The Death of Clara Strickland (The End?)

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Clara and Amy watched as Matt looked at the photo through a microscope.  He couldn’t remember where it came from, and both women wondered how in the hell you wind up with something like that and not know you got it. But they exchanged looks and that was all.

“I can’t see anything other than the outline of his face,” Matt said, but I can tell he sees me. I don’t think he knows what’s going on.

“Who does?” sighed Clara, and she realized that Sammy might be trapped forever.

 

They made trips back and forth to the library and tried to find something, anything, even a hint, for some remedy but there was nothing. There wasn’t a scrap of truth to anything they read, and nothing about their everyday lives as ghosts. Finally, towards the end of November, Clara announced, “I’m going to haunt the Thanksgiving Dinner. Anyone wanting to come along can help, but I’m going to fuck with these people.” No one else offered to join her and Clara didn’t blame them. The fear of cameras now was a very real thing.

 

 

As Clara was getting ready to go, she wanted to make sure she looked the part of a murdered wife, Amy walked through the wall and into the room.

“You know how we feel about you doing this,” Amy told her, “you’re going to endanger us all.”

“So?” Clara said, “So what? What you going to do? Hide here until one by one you disappear with no clue as to why? I say we all hit the damn road. We spy, we steal, we get a van and only move around at night, and we go dancing all the damn time. We can visit different places and try to find other ghosts.”

“And get fired by the sun?” Matt asked. He had drifted up from the floor.

“We don’t know that’s a thing.” Clara said, “And yes, I do realize Sammy didn’t believe the camera thing.

“We’re here to help you with the haunting.” Matt said. “Do you have a plan?”

“Yes.”

 

Most of her family had never met many of her party friends, Clara knew that, and so passing Matt and Amy off as close friends that her family didn’t know would be easy. Bridgett, the blonde with the tattoo, didn’t know anyone, so she would be happy to have someone to talk to that was close to her age. The problem was getting them past George. Of course, George was looking to cement Clara’s family accepting his story about her will and life insurance, so he wouldn’t be looking for a fight. If Matt and Amy were old friends from the High School church club, George might think that’s why he never met them. But Matt was the one who suggested they get both George and Bridgett so stoned they couldn’t make it through the meal anyway.

 

 

“This is George’s ‘Medicine Cabinet’”, Clara told Amy as they manifested in the closet of the bedroom of her house. George was pounding away at Bridgett, so they knew they wouldn’t be noticed, even if those two were just a few feet away. “I think these blue pills are LSD,” Clara told Amy.

“They are,” Amy replied, “I’ve tried it before, but I didn’t inhale.”

“Smartass!”

 

Amy and Matt arrived right after Clara’s parents. Bridgett was hopelessly inept when it came to matters in the kitchen, and Barbara, Clara’s mother, waded in to rescue her. Tim, Clara’s father, took the proffered drink and suggested the men retreat to watch football. Having Amy assure everyone she had baked many a turkey helped dispel any misgivings about letting her and Matt in. Clara had to admit Amy looked good in church clothes and Matt cut a handsome figure as well. They looked as if they were alive, and no one questioned why they had come in through the backdoor of the garage. George hated to have the blinds open so they were safe from sunlight  from that source as well.

Clara manifested just long enough to drop the LSD into George’s beer, two hits of the stuff,  and the other doses in Bridgett’s wine. She could be in and out of view in less than a second, and she wished she had more time to get better at being a ghost. The acid would really start kicking in about the time Thanksgiving Dinner was served. Clara was surprised at how well Amy and Matt blended into the religious talk neither of them have ever exhibited before. Clara never believed in a god, or disbelieved in a god, she had never really thought about it that deeply. Did religious people automatically assume she didn’t want to hear it? She didn’t, religious stuff bored her to tears, but if there was some old white guy in a bathrobe and an epic beard, what part did he play in her being a ghost? Clara grinned at the amount of alcohol Bridgett and George was knocking down. She knew they had hit some weed to calm them down, but the acid would be cranking very soon.

“The candles,” Bridgett breathed, “have you ever noticed how the fire seems to be floating above the candle, like a star?” And Clara knew it was on.

Both Amy and Matt were good, really good, at manifesting in and out of reality. More than once Amy would totally disappear while only Bridgett could see her, and Bridgett was beginning to lose control. Matt walked right through George in the kitchen and George just about lost it. He dropped his beer and the glass broke everywhere. He couldn’t very well say anything about what he saw, and Clara laughed at how red his face was getting. Tim was expressing doubts as to if George ought to have another beer but Bridgett was pouring a hefty glass of wine.

 

“Tell them about the insurance policies,” Clara whispered behind George while he was in the bathroom and he peed all over himself. George let out a yelp as he whizzed an arc across the floor. But Clara was gone.

“You’re stealing from them, George,” Clara said from right behind him in the hallway and she let George see her, for just an instant, before she disappeared.

George shrieked. He fairly ran back into the dining room where everyone was staring at him.

“She’s, uh, your, uh, I uh,” George fought against the drug coursing through his veins and knew he was losing it, “I saw a spider.”

But Bridgett laughed hard and everyone turned to look at her. Both Amy and Matt were appearing and disappearing when no one else was looking and Bridgett thought it was hysterical. She finally sat on the floor with her wine and giggled.

“Is your friend okay?” Tim said and everyone heard the term “friend” being used in a way that suggested it was too soon for George to have a girlfriend.

“Why don’t you cut the turkey, George?” Matt suggested, right on cue, and Amy grinned. George took the two pronged fork and gentled entered the turkey’s flesh, as if he were expecting it to explode. That went well, it was a start, and George pointed the knife at the turkey’s breast and pressed down with the tip of the knife.

Clara’s face came out of the turkey as she flowed, seemingly, from the cut, and pointed at George as he fell back screaming at the top of his lungs, “You murdered me, George, you killed me,” Clara stepped up on the table, “and now you’re hiding my will from my family, and trying to steal the life insurance money from them. I will have my vengeance!” Clara yelled the last sentence and George’s bowels released as he ran from the house howling.

 

“So now what?” Amy asked when they finally stopped laughing. George had ran down the street in full panic, with Bridgett on the floor in a puddle of tears. Tim had called the cops while Amy and Matt had said their goodbyes and left before the police got there. They had giggled as George was brought back to the house shouting about ghost and how he had not killed his wife. The ghosts were all hiding in the attic, but Clara had never felt more alive.

“It’s time to go, Amy,” Clara said simply.

 

 

 

 

“Can you hear me, Sammy?” Clara asked.

“Barely, but yeah.” Sammy replied.

“Ready?” Clara took her clothes off and sat in the lounge chair near the edge of the pool.

“Yeah, but barely,” Sammy replied. “Beats the photo life.”

“You know, I know technically speaking, you’re older than I am, but you’re the first person I ever met that made me want to have a kid. I wish I had a son like you.” Clara said and she realized the truth of her own words, and she bit her lip trying not to cry but couldn’t help it. “You’re a good kid,” she added.

“That was unexpected,” Sammy said, “but hey, thanks, that’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me, living or dead.”

“I wish I had known you when I was alive,” Clara said. She looked at the night sky and it was fading to light.

“So what happened with George?” Sammy asked.

“The plan worked,” Clara said, “he was so freaked out over being accused of murder he confessed to the insurance theft by hiding my will. Bridgett threw him under the bus trying to keep from getting a murder rap. The cops used them both against each other trying to find out if I had been murdered, but they’re convinced I wasn’t now. I wouldn’t want George to do time for killing me. But he’s going to have to share the money with my family. And explain his drug stash. I’m nearly sorry about that.”

“No you aren’t.” Sammy laughed.

 

Clara watched the sky lighten and heard Amy call out, “You don’t have to do this, Clara.” And she nodded. “Sammy deserves better than to be stuck like this, and I’m, well, I want to see if there is anything else. Death has made me much better as a person than I was alive. I owe Sammy this.”

“We’re going to hit the road tomorrow, like you said, get a van and get serious window tint, and travel. We’ll look for other ghosts, and we’ll try to find out what happens, when, when someone does what you’re doing.” Amy was sobbing.

“Come back and haunt us if you can, Clara.” Matt said simply. “Tell Sammy I love him.”

“Did you hear that?” Clara asked.

“Yes,” replied Sammy. “Tell them both.”

“Sammy and I love you both, he wanted you to know, I want you to know.” And Clara stopped speaking. There was nothing left to be said.

The sun brightened the sky and the stars blinked out, one by one. The first ray of sunlight streaked the sky and Clara watched as her left leg began to dissolve and float away like dust. “I’m fading away!” she called but no one spoke. “Sammy?”

“Yeah, I can feel it, too,” Sammy said, “it doesn’t hurt.”

Her legs dissolved into stardust and blew away and Clara felt her last tear streak down her cheek as the sun slipped above the horizon, “Sammy?” she asked but no one was there. Clara felt her last tear fall but she was gone before it hit the ground.

 

End

The Death of Clara Strickland (Part Two)

shutterstock_215100169-750x500There was a tub in the guest bathroom upstairs and Clara wondered if she would just flow down the drain when the plug was pulled. Manifesting took a little more concentration than simply being alive did, and anytime something, or someone, distracted you, things happened. At first, she started floating in the air, then she started sinking through the tub. Hot water still felt good and being with someone who had kept notes on what she liked and where was really nice.

“Where are the rest of the ghosts, Amy?” Clara asked as she settled into a half way state that allowed her to have most of her body immersed in the hot water.

“Hiding out until the sun and the cameras disappear,” I think I hear someone coming up the stairs, follow me up into the attic please.” And with that Amy drifted up and through the ceiling. Clara followed, a little clumsily but still easily. They watched as a cop explored the bathroom, looking for anything out of place, and they could tell he wondered why the tub was full and why the water was still hot. But after a few hours the cops took Clara’s body away, and they all milled around for a while and they left too. Clara noticed time seemed to pass by more quickly. But there was less to care about now. There were no bills, no crimes, no sins, no time, and…

“So tell me, Amy,” Clara stretched her legs out and they passed through Amy’s body, “what’s the downside to being dead?”

“You’re going to freak out when I tell you this, Clara,” Amy replied, “but you are dying on borrowed time.”

“Say again?”

“I mentioned that when you and I first met, and it’s true, hold on, hear that?” Amy stood up and cocked her head. “That’s Matt. He’s been dead longer than anyone else around, maybe thirty years or so.” Amy shouted, “Hey Matt! Upstairs bathroom! Clara Strickland just died! Come on, we’re having a tub party!”  Amy sat down with a splash. “Your hearing is better now, have you noticed that?”

Clara was trying to hear whatever it was that Amy heard when a nude man glided through the wall and sat down in the tub beside her, with only half of his body showing.

“Hi!” the man said, “I’m Matt, and you are Clara, I am a very big fan of yours,” He leered at Amy, “you have told her, I assume?”

“Yes,” Amy laughed, “and she’s cool with it, but you had to think she’d be the kind of ghost everyone likes.”

“You are so awesome, I’m really glad you’re dead, and a ghost!” Matt seemed nervous but happy.

“Uh, thanks, I think?” Clara laughed. “So you’re the oldest ghost alive, uh, dead?”

Matt looked like he might have been thirty at the most, but Clara couldn’t tell. Both Matt and Amy looked very happy. But why not? Being alive was a burden. Being dead…maybe not so much. Still…

“So ghosts can die?” Clara asked.

“Beats me,” Matt replied slipping his arm around her. Clara let his arm pass through her. No sense is being too easy but Matt laughed hard. “She catches on quick! But seriously, the last ghost that was here for very long at all was a woman named Prudence. She claimed to be over one hundred, and she’s the one who told me ghosts simply disappear after a while. No one knows why.”

“And the sunlight thing?” Clara asked.

“Uh, a ghost in Lubbock told me about that.” Amy said. “Freaked me out.”

“And the camera thing?” Clara stood up and grinned at Matt who was staring.

“That came from Sammy,” Matt said, “he’s around somewhere, and there’s Ted, who doesn’t like to leave his house. He watches television a lot. But he died in front of the TV so…”

“How do you know any of this is true?” asked Clara and the other two ghosts just looked at her.

“I guess we don’t,” Amy finally said.

They met at Ted’s house, and for three days, with breaks just to relieve the tension, they all wrote down everything they had ever heard about being a ghost and then panned everything they didn’t know to be a fact. At the end of three days they had a page and a half of notes.

“That’s it?” Clara asked. “That’s not even a five minute conversation!”

“Mostly,” Ted said, “all we really know about being dead is the day to day stuff. It’s not like we could know anything about any other ghosts.” Clara didn’t like Ted but was careful not to show it. Ted was depressingly dead. He watched television a lot and complained about the people living in his old house. But the people were rarely home, and their only hint that Ted lived there too was the television being on at odd hours. But they were smuggling cocaine into SoCal so they were used to odd things happening.

“You know,” Sammy said, “I wouldn’t mind trying out that camera thing. You know, let one of you take my photo. If it turns out to be true, we just tear up the photo and I’m free. If it isn’t then we can stop being camera shy.” Clara did like Sammy. He died young and hadn’t aged. She never wanted kids but if she ever had one she hoped this would be what she wound up with.

“Hey, Clara,” Ted asked, “why are the lights on over at your house?”

“Holy shit!” Clara swore, “George is back. Anyone want to go over and spy on him with me?”

 

Ghost Story

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The idea of ghosts who die natural deaths after being ghosts is one that is new to me. I’m writing a story about a woman who dies of a drug overdose and she becomes a ghost. Once in the world of the dead, she finds herself one of only five ghosts around. Collectively, they try to make some sort of guide for new ghosts but none of them really know anything. They wind up with a very depressing page and a half worth of useful information to anyone who has just died. It’s 1978, Disco and cocaine is all the rage, and Clara Strickland has died at the age of twenty-three. The oldest ghost in her group, a man named Matt Truman, tells her that he’s been dead for thirty-two years and has never felt better. But one day Matt is gone, and none of the other four know what’s happened to him or why.

 

The remaining ghosts question their collectively knowledge. What do they really know about being dead and how did they find out about it? Amy, who died in a car wreck twenty years ago is now the oldest ghost. She confesses that everything she knows was told to her by a ghost, but she has no idea if it is really true. For instance, Amy has always believed that direct sunlight would kill her, and other ghosts, and she’s always hidden from it, and told others to hide from it, but she’s never actually seen direct sunlight and a ghost interact. Amy has always been told that cameras capture a ghost’s spirit, and trap in in the photograph until the photo is destroyed or exposed to direct sunlight, but none of the other ghosts have ever heard of his, except from Amy, and none of them know if anything they have heard is true or not.

 

Sammy, the youngest person who died, at age sixteen, and the next oldest ghost at eleven years, has an idea. Ghost can, once they get the hang of it, physically manifest. They’ll get a camera, one of them will take a photo of another, and then they’ll see if the ghost is trapped or not. They’ll use an instant camera, one that spits out the photo, and tear it up to release the trapped ghost if it goes awry. This seems to be a really great idea, and Sammy volunteers to be the subject of the photograph. Amy takes his photo and sure enough, Sammy is trapped. They can see his photo, vaguely and out of focus, and they can hear him, barely, but as Amy tears a piece of the photo to release Sammy, he screams. They discover that Sammy’s spirit cannot be released by tearing the photo, but it can be destroyed if the photo is damaged. Sammy is trapped!

 

Down to three ghosts, the remaining trio realize there has to be some source of knowledge but now they’re, uh, spooked, by what’s happened. Where did Matt go? How to help Sammy? They’re feel frightened and confused by what’s happened and they wonder if being a ghost is a temporary thing, like being alive, but what comes next?

 

In the meanwhile, Clara discovers her husband, who according to the death do us part clause in the vows, she is no longer married to, doesn’t miss her at all. That’s not unexpected; Clara died while doing cocaine with her boyfriend. But Clara discovers that George took out a lot of insurance on her, and now she wonders if the cocaine that killed her wasn’t hidden in a place she might find it. Of course, as much as Clara haunts George, there’s no real evidence he actively sought to kill her, but still. She’s pissed off. And now she thinks that she might be dead on borrowed time as well.

 

Amy and Ted are against it, but Clara wants to do something to screw up George’s life. He has a new girlfriend but he’s keeping her hid until all the legal wrangling over Clara’s death is over. Clara figures out George is lying to her family about how much insurance money is out there, and he’s hidden her will. She and the other ghosts plot to reveal everything at Thanksgiving, and also reveal that George’s new girlfriend, who he is passing off as one of Clara’s friends, is pregnant. None of it is true, of course, but Clara realizes that the sight of her ghost will be enough to convince everyone to examine Georgie’s claims more closely. Unexpectedly, George is arrested for Clara’s murder after her family demands an investigation.

 

After Thanksgiving, Amy and Clara discover that Ted is gone. He’s left to go find the truth about ghosts, if he can, but he’s done with haunting. Sammy, still trapped in the photo, demands that he be left out in the sunlight. Maybe it will free him, maybe it will kill him, but he has to have some sort of relief. Clara sits down in her old home, watching her husband, out on bail, weep for the girlfriend who has just broken up with him, and she realizes that she not a better person for being dead. Worse, she realizes that she likely won’t get a chance to change who she is or who she was. Clara dislikes the idea of waiting to die, in some mysterious and untimely fashion, and she asks Sammy if he’s serious about leaving.

 

The story end with Clara out beside the pool, with Sammy’s photo propped up beside her. She’s watching the sun come up, and Amy is watching from the attic. This will be the first real proof of whether or not sunlight kills ghosts and if it might also kill a trapped ghost. Sammy is ready, he tells Clara, because he never wanted to be a ghost, and never really liked it. Clara asks him if he believes they’ll both wind up somewhere else and Sammy is hoping for someplace with better weather.

 

Clara watched the first streak of light in the sky and then sees the first sign if orange looking over the horizon. Amy watches from the attic as Clara disappears and Sammy goes silent.

 

End

The Bunker

 

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The war was long since over, and everyone knew it. We sat in the bunker listening to the Captain’s speeches about holding on and holding out and how every day we stood and fought was another day the enemy was weakened but we didn’t believe it anymore. There was nothing to believe anymore. Once we got replacement soldiers, food, water, a medical officer, and letters from home. Now, we got the speeches from the Captain, and nothing else. We had lost the island and we knew it.  The bunker was all that we had left and all that remained of the army that once held the island. A dozen soldiers, seven of them too sick, too wounded, too far gone, too starved, too exhausted, or too weak to stand up lay in a row at the back of the bunker. There was no more water unless it rained, and five of those men would die in the next two days unless they were killed by the shelling.

 

A rifle shot ricocheted off the walls and we counted the number of times it bounced around the inside of the bunker. Twice only, this time, which meant the sniper was further away. He was toying with us, keeping us awake and afraid, but it no longer worked. What was there to fear, unless it was the fact that we were able to recite the Captain’s speeches word for word with him, like a prayer to a god we knew no longer existed.

 

We had to get permission to go outside now, and the Captain usually went with anyone who had to relieve themselves. But there was no water, and no food, so the body had little to release. The oldest man in the bunker was twenty-three yet we all moved as if we were ancient. Finally, in the middle of a speech about grinding the enemy down so the homeland could produce some new weapon that would win the war, I simply stood up, and walked out of the doors that swung back into the bunker, and I went outside alone.

 

A bullet cracked into the face of the stone cliff a few feet away and I knew then I was already dead. I didn’t flinch. I didn’t move. I was vaguely disappointed that he had missed, and I was slightly amused that he was likely surprised at the sight of his mortal enemy; a man who had lost twenty-five pounds since the first time he had stepped onto the island. It took a while and most of my energy but I finally was able to get on top of the bunker, and feel the sun on my body for the first time in weeks.

 

The sun. It was hot, enormous, and bright unlike I could remember. I slipped off my excuse for a shirt and stood there waiting for my eyes to adjust, waiting for the bullet, and finally, after what seemed to be hours, I could see again. There were ships, many ships, in the harbor, just barely within my sight, and closer to where the bunker overlooked a primitive road that once was the main connection between one part of the island and another, there were two or three ships ploughing through the blue ocean water. Our position had been fought for and men had died, then suddenly they didn’t need the road anymore. It was too narrow and twisted too many times for their trucks. Now they simply landed in one place or another, while we rotted away in places men had died trying to keep.

 

The next bullet whined by my ear and I stood taller, trying to give him a better target. The next shot came closer, but the wind was blowing harder here than where he was shooting from, I could tell, and I wondered if there was some way of letting him know. In unison, smoke billowed from the three ships and I knew what it meant. They were shelling the bunker now, and they meant to end us.

 

The first salvo hit before I was inside, and I felt emotion, fear, for the first time in longer than I could remember. We got the iron doors closed as the second salvo hit, and it occurred to me that both sets of shells had missed. They were firing too high. The next and the next and the next set of rounds hit, and I realized they were trying to miss the bunker. They were shelling the rock cliff behind us. They were expending more artillery than I had seen on our side in months just to toy with us. They were trying to bury us alive not kill us. They were trying to make us die even more slowly than we could on our own. We deserved their hatred, we had earned it, and we shared it. We had done worse things to them, and they now did what they could to us.

 

Dust and noise filled the bunker as a landslide took us. They shelled the bunker next, now trying to make sure we were dead, and I lay on the floor, made of cold concrete and old vows, and waited for the shell that would hit a port, and fill the bunker with hot, sharp, and merciful metal. My mind stopped. All thought and feeling stopped. All sound and sight, stopped, and I thought to myself that it was very strange that I could know that I had died, but if I knew that I had died, I could not be dead, could I? Did death work like that? I had seen so much death, I had killed men, I had seen men killed, I had done things to make men die, and I had seen things done to men I knew so they would die. But to each man, death is like his own breath; it’s personal and no one can feel it for him. I hid my face from the overwhelming dust and the world turned black.

 

There was a bird. It was a tiny bird, grey and black, and it had a twig in its beak. It flitting away and was gone. The air was a haze of dust, and I coughed hard. I heard someone else cough, and I knew at least some of us had survived. The Captain was sitting near the body of a man, and there was a knife sticking out of the man’s chest. The Captain was ending it all, for everyone, and I knew he would come for me. I found a rifle, checked to see if there was still a bullet left, and I shot the Captain in the head as he sat and watched me. He sat there, his face dirty and bloody, and he knew what I was doing but didn’t move. There was a small opening that showed daylight were the landslide had busted the doors in. There was nothing left to do but to try to not die in the bunker.

 

I clawed and kicked my way through the rubble and once slid all the way back down into the darkness, the death, and the tomb of many men. I wanted to die facing the sky, looking up into the sun, and so like a turtle stuck on his back, a tried and tried and tried. I took flight. I soared into the sky and I realized that two men, two men in uniform, the enemy, had taken me by either arm and lifted me up. I struggled enough to lift my head and looked into the face of a boy, not old enough to shave, with his helmet skewed to one side, and his eyes looked at me, not in terror or hate, but compassion.

 

They dragged me down the rubble where there were more soldiers, and some of them, I knew, were no longer boys, who even if they did not shave, they had seen things that we had done, and what would happen to me would be a lesson to be learned for those who did not know. So many of them, so very many, and I wondered how they all got here so quickly, and one of them sat on the ground nearby, looked up at me with boredom and contempt, and went back reading a book he was holding.

 

A book. I once worked in a library, for I never wanted to be a soldier. I wanted to live and die among books, shelves and rows of books, hundreds of them in the small library in the small town where I lived, but I wanted to work in a real library, with hundreds of thousands of books. I told them, tried to tell them, that I didn’t want to be a soldier, that I wanted a library, not a bunker, but I knew they couldn’t understand. They sat me down and one offered me a can with a liquid in it. Water! Until you have waited an entire day for a half a cup of water out of a rancid bucket you will never know how water really tastes when it is clean. They fed me small cooked cakes that were thin and crispy, but as I sat there I looked around and saw the detritus of war, the helmets on the ground, the torn uniforms that lay bunched and blooded, the spent shells, the broken gear, and the smell of death everywhere, and I knew this kindness might end suddenly, and with a bullet, if I was very lucky.

 

A woman came into the library, and she smiled at me, and told me she thought I was lucky to work in a library, and how special it must feel to be alone among all those books. I was too shy to ask her name, and she was too shy to offer it. They came the next day and took me away, and in two months I was in the bunker. Now, I was here, and drinking water, and eating the enemy’s strange food, and a man walked up to the group and barked orders at them. This was it. This was their Captain, their man who would give speeches to them, and one of them one kill me, and I would never know her name and I would never die in a library, but here, in the filth of war, and far away from home.

 

But four men came, two could have done it, for four was too many, but they loaded me onto a stretcher, and another soldier came up and he spoke to me in a terrible accent, and I could hardly understand him, “War over. War finished. Peace now. You understand? You understand?” And I did, but I did not. How could it end? How could there be a world without it? How could I have lived? How could I sit in a room filled with books and not still be stuck in the bunker, waiting to die?

“What book is he reading?” I asked, but I slipped into darkness before I ever knew.

 

End.

The Night of Barking.

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For all the drama it creates, you’d think I have about a thousand acres in back of my house. The reality it that is a rather small plot, just over an acre, but it generates doggy drama like it’s the size of a small New England state. Early this morning, about five or so, the dogs were restless so I just opened the backdoor and released them into the wild. There’s a fence with two hot wires on it and none of the current dogs, no pun intended, seem inclined to test it.

I hear the doggie door swinging and Bud returns. Then Arco follows him, and then Wrex. I put Arco in the crate, and suddenly, I hear Lilith hammering away in the woods. Everyone heads for the door, and I go back to bed.

 

By now, the Coyotes have to realize that the Cousins are gone. Those two packed over one hundred pounds apiece and that’s a serious amount of dog. Size matters when it comes to dog fights. But Lilith is still a low slung powerful sixty-five pound Pibble with an even bigger heart. She’s backed by Tyger Linn, fifty more pounds of muscle. I doubt either of the boy mean a lot to the Coyotes; neither of them are pushing forty pounds, but there are two of them, which means at any given time you have to tangle with four dogs. Raiding over the hotwire means dodging it twice. The math is wrong for this to be Coyotes. The return isn’t worth the risk, unless they’re trying to make a statement to the naked ape who owns guns. Again, risk versus return tells me it isn’t Coyotes.

 

Arco isn’t interested at all. I tell him to lie down and he does, inside the crate, and he doesn’t lift his head or voice again. He’s about got this thing figured out, where he gets to sleep inside, and he gets petted, and there is breakfast as soon as I get up. Hunger is a terrible thing, but it lends me a great tool for training purposes, even if I am trying my very best to eliminate it. Arco would learn to deal Blackjack and light cigars if he thought he’s get fed for it. Being silent in the crate seems a very simple thing to him. Whatever is out there, it does not give him breakfast. He is not interested.

 

Lilith Anne and Tyger Linn, in point of fact, are interested. I hear them both hammering away and whatever it is has to be inside the fence and likely up in a tree. Budlore Amadeus returns and Wrex Wyatt eventually follows, but they can’t seem to stick. One again, they hurry back to the sound of Lilith’s barking.

 

I drift in and out of sleep, mostly out, listening to Lilith’s voice and wondering what she’s found. Armadillo, likely, in one of the abandoned Cousin Caverns, perhaps, or maybe there were deer just in the other side of the fence. Either way, Lilith is lending her voice to the early morning stillness and everyone who is listening, and there are many listening, know her. Sixty-five pounds in this part of the world means she’s carrying more mass than most things that hunt for a living, and they do realize that Lilith is hunting. This may have a lot to do with this display. I’m not sure.

 

Ever else can be said about him, Arco Fenney isn’t interested in leaving the house to go bark at the dark. The other dogs can come, go, bark, not bark, but he’s good, thanks, and he’s content to sit this one out, whatever this one turns out to be. He likes to stick close to me when we’re out walking, but not to the point of being a Velcro dog. He’s happy in the kennel in the corner of the room when I’m writing. Arco is all about let’s see how long this regular meals thing is going to last here before we start asserting ourselves.

 

The first few days Arco stayed in a constant state of motion, trying to sniff everything, trying to figure out where he was and what was happening to him. It was difficult to get a photo of him because he was never still. But now Arco is beginning to get his feet under him. He knows the other dogs are not going to attack him. He knows I am not going to hurt him. He knows there will be food every day, and this is a concept he enjoys. Arco will put his paws on my shoulders while I am sitting on the back steps and allow me to pet him. Allow me? He’s getting pushy about it, actually.

 

This is the second dog since March I have taken in because they were dumped at the Humane Society building. We’re teaching people bad habits by this. But Budlore Amadeus lies on my bed asleep next to Tyger Linn. Bud was strung up by the collar to the building and left to whatever fate might bring. Now Arco. Another lost soul. Another abandoned dog. Another set of eyes looking at me through the grates of the kennel, wondering if there will be more heartache and more loss.

 

I make promises. I made promises to Bud, and I make promises to Arco. I make promises to myself, about how much I’ll invest in each dog’s heart. I make promises that I won’t take in another damaged dog, I won’t pick up a hard one, I won’t take in a dog that’s been wounded in some way. But that’s all there is. That’s all of them. That’s each of them. And in some way, that’s us, too. We’re all part of the society that shifts and bends things so dogs are left to die, or left without food, without water, without decent care, because we do that to our own, too.

 

 

I can hear the sound of Arco snoring gently from across the room. It’s the deep sleep of a dog who believes, despite all the evidence, that there is a human who will take care of him.

 

I promised him I would.

 

Take Care of them,

MikeIMG_3191

Porn

Unknown

Being in a committed relationship with my home, my money, and my sanity, I decided long ago never to marry again. In the passing years, friends of mine, various and sundry married men, have arrived at my doorstep each with a sadder story than the next, and each one discovering that there are issues I have no interest in involving myself in, ever. The first is violence. Sorry, Charlie, don’t darken my door. Alcohol, is next, and also, nope, I drink, but it doesn’t affect my life and if you have a problem with alcohol then you won’t affect my life either. And lastly, infidelity. You’re married. Act like it or leave her.

 

I try to weed out those people who think moving into a house in the woods with a bunch of dogs and a Hermit is a good idea. If you’re on the run from something, chances are it’s yourself.

 

So a friend of mine arrives with a suitcase and a strange story; his wife has relieved him of his bedroom rights because he has a porn problem. Firstly, I cannot understand porn. I don’t indulge in it past Naughty Bits and looking up an occasional actress to see if she’s ever appeared nude. But either I have access to a woman willing to have sex with me or I do not. If I do, why porn? If I do not, truly, why porn? Do I need to be reminded I am without?

 

Sex issues are now on the list of things that will cause me to not let you sleep on my sofa.

 

The obvious question: You have a wife. Why do you need porn?

 

He explains to me that he has always watched porn and never thought he’s have to give it up when he got married. After all, she never knew about it before, why would she know about it now?

Any of you women want to field that one for me? I’m not sure I can get the anger level that high.

 

Worse than worst, he got caught sneaking around to have sex with himself. She fired up her cell phone app that lets her see what’s going on inside their house, and other than the cat sleeping on the kitchen counter, everything looks good. But then her husband arrives, opens his laptop and connects with the widescreen, and even though she can’t see what he’s watching, it is clearly something that excites him. She captures the video and then ambushes him with it later.

First, she goes asks him how many hours he put in for the week and he tells her that he’s missed a couple of hours here and there because of rain. Rain? Yeah, it rained yesterday on the project. Rained on the project so you lost some time, did you? And her tone of voice lets him know she’s got something on him, but he digs the hole deeper. Yes, lost time due to rain, you can call my boss. At that point, she is to understand he’s got help in getting off to get off, or at best, his boss will lie for him and he knows it. She files this piece of information back for a few moments.

 

She shows him the video and there isn’t much you can say, and honestly, he might have been able to salvage the situation, but he told her he was watching a video they had made together. Oh? And your laptop will reflect that you didn’t connect to pornhub at that time on that day?

 

Busted. Red handed, in a manner of speaking.

 

So now he’s in truly hot water and he ought to bail out and beg forgiveness but he tries to vamp his way through it. He’s been pretty good about clearing the history of his browser on his laptop and he shows it to her, thinking he’s slick enough to salvage the situation. Okay, I did that once, or twice, but it’s not like I do it all the time.

 

But this is a tech savvy woman who knows a few things about hiding things and finding things. The first thing she gets out of him is his password, and then she changes it while he’s trying to explain everything to her. Then she starts looking around at who he’s emailed, and sure enough, there’s an exchange between him and his supervisor.

 

At that point, things got really out of hand, no pun intended.

 

Seems that in their five year marriage, because he really likes porn, they’ve made some “wife-porn”. She was agreeable to it, why not, and she knows there’s more than a few videos of the two of them in various sex scenes together. But he’s traded videos with his supervisor. And co-workers. And friends.  He’s been watching wife porn of other men’s wives, and other men have been watching his wife porn.

 

The jerk.

 

Hence his arrival at Hickory Head, and his debut to homelessness less than an hour later. If your wife cannot trust you I will not.

 

Okay, I’m in the clear with this one. He’s been handed off, no pun intended, to someone who will let him crash for a few nights, and I can distance myself from this entirely simply by not answering my phone again.

 

Then she calls me. My curiosity gets the better of me and I answer. She’s madder than any woman I’ve ever pissed off, which is a remarkable feat, I must add that, and she’s ready to start legal action. Worse, infinitely worse, she wants to make sure that he understands how mad she truly is. “Tell him,” she says in a tone of voice that can only be described as venomous, “that I still have the video with the two headed monster in it.” And then she hangs up.

Unfortunately for me, I have a very morbid curiosity. I call him up and as he answers it pops into my mind to say, “Your wife just sent me the ‘two headed monster’ video” and on the other end of the line is total silence for about five seconds. Then he says, “Please, call her back, tell her I’ll give her the house, she can keep it, okay?”

A minute later I call her up and tell her what I’ve done and she screams with laughter.

“Call him back,” she purrs at me, “and tell him if he doesn’t sign the paperwork handing the house over to me tomorrow I’m sending the video to his mama.”

“Are you really going to do it?” I ask.

“Maybe.”

 

A couple of days pass and I hear nothing from the two of them. Then I get a text message from her with her holding a house key in one hand and a jump drive in the other. She’s grinning. In the reflection of her sunglasses I can make out someone taking the photo, but not who.

 

Take Care,

Mike

The Wife beater and Me.

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When someone you just met tries to sell you a handgun, then it’s time to think about what you’re about to do and why. On one hand, I had just met the guy; he had moved into the apartment next door to me. He seemed nice enough, at first, but that was my first impression, that he would be one of those people you liked just one time. Less than a week went by and his car was repossessed. Soon afterwards he offered to sell me his .38. Really cheap. At worst, I thought, I would have a gun and he wouldn’t. Think about that one for a few minutes.

 

During the next few months his life got sketchier and sketchier. His girlfriend, who was a great deal younger than he was and a little crazy, went shopping with a friend of mine, a sort of girl bonding thing. His girlfriend shoplifted a ton of jewelry from the store, effortlessly and cleanly, and so we knew it wasn’t her first time around the block. It was scary, in a very real way. Then he started loading up on roommates. He had a two bedroom place and at one time there was eleven people living there, each one of them a little stranger than the last. The young girlfriend left and was replaced by a harden woman about his own age, whose first act was to come up to my apartment and try to borrow five bucks from me. I handed it over instantly. I knew damn well I would never see it again, but how often do you get to get rid of someone that cheaply? She was a grim faced woman who rarely smiled, and cooked a huge meal once or twice a week, and charged the renters five bucks apiece for all they could eat. It was usually soup or spaghetti or something that she could water down, but she did make it smell good.

 

After a few months of the normal residents raging at the landlord about the lack of parking spots, he did an inspection and discovered the population of a small town living in one of his apartments. Everyone there got evicted. And it was about this time, I started dating a woman named JoAnne, who knew this guy very well. The first time she came over and he saw her it was like one of those movie moments where you hear dramatic music in the background.

 

I had no idea this guy was a wife beater until Jo told me, but then a lot of things he said suddenly gained clarity. This was a guy who was always right about everything and was a wealth of advice, unasked for and unwelcomed, on nearly every subject. I was running every day, and he smoked, which led him to tell me that he thought running was as bad for a body as smoking. Fortunately, I didn’t let smokers in my apartment and was more than willing to accept the idea I shouldn’t be in his. Anyway, JoAnne knew this guy.

 

Apparently, his now ex-wife was a nurse, and he didn’t like the idea that he was making fifteen grand a year and she was making twice that. Worse, she began to put money away in stocks and things like that, while he invested in beer. He became the local drunk, violent, and one night, he beat the hell out of his wife and both his kids. At the ER her friends took a lot of photos. Wife Beater was tossed out of his house, had to petition the court to see his kids, and was broke as hell to boot. She took him for a well deserved ride.

 

Wife Beater seemed to realize Jo would tell me the truth, and if he outright called her a liar I had a gun and he didn’t. But he tried to spin the story, saying his wife was the violent one, and she had set him up.  I had lived close enough to him to realize that he wasn’t just your average overdrinking liar. He was actually lower on the food chain than that. A lot lower. It wasn’t long before eviction became a reality, and I was pretty sure I would never see him again. That was in the late 1980’s.

 

Then back in about 2014, I saw him in Starbucks; I would go there to write and he would be there reading a newspaper and drinking coffee. I’m pretty sure I look a lot different now than I did back then. I’m thirty pounds heavier and I’m bald. But he has the same haircut and the same moustache. He never seemed to notice me, and honestly, I’m perfectly fine with it. I like to write on the laptop in Starbucks. It’s the energy of the place, the action going on, and the smell of coffee. I stopped going when they started a new rewards program that minimized my rewards, so once again, I lost sight of this guy.

 

Yesterday, my second day at the YMCA in a year or so, there he was. He looks a lot older than he did four years ago, and you have to wonder if he’s repeating the same mistakes he was making back in the 80’s. Once, I had a smoker tell me she knew of people who never smoked who still came down with lung cancer, and this is her excuse to keep smoking. I wonder if the wife beater still justifies behavior that, most certainly, in the end, will lead to destruction very much like smoking usually does.

 

We were both in the locker room at the same time, and I kept my back to him. I waited until he had left before I did, and when I did leave, he was just making his way towards the door. I stopped and hesitated, not wanting to see him outside of the entrance. He got into his car and looked back towards the building but he couldn’t see me. Maybe he does remember me. Maybe he thinks that if he makes friends with someone who knows him that will mitigate in some way who he once was, or still is.

 

I think that might be it, actually. If someone else can accept what he’s done then he can justify why he accepts it. He’s looking for some sort of support group, of one, to forget the past and move on, perhaps. Women are fools if they think they can change this sort of person, or if they think he’s going to change, as long as she keeps coming back for more. I have no reason to associate with him, ever. A man who will abuse his children won’t hesitate to use violence against anyone else, thinks I.

 

I’m keeping my distance.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Dimensions (sci-fi fiction)

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“You know what they are,” I panted, “you know, don’t you?” The room was totally dark and I knew the panic would kill me, one way or another. I was born with a defective heart, and I knew that the adrenaline being pumped into my body might be enough, in and of itself, to kill me. But considering all things, it was the second worst way of dying I had seen very recently.

“Ray,” she answered in the dark, “you don’t want to know any of the answers to any of this. They’ll kill you quicker than you’d kill a house fly, and they think of us as insects of sorts, lesser beings, and they should. They’re gods. They have the power of life and death. Or at least death. You saw what happened in there. The man’s head was totally blown off, at close range, with a shotgun, and he just got up and walked out of the room. You want to know? Really? They’ll kill me for what I’ve told you so far, if they aren’t going to kill me anyway.”

Beverly stopped talking and reached for my hand. I was shaking hard and I could feel my chest constricting. Maybe this was the best way to die. I didn’t want to have anything to do with what I just saw. But I was there and there was no way out that I could see.

 

We were just sitting there, smoking pot, and Beverly had starting finding really good pot lately. She knew this guy that lived out in the middle of nowhere, and he didn’t seem to be her type at all, and she also seemed to be someone else when she was around him, tentative, and maybe a little fearful. Bev wasn’t the type of woman to take any shit at all from a man, but he called her “Bitch” all the time, and “Cunt” sometimes, and that’s not something she liked. He treated her like a servant, really, and he was rude as hell to me, too. I was used to that sort of thing, actually, so it didn’t bother me. I had in and out of hospitals all my life, had too many operations to count, I could barely walk from here to there without help, and at age twenty-one, looked twenty years older. I had been born in a body that was giving out before I was out of the womb. I got picked on a lot in school, and after a while, it seemed normal. Bev and I became friends when I helped her cheat on her tests in school. I was helping her through college now, and suddenly, she made friends with Bob. But she had called him Tommy a few times, like she couldn’t remember his name. He ignored me when I introduced myself and seemed totally uninterested in anything I said. We were smoking a joint when this guy walks in with a shotgun and fires three shots right into Bob’s face. We sat there too scared to move, and the guy laughed and walked out.

We got the hell out of there but Beverly had left her purse inside and her keys in her purse. We sat in her car and waited, but the cops didn’t show up and no one else did either. We knew we had to go back inside, and when we did, Bob was just getting back up. His head was there even if his face was a mess.

“Somebody’s gonna die,” he said as he went into the bathroom. We got the hell out of there and went to her place, and turned off all the lights.

“Bob and I got really drunk one night, and he did some coke, a lot of coke, and we were smoking weed constantly.” Beverly said. “He told me he would pay me to do things I didn’t want to do, and he would pay me to do things I had always wanted to do.” She was panting, and I had never seen anyone so terrified. “He asked me if I would let him beat the hell out of me for fifty grand,” Beverly said, “and I asked him if it would disfigure me, or if I would lose any teeth. I mean, fifty grand is a lot of money, but I kinda thought he was joking. He pulls out this bag full of money and dumps it on the floor. There was bundles of twenties and bundles of one hundred dollar bills. I counted it, and it was amazing, Ray, there was one hundred thousand dollars there. We made a list of things he couldn’t do to me, like break my teeth or any bones, or leave permanent damage to me, and then he did beat the hell out of me. He told me I could fight back and I did, but it didn’t help. Afterwards he told me to take all of the money, I had earned it. I went to the ER and told them I had been mugged.” She went to her closet and pulled out a cloth bag and emptied it on the floor. There was a lot of money.

“I didn’t go back for about a month, and he didn’t call me. I was scared to spend the money, scared it might be counterfeit, but I used some of it to pay off my bills, and got my car fixed. I knew better than to go out and start blowing a bunch of cash, then he did call me, and asked me if I wanted to make some money in an easier way. I told him to fuck off but he was in my apartment when I got home from work one day. He handed me ten grand, a plane ticket, and a cell phone. I was to go to Paris and leave the cell phone in the hotel room when I left. All expenses paid. And I went. I lived like a damn queen while I was there, got picked up by a rich guy, made some friends, and when I came back he gave me another ten grand and another cell phone.

Bob asked me if I wanted to keep going, keep going to places I would never see otherwise, and live like I could have never imagined, and I told him yes. He did things to me, unspeakable things, but the money was incredible. Then one night he got drunk, really drunk, and told me that he was eventually going to kill me. I could leave if I wanted to, but it was already too late. It would take another year or so for me to finish what he wanted me to do, and I should live it up. He told me that,” Beverly looked at me and dried her eyes, “he told me he was a creature from another dimension, and that he and another creature had come here to play. They grew human forms out of chemicals, and they killed one another for sport. They think of us like we think of sand dollars at the beach or something like that. They think we’re a fun distraction but as soon as they’re tired of us then it doesn’t matter what happens. Think of all the sand dollars that are killed by tourists that never stop to think these are living creatures they’re putting in bags and carrying around. That’s the analogy he used. We’re just something they pick up to play with.”

Beverly fished a joint out of her purse and lit it. We shared the smoke and she tried to compose ourselves. “He told me they lived inside of a black hole and he once grabbed me, and suddenly we were in Paris. He laughed at me, and we went up to the top floor of a hotel and he pushed me off, and then caught me in midair, and suddenly we were back here. There’s no escaping these things. Everywhere I left one of those cell phone left him a new path to get from one place to another. They can go anywhere they’ve been before, but they need…, where are you going?” she asked as I lurched to my feet.

“Need some water,” I replied, “you want some?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Bev said.

 

I went into the kitchen and got a bottle of water out of the refrigerator, and pulled the longest knife I could find out of the butcher’s block. I walked back into the room and as Bev reached from the water I rammed the knife deep into her left eye. She went down hard, and without a sound.

 

If what she said was true, and I had to think it was, they knew who I was and they would kill me. But I had kept up with all the places Bev had gone, and I knew there were still some places on earth she hadn’t left one of those cell phones. I went through her apartment and found another bag of money, a lot of pot, and a small book with her passwords in it. I took her laptop and her tablet, and then stumbled out of the door. If they wanted me dead I was going to make them work for it, if I could.

 

end

I Fought the Lawn and the Lawn Won.

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Yesterday, I took the bush hook out and hacked and hacked and hacked some more, and finally got to where there was a tree that needed to be removed from the fence. I woke up stiff as hell and sore, but I also needed to finish mowing, from two days ago, and get the weed eater out. I need to rewire the fence’s electric wire, but there is no point in doing that until I can get some work done is getting the fenceline clear. But first I have to finish mowing.

 

Many year ago I had a dream where I was sitting in a house, smoking pot with some friends, and this guy just walks in with a shotgun and blows this other guy’s head off with it, and walks about again. There was smoke, blood, screaming, and everyone ran like hell out of the back door. Of course, once we were outside we realize the only phone was a landline inside, cell phones had not permeated by dream world at that point, and so we went back in. Well, the dead guy was not only not dead but he was standing up and even though most of his face was missing, he seemed pretty lively for someone who took a direct hit from a shotgun. We’re still thinking, okay, the dead dude isn’t dead, but he’s got to be injured severely, but no, he isn’t. We watch as his face slowly reforms and he tells us, “Stupid bugs, you’ve seen things you shouldn’t have.” And we run. And that’s more or less how the dream ended and the story died.

 

The mower doesn’t crank right off the bat and I feel that odd sense of dread that comes with dead lawn equipment and the relief of not having to mow today. But I would have to get the damn thing fixed today, which might be as bad as mowing. The mower roars to life and the debate ends. I have about thirty minutes in the front and all of the backyard to mow. It occurs to me that the story died a long time ago and I ought to try to bring it back. But how? First, aliens, supernatural creatures, or… something different. I’ve never had a story with…what?

 

The front yard is a curious mix of jungle envied Bahia grass and weeds from the woods. It’s a tough mow if I let it go, so I have to mow every five days or so. That last sentence could have been a poem, you know. It’s a yard that wants to be a jungle, not a jungle I’ve turned into a lawn. Back and forth, back and forth, and the area I have to mow shrinks. So, what if the dead guy who isn’t dead was a creature that comes from a race of beings that live exclusively in and around Black Holes? They’re intelligent enough to build bodies that mimic humans, but they are also creatures who spend their existences traveling through space in the blink of an eye, literally. Mostly, they are seekers of truth through science, but there’s a very small number of them who like to play with lesser beings, the way some humans use animals for entertainment.

 

I like this, I think, but it needs some work, and I have to get the weed eater out to cut the weeds in the Holey Land, that part of the yard marred by the diggings of two Giant Labs. My safety glasses are so fogged with humidity I cannot tell what I’m cutting so I have to stop. I can still clear around the fence, I just need a general idea of where to point the weed eater, so off I go, to clear around the inside of the fence.

 

So the Black Hole creatures here on Earth are renegades. They’re outcast from their own people. They have no physical form, so they create human bodies to live in. They have an innate ability to travel within certain forms of energy, so they travel instantly from one place to another, often leaving a dead body behind. The bodies appear to be human and only an inspection at the molecular level would indicate they are not.

 

Why are they here and what are they doing? I ponder that as I mow as closely to the Holey Land as I can. Boredom? Spite? You’d think an advanced civilization would be beyond that. But what if they’re not?

Weed eating goes well.  Children at the beach don’t think about the animals they kill collecting shells and sand dollars, so perhaps the Black Hole People just have no way to consider us as important enough to have empathy for at all. The two that are in the story use people in their own game of tag and if humans die then that’s part of the vacation.

 

I clear an area that is fairly large, and it’s now a place the dogs can run in the grass by the fence and see their feet. Hawks and Owls like short grass because it makes prey animals easy to see. And suddenly, I think, what would make one of these creatures more visible to another?

 

The story begins. There is a narrator, a man who is in terrible heath. He is only twenty-one but has heart problems and has had them since birth. He’s a very pale and very weak person, but brilliant. His friend is a very pretty but very unmotivated woman who he’s helped through High School and college. He has a crush on her, but he’s realistic about his chances with her. She likes guys with good drugs and money.

 

They’re at the narrator’s house an hour after the shooting. She’s explain how the man who got shot hired her to pose for photos, for really good money, but them started asking her to go to different countries, and for no good reason, asked her to leave a cell phone in various places. This frightens her, but at the same time, the pot is really good, the sex with the guy is great, and the money is more than she can get anywhere else.

 

The weed eater hits the fence and the hotwire wraps around the head of the weed eater and I get shocked. Oddly, the fence I still working so I have to go unplug it. The reason the alien has the woman drop off cell phones is they’re his conduit to difference locations. His opponent, with whom he’s sharing this friendly game, is doing the same thing. Both agree that the humans are as expendable as water bugs.

 

So, the woman theorizes that the alien has never intended for her to remain alive, knowing what she knows, and now the narrator realizes that he too is in danger. He asks her if she wants some hot chocolate and after he makes it, he hands it to her and tells her that he has always loved her, and that he has an idea how to get them out of all of this. As she stares at him, rapt in attention because he has always gotten her out of so much trouble before, he pulls a knife out and stabs her in the eye, killing her instantly.

 

The alien may just quit once she is dead, and he’s willing to take that chance

 

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

 

 

Not Nearly Late Enough

original

If there is one single benefit of night work it would have to be I can go to one of the few places that are open all night and shop without a crowd of human beings convincing me that a species specific virus with a .0001% survival rate would be the best idea ever. I have never had to fight a crowd an hour before the sun came up and morning people are usually in a hurry, and I am, too. I want to get in and get the hell out, and go home and pet my dogs, and sleep.

 

I got off early tonight, not even midnight, and I need a few things. I pull into the parking lot and realize the circus has come to town. There are many cars which means even more people. I pull down a row and there’s two guys pushing a cart, in the middle of the row. The fact there is a vehicle behind them doesn’t mean anything. They get their stuff out of the cart and leave it in the middle of the row as they’re loading their car. They move the cart only because they don’t want to back over it. The guy pushes the cart in a random direction and that’s an allegory of his entire existence.

 

Inside, it’s too crowded for me to be there. But now that I am here, I may as well try to make the best of it. That’s hard to do, really. I’m looking for vitamins, and I stand far enough back to let people pass in front of me. A woman comes and stands right in front of me, and starts talking on her cell phone. I pull out my phone and say very loudly, “You have a great ass” and the woman turns around sharply, but I’m staring off into space and acting like I’m on the phone. She edges away from me, and looks at me as if she thinks there might be more to this than meets the eye. There isn’t. I know women with great asses and she isn’t one of them. Mediocre at best and no body hung on someone that rude looks good. I’m sorry, but you can’t paint roadkill and call it a Picasso.

 

There has to be someone who is good at math that can explain to me the probability of there being a screaming child in the same building with me, at any given hour, considering the population size of the people inside of the building, and the type of wares being sold inside. I need a cellphone app that I can pull up and check before I go anywhere, and see, mathematically, the odds of a screaming child inside. There is a screaming child. The sound is found in the darkest parts of Hell, and shipped upwards, and then installed in kids who parents who should have never bred in the first place. First, the Zombies.

 

Zombies are those people in a store who wander aimlessly. They have no direction. They have no shopping list, no mission, no real reason to be there. They go from display to display, fascinated by colors or design, and they’re going to move slowly, and they’re going to push their carts into the high traffic areas. They are the blood clots of human existence. The first video games that were made back in the 1980’s had Non player characters in them the players could speak with for information, but the NPC would sometimes stop in odd places and trap the players or prevent them from moving forward. It was a design flaw, a glitch the game builders didn’t see coming, and if you believe in such things, you have to believe people like this in real life are God’s worst mistakes other Florida Gator fans.

 

Worse, infinitely worse, are those people who cannot shop alone. They’re as weird as those people who cannot have a bowel movement without an audience. I simply do not understand it., They’ve gathered half their blood relatives, two in laws, three people who live in trailers nearby, a homeless man, and they kidnapped one person simply because he would get lost in the mob, and then they decided to go shopping. It’s like locusts or swarms of gnats. Or the stuff that comes out of overflowing toilets that keeps you out of a public restroom, if the smell didn’t get you first.

 

And then, the Screamer.

 

 

There’s a square. It has an entrance. It has an exit. Inside lies the heart of the problem here; that’s where all the machine that scan items and take money resides. There are two human employees whose job it is to herd shoppers into the square, and to the next available scanner.

 

How? Hard? Can? This? Possibly? Fucking? Be?

 

The woman with the screamer stops at the first scanner, and uses her cart to block the entrance. She ignores her wailing child. So perversely has she parked her cart she has to take three steps back to the cart, get an item, take three steps to the scanner, and she’s got one of everything in that damn cart. Finally, one of the cartherds reaches in a pushes the cart closer. The child screams. The woman moves slowly. The child screams.

The woman in front of me is buy camping equipment, including a sleeping bag, for reasons that escape me, she has unrolled in her cart. She’s on the phone and there’s a gap between her and the square’s entrance. Just as I am about to pass her, because clearly she’s uninterested in getting out of the store before dawn, her boyfriend shows up and they move up, and discuss the sleeping bag. It’s South Georgia. It’s eleventy-billion degrees with eighteen hundred thousand million percent humidity, inside an air conditioned building. Buy your camping gear in the native land of where you are going to sleep out, not here. She moves into the square and I hope if they share that sleeping bag in a tent in South Georgia, the offspring of their union of that night has superpowers. They’ve earned it.

 

The screaming child screams. It screams as its mother pushes the cart out of the building. I can hear the child scream in the parking lot. I can hear the child scream as the car leaves the parking lot. I can hear the child screaming as they get on the Interstate, I can hear the child screaming even now, as they are in Indiana.

 

There is one scanner different from all the others, it has a piece of paper taped over the scanner. There is a sign that reads “Cash Only” on the piece of paper. There is a sign on the machine that reads, “No Cards. Cash Only” and a woman with a full cart pushes over to it. One of the cartherds comes over, and loudly enough for me to hear her says, “This machine is cash only.” But the woman ignores her. I get a scanner as I move up.

 

These are new machines. None of them will tell you to please wait because there is an unexpected item in the bagging area. If I ever win the lottery I will buy one of the old machines and when it locks up because of the unexpected item I’m going to open up with a Browning Automatic Rifle and put holes into it until I run out of ammo, and I am going to have a lot of ammo.

“What the hell is wrong with this damn thing?” Yes, the woman at the cash only machine is yelling. Yelling. She has no cash. She has taken the piece of paper off the card reader and is trying to put a credit card in it. The woman begins to throw a fit. “I ain’t got time for this shit” she yells repeatedly as she exits the store, all her stuff still at the scanner. The cartherds don’t so much as bat an eye at this. By far, the type of behavior they’ve just witnessed, is mild. Think about that. Think of where you have to be before this sort of thing is totally normal.

 

I have shopped not late enough. I have entered the realm of the people who are directionless, without intent, and they are purposeless. This is a foreign country to me. This is not my land. These are not my people. I wonder where the screaming child is, and I wonder how many of the people I’ve interacted with today were raised just like the screaming child; left to make noise regardless of how it affects others, with uncaring parents who might have been raised the same way.

 

Take Care,

Mike