Tag Archives: short story

Mega

20140821-193451-70491757.jpg

The algae green Salish Sea roiled and boiled with orange and white anemones, kelp, and bits of unidentifiable jetsam like the devil’s cioppino beneath me. My grip on the ketch was precarious, having grabbed a cleat near the stem, and I slammed into the side of the boat as it pitched violently side to side. My feet were freezing cold and swimming in my shoes, having been dunked repeatedly.

With the next upwards roll, I heaved myself onto the deck and lay spread-eagled, gasping for breath on the way back down until the sharp jerk from the mooring lines galvanized me to action again. Grasping at rigging to anchor myself, I clambered up and across the pitching deck and then frantically struggled to cast off, fearful of losing a finger in the process.

Free of the dock, the boat righted itself quickly and bobbed almost pleasantly about in the now strengthening northerly current. I saw sculpins, cod, dogfish, flounder, and even an octopus struggling in the stirred brew upon which I now sailed. Gathering my breath and bearings, I quickly lost them again as my belly turned to ice, connecting the basso rumblings to reality.

The earthquake was still happening. Office towers swayed as I watched rippling waves pass beneath them as if some giant were hammering on the earth nearby. Vast chunks of downtown waterfront piers tumbled onto what now looked like the muddy flanks of a raging river instead of a working harbor. Hillsides slumped and towering conifers fell and became floating tangles.

Swept along, I saw people struggling out of shattered homes, dazedly blinking in the bright sunlight. Some structures were ablaze.

I moved to the tiller and steered towards the deepest part of the Sound, fearful of foundering on the now steepening shore. There was nothing to do now but wait.

Mute

I have vignette writer’s block.

Everything’s a one-way trap right now. The world tumbles into my brain, sloshes around, and generates all sorts of feelings and sometimes snippets of thoughts, but I’m unable to form any sort of narrative.

It’s the evoked memory of feeling carefree as a child while looking at electric blue Forget-Me-Nots against a field of green, but having no story around that memory other than the moment of standing there, looking at at flowers.

It’s the undifferentiated rage that erupts past the seams of many layered, buried, and compartmentalized moments of anger across a lifetime, triggered by something completely outside of my control, leaving me shouting demonic gibberish at the universe in my inability to articulate anything coherent.

It’s the tender moment of a son reaching for my hand as we lay down together for a nap.

It’s the juxtaposition of a sublime, solitary pleasure while harvesting oysters and enjoying the wonders of the varied life in the tide flats contrasted with the unsolvable horror of turning to see the shore swarming with people and realizing I’m part of the swarm decimating the environment.

It’s the lost in time drowse, unsure if the memory gliding through is from today or years past.

It’s feeling the inevitable pull when looking at a demographic chart and noticing I’m already halfway or more, if I’m lucky.

Each moment a dewdrop that evaporates with the rising sun, but there’s no story to tie them together. No story at all.

1,000 Words

20140204-090616.jpg
We never talked about what we were building.

Most of our communications were pointed tools or hand gestures. By the time the final piece was laid, we had exchanged at the most 1,000 words. When we did talk, it was desultory and brief.

More often than not, we would savor these usually one-sided conversations. These interruptions were mini oases between the barren repetitions of laying brick and mortar and the haunting, silent faces that we observed with grim regard as they shuffled by.

“Need more,” I would grunt while pointing with a gritty hand thrust forward. My companion would stop and look. Then we would both stand and stare at an empty trough of mortar, hoping against hope that we would truly be out, but the guards always brought more. We mixed as slowly as we could without risking their ire and punishment of impression into the never-ending column.

My first companion quit.

When we completed what we thought were garbage incinerators, we both stood proudly admiring our handiwork. The Schutzhaftlagerführer slapped us on the back and commended us for our handiwork as he handed us the plans for our next task. We were all smiles until the ovens were lit and to our horror, the first “waste” was thrown in. It was a naked girl of maybe six with a shaven head.

The next day, he stabbed himself in the neck with a trowel after reporting for work, and I watched as his body was loaded onto a cart and delivered to his previous toils.

I never asked my new companion’s name.

It didn’t matter.

There was nothing to talk about.

Anselo’s Poetry – A Story – Part 7

I’ve been in Dayton five days, but it feels like much longer, and I have at least another five to go. My world here has mostly lain on a triangle path of my hotel room, the dusty and ill-kept seventh floor office where I have been performing regular open-case brain duplication, and the limited dining options in downtown. Time in the real world flows in hours and minutes, but in my world, its only measures are the teardown, the meditative waiting for the audible “beep-beep” of a successful dupe, and the packaging of the precious electronic payload into cardboard boxes, protected only by styrofoam and tape.

I had walked about a mile and a half out of the decaying downtown core to a moving truck rental shop in order to purchase the boxes the first day. The only store in-city that sold boxes charged triple what the moving place did, and seeing that my fixed bid contract meant that every penny saved went directly into my pocket after I got reimbursed, the walk was worth it.

A walking tour of a rust belt city well past its prime should be part of every business school curriculum and required for every entrepreneur before they deposit their first check from investors in order to wring the hubris from them. There are excellent reminders of the impermanence of our working endeavors everywhere.

Empty streets of downtown with previously prime, vacant retail space whose blank windows reflect the emptiness of so many who pass before them. All patiently offer a name and a phone number to the next dreamer who peers past the despair and sees an oasis of activity in a desert of doldrums.

Shuttered brick factories, rusty gates chained, weeds exploding from every crack in the pavement, signage of some long gone sub-sub-contractor to a former global conglomerate weathered to indecipherability. Once vital commercial organs are now cancerous blots in the geography of commerce, decaying until removal.

Duck into the grocers for some snacks and see the sad, poor collection of produce and vegetables, and the overweight of carbohydrates to protein. You can sense the resignation of those for whom shopping there is a regular part of their lives and then you’ll see, one, two, three, four people in a row in line pay with food stamps.

Feel the gloomy vibrations from mixed-use blocks where graffiti- and gang-branded corner shops abut tidy but pale yards strewn with children’s toys. See where fire did not purify but stain. Hope is now far, far away in another country and where they dream of their own future domestic glories. If only they could both step back and see the ouroboros that links them, they might find a new pole star to follow, for the current one leads them to the same but individually expressed ruins – crumbling apparatus and Christo-like-wrapped blights.

Though my circadian rhythms are off-tempo due to the varying periods of my surgeries, when I do rest, it has been uneasy, as the feel of this place has depressed me and conformed me to the same undirected and uninspired gait of the locals. At times, when I open my eyes after rest, I am confused, unsure if it is pre-dawn or post-sundown. There is only the “beep-beep” and screech of tape to mark the passages, and they have no use for the sun.

This time, I awake in my hotel room, grope about for the light switch to the lamp on the nightstand next to me, and brush something small off onto the floor. I swing my legs to sit on the side of the bed. The light blazes and I cannot see for a bit, but as I blink dust and crust from my eyes, they eventually focus on something round between my feet.

There, laying on the carpet between my feet, is a white button.

Puzzled, I lean to pick it up, but my hand hovers over the disc. Maybe it is the sleep depravation or an echo of a bad dream previously long-forgotten, but a sudden queasiness settles in me the more I think of picking it up. Sitting back up, I stare at it while naked and trying to understand why I feel this way.

Then I start wondering where the hell it came from in the first place.

Clearly a shirt button, I perform a quick mental catalog search of the shirts I brought with me and come up blank. Everything I have with me is t-shirts or zippered pull-overs. I try and remember if it was there when I went to bed.

I have no recollection of it, but it would have been easy to miss. I give a mental shrug and ascribe it to a previous guest, with housekeeping finding it under the bed or couch and placing it on the nightstand for me, thinking it was mine. I lean over and snatch it from the floor, and on the way up, my mouth fills with a metallic tang and then starts to water. My stomach lurches, and I can feel the bile raising in my gorge.

As a child, I once went to a Mariners baseball game with my mother at the Kingdome, and inning after inning, munched down King Dogs like it was a perverted rally streak superstition. The team probably lost, but as I was scrambling out of bed towards the sink in the bathroom, the memory of the morning after that game vividly came back to me.

I am dreaming, and I am beginning to drown.

Lost or abandoned in the middle of an unnamed ocean on a clear night, the waves buffet me around as if the very breath of an angry Poseidon are behind each one. Walls of water that leap and crash – one moment I am leagues underwater – merge and split – the next fired through froth and sailing through the air – grind and tear – my limbs are tattered rags – and I am forced to gulp deep draughts of briny juice. Coughing and spitting out the salty remainder from illions of drops of rain that fell and dissolved the stone over which it fell for almost two trillion days, a pirate galleon crests the nearest wave, black raider banner flapping the breeze, demiculverins bristling and smoking, it zips athwart me and then the cannons begin to blaze.

I see the balls pass before I hear the powder-bursts, large melon-sized baseballs that soundlessly punch holes in the seething waves all around me, and then I hear the off-rhythm, bass staccato claps echo off the surrounding water and then vibrate my chest, and I expel more thimbles of my swallow into the sea.

“HOME RUN!!!” Comes the cry from the parrot-bedecked pirate captain as he and his crew wave their caps in wild salute as they zoom past, excepting one man who heaves a bucket-full of sausages over the side and towards me to float there like pork sea cucumbers, three straining at the wheel, and two pulling at the tiller, which guides them straight up and over the nearest looming El Capitan wave with mizzenmasts bending, wet canvas straining the riggings, and then disappear out of sight, leaving me with only a snapshot memory of their crenelated stern-castle and a terrible thirst as I went under for the last time.

I run to the bathroom, and while gripping the countertop and retching into the sink, I am confused, wondering how picking up a button I have never seen before caused me to recall an unpleasant morning once spent as a child cleaning my bed of vomited hot dogs. I rinse out my mouth and realize I feel fine now – hungry even. Truly confused, I let it go for now and shower.

Emerging from the bathroom, I spot the button on the floor, dropped in my haste. Gingerly skirting around it, I dress and spy through the curtains that another day is arriving and see that if I hustle, I can get to work before the crazy receptionist. Before I even shut my door on the way out, I am already thinking about how many computer brains I can duplicate prior to lunch.

In the elevator on on the way up to my dusty hole, I ascribe my earlier sickness to overwork, and vow to take some time off when I can afford to.

A Cargo Cult of Memories

20140107-080846.jpg

I’m pleased to announce the release of my first short story collection, A Cargo Cult of Memories on Amazon Kindle!

The collection includes ten short stories that I’ve previously published here on my blog. If you enjoy my writing, I’d really appreciate it if you’d pass along the Amazon URL to your friends for consideration.

All set in the Pacific Northwest, each story offers something different:

Salamanders – Can what we found in childhood be rediscovered as an adult?

Infinity – Some journeys take a lifetime.

Short Plat – Beyond hope lies hope.

The Last Will and Testament of Bartholomew Maintwhistle of Dunlap, Washington – People from the East Coast hated Seattle winters before people from California did.

The Window – If you’re not fifteen minutes early, you’re late.

Thanksgivinghood – Thanksgiving + 911 = SNAFU.

Nisqually – What would you do if you had a solo mountaineering accident?

Disneyland – It’s not always the happiest place on earth.

Goldfish – Studies show that watching tropical fish can lower your blood pressure.

Mistakes Were Made – Pray you never have to throw yourself before the mercy of the court like this.

Thanks to everyone for your support!

Now back to work on my novel…

Chris

Mistakes Were Made

Macaca mulatta in Guiyang
1 CASE ID: 9:13-CR-14388
2
3 STATEMENT BY THE DEFENDANT PRIOR TO SENTENCING:
4
5 "Your honor, some things careen out of control due to
6 ignorance, and my child's group science fair project is an
7 example of that. I really had no idea what was going on,
8 and I will forever carry a burden of guilt and shame for what
9 happened. I accept full responsibility for all the hurt,
10 confusion, and trouble, and will fully compensate all affected
11 parties.
12
13 I beg the court for leniency and the indulgence of explaining
14 how matters came to pass, as there are multiple untruths being
15 spread that impugn the honor of my family and imply that
16 malice was behind the events, when none whatsoever was
17 present.
18
19 Your honor, it is true that my daughter's project was examining
20 the brain chemistry of addiction. It is also true that I supported
21 this project financially by giving her my credit card number
22 in order to purchase supplies. It is true that I neither provided
23 oversight of the finances nor of the project.
24
25 I believe, and still do, that children must be accorded a certain
26 liberty in order to learn and should be graded on the quality of
27 their work, not by how well their parents assisted them. Of this
28 I am guilty.
29
30 Concerning the rhesus monkey, I am at a loss how the animal
31 husbandry firm my daughter and her friends ordered it from
32 did not vet her as a buyer. My lawyer advises me that they
33 have conveniently lost the purchase order and live animal
34 laboratory certification that should accompany any order.
35
36 That the local pet shop did not bat an eye at a sixteen
37 year-old girl ordering, and I quote from their order sheet, "One
38 small, stainless steel primate enclosure and three, forty-pound
39 bags of monkey chow" with her father's credit card is beyond
40 me. Such is capitalism nowadays, a sale at any cost, no matter
41 how farcical, I guess.
42
43 I also must look askew at my credit card company's anti-fraud
44 division for allowing daily maximum cash advances until my
45 card was maxed out. A close review of my account shows that
46 I had never, ever taken a cash advance prior.
47
48 Now, as to the trafficking of seven kilograms of cocaine, this
49 can be explained by entrapment, a unit measure mix-up, and
50 youthful naïveté.
51
52 The testing protocol my girl downloaded from the Internet
53 called for seven grams total for the experiment. Not familiar
54 with the metric system, which is an indictment of the poor state
55 of science education in my district, she took the word of the
56 undercover DEA agent who told her that what she really wanted
57 was seven kilograms.
58
59 The science group did eventually figure it out after they brought
60 it home, but by then it was too late; the transaction was
61 complete.
62
63 At this point I must stress that the agent's own report says,
64 "Suspect indicated she needed a bunch of cocaine so she and her
65 friends could get as high as monkeys," which is such an amazing
66 twisting of the facts to be laughable and is clearly a misquote.
67
68 I will let the court draw its own conclusions around the DEA's
69 judgement of actually delivering to an underage girl seven
70 kilograms of cocaine. Aren't there laws against providing minors
71 with controlled substances?
72
73 With regards to the headless monkey corpse in the ice cream
74 freezer at school, it was a practical joke gone awry, and our
75 daughter and family deeply regret the lunchroom supervisor's heart
76 attack upon discovery of the body. We wish Mrs. Stowe a speedy
77 convalescence.
78
79 I feel for her, as I can tell you from personal experience that it
80 is a shock to discover monkey body parts in your kitchen. In our
81 case, it was after we posted bail and our daughter showed us the
82 rest of the monkey's remains in the recycling bin and the
83 bloody meat slicer in a garbage bag under the sink. Given
84 all that, there is no truth to the rumor that she obtained the
85 brain slices she exhibited at the show from a break-in at the
86 local research hospital.
87
88 About the show itself; this was, again, a clear case of the
89 teenage mind at work. It does not excuse the behavior, but it
90 does at least explain it.
91
92 As we all know, the girls' exhibit drew a crowd. Their idea
93 to demonstrate addictive behaviors at the show by placing "sugar-
94 coated graham snacks" at their table was, obviously, dumb.
95
96 I extend my deepest apologies on behalf of my daughter to
97 all the parents, students, family, friends, and staff who ate the
98 cocaine-dusted monkey chow and to all who were injured in
99 the resulting melee.
100
101 We will, of course, pay all medical expenses and for the
102 replacement of the bleachers, basketball backboards, plumbing
103 and subsequent water damage, and detox for Mrs. Mayfair, the
104 principal. We deeply regret breaking her narcotics sobriety
105 and wish her well for the future.
106
107 Humbly,
108 Alex Southworth
109
110
111 APPENDED TO THE RECORD AS EXHIBIT S.

Atonement

I weaved, and luckily the feces flew by my face.

“You’re the worst fucking dad in the world! I fucking hate you! I want to get out of here!”

The shrill pipe of the scream doesn’t mesh with the adult curse. I have to remind myself not to take it personally and that he learned it from the kid with Tourette’s. The angry boy is here now, not the sweet one who calls kittens cute.

“You need to get cleaned up. You’re hungry. You need to eat.”

“Grrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!” GO! AWAY!” His fists start windmilling at me and he also tries to kick. His head’s down, but I can see him looking out the corners of his eyes, trying to avoid stepping in his own effluent.

I hold him away with my arm. I’m hoping he doesn’t grab me. I don’t want shit on my sleeve. “You need to get cleaned up.”

“Go away! I hate you!”

It stinks in here. There’s piss and shit on the linoleum floor and the padded walls. I’d be angry about being in here, too.

“Come on, let’s go get you cleaned up.”

“RRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!” He leans into me and lands a few glancing blows on my chest. Satisfied, he pulls back and crouches in the corner.

“Mark, you can’t sit in this room naked from the waist down all day. What are you going to do?”

“Go away, dad. I hate you.”

“What do you want to do here?” the principal asks me from behind.

“I don’t know yet. I think wrap him in a towel or blanket and take him to my car.”

“I’m not going, dad. I’m staying here.”

“I thought you wanted to leave?”

“I’m not going anywhere with you.” He pokes at a turd with his finger.

Later that evening at storytime he interrupts me, “Dad, I was thinking that in graveyards, they should have bells on top of tombstones attached to strings that you could pull from inside the coffin in case someone was buried by mistake.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, that way they could ring the bell and someone could come and dig them up.”

“Where did you hear about that?”

“Nowhere. I just thought it up.”

When I turn out the light, kiss him goodnight, and tell him I love him, he tells me in a quiet whisper, “I love you dad. I’m sorry about today. I don’t mean what I say when I’m angry. You’re the best dad in the whole world.”

“Thanks, Mark, I love you too.”