in this afternoon
as river fog creeps
dragging it's thickness
licking us in heavy air
in this time
that is not time
we amenities shall speak
of what went unspoken
shall see and place
the invisible signs
. . . . . .
afternoon: the whistle summoned
its great silence
the omnipresent shroud of grief
the sewers cheered its sound
rustled its rusted soul
giving up its secret sins
to a slow drying
of an incipient wind
children in unholy air
beyond hope in despair
lie in promise inhaling artificial prayer
in manufactured immortality
young gods in destruction
serving enchanted eyes
from dreams awakened
and came to an end
light within light
light without light
in an eternal horizon
the exquisite perfection of a void;
flying, promising, expiring
the Intercourse of troubled air
and smoke in waning light
the infinite of incense and white wine
in this moment
in this time
from the vaulted silences
climb the stairs to
exchange the word
descend, give sermon
and climb again
at the given hour appointed, consumed
as we lie in plastic passion
our synthetic love shared
touch my lips and feel my words
and hold my soul to breathe them
made gods by by our union
of multifoliate frailty
perhaps once we were vestal
pure and coveted
touching the undefinable
as we began to explore
devoured or deflowered
both an ending
satiated in the void
of the light: artificial
Joseph A Farina is a retired lawyer and award winning poet, in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. His poems have appeared in Philadelphia Poets, Tower Poetry, The Windsor Review, and Tamaracks: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century. He has two books of poetry published ,The Cancer Chronicles and The Ghosts of Water Street.
Rory J. Ribert, Sales Manager of Dial-N-Smile Inc., looked out on the empty sales rep cubicles that could be seen in a wide angle from his corner office. The late afternoon shift would begin in about an hour. Though an atheist, he said a prayer of thanks for the blissful peace created by this lovely absence of jabbering telemarketers.
Sliding open the low-slung console behind him, concealing a monitor linked to cameras hidden above the sales floor, Rory could watch the staff jerking and bobbing about like hyperactive monkeys during their marketing calls. This system also allowed him to monitor their conversations ensuring that they were sticking to business not chatting with their lovers – or drug dealers.
Rory was supposed to be updating profit-loss spread sheets but today he was feeling like a low-performing slacker himself, preferring to just stare at his computer, too morose to even waste his time fiddling around on social media. Frustrated, he considered the absurdity of his current workplace situation. John Jeffy, the owner, had invested big money in all this high-tech gear, yet with salaries and other miscellaneous overhead the company was barely breaking even. Moreover, the quality of the available telemarketer had hit rock bottom: ex-whores, drunks, crack addicts. It was a sad day when management had to listen into routine sales calls, not for quality, but for criminal activity.
Not that it mattered: as any blind fool could see this so-called “business” was in steady decline. When he had come into the telemarketing profession ten years ago there were actually a few hiring standards. His first company had even had an HR rep that screened applicants for bad references – or an unsavory past. Now it fell upon him, the irritated, unwilling Rory J. Ribert, to go through the motions of “vetting” the dregs of society and other barbarians who flooded Dial-N-Smile with their resumes. Nevertheless, Rory never screened any applicant for a criminal record. Results were all that counted. It was a don’t ask, don’t tell policy – even if they were ax murderers, he did not want to know.
Indeed, he often suspected that John Jeffy considered a felonious past a valuable skill for a successful telemarketer – something about the mercenary, unrestrained style of a criminal made such a person especially effective in the telemarketing business.
The office intercom buzzed. Jane Chowders, the foyer receptionist – who doubled as the accountant – spoke in her usual whiny, quasi- nasty voice. “Rory your 2pm applicant appointment, the one referred by Mr. Jeffy, is here.”
Last night he had had to fire an employee for failing to meet his sales quotas so today, as much as he hated it, he had to interview again. Jeffy had promised to network among his old industry contacts for an applicant with some sales experience. Good thing too, as the earlier 1:45 appointment had been a disaster. Rory had shown the applicant – completely unsuitable as a salesman – the door after a two-minute interview.
The portly Jeffy himself, much to Rory’s surprise, waddled into the office with the 2pm appointment – a spectacled, very pale, slender man in his fifties. Protruding from his dirty collar, a scrawny neck from which bulged a massive Adam’s apple like a grotesque pink tumor. Lost in this cheap baggy polyester suit, the applicant, almost skeletal with a gaunt, cadaverous face, appeared to be timid, shy, and reclusive – the very qualities an aggressive sales firm was not looking for. He also reeked powerfully of mothballs and stale smoke as if he had been living in a closet or cheap room. This odor alone would drive away other reps before Dial -N-Smile’s drooling, sadistic floor monitors did. These words instantly came to Rory’s mind: Do not hire this loser.
Immediately the weirdo excused himself to use the men’s room. Winking at Rory, Jeffy then cracked a smug smile and said cheerfully, “I know what you’re thinking. What rubbish bin did I drag that dog’s breath out of?”
“Good question John. You’re becoming a mind reader in your old age,” replied Rory, “Who – what – is he – and why is he here?”
“His name is Simon Sorter and he is going to be our new top biller – believe it or not,” smirked Mr. Jeffy, like a naughty boy with a secret.
“I rather not believe it,” scowled Rory, shaking his head. (Hell’s bell’s was the old fool losing his marbles?).
“Trust me,” assured Jeffy, his fragile face beaming softly like a prematurely aging child, “I used to work with Simon and the guy has some amazing talents.”
“From his looks and smell, hygiene and high fashion are not among his best skills”, noted Rory.
Mr. Jeffy opened his mouth to say something but Simon Sorter reappeared wiping his hands on his frayed trousers.
“I was just telling Rory here about our glory days when we did Fortune 500 account management together,” lied Mr. Jeffy.
Simon Sorter cocked his head sidewise as if he were a puppet on a broken string. Rory, wincing, saw a nasty, crooked scar running the length of the odd man’s head and neck.
Then without a word, Simon marched to an empty work station, logged on to the system, slipped a Dial-N-Smile magazine product list from his shabby jacket, and began to call the phone numbers randomly generated by the computer. He did not use a script – nor did he smile.
Mr. Jeffy nudged Rory and said, “Watch this and be amazed. Simon is going to take our sales numbers through the roof and save our bottom line.”
Immediately, the death-warmed-over pallor of Simon’s face flushed bright red like a giant drop of blood. From one call to the next, his voice changed drastically – depending on which magazine he was hustling. During the next hour a flabbergasted Rory, with a grinning Mr. Jeffy by his side, watched in awe as Simon Sorter’s Multiple Personality Disorder became an incredible marketing tool.
When selling the magazine Retirement World, he became “Pappy Smith”, his voice aged and frail. Marketing Big Wheels, the timid, anemic-looking Simon Sorter seemed to sprout into a fearsome psycho Hell’s Angel-type – code-named “Rod Piston” – his sales spiel threatening and gruff. These performances were followed by others just as remarkable: Gun News made Simon into “Tommy Guns” who wowed his customers with his Southern drawl and defense of the Right to Bear Arms; Computer Time transformed this normally mumbling clod into a very articulate, brisk personality – “Simon Server” – tossing off techno-babble with the greatest of ease. In fact, in front of Rory’s eyes Simon Sorter must have assumed – and shed – at least twenty different personalities, voices, and names.
His sales tally sheet boggled Rory’s mind; the disheveled eccentric had exceeded the firm’s top rep’s billings by 50%.
“Now pal. you know why we used to call him Morphing Man”, happily purred Mr. Jeffy.
“Yeah, I must admit that it is damn incredible. How did he get like that?”
Mr. Jeffy motioned Rory away from Simon’s workstation and spoke in a hushed tone. “You saw that scar? He was in a horrible accident when he was about forty. Split his head and neck open. A few years later, he started having multiple personalities. Underwent treatment but later got into sales with me. Sometimes, it takes a weird person to do good marketing.”
“Yeah, maybe being a bit nuts is ok – but not a psycho……”
From Simon’s workstation came a fresh confusion of voices as he plowed anew into the computer-generated customer list. Mr. Jeffy asked Rory to wait in the office. A few minutes later Jeffy and Simon Sorter, both stone-faced, entered, closed the door, and stared at Rory without speaking. Cold sweat trickled down his nose. The atmosphere was funereal, and he felt like the corpse on display. Or considering Simon’s zombie-like gaze, maybe it was more the dead inspecting the living….
A deep unearthly voice suddenly boomed from Simon’s throat. “You Rory Ribert are no longer required as sales manager of Dial-N-Smile.!” Rory literally jumped from his seat: so this was it, he was being fired – dead meat. Jeffy, the sorry bastard, had some gall, replacing Rory with a cruddy weirdo who smelled like he slept in a used clothes bin at the Salvation Army.
“Well, don’t forget that my contract gives me a severance package. So I don’t give a damn about this hole in the wall!” laughed Rory wildly, suddenly relieved at the thought of never having to interview any more useless applicants like his earlier appointment: a little mumbling man, with a weak, shifting gaze, referred by the unemployment office jobs bank for a telemarketing position requiring at least fair communication skills.
“That is something we need to talk about,” coldly replied Jeffy, peeping out of the shadows.
“Better not try to screw me you cheap bastard,” yelled Rory, “otherwise I’ll be seeing you in court.”
He then bolted for the door, but Simon, showing amazing strength and quickness, grabbed his shoulder. Again, Simon’s voice changed, this time into a very good imitation of Mr. Jeffy singsong cheerfulness. “Looks like we’ll have to part ways partner…”
From the same pocket that had contained the magazine product list, Simon whipped out a knife-cum-paper opener: the “Mr. Jeffy voice” again, but this time slurred and vicious. “The good news is I can save you from going to court and paying a lawyer. The bad news is that you won’t be ‘seeing’ – or calling – anybody any more. You are useless phone time now Rory, wasted cubicle space, dead air…” As if somebody had pulled a plug in Simon’s brain, the John Jeffy persona abruptly stopped. His face now seemed to be undergoing serial plastic surgery at the speed of light. Simon Sorter’s features morphed into every twisted, ghastly facial appearance and expression known to humanity: gnashing feral teeth, wild, yellow eyes, a snarling, pulpy mouth, black, rotting gums, squirming scars. Then a museum of interactive, evil masks: his face melted into Hitler’s, Stalin’s, Saddam Hussein’s, Ted Bundy’s, Pol Pot’s. Still powerfully griping Rory’s arm, Simon Sorter raised the knife-cum-paper opener to the ex- sales manager’s quivering throat.
Thomas White has a triple identity: speculative fiction writer, poet, and essayist. His poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print literary journals and magazines in Australia, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He is also a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author who has contributed essays to various nonliterary journals on topics ranging from atheism, the meaning of Evil, Elon Musk, Plato, The Matrix, and reality as a computer simulation. In addition, he has presented three of his essays to the West Chester University Poetry Conference (West Chester, Pennsylvania), as well as read his poetry on Australian radio.
“Not even the fragrant musk was as intoxicating as this story.”
The storyteller told sitting on a swollen root of an aged tree on the edge of a forest. He addressed a gathering of enthralled people.
One dreary afternoon, under the opaque clouds, when the mists had curtained much of the peninsula’s profile, a tea boy made tea. He had a stall near the same place where the storyteller was also telling his stories. It was the boy’s job to make tea as long as the storytelling lasted. He made it in an iron cast kettle over a makeshift stove kindled by dry wood and brown leaves. The kettle steam was a beacon that fueled the desire of many to travel thus far. The brew carried a distinctive aroma.
The storyteller had a large following. They gathered here not just to listen to the story but also to indulge in the hot tea served from the stall. This storytelling helped the boy’s business to flourish. The boy poured the tea in small pottery bowls and handed them over to the rapt listeners. The more they drank, the more they listened.
This tea boy was an orphan. He was fifteen. He lived with the storyteller who had adopted the child when he lost his parents in the last great flood. They had lived on the sea line of a rugged peninsula. This place didn’t have much to offer apart from a school, a spice bazaar, and a few odd dry-fish shops.
Deeper into the woods on the same peninsula, the storyteller now lived with the boy. They lived in a hut near a shaded pond. Tall poplars and their verdant saplings rendered much of this shade. In the evening, when they lit a lantern in the hut, a glow would illuminate a darkly spot outside and light up a pond’s pod corner. The jungle’s wild animals transformed in the full moon, especially the musk deer. This sparked the storyteller’s imaginations.
Neither the jungle nor the deer knew what treasure it possessed, not at least until the musk pods were wrenched out of the deer bodies. The deer didn’t know how crazy earthlings was for its musk. It couldn’t smell its own. The others could. The sensuous properties drove humans to madness, wild with gluttony where fantasy fed reality.
Where would they stop, though? How far would they go to get it? Not even the formidable amazon could stop them. And it was not just the musk but insatiable human greed … said the storyteller and stooped to pick up an object loosely stuck on the bottom of the tree trunk. His breathing intensified. Inch by inch they stole the natural providence. They ate away like bite-sized like termitesinto the planet without replenishing: poaching animals, cutting trees, mining gemstones: red rubies, green sapphires, blue lapis lazuli, the sparkling diamonds. His audience listened mesmerized as he told them this old story retold, and the tea boy to sell innumerable kava clay bowls. His coffers filling up soon with silver coins and gold jewels.
No matter, this storytelling was free. No one ever paid to listen. But drinking tea was essential, said the storyteller. Because the delightful tea glued those stories together. Even on a hot day, it had to be served. People tread miles to come here to listen, but more so for the thirst of the tea. No other could make it like this boy, magic in the brew, the word rang true.
One day it happened. The storyteller stopped and looked closer at the object he held in the tip of the index finger. It was a cast-away gold ring that also had a story to it.
“What happened?” the listeners gasped.
Sitting on the ground, they looked at him hooked to the hot tea. Today, the mist of the day and the tea vapour played a twister in the sky.
“The tea boy became sick,” said the storyteller. “He couldn’t make tea anymore. The boy lay cold on the ground of his hut groaning in agony.”
“Oh no!” the listeners gasped.
There was no afternoon tea. People fidgeted and looked at the empty stall. But the tea never came.
“It was not the story, you see?” the storyteller told. “But it was his tea which brought them here.”
Where was the boy anyway? His listeners wanted to know. They demanded to see him. He grimaced and pouted his mouth in hesitation. But they were adamant. They stood up, held hands, and formed a niche circle fomenting unrest. They protested in a slogan, “no tea, no story” and walked in the circle. In the beating heart, this addiction baffled the storyteller who then realised that he had failed to stir them. He morosely nodded his sage white head as he relented and asked them to follow him to the hut. By then, the night had fallen a full moon lit up a yellow pathway.
It was a menacing jungle. But people didn’t mind. They walked over sodden leaves, shed snakeskins, dry blood, fallen horns and ivory, torn human clothing, hanging bats, and swinging monkeys. They must find the boy. They paced up and they reached the hut beyond the poplar pond. The bare bone sat unadorned on earth’s blue bowl. Not stark as Mars, Earth’s fowl-play tarred and scarred.
The storyteller asked them to wait outside as he went in to find the boy. But people were restless. They couldn’t wait it out. The mob forced themselves into the hut and looked in a frenzy for the prized fugitive. However, when they searched the small hut, they didn’t find him, at all. What they found though, was the last thing they had dreamed of. They found a white-bellied musk deer instead. He was the same small size as the tea boy, lying lengthwise across the space without a musk pod.
Mehreen Ahmed is widely published and critically acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, DD Magazine, The Wild Atlantic Book Club to name a few. Her short stories are a winner in The Waterloo Short Story Competition, Shortlisted in Cogito Literary Journal Contest, a Finalist in the Fourth Adelaide Literary Award Contest, winner in The Cabinet of Heed stream-of-consciousness challenge. Her works are three-time nominated for The Best of the Net Awards, nominated for the Pushcart Prize Award. Her book is an announced Drunken Druid’s Editor’s Choice.
The pale girl with the gold earrings like the crescent moon rubbed a hand through her hair and looked out of the window. Even with the creaking radiator turned all the way up she was surprised she couldn’t see her breath fog the air. Kata was beginning to forget what it had been like when the kitchen table groaned with food, drink, light, and laughter. She sighed and watched snowflakes beat uselessly against the glass. Past them, in the street, people were scurrying about like ants desperate to get back into the warm.
“Something’s got them excited.”
Keys rattled in the lock before a crash heralded her boyfriend’s return. Kata rolled her eyes. Twenty-eight years old, a grown man, and still Hannibal couldn’t open a door properly. No doubt the six-foot giant unfolding in the hallway had left a new imprint in the wall for the landlady to moan about.
“Any luck? You’ve been gone a while.”
“Same old story,” said her sweetheart as he strode into the room shaking snow from his favourite denims, the ones that looked they were held together by band patches. “But there might be something in this.”
He shoved his phone forward so Kata could read the screen.
“Maintenance? You’re a roadie. You push speakers about. Don’t tell me you know how to look after a building.”
“How hard can it be?” Hannibal shrugged. “Besides there’s nothing going on anymore. State says all performances cancelled for the crisis’ duration.”
Kata glared at him.
“The crisis? Is that what they’re calling it now?”
But Hannibal put his finger to his lips.
“Careful honey. You don’t know who might be listening, even here.” He glanced at the flat’s propaganda screen and the security camera bulging from its top. “We should go. They say it’s better in the sticks, and there’s something else.”
“It’s back in our old manor. Should be easy to get on our feet again.”
Kata’s skin prickled. It had been a hard struggle to escape that trap before it ground them into submission, but she knew what he meant. The city was a black hole where the only work left was for the privileged with connections high up. She watched as the ants at the end of the street formed a line. A soup kitchen had opened its doors.
“I suppose it can’t be any worse than here.”
Two weeks later Hannibal and Kata were getting off a bus. As the big man retrieved their bags she shivered and examined the station with its smashed windows and weeds growing through the cracks.
“Home sweet home lover. How long since we left now d’you think?”
“Ten years.” Hannibal glanced up and fixed his eyes on her. “We got out when we still had a chance.”
“Remind me why we’re here again then?”
“Because it’s better than a slow death in the city.”
Kata looked at the rest of the buildings off the wide square, high, and institutional, they looked in equally bad shape.
“Hope you’re sure about that.”
But she kept her voice to a whisper. It wouldn’t be long before the city was the same, and with way more desperate people. They just had to hope the rumours they’d heard were right and the hicks were siphoning off the countryside’s food supplies for themselves.
“Wonder if there’s any of the old crowd left?”
“I doubt it,” said Hannibal swinging their bags over his shoulder. “Not the way they were carrying on before we got out.”
When Kata had met Hannibal he’d still been living with his aunt, and her own parents had disappeared not long after as if they felt the job of child rearing was done now their daughter had found a man. Kata had cried a little at first, but as far as she’d been concerned life without the constant fighting and drunken declarations of love had been a relief even if she’d temporarily lost the roof over her head. Hannibal and her hadn’t stayed in town much longer after that.
“The clerk on the phone said report to the school for work and they’ll show us the house we’ve been allocated,” said her boyfriend as he reached her side.
“Looks even worse than I remember it.”
“Yeah… I’d forgotten. Where do you think everyone is?”
Kata was opening her mouth to reply when a scarecrow dressed in a ragged trench coat emerged from a nearby alley and blocked their path.
“The kids have come back.” A huge unkempt beard thrust itself in their direction. “No, not kids anymore. All grown up.”
There were eyes in there too, black, and beady, and filled with a feverish light.
“You remember me? Jim Devereux? Nah, you wouldn’t, too young, I expect.”
Hannibal and Kata examined the figure in front of them doing their best to strip away the dirt. It was Kata who figured it out first.
“I know you.” She shook her head and slowly a smile travelled across her face. “You were a copper. What happened to you?”
Devereux tapped a finger against his nose and gave them a wink.
“I’m undercover. This place is rotten, but I’m gonna clean it up. You’ll see. Drag each and every one of them to jail and throw away the key.” He backed away still staring at them with that bright light in his eyes. “Got to go now. People to see. Places to be. You know how it is.”
“I remember him chasing us all over town.” Hannibal watched the man shuffle up the street. “Doesn’t look like much now.”
“Yeah, but what’s replaced him?”
They’d been back a month before Kata began to suspect something was wrong, a month of checking who was alive and who was dead amongst their old friends. A month of calm reassurances that they’d made the right decision. Residential Sector Twelve was safe, dull, but safe.
The only problem was she was tired with the sort of bone aching weariness that had her dragging herself out of bed like an old woman, and Hannibal was worse. Kata stared at the pitted ceiling over her head. She should get up and start preparing the evening meal, but after a day spent with one of the sector’s volunteer militias lethargy sat in her bones like lead.
“At least we’re alive.”
That was no small thing since the fighting started. She frowned as the doorbell disturbed her thoughts.
“Yes? Who is it?” Her voice was barely a croak as she activated the grimy vidscreen and grabbed a clear plastic bladder from the pack that arrived on their doorstep every morning along with instructions for the day. As she squeezed the water down her throat the stamp of the company that ran the town caught her eye. Another quirk that kept the area secure was the presence of so much decaying heavy industry that the groundwater had long since been contaminated.
“Jesca I… what’s wrong?”
The woman on the video screen was Hannibal’s supervisor and her eyes were darting from side to side as she leaned closer to the speaker.
“Let me in Kata, please.”
Kata had never seen the teacher in such a state. Normally Jesca’s smile was a permanent feature and she brightened up a room just by being in it, but now she looked like a hunted animal. As Kata watched she pulled her daughter into view.
“Please Kata, for my kid’s sake. I don’t have long.”
There was no one in the street outside when Kata looked but she double bolted the door just to be on the safe side as soon as she’d let them in. There was something about seeing the only person in town who’d seemed to have a pulse in such a state that was a little unnerving.
“Shouldn’t you be at the school? Has something happened? Is Hannibal Ok?”
“I don’t know. I ran.”
“What do you mean you ran?”
Jesca gripped Kata’s hands so hard her nails dug into the flesh and stared into her eyes.
“Believe me I’d have gone elsewhere, but you’re still new. You’re not hooked.”
“Hooked on what?”
Jesca pointed at the water.
“Riot control honey. The answer to the civil war. What made you think coming to a pharma town was a good idea? This place is one big laboratory.”
“You should see the city. Besides, I was born in this sector. Nothing ever happens here.”
“Nothing happens for a reason. They’ve been feeding the population sedatives for years, constantly upping the dose to see what they can get away with and still have a productive labour force. But they’ve gone too far now. They want to start on the kids.”
Kata fought to think clearly through the lethargy filling her mind.
“How come you don’t seem affected? What makes you so special?”
Jesca looked down.
“I oversee distribution. I’m trusted.”
“Not by me. Her maybe, but not me.”
Kata pointed at where Jesca’s daughter had wandered into the living room. She was already slipping a pair of rubber nodes onto her temples so she could glue herself into her screen.
“You’re missing the point Kata. It doesn’t matter if you trust me or not. They’ll know I’ve come here. You can’t avoid the surveillance. I just need you to get my daughter out. Take her anywhere you like. I’ll give you money. Just take her far away from here.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
For the first time since the woman had started her story Kata felt a twinge of pity. The look Jesca was giving her was the same as a convict who’d been locked up all their life.
“They’ll never let me go. Not with what I know. Your parents were the same. Look where trying to fight the town’s board got them.”
“You knew my parents?”
“We were friends a long time ago before they were designated high risk and gotten rid of.”
Kata’s head suddenly felt as though a storm was blowing through it. She wasn’t sure whether to tear the teacher’s eyes out or start crying.
“No, I had nothing to do with it. I told you. I’m distribution, but not anymore. If they want to turn the kids into drones too, I’m out. My daughter deserves a chance at a decent life.”
“Is still at the school,” once again Jesca was finding it hard to meet Kata’s eyes. “You don’t understand. They’d never let me leave and I wasn’t sure you’d agree to help me. They’ve only just made the decision, but it won’t be long till they put this place into lockdown in case there’s any trouble from the parents.”
Kata felt her stomach lurch.
“What is it? What have you done Jesca?”
“You’re not the only ones with connections in the movement. I left certain things where they’ll find them in case you said no. But there’s still time to do something about it. I’ll tell you where they are if you agree to help… please.”
The crack as Kata’s hand met Jesca’s cheek and snapped her head round sounded loud in the narrow corridor.
Kata glared at the teacher.
“Alright, then I better go get him.”
The school was a huge concrete block at the town’s centre. Once someone had tried painting colourful murals along it, but generations of kids had covered them with graffiti until only the odd splash of colour remained where even the oldest couldn’t reach. As Kata drew nearer she saw the lights were out. She pulled out her phone and tried another call listening to the ringtone before it was replaced by the flat whine of a disconnected service.
“You better be in there Hannibal.”
The wind howling down the street stole the words from her mouth with ease and she glanced at the lowering snow laden clouds gathering overhead. If they were going to make a run for it tonight they’d have a storm to cover their tracks.
“If we make a run for it tonight.”
Kata headed up the stairs. The entrance was open, but crossing its threshold felt like stepping into an abyss, and some deep primal part of her was screaming to get out before it was too late.
Kata’s voice bounced through the gloomy building. There were lights on she realised just not the main ones. Instead, only the cabinets and their ranks of cheap trophies shone in the dark.
Kata’s foot met a bucket and water sloshed onto the floor. With her next step she found the mop, and something went cold and hard inside her.
Hannibal was hanging from a knotted cord tied to the railing of a balcony. It looked like he was trying to see something on his shoes.
As she tried to hoist him free Kata’s feet slid on the photos scattered on the floor like the leaves of a tree in autumn. She knew what they’d be without even looking and as she finally gave up and began to cry with her face buried against his legs the grainy images of a much younger Hannibal with even longer hair stared back from under a banner with the revolutions slogan. Once upon a time the movement had played a large part in both their lives; although she doubted their lack of activity recently would matter. The association was enough, and the town’s runaway had been caught and punished at last for his escape. Hannibal would have known what was waiting for him in one of the crumbling state-run gulags. Politicals rarely made it to old age.
When Devereux found her she was curled in a ball staring at the love of her life’s fingers, the ones that would never touch her again, never caress her face.
“Come on get up.”
She felt herself being dragged to her feet.
“You can’t stay here. They’ll be coming before dawn to clear away the body. Probably already know you’ve found it.”
“The board’s servants; they’ve plenty of those in this town.”
“Jesca,” hissed Kata, the name spitting from her tongue like an insult. “She’s at my house.”
“With her child Kata. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same yourself. That kid stays here she’ll be a drone just like everyone else.”
“You’re not like them. Everyone else… their eyes. They look like you could walk right up and shoot them, and they wouldn’t care.”
“Trust me it’s been done. They’re the perfect docile population. All the board wants now is to see if it can get the same result with the kids.”
“So, what’s your secret? Why aren’t you like them?”
Glass clinked in the man’s pocket as he pulled something free.
“I don’t drink the water sweetheart… prost.”
Devereux replaced the bottle.
“Come on now let’s get you out of here. You gonna take the kid?”
Kata’s heart felt crushed and sour, and she could feel the tracks of tears freeze on her cheeks as they stepped into the rising storm, but she knew she had no choice.
“Yes… but the mother.”
Devereux stared back at her and she was surprised at the kindness hidden in the look.
“Thought you might feel like that.”
When they got back the house was empty except for Jesca’s daughter and no amount of raging from Kata could change it. The note that Jesca had left almost stayed unread, but if it wasn’t Kata that killed the woman for what she’d done her superiors surely would. Kata unfolded the paper and thought of the thousand things she’d like to do to the person who’d written it.
She thrust it in Devereux’s direction. One word had been enough.
“I can’t read this. Tell me what she’s got to say… briefly.”
The ex-policeman hunched over the paper as thunder rumbled in the distance.
“She says to leave now. She says they’ll be busy with her and what she’s going to do to their hardware round here. She says you won’t see her again, neither of you.”
“She’s lucky then,” hissed Kata. But as she looked at where Jesca’s daughter was still sat her jaw softened and some of the wildness left her face. She realised she didn’t even know the kid’s name.
“What are you going to do Devereux?”
The man took a long drink from his bottle and grinned. “They might not pay me anymore but I’ve a responsibility to this town. Well, what’s left of it. The people here were my friends.”
“Won’t you be in trouble for helping me?”
“Probably, but I think they like having me around. It reminds them of how untouchable they are. But I have this.”
Devereux pulled his coat aside and Kata saw the pistol slung around his hip.
“If I ever see one of the board I’m going to let rip. But they’re careful and they don’t like to get too close to the herd. Normally they just send their servants to do their work for them. This time though I’m not sure. This thing with the kids is a big deal for them. It’s the culmination of their program; the final hurdle. Afterwards, if it works, they’ll start rolling their product out to the cities.”
Kata stared into the night pressing against the window. She felt empty, used up, and it had nothing to do with what they were putting into the water. She’d no idea where she would go, just that it had to be away from here.
“Then I’ll say goodbye.”
“Goodbye Kata. I’m sorry about Hannibal. He was a good kid.”
Just for a moment Kata thought she might cry, but she was damned if she’d let him see her weakness.
“Come on,” she called instead as she went into the next room. “We have to get going.”
“Where’s my Mum?”
The girl stared up at her with wide blue eyes. She was a lot younger than Kata had been when her own parents had disappeared, but she still knew something was wrong.
“Your Mummy’s told me to look after you until she can join us.” Kata stretched a smile across her face she didn’t feel and took the kid’s hand. “Let’s get you wrapped up warm. We’re going for a walk.”
The storm had died down a little by the time they made their move, and the moon was visible sailing through the ragged clouds.
“At least we can see where we’re going.”
Fresh snow lay everywhere un-marked and un-disturbed and for a moment the town at the heart of Sector Twelve almost looked beautiful. Kata and the girl hurried through the streets crossing the open spaces at a run. Kata pretended it was a game and she was glad of the weather because it made it too cold to talk much. It was only when they reached the suburbs pressing up against the forest that she allowed herself to breathe a little easier.
“Mummy’s in there. In the forest. Shall we go see her?”
“No. It’s cold. I want to go home.”
“Listen,” Kata crouched until she was level with the girl’s face. “What’s your name?”
“Listen Adele, we’re going on an adventure. That’s how you have to think of this. Don’t you want to see if there’s elves in the woods? I bet there are.”
Adele squinted suspiciously at the dark looming trees.
“What sort of elves?”
“Good ones, with tons of candy, and warm fires. That’s who your Mum’s with.”
Kata was hoping that the part about warm fires was true at least. She knew she was storing up trouble for later, but she’d do anything to put a million miles between her and Sector Twelve right then.
They were halfway to the nearest trees when the first figure stepped from between their trunks.
Kata veered through the drifts. She couldn’t tell if the man had seen them. Maybe they’d been lucky. Her hope died a miserable death when the next black clad figure emerged, and the next, and the next.
Soon there was almost as many people as trees spread in a semicircle around them.
“Who are they?” said Adele.
“Nobody we want to know.”
Kata began to step backwards dragging the child with her. They’d gotten about twenty paces before the crowd appeared from between the buildings. All that was missing were torches thought Kata with a bitter smile.
“Run kid. Your mother’s waiting for you.”
A narrow rapidly closing path led to the nearest clump of woodland on her left and Kata shoved the kid in that direction.
Adele’s face crumpled and Kata waited for her to burst into tears. But the kid was tough. When she gave her another, harder, shove she didn’t fall to the ground or lose control. She just stared back at Kata with a puzzled frown.
“Move, these people are killers. They’ll eat you up and chew on your bones and they’re coming now.”
Kata thought fast.
“Move, you’re a horrible little stray I wish I’d never met.”
She glanced at the forest hoping the kid can’t tell she’s faking it.
“I think I see your mother now. I wish she was dead too.”
At least the last part is true and with a sound midway between a sob and a gasp the little figure was running through the thickening snow. Kata had no idea how far it was to the nearest settlement. No idea if she’d live, but as her back disappeared between the trees and the crowd drew in she was glad the kid had a chance.
“Never come back sweetheart. It’s true what they say. Going back will be the death of you.”
Kata turned to face the nearest grey faced figures with their deadly blank eyes. They were drawing knives.
Kilmo writes. He brought it from squatting in Bristol to a van in a pub car park, to “Dark Fire Magazine,” “CC&D Magazine,” “Feed Your Monster Magazine,” “Blood Moon Rising,” “Aphelion,” “The Wyrd,” “One Hundred Voices,” and now here.
Disturbing the bones of the dead
Remembering the torment best forgotten
Creating your narrative of persecution and innocence
Wearing a halo of flies
You natter about your village in exaggerated anger
You put chains on the slaves you maternalistically call a tribe
Tonguing the wounds you open
Skinning the corpse and wearing the skin
Bearing the gift of maggots
You return in the night to make subtle agony
You come to take her by infecting me
You are the living disease
You enter the blood through a parasite in the ear
Your eyes twinkle with malevolence
Your eyes narrow with underhanded intent
You yourself are the illness
You wear your scars inside still raw and pink
You break the bone and suck the marrow from a smile
Disturbing the bones of the dead
Feeding on those who live
You yourself are dead
You kill the sun
The floor slick with sadness you create
Snarling with your bloody teeth
Drunk on bigotry and madness
Creating a false family of zombies frightened of noise and shadows
Frightened of you who casts the largest shadow
But you are the mistress of this darkness
You ascend from the steps of hell
Emerging from your sepulcher like a spider
Cascading up and down the wall
Such loveless fangs
Such a cold embrace
You bring your fog of evaporated tears
You bring your pestilence like rotting meat on a rusty hook
You attempt to give every day to the dead
You bring sickness as if it is medicine
You alone create tomorrow:
Día de Muertos
John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals since 2009. fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry contains links to his published poetry online.
I had driven through the bleached downtown area battered by wind and dirt. Across the railroad track – once six tracks wide, now two, and the highway – once two-lanes, now four, I entered a neighborhood unseen in over fifty years. Not much had changed except the basement house on the corner was gone.
A few surviving elms overhung ancient sidewalks as brittle and cracked as when I, as a five-year old child played in the front yard during a time of unlocked doors. A time when screen windows stayed open, a time with no metal detectors to pass through before entering public buildings.
The slightest of winds caused the leaves of the few remaining elms to flatten casting shadows across the side and onto the house where my dog, Ikey, had frolicked.
I stopped the car, rested my chin on the steering wheel, and, within a moment I was at this very spot as a young boy squinting through the screen door of my parents’ rented house. A small child’s attempt to shut out his mother’s headaches and regrets and his father’s scatter shot venom, that constant burn of anger he carried his entire life.
Is it-? My imagination? Is that him?
I called out. “Mr. Childress. Are you-? Waiting for me? Is it time?” He was an old man about the age I am now.
The back door led to my father spewing anger toward whatever was in his line of sight while slopping aluminum paint onto an old garbage can. The front door led to a walk with Mr. Childress.
I heard my mother’s voice. “Your father wants you in the backyard.” My father wanted me to paint the inside of the trash can, but mostly he wanted to clamp his teeth, rip his glasses off, press his forehead against mine and yell. Even at the age of five, I had tread that path a few times too many.
“Okay,” I said, and walked out the front door straight to Mr. Childress so he could take me on another trip.
“Good afternoon, young man.”
“Hi, Mr. Childress.”
I looked straight at his face as he bent to shake my hand.
“What happened to your nose?” I asked.
“Something grew there and needs to be taken off.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Not yet.” He smiled and asked about school, my dog, and what I planned to do that day. Then he took me on trips from the Populist Party of Jerry Simpson and Mary Lease through the heady days of the Roaring 20’s, and into Prohibition, introduced me to Al Capone, and took me on a car ride with Bonnie and Clyde.
We talked the next day too, but Mr. Childress had to go home early. “Got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow so I need to rest up.”
I did not see him for a week. Then one afternoon he was waiting on the sidewalk wearing a wide brimmed straw hat. The bandage across his truncated nose was dotted with specks of black and dark red.
“What’s that for?” I asked. “Where’s the rest of your nose?”
He grinned and said, “They kept it at the doctor’s office.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Is it time for you to die?”
“Are you going to die?”
He smiled and patted my left shoulder.
I did not see him after that – until today, fifty years later, when he stood in front of that old house – waiting. I saw us walking – his nose restored, wearing his hat, and still with me. I waited until we turned the corner and watched as I held onto him. I heard myself ask, “Mr. Childress. Is it time?”
He smiled and patted my left shoulder.
A Cell in Motion
Why am I here?
Alone each day for eleven years, I – an erudite man of immense education, considerable charm, and the unique ability to twist everything I touch into something illegal – rise, lean my forehead against the door, and stare at a wall six feet away.
The sound of metal beating against itself batters my ears minute upon minute with no moment of peace, nothing to look at other than what others have written on the walls. I step back, sit on a tattered exercise mat that doubles as a mattress strewn across the metal frame embedded into a concrete wall painted institutional green, look at the door, then close my eyes.
When my eyes open, the door has solidified, and, within moments, splits into fractals, divides, then explodes forming a cloud emerging from the center. Walls dissolve. Sink and shower bleed onto the floor, then coalesce into the ceiling.
The single overhead light casts shadows across the hallway floor. Parallel tubes expand – vertically, horizontally – from the solid plate where a key fits, when, once each day, a uniformed man delivers my food.
Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, The Cabinet of Heed, New Feathers, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Selkie, and Adelaide. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.
I don’t mean to rant – like my father screaming at the tv while he inflates his blood pressure cuff to make sure he doesn’t have a coronary or stroke out when politicians and pundits lie and don’t care who gets hurt.
And I take no pleasure in yelling at the dead!
It’s just that, my God! How many times does it have to be said that feelings don’t last forever? No one is perpetually happy from cradle to grave.
Annoyance can turn to irritation, morph into frustration, build to anger, cascade into rage, freefall into guilt, slither away in shame, stew in remorse in a fraction of a mayfly’s life.
Fear may have the lifespan of a startle, a panic attack, a sleepless night, may come and go like the tides.
God forgive me, but hurt may last as long as a skinned knee or a widow’s grief, but not forever.
There are days when sadness goes down with the sun and joy rises with it.
There are seasons when sorrow lasts for an arctic winter, as if the sun will never rise again, but the sun always gets around to rising, and hope stalks us like the rising of the sun.
So how could you swallow the lie and act like no one gets hurt? The LIE – that hopelessness is anything more than fleeting.
Why couldn’t you wait? Hopelessness is always eventually eclipsed by hope!
Hope is a stalker. Hope always finds us. As sure as the sun rises. But as sure as the sun would rise, you turned your lights out with a bullet to the brain before it could.
Rise it did. The sun. With hope. And yet here we are, with you – or what remains of you – lying beneath my feet, with me beating the ground like someone pounding on a door where nobody’s home.
Wish you were here. You’re missing out on a sunny day.
Todd Matson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He has written poetry for The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling and has been published in Vital Christianity. He has also written lyrics for songs recorded by a number of contemporary Christian music artists, including the Gaither Vocal Band.
Cold feet walk the corridor in silence
coming from the awakening,
To stray away from a lonely room
with forgotten memories in wet footprints.
Rebellion without sound
went rogue inside the soul.
As the windy candles reflected old habits of the elder’s shadow,
and deep whispers only the wind could hear,
Released old dark memories that escaped her wrinkled lips
and her night gown stained with piss.
Voices wield their intentions,
could be seen from within her eyes of twisted stir,
Characteristics of the dead.
Night spirits seem to visit the home of one without brains.
Carrying her through hallways and precipice,
Revealing the identification of darkness.
Through physical activities of madness.
It’s raining. The first drop touched the corner of my inexpressive mouth. Afraid to taste it, I removed the moisture with the back of my hand. Vacant droplets reached my shoulders. The air, an uncontrollable dampness, raked my nerves. Elusive shattered shelter pushed me beyond the dank cold pour of precipitation. It’s raining. Wet, a drop touched my blouse. The sensation of acid remained on my flesh as the fabric of sanity broke away from the onslaught of venomous rain. Blinking, protected the view in brief cycles of clarity and vision. The damaged vengeful rain touched me. Mocking my forehead it jolted me to the reality of once was to now be. Amid cruelty the smell of desperation hung among the heedless rain. Soaked and sealed with literally nothing else to evade the rain, it bubbled on the surface of empty empathy and painful panic memories. It’s raining. Unidentified articles reasoned about the importance of being one with the nature of rain. Inadequate and inadvertently the causes of rain risk the smallest amount of my sanity. Welled inside a cocoon unbalanced and buried among burdened puddles, I hid the true resemblance of my screaming soul staring at the rain. It’s raining, to mock me. To test my response to reality, my resolve, my values, and beliefs. It’s raining inside my skin, stomach, hair, and veins. Filling me beyond capacity to create, remember, change, or challenge the traditions of storms that swell and sweep away all and everything. It’s raining. As my mind and body fade from this decade to the last. It’s raining.
Francene Kilgore has a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Concordia University of Austin. She has been teaching writing at an elementary school in Midland, Texas for several years. She says that “Often in my vacant gaze, I hear a melody. Sometimes it’s soft and easing to the mind; other times it’s a frenzy of movements and tones; but most often, it is just you, crossing my thoughts from far away.”
The damn beast wasn’t supposed to charge me. I paid $45,000 to come hunt it, an albino rhinoceros with a nice horn. They made me sign a waiver. This land is owned by a diamond mining conglomerate, and when Pavel looked at my signature he told me I was going in alone. Once I kill the rhino, contact him by satellite phone.
The phone. In the tall grass, maybe still working, or maybe in pieces along with the rest of me because when the rhino charged I was not prepared. Animals have never acted hostile before. You should see the lions. They tear apart wildebeests and buffalo calves, but when they see me they just lay there as I squeeze the trigger.
My arm is aching. I’m trying not to move but my arm. I shift a little. My gut explodes in pain. Blood attracts predators and there’s a difference between a healthy man aiming a gun and a bleeding man under a tree. One’s an anomaly.
The other’s prey.
I went on my first hunt was when I was twelve. My uncle took me to Yellowstone Park and before we set off he pulled me close and said, Congratulations. You’re now part of the food chain.
I haven’t thought of that in years.
Funny what your mind coughs up.
I have some pills but I dare not take any. Night has fallen and I’m alert. I have a .357 Magnum with six shots, well, five. Five for the hyenas.
One for myself.
They sound close. I raise the gun, ignoring the pain. It’s stupid, of course, as hyenas hunt in packs. The best I could do is scare them and if that doesn’t work?
One bullet will.
Hyenas can bite through anything. They’ll start at my legs, ripping me apart beneath the clear savannah sky.
At which point do you die? In the middle or does it happen last, after you’ve been mostly eaten?
Night passes. No hyenas.
I’m getting weaker. I sip the canteen. There’s enough water for a day, maybe two if I space it out but it’s hot. The sun breaks through the leaves and a fly crawls around my mouth.
The satellite phone is ringing.
Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep. The sound of salvation I spot it in the tall grass, green light flashing.
I’ve spent the day making arguments against going for the phone. My uncle’s words keep coming back, circling me like the flies. I’m already part of the food chain, and it didn’t happen when the rhino charged and I stood there like a doofus, too shocked to do anything. It happened the moment I stepped out of the jeep.
A caw. I look up.
A vulture cruises overhead.
I close my eyes. Vultures can smell the dying from miles away.
I open my eyes and reach for my gun. The vulture. I stare at it, my eyes burning in the unfiltered daylight. The vulture spreads its wings and perches on a high branch.
It’s staring down at me.
I tilt my gun skyward, , aligning the barrel with the bird. I do a silent Mississippi-count to five.
The bird drops down beside me. Its wings spread open, covering my legs and I look down and scream, brushing it away and igniting a new series of pain.
I shove the dead bird as far as my arm will allow and close my eyes. The smell. A messy infection below and I can smell myself rotting and I can’t hold it in. I turn my head.
Laughter cuts through the night. My eyes flip open and I grab the Magnum.
Congratulations. You’re now part of the food chain. I had slipped away to somewhere just beneath the pain. My uncle was leading me through the jungle to where the rhino stood waiting in a long field. I lined up to take my shot while the rhino charged and I took it down, one shot. Dead.
Their laughter makes me want to laugh too and I let go of the gun. I cover my mouth with both hands. I laugh, pressing my hands tighter as they approach.
The hyenas move with purpose through the tall grass. Their eyes shine like migratory starlight as they rush their prey. I know they can see me and smell me but do they understand and I know I should grab the gun because this is it, but I don’t.
I just laugh.
And I’m still laughing when the hyenas ignore me. An elephant herd is on the move. I’m laughing when the hyenas slip between the great beasts’ legs, separating a baby elephant from the herd. I’m laughing when they start with the trunk, one hyena tearing it in half and the rest ripping it off. The baby elephant is screaming as the pack swarms and I have my answer: you die at the very end. The hyenas eat the baby elephant to the bone.
I’m laughing so hard I have a coughing fit.
The pain is bad and the smell is worse.
The pills are part of the standard first aid kit they issue all hunters. They give you a vacuum-sealed pack of six. One a day.
I tell myself it won’t come to that. I look up. The sun hasn’t crossed the midway point yet and the predators hunt at night. I look out across the savannah. The baby elephant’s bones. I feel a laughing fit coming on and I jab my tongue against my cheek. The laughter rises, falls back. I hold my tongue there until I no longer feel like laughing.
I peel one of the pills free.
It dissolves on my tongue in seconds. I lean back, close my eyes and listen for the phone.
I open my eyes.
I close them.
I’m awake. For a second I think there is a bear in the tall grass, guarding the satellite phone. I have to concentrate for several minutes, readjusting my mind to the time and the shapes around me.
It’s night. I slept all day.
I wasn’t supposed to sleep all day. God damn pills are only supposed to knock you out for five hours. But you’re also supposed to eat with them and I have no food. The three emergency MREs they give you are out in the tall grass somewhere, assuming the hyenas haven’t gotten to them.
Flies crawl on my forehead.
I turn my head to puke but only dryheave. I have nothing to throw up.
I’m awake all night, thinking of my rifle.
My uncle taught me how to shoot. We hit targets on his property. And in Yellowstone, he taught me the importance of stealth.
Since we’re part of the food chain we gotta act like it, he said, outfitting a silencer to his rifle.
We tracked the bear and her cubs for days. We weren’t dumb enough to carry our rifles out in the open and once we were in position for a good shot, my uncle handed me his rifle. He showed me how to steady the aim. The cold cylinder in my hands. The weight that decides death.
I can still see the bear. She looks right at me when I line up my sight. My uncle would have laughed so I never told him but I know what I know, and what I know is that bear saw me. She knew I was there to kill her.
Her cubs squealed afterwards. They crowded around their mother, sniffing her, trying to lick her back to life. My uncle told me not to feel sorry for them: turn the tables, and the bears would have me for lunch.
Let’s go, my uncle said.
We’re not taking it?
Where? To who? He gave me a light smack on the back of my head. Yellowstone’s got too much stick up their asses for that.
We left the bear to rot, her cubs to mourn and on the way back home we bought ice cream.
A fly lands on my cheek buzzing I brush it away more on my forehead
I drift off and wake up hearing the bear cubs sobbing for their mother. What ever happened to those cubs? Male bears will kill cubs that aren’t their own but the bear would eat me if the tables were turned and besides we’re now part of the food chain so we have to act like it.
I cough. Flies. I can’t wave them away. Something is stalking me through the tall grass. I can’t make it out. Hyena? Lion?
Where the hell is Pavel? They should have come for me by now. The satellite phone is working, I heard it beep (yesterday? day before?) so they know I’m here.
Where are they?
I don’t have the strength to move but I do have the strength to think and see and combined I think I see what’s out there in the tall grass.
I grab the Magnum. The movement startles the flies but doesn’t scare them away.
Five shots left.
Laughter and it’s not coming from the hyenas.
It’s coming from the bear.
Mama bear is laying in front of the satellite phone. She keeps her paws to the side of the phone so I can hear it ring.
Laughter. Sounds like hyenas but it’s that fucking bear. Congratulations. You’re now part of the food chain.
Fucking bear. You haven’t moved all day. The sun sets and I need another pill for the pain and the flies the itching is driving me crazy the smell makes me gag. I dryheave.
The bear laughs.
And this is it. I won’t survive another day out here. Pavel isn’t coming. I need to get to the phone. That’s him calling. Their equipment is broken. They can’t find me unless I answer.
The bear laughs.
Your cubs are dead, I whisper. My voice sounds like it belongs to someone else.
My uncle is beside me. He swats me on the back of my head and hands me his rifle. The rapport might knock me down, but at least mama bear will die and this time she will stay dead.
I stand up. Something’s coming closer. A small stampede. The laughter grows. The bear doesn’t raise her head. I aim the rifle as something tears at my legs. The flies have scattered. I try to squeeze the trigger but my finger is too weak and I no longer feel it.
I feel teeth.
I hear laughter.
And somewhere, the satellite phone is ringing. Beep-beep.
Travis Lee lived in China for two and a half years, where his short story ’The Seven Year Laowai’ went viral among the expat community. He currently lives in Japan, working as a weather forecaster. Find out more at https://www.travis-lee.org
In a cold
she sat silent
at the space
between her toes
rocking back and forth,
to many triggers shots
stealing time preoccupying
she reached maximum capacity.
"Talk to me," I whispered.
She looked at me once
and turned her face.
leaked down her
shaking pants leg
to the ground.
She parted her dry lips
to bite her fingernails,
shaking her head
side to side,
her swollen eyes
looked into mine
"I want to be erased, kill me now, or I will myself, no matter what it takes."
Slowly walking towards
her we embraced.
guards open large
Stepping out of the threshold
she yelled, "I love you girl, don't come back to My Hell. "
the door slammed closed
for seventy-two hours
and three minutes later,
she was pronounced dead...,
she visits in my head.
JGomez is known for her words deep and heavy in her dark poetry. She grew up in Boynton Beach, Florida, where she has seen and been through a lot to convey the realness of “real life” in her writing.
flaming from a
than any microorganisms
young thighs at age six.
were to fool y'all
and my parents
as their Pastor,
stretching his truths
could've done no wrongs
as they praise his messages all week long,
reaching for their
but they accepted
the hands that
holds the man-made bible
speaking from a podium
as if he's entitled
to congressional crowds
God forbid if
I wore the X on my forehead for
the children's voices
that tried to talk,
hustled to eat,
handcuffed and beat,
Whose hands would believe me?
JGomez is known for her words deep and heavy in her dark poetry. She grew up in Boynton Beach, Florida, where she has seen and been through a lot to convey the realness of “real life” in her writing.
Although this is not advertised as “dark”, this work by Erik Satie definitely has a dark, brooding air. Imagine yourself walking for hours along a dark, Parisian boulevard at night, your breath stinking of strong tobacco and Absinthe, during a thick fog sometime during the Second or early Third Republic, mulling over the tragic news of the day or of the tragic events of your life, mustering the resolve to find a way into a better, if not brighter, future. This is how this piece speaks to me.
Sally was seven, and she liked seven-year-old things. She liked pink dresses, tea parties with her friends, or with her plushies when her friends couldn’t come out to play. She loved going to school and being surrounded by her friends. She also liked slugs, and bats. She kept a lizard skeleton, and snake fang collection in a shoe box under her bed. She even had a pet stuffed squirrel that she kept on her writing desk where she could skritch its head and ask it vocabulary questions when she was thinking her homework out loud. She had a full life, and now that she had the bestest friend in the whole world, Cthulhu, she just knew that her life was complete.
“Sally, you’ll be late for school, honey bear.” Sally heard her mother’s voice waft up the stairway, and into her room from the kitchen downstairs. She was busy filling her pink Care Bear backpack with her needed school things. This was very important to her. Nothing could be missed. Pencils, pens, and erasers in their zippered bag, check. Little sushi and alien erasers, check. Homework for Miss Caliendo, check. Spelling and arithmetic books, letters to Santa, and I love you notes from and to her mother, check.
When Sally felt that that was all squared away, she gave herself one last appraising view of herself in the full-length mirror that she had leaning against her wall. She was wearing her favorite pink dress, white frilled socks, and pink Sketchers. Her cat skull hair clip to the side. “Ahh, perfection,” she sighed. She grabbed up her backpack, gave Aryclese a few more skritches on his dusty, stuffed head, and left the room feeling confident about the start of her day.
“Lunch is on the counter Sally,” Sally’s mother said as she came into the kitchen. She was busying herself making pancakes and sausages, while her dad sat at the table, chewing on a piece of bacon while he sifted through the latest issue of Tome Magazine, the leading source for heretical thought, and the leading wealth of material for novice and professional warlocks alike. Her dad always said the Enochian Mysteries were best read at dawn, before he read something truly wicked like The New York Times.
“Thank you, Mom,” Sally looked out the window that led to the front yard where she could see the bus stop a little way down the street. The ten-year olds, buttheads that they were, had not showed up yet, so she would have a few minutes at least before they would show, and their ceaseless barrage of taunts would begin. Maggy, Alex, and Dookie head were standing at the stop. Dookie head’s real name was cliff, but she hated/liked him, so she called him Dookie head. She was excited to spend a few minutes with them before the advent of school. None of them were in the same class that she was. She had her friends in the classroom, but she would be happier if some of the kids that she hung out with outside of school were in her class.
“I gotta go,” she said to her parents as she grabbed her Bratz lunchbox off of the counter. “I love you mommy,” she said as her mom bent over and gave her a peck on the forehead. Then she ran over and jumped at her father, making him lose his grip on his magazine which almost flopped to splatter in his eggs.
“Whoa there little Lilitu.” He said as he fully placed the zine down next to his plate and gave Sally a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You be a good girl at school today, okay?”
“Yes daddy, I will,” Sally said.
“Right home after school, okay?” her mom said. “The sitter will be here at four, it’ll be Karry tonight. Don’t you be late now, or she might be cross.” Karry Anne was a nice enough thirteen-year-old, but Sally’s parents liked to take stabs at her for being Christian. “Get it?” Sally’s mother asked.
“Carla, you’re incorrigible,” Sally’s father said.
Her mom winked. “You know it Daddy,” she said. Sally’s dad laughed and shifted in his seat, staring at her mother, a sly smile crossing his lips. “Hmmm, you better run off to school now, Sally,” her father said.
“Okay daddy,” Sally said as her father got up and went to stand behind her mom, giving her a hug and kissing her gently on the neck. Sally smoothed down her dress with her hands, and then with backpack on shoulder and lunchbox in tow, she turned from her parents and made her way to the front door. She flipped the deadbolt and the door lock, then turned the knob to let the door open to the outside world. She started to walk outside but then stopped for there was something in her path.
It was a someone actually. The little figure standing before her was about a foot shorter than she was. It was nearly naked and stocky, its arms, legs and torso were a mass of muscles. Its skin was a mixture of greenish gray, with small veins of sandy gold. It had a slick coat on its skin which looked like water, or clear slime. Barnacles peppered the creature’s arms and legs, and it wore a loincloth made out of seaweed. The creatures head was even more peculiar then its stubby, muscly body. Instead of a human skull, it looked to have an octopus where its head should have been. The tentacles of the octopus were flailing about as if they had a life of their own as the creature stared at Sally with four eyes planted on the body of the octopus where a human’s eyes would have been. Two stacked on top of the other.
Something told Sally that she should have been afraid. That she should have turned and fled from the little, angry looking creature that stood before her, ridged body and balled fists. As she looked at this new creature before her, however, she could not help but think about how adorable this little monster was.
“Hi,” Sally said to the creature. It turned its seething eyes to glare at her. “I said hello. Don’t be rude,” Sally said in a stern voice, her brow furrowing. This seemed to catch the creature off guard, and its anger seemed to break in that moment. The creature stood there for a moment, as if it did not know how to proceed, but then it looked at one of its hands, held it in the air and waved to her. It’s octopus face, tentacles and all turned into the mimic of a human smile. Its little eyes squinted in happiness as if it was truly enjoying the interaction. “Oh my god, you are precious,” Sally said.
Sally looked back at the kitchen where she had last left her parents, and then to the bus stop. She wanted to tell her parents about the incredible new friend that she had discovered right outside their front door. She could see that the older kids had shown up, so she knew that she had very little time until the school bus showed up to take her away. She was in quite the quandary.
The squat figure seemed to understand what was going on and turned around to face the street, and the bus stop. Sally could just see the front of the school bus starting to come down the street as the little figure raised his arms and waved them wildly in the air. Sally felt herself jump a little bit with a crack of thunder that filled the morning air. The world outside of her house melted away all color, leaving only darkness. It was as if the thunder had scared the color away from the world. Leaving only whites, grays and a tint of blue that reminded Sally of the negative filters that her mother had showed her on Instagram.
The world just stopped, frozen as if it were reduced to a picture. The only sound that she heard was the sound of her father moaning in the kitchen (maybe he was having one of his headaches) and the dead thrum of nothingness from outside of the door. Sally looked at her hands. At her dress. Everything on her was the same as before the world had gone dark. This negative fusion did not seem to affect her, the little man thing before her or her home. He is so cool, she thought as she looked at the creature before her in amazement. Then the creature spoke. Its voice was a warble of textures, as if he were speaking to her from under water. “Hello sally, I would like to speak with my alcol- I mean, I would like to speak with your parents please,” it said. Though she heard the creatures voice, it did not seem to be speaking to her. Rather it seemed as if the words were being broadcast into her brain.
Sally was excited about this. She smiled a huge smile as she reached forward and grabbed the little man creature by his hand. “C’mon, they are in the kitchen,” she said as she half led, half pulled him with her. She already considered the creature to be her new best friend. He was so different and new. She thought he was the most exciting thing to have ever happened to her in her entire short life. “Mommy, daddy,” she yelled as she made her way across the living room. She heard her father curse.
When she came into the kitchen, her father was zipping up his pants and pushing his shirt into the front of his pants. Her mother seemed to be getting up off the floor. An annoyed look filled both of their faces. “Sally, you are going to be late for-” her mother’s voice caught in her throat as she saw the little figure that Sally had been dragging behind her, and she and her father both froze in place.
“I made a new friend,” Sally said, smiling.
She did not understand as she watched both of her parents fall to their knees, bowing their heads, not to her, but to her new little companion. “Lord Cthulhu,” they both said.
Her new friend, The one that her parents called Cthulhu asked her to go out into the living room for a time while he spoke with her parents, promising her that everything would be fine and that she should not be scared of any of the noises that she would hear. He promised her that her parents would be fine. “Do not fear what you hear, my dear little Sally, only what needs to be done will be done.” She chose to believe him; he was her new best friend after all.
She did not really understand what was going on but she walked out into the living room. She crawled up onto the couch and turned on the TV with the remote control, turning on YouTube and watching an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.
The sounds of thunderclaps leapt from the kitchen. The sound of her parents screaming, and pleading filling the air, but she just turned the TV up louder. It did not last long, and before she knew it the thunderclaps started to die down, the sounds of pleading were reduced to light sobs. The sounds of electric sizzles faded and then disappeared until all that was left was quiet.
A few moments later, Cthulhu came out of the kitchen, his little stubbed wings flapping lazily behind him. Little tendrils of steam trickled into the air from spots on his skin. The barnacles and liquid had left him, replaced by clean, dry skin. The seaweed that he had been wearing was now replaced by a pair of carpenter jeans and a Danzig T-shirt, though she had no idea who Danzig was. A pair of black sneakers covered his feet as he made his way over and onto the couch, flopping down to sit next to Sally. “You do not fear me Sally?” Cthulhu asked.
“Nope, I think you’re cute,” Sally said.
“Your parents have made a grievous error Sally. One that they will be helping me to correct, but while they do so, I am going to be staying here. Would you like that?”
“Yes,” she beamed. “I would like that very much,” her smile widened. “Would you like to be my friend?” she asked.
“Yes,” the dark lord said. “I would like that very much.”
Jackk N. Killington lives in Missouri where he writes, works, and hangs out with his beautiful muse. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and his website where he has a list of his published works and other things. Go to: Fiction Writer | Jackk N. Killington.
A strange name given for such a strange find: Pulp.
The reason I call it this is because I have no other word in my limited vocabulary to explain it. It’s small, black and has the density of rough dough.
Then there’s the colours. Those beautiful and unique flickers of microscopic light in the thing that make noises, words of a language I’ve never heard before.
I’d been walking down the riverside like any other day, the route I take home from work. On the opposite side of the river beneath the bridge, a black patch no bigger than a football caught my eye. At first, I believed it to be some kind of stain, perhaps oil or tar embedded upon the weathered stone holding up the banking.
However, the angle of the sunlight made the patch sparkle with fizzling colour. It was attractive: calling.
My visceral instinct was to leave it alone, to hurry on past and forget about this peculiar patch hugging the waterline.
But then it moved.
It didn’t drip down the rocky surface with liquid texture as expected. Instead the stain slithered in the slowest of motions; changing shape and contracting with itself.
Safe to say the inquisitiveness (or naivety) got the better of me as I raced forward to the river crossing not thirty feet in front of my position.
I had to find out what this thing was.
Some inner conscience suggested that maybe some animal was in danger, overcome with a substance and needed help to be set free back to the wild.
Panic set in when the stain vanished from view. My strides turned into a full blown sprint as I rushed over the creaky wooden crossing and back down the graveled footpath.
I kept my head over the banking, watching the water splash against the rock with murky turbidity.
Still no sign of the stain; my heart raced ready to implode.
I’d suffered from anxiety since I lost my brother to a drug overdose almost eight months ago. He’d been two-years my elder and fallen into the wrong crowd, no matter how much we tried to help him it fell on deaf ears.
Not being able to find the insignificant blob brought all those anxieties flooding back in my body. Too much to bear. I stopped closing my eyes before I passed out. Oxygen intake was minimal as my legs turned to cigarette ash and I fell hitting the ground hard with my backside.
Trying hard to concentrate on my breathing, the world span in shuddering movements making the vomit swell in the pit of my stomach.
The flop made everything suddenly stop dead like a fairground ride coming to a sudden halt.
My senses returned.
Anxiety washed away with the flowing water; my breathing returned to normal as I saw the dough wiggle onto the path. Crouching over the thing I remained cautious; in my twenty-three years in this world I had never witnessed anything as surreal.
The shuffling black blob stopped moving and began to spread on the gravel, thinning out like a puddle, perfectly circular.
That’s when I saw the lights up close.
Blinking rainbows of colour. Colours I’d struggle to describe. Purple intertwined with green with flashes of orange. It was beautiful, like looking up at the night sky observing a fireworks display. The colours wrapped themselves around one another and I couldn’t help but become transfixed.
The voice from the black puddle spoke to me in a tongue not from any place on the earth, yet for some unconceivable reason I was able to understand.
‘I can show you things, secrets beyond this world,’ it said.
‘What are you?’ I asked, my eyes still invested in the lights.
‘Nothing that can be told, but can be shown if you take me.’
I asked, ‘take you, where?’
‘Take me with you, wherever you go and I will show you the places beyond.’
The lights on the black puddle flickered like a power failure slowly fading out. I was left blinking, still crouched over this thing with a severe headache. The black mass had now retracted itself back into the blobby dough – the pulp.
The lights, I wanted to see those gleeful lights again.
Reaching down, I took the black blob into my hands; its texture – smooth and bone-dry. Before anyone could see I rushed home with the putty squelching between my fingers.
I lived alone on the east side of town in a rundown block of apartments. A few girls had come and gone in my disastrous love life up to now, they usually leave when the realisation hits them that my ambition is non-existent and my overwhelming anxious needs take precedent. I’m the kind of person that enjoys routine; anything against the norm brings back that desire to wallow in a shell of self-pity.
Yet, here I am taking this otherworldly thing into my life, somehow against my wish, but it’s attractive … addictive.
I’ve come to see that I don’t need anyone. I have something that no other person has.
I have Pulp.
I’ve come to learn that I also don’t need food anymore, I haven’t eaten for over sixty hours and I still feel great. I don’t need so-called friends, Pulp told me that all they do is stab me in the back anyways, which I can believe. That’s why I smashed my mobile phone to smithereens, goodbye social media and good riddance to the backstabbers.
There has been a few knocks at my door wondering if I’m all right from certain people.
‘Hey, are you in there?’ Katy had asked from behind the door.
I replied pretending with a few coughs, ‘I’m fine, just the flu I think.’
Katy had been one of those girl’s I spoke about earlier. She ended the relationship, “friend-zoning” me because of different life aspirations, really I knew it was due to my skydiving psyche.
‘No one has heard from you in days,’ Katy said. ‘Your phone is off; you’re not posting anything online … are you sure you’re all right?’
Another cough, ‘I’m fine … like I said, just the flu.’
Those pesky folk, they think that they can just walk in and out of my life when it suits.
No thank you.
They seem to accept and leave without too much persuasion.
I’m a hindrance you see, Pulp told me that’s what they thought.
The same old question – ‘are you all right?’
I’m more than all right, if only they could see what I have been shown. If only they’d had their eyes opened to the true beauty that exists outside of our perceived reality.
They’re not ready to see my little friend just yet. It told me as much.
I speak with Pulp constantly; it’s all I need in my life now.
Asking its name, it just answers with something far too long for my lips to relay back. I’ll stick with Pulp, it doesn’t seem to mind.
Night and day I stare into the surface of the abyss, transported between the colours, the beautiful colours. I feel them, flashes of light from a distant world: a paradise beyond comprehension.
Everything is lost when I float in between the eternal space. Emotionless. I forget the anger, the anxiety, the need for love and sexual desires – everything.
Because in this void is freedom that I have never experienced.
Just me and the colours intertwining and embracing one another like passionate lovers.
Sleep has evaded me too. When I try to rest, I just think of staring back into Pulp. I just want to forget everything in this world now I understand the truth of what is beyond.
‘There is much more that you are not ready to understand, child of the earth,’ Pulp said.
It was dead at night and I asked Pulp to take me back to the colours, to relax in the void.
‘I am ready,’ I replied. ‘Please, show me.’
‘If you wish to seek out the truth behind our existence, then you must take us back to where we met.’
‘The river?’ I asked. ‘It’s the middle of the night, but I can do that,’ I said, shaking my head erratically. ‘Sure … sure … sure … anything you ask.’
I stood, dropping the blanket that had been wrapped around my frail body to keep warm. I must’ve broken the record in weight loss over such a short period of time. My bones were visible through my skin, I could feel every solid lump. In the bathroom mirror, my face was no better, huge bags drooped below my distant eyes. The hair on my head had receded at rapid rate.
My teeth: yellow and fragile like a corpse.
‘The body is nothing more than a vessel,’ Pulp said feeding from my insecurities. ‘It’s the soul that will endure into the next phase of existence.’
As I went to gather my coat from the floor, Pulp informed me that I wouldn’t be needing it.
When I questioned why I wouldn’t need clothes in the middle of the night, Pulp answered: ‘To see what is beyond, then you must come in the purest of forms. I shall keep you warm, child of the earth.’
My hands took hold of Pulp and it expanded, spreading and then wrapping its warm doughy body around me. It felt ecstatic. Loving.
Outside I set off, feeling the slight breeze hit my face. When we reached the riverbank I crouched down in the exact same place where I found Pulp.
How long had it been now since I met this savior of mine, three days? Two weeks? I couldn’t be sure anymore, time had become irrelevant as everything else. All that mattered now was seeing the truth of what was beyond; learning the secrets of this existence.
‘You have been a great host, child of the earth,’ Pulp said sliding off my body into an even puddle on the floor.
The cold hit me straight away, knifing my naked body.
Pulp started to flash its otherworldly colours.
I watched, mesmerized by the beauty.
‘You have fed me life with your soul, and in return I shall show you what lies beyond,’ Pulp said.
Pulp started to rise on the river’s edge, morphing from puddle to standing mirror.
I stood before it still gazing into the void of colour and ecstasy.
‘Come, child. Come and see!’
Raising my hand, I held my palm against the abyss, reaching out to touch the intertwining colours, to feel their love and warmth.
Tears spilled from my eyes due to all its magnificence.
‘Come with me … come and see what lies beyond.’
I stepped forward as all the colours suddenly vanished.
Losing my footing I fell forward as Pulp dropped to the banking in a heap of dough.
The water tore at my body with its icy blades.
I momentarily debated grappling against the cold and fighting my way back to the banking.
But my weak and aged limbs made no such effort. As my head bobbed up and below the surface I saw Pulp shuffle its way down the banking and into shadow like a feral animal.
I’d been sucked dry.
Suddenly I realised I was the insignificant one; a pawn in a much grander universe. It was time to leave this world that I no longer understood behind and seek out what lies beyond.
Pulp promised me such things.
The body is just a vessel … It’s the soul …
I didn’t want to believe that it was all treachery on Pulp’s part; I wasn’t just some host to feed the thing before it sent me to death.
No, there’s more, I’m sure of it.
I was ready to see the truth – to awaken.
The body is just a vessel …
Falling to the bottom of the river I wondered if I would ever see those magnificent colours again as all other lights went out.
Ethan works for a utilities company in South Yorkshire. Writing fiction has become a hobby over the past couple of years and he hopes to one day publish a novel. Ethan notes Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft as influences behind his work.
When I left home at 5:00 a.m., I didn’t see a vehicle on the road as I meandered the neighborhood and the main road arteries to get to the bypass. A bypass, by definition, shouldn’t have traffic lights, especially ones that aren’t synchronized. To have them interrupts the flow of traffic. The glaring red light functions like a clot in the bloodstream. I did not mind stopping, being the obedient, law-abiding citizen I’ve been, but I’ll admit that I cursed several times and even flipped off the camera.
There were three other traffic lights between the first one and where I exited the bypass to get to my office, and at each one, I had to stop and wait on absolutely nothing. By the time I got to work, I got involved with finding keys to unlock the building, the office complex, and finally my own office, and forgot all about the traffic lights until the next morning when all three of the bypass lights were green and stayed green the entire trip to my office, but on Wednesday, the third work day, I encountered all red traffic lights again.
When I got to my office, I waited until the city offices were open, and I called the traffic control office and got voice mail. I decided to go to the office, share with them that one day the lights are synchronized and one day they aren’t. I figured they would appreciate my concerned citizen report, and I fantasized I might even get some sort of commendation from the Mayor. I found the office in the basement of City Hall, went in, and saw a fellow watching a control board with several monitors.
“May I help you? This office isn’t open to the public.”
“I’m sorry, but the door was open.”
“The custodian probably left it open. They don’t clean any better than they keep doors locked around here.”
“Well, I wanted to share a problem I’ve encountered with the traffic lights on the bypass.”
“Well, technically, it comes to me, and if I don’t address it, I send it up to the mayor’s office and they pass to who it needs to go to.”
“I see. I’ll be glad to send an email but let me at least tell you the problem while I’m here. You see, some mornings on my way into the city via the bypass, the lights are synchronized, and I get all green ones, like Tuesday, but other days, they aren’t, and there’s no traffic. So, as you can see, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be all green.”
“What do you drive?”
“Did you flip me off and mouth curse words on Monday to the camera?”
“Yes, I did. How do you know that? What does that matter?”
“It matters. I saw you as I was refilling my coffee.”
“Well, I realize I shouldn’t have probably done that, but I didn’t know anyone was watching.”
“I’m off on Tuesday, so I wasn’t watching yesterday.”
“They were all green yesterday!”
“Yes, I know they were. They’ve never filled the part time position in this office, so when I’m off, no one is monitoring the lights.”
“This is crazy.”
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to step in here.”
“I’m not stepping in there. I need to get back to work, but when I do, I’m going to report you to the Mayor and the police. I think you’re crazy.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll have to ask you to step in here, again.” He pulled a gun from his pants’ pocket, aimed it at the visitor’s head.
“Why? Put that gun down. You have no idea who you are dealing with.”
“I’m sorry it has come to this, but you have too much information. Honestly, you won’t feel a thing when you step into this closet. I’ll shoot you, and then, you’ll fall into a drain that will take you directly to the sewer. The rats will take care of all the evidence.”
“What about my car outside? They’ll know I was here.”
“No, they won’t. Your car will be towed, and they don’t keep records. You’ll also get a ticket in the mail for running the first light on the bypass, but your wife will come in to pay it, and I may ask her out once a little time has passed. I’ve seen her in the Infiniti convertible, putting on lipstick, flashing her teeth, and checking her eye make-up. She’s pretty.”
“Please, I’m begging you. Don’t point that gun at me. This is nuts.”
The gun went off, and the traffic controller said, “That’ll teach you.” After the splash in the sewer, the traffic controller went back to his cameras and said to the convertible Infiniti at the first light on the bypass. “Well, hello there. See you in a couple of weeks.”
Niles Reddick is author of a novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in seventeen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine,Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine.
As you may know, I love YouTube. I watch it instead of regular broadcast TV and even in place of cable/pay TV. Its 10-15 minute programs really appeal to my short attention span that wants to hop constantly from subject to subject.
Just now, I finished watching one of the weirdest yet also one of the best YouTube videos I have seen.
This is on Minty’s Comedic Arts, a YouTube channel based in Australia and which focuses movie reviews, usually along the lines of horror. This is one of my favorite channels. Mark Bishop, the host, does a terrific job of bringing out the fascinating highlights of movies while still being entertaining.
Tonight (I saw it tonight; the video was actually produced two years ago), Minty talked about the scariest/ weirdest commercial he ever saw. Now that I have seen it, I have to say that it is the scariest, weirdest commercial I have ever seen.
I bring it up here, because it is somewhat dark and it was influence by famed horror filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, director of Scanners, Videodrome, The Dead Zone, The Fly, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, et cetera.
This video is so weird yet so brilliant in so many ways. I love the way Mark Bishop presents this in a way that is quite suitable for the bizarre nature of the film.
I will stop here. Watch the video. Let me know your impressions.
Three in the morning and I had to get up to piss. My body was aching. My head was throbbing. I had been drinking since noon and passed out about one in the morning. I nearly tripped on an empty bourbon bottle on the floor, barely managing to keep my balance by leaning on the closet door.
Business taken care of, I lay on the couch, staring at the spinning ceiling. Sleep was, once more, evading me. I got up, after half an hour of futile attempts to vanish into Morpheus’s realm. I poured a glass of half-scotch and half-water, opened the window, lit a cigarette. The cold wind instantly penetrated the room, dropping the temperature by several degrees. It felt rejuvenating. I lit the sole candle in my apartment and grabbed my notebook, in which I used to write poems during tedious classes.
THE NEEDLE! I nearly fell off my chair when I noticed it. It was not supposed to be here. A couple of weeks back I had thrown out all my paraphernalia, because I was to move out and I had decided to come clean, to leave my substance-abuse behind. Yet, the needle was there on the coffee table, between the copies of Ask the Dust and Journey to the End of the Night. A dirty, used needle. It was real. I touched it, grabbed it, examined it closely, my heart racing within my chest.
Where did it come from? The question rang in my hazy mind. I puffed on my cigarette, and then took a long, slow drink of the scotch and water, hoping to pass out once more. It was a dream. I was certain of it. All I had to do was sleep and the needle would vanish. I held it in my hand, feeling its forceful presence between my fingers, I pressed the syringe and it squirted. Like the old days, there was blood in it. It had been used recently. The vibes were all wrong. I felt as if I should somehow recognize the syringe and the needle, but it was impossible. I drank again, praying to pass out right there on the spot. It wouldn’t be the first time I slept on my dirty floor, and it’d be a much more welcome outcome than being confronted by what I was certain was the needle that had taken Emily away from me.
I was alone in the apartment—my last two weeks in it before I moving away, heading back to the streets of my childhood where I’d seek a more prosperous future. I looked about. My heart was sinking. My gaze fell upon the mirror in my closet. I was not alone. Emily stood behind me.
I fell backwards, landing on my back and neck, too drunk to feel the pain, only my drunkenness saving me from serious injury. A chair landed on top of me. I glanced about. I sat up cautiously. My neck ached worse than before. My head throbbed like it never had. I stared into the mirror. Now, instead of standing behind me, Emily was sitting on the couch, her head leaning backwards. She seemed to be staring into the abyss. I reached behind me, touched the fabric of the couch, the worn-out sheet covering it. She was not there. Yet, in the mirror, I was running my hand across her thigh.
She turned her face to me. Her gaze was cold, heartless. She placed her hand on my shoulder. I felt her phantom touch, even though I could not feel her hand with mine when I tried. Still sitting on the floor, the chair over my legs, in the mirror her hands were on my shoulders. I felt her soft breath in my ear. She had been dead for six fucking years; junk had taken her from me.
She bit the lobe of my ear, a gentle jolt of pain and pleasure traversing my body. I jumped up onto my knees and faced the deserted couch. She had overdosed there, the same couch on which I had gotten high next to her lifeless body with the same needle. It killed her, but let me live. I wonder still, six years down the road, why in the hell I was the one to survive.
Throughout the room, the pictures of my masters and heroes, all authors from times gone by, stared at me judgmentally. New additions since her death, she had never seen them.
“When did you put them up?” she whispered softly into my ear.
I stepped back, escaping her embrace. I turned to the mirror. She appeared befuddled. I had another long sip of my drink. I rolled and lit another cigarette. The needle was on my desk now, next to the keyboard, containing the poison that had inspired so many stories and poems and had caused such tremendous heartbreak. It was the only real evidence of my habit. I had to throw it away. My parents were coming soon. I didn’t want them to find a dirty needle among my stuff, but it was the only real reminder, the only thing I possessed, that could remind me Emily had once existed and had been a part of my life.
Without warning, the needle rose into the air. In the mirror, Emily was holding it, as if about to stab me with it. Instead, she threw it. I ducked and it stuck in Poe’s nose. Emily was smiling. I straightened my body. It’s the drink, I told myself. I wanted to lie down, get some rest. I couldn’t. Phantom arms were thrown around my neck, dead lips were being pressed up against mine, and the kiss was more passionate and real than so many I had exchanged with one-night stands and cheap replacements of my Emily. Squinting, I glanced into the mirror. Emily’s body was pressed against mine. She was wearing my John Lennon t-shirt, and her hands were on my head, exploring the balding spots. She broke off the kiss and stared into my eyes.
“Why aren’t you looking at me?” she asked. “what are you afraid of?”
I couldn’t answer. No sound could escape my dry mouth and throat. I stood petrified, wishing I could touch, for one last time, the body that I could only see in a reflection of a wished-for reality. I tried, but there was nothing there. I was touching my own body, regardless of the lies the mirror told me. I had another sip.
“You drink more than you used to,” she whispered in my ear.
“I know.” My words came out more hoarsely than I had expected. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t,” she said, “it’s alright.”
“You can’t be real,” I caught myself saying.
“Why?” she asked.
I had no reply.
Her soft lips touched mine. We were locked in yet another phantom kiss.
I stopped caring about what was real and what wasn’t. I sat on the couch, a newly rolled cigarette between my lips. I felt a soft weight on my shoulder. I kept my gaze fixed on the mirror, for there her head was resting on me, she was smiling, her hand on my leg. I lit the cigarette. The needle was still stuck on Poe’s picture. The first cloud of blue smoke that left my mouth lingered on for longer than it should have. I noticed the pair of bright green eyes staring back at me, and I smiled.
“What have you done in your life?”
“What do you mean?” I muttered, astonished at the question, and with a touch of horror.
She—I saw it all taking place in the mirror—angrily pointed at the blank page on my computer screen.
“Where are the masterpieces?” she demanded.
I heard her voice loud and clear, even though I could not see her outside the mirror. I didn’t respond. There was nothing to be said after all, and she punched the screen, and it rattled violently.
“Please, Emily,” I said fearfully and got up.
“Don’t talk,” she ordered me and I obeyed, my heart beating up against my ribcage too hard, trying to escape.
I sat down on the couch, puffing on my cigarette.
“What happened to you?” the soft, gentle, loving whisper in my ear, an affectionate, short-lived kiss on my cheek. “Where have all the grand dreams gone?”
“I don’t know,” was the most real, and only, response I could provide.
“It’s alright,” a chuckle in my ear brought goosebumps while non-existent fingers toyed with the few remaining hairs on the crown of my head. “A lot has changed, huh?” another giggle, another soft kiss. I didn’t want to move a muscle, afraid of somehow ruining whatever was going on.
I was, however, growing dizzier, I had gulped down the scotch and had mechanically poured another, a tall glass of scotch, neat. I drank long and slow. The world was spinning around me faster and faster.
“It’s alright” was the last whisper I heard, a kiss on the lips the final memory of the crazy night.
I passed out on the spot. I woke up several hours later, in dire need to piss. I crawled to the bathroom. I could not have stood up had my life depended on it. I pissed, puked, washed my face vigorously. I returned to the living room and threw myself back on the couch. As I was about to close my eyes and sleep the horrendous hangover away, I caught a glimpse of my closet. The syringe was still stuck on the picture of Poe. Quickly, I rose, adrenaline allowing me to ignore the throbbing head, the aching limbs.
Then, I noticed my computer screen; the blank page was no longer blank.
asked THE poet, he said yes.
come when you please.
I’ll be waiting in the dark.
I read the lines over and over. I had not typed them. I lit a cigarette. The first puff had me rushing back to the bathroom. I passed out on the toilet seat—for the hundredth time in my short life—and when I finally regained consciousness, I rushed back to the living room. There was nothing: no needle, no lines, only the empty bottles on the floor and the blank page on my screen.
I poured a strong one and again drank long and slow. I felt rejuvenated. I spent the rest of the night staring into the mirror, somehow finding a little hope.
“You know, it takes profound art and profound insight into Nature to turn out stuff like Pickman’s…only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear- the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with…hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness…Doré had it. Sime has it. Angarola of Chicago has it. And Pickman had it as no man ever had it before or- I hope to Heaven- ever will again” (1).
When H. P. Lovecraft penned those words in 1926, little did he know that out of the earth’s primal ooze, another man would arise, one who captured the ancestral memories of fright.
The man was Hans Rudolf Giger. That Pickman-incarnate was born February 5, 1940, in Chur, Switzerland. Giger’s morbid artwork work inspired the Xenomorph extraterrestrial in the movie Alien. The influential director Oliver Stone is not known for delving into existential darkness. Yet, his opinion about Giger’s place in the world of art and culture is noteworthy:
“’I do not know anybody else,’ he said, ‘who has so accurately portrayed the soul of modern humanity. A few decades from now when they will talk about the twentieth century, they will think of Giger’” (2).
And H.R. Giger departed from the earthly spheres on May 12, 2014.
Giger dredged the hereditary memories of immemorial fear. Like the Grecian god Charon, he poled the haggard ferryboat to the dark underworld. Upon Giger’s return, he captured hints of the demons and dreamscapes that vibrate with life beyond the prosaic world.
In this essay, we will try to gain a sense of the cosmic grandeur in Giger’s art that excites in us.
1) Giger’s art stirs up desires for the forbidden and taboo. Once, Giger’s paintings would have been declared blasphemous. Zealots would have burned him at the stake as Warlock. As one whom interviewed Giger, surrounding the making of Alien wrote:
“…The hint of witchcraft was surely confirmed when the chief warlock – Giger – ordered crates of freshly boiled animal bones directly from the slaughterhouse. They were used to create molds for the derelict’s cadaverous walls: horizontal ribs crossed with vertical spines cords. If you want an egg to appear fleshy, use real flesh. If you want an alien spaceship to feature a carapace of bones, use real bones…” (3).
Normally, when one wishes to summons a demon, they inscribe the pentagram, sit in the resulting symbol and protective circle, and recite the necessary invocation. Giger’s art bypassed the Ouija board or the Scything Crystal, to contact the darkness in each of us.
2) Giger’s art titillates us with Necromantic Puzzles. When one lovingly fondles the bones of another, strange thing happen. Occult visions are invoked.
Giger was an artist of the ossuary, mimicking the bone chapels of the world in his cosmic pyramids and cyclopean temples. He took old dead bones from our primeval past, and like a modern Joseph Curwen, revived them into living, breathing, slavering nightmares.
As Giger aficionados tattooed themselves with the artist’s otherworldly images, they mystically enter one of those off-world temples, and join the pageant of weird adherents in worshiping the Old Ones:
“…The…tattooing process, which involved complex ritual and taboos…was associated with beliefs which were secrets known only to members of the priestly caste…historically tattooing had originated in connection with ancient rites of scarification and bloodletting which were associated with religious practices intended to put the human soul in harmony with supernatural forces and ensure continuity between this life and the next.” (4).
3) Giger’s art captivates the morbid curiosity that causes us to gaze on car wrecks.
Giger’s work imitates descriptions of Pickman’s art:
“God, how that man could paint! There was a study called ‘Subway Accident,’ in which a flock of the vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform” (5).
Giger’s work was the art of the train wreck, where twisted bodies, fused with metal and glass, recombine in all matter of surrealistic forms – art as mutation, art as mutilation. Giger captured in art, the prose of Clive Barker’s, Midnight Meat Train – with subways cars filled with butchered human bodies, suspended as if in a slaughterhouse, awaiting their consumption by Manhattan’s Old Ones.
Was it any reason why Clive Barker said of Giger:
“…Like all great visionaries, Giger…plunges his hands into the raw stuff of our subconscious, and using methodologies that are unique to him creates a state that is rigorous, hierarchical and, for all its abysmal depths, inviting. ‘ In mapping the tribal lands of our psyches, Giger gives us fresh access to them. He frees us, in essence, to wander there, encouraged by the fact that others have gone before. He makes us brave, and I can think of few higher ambitions for any art. Following where he’s gone, we discover that this new country, which we came into fearful of our sanity, about our lives in countless places. We are not, after all, strangers here. It’s the world we must return into the world of the mortgage payment and the tax return; of the domestic tiff and the public slight that seems chilling, repulsive, alien…” (6).
4) Giger’s art illuminates the primal worlds of the Witchdoctor. Giger traffics in the unwashed, undefined realms of the Shaman.
Where others fled, Giger made his home. What others dread, he made his habitat. What others fight to suppress, he drug back to the surface. Giger brought to a canvas near you the hidden world that ancient shamans saw beyond our own, as they sat in mescaline-induced stupors, with shining streams of drool, driveling down their chins, and onto their heaving chests.
The sum of other worlds remained largely unexplored in either man’s lifetimes. Life beyond the electron microscope, beneath the ocean depths, behind the three dimensions, and beyond the twinkling stars remains unknown and untouched.
Entire libraries of DNA remain unread and untapped.
Giger’s images bore inside you, like the insidious Brown Jerkins, or Giger’s own immature alien chest-buster. The fear it happens upon eats away at your insides. The raw things of the world that cultivated and civilized Homo sapiens avoid are, with little warning, thrust upon our screaming senses. His Xenomorph mimics the dark that slithers out of our collective darkness.
Will they enrich or eviscerate us, as we begin to explore their domains?
5) Giger’s art dissects Lovecraft’s living cosmos. He performed an autopsy on the universe, while it still vibrated with life, aware of its violation.
The maniacal chaos of the demon-sultan Azathoth who inspired lines like:
“…Outside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes…” (7).
That same Azathoth lies butchered by Giger’s palette knife like a common lab frog.
The archaeology of the cosmos is a study in anatomy versus a study in architecture: veins and sinews appear instead of electrical conduits. Ligaments and ribs show up where you expect potable water lines and sewers. Bridges and scaffolds have mouths and faces.
Giger, as Lovecraft before him, turned the cosmos is some kind of an enormous, incomprehensible entity:
“…Lovecraft’s…focus on the cosmic horrific theme of existence-as-nightmare was balanced and complemented by a deep craving for liberation into transcendent realms of beauty and bliss…The stories of H.P. Lovecraft are…about incursions from the cosmic beyond that open up vistas of wonder and awe. They’re…about dislocations in time and space that offer a paradoxically fearsome and exhilarating experience of liberation from natural law. They’re…about the longing for a transcendent experience of absolute beauty. This duality…is a part of the age-old tradition of fantastic storytelling…Should incursions from beyond the cosmic order, breakdowns in natural law, and the destruction of the physical body be viewed as joyful or terrifying, exhilarating or horrifying, dreadful or liberating? The answer has long emerged from the collective unconscious, often in the form of fantastic stories…as an unqualified, ‘Yes…’” (8).
Each of Giger’s paintings represents a sensuous invitation to join oneself with Azathoth, to lose oneself in the immense, corporeal conflagration.
6) Giger art embraces the aesthetics of death rather than life. Giger fell madly in love with death, long before his brief infatuation with life. His tryst with the Grim Reaper became a driving passion that formed the core of his life.
Giger’s biomechanical orgies capture the necrophiliac thrills of the tomb given breath in The Loved Dead:
“…I haunted the death-chamber where the body of my mother lay, my soul a thirst for the devilish nectar that seemed to saturate the air of the darkened room. Every breath strengthened me, lifted me to towering heights of seraphic satisfaction…” (9).
Giger brought his homicidal photo-realism to everything he touched. And his disturbing photographic memory emptied the undigested contents of the bowels of the heavens and the earth onto his canvases; the things we could not stomach were the curtain of normalcy to be pulled aside, and we saw the darkness that lay just beyond our five senses.
7) Giger’s biomechanoid visions of humanity bother us. Our lives are now governed by machines, from the smartphones we constantly pore over to the computers many of us serve before each day.
The fine line between being served by our machines to having to serve them blurs with each new jump in technology. The borging of humanity will not come at the hands of an all-powerful race that invades out space in enormous technological Rubik’s cubes.
Since most of the enslavement will be done invisibly, by future enhancements of Wi-Fi connections, the horror of assimilation portrayed in Star Trek will become an accepted rite-of-passage.
Giger’s art X-rays the reality of man/machine interface. That art reveals how far we are separated and alienated from nature, the environment for which we were bred.
Ultimately, Giger’s art threatens to release the dark jinn that resides in each of us, one who is willing to do our darkest bidding – yet we fear the unintended consequences if those primal urges are fulfilled.
Hans Rudolph Giger touched on the existential tensions that confront and confound current generations.
Giger employed the tools of today’s alienated youth. His use of the airbrush allowed HRG to crystallize in paints, the personal estrangement and loss of a sense of self that Graffiti and Tattoo artists strive to express.
In a cosmos, where we have become machines, where we have become functions, in a world where the marks of individuality become fewer and stereotypical – Giger has captured the ultimate mechanization of man. He depicted on canvas a future when we become cogs in the machines. The day many modern philosophers once warned us about – one where man serves machines when man becomes machine – has arrived.
(1) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(2) “H. R. Giger and the Zeitgeist of the Twentieth Century,” by Stanislav Grof, The Primal Psychotherapy Page, 2005.
(3) “How H.R. Giger’s Brilliant Madness Helped Make Alien ‘Erotic’,” by Charlie Jane Anders, IO9, October 20, 2011.
(4) Tattoo History: A Source Book, by Steve Gilbert, December 1, 2000, p. 158.
(5) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(6) “Introduction,” by Clive Barker, Giger’s Necronomicon 2, English Edition, 1992.
(7) The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927.
(9) The Loved Dead, by H.P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy, Jr., 1919.
John A. DeLaughter M.Div., M.S., is a Data Security Analyst and Lovecraft essayist, horror, and fantasy author. He lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZine, Samsara: The Magazine of Suffering, Tigershark eZine, Turn To Ash, and The Eldritch Literary Review Journal. John is presently editing his original epic fantasy work, Dark Union Rising.
Mr. DeLaughter says about this article: “The essay “H.R. Giger: His Dreams, Our Nightmares” is a distillation of two articles I wrote about H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger (September 21, 2014 & July 10, 2015) on the Lovecraft eZine website.”