Halloween Short Story Goodness

Good morning, oh ghoulish Internet browsers. It’s time for candy and costumes and spirits and a whole other brand of escapism today. Halloween. Do you have your mask all picked out?

Forgive me for not bringing any traditional treats to the party, but I do have a new spooky story for you…it might even touch your heart, though probably not in that whole, “Kalimaaaa” sort of way. Enjoy: “What Lies Beneath,” and, if you’d prefer to hear me read it aloud to you in a dark room (you creepers, you), I’m also recorded it on soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/galforc/what-lies-beneath

WHAT LIES BENEATH

October had lost its color. Autumn was frost, the rigid huddling of dirt against dirt in dire opposition to his shovel, a squeezing of the lungs that would not dissipate. The air was white with his breath, white against the sliver of moon by which kids stole corn husks from the neighboring fields. By contrast the night was black, slick in his hands, an opaque, reflective thing, but black regardless. Raymond had come to think of these as obsidian days, pondered if the marble tombstone had been misbegotten.

“Please,” he whispered to that stone, “it’s time. It’s only time.” Still the ground fought him, every time it fought him, no matter how many times she dug herself back out.

The battery-powered lamp was all but flickers beside him. In every shadow he saw her face, every time a touch harsher than the last.

Months before, when they had first bid their farewells, he had drunk himself into a stupor. When she first returned to him, stumbling up the lawn in that god awful suit with which they had buried her cancer-eaten body, he had thought her a cruel trick of alcoholism. He had hid in his bathroom and rocked himself to sleep.

“They spoke of peace, Ray. They didn’t mention the silence,” Britney said when he emerged in the morning.

She was still there, pale, porcelain-preserved skin dragging mud and worms into their bed. It seemed as though she had sat there all night, waiting. She no longer needed to sleep. She made a sound like Britney used to make, when those Sarah McLachlan commercials used to come on for the shelters. Only thing was, she had no more tears to give.

He very nearly broke down right there.

The thing was, everyone knew it was a possibility. It was all over the news, since the last red meteor. Call it a fluke or call it magic, for most people it was just a nuisance. Necromancers. Satanists. Punk Rockers. You never knew who might call up the dead anymore. They tended toward the rich and famous, though. Not little people, like him.

“I love you, I’ll always love you.”

He kept repeating it like a mantra, even as he took her back to the hill and buried her in the earth. He got a different priest, just to be sure, and paid the groundskeeper extra to make sure her grave got the proper care. Raymond didn’t like the notion of vengeful spirits due to someone else’s lack of care.

“Why?” she asked, time and again, after that. “Don’t you love me anymore?”

“The words,” he choked, becoming harder with repetition, “say ‘til death do us part, love. I will always love the person you were, but you’re gone. You’re gone and I’m still here. You told me to keep living.”

“But I’m scared, Ray…”

He felt monstrous. It bid him dig still deeper. He covered her grave in flowers and stood, sometimes, watching the bend of the cypress tree there besides, its intangible whirls and knots, twisting into the night. One by one, its leaves fell.

Yet she kept coming back. Each time she did, there was a little less of the woman he had known, a little more of the grave. People said it was the soul that animated. Given that it was her mind he watched deteriorate, he thought that might have something more to do with it. Anger began to move her, instead of regret.

“I’ve never been able to sleep alone,” she said, the last time she pulled herself up.

It was the rot, he told himself. Bits of her were shutting down, but not fast enough for his liking.

All he wanted was the quiet, the calm. He longed to come to peace, to be allowed the silence of release. Her return deadened him, but in ways he had never wanted to be. Familiarity was supposed to humanize, not harden.

The cemetery was a long walk from his house, and it was not long before he wrapped the coat still tighter about his body. Winter was practically here. There had been no leaves left on the tree, this night.

Autumn passed at a shuffling gait, a whisper of death on the open air. He stood still, turning back across the long asphalt. What was imagination in a world where such things existed? He did not have to imagine it. She was there. She must have been digging before he even finished patting down the hole.

Barely any skin left. Her nails had continued to grow, but they were cracked, flaky. Most of what had made her Britney in his eyes had dissolved to bare creation. She no longer had any lips.

“Why?” he asked at last, nothing else left to offer her.

Closer she came, and closer. “I don’t want to be alone…”

His fingers, folding as if in prayer, groped around the empty pocket he had once promised held a ring. Another empty hole, promises forgotten by dark of night.

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Expectations

(Welcome to the dramatic conclusion of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, Four  , and Five (my goodness I can be wordy, can’t I?) if you need to catch up. Now we ask the final question: what is the difference between animal and man? Because at times, there may only be a trigger between them.

Language warning.)

Death Valley

Death Valley (Photo credit: Frank Kehren)

So.

Here it is.

It’s like—somebody’s had the destiny talk with you, yeah?

Two men sitting at a table. There’s a gun between them. One of them’s got his finger on the trigger and one of them’s fish food. They know it. You know it. It’s just a matter of time.

And here we are. Call it the lonely end. Oh I teach and I preach and I call it good—but it’s not good. It’s never good. It’s never been good.

Because nobody ever acts. I talk and I talk and what do I get? There’s nobody like me. I’m me. You’re you, and look where we are. Here, handing your life over to someone else.

But you.

But you.

People walk in false securities. Success doesn’t breed success; it breeds an inevitability of failure. We don’t learn anything from success except that something we did worked. Once. Will it work again? That’s what we think we learn, but that’s not it. It comes. It goes. And there we are, wondering, hoping that finger on the trigger will be ours, and that our bodies had the sense to move move move out of the way.

But you.

Here we are. You and I. Sitting. And there’s the pistola between us. Oh, I wonder; will they kill him when he gets away? It’s possible. But pirates, call us sensible at least. They are like me in one way: loyalty is when we can gain from the moment. If there’s no gain, there’s no sense in the loyalty. And when I’m dead, there’s no gain in you. Just a silly white boy wriggling his way upstream.

But you.

The blood on your hands. Can you take it? It’s the question I never asked. Never ask. I can take it. I took it. And death? It comes for all. I knew it was coming for me the first time I made a head bloom red, fishy. I grew up in it. I thrived on it. It don’t bother me none; death is an old friend. He’ll shake my hand and say shit, what took you?

But there are people. They don’t get it. When you pull the trigger they think it changes them. Well it does. But not the way they think. It’s all just meat and blood and shit, but it does change. I mean, look at dogs—you train them their whole lives on kibble and bits, and they’re the good puppy. The loyal puppy. Give them the hunt. The warm rush of the kill. And there’s no going back. They’ve had the blood-taste, and there it is—the wolf that was. The animal.

You people train yourselves to be puppies. To be something less, and yet more, than natural. Me? I just embraced the other. The real. I didn’t hide behind names and titles and so much air. I did what I did and all the rest was—someone else. Something else.

I don’t know how you got out. I don’t care. It’s good to see. I’d rather it be this than some drugged out pisspot thinking he’s better’n me, yeah? Because I’d be old then. And if I’m old it’s me doing it wrong, you know? Animals—they don’t get the years men do.

So what are you? Animal or man? It’s a thing, Americana. It’s a thing. How you say: hot mess? Ha. Yeah. That’s what I’ll be. That’s what you’ll be. It’s in your eyes, but what’s truth? Guns—they make it easy. Too easy.

Humanity’s just a hairline trigger. And—

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Sanity

(Welcome to Part 5 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, and Four  if you need to catch up. We’re winding down now. Just one more bit of wordplay after this one to go, and since today our delightful antagonist is taking us on a trip through sanity (or insanity), that’s probably for the best. Enjoy the walk. The end of the sand doesn’t necessarily mean the beginning of hope. Language warning.)

Atacama, the world's driest desert "Natio...

Atacama, the world’s driest desert “Nationalgeographic.com”. Ngm.nationalgeographic.com. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a little further now, fish. We’re almost there. It’s getting hotter, and that’s a good sign. And the tracks? Oh, you don’t see the tracks, but they’re there. Camels and shit and bones, I tell you. It might as well be Agrabah to you, but it’s destiny, my friend, because somewhere in there is a nice little man with a nice little fortune and he’s going to hand me dough for you. Your family? Your friends? They don’t even know you’re here. For all they know, you’re dead like all the rest—but you, you get to spend a lifetime unknown, forgotten, living as some old bag of wrinkles shoves his prick up your bag.

How’s that for fucked? Like two lives intersected at the same person but…one just keeps going, and the other—he’s stuck in neutral. Forever.

And it’s because you don’t make the choice. It’s coming, you know. All you got to ask is: which is better? Death or slavery? Now, it’s not an offer, fishy. I won’t let you die. Death is like life, you know? You take it. On your own terms, or it stretches you out good.

Sanity, you know, I hear one guy say it’s—it’s the ability to tell real from unreal. Isn’t that simple? Real and unreal. But what if you wake up one morning and everything that was real has changed? Say one morning you’re little miss priss, with a big bank account, and friends, and a little miss priss sucking your prissy prick, and then the next, bam, it’s…you’re here, and it’s all gone, and your clothes are burned up, your money don’t mean shit, your friends are dead, and your prick—well, it’s all for your own hand, buddy. And there’s this pirate. And you’ve never seen a pirate before, I mean—where’s the rum and shit, right? Where’s the boat?

That’s pretty crazy. I mean like, you tell me that, I say, you got a fucking problem in your head. That’s unreal.

Except it isn’t. You can’t pinch yourself awake. You see this little dot on the horizon getting closer and closer and you think it might be the light but it’s only shadow, and the sun’s beating you down and your skin’s breaking and all you can think is: when? WHEN? Because there IS no waking up. And inch by inch you come to think: but all these things I knew are gone, and all these new things, things that make no sense, they’re everywhere, but me…I’m still feeling all the shit.

And that’s when that line blurs. You don’t see it anymore, because you just don’t know. If there’s no control, how do you test? Yeah. Insanity, my friend. It’s as simple as a thought. You just keep picking away at that thought until it’s all you’re left with—because you can talk yourself right out of sanity. The moment you begin to wonder if it’s real—that’s when you know you’re a goner.

Sanity…shit, talk about a dream.

But that dot? It’s no mirage. It’s YOUR dream, and it’s coming for you, night by night. Pucker up, sweety. It’s not much further now.

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Poetry

(Welcome to Part 4 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, and Three if you need to catch up. Continuing the step outside my usual domain, into the mind of a rather crazed antagonist, it’s time to have a go at our antagonist’s outlook on life, as told through that most ancient art: poetry. Language warning.)

You don’t eat, little fish, how you supposed to escape? How you supposed to stab the crazy little man with the knife, eh? Eh? You just going to sit there and stare me to death? Play on my human sympathy, ndugu? Oh, that’s a big mistake. But this rice? It’s the tops, man. Like, MSG and sugar and shit and everything. You like milk? I love it with milk, man. Love it.

It’s funny, you know. Sometimes I sit here and stare out at all this…shit, and I think, I can almost see it from your eyes. It’s hard, you know, but I can do it. Nobody else—they don’t even try. No brains in their heads, I swear. But it makes me think.

Temple of a million years of Rameses II - Ozym...

Temple of a million years of Rameses II – Ozymandias statue, Luxor, Egypt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This old man, once, well, he thought he was being smart. He sat me down and he says ‘Boy,’ he says, ‘It’s not enough to live. When you stand in the desert, everywhere around you you must know is the shattered visage of frowning, wrinkled cold command, and you should stand there and know that its sculptor already read the passions of men, and lo, lo you little shit, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed—’ Oh you Americans always know it. At least, the one line. It’s like you don’t have the attention span for all the rest, but you know, it’s a poem; it’s never just one line!

Fuck it.

LOOK ON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR!

And you know what? Oh, I laughed. Laughed as much as you probably want to shit yourself right now. Because just like his little poem, his little lecture, there wasn’t nothing there. You can say they’re looking out at me, but there isn’t nothing.

I’m not stupid, man. Everything dies. You get that, don’t you? Everything dies. It goes away. The words, maybe they live on, but the people, they all decay. And the old man, he thought he could use that to shake me into righting myself. Well. He wanted sand and you know what? I gave it to him. Three holes to the chest and I spread him wide, stake stake stake and left him for the vultures.

Of course, he was right. All those little–what you say–hipster?…shits that babble out the nothings of its monuments tears all got the right of it. There’s nothing here. Everybody’s screwing themselves bloody trying to make themselves right, but they’re all screwed up in the HEAD. There’s nothing! They say the words but they don’t get what that means!

I kill you today, somebody cries, sure, mommy in her far away house, but tomorrow? When mommy’s dead? Ain’t nobody crying. At best you get a tombstone with a little word, and the wind, she picks it up and she wipes the name off or worms eat your corpse and you aren’t nothing. You don’t see it. You don’t hear it. What’s a name? You live until you die, and then none of it matters any more. You’re all just dust.

And you know? When I realized that, I think, is when I realized what you gotta do. It’s all about the take, fishy. About the here and the now. That’s all there is. You take and you take and everybody else is taking and taking and you screw each other bloody till somebody taps out, and life, life is just trying to make the most of life while you have it, because  there ain’t anything but. Morality? Fuck, what’sat if there ain’t nothing it beholds you to? I mean, if there’s no axe over your head, no afterlife, no spirits, nothing but the glitter and the shitter, well, fuck, what are we all doing dressing up playing Ms. Prissy?

Remember this, fishy: we are what we are. And if I’m going to teach you one lesson, it’s that. I took you, and I took this desert, because I wanted it. Not because someone told me they were mine. I took you. And you know? I took your rice too. And it was pretty fucking good.

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Blindsided

(Welcome to Part 3 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here. Continuing the step outside my usual domain, into the mind of a rather crazed antagonist, it’s time to have a little discussion of choice…Language warning.)

English: Western Sushi found at Wegmans Superm...

Sushi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New foot. Clean slate. Wakey, wakey, little boy.

Look at that. What you wake to. Natural thing, that. You hide it quick, like the other fish have taught you to, but for that instant I could see it—the anger, raw. Like sushi, yeah? You could cook it up, but then it just wouldn’t be sushi anymore.

Why is it you Americans are so obsessed with sushi anyways? Like it’s part of your culture or something. Hipster. Hip-hop. Hippedy-fucking-hop. Hell, if somebody said no more sushi for you, you’d probably go to war with them. Uptight little pricks you are. Somebody threatens to make things a little harder, a little less tasty for you—even if it’s something you have never owned, never have the right to own—and you go kill for it.

And that’s okay! It’s only human. It’s a damn shitty thing to do, don’t get me wrong, fish-boy. But it’s only human. We want and we want until we convince ourselves it’s need. We’re all part of the same family but that don’t mean shit when little brother steals our toys or sis takes our lunch money.

Oh, oh, oh, I know, family’s everything. You’re right! They’ll always be in our hearts, so we convince ourselves everything we do is as much for them as for us. That in making ourselves better, well, we’re only making them better too, right? Because who’s not happy to see their little brother happy? Well that’s the thing. You let them into your heart and you know what happens?

Bam. Blindsided and back-stabbed, carved open and gutted like a fish every time. They may not mean to do it, but every time, they come, prodding you with their sorries and their what do we do, what do we do? Because oh, look at that, everything’s judged on the nature of choice. CHOICE. As though any of us have a fucking choice. We’re urges bottled up inside just waiting to burst and they think some CHOICE is going to change anything?

Well, of course they do, because they hope our choice will somehow help them. Cheeky bastards.

Just like you. You thought it was quite a choice to come here, didn’t you?

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Drops in the Ocean

(Welcome to Part 2 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Part 1 can be found here. Continuing the step outside my usual domain, into the mind of a rather crazed antagonist [alright, maybe it’s not THAT far outside my usual domain…a la Hollow March], we find ourselves free of our cage-homes for the moment, stretching our legs as we flesh out a bit of the topic of humanity. Please, avoid any sudden movements. Pirates read for free. Language warning.)

Empty Lake Bed, (from iDesign iPhone Wallpapers)

Empty Lake Bed, (from iDesign iPhone Wallpapers)

…Let me tell you—you don’t understand what war is. Keep moving, fish–it’s okay, we’re still good. I didn’t used to understand what it was either. It was the right bumper on a controller shaped perfectly to the needs of carpal tunnel, fueling the medical machine that led to–

What? WHAT? Am I boring you, motherfucker? Well it’s history time. So you be a good little boy and you keep those little legs moving and those little ears listening and I won’t take this gun and shove it up your…

Good. Good. You have no idea how much that pisses me off. Little pricks coming around here, thinking they own this turf. Isn’t a soul alive should dare to stick a dagger in this dirt no more, friend. If each man is an island, then you’re best calling this an archipelago. You know what that is, right? A chain of islands—dot,  dot, dot—but they’re not all lined up all pretty like some kid’s flipping drawing, no sir, they’re different, every one unique, shaped and carved to a different sort of perfection and scattered like grains of sands across the ruthlessness of the ocean.

But still they come. More drops. More islands. The chain keeps growing and I swear, sometimes, you just drop from the sky. We can’t all be fished out of the ocean, love, not like the little fish you are. Know how many times I’ve considered tossing you back in? Oh, but that wouldn’t do. Little prick, you’d probably just swim back up stream and then where would we be? Another island choking off my flow. Won’t do. Won’t do at all.

Oh, it’s a war alright. You can practically see the natives paddling out from their islands at the boatload, spears and machetes and whatever else that not so benevolent bastard in the sky took on himself to gift our vain and varied verdicts of vengeance.

And you’re—hey. HEY. You’re looking at me. What is it shooting around up there that makes you think you can look at me? Huh? Huh? I’m the one standing here, you little stain. You think this is a snake between my legs? It could blow your head off. A BABY COULD DO IT. Just tap tap a tune out on the trigger and there you go, and if you were out here and I was in there it could be you, but walls come for a reason, little man, and you were born on the wrong end.

Or swam into it. Whatever. Don’t make me mix up my metaphors, eh? I may never get them back and then you think you know angry but you don’t. You don’t get it at all, preppy, with your pretty shirt and your iTunes world.

I’m keeping that, by the way.

But the war. Oh yeah. The war. We’re all in it. Little fish fighting for the way upstream to fuck our way into oblivion on the off chance some new upstart little shit will do things better, do things right. Or the islands, yeah—so many, but beneath that sand and dirt is volcanic churning, waiting to get out. We’re going to BURST, man, and everyone’s screaming is it you or me, you or me, and you know what I say?

I say fuck you, you little shit. Crawl back into your cage and cry, because story time’s over.

War is nature. It blindsides you and it sweeps everything else away. The war is absolute, the reasons are secondary—the reasons change, but the war is unchangeable, predetermined. Animals, all of us. Put you in my place, with this gun, and yeah, my brains’d be splattered all over these bars. Ha! Now there’s a thought. Too bad, you know?

If I was anybody else, I’d probably root for you.

[The story continues in Part 3, Blindsided]

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Hard Landing

(To get into the mindset of a crazy fellow [or at least, a different brand of crazy than I already am] can be a trying process. While characters flit to and fro in the brain, craziness is one that you may not want to spend a lot of time with–for obvious reasons. That said, over the weekend I was struck with an idea for a new segment, a series of short stories from the perspective of one of the aforementioned crazies addressing an unfortunate prisoner–though I suppose the real surprise will be that it’s something modern. Pirates may be involved…or I may have said too much.

So I give to you “In Captivity,” an internet exclusive. The following is free flow dialogue.  The images awaiting you will be what your own mind summons from its murky corners. Posting schedule for the additional chains in the story will probably be…whenever they deem it proper to pop into my head. Marvel, hiss, or shake a walker at me–but I hope you enjoy the step outside my usual domain.)

Dunes

Damn, son. And they thought I was crazy. But there’s no crazy like American crazy, lemme tell you. Whoosh. Just like that. Sea howls and the sky roars and you know what it spits out of that diarrhea-streaked fishbowl? You, like you think you’re some merman or something.

Well the desert isn’t no place for a fishy, boy. Fish boy. Yeah. I like that. You ever think of yourself like a fish, eh? Where’s the rest of your school, fish? What’s that? I can’t hear you. Let’s try again: WHERE’S THE REST OF YOUR SCHOOL, FISH? Oh, you look scared, man. I know. You think I’m crazy. I tell you lots of people think that, you smile or nod your head? Oh, but they don’t say it to my face, so you just remember that.

You want to know where the rest of your school is? Swam, swam away for the summer. That’s what you all wanted to do. Turistas, eh? It’s a funny thing when you think about it. ‘Mama, papa, I just want to be anywhere but with you for a while, and don’t you worry, it’s just me and my cock and a lot of sun. I’m responsible!’ Now that’s love. You don’t get it’s about family. It’s always about family.

And so now where’d all that crazy love get you? Here. Washed up in the middle of the fucking desert. Never saw that coming when you decided to play explorer now did you? Never saw yourself in a cage, no.

But that’s what happens. Americans. You all think the ocean is just like everything else. Manifest Destiny. Some fat old man, he says it’s sea to shining sea but some point came around, and someone else came up and they said sea to shining sea damn well best include the seas themselves and look what happens. It’s one big fucking party!

That is, until you’re two hundred miles off shot, and the world’s all storms, and you’re huddled in the smell of your own piss on your knees praying oh God, oh God, for the sake of the stars and stripes and my fathers and my little semen children save me, I’m a good and faithful shit, and only when the water’s up over your head and the sun’s blotted out of your sky do you begin to finally realize real religion: if there’s a God, he’s one vindictive little shit, or he doesn’t wear a red, white and blue suit.

It’s not all about the shiny but—hey, you know, I like the shiny, so, it’s not all bad, yeah?

I think your friends probably learned that already too. When you hit the rocks, you know, you usually don’t die right away. It takes time. The blood runs out until you can’t move anymore, or the bones break and you can’t move anyway, and all you can do is take this time before the sun or the hunger kills you, wondering, just wondering: what about me? What about my life? Why did I have to be sliced open like a fish?

Wriggle, little man. It’s what fish do. And there’s only so long you can breathe out of water.

But it’s good you’re here, you know? That you let me find you. It’s good. Real good. Gives us time for lessons, see. And it gives me opportunities. There’s a lot of money in the pretty lilies, samaki. Real big. And it’s fun, you know? That’s what we’re gonna have. Real fun.

Now let’s get that gag in. It’s a long way and you stink, little fishy, and we wouldn’t want you to choke.

[The story continues in Part 2, Drops in the Ocean]