Friday, July 31, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
In Sunday School, I used to think that John dropped acid.
I was generally, from sixth grade on, stoned during Sunday School. Which wasn’t on Sunday, actually, but took place on a Wednesday when the Catholics sent their children off to religious instruction in our town in the hopes we would become confirmed, which in my case meant my parents would throw a huge party at which a lot of alcohol and lasagna would be consumed. Oh, and there would be cake.
My Sunday School teacher was a horse-faced woman with eleven kids, which always astounded me—that someone, her husband, who was short and fat and balding, but at least had a nice face, had screwed this woman a minimum of eleven times. Well, actually ten since she had a pair of twins in the middle of the pack. And when she briefly discussed Revelation, I decided that author of it—John—dropped acid. He drank the Kool-Aid. And whatever he drank—or smoked—I wanted some of it.
But turns out he wasn’t entirely a dope fiend.
Because when the end came we expected the Four Horsemen
Instead, we got angels.
Just like it said in John’s Book of Acid.
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife.'”
But people forgot that. The first time the angels filled the sky, yeah, some expected the Rapture. Churches were filled with wailing people, and people celebrating. But angels, right? How could angels be bad?
I was walking down the street, and people pointed and . . . once they got used to seeing them, they were excited. Angels! They’ve come to protect us. To watch over us. Angels with wings. And halos. Like the pictures in a children’s Bible.
“If I should die before I wake . . . I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Was I the only one paying attention? Did no one else listen in Sunday School?
I had this nagging thought. But like trying to retrieve anything from the hazy pot-smoking years of my youth, and yes, my twenties. And even last year when I was thirty-two and my girlfriend and I went to Amsterdam . . . retrieving the memory was like falling to the floor in a smoke-filled room and crawling around searching for something in a fire.
So I opened the book. John’s book. And the memory came to me. From the horse-faced woman. “Children . . . Revelation is a warning.”
But no one listened. The people I passed in the street, they thought they saw halos. They thought the sky was like the Sistine Chapel come to life.
Until the pandemic started.
Now I spend my time waiting. I peek out the windows of my apartment. Sometimes I look for the Horsemen.
Most of the time, I get stoned.
Sometimes I mutter an apology. To John.
It wasn’t acid at all.
To see the previous stories:
And if you want to see this month's prompt or figure out what this is all about ...
Friday, July 17, 2009
Harmony, by Melanie Avila
The humming grew stronger, clearer, as the rotating blades pounded the air.
I still wasn't used to this way of life. The constant accountability. They were always checking, always wanting to know.
It was above my building.
The sunlight strobed through the copter's propellers. I leaned out the window and shielded my eyes.
We heard stories that when they came it'd be chaos, that life as we knew it would be over, but it all went very smoothly. One person in my octad compared it to upgrading the software on their computer. Only we were the software.
They assigned us one of two values: None or One.
The code must serve some larger purpose, but I never figured out how they chose. I just accepted my assignment and went on with my life. Or tried to.
They sent messages. That's how they communicated.
The first one was clear:
Find a way to live in harmony or you will cease to exist.
Then nothing for weeks. Clearly it was it a warning, but no one knew what to make of it, and before long it slipped to the back of our minds.
Then more messages came, this time more rapidly:
Once assigned your value, it must be displayed at all times.
You must always find a way to show your mark.
Mark? We drew close, whispering tales of another time when people were oppressed and forced to brand themselves. The marks of those times had become trendy, their significance lost on my generation. Could it happen again?
No one stepped forward to claim responsibility. It was just these messages pulsing over the computer lines.
Always alternate your codes to maintain the harmony.
You must maintain the harmony.
The initial marks were flimsy scraps of paper that blew away when the copters circled too close, and before long people resorted to signing with their hands. It was easier that way. The real trick was maintaining the harmony. Making sure you were always one-none-one took planning. Coordination.
When the patrols went by we'd flash our marks. Most times they'd dip from side to side—a hold-out from the older pilots that all was okay—but every now and then one would swoop lower and lower and snatch the unharmonious one.
That's what I lived in fear of.
You must always stay positive. We don't want to see fear.
If you're afraid, you must find a way to hide it.
Find a way. Always "find a way."
When they passed overhead I thought back to the stories of my childhood, of my mother's childhood, when a hovering aircraft didn't instill fear in the souls of those it patrolled. Pretending to feel a joy I suspected I might never feel again, I smiled and waved, showing my mark with one hand while the terror slid around my spine. I couldn't look anywhere but up. Up. I had to trust that the others were paying attention, that they took a step forward or back, that they were keeping the harmony.
The copter came closer, its propellers steady.
It should have dipped by now. My breath wouldn't come. It's too hard to pretend when the copter is coming straight at me. Don't they understand that we're trying?
The air churned around me, lifted my hair, my skirt. Someone's discarded mark clung to my leg.
My eardrums vibrated, the tiny bones bouncing off one another, rattling up into my skull, dancing over my senses, blurring my vision.
No… one. Always one.
Metal arms, cold and unyielding, stretching out, out…
A scream, then blackness.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
My Brother's Keeper, by Jon VanZile
As he drew his dying breath, Fred was surprised to learn that the last image he saw in life would be the one burned on his consciousness for all of eternity, like a celestial tattoo.
So there it was: three people in an alley, facing him, the two Germans pointing skyward and behind them, Baxter in his ridiculous yellow jacket and bowtie.
Looking back (after he was dead, of course), Fred realized he should have known something was wrong when his brother lowered his camcorder. Baxter recorded everything. Then the Germans pointed and somebody yelled, "Sieh dich ja vor!" Then a brief moment of crushing pain. Then blackness.
Just before he awoke again (dead, this time), Fred's life flashed before his eyes.
He saw himself at six years old, sitting on Baxter's bedroom floor with a handful of dollar bills from his birthday card. "Listen," Baxter said, "who wants a bunch of dirty paper anyway? I'll give you two 1975 dimes for that one dollar. They're mostly silver, you know. You'll make a fortune if you save them."
"I dunno, Baxter," Fred said. "Mom said—"
"Okay, okay," Baxter said. "Three dimes. But that's my final offer."
Then Fred saw himself at twelve, when Baxter bought his first video camera.
"I'm making a documentary about primitive mammals," Baxter said, zooming in on Fred. "Say something."
"Baxter, stop being rude," Mom said.
"Why don't you stop treating him like a baby?" Baxter said.
Fred next saw himself at sixteen, when Baxter first came home with his ridiculous bowtie and wide-lapelled jacket.
"Hey Baxter," Fred said, "why are you dressed like a waiter?"
"I'm not dressed like a waiter," Baxter said. "This is cool. It's hip."
"I dunno," Fred said. "Nobody wears bowties."
"Baxter, did you know that Fred was just voted president of his class?" Dad said.
"Maybe they should just rename you Golden Boy, huh?" Baxter snorted.
Then Fred saw himself at twenty-four, dropping by Baxter's new apartment. Baxter wouldn't let him in at first, so Fred knocked louder. "I know you're in there," Fred said. "Your peep hole is backwards."
Baxter finally let him in and Fred saw the place was piled with vintage movie posters. "Don't touch anything," Baxter said. "I got two mint-condition Star Wars posters in here that're probably worth twenty thousand bucks each. I only paid a cool ten total."
"You paid ten thousand dollars for posters?" Fred said. "Are you sure that was a good idea?"
"Some of us don't need college to know a good deal when we see it, Golden Boy."
By the time Fred heard they were forgeries, Baxter had already moved on to his next project. In December, he showed up at the family Christmas with his new bride.
"This is Katyana," Baxter said with a flourish.
The girl next to him shuffled and bowed. She smiled nervously and said, "Yah. Yah."
"Hey, Bax," Fred said. "How come your wife doesn't speak any English?"
"Katyana is from Ukraine," Baxter said.
At the word "Ukraine," Katyana perked up and bobbed her head vigorously. "Ukraine," she said. "Yah! Ukraine!"
"Are you for real?" Fred said. "She's a mail order bride? You got a mail order bride?"
"She's not mail order, goldilocks. She's a model," Baxter said and circled his arm around the desperately grinning Katyana's waist.
Finally, Fred saw himself last January, standing outside Baxter's apartment once again, knocking. Katyana let him into the smelly, dirty apartment and stood in the center of the room.
"So," Fred said, "where's Baxter?"
She nodded. "Baxter. Yah. Not home."
"Oh. How's your English coming along?"
"English vurry hard."
"Right," Fred said. "Hard."
Then a frown crossed her pretty features. "Baxter not home."
"You said that."
This was followed by an awkward silence as the girl stood fooling with the hem on her shirt and looking at the floor. Fred crossed the room, surprising even himself, and put a hand out to touch her chin. He lifted her face up and her big blue eyes were sparkling with tears. Her lips quivered a little, and she was the most beautiful girl Fred had ever seen.
"Life's a bitch, huh?" Fred said. "Sometimes you roll the dice and come up Baxter. I'm sorry."
"Not happy! Big mistake!" Katyana wailed, and then Fred had no idea how it happened, but next thing he knew, they were rolling on the floor and ripping off clothes as fast as their fingers could move.
A few weeks later, Fred saw Baxter's number pop up on his caller ID. "Hey," Baxter said. "You want to go downtown for lunch?"
"Oh, sure, Bax," Fred said. "Listen, I got to talk to you—"
"Later," Baxter said. "I got something I want to show you first."
Then the alleyway and the falling ... whatever it was. Fred had no idea what Baxter had done or just how his brother had killed him. He never looked up.
There was only that image burned against his eyes and all the time in the world to think about it. Sometimes, Fred liked to think that Baxter looked uncertain, maybe like he was having second thoughts.
But maybe Baxter was just worried about his aim.
As the eons passed and the universes collided, Fred sometimes wondered what the point was, why he had to spend all of eternity staring at those two damn Germans trying to warn him and Baxter in the background. Was this some kind of elaborate hell? Did he really deserve this?
But he wasn't mad at his brother. Not really. It wasn't Baxter's fault. Sometimes you roll the dice and come up Baxter.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Bob Johnson Being Pushed Out of a Helicopter, by Jude Hardin
“Say, isn’t that Bob Johnson being pushed out of a helicopter?”
“Why, yes. I believe that is Bob Johnson being pushed out of a helicopter. And...Oh, my word. He’s naked!”
Bob Johnson can’t actually hear what the people on the ground are saying, of course, because of the distance, the engine noise, his own screams, and--most recently--the wind whistling in his ears. He can see them, though, pointing skyward, and can imagine what they’re saying, and the astonishment (or perhaps amusement) on their faces. He envies them as he plummets, as he frantically climbs a phantom ladder back to the relative safety of the airship, because they have one thing that he does not, and that one thing is time.
Bob figures he has about five seconds until impact.
This is not happening. It’s only a dream, one of those dreams about falling where you always wake up right before you texture the hot pavement with splintered bone and pulverized flesh, right before you’re reduced to a ghastly blob of human soup that has to be scraped off with a shovel. This is not happening...
They say your entire life flashes in front of your eyes in the moments preceding death, but they lie. There’s only one thing flashing in front of Bob Johnson’s eyes now, and it’s something he’d rather forget. It’s the reason for his current predicament, jittering through his brain like an old black and white newsreel.
The narrator for this newsreel has a familiar timbre. Distinctive. Dynamic. Comforting. It’s that guy. That sixteen-millimeter voiceover legend everyone of a certain age has heard a thousand times. Bob can’t remember his name, but considers him a dear old friend nonetheless.
Four seconds until impact.
“And here’s Bob,” the narrator says.
We see Bob sitting at a table in a fancy downtown restaurant called Yellowjacket’s. Soft jazz. White tablecloth. Candlelight. Bottle of wine. The waiter is wearing a tuxedo with, of course, a yellow jacket. Bob is gazing into the eyes of a beautiful young woman with long blond hair. Bob and the woman are having a conversation, but we only hear the narrator.
“It seems Bob is quite infatuated with this pretty young thing, and she with him. There’s only one problem: Bob is married, and his wife, suspicious because he has to stay late at the office so frequently, has hired a private investigator to follow him. Uh-Oh, there’s the private eye now!”
We see a man in a dark suit sitting at the bar. He has a digital camcorder the size of a credit card, and he’s inconspicuously recording the couple as they dine.
“Interesting,” says the narrator. “And, believe you me, things get even more interesting later.”
Now we see Bob and the woman in bed, on top of the covers, kissing, caressing. They still have their clothes on, but we get the impression that that won’t be the case much longer. Bob reaches to switch off the bedside lamp, and we see a listening device--a bug--on the inside of the lampshade.
“Clever! Now Bob’s wife will have some audio to go with the video. All that’ll sure come in handy in divorce court. But wait a minute. Someone’s knocking on the door. Uh-oh. These guys look serious...”
As is customary with sixteen-millimeter, the film breaks right before the most exciting part. Bob hears it flapping impotently against the projector’s spool, and the screen goes bright white except for some super-magnified hairs and dust particles.
Three seconds until impact.
Since when is adultery a capital offense? Come on! Don’t you think having me thrown out of a helicopter is just a wee bit extreme? I don’t deserve this...
Bob can actually hear cries of horror coming from people on the ground now. He cups his hands over his genitals, embarrassed by his nakedness.
Two seconds until impact.
Please, just give me one more chance. I’ll be good. I swear. I’ll stop drinking and smoking and cursing and fornicating...
Then Bob sees her, his wife, standing on the ground pointing upward at him. She’s smiling, and she’s sporting a new tattoo on her right wrist. It looks to be a professional job, one word, written in black. D...A...Bob can’t quite make it out.
One second until impact.
Okay, this is it. I’m a goner. Finished. Kaput. It’s been a good life, but it’s over...
Bob speeds toward the gritty asphalt like a supersonic missile now, and microseconds before he augers in he’s finally able to read his wife’s tattoo. The word doesn’t start with D-A after all. It’s B...U...
The giant rubber band attached to Bob’s ankle rebounds just in time, and Bob is snatched back toward the heavens.
Woohoo! I’m going to live. It was all just a nasty joke to teach me a lesson. Haha!
Bob swings like a pendulum for a few seconds, and then comes to a rest. He’s ecstatic, ready to put all this behind him and start living life to the fullest. Sure, she’ll probably still divorce him, but that’s okay. At least he’ll still have Darla...
As Bob starts thinking about resuming intimacy with the pretty young blond, his wife pulls a .357 out of her purse and unloads it into his chest.
This is not happening…
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Release, by E. Flanigan
She wasn't even sure when the question of circumcision had come up. Maybe the seventh month.
Bill had acted like it was a foregone conclusion. "A kid should look like his father. Don't you think so?" He placed a dirty plate in the dishwasher and looked up at her.
Jane hesitated, unsure of what to say next. Truthfully, an image had formed in her mind's eye of Bill's stubby purple knob, and she tried to picture it with a foreskin. Then she pictured it without. She shifted in her seat.
"I don't know, Bill. I read the foreskin is a source of a lot of sexual pleasure. I don't want to rob him of anything."
Bill guffawed. "Wait till he's sixteen. You won't mind robbing him then."
Jane didn't like the idea that her baby would someday be a man, if sixteen can even be considered manhood. It's old enough to get laid, at least, she thought. She didn't like that idea, either.
Her first time, she hadn't looked down much. Was there a foreskin? Would I be able to tell? When she dreamed that night, she dreamt she was in high school.
It wasn't until the day Michael was born and Jane was changing his diaper that she considered it again. She looked at his penis. It was little, like a pinkie. Smaller than a pinkie. She tried to picture someone cutting it and then decided to get the nurse.
"If I want to, can I change my mind?"
The nurse was busy; she didn't care what happened as long as it didn't add more paperwork. She didn't mind hearing babies cry.
"It's a minor procedure," the nurse said. "Babies tolerate it well."
Jane's mother said, "See, you're just being a new mother. You have to let it go."
Jane tried to picture Michael as a man. She tried to envision him on top of a pot-bellied, droopy-breasted woman. She tried to decide whether he had a foreskin, and whether his wife would be happy. But all she could picture was a crying baby.
That afternoon as Jane flipped through Michael's new baby book, she saw a page that said, "Baby's First Haircut." It had a little envelope glued on for the snip of hair to go into.
When the nurse came in again, Jane asked, "Can I have the foreskin? For his baby book?"
The nurse set down her blood pressure cuff and looked at Jane for a long minute. "Jesus, will you save all his toenail clippings, too?" Then she left the room.
The next morning when Michael came back from the hospital nursery, his penis was wrapped in gauze. His face was red and puffy from crying.
"Keep it coated with Vaseline," the nurse said. "Keep urine off the gauze. Change the gauze at every diaper change."
Bill saw the penis and said, "Holy shit, it looks bad."
In Michael's little crib, there was a baggie stuffed with a brown wad of paper towel. "That's for you," the nurse said. "For your baby book."
Jane didn't open the baggie in the hospital. She didn't tell Bill about it, either. When she got home to the apartment, she put the baggie in the top drawer of Michael's dresser and left it there.
Many weeks later, she was rinsing bottles under the tap when she began to wonder how one gives back a foreskin. As a wedding gift? In some special manly version of a Hope Chest, along with K-Y Jelly and a naked photo of his high school girlfriend? "Sorry we took this from you, son. It's yours again now."
No, Michael's penis had healed by then, and the little piece of skin had surely dried up. Any pleasure it might have given him was gone, and her pleasure in it was gone, too.
She waited until a day with a stiff breeze to open up the apartment window. She took the baggie from the drawer and unwrapped it carefully.
Inside the wad of hospital-grade brown paper towel was a bloody little piece of skin, dried and hardening around the edges. She held the little scab of flesh gingerly between her thumb and forefinger. She studied it.
"Let it go," she told herself. "Just let it go."
She stuck her arm out the window and opened her fisted hand.
As she was looking at her palm, her focus shifted. The people on the sidewalk below were pointing to some spot above her head. Without thinking, she turned her head to look. That's when the little piece of skin lifted up on the breeze and took flight.
She reached out to grab it, a moment too late.
Monday, July 13, 2009
The 5,000-Pound Gorilla
By Mark Terry
King Kong had climbed the Empire State Building. Well, not really. It was just a giant inflatable ape on the side of the building to promote another Kong movie. Mary did what everyone else did, though, she craned her neck and raised her hand and pointed.
“Hey, nice tat.”
Mary dropped her hand and looked at the speaker, a tall smiling man with a shaved head. “What?” She knew what he’d said and her face flushed, but she was going to pretend she didn’t know what he was talking about. A little voice in her head reprimanded her: That’s not the point, Mary.
“Your wrist,” he said, tapping his own. “I saw your tattoo when you pointed. Just like mine.” He pulled back the wrist of his sweater. Sure enough, on the underside of his right wrist was a tattoo identical to hers. In ornate script it said: La Bella Vita. Unconsciously, she covered her tattoo with her hand.
“I didn’t even know it was a Lindsay Lohan song,” he confessed. “I just liked what it said. ‘A Beautiful Life.’ Hell. I didn’t even know who Lindsay Lohan was.” He held out his hand. “I’m Jude.”
Hesitantly she took his hand. “Mary.”
After letting go of her hand, he took off his sunglasses to reveal warm blue eyes. He smiled and she thought he was a lot less menacing without the sunglasses. The shaved head was kind of sexy in a badass sort of way, but he wore a black sweater over a white T-shirt. Not so badass. Kind of a nerd.
He cocked his head and said, “Another King Kong film. In 3D no less.”
Mary followed his gaze. “I’ve never gotten the appeal.”
“Me neither. Besides, you go to a mysterious island that’s got dinosaurs on it, what do you bring home? The big monkey. Go figure. Hey, I’m sorry I embarrassed you about the tattoo.”
Mary felt her face burn. “It was, sort of, well, you know, one of those things.”
Jude cocked his head. “One of those things? Like, you got drunk with friends and they dared you, or you were trying to mark something, like, I don’t know, I have a friend who competed in the Kona Ironman Triathlon, and she had the ironman symbol tattooed on her foot. Like that?”
"The second one. Marking something, I guess.” Yes, she thought. Two years after Jim died. The tattoo was supposed to be a reminder, it’s time to move on with your life. To have a life. Maybe: get a life.
A guy in a mustard-colored cardigan and a bow tie approached them, a video camera in his hand. “I loooooovvvve Kong!” he crowed. “It’s like, my favorite movie of all time! The very best!”
In a totally serious voice Jude said, “Which one?”
“The first one, of course.”
“You mean the one with Jessica Lang?” Mary knew Jude was giving the guy a hard time.
“What?” the geek shrieked. “That awful piece of—”
Mary rolled her eyes, but couldn’t stop giggling. She saw the gleam in Jude’s eyes and laughed out loud for the first time in, well, two years. “He’s teasing you,” she said. “Calm down.”
Jude said, “My favorite movie is Sleepless In Seattle. How about you?”
A guy who liked chick flicks. Keeping a straight face she said, “Transformers.”
He laughed. “One or two? I liked the first one better than the second one. I thought the dialogue was a lot deeper. I really—”
“Stop,” she said, laughing again. “I don’t know what my favorite movie is.”
The geek snorted and wandered away to bug someone else about the gorilla. Jude said, “Maybe you could remember over a drink. I hear there’s a smoothie bar right around the corner.”
“Or maybe the Chai Latte Mocha Madness up the street.”
“Or maybe, you know—”
“Yes,” she said, thinking about her tattoo. A beautiful life. “Let’s go have a drink. Maybe I can come up with my second favorite movie after Transformers.”
She and Jude strolled toward the corner, toward, well, what? A beautiful life? An open doorway, maybe? Jude interrupted her thoughts. “I bet your second favorite is Death Race 2000.”
Laughing, she said, “How did you know? It’s like you’re reading my mind.”
He tapped his wrist. “Must be karma.”