while watching rednecks meander in.

     The Jester likes all kinds. Age doesn’t matter; man, woman, toad. Toads don’t get the Jester’s adrenaline amped up to really high levels though, mostly because there’s so few sentient life forms that will appreciate atrocities committed upon toads. Planting a forest of worts upon a thirteen year old girl’s nose may cause psychosis. The toad however wouldn’t know the difference and his friend’s would simply sit stoically nearby, like grotesque Buddahs, or gimping around in cool mud. No fun at all. Everyone, even the Jester, needs to feel noticed and like the child who can’t get attention for brushing his teeth properly, or keeping his elbows off the table at dinner, the Jester is prone to screaming in the grocery store, or kicking grownups in the shins while wearing an inane smile.

     So humans are the preferred victims, mostly because they love pain—both in themselves and others. Some love victimhood, some express glee at the misfortunes of others, but all worship pain in some way.

     Except for one: Joe.

 

     Jonny knows who Joe is the second he sees the man. Why he would know this, he can’t say, but subconsciously knowing the Jester as he does and knowing the mark left by the Fool, Jonny makes a connection. There’s Joe, in the blazing sun, cooking on the blacktop, an opaque, white beard hanging just below his Adam’s Apple. He’s limping, maybe from an old war wound, Jonny surmises. He’s wearing a pair of unfashionably faded jeans, sneakers with Velcro straps; sneakers that Joe would surely call “tennis.” His t-shirt, red, says “Gotta go, Gotta go!” on the back. Johnny estimates Joe’s to be midfifties. A ball cap finishes the look of a retiree’s mocking surrender to age. None of this tells Jonny that Joe is indeed Joe. What does, is the fact that Joe’s pushing around a steel oxygen tank on a two-wheeled cart. A tube sways between Joe and the tank, crawling up his chest and reaching into his nose like snot-prodding vines. All the time, while laboriously sniffing pure O2, Joe brushes unseen specks of dirt from the 7-11 parking lot, a small push-broom in hand, a dustpan hanging from his belt. Joe’s not huffing and puffing for his sweeping effort, he’s breathing hard for breathing’s sake.

     Jonny parks his best car ever, slouches down in the seat, watching Joe do his work. Joe carries the oxygen tank as if it’s only a can of soda, setting it aside to pick bubble-gum wrappers from the base of the building, or to lift trash bags from bins. Joe disappears around the corner of the store.

     Jonny cares. He gets out of the car, slams the door and walks to the back of the building where he last saw Joe. There, he finds him, standing next to a garbage dumpster, repeatedly flicking a lighter under a filterless cigarette. His oxygen tube hangs flaccidly under his chin, suspended by a plastic loop.

     “That off?” asks Jonny, nudging his chin at the tank.

     “Nope.” Joe continues flicking his lighter. He holds it to the sun and shakes it, squinting for lighter fluid, then resumes his flicking. Jonny feels a sense of shock at Joe’s lack of frustration.

     “You, Joe?”

     “Got the password?” says Joe, lowering his cigarette after a satisfying draw.

     “What password? I wasn’t given a password. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

     “I know why you’re here, but without the password, I can’t help you.”

     Jonny shrugs. “Fine. I don’t need this anyway. Something from a man named Joe, who wants a password that I know nothing of and should have been given to me by a man I met for the fist time today.” He shifts to leave.

     “Wait.” Joe’s face is serious, crystal blue smoke curling from his barely separated lips, up through his mustache, recycling through his nostrils. His chest heaves with the breathing. Suddenly, laughter gushes out of him like a burst water main; heavy laughter crackling with phlegm and coming to a close with deep, baritone coughs. He takes his hat off, wipes a sheen of sweat from his balding, sun-spotted head. “That’s your first lesson. First lesson right there. Stop trying so hard to not care. There is no password. If you want to not care, then don’t, but stop posing.” The way he says posing indicates a familiarity with a skateboarder underground. Jonny imagines Joe performing Nollies and Railstands down at the bus stop, his oxygen tank harnessed to his back, the kids circling in awe. Skate Legend Joe.

     Plowing through his intermittent cough, Joe continues. He looks really serious now. “You may not be the worst case of faking it that I’ve seen.” He waves his hand in the direction behind Jonny. “See that?” A kid, seventeen, maybe even in college, walks into the store. He’s wearing gaudy plaid pants, different colored shoes, his head shaven bald. His ears are studded with all variety of metal piercings. His nose has one too. “That kid right there—he’s a harder case than you. He’s all like—‘Look at me, Look at me! See, I don’t care!’” Joe flaps his arms and does a little jig. His foot bumps his oxygen tank, knocking it over. Jonny expects the clang of metal to be accompanied by a gaseous explosion. “And that kid won’t be able to not care until he has something bad happen to him. Maybe many bad things. He can’t relax, he’s always worried that someone may think that he’s normal, that he stands out in no way, means nothing and will mean nothing to this world.”

     “Look, why am I here? That’s all I want to know.”

     “I’m your trainer.” Joe looks Jonny up and down. “And you have a lot to learn.” He smashes his cigarette butt into the pavement.

     “About what?”

     “Self-defense, women, the world you think is real and in fact is, but not as real as you think.”

     “You’re wasting my fucking time, Joe. And I’ve spent the last two years wasting my own time.”

     Joe doesn’t flinch at all at the rage that’s seeping from Jonny, he simply begins sweeping around the garbage dumpster. “I’m just about done here for today. Just hold on about five more minutes. I’ll clock out and we’ll head to my place.”

    

***

       

     “Probably been a while since you had one of these.” Joe slides a bottle of Amstel Light across the kitchen table at Jonny, who sips from it. Joe sits down with his own bottle, lights another cigarette, and gazes at the tabletop, pondering. He reaches down and does something to his oxygen, pulls the tubes from his nostrils. “Look, what I’m about to tell you is going to confuse the hell out of you. You won’t believe me, you’ll want to leave. But I’ll keep giving you good beer so you won’t. And some lung cancer too, ‘cause you love that.” He held a cigarette out for Jonny. “Jonny, this world is messed up.”

     “No shit, really?”

     “Yeah, really. And it’s messed up because of there are things going on behind the scenes that few glimpse. They think it’s all random and some of it is, because the asshole behind all of this can’t be everywhere at once. He has limits. Limits that the universe placed on him lest the cosmos become a three-ring circus. But the universe likes to be entertained. Kind of like a Roman emperor. It knows that rules and law are what give him manifest power, but it doesn’t mind seeing a few slaves and Christians eaten by lions. It’s all about balance, at least that’s how the universe sees it. Sucks to be a slave or a Christian.”

     “I’m not into philosophy or tarot cards.”

     “This isn’t any of that. It’s reality, or one of them. Okay, there’s this…guy. Call him The Jester.”

     Jonny sets his empty bottle down hard enough to tell Joe what he wants.

     “Help yourself,” Joe points back to the kitchen. Jonny does. “You know The Jester, but you don’t know you know him.”

     Jonny clenches his jaw. Something about the tune of the name, something about the way Joe said it.

     “Some people are fed up, Jonny. The Jester’s gone too far, pissed off all the wrong folk. A coalition of the willing has been formed. Misfits, outcasts, gimps, neurotic malcontents like yourself. Some carry with them unique abilities bestowed them by a laughing cosmos. I know about your gift. Pretty cool, moving through walls like air. The problem is you care about not caring, you’re trying, so you can’t control it.”

     “Again, why do you need me here. I want to see my daughter. That’s all I care about,” says Jonny.

     “Do you want your daughter growing up in this type of world? A world of one-armed piano players, a world where they actually make a sequel to Battlefield Earth?”

     Jonny cringes.

     “What we, the coalition need, is someone of your talent to take out a few of The Jester’s agents. And maybe in doing so, you can earn your way back to a nicer world.”

     Holding up three fingers, Jonny says, “Oh yeah, besides philosophy and tarot cards, karma is the other thing I don’t believe in.”

     “It’s not karma, Jonny. It’s the way things are. You don’t remember except maybe in dreams, or maybe when you’re staring out a window and that dark feeling comes over you, the feeling that you don’t belong, don’t fit in. The courier explained it a little to you. Or he was supposed to. You see, Jonny, you used to work for The Jester.”

     “I have no idea what drug you’re taking old man, but I’d like some of it. What is it, Lysergic Acid, Depakote?”

     “You’ll remember. We’ll make you remember. Actually, I can tell you right now” Joe stands, then pulls his oxygen behind him into the living room. There’s a metal filing cabinet there. He places a pair of glasses low on his nose, then paws through rows of thick manila files. “Yep. Here we go. Jonny Kimble.” Joe sounds too satisfied, like he’s about to one-up Jonny for the Depakote joke. Oh, he’s gonna one-up him alright. “Says right here, and I quote, ‘On 18 January, 2736, Altropis Time Band, Jonny Kimble, employed by the Terran Space Agency as an Astrophysicist Engineer, reprogrammed the mainframe of Generation Ship, Azure Horizon, which was originally bound for Zeto-Cryla III, to arrive instead at Calicosus, in the Rigel system.’” Joe coughs, looks up to make sure that Jonny is properly stunned. Seems to be. “’Calicosus is and was known to host intelligent, biped felines (Calicoeans), who throughout the centuries developed a severe addiction to the tobacco products harvested on twenty first century Terra. In their attempt to procure the secret of tobacco cultivation, the Calicoeans have turned to piracy, harvesting captured human data bases, and stealing the rare and occasional pack of cigarettes found on board human ships. Their extreme addiction prevents them from chemical analysis of the cigarettes—they smoke them immediately. All this despite the provisional law enacted restricting all human consumption of tobacco. It is also well documented that when Calicoeans fail to procure tobacco during one of their raids, they fall under severe psychosis; a mental derangement which can only be properly termed in slang, as nic fit. Instead of the normal human response (teeth grinding, yelling at spouses), the Calicoeans achieve a vociferous appetite for human flesh. So intense is their hunger at this point, that upon discovering a human while under the control of nic fit, a pack of Calicoeans will pick clean of flesh the human’s bones. Calicoeans possess razor sharp claws and teeth. They are very proud of their teeth too, so the other item of Terran manufacture that they have interest in is whitening toothpaste, particularly after smoking large quantities of tobacco.’”

     His limp seemingly amplified, Joe moves to the table, slaps down the file. Right in front of Jonny’s eyes.

     “So, you see, The Jester had you doing some dirty work and you pulled off the mother of all dark pranks. Wiped out Earth’s future, all of them just pristine skeletons sleeping in their cryo-tubes when the Calicoeans got done with ‘em. The kitties had enough toothpaste to last about a hundred years.”

     Jonny flips through the file, the official looking stationary with strange stampings. In a corner, stapled through the folder, a plastic photo card, Jonny’s own eyes staring at him from another time and place—him but not. Terran Space Agency, just like Joe said. Above Top Secret. Engineering Division. Project: Azure Horizon.

     Jonny needs yet another beer.

02
Nov
08

Little Things: A short story

  Little Things: A short story

I’m not sure if I’ve put this one on this blog or not, but it is posted at Helium.com. This story represents an effort on my part to make a story that James Joyce would have appreciated.

Hope someone likes it. Here’s: Little Things

Pine Sol. The whole room smelled of Pine Sol.

“I don’t think you got the corners,” said Agnes as she lay in her bed.
“Of course I did, Mom.” Rachel ran her hand over her mother’s forehead, smoothing back the white wisps of hair. “I always get the corners. Is there anything else I can get you?”
Agnes layed down again. She turned a bit onto her right side. It was a slight movement, accompanied by a grunt indicative of extreme effort. She stared at a corner of the room intently. “It’s dirty I think.” She collapsed back.

“I’ll take care of it, just rest Mom–please.” Rachel walked out of the small bedroom, down the stairs. She went to a closet in the house’s foyer and removed a mop. Her brother, Jim, stood from his seat when he saw her. His face looked drawn; dark circles orbited his eyes, skin bland as sheetrock.

“Everything alright?” Jim asked.

Rachel dug in the closet as she spoke: “It’s the same thing. The mopping. Or the door to the bathroom creaking.” She stood before Jim, holding the mop, her face showing no emotion. “She’s almost gone but she cares that the door needs WD-40.”

After dabbing the corners of Agnes’ room with the mop, Rachel went back downstairs where she found Jim applying lubricant to the squeaky hinge. He swung the door open and shut. When he’d finished the job, he stared at the can, spun it in his hands as if to distract himself.

“The doctor,” Rachel said, “will be here in half an hour.”

Jim only nodded.

Returning to her mother, Rachel told her of the doctor’s impending visit. Agnes’ eyes lie closed. Her lips though, were parted. Agnes seemed to be sinking into the bed before Rachel’s eyes, the cancer that grew in her body pulling her down and away from her family and friends. Rachel imagined that; mobs of dark and knotty hands growing from the bed, curling around Agnes, greedily pulling her away–forever.

Raspy words escaped Agnes: “Did you pay the phone bill? It’s the first.”

“Mom, I’ve taken care of it.” Rachel stood and leaned over the bed. She pulled a curtain open allowing blazing shards of sunlight to crash in. Agnes shuddered as if she had been hit by a hammer. Quickly, Rachel shut the curtain.

Rachel sat in a chair beside her mother’s bed and began to read a magazine. She worried about Jim. He seemed unable to breach the wall of pain that stood invisible before the door to his mother’s room.

“Phillip’s son is coming to mow the lawn on Wednesday. The gas for the mower is in the shed on a shelf. A red can,” said Agnes. Her words trailed at the end, like someone speaking as they dozed off.

The doorbell toned. Muffled conversation made its way up the stairs. Agnes’ eye lids burst open. “Dr. Krutzburgh’s here,” she said. Footsteps chugged up the stairs.

“Good morning, Agnes.” Dr. Krutzburgh walked in. He wore khaki dress pants and a blue, button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows. “How are we?”

Rachel stood from the chair and Dr. Krutzburgh took her place.

The doctor carried with him an illusion. It is the illusion that all good men of the medical trade must be able to employ at will: That pain, suffering and even death are subject to him. Though the patient’s mortal confine is ravaged beyond rational hope, everything will be alright.
He lifted Agnes’ arm from under the blanket and gently slid a blood pressure cuff on. After noting her numbers, he removed the cuff and pressed a chilled stethoscope to her bosom. “Take a deep breath for me Agnes.” Her chest rose slightly, followed by a deep groan. Her face contorted. Then, a long silence.
Rachel stood near the door observing, biting her lip. The quiet had a disturbing aspect to it. She half-expected the doctor to stand and announce: “The cancer’s gone. I’ll be on my way.” Instead though, he removed a syringe and small glassine bottle from a case he’d carried in.

“I’m going to give you some medicine to help with the pain, okay?”

“I don’t want it. And you don’t have to talk so loudI’m not deaf,” said Agnes.

“There’s cookies if you want some. My daughter made them.”

“I think I will, but I want you to take the medicine,” said Dr. Krutzburgh.
Rachel saw the word: morphine on the bottle that the doctor held.

“If that’s what it takes for you to stop pestering, go ahead.”
The doctor administered the opiate then motioned Rachel into the hallway. He placed a hand on her shoulder. “She’s going. This may be the last. I’ll stay here for the day. I don’t expect things to go on after that.”
Rachel went to tell Jim, then returned upstairs and stood in the bedroom pacing.

“Did you check the mail?” asked Agnes, through delirium. “It’s one o’clock. The mail comes at one.”
Indeed, Rachel’s watch confirmed it was one o’clock. How her mother knew this without a clock nearby, Rachel couldn’t say.

At twelve past one, the doctor felt for Agnes’ pulse and found it missing. He looked up at Rachel.

She understood. It was true what they said; that only two things really mattered: Death and Love. With that realization: relief that it was over. When she told Jim, he picked up the phone to call for arrangements.

Rachel walked to the driveway. Outside, her senses exploded and Rachel noticed all of the little things that everyday she took for granted: the undulating chirps of chickadees, calling, rasping in uneven harmony, never to find a chorus; crunching gravel beneath her feet, the rolling stones mashing and finding their place amongst brothers, small stones pounced upon by the pricking rain, light, cold as lonely steel; a rain that pulled down the smell of lightning ozone from damaging gray cirrus, mingled it with the surrounding pines, offering the smoke as sacrifice to her mourning soul; a soul that felt the thick breeze moving and lifting her hair, grazing her eyes and ears; yes, ears that recorded the echoes of barking dogs, lonely, calling for the pack to undo exile, the sadness imposed upon the lonely for all time; ears pulled by the band of children playing in the joy of youth, evident in randomness, cleverness, carelessness; a bouncing ball, a clatter unknown, smashing against the muscular tones of distant motors, angry, huffing, pulsing, flowing down tunnels of concrete, running to escape the droning populace, racing for the muffling of forest and ocean and river, collapsing, swirling, finally, again, waiting for the one such as Rachel, who would hear, smell and see.

19
Apr
08

My second novel: Chapter 1

This is the first chapter of my second novel. Don’t know if I’ll ever finish it. Its taste may not be for everyone; it’s decidedly influenced by Vonnegut. See what you think. I’ve got about 9,000 words done. There were some texting issues at the end of this chapter from transferring it from a Word file.

Chapter 1

 

 

Come now and look. This way, just down this damp, gray hall. Let’s look, as we pass each barred cell, notice the shades within. No not the shadows, the cool, ever reaching shadows that fill those concrete cubes. Notice the men, each with a dream, his own history and pains. They are animals, each and every, have no doubt of that, Friend. But so am I, so are you. Don’t stare too long and most definitely don’t make eye-contact. Obey their code while you’re here, just for a short time and then maybe you’ll understand, maybe you won’t judge or feel repulsion.

     Just a bit further, to cell one hundred forty. Look in there. That’s Jonny Kimble. Three years ago, Jonny learned that the universe will stab you in the back when you’re not looking, twist the knife just to feel the bones separate. Jonny found out that not everyone in life comes out a winner, no matter how some may try or how well-intentioned they be. Yes, three years ago, Jonny came home to his lovely wife blowing Jonny’s neighbor. And all he knew how to do is what he did. He smashed the toilet to a pile of powdered porcelain with his not-so-noble neighbor’s face. The only thing that really bothered Jonny was hearing his little girl crying from her bedroom, awakened by the horrific thunders of flesh-on-crapper and the woeful simpers of Mr. I-like-to-stick-it-in-my-neighbor’s-wife.

     He didn’t say a word to his wife after that, just saw her in the courtroom during the divorce. He’d called the police himself, while the horny neighbor rolled on the floor, grasping his visionless eyes, smearing blood on his naked skin, covering that with sharp biting granules.

     “There’s a man in my bathroom that may die,” he’d said. “But I’d prefer that he didn’t so if you could send an officer and an ambulance that would be great.” 

     Jonny sat in the bathroom’s doorway watching the man. There was no rage, just the question of why. And the question was not directed at his bellowing neighbor, after all, he knew what the man’s answer would be or at least should be: “I had to get me somma that.” No, the question was intended for the Cosmic Jester. Jonny thought he’d slapped the Jester around and put him in his place in previous years, thought the Universe’s Fool inhabited a straightjacket somewhere on the plains of Nebraska. That’s where Jonny had last seen him, on a night that sleep had rescued him from one more day, Jonny laying in an abandoned car, empty Twinkie packages licked clean and strewn across the backseat.

     You see, our man in there loved his wife. And she’d said that she loved him too, couldn’t live without Jonny. And that had given him the means to pull himself from his sewer-of-a-life. No more stealing and lying and losing. Got a job, he did, went to college. Didn’t wear his blotchy tattoo quite so proudly. Love was the only thing that had ever motivated him, ever made him anxious to wake up and do something. Well, other than wanting to see the sun so that its warmth could be his. Love latched onto him with a steel cable and yanked him out of the ditch. But love’s banishment came that night, on the second story of his little blue home.

      Elevated aggravated assault. That’s what the District Attorney hit him with. And he didn’t fight even a little, didn’t pull the woe-is-me garbage. He’d argued with his attorney over a crime of passion defense. Looking at the event truthfully, he didn’t remember any passion, just a cold Fuck You to the laughing Jester as the toilet exploded. Besides his daughter, there was no reason to get up and go to work, to brush his teeth, to pay taxes or mow the lawn. A better thing actually, and he’d thought about it carefully, was to play in the heavy traffic on I-95. Not rush-hour. The vehicles moved so slowly then. He thought that a good game of Hacky Sack, performed in the passing lane, would be sufficiently romantic, with a copy of Joseph Conrad’s, Heart of Darkness, tucked into his back pocket. That’s the way he wanted to be found, flattened and thrown into the weeds—rundown by a teenager talking on her cell-phone, a stinging classic which condemned all-that-is jutting from his pants. He wondered if the Jester liked to read. Jonny was sure that he did, in between sending children to burn wards and pushing old ladies in front of speeding cars.

     By the time the police arrived, Jonny had mapped out the dramatic I-95 plan, but he was in shackles before he could find his Conrad classic. The Jester laughed again as Jonny was escorted out the front door, because Jonny caught a glimpse of Heart of Darkness on a lamp stand in between a copy of Ain’t Life Funny? and Why married men live longer.

     Other than what I’ve told you, there’s nothing that special about Jonny Kimble. Except that he can walk through walls. Phase out-of-sync with the Jester’s universe. The prison’s cinderblocks are but burned-out illusions to Jonny; that is when he can muster the courage to care. He’s only cared on two occasions since discovering his wondrous ability. He cared about a pack of smokes then he cared about seeing the leaves change color one October. Actually he did care one other time. He wanted to see his daughter, but she lives too far away. Each time after caring, he’d returned to his cell, phased back to the Jester’s reality and lay back down in his cot.

     There was never any question as to whether he would come back to the New Hampshire State Prison. After all, there was no other place he could so easily not care. Even his Hacky-in-traffic idea had faded. Instead of a persistent despair or a gnawing desire for self-annihilation, buzzing numbness had settle on Jonny causing him to act like a stoned automaton. Get up. Piss. Lay down. Get up. Stare at a corner. Lay down. Read, The Crying of Lot 49. Wonder what the hell the book meant. Scratch his ass. You get the idea.

     Back up for a minute. Here comes one of the guards. Oh, that’s Bill Bompus. Don’t say anything about the chili on his lapel, and don’t stare at his bulging gut. Looks like he’s got something to tell Jonny.

     “Kimble. Someone here to see you.”

     “I’m not available.”

     “Yes you are. This guy’ll see you in your cell.”

     Must be Jonny’s lawyer, got an appeal lined up, a technicality to throw into the gears of Justice.

     “Hello, Jonny.” Never trust a man wearing a black sport coat and armed with a briefcase.

     Bompus slides the metal bars aside, the suited man walks in. He sits on the steel toilet, opens he briefcase without looking up at Jonny, who’s laying on his cot counting the spiders on the ceiling.

     “Have I got a deal for you, Jonny, a real sweet deal,” says the man.

     “I’m getting the Playboy Channel on my TV?”

     Presently, the man scans a dossier with Jonny’s name on its tab. “We can do that too, and the TV can be yours, just yours.” Nameless-Man flutters the sheets of Jonny’s file, hoping to disperse Jonny’s disillusionment. “We know about your abilities. And we can make use of them. You’ll be duly compensated of course. A new car, new clothes, and we’ve got an impressive lineup of Russian girls who’d love to meet you. Or perhaps Japanese. Little dark girls with cute smiles and submissive attitudes.”

     Jonny stops counting. You can hear his thoughts just as well as I can. Don’t be embarrassed for being able to read his mind, Friend. You’re here with me now, in the Jester’s Universe. I’ll walk you through it; just don’t lose sight of me—ever. I’m sure the Jester would love to have a little fun with you. Make you play with fireworks or run with scissors.  Didn’t you notice that the rays from the sun felt a little different, oblique and shifting? Or perhaps you can tell that the people’s souls are colder, just a bit. Like the entire of humanity has succumbed to a cool melancholy, admitted defeat, each person waiting for its turn in the barrel. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to be here. We need you here, so here you are. Remember what you see, what you hear, but most of all—what you feel.

     “Let’s go for a ride, Jonny. You need to smell the fresh air, see the sights of the happy,” says Nameless-Man. “Get up. Let’s go.”

     “I’m not going anywhere. Take your shit and go.”

     “Jonny. I’m trying to be diplomatic here. Truly I am. But I do have certain…levers, if I have need to employ them.”

     “Get-the-fuck-out.”

     “There’s still some life in you after all.” Nameless-man looks at the dossier again. “Your first mission, should you choose to cooperate—and you will—is to meet up with Joe.”

     “Who’s Joe?” Jonny finally regards Nameless-Man, if only obliquely.

     “Joe works at the Seven Eleven two miles from here. Works nine to five, weekdays. Go there and ask for Joe. Get up, Jonny.”

     “Piss off. You’re out of your mind. I have no idea who you are, why you’re here or why I should do anything you ask.”

     “I’d love to tell you Jonny, that you should do as I say because it’s the right thing to do, and you always do the right thing. But the truth is…” Nameless-Man puts a finger to his lip, creases his brow and stares at the floor. “your daughter will remain unharmed should you cooperate.”

     Stand back, Friend; things could get ugly. A little further from the bars, should Nameless-Man get launched through them at an extraordinary velocity. Jonny swings his legs off the cot, his feet touching the cement like settling feathers. Look at those eyes—they care. Nameless-Man cares too, backs up a step.

     “I’m gonna kill you.” Jonny stands, deliberately slow.

     “We don’t want to harm her. But our mission is of the utmost importance. You’re not from here, Jonny. I know you feel that, you know it deep down. Have you ever felt like you belonged? Haven’t you always felt out of sorts, like your gears are grinding with the universes?”

     Jonny’s a lot of things. A fool isn’t one of them. He sits again. The Nameless-Man knows something about him. Maybe though, he’s employing the fortune teller’s trick. Speaking in generalities that apply to everyone.

     “Just go meet with Joe. He’ll fill you in on more than I can. You won’t need anything, since you don’t have anything. Follow me.”

     Nameless-Man’s hand beckons to Jonny. Nameless-Man presumptuously tells the guard to open the gate, steps out and looks back. Look. Jonny cares just a little—just enough. Maybe the inertia’s been broken. Stepping behind Nameless-Man, Jonny eyes the guard, who obviously approves of the prison-break.

     Down the hallway again, through the prison’s intake area. There’s paperwork for Jonny

to sign. Then out the heavy steel door to freedom. The sunshine stings his eyes, pulling forth

tears that had remained buried in dry tombs for many years. Too bad they’re not caring

tears. We’ll know, Friend, that Jonny’s journey is nearly complete when the wetness in his

eyes accompanies a softened heart. You’ll see. You’ll know. You’ll feel.




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