Kathryne Andrews – THE THIRD MAN ARGUMENT

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From the factory loading dock, the cousins, Mr. Han and Mr. Won watched the trucks depart with skids of fortune cookies destined for restaurants and take-outs across America.

Once a philosophy professor in Shanghai, Mr. Han was reminded of Plato’s argument that two disparate events could be linked by a common, underlying principle termed The Third Man. Mr. Han noted two such events: the departure of the fortunes he’d contributed and his staying put. What could be The Third Man uniting them? He didn’t know.

His cousin’s factory, a small building in Seattle’s Industrial District, housed a shuddering, century-old wonton-making machine. During cookie-making weeks, flour-dusted workers fed dough into its huge, aluminum cone at one end of the room. Extruded through rollers, a continuous, thin sheet vibrated along a conveyer belt while a thudding perforator punched it with circles that were collected at the far end for baking. Mr. Han’s fortunes were enfolded as the cookies cooled.

Mr. Han asked, “Why do the Americans seek their fortunes in cookies?”

“For amusement. Their own crazy invention,” Mr. Won explained. “Ha-ha. Such a funny country!”

A hopeless case, Mr. Won thought of his undocumented, brains-strewn-in-clouds cousin. He didn’t understand that as an illegal hiding in the utility closet near the aluminum cone, he jeopardized Mr. Won’s business. Mr. Won could only hope his good karma would hold.

Flour blew under the utility closet door, floated cloud-like catching light, stuck to Mr. Han’s slippers. Caked triangles filled corners. Everything–overhead bulb, camp stool, metal shelving and table, notebooks, pens–was floured. Under his fingers, paper felt both slick and gritty. But it was safe. No bamboo-wielding villagers from Mainland China appeared to beat him back home.

Two years earlier, Mr. Han had disembarked nauseous and frightened at Humboldt Bay Harbor, California into a spring rain. He’d walked the coast north, then west. He’d slept in the roots of giant trees, inside utility pipes, beneath bridges. He’d encountered the network of American Chinese, kinder than his natal villagers, who offered food, explained the walking route to Seattle, even bought his ferry ticket. They were magnanimous; their expansive gestures and bold laughter implied lives without fear. They were never beaten.

By autumn, he’d reached the surprised Mr. Won who quickly put him in the utility closet, shut the door, and telephoned Mrs. Won for advice. She’d sent over a sleeping roll and an offer to drive Mr. Han to Pearl River Market to buy necessities.

Mr. Han returned his humble gratitude, but unlike most mainlanders, he shunned material possessions. His legs ached. He was grateful for the solace of the utility closet, bright with light and air from the high window that hinged open three fingers. Mr. Han could wash and relieve himself across the street at a gas station owned by an excitable but kind Tamil. He needed nothing more.

Mrs. Won sent him food and water, daily with her husband. Truly, the Americans were generous. Still, he rarely left the utility closet, fearing reprisals from the cunning mainlanders.

“What life is this, lived in terror in a closet?” Mr. Won exclaimed after three months. “Wash dishes at Wok Around The Clock, my friend’s take-out kitchen. Earn money to move on!”

He personally walked the trembling Mr. Han to Pike Place Market. “After this, you walk alone!” The market shops teamed with crowds of Asians and others. The Africans spoke and gestured expansively, like the Americans who ranged so widely in skin hues and hair styles. Loose laughter, calling out, people touching–so unimagined, this world!

Mr. Won left him at the door of Wok Around the Clock. “Next step: move closer for greater convenience. Have a good day.”

That night, leaping mainlanders maimed Mr. Han in dreams. That morning, humbly grateful for his cousin’s generosity, he turned over his earnings in exchange for the closet.

Hmm-m…quite good karma! Mr. Won accepted.

Washing pans to a blaring radio, Mr. Han, a brilliant mimic, ably replicated the atonal English, its consonants and diphthongs. He learned easily. He soon replaced the teenager who erred with change and credit cards at the cash register, excelled there, too, learned to banter with customers. Still, mainlanders strangled him in nightmares.

Mr. Han had never imagined leaving China until the village committee began its brutal thrashings in proxy for a run-away sister. Thuggish men stalked his Shanghai apartment and clubbed him unconscious with bamboo canes numerous times, returning unpredictably, demanding she reappear. Mr. Han understood his obligation but knew, too, that no philosophy advocated beating to improve humanity. Some philosophies glorified–others vilified–the life that followed death, but to live in this life, like his sister, he should flee.

Several attempts failed. He was returned repeatedly to his natal village and clubbed until his leg bones fractured. Unable to walk, he purchased advice on stowaway survival and locating family in America, the preferred escape country. There, flogging was illegal, and people got rich.  Suspecting his advisors would reap a reward by reporting him, as soon as could, he limped in darkness to the docks, his savings inside his cap. He joined a mass of crowds waving bribes for passage. Not his most onerous endurance, that nauseating voyage on a cargo ship.

A rhythm developed between the peaceful utility closet and customer banter, and still no mainlanders. His worries unclenched enough for him to ponder the philosophical underpinnings of America, where it was illegal to harm others, and people were kind-hearted and jokey. He had studied Plato in Chinese, but he could study others by learning to read English. What better use of nights in the closet for a philosopher?

The Tamil explained the library system and urged Mr. Han to join one near his work. Courageously, he obtained a card from the understanding librarian and borrowed several books asleep for decades, according to the usage dates.

To improve his understanding of impenetrable sentences, he copied them into a notebook, paragraphing them in the western manner. In review, the sentences made even less sense. Nonetheless, the mysterious purpose of the paragraph was revealed: sentences preceding and following a specific idea were meant to interconnect. Meaning came from the paragraph not isolated sentences.

Equally, did one’s life, lived in real time, derive meaning from what preceded and might follow the present moment? His life was a succession of single sentences: the closet, the Tamil, the librarian, customers. Moments. No past, no future. He lived only to be alive. Why?

“What is life’s meaning?” he queried the Tamil, and was barraged by definitions of Hindu logic and mysticism, dualisms and gods. “Cannot be!” argued Mr. Han.

They began disputing in the evenings in limited English, managing heated exchanges of intense, mutual interest. Mr. Han often left the gas station elated. He had a friend.

“My notebook is useless, but it is wasteful to chuck it. A dilemma,” he admitted to Mr. Won.

Ditch Mr. Han! America no longer welcomes illegals. Crazy America: harboring is a crime, but paying illegals is not, his friends said. They had started paying their formerly free labor forces of mainland escapees. No more big profits! Mr. Won considered his friends’ warnings. He had his own dilemma.

Mrs. Won said no! Mr. Han was family. He stayed! If Mr. Won could pay him, occasionally–a little job for which the utility closet was his office, she suggested, only Mr. Han would be liable for arrest.

Brilliant! Mr. Won would offset the expense of Mr. Han by having KwikKopy typeset and print paper slips of his sentences by the millions, since in crazy America, the larger the purchase, the less the unit cost.

He got Mr. Han a typewriter. “Here is a solution for your sentences. I will pay you and cancel my standing fortunes order from San Francisco.”

Mr. Han quit the cash register to apply himself to the typewriter’s alphabet. He matched letters with his large, clumsy writing in the notebook. He studied his sentences for fortunes but was doubtful. He should research topics.

The Tamil recommended fortunes that extolled The Individual, what Americans valued.

Mr. Han disagreed vehemently, having studied Kierkegaard. The Individual was a concept that undermined the State.

The Tamil pushed: then why was The Individual the most American of concepts? They disputed.

Mr. Won grew impatient. “Efficiency matters here! No research! Use your notebook!”

Mr. Han settled on five sentences at random:

There is but one serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.

Where the State begins, individual liberty ceases and vice versa.

 Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. 

The moment we want to be something, we are no longer free. (This, the Tamil’s contribution.)

No one knows whether death may not be the greatest good.

Mr. Wan shook a glassine envelope in his face. “See this cookie?” Crushing it, he extracted the crumpled strip produced by the San Francisco distributor. “Fortunes include Lucky Numbers and Learn Chinese. Add those!”

But how to choose from limitless numbers and words? Efficiently, of course. He would deploy only ten numbers and five words in different combinations. For greater efficiency, he would stick to what he knew. “Is it presumption to broadcast self-reflecting words?” he asked the Tamil.

“Never! Americans appreciate individual expression.” The Tamil grinned. He’d won.

Mr. Han used his birth year, the current year, and his age: 19 72 20 02 30.  He translated into Chinese: Break-bones beatings, Bone-chilling terror, Sea-nausea vomit, Utility closet hiding, Nightmarish fears.

KwikKopy delivered the pre-cut reams of paper slips.

“How many cookies, then?” Mr. Han asked, as the trucks pulled out.

“Maybe twenty–thirty million?” Mr. Won anticipated excellent profit margins.

Mr. Han experienced real pleasure to launch five philosophic statements into the world of kindly Americans. Like any dedicated teacher, he vowed to improve with research, and in doing so, the mainlanders receded from his dreams.

Over the next three years, millions of Americans ate Szechuan and Asian Fusion, phoned for Delivery on rainy Fridays, grabbed egg rolls and fried rice from take-out kitchens. They crushed open their ubiquitous cookies. Hundreds of thousands exclaimed to the waiter, their delivery guy, the old man at the cash register. What anarchist weirdo wrote this crap?

Via the network of managers, restaurateurs and middlemen, it took three years for such anecdotal complaints to reach the ears of Mr. Won. Not one compliment! What had Mr. Han done? “Show me!”

The philosopher, hair now streaked white, not just from flour dust, summoned to Mr. Won’s office for the first time, was shaking. Over time, he had been carefully replacing the original statements and words with his personal experience. He had Friendship, Generosity, Laughter, Sweet Dreams, Happiness.

 

He had:

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

A man’s character is his fate.

To be is to be perceived.

Leisure is the mother of philosophy.

 No man’s knowledge can go beyond his experience.

Mr. Won snorted. Nothing wrong here. Just American, Wouldn’t-Recognize-Good-Karma-If-They-Tripped-On-It whining. He dismissed Mr. Han. “Well done, cousin!”

Mr. Han bowed to his benefactor. Mr. Won’s kind acknowledgement established a clear and precise moment, a shining one to separate life before, and from now on, life to come. It was so obvious. He was a paragraph. He was The Third Man. His heart sang.

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Under the pen name Ariadne Apostolou, Kathryne Andrews has authored the novel, Seeking Sophia, (2013) published by Five Directions Press, about a young woman who takes to heart a Confucian adage in a fortune cookie. Her West End Quartet, four interconnected novellas about activist members of a political commune who reunite in middle age to assess the past and look forward, will be published by Five Directions Press early in 2015.

She resides outside Philadelphia, PA.

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Gibson Michaels – TINKLING LIGHT

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“Wha…!”

Corporal James Allen Baxter of the 19th Indiana, startled awake, disoriented and unsure where he was. As he blinked sleep away, his initial panic subsided somewhat when he realized that he was alone and not in any immediate danger. He remembered being in a dense forest, so it appeared he was still there. The trees that surrounded him took on an eerie appearance of dark sentinels as they faded from sight in the moonlit fog.

Where’s my unit? Baxter listened intently, stretching his senses for the slightest sound, but there was none. Not a whisper of wind, nor any rustle of leaves — not even the normal night sounds of crickets serenading one another. Have I gone deaf? He instinctively reached for his Springfield Model 1861 rifle, but the dew soaked leaves produced only a muted rustling sound, as he ran his hands over the dark ground all around him. Not deaf then, but where the hell’s my rifle?

It wasn’t just Baxter’s rifle that was missing. He was horrified to discover his entire kit was gone: knapsack, bedroll, canteen, cartridge box, cap box — even his bayonet scabbard. Damned battlefield scavengers musta thought I was dead and robbed me blind while I was unconscious. At least those corpse-robbers left me my damned pants and shoes. Hope they enjoy the fleas infesting my bedroll…assholes.

But the absolute worst was the loss of his hat. Col. Samuel J. Williams’s 19th Indiana, of Brig. Gen. Lysander Cutler’s First Brigade, Fourth Division, V Army Corps was part of the famous Iron Brigade. They were sometimes called the “Black Hat Brigade” for the distinctive black Hardee hats they wore with the left side tacked up with a brass eagle pin, as opposed to the standard blue kepi worn by the vast majority of the Union Army. It was a distinctive badge of honor and its loss somehow hit Baxter harder than even his missing rifle and victuals.

As he sat in the limp, dew covered leaves, commiserating over the loss of his hat, he tried to remember how he came to be here. V Corps had crossed the Rapidan river at Germanna Ford and bivouacked for the night at the crossroads near the Old Wilderness Tavern on the evening of May 4,1864. The trees in this area of Virginia were heavily harvested during colonial days, to fire the forges of iron mines nearby. Now the area was covered over in dense secondary growth, with trunks ranging between four and eight inches in diameter. Heavy scrub brush beneath obscured vision and impeded movement to any impetuous enough to venture into it.

Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the new commanding general over all the Union armies, wanted the Army of the Potomac past this dense forest and back out onto open ground where he could maneuver as quickly as possible, so Gen. Warren had V Corps up and marching by 6 A.M., on the morning of May 5. They marched in column south towards Plank Road along what the locals called Parker’s Store Road, but was actually little more than a narrow farm lane through dense forest. Despite the encroaching forest that crowded the lane ominously from both sides, Baxter remembered it as a pleasant march, on as glorious a morning as he’d ever seen… without a single cloud to mar the bright blue sky.

The biggest problem with traveling in a forested area this thick was that vision was so obscured, things could just pop up suddenly out of the forest without warning. Brig. Gen. Charles Griffin’s First Division, which was trailing, was surprised this way by the sudden appearance of Confederate troops on his right, approaching from the west along the Orange Courthouse Turnpike.

Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, who remained in titular command of the Army of the Potomac under Grant, assumed those enemy troops were just a small, isolated scouting party so he ordered Warren to drive them off — not realizing that he had just inadvertently blundered into Confederate Lt. Gen Richard S. Ewell’s entire Second Corps. In response, to Warren’s order, Wadsworth ordered Fourth Division, including Cutler’s Iron Brigade, into line on Griffin’s left. They began advancing
through the thick brush in horribly disorganized fashion, as there was really no other way anyone could move through that snarl.

When Warren saw the Confederate position extended beyond Griffin’s right, he hesitated to attack, as that would mean his men would be subjected to murderous enfilade fire from the side. He reported the enemy was present in force, and requested a delay from Meade, until Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps could be brought up on his right, to extend and support his line. Frustrated at the continuing delay, at 1 P.M. Meade ordered Warren to proceed with his attack unsupported, before Sedgwick arrived.

As Baxter was once again forcing his way through the thick underbrush, he remembered hearing that eerie, warbling Rebel Yell coming from the direction of Griffin’s First Division, off to the north. The Confederates were advancing. But the Iron Brigade answered with their own wildly shouted huzzas as they struck an Alabama infantry brigade to their front, pushing them back in disorder.

Baxter’s initial elation at driving the rebels off in such obvious disarray was short-lived. Sgt. Major Joseph Irvin took a minié ball through the brim of his black hat during their charge, leaving Baxter in command of “E” company, 19th Indiana. Just as he was trying to get his head around what orders he should be giving to his disorganized men, who were continuing their headlong charge through the underbrush in pursuit of the fleeing rebels, that eerie, piercing Rebel Yell came again — much louder and much, much closer this time.

A fresh Georgia brigade under Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon suddenly came screaming out of the thick underbrush like demons wielding bayonets, slamming into the 19th Indiana’s unprotected right flank and shattering the disorganized Iron Brigade completely. It was the one and only time during the entire war the Iron Brigade ever fled the field in panic. But Corporal James Allen Baxter of the 19th Indiana, never knew that.

He remembered trying to rally his panicking men, when he saw a sudden flash of red and experienced a terrific pressure that picked him up, and slammed him against a nearby tree. Then all was blackness, as sudden as snuffing a coal-oil lamp — like somebody just turned off the world. That was all Baxter remembered until waking to find himself alone in the middle of a dark, fog-enshrouded forest, whose only illumination came by the faint, dim light of the moon.

Baxter’s head suddenly snapped up, as a soft sound he hadn’t noticed before came wafting through the forest. It wasn’t any kind of sound that he’d have expected to hear in a dense forest in the middle of the night. It sounded for all the world like the soft tinkling of a chandelier in someone’s parlor room, when its crystals have been disturbed by a gentle breeze coming in through an open window.

Curious, Baxter got up and cautiously maneuvered his way among the dense trees, that dim memory told him were much too large for the wilderness battlefield he’d so recently fought in. Coming around a particularly large tree, Baxter stopped suddenly, his eyes bulging with the otherworldly vision before him. That strange tinkling originated within a column of brilliant blue-white light that illuminated an area of ground ten to twelve feet across — seemingly quite unaffected by the canopy of thick, green leaves overhead.

Baxter jumped back behind the tree and peeked back around at the strange sight there before him. He didn’t know where the damned Rebs might be, but he didn’t want that weird light catching him and making him an easy target for an alert sharpshooter. As he watched in fascination, the eerie tinkling sound seemed to grow a bit louder. That otherworldly vision before him was oddly mesmerizing, so it took a few moments for him to realize the tinkling light was moving… slowly moving right towards him.

Baxter didn’t know what the hell this strange apparition was, but with tens of thousands of nervous men with rifles scattered all around him, that strange sound and weird light didn’t seem to be anything that was healthy being close to. He backed away, feeling his way with his hands through the trees, as he retreated. With the density of the forest and all the fog, he expected to escape the thing after moving back only ten to fifteen yards, but when he glanced back over his shoulder, it was still visible and appeared to be gaining ground on him.

Aw Jesus, the fucking thing is following me! He couldn’t allow that whatever-the hell-it-was to illuminate him and give a sharpshooter a free shot, but he couldn’t just take off running helter-skelter through the woods to get away from it either. Drowsing pickets usually don’t react well to being startled, so blundering headlong into a picket line from either army in the middle of the night was a damned good way to get his uniform ventilated with minié balls. Baxter felt tension rising within him, as he tried desperately to maintain his distance from the apparition pursuing him, and yet avoid stumbling blindly into a hidden picket line. This fucking forest is haunted and it’s going to get me killed.

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Andrew “Buddy” Fowler was running late and pushing to make up time. Fortunately this stretch of road was pretty much deserted at this time of night. He’d fumed at how long he had to wait to get that bad tire changed out at the truck stop in Orange, Virginia, but he’d been lucky they had any mechanics working at midnight at all.

Buddy was an owner-operator, in that he owned his own semi-tractor. Several years ago he’d bought his dream truck — a big square-nosed Peterbilt with a sleeper. Buddy was single and usually lived in his sleeper, driving long-haul, cross-country routes for many years. Over time, he’d “tricked out” his tractor with lots of chrome and accent lights, but his crowning glory was the big Confeder battleflag LED light display that now filled the big, square grill. Buddy was proud of his Southern
roots. He was an unrepentant redneck and he didn’t care who knew it. He even bought one of those blue, ground-light sets, because he thought it looked bad-ass when the ground beneath his tractor glowed in bright, iridescent blue light.

A few months ago Buddy had met a woman in a bar, after dropping off a load in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She promptly became the latest in a long line of irregular girlfriends he’d enjoyed over the years. In fact, he was enjoying this one so much he started taking short-haul routes out of Fredericksburg, just to experience the novelty of sleeping in a warm bed… beside an even warmer woman. Last night, he’d met another woman in Orange, which was why he was so late getting that bad tire fixed. Buddy smiled to himself at the thought of now having a girlfriend at both ends of his regular run between Orange and Fredericksburg — and of getting his candle burned at both ends as well.

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Baxter was a veteran, but in spite of having fought in many previous battles, with the stink of cordite filling the air, men screaming in anguish as they fell all around him, and bloody chunks of men and horses routinely landing at his feet, he had never seriously thought about the real possibility of his own death. During battle, he was always too damned busy to worry about dying. Between battles, he was usually bored, sitting around repairing his gear and thinking about how damnably hot and itchy his wool uniform was — or too tired from marching all over hell’s half-acre and thinking about how damnably hot and itchy his wool uniform was. A soldier’s thoughts tend to stay localized in the here-and-now, focused on practical things like how incredibly miserable army life was, and conjuring up inventive, profanity-laced ways of expressing their displeasure with it.

At 23, Baxter’s free thoughts usually drifted back to Mary, a pretty blonde girl from his hometown, whom he’d been sweet on since first meeting her at age 12. As his mother died from consumption when he was six, he’d always felt awkward around girls. His tongue usually went into paralysis whenever Mary was around. He’d never found a way to tell her how he felt about her, before the war dragged him off to exotic places to meet new and interesting people… and kill them.

He kicked himself for never working up the nerve to approach Mary. Surely being rejected by someone you love couldn’t possibly be as bad as being stalked through a fog-enshrouded forest in the middle of the night by some kind of strange, tinkling apparition. Could it? Now, for the very first time, he seriously wondered whether he’d survive this terrible war, and whether he’d ever see Mary’s pretty face again. Hell, I wonder if I’ll even survive until daylight. He felt like he was being herded, caught between the need to avoid that thing that pursued him, and yet avoid the unseen pickets he knew were lurking, somewhere out there in the dark.

No, he couldn’t let it catch him. There was just something unnatural about the damned thing. It gave him the creeps. Getting shot by startled pickets was at least a somewhat natural demise. That manner of death was understandable. But that thing behind him? There was absolutely nothing understandable about that. Whether he wanted to admit it to himself or not, the approaching apparition generated an inexplicable, bone-chilling fear, deep within him. He shuddered to imagine that unearthly, tinkling light touching him. Baxter felt a distinct chill at the thought and unconscientiously increased his pace.

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Buddy was hammer-down, traveling east on Virginia State Highway 20, barreling towards his turnoff onto State Highway 3, which would take him south into Fredericksburg. It was a fairly well maintained two-lane, straight-line highway that undulated up and down a bit ,as it passed over gentle swells in the landscape. The road took him right through the center of the old Civil War battlefield, where Lee and Grant faced off against each other for the first time, at the Battle of the Wilderness.

Heavily wooded, it was a beautiful drive in the daytime, but tonight there was a heavy, low-hanging fog that obscured the forest on either side. The fog really made seeing the road a challenge. Visibility appeared deceptively normal at the tops of the rises, but the road and surrounding forest almost disappeared completely where the fog clung heavily in the troughs between the them. Still, Buddy was getting to know this stretch of road pretty well, so he was running about 85 mph, despite the fog.

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Baxter stumbled out of the forest, abruptly emerging onto a road that had to be the Orange Courthouse Turnpike. Wasn’t that the road the Rebs were coming down, when they surprised Gen. Griffin? If so, he must have been wandering north in his attempt to escape the thing that was stalking him.

He damned near fell on his face when the ground suddenly dropped from under him, into a shallow depression he figured had to be a ditch. The road itself was odd, too — harder than any road he’d ever seen, with the faint smell of tar. It was difficult to tell in the moonlit fog, but it looked like someone had painted lines on the road too. Why in the hell would anyone paint lines on a road, for God’s sake?

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Buddy had taken to blowing his horn as he approached those fog-enshrouded dips in the road, just to be on the safe side — not that anything other than slowing-the-hell-down on this fog-enshrouded night, could have been considered anything remotely close to “the safe side.” As he plunged down into this latest patch of dense fog, he suddenly saw a flash of blue, right in the middle of the road.

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As Baxter stood in the middle of the road pondering his surroundings… he was attacked by a monster. A gigantic, rumbling beast with blindingly bright, blue-white eyes topped a rise a short ways off and suddenly roared with a voice that sounded like the deepest bugle-call he’d ever heard. The ground glowed a hellish-blue beneath it, and on its nose was a brightly glowing Confederate battleflag. Rebs! He had no frame of reference to even speculate on how big that thing might be, but it appeared to be approaching unbelievably fast. Baxter stood frozen in sheer terror at this latest assault on his understanding of the world.

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What Buddy “saw” in that instant was the outline of a man, dressed in dark blue — with great bloody wounds from large chunks of jagged wood, sticking out of his torso…

…with the lower half of his face missing — just a white grinning skull, where his lips and mouth should have been. Buddy screamed and jerked the steering wheel hard over, to avoid hitting the gruesome apparition.

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Baxter dove face-first onto the strange tarred surface of the road, as the monster veered away at the last second… and its back buckled. When it did, the larger rear half went right over him, as it slid around in pursuit of its smaller front half.

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With the truck’s wheels still in the hard-over position, the edges of the front tires impacted against the back of the ditch, causing the truck’s momentum to pitch the tractor’s nose up and around. Buddy only had time to get out half of his customary “oh shit,” before a very large tree embedded itself in his driver’s side door and Buddy’s world went dark.

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Baxter heard a tremendous crash and then fire erupted everywhere. As he frantically scrabbled backwards away from the fire, he momentarily forgot about the thing that had been pursuing him through the forest… and he inadvertently scrambled right into it. Baxter did manage to finish his “oh shit,” when he realized that whatever that tinkling light was, it had caught him.

As he crawled to his knees, expecting to be shot at any moment, Baxter looked straight up into that brilliant shaft of blue-white light and experienced… Wave upon wave of pure, unlimited love washed throughout his entire being. Then softly, as though from afar off, he heard the voice of his long-dead mother, calling and welcoming him home.

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“Wha…!”

Andrew “Buddy” Fowler startled awake, disoriented and unsure where he was. Then, a sound…a soft tinkling sound came wafting to him out of the forest.

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Gibson Michaels lives in the area near Houston, Texas. His currently unpublished Sentience trilogy is a 340,000 word saga in three volumes; Storm Clouds Gathering, Defying the Prophet and Wrath of an Angry God are of the sci-fi / military space-opera genre.

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K. Marvin Bruce–INFATUATION, TECHNICALLY

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“I had to get Celeste very drunk to sweet-talk her onto that scanner. I mean, I really had no choice. She doesn’t like me, you see. Never even notices me.” I glance over at Woody to see if he follows me. He looks like the whole internet just broke down.

“You what?”

“At the staff Christmas party. It wasn’t easy, you know. The open floor-plan of this office is totally Dilbert-esque, don’t you think? Good thing the scanner’s in that alcove.”

“The alcove with the heavy duty paper shredder, too? That alcove?” I nod. Woody’s staring at my screen with renewed interest, and maybe a touch of disgust now. “That’s Celeste?”

“The real deal. Getting her on that scanner was like talking her onto one of those artificial bulls you see in Texan bars. For this to work, I had to get every possible angle. For a project like this, you want no interpolation. Nosiree. You want the real deal. I had to get her clothes off–don’t look at me like I’m a pervert or something! I didn’t touch her! Well, not in that way. I just had to get her scanned, in high res, from every possible angle. Some parts are pretty straightforward, you know. The face? Left-right-top-bottom-done. Some of the less visible parts took several scans–she was having trouble straddling that machine–you know how big it is. And don’t even get me started on hands.”

“Wait!” It’s obvious Woody has some issues with my techniques. As if he never dreamt of similar schemes. “You got Celeste drunk at the Christmas party, lured her into the alcove and scanned her? Are you nuts?”

“I was beginning to think so afterwards. Hey, I put her clothes back on–she never even knew. But look at this.” I click the mouse a few times to bring up a new screen.

“What’s that? It looks like New Jersey.”

“A birthmark. Who’d’ve thought? And you know, the closer I looked, the more I saw. These are high res images, after all. I mean, I still really want Celeste and all, but she doesn’t know I exist. I have to see her in the office every day. I’m really taken with her.”

“But she doesn’t know what you did?”

“Of course not! Man, I’d be rotating my own grave if she found out–extreme sexual harassment! Remember that stupid video they made us watch? The animations were far below professional standards. Anyway, that video said something about getting firedfor sexual harassment–you can’t tell anyone about this!” I don’t like the way it looks like he’s caving. “Woody?” I warn.

“Okay, okay. But you should probably delete those files before you get caught.”

“Delete them? I’m not done yet.”

“Done? Don’t tell me you’re using them to–”

“You’re a perv, Wood. Of course not. It’s just that I started to realize that as much as I love Celeste, some parts really kind of turn me off. You know? You ever notice Heidi? She’s got a cute figure. And she doesn’t mind staying after work once in a while.”

Suspicion is growing in Woody’s eyes again. “What do you mean?”

“Well, she puts out. It wasn’t too difficult to get her on the scanner. She was only a little tipsy. Take a look here.” I pull up an image of Heidi’s inner thigh. “No birthmark. Perfect. Now, here’s where I need your help. You’re much better at stitching photos than I am.”

“Wait! You want me to merge Heidi’s thigh onto Celeste?”

“Well, not all of it. Just the part where the birthmark is.”

“And the other ‘imperfections’? I suppose you want to use Heidi for those, too.”

“Heidi. And a few others.”

“What the hell are you getting at, man? What are you even trying to do?”

“Woody! Woody! We’ve known each other since high school. Don’t you trust me?”

“It’s not a matter of trust. I just think you’re obsessing here.”

“Well, maybe it is a kind of infatuation. But be honest–would the real Celeste ever go out with me? Huh? You’ve seen the way she looks at Craig. The way she drops those baby blues. How she slips her right hand over her left wrist. How she flashes that coy smile. No way I can compete.”

“So you scanned her.”

“And a few others–only as necessary.”

“And you want my help?”

“Wood, you’re the best on the 3-D imaging software. You’re a pro! I’d botch it for sure. I mean, the 2-D I might handle, but there’s something more than just angles when you add another dimension.”

“It’s the whole process I’ve got a problem with. Why do you want a 3-D, high res image of Celeste? Mostly.”

“Didn’t you get the memo about the new 3-D printer?”

“No! You’re not–”

“Why not? I read a story in the paper about a guy who printed out a gun. Cleaned out the whole workplace, too. But they caught him. Poor planning. Amateur effort. But we’re professionals, working for a company that can afford to buy the best. Have you seen the printer?”

Woody’s looking dumbfounded and just a little nauseous. It’s Friday night and the lights of Manhattan make the entire city look like a party outside our office windows. America’s playground. Of course, no one else stays late in the office on a Friday. We walk past the alcove with the scanner. In a matching alcove to the south stands the 3-D printer. “Holy Mother of God!” Woody whispers. The printer commands our attention.

“Impressive, isn’t she? A printer large enough to produce a human. You know why? I’m not stupid, you know. They want to print their own employees. You know how easy it would be to scan us while we’re working, and we’d never even notice. No–no–they wouldn’t have to use the bull-scanner. I’m sure they’ve got the tech to capture us on pinhole cameras all over the office. That’s why I’m such a model worker. I’m just going to take advantage of the printer before my pink slip comes. If I were you, Wood, I’d make sure my resume was up-to-date.” The printer stands ominously before us. It is larger than anyone in the office, and if I were a religious man I’d bow down and worship. This is technology at its finest. “Let’s get back to work.”

“You want me to stitch these images together in 3-D?” Woody confirms, sitting at my work station.

“That’s right. I’ll get you some coffee.”

Woody’s a fast worker. And good. His art is photo-realistic. I’m not sure why Dreamworks or Disney hasn’t tried to lure him into the entertainment industry. He’s the best. I can’t help but grow a little excited as he expertly manipulates the digital Celeste, well, Celeste-hybrid, on my screen.

“What about her soul?” Woody suddenly remarks.

“Her what?”

“Her soul! Didn’t you ever read Frankenstein? The monster had a kind of soul. It came from all the organic parts being brought together. Where’s your Celeste going to get her soul? Did you think about that?”

“Shelley was an atheist.”

“Yes, Percy was, but was she? Didn’t Mary say something truly profound in her novel?”

“I like a scary movie as much as the next guy, but we’ve got no souls!” I’m a little embarrassed that Woody’s starting to sound like a religious whacko. Right here in the office, too. One of the most rational places in the City. “We are just organic particles. Our very thoughts are electro-chemical signals in a very physical brain. The energy of the internet will be her ‘soul.’ I’ve linked her to an online avatar I’ve been working on. I wrote the script for her personality myself. She’ll be the ideal girlfriend. Wouldn’t you agree? Who wouldn’t want to write their perfect mate?” I have to catch a bit of drool at the corner of my mouth.

It’s way beyond the depth of midnight when Woody pushes back my chair and sighs. “It is finished.”

“You mean, she is finished.” I can feel the excitement building, like Christmas morning. Only I already know what I’m getting. “Let’s print her up!”

“I wouldn’t–”

I push past my friend. Stunning beauty meet my eyes and it is like my heart has turned to liquid in my chest. I have trouble catching my breath. The Celeste-hybrid on my screen is pristine. Absolutely perfect. My fingers tremble as I select “print” and choose the new device. A comforting hum comes from the south side of the deserted office.

“Shall we?” I invite Woody.

“I can’t. I don’t want to see.”

“Well, it’s Friday night, and I’ve got a date.” I’m a little nervous as I stroll down the corridor through a sea of cubicles. Even the durable carpet is ocean-blue. The south alcove. She awaits within.

I’m amazed. My custom-made Celeste stands smiling before me. I’m almost shy since she’s naked already, but I need to get to know her first. That’s only right.

“Hello, Al,” she beams. Ah yes, the programming’s kicking in. She already knows me. Her voice isn’t quite right, though. No matter. I can always make adjustments and print another one.

“Hi, Celeste–welcome to the real world.” I reach out for her hand. Technically perfect. She’s a little cold, though. I can adjust that in the next model. Celeste0.2. But right now there’s urgent business I need to handle.

She lays a hand on my waist. “Are we alone?”

“Let me check.” I dash through the cubes to my desk. Woody’s gone. A stickie on the screen reads, “Good luck–I think.” Cool. I walk back, confident. A man in charge of his own destiny. “We’ve got the place to ourselves.”

Her smile is fetching, but not quite realistic. Almost sinister. I’ll have to ask Woody about it in the morning. “We could really make this a party, you know,” she says, taking my hand again and leading me toward the alcove with the scanner. Her grip is remarkably strong. Sex with her will be athletic. I’m already sweating.

“You want to scan me? Well, what’s fair’s fair. We’ll need to get Woody to stitch it together on Monday, though.” Now it’s my turn to ride the bull. After an hour, I climb down, feeling strangely exhilarated by being naked at work. “Now let’s get this party started.”

She grips me in her strong arms, from behind.

I laugh at her naive mistake. “No, that’s not the way it works. I can be in back, if you like.”

I feel her strong body pushing me forward. “Kinky, although not effective,” I chuckle, but my smile dies as I see she’s steering me towards the industrial paper shredder. I struggle, but she’s too strong. Artificial materials. “Wait! Wait! Celeste! Think about what you’re doing!” She’s edging me nearer the rictus, unemotional teeth of the unhuman, mechanical mouth intended for trade secrets and private information.

“Celeste! Why?” I can’t get out of her unyielding arms. “Oh, the humanity!” Lame, but apropos of the moment.

My head will never fit, I think, but I hear the heavy whir of the shredder engine as she tips my head down. My hair catches and drags my scalp towards the mincing blades.

“Welcome to the real world,” I hear her laugh.

___________________________________________________

K. Marvin Bruce makes his own love, if he can’t find it. He has been published in

Danse Macabre and Jersey Devil Press. He makes a living by lecturing and reads a

little too much weird fiction for his own good.

___________________________________________________

wpid-hna15.jpg

Chad McLendon – BORRIS

Standard

The Master always likes his meals hot- PIPING HOT! He’ll tell Vaan Strudel every night, night after night. He’ll tell Vaan Strudel, “Vaan Strudel! Give me my meals PIPING HOT!” Vaan Strudel likes to listen to the master. Vaan Strudel likes to serve the dark master of torment! Vaan Strudel is a good servant to the Master. Vaan Strudel sees the teensy American girl with her hair the color of blood, Vaan Strudel can sense her dislike of Vaan Strudel – Vaan Strudel doesn’t like her either. So, Vaan Strudel is sneaking in back now, to let in the Master of Vaan Strudels’ soul, Vaan Strudel helps in the master. Vaan Strudel always says to the master “Master, Vaan Strudel thinks none look finer than you! With your gold ringed eyes, and your billowing black tail, and your four paws of perfection!” The master always says to Vaan Strudel, “I can kill you, I can kill you.” Vaan Strudel believes the master, Vaan Strudel believes that Master wouldn’t even need to use his two sharp and pointy teeth. Not the Master. The Master could kill Vaan Strudel with his little paw if Master chose it to be so. Vaan Strudel will help the Master get blood tonight, so Van Strudel will, so Vaan Strudel will. In walks the master from the blackness, always with the “I can kill you, I can kill you.” Vaan Strudel helps the master survey the store, and Vaan Strudel can hear the winds picking up outside. “Master, the storm will be here quickly. The power will die as soon as the storm comes. Do not worry, Master. Vaan Strudel will see to it.”

“I can kill you. I can kill you.” Says the raccoon.

Vaan Strudel waits with the master.

I step outside and look at the night sky, it is as clear as crystal.I scoff. This is supposed to be tornado weather? I walk back inside the store, contemplating a quiz in a magazine I had found under one of the registers. When I flirt, am I naturally witty, or painfully comedic? Indeed. As if any quiz could ever define me. I am an enigma, and this particular enigma was getting bored. So good for me it was then, that I was getting to lock up the store early – we had to clean the floors tonight. So I ring out the last customer, and escort him to the door.

“Good night to you too sir, thanks for shopping at The Castle.” I say, holding the door for the liquor endowed man heading towards his beamer.

With a din akin to atom bombs dropping, a loud, vulgar yellow van careens into the parking lot. Music, I suppose you could call it such, fills the night with awful intrusion.

“Cue the god forsaken Russian cleaning crew.” I considered not letting them in, I knew it would make their mustaches twitch–that was just the way with Russian cleaning crews, their mustaches always twitched when they were flustered.

“Yenna!” The tiny man with caterpillar eyebrows yells to me. “So good seeing you!”

I put on my best I’m getting paid eight dollars an hour for this bull smile.

“Hello, Viktor.” The name is still Jenna.

His personal sidekick, Karlof–you know, pronounced Car-Lawv. See? I pay attention to how names sound. Anyway, Karlof steps out of the van, dragging his buffer machine. He hails me like I’m a taxi cab driver.

“Evening, Karlof.” I watch the other two Russians exit the van with their cleaning equipment, and remember not to breathe as they pass me. “I’ll be around front if you guys need me.” I say, watching as a new face in the Russian cleaning crew sets up a mop bucket.

“Vaan Strudel!” Viktor starts yelling at the Russian who was setting up the mop bucket, I let them work out their differences. Viktor was quick to start hitting on me, he usually is.

“Yenna, tell me. How is your mama and papa?”

I give my usual forced smile, he was already laughing. He never seemed to tire of this joke. “I don’t know, I’ll tell you when I find out who they are.”

“Haha, you funny joker! I tell you, I adopt you as my daughter anytime.” Something in his smile made me wish he would have a heart attack.

I was very glad when our night manager came out at that exact moment. Not only was he six feet of pure testosterone (need I say he towered over Viktor?), he also had a backside which made me writhe. ‘C’mon baby light my fire, is it weird that I always think of that song when I see him? Whenever I think of Brody, that’s his song.

Brody talks to Viktor, he’s terse, and he outright ignored my ‘hello’ as he went back to work. Boy still makes me want to dance. Oh well, I still have eight hours of shift left to try and woo him.

Two hours have passed up front, here I sit on my conveyor belt, wondering why in the blue blazes of hell these guys just can’t ring out their own crap. “You don’t need a cashier on a night like tonight.” I get up, not wanting to be here any longer. I walk through the aisles, browsing really, nothing more. I could swear, two eyes just gazed out at me from behind the kosher dills. No. I tell myself it was just my imagination. “Jenna, it’s not even 4 AM, it’s far too early to be suffering from hallucinations.” I scolded myself again, wishing that I had brought my iPod.

Screep! Screep! Screep!

The usual sounds of the Russians scraping up some gunk off the floors. I peek around an end cap, and see a Russian in a long black cleaning mask, I don’t remember his name–mostly due to the fact that he looks like he could be Luke Skywalker’s dad. He waves to me all the same, all these guys want a piece of me. They can’t even speak my name correctly, but I dunno. They want something, but I’m not sure I can give them anything, not when I’m dreaming of him. I dunno. Crazy mustaches.

Just then, a huge cacophony split the night’s muzak, as a huge clang is heard from the roof. The wind must really be picking up, the storm is howling like my grandmother’s teacup Chihuahua. Speaking of devilish beasts, there are those two eyes again, at the end of the aisle. What the hell are they?

I don’t get to find out, because at that moment everything goes black–and a scream is heard from the back of the store. Seconds later, all the Russian voices are filling the store with their strange song…prayer…God knows what hymns.

“VIKTOR! Shut UP!” I scream, “The rest of you too!”

The emergency generators kick in and The Castle is full of light once again.

The Russians are at my side at once, my knights in skanky armor. Well, three of them are at my side anyway. “We are sorrying, Yenna.” Viktor states. “But it says in Old Country, when lights go out during tornado weather, we must give praise to our ancestors! It must be so!”

“Yeah, I can only see one problem with that though, Viktor old chum. We’re in Kentucky. Do you know how far Old Country is from here?”

“Unbeliever! Do not question our belief! Our religion is JUST!”

“Sure, sure. Do whatever you want, just…I’m going to check in the back.”

“Everything alright here gentlemen?” Brody inquires, walking up and ignoring me.

“Yes, everything is being fine, Brody! We are cleaning like mouses before winter!” Karlof says enthusiastically.

“I was going to check out what that scream was in the back, actually – Brody. Maybe someone fell because of the blackout. If you want, you could come with me?” I ask, hoping my cute and innocent act will convince him I’m some naïve girl looking for some action behind the cereal backstock skids.

He seems to ponder me for a moment, as if he just realized I was there. “Okay, let’s go.” He says to me coldly, ignoring the babbling Russians as they begin to mop the perimeter. “This way, Henna.”

My heart melts, he almost called me by my right name. “It’s Jenna.” I say, my voice rising angelically.

It is normally a very quick walk to the backroom, I kept stealing looks at Brody as I kept up with him. The walk ended too soon–as I knew it must–and of course, there was the body. Oh shit! The body! I gape at a Castle worker I didn’t know the name of, does that make me horrible? The guy is sprawled on the floor, in a pool of crimson. The ladder rests nearby on its side, surely he must have fallen. “God, I thought everyone but us was out.”

“He’s got bite marks on his neck.” Brody says upon inspection.

“What?” I ask.

“Bite marks. On. His. Neck.” Brody rips off the top two buttons of his grey shirt, and pulls out a small crucifix. “We must be dealing with a vampire!” He says with gusto.

“Um…no.” I look closer at the guy’s body, fighting back the bile that’s rising to my throat. “That’s actually just a birthmark I think.” I lightly touch the brown spots on the dude’s neck. “Yep, just two big dots close to each other. Sorry, no Brody the Vampire Slayer for us.” I say sarcastically.

Brody storms off, him and his tight end. Way to blow it, I could see myself revisiting this moment in the near future. As I’m standing there brooding, that new Russian comes by wheeling a mop bucket.

“Vaan Strudel is needing by, is cleaning up the messes.” I notice that he completely ignores the huge mess of blood and body. Only then do I realize, oh shit–I should probably call the cops. Seems like a normal thing to do. I’m not totally panicked, it seems like he just fell off the ladder. Anyway, normal. A normal person calls an ambulance or the cops during an accident. They don’t run off. Well, much more normal than complaining about messes while bypassing a body, anyway.

I pick up the phone, sure that someone should be alerted to this. “You won’t get answer, Vaan Strudel knows.” Vaan Strudel says to me, almost sycophantically. “Is dead. Phone is dead. Like emergency exit doors. Like man on floor. Maybe your cellular phone, enh?” Just as he predicted, the phone was dead. Likely knocked out by the storm, (or that thing that got the grocery boy–shut up! Show sensitivity!)

“Yeah, well it so happens I don’t have my cell phone tonight, it’s being serviced.”

“Hah! Hah! Ha! HA! Then maybe Master can service you.” Vaan Strudel says, in a high cackling voice. His head flies back and he waves his mop crazily in the air, his mustache twitching all the while.
So, I make a hasty getaway, those crazy Russians are always on about something. Maybe the payphone outside will work.

Splish! Splosh! Splash!

The Russians are mopping, unaware of the body in back. I watch my back as I head towards the front of the store. That Vaan guy really freaked me out a little. Bodies were one thing, they couldn’t hurt you… but weirdo’s like Vaan? Heck, they could do a girl a lotta damage. As I reach the front door I see one of the Russians hunched over–the Vader mask surely–I remember my foster dad hunched over like that when he was passing kidney stones. He looked to be in about the same amount of pain.

“Can you get up please? I have to make a phone call. Some guys’ dead in the …”

The Russian looked up at me, his hands clenched around his neck, his bleeding neck.

“Bu…bu…behind you!” he falls to the floor completely, and I heeded his final warning, just in time to see Vaan Strudel with his mop bucket full of blood. He must have found a mess to clean up. It sloshes out the sides and onto the floor.

“Clean store is happy store! Master always wants his meals PIPING HOT! Haha! Vaan Strudel is happy to help!”

It was at this moment that I decide to get on the intercom. I jump to the checkout stand and pick up the phone. “BRODY!” I yell. “This Russian weirdo is freaking me out! Help! Help me!”

The Russians aside from Vaan and Newly dead corpsy guy all start chanting. “It being fine rush to clean like school bus! In the night that is so fine!” Viktor’s and Karlof’s voices ring throughout the store, ignorant of the terror I was feeling. Would they ever cease their maniacal praises?

Vaan had refocused on me, now that he had collected the excess blood that had spilled from his coworker. Full bucket is happy bucket, I think morbidly.

“Vaan Strudel! Master says, Vaan Strudel! Get me a bride! A young bride! A fine catch! Miss Yenna, Vaan Strudel only wants to help the Master! You must marry him!” He swings his bloody mop my way, and I run like hell was after me.

I didn’t mean to bump into his chest, but the next thing I knew, Brody’s strong arms are wrapping around me. It’s like magic, his aroma fills my nostrils and served as a stimulant, I felt none could harm me now. Or at the very least, I felt I could die happy.

“You!” He cries, pointing at Vaan Strudel. “You have brought this into my store, the blood of the innocent cries out to me! I will have you! To me, you deformed hellion!” Brody reaches in his shirt and pulls out his crucifix again, and withdraws a box cutter from his pocket.
The duel that was to commence would surely be remembered by all who witnessed it, I however, do not. I faint.

I’m strapped to a fruit cart, hovering above me is the most depraved looking raccoon I had ever seen! Suddenly, the shining eyes from the dill pickles make sense! He speaks to me like a lover, whispering into my ear, his whiskers tickling my face.

“I can marry you. I can marry you.” It’s all he ever says.

The dream shifts.

I’m drowning, there is water all around me! All I can see is red. The water is red, and the only life preservers are bound in human flesh! Human flesh with two little marks side by side…bleeding birthmarks! The horror I feel echo through the next string of horrible minutes.

It shifts again.

I’m staring at Brody, who is wearing a paper bag over his torso, he wields a green and rather large (not to mention oddly shaped) box cutter in one hand. He is shielding himself with a gallon of milk. He’s fighting with Vaan Strudel, or rather, the ghostly form of Vaan Strudel. They exchange blows, and only when Vaan is dispelled does Brody mount me.

Which is, of course, when I wake up. Imagine my surprise when I see that Brody really has mounted me, I feel water pouring water onto my brow.

“Brody, oh what happened? I remember you shouting at Vaan Strudel, but where is your milk shield? Your strangely phallic box cutter?” I ask, my eyes growing wide as I spy what he is using to revive me. A towel that is greasy black.

“You clean with that thing! Ugh!” I groan.

“Shh. You talk too much.” He says.

What a pleasant miracle! He actually said something personal about me! Oh wonders never cease!

“What is happening?” I ask.

“I will tell you. An evil Raccoon vampire and his man servant have overtaken the store. I fear that Viktor and Karlof are dead by the beast now. Their babbling has ceased. I am sure that they were innocent in the ordeal. I caught sight of the beast earlier, as he was salivating over their jugulars. I hope my language is not too coarse for your naïve and sensitive ears.”

“Not at all! I would have you speak until they were bleeding!” I only then thought of my words.

“No time for that now, come, we must find the monster.” He pulls me up in a sweeping arch and I am at his side at once.

“Is that Vaan guy dead?” my lip trembles, wondering what steps my hero took to save our lives.

“He’s locked in the meat department, under lock and key obviously. I thought he needed to get the chip off his shoulder, so I introduced him to our meat chipper.

I feel myself grow red. “Goodness save us.”

“Goodness took the night off.” He says icily as we walk the store, creeping around corners. I could feel the heat rolling off him, so why was my body so cold? Was it the fear?

“How will we fight him?” I look longingly into his brown eyes.

He pulls a box cutter from his shirt pocket. “I trust you know how to use one of these?”

“Do I ever! I can work one of these until…”

“Splendid! Then take this ruler and whittle me a stake! There is no time to lose!” He says, pulling a ruler from his pocket.

So I took his offered ruler and begin to whittle like my life depended on it. And as I pass the drained bodies of Karlof and Viktor (Yenna! Yenna! – Viktor still called to me from the grave. I‘ll adopt you, then marry you, we have a great number of children!) I don’t feel bad about the kick I give to Viktor.

I hold out the stake to Brody as I finished. “How does it look?” I asked, desperate for his praise.

“Not nearly as good as I do, but it’s a start.” He says, putting a mirror into his pocket.

I feel the heat flowing back into my body, the work he had me do was helping. Maybe it was shock?

“Do you have everything in those pockets?” I ask.

“Haha, not your hand. But now is hardly the time! Behold! The beast!” He points to the Raccoon, a ghastly creature of enormous size.

The raccoon, yes–the terror of my dream to be sure, a raccoon – standing there on its hind legs.

“Declare yourself, heathen beast!” Brody yells.

“I am Borris Raccuul, of Transylwanya. I see you have dispatched my manservant.” His speech was very good, considering he was foreign, and you know–a raccoon?

“I did. My, but you are a foul little thing.” Brody says threateningly.

“Transylwanya?” I giggle, despite my fear which rose like bile to my throat. “Don’t you mean Transylvania?”

“Tsk, tsk, you Americans know no manners.” Borris says plainly.

“You speak of manners, yet you sold your soul to the devil! And for what? The powers of the immortals?!” Brody makes sure his box cutter blade was extended all the way. He caresses the handle in ways he would surely never caress me.

“Actually, Satan has a new leasing option. But it’s all the same. I inherited the powers of the Immortal Ones. Now, I will have your blood! For I will be sated!” Borris growls.

“I am for you!” Brody calls, as he rushes forward to engage in battle with the dreadful raccoon.

The raccoon was inches away from Brody at once, as they fight and dance about the store, each looking for an opening. Borris latches onto Brody’s hand, yet Brody is able to throw him off.

“Cry off your quest for my blood, and I may let you live!” Brody screamed.

“Never! Now feel my rage!” The raccoon was at Brody’s heels, tearing savagely through his denim jeans. Brody kicks hard, and I couldn’t help but laugh–it looked like a deranged folk dance.

Borris rebounds off a shelf, and he quickly recovers from Brody’s kick. He upsets a cereal box in frustration. “You are a strong human! How delicious your blood must be! But I bet your friend’s will taste all the sweeter!” He squeaks horribly and rushes towards me.

“Brody! “ I scream in fright, as I run to the shelves with nowhere to go but up.

Brody slashes at the raccoon again with the box cutter, and with the speed of an angel, he draws down the sharpened ruler.

“I can kill you. I can kill you.” The raccoon wheezes, his yellowed fangs bared.

“BRODY!” I cried to my hero, pleading for him to save me.

Brody plants the ruler into the back of the demonic creature, ending its centuries’ long plague upon mankind.

“I can kill you…..I can kill you…”

I am quite sure those are Borris’ last words.

Brody forces us a way out of the store, and just in time too. For the store is smitten by God, in a mighty bolt of lightning. The entire store catches on fire, and the smoke rises and twists high into the night. I find comfort in Brody’s embrace, and as the winds continued to howl, we turn our backs on the Castle, knowing we could never go back.

___________________________________________________

Chad McClendon is a 28 year old writer from Kentucky. He first started writing in his elementary school newspaper, and pursued an English Degree at Northern Kentucky University with a specialization in Creative Writing. He has been recognized in the R.M. Miller awards for Outstanding Fiction Writing at his University. He lives with his wife Briana along with their daughter, Annabelle, and he is currently expecting the birth of his second child in spring.

___________________________________________________

Publicité

J. H. Johns–SIX POEMS

Standard

I’M NOT TELLING

I’m not telling,

you’ll have to forgo,

answers for those things,

you both want to know.

Do I know?

Ho-Ho-Ho!

I’m not telling!

You’ll never know!

I’m not telling!

I’m not telling!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

I’m not telling!

You’ll never know!

NEVER-NEVER LAND

Doctor Mickey

and

Nurse Minnie

will treat you;

Donald

and

his nephews

will take care of you;

Pluto

will entertain you,

and

when you look in the mirror

you’ll probably see-

Goofy;

or,

maybe you’ll see

Dopey,

but,

you definitely won’t see,

Happy;

so,

everyone’s there,

waiting for you

at the

Never-Never Land Hospital…

PILGRIMS, PILGRIMS

Pilgrims,

Pilgrims,

from whence dost thou come?

“From Brooklyn,

from Queens-

we’ve come to become;”

Pilgrims,

Pilgrims,

what gifts do ye bring forth?

“I bringest smoke,” said one,

and

“I bringest mirrors,” the other did retort.

Pilgrims,

Pilgrims

what claims do ye make?

“I am alone- they want me,”

and

“…my birthright I will forsake!”

Pilgrims,

Pilgrims,

what hopes might you desire?

[Well,

this set the Pilgrims

to thinking- then, finally,

they said-]

“…to aspire to be a better liar,” saith one,

and

“..blue blood to acquire!” saith the other.

THE PLYMOUTH DREAM-LIKE FAÇADE

Secluded-

but not private-

pricey,

but not gated,

the Plymouth Dream-Like Façade;

neat,

clean

and

well-kept

for the near-dead

and

the brain-dead;

everyone

on the same continuum,

everyone

waiting to die;

the young,

the old,

the active,

the sedentary;

just waiting

in a place

that has everything

except

a mortuary

and a

crematorium-

the Plymouth Dream-Like Façade…

THE RACE TO INCAPACITY

You know,

you know,

it’s going to be

one or the other-

if not both;

stunts;

fuck-ups;

stupidity;

impatience;

impropriety;

lack of forethought;

indulgence;

self-pity;

anger;

resentment-

any or all

of the above-

they’re in a race

to incapacity,

to freeing themselves

from each other…

MISTER CLEAN

All right,

all right-

I’ll admit it,

That as a little kid,

he made me feel

uncomfortable.

I’m trying

to put my finger

on one particular thing,

but, maybe,

it was everything!

I mean,

I know that he smiles a lot,

but is that a bit of contempt

behind that smile?

His eyes are really big-

maybe too big-

freaky big-

watching me all the time.

So, where did he get those eyebrows

and how come they’re so white-

is he really that old?

How about the earring?

How long has he been wearing it?

Since 1958?

He wears a white T-shirt

over a body that looks like

he’s on steroids or HGH!

So,

for me,

he was never Mister Clean-

he was Mister Scary!

James Joyce – AFTER THE RACE

Standard

THE cars came scudding in towards Dublin, running evenly like pellets in the groove of the Naas Road. At the crest of the hill at Inchicore sightseers had gathered in clumps to watch the cars careering homeward and through this channel of poverty and inaction the Continent sped its wealth and industry. Now and again the clumps of people raised the cheer of the gratefully oppressed. Their sympathy, however, was for the blue cars—the cars of their friends, the French.

The French, moreover, were virtual victors. Their team had finished solidly; they had been placed second and third and the driver of the winning German car was reported a Belgian. Each blue car, therefore, received a double measure of welcome as it topped the crest of the hill and each cheer of welcome was acknowledged with smiles and nods by those in the car. In one of these trimly built cars was a party of four young men whose spirits seemed to be at present well above the level of successful Gallicism: in fact, these four young men were almost hilarious. They were Charles Segouin, the owner of the car; Andre Riviere, a young electrician of Canadian birth; a huge Hungarian named Villona and a neatly groomed young man named Doyle. Segouin was in good humour because he had unexpectedly received some orders in advance (he was about to start a motor establishment in Paris) and Riviere was in good humour because he was to be appointed manager of the establishment; these two young men (who were cousins) were also in good humour because of the success of the French cars. Villona was in good humour because he had had a very satisfactory luncheon; and besides he was an optimist by nature. The fourth member of the party, however, was too excited to be genuinely happy.

He was about twenty-six years of age, with a soft, light brown moustache and rather innocent-looking grey eyes. His father, who had begun life as an advanced Nationalist, had modified his views early. He had made his money as a butcher in Kingstown and by opening shops in Dublin and in the suburbs he had made his money many times over. He had also been fortunate enough to secure some of the police contracts and in the end he had become rich enough to be alluded to in the Dublin newspapers as a merchant prince. He had sent his son to England to be educated in a big Catholic college and had afterwards sent him to Dublin University to study law. Jimmy did not study very earnestly and took to bad courses for a while. He had money and he was popular; and he divided his time curiously between musical and motoring circles. Then he had been sent for a term to Cambridge to see a little life. His father, remonstrative, but covertly proud of the excess, had paid his bills and brought him home. It was at Cambridge that he had met Segouin. They were not much more than acquaintances as yet but Jimmy found great pleasure in the society of one who had seen so much of the world and was reputed to own some of the biggest hotels in France. Such a person (as his father agreed) was well worth knowing, even if he had not been the charming companion he was. Villona was entertaining also—a brilliant pianist—but, unfortunately, very poor.

The car ran on merrily with its cargo of hilarious youth. The two cousins sat on the front seat; Jimmy and his Hungarian friend sat behind. Decidedly Villona was in excellent spirits; he kept up a deep bass hum of melody for miles of the road. The Frenchmen flung their laughter and light words over their shoulders and often Jimmy had to strain forward to catch the quick phrase. This was not altogether pleasant for him, as he had nearly always to make a deft guess at the meaning and shout back a suitable answer in the face of a high wind. Besides Villona’s humming would confuse anybody; the noise of the car, too.

Rapid motion through space elates one; so does notoriety; so does the possession of money. These were three good reasons for Jimmy’s excitement. He had been seen by many of his friends that day in the company of these Continentals. At the control Segouin had presented him to one of the French competitors and, in answer to his confused murmur of compliment, the swarthy face of the driver had disclosed a line of shining white teeth. It was pleasant after that honour to return to the profane world of spectators amid nudges and significant looks. Then as to money—he really had a great sum under his control. Segouin, perhaps, would not think it a great sum but Jimmy who, in spite of temporary errors, was at heart the inheritor of solid instincts knew well with what difficulty it had been got together. This knowledge had previously kept his bills within the limits of reasonable recklessness, and, if he had been so conscious of the labour latent in money when there had been question merely of some freak of the higher intelligence, how much more so now when he was about to stake the greater part of his substance! It was a serious thing for him.

Of course, the investment was a good one and Segouin had managed to give the impression that it was by a favour of friendship the mite of Irish money was to be included in the capital of the concern. Jimmy had a respect for his father’s shrewdness in business matters and in this case it had been his father who had first suggested the investment; money to be made in the motor business, pots of money. Moreover Segouin had the unmistakable air of wealth. Jimmy set out to translate into days’ work that lordly car in which he sat. How smoothly it ran. In what style they had come careering along the country roads! The journey laid a magical finger on the genuine pulse of life and gallantly the machinery of human nerves strove to answer the bounding courses of the swift blue animal.

They drove down Dame Street. The street was busy with unusual traffic, loud with the horns of motorists and the gongs of impatient tram-drivers. Near the Bank Segouin drew up and Jimmy and his friend alighted. A little knot of people collected on the footpath to pay homage to the snorting motor. The party was to dine together that evening in Segouin’s hotel and, meanwhile, Jimmy and his friend, who was staying with him, were to go home to dress. The car steered out slowly for Grafton Street while the two young men pushed their way through the knot of gazers. They walked northward with a curious feeling of disappointment in the exercise, while the city hung its pale globes of light above them in a haze of summer evening.

In Jimmy’s house this dinner had been pronounced an occasion. A certain pride mingled with his parents’ trepidation, a certain eagerness, also, to play fast and loose for the names of great foreign cities have at least this virtue. Jimmy, too, looked very well when he was dressed and, as he stood in the hall giving a last equation to the bows of his dress tie, his father may have felt even commercially satisfied at having secured for his son qualities often unpurchaseable. His father, therefore, was unusually friendly with Villona and his manner expressed a real respect for foreign accomplishments; but this subtlety of his host was probably lost upon the Hungarian, who was beginning to have a sharp desire for his dinner.

The dinner was excellent, exquisite. Segouin, Jimmy decided, had a very refined taste. The party was increased by a young Englishman named Routh whom Jimmy had seen with Segouin at Cambridge. The young men supped in a snug room lit by electric candle-lamps. They talked volubly and with little reserve. Jimmy, whose imagination was kindling, conceived the lively youth of the Frenchmen twined elegantly upon the firm framework of the Englishman’s manner. A graceful image of his, he thought, and a just one. He admired the dexterity with which their host directed the conversation. The five young men had various tastes and their tongues had been loosened. Villona, with immense respect, began to discover to the mildly surprised Englishman the beauties of the English madrigal, deploring the loss of old instruments. Riviere, not wholly ingenuously, undertook to explain to Jimmy the triumph of the French mechanicians. The resonant voice of the Hungarian was about to prevail in ridicule of the spurious lutes of the romantic painters when Segouin shepherded his party into politics. Here was congenial ground for all. Jimmy, under generous influences, felt the buried zeal of his father wake to life within him: he aroused the torpid Routh at last. The room grew doubly hot and Segouin’s task grew harder each moment: there was even danger of personal spite. The alert host at an opportunity lifted his glass to Humanity and, when the toast had been drunk, he threw open a window significantly.

That night the city wore the mask of a capital. The five young men strolled along Stephen’s Green in a faint cloud of aromatic smoke. They talked loudly and gaily and their cloaks dangled from their shoulders. The people made way for them. At the corner of Grafton Street a short fat man was putting two handsome ladies on a car in charge of another fat man. The car drove off and the short fat man caught sight of the party.

“Andre.”

“It’s Farley!”

A torrent of talk followed. Farley was an American. No one knew very well what the talk was about. Villona and Riviere were the noisiest, but all the men were excited. They got up on a car, squeezing themselves together amid much laughter. They drove by the crowd, blended now into soft colours, to a music of merry bells. They took the train at Westland Row and in a few seconds, as it seemed to Jimmy, they were walking out of Kingstown Station. The ticket-collector saluted Jimmy; he was an old man:

“Fine night, sir!”

It was a serene summer night; the harbour lay like a darkened mirror at their feet. They proceeded towards it with linked arms, singing Cadet Roussel in chorus, stamping their feet at every:

“Ho! Ho! Hohe, vraiment!”

They got into a rowboat at the slip and made out for the American’s yacht. There was to be supper, music, cards. Villona said with conviction:

“It is delightful!”

There was a yacht piano in the cabin. Villona played a waltz for Farley and Riviere, Farley acting as cavalier and Riviere as lady. Then an impromptu square dance, the men devising original figures. What merriment! Jimmy took his part with a will; this was seeing life, at least. Then Farley got out of breath and cried “Stop!” A man brought in a light supper, and the young men sat down to it for form’s sake. They drank, however: it was Bohemian. They drank Ireland, England, France, Hungary, the United States of America. Jimmy made a speech, a long speech, Villona saying: “Hear! hear!” whenever there was a pause. There was a great clapping of hands when he sat down. It must have been a good speech. Farley clapped him on the back and laughed loudly. What jovial fellows! What good company they were!

Cards! cards! The table was cleared. Villona returned quietly to his piano and played voluntaries for them. The other men played game after game, flinging themselves boldly into the adventure. They drank the health of the Queen of Hearts and of the Queen of Diamonds. Jimmy felt obscurely the lack of an audience: the wit was flashing. Play ran very high and paper began to pass. Jimmy did not know exactly who was winning but he knew that he was losing. But it was his own fault for he frequently mistook his cards and the other men had to calculate his I.O.U.’s for him. They were devils of fellows but he wished they would stop: it was getting late. Someone gave the toast of the yacht The Belle of Newport and then someone proposed one great game for a finish.

The piano had stopped; Villona must have gone up on deck. It was a terrible game. They stopped just before the end of it to drink for luck. Jimmy understood that the game lay between Routh and Segouin. What excitement! Jimmy was excited too; he would lose, of course. How much had he written away? The men rose to their feet to play the last tricks. talking and gesticulating. Routh won. The cabin shook with the young men’s cheering and the cards were bundled together. They began then to gather in what they had won. Farley and Jimmy were the heaviest losers.

He knew that he would regret in the morning but at present he was glad of the rest, glad of the dark stupor that would cover up his folly. He leaned his elbows on the table and rested his head between his hands, counting the beats of his temples. The cabin door opened and he saw the Hungarian standing in a shaft of grey light:

“Daybreak, gentlemen!”
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From Dubliners (1914)
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