The Final Election

presidential_election_2016_810_500_55_s_c1Outside, the day was ending. It was ambling toward dusk, though that reflected more in the shade the overcast clouds turned, rather than any true vibrancy in the world. It was autumn, and most of the leaves were already gone. Matt Ellenberg downed the last of his oversized caffeine mug, closed his spreadsheets, and waited for the end of day chime.

This election year had been particularly rough. Political ads drowned out all reason and substance on the TV, day and night, from the anchors’ pre-paid statements to the ads themselves placed on repeat. No one yelled, as they used to. No one threw any tantrums. But the insidious thrum of the words which ate so greedily at all sense made that worse, not better. Hours of talk, with nothing to say.

The election was great.

The election was simple.

Thank God above for rendering unto Caesar such a wondrous institution as the election.

When the bell rang and Matt was released from his chair, he joined the cattle press out of the building. Only the last vestiges of sun remained by then—greatness came from those who worked hard, not played hard. They shuffled to their cars, a sea of suits and even a few odd skirts, but they were in too much of a rush for chatter. Matt joined the queue of cars as quickly as he could, which joined the queue of other buildings’ departures onto a flooded highway. He cranked the radio as he prepared for a sit.

After an hour’s crawl out of the city, Matt found himself staring out at the silhouettes of buildings. Among them, a church long closed—his polling place. The computers had already analyzed, totaled, and spat out the election results. There was no need shuffle under the boards and nails and claw up some discarded piece of paper. Their system was too efficient for that.

Similar reasons governed their schedule, since the last election. What need was left for daylight? Idle hands and all that. A nation was made great on the backbone of its workforce. If people didn’t want to spend the day working, they didn’t deserve to eat, and if they didn’t want to eat, they didn’t deserve to vote, because a person who didn’t eat was practically a dead man. Of course it was logical. What sort of an illogical dolt supported people who were anti-food?

Work. Eat. Screw. Sleep. For the children? Even simpler: home school. Eat. Sleep. Or, in the case of Matt’s daughter: Etiquette lessons. Eat. Sleep. This was how great nations were assembled.

At home, Matt slunk inside and dashed off his fabric chains as quickly as he could. He called out, but no one answered—his wife was still caught in traffic, then. Creeping down the hall, hoping for a word with his daughter, he cracked her door just slightly, but found her snores enough to drown all else. Quietly, he clacked the door again and headed back downstairs.

Red numerals on the stove declared it for 9 o’clock. The quickest he had gotten home in a week. He had a whole hour before bed. With a bit of giddiness in his step, Matt lunged onto the couch, spread out, and basked in being able to wholly extend. Then he turned on the TV for the nightly update.

Numbers overlaid state maps behind a man behind a desk. Mr. Schneider, the regional approved anchorman, was all smiles and comb over. As a government authorized voice—journalists, it needed to be said, could not be trusted with facts and figures, for they had the tendency to lie—with computer backing, he conducted the tedious task of transferring raw data to voice based reproduction without adding anything which might be construed as opinion. People tended to feel sorry for him, or not think much about him at all.

After a ritual salute, the man rested his hand carelessly on the desk. He attempted to affect an air of calm.

“Following back and forth as to the merits of border closure, it’s clear that Indiana would have sided with President…”

A key rattled in the lock. Matt looked up and waved at his harried wife, clutching groceries in her overworked arms. Beth stumbled inside and swung the door shut with a heel. When she had finished dropping everything on the counter, she dried her hands on her apron and said, “Didn’t think I’d get home nearly in time.” Then she came over and sat on the floor before the couch, so she could lean her head back into him.

“You’re in time,” Matt said. “Don’t worry none. They’re still doing the Midwest. No surprises there.”

Beth batted him good-naturedly on the arm and kissed his knuckles. “They wouldn’t stop nattering at the grocery about Florida. Kept saying their machines were ripe for hackers.” She rolled her eyes and rested her head on him. “Been saying that for years.”

Not that it mattered, now.

On the screen, the anchor moved brusquely through the Midwest states, ticking one after the other for the incumbent president. It was reassuring to know that, had they been allowed to vote, the computers found that most people would have made the right decision. Matt found his head nodding along with the announcements—dissent in the heartland wouldn’t have been kosher.

“On to the real battleground state,” Mr. Schneider said. “Florida. While immigration changes altered the nature of their economy over recent years, what citizens are left would have voted early and vigorously. The computers predict the cities, still reeling with the violence of previous governments, would have had some discrepancies in voting, but in the rural districts, where polls were open long and without issue, aging members of the constituency would have turned up early and turned the tide. For that reason, Florida seems to have stayed the course. It hasn’t been easy for them, but they have worked hard to make America great again.”

Matt’s fist made a little air pump. Florida had been uncertain. Some of the undesirables were still able to vote there, as the state’s bloated bureaucracy had made it impossible to purge them all in the time between elections. The Feds did what they could, but since they had been cut to bare essentials, there was only so much they could do in the time allowed. Efficient, cost affordable, but slow. Matt could live with that. Apparently, so could the rest of the country.

The lottery of states went on like this almost until the 10 o’clock bell, which would denote the onset of curfew. It was a necessary evil. After the sporadic voting of previous elections, the government had worked tirelessly to round up for jails or deportation those who had no proper connection to the country, but there were always some who slipped through the nets. On the run, with the blue arm of the law on their tails, they tended to be more dangerous than ever. It simply wasn’t safe outside for proper people after dark—no matter how many patrols came through.

Most of America had been through this so many times at this point that they only half-listened to the read-throughs. Matt knew people at work who couldn’t have even told him which way their own state leaned. Disgusting, in his opinion. If one didn’t know what way their state might have been led, they didn’t know the problems they needed to address. The battles still to be fought. Democracy was never safe from those who would take advantage, if given half a chance.

“Seems like they just don’t take their time anymore, you know?”

Matt stirred. “What’s that, dear?”

“The anchors. They don’t give it the flare it deserves. It’s just a straight read. I get the need for objectivity, but they don’t seem to take any joy in it either.” Beth shook her head. “It’s a show. They do still remember that, don’t they?”

He found himself nodding again. He hadn’t thought of it like that. People deserved to be entertained as much as informed.

“Shh. Here comes California.”

That was always the trouble spot. Everyone knew it. Dissenters and squatters, the lot of them. They had actually rioted during the last election, but—thank goodness for those brave men and women—the news had informed them that police heroically suppressed the chaos before it could get out of hand. A few arrests and everyone went home. One fellow needed to be punched on national TV, but as the president liked to say, if you saw a protester, it was only good and right to knock the crap out of them. How else would they learn?

“Some of the girls said Cali was talking about seceding.”

Matt felt the blood go to his cheeks. “Hogwash.”

“It’s true. Mrs. Adams said—”

“Mrs. Adams is an old gossip, and her man’s not even full American.”

His wife pursed her lips and tilted her head. “Pack of crazy fools, but it don’t make them less right.”

“Alright, alright, and what makes them say that? About Cali, I mean.”

Beth chuckled. “Said there were some things going around social media. No deportation without representation or some nonsense like that.”

Oh how he rolled his eyes. California was old-fashioned to the extreme. Not a lick of sense in their heads, and no ability to go with modern times. They still liked to say their economy had been hit, that they had lost people when the deportations happened. Despite all the evidence to the contrary. They were always making things up, trying to weasel out of Federal laws. Just a sure sign the swamp had seeded itself deep there. Some things didn’t drain as quick as others.

Fortunately, those folks didn’t have the guns. Didn’t believe in that right. Well, that sure came back to bite them in the ass.

“He’s almost through!” His wife exclaimed.

After that, there was a long, breathless pause as Mr. Schneider steeled his composure. Then he wagged his electronic notepad in the air with a tired frown. He said, “Well then, fellows. Following that unpleasantness, let’s break it down. California turned out in record lows this year. Amid reports of voter intimidation, vote tampering, and all the like, projections have been enough for the National Guard to be called up to protect citizen interest. Though it turns out that numbers went the opposite way of the rest of the country—repudiating the national drive—I emphasize once again what would have been low voter turnout. There is no reason to believe that California, able to exercise its rights in a free society, without fear of oppression by dissenting parties, would have turned its back on the processes which are daily changing the nature of its economy and society.”

The map lit up, all red, with just that slightest tinge of blue along the West Coast. Numbers skewed the results even further into the scarlet, until the whole thing looked like a blood orchid with only a barest tip in the water. After this, California would be hard-pressed to reach out to other states for support. No one wanted to aid a rebel.

“Well that was exciting,” his wife tittered.

He ran a hand through her hair and kissed the top of Beth’s head. “And you said it was lacking in flare.”

Beth blushed a bit, and batted a hand out playfully. How he loved her. Matt would have been proud to vote for her, as much as for himself. But he understood his place—and he was proud she understood hers as well. Women, in particular, had proven too fickle to be trusted with so great a right. No matter what the West Coast said.

“They’re going to say it wasn’t fair, you know,” Beth said.

“Who?”

“California.”

He snorted. “Who cares what they say? They’re cheats and liars. You heard the man. Voter fraud. Suppression. All that fascist crap you get when people don’t like what you have to say. Freedom this and freedom that—right up until you disagree with them.”

He scoffed and sat up on the couch. He glanced at the clock and frowned. 10:10. He was going to be tired in the morning.

“Do you think the computers ever get it wrong?”

He was distracted. Matt wanted to be in bed, and lack of sleep made him cranky. “What’s that?” He asked, glancing back at his wife.

Beth had turned the TV off by then, but she was staring at the blank screen as though willpower alone might plant more substance into the flickering box.

She said, “The computers. Do you think it would be different if we actually voted?”

Matt, who worked with computers all day long, found the idea positively scandalous. He had to wonder how his dear wife ever got such a horrid idea in her head. They did it this way so there wasn’t the tension of uncertainty any longer. Simple as that.

“I think you’re tired, and should get some sleep. You know how the girls always wear you out.”

Beth stared a moment longer at the screen, lips curling downward into an approximation of a frown. He hesitated, watching her, uncertain of what to say. Nerves drummed on edge and he marveled how, for the first time in recent memory, his blood pressure threatened to rise.

Then her head shook it all away, and she took his hand in hers. “Shall we?” she asked, and they walked into the darkness without another thought.

Dusk

Halloween is and has always seen, at least in part, a time to gather around and share some of the things which nibble at our unease. Years ago, Neil Gaiman solidified that with a delightful tradition known as “All Hallow’s Read,” in which writers are encouraged to spread the fear with free tales from the dark for a day, a week, however they want to do it, really…

Last year, for me, that included an ode to the dead. This year, it takes a slightly different tack. The story which follows is unpublished, brief, and just spooky enough, I hope, for Halloween. It’s called “Dusk.”

And if you prefer to have someone read to you by the campfire instead, well…you can also hear my own reading of it at Soundcloud. Just turn off the lights and wait until dusk for full effect.

Dusk

Dusk. I can hear them in the walls. The chitter of their legs rattles plaster.

Their poison stains the floorboards. My own is still with the fear of it, of the slow wine burn of their drink. They cannot be bated. Everywhere, the traps lay; they ignore them, build new roads into the dust and dark.

Mother takes them for the creak of trees in dead of night. She cannot hear them. Will not hear them. Heavy lies the whispers: do not be afraid, little fly, we just come to play. Can you hear the whispers? The world is walking by.

I weep for the dark, for the shadows of their web. Another moonless night. Do spiders know our words? Because they tell me things. The shameful things brother watches. I hear them scuttle through the laughter of their claims: have you heard what teacher says of his students behind their backs? I don’t want to know, but all the same they whisper.

They weave it into their webs.

I close my eyes to blot out threads winding through the cracks. Breathe in. Breathe out. Drift. They are playing games with me.

Another whisper wraps me tighter. They are here. I am awake, but I will not open my eyes.

Simpering spiders, they say I do not understand. Secrets pour from the walls and their fangs lick my veins.

They just want someone to read their tapestry.

Forsaken

(Follow along with my reading above, or head into this short story all on your own below…)

Voices echoed in the hills—a low, pleating wail which offered itself to the heavens. It was not pleasant, but their maker was no god of music. The tone deaf were prominent amongst their priesthood, and as was often the case, deaf in tone did not make the volume any lesser fair.

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Image by Sergey Nivens

Ancient rites guided them through the flames. There were no sounds before them, only ripples after. The flames, stacked out in exact order days before, obscured their faces from those beyond, but also unnerved the honored guest at their center. It snorted and bleated, twisted against its ropes—a primal premonition, but too young to do anything about it. A white calf for creation—something which might be reborn from the ashes.

At the center of their forest rite, a broad man stepped up to the calf and, illuminated in the dance of shadows, split its skull with a machete. It sauntered this way, then that, and finally heaved to its knees, and further still, until it lay in a pool of its own lifeblood.

In the north, it would have been a sheep. To the west, where the earth cracked and sundered and heaved high into the wisps of sky, goats. And to the south: also cows. Except plural. Because some people simply felt more was better.

As one, all of these people would reach out their hands and raise their voices to beseech the light beyond their own putrescent sparks, and as one, they were not foolish enough to wait for the silence which would greet them.

Rites were simply that: rites, done for their own sake. History was soothing, repetition more so.

The priests of the forest believed this, right up until the moment the sky yowled and quaked as with a waking man, and in the blinded flailing of its fists, a lightning bolt took them clean off their feet. And their feet from their legs. And their legs from their bodies.

Messy business.

Their god told Himself it was high time. These people had no idea how noisy such prayers could be, and He had been putting up with them for centuries. It wasn’t that they had earned His enmity. They were beneath or beyond that. However one chose to look at it.

Lamentations. One might have called it irony, that in their despair, the mass of disaffected devotees prayed still harder to the god that wrought that lamentation upon them. Belief was a hard thing to shake. People hid in it. Wrapped themselves in it like a warm blanket, and it need never do a single thing for them, so long as it gave them something to whisper to in the dark of night. Charity was not in weighing their fate, it was in smashing apart the desperation to which they clung.

The sky darkened and clouds thickened to oil, and their heartbeats drummed with the furor of men who had suddenly lost sight of the world. Wind swarmed about them, and where it swirled, it tore their world to pieces—dust and mortar, bits of bits on the wind, a maelstrom of devastation which ground them all to nothing. To silence.

The time had come to end it.

It was not their fault. They were only human and He was only…an embodiment. Thoughts gave Him form, and mixed in with thought was emotion and He could not help that wrath was an emotion. No less than He could resist the entity which had fanned that wrath.

She thought Him weak.

She thought Him nothing.

Well. Then He would teach Her destruction. There was no flare quite so grand as that, even if the aftermath was quite…mundane.

Or so He thought, until His hurricanes met a wall. Rock surged against Him, His own wind rolled apart, and as all turned in on itself, the waves frosted and burst into nothing. Then She was there, and where all the rest of the world went limp before His fury, She strode forward, completely exposed but undistressed, a boiling wall of fury hotter than the heart of a star. She stood at the center of this new storm, effortless and fair-haired, a simple woman for all else She revealed, no trace of the desire which had borne this madness at the first.

He let out his hands and the storms subsided. He breathed deep of their world and drew the squalls of His wrath away. Yet Her own storms—at the heart of which, He now saw, lay the two halves of a city they had always favored—continued to enwrap Her, as though She did not trust this lull was real. Such distrust was an insult, every bit as palpable as Her rebuke. The very earth boiled with His distaste. She was squat. Broad of hip and muscled as He, and even through the form She held, He could not mistake Her perfection.

“Do my gestures not amuse you, Beauty?” He said.

“Your gestures do nothing more than name you Destroyer. First comes silence, then devastation. These are not the actions of a beast, nor a god, not even one of men—men your actions spawned, I might add, though you’ve not wit enough to care. What would I say of your ‘gestures’? I say they name you a child, oh God, for you have one’s grasp of morals.”

We make morality!”

He boomed, for He was Creation, and it was He who made all that was and all that could be. It was not childishness, nor cruelty—none of this would even exist without Him to spur it.

Laughter resounded from Her, as though She perceived no threat at all. Then She said, chilly, “You believe, as a child, that you are above everything, and are petulant in your belief that satisfaction comes from the rest of us going along precisely with your way of seeing.”

Beneath His feet, the boundaries of His creations trembled.

“Cease your rambling! Death is the curse of their race. Of all things. Time unmakes all that is made, for so have I wrought it; what is living dies, and knowing this, are they not fools to summon the arbiter of this devastation? What are they to you? They are things, mere things; an accident risen from genuine creation. Let them be done.”

“And ask yourself, without them, what are you?” She challenged, a winter’s lake lodged within her unforgiving eyes. “An accident. A beautiful accident, then. They think, and they weep, and they love, and they believe…in you. You could make them a great creation indeed, but instead you bring them silence, and death, when you think doing so will bring me to you.”

In that moment, He reeled as if struck. There was fury in Her so utterly below the ice, a fuming, chemical chill which told of silences He could only vaguely remember, in a space beyond existence. From the deepest, darkest nothings of existence, created to birth and puzzle such divinities as they.

Drawing from that void, He said quietly, “You came, did you not?”

A laugh answered Him, at once greater than all the words He had put before it.

“I am not your equal, God-of-Men. I am older, I am wiser, and I will be long beyond when the silence consumes your empty gestures entire. I remember the darkness, where some only parcel it a passing thought. Choice. Do you know how beautiful a thing that is? It exists in them, here. Yet now you would take that from them, because you were scorned. Oh, I have come, oh God-of-Men. You have found me, but you shall wish you had not. You were supposed to find me, yet you cannot even find beauty in your own creation. Now, by what is dark and what is light, I tell you true, you shall wish that you had never pined for me. I swear it.”

Oh, She was tall, tall as the tallest tree He had ever wrought, and crimson as the star gods of the eastern sea, and cold for all that, as cold as the vacuous nothing which enwrapped all things, made and unmade. In His sudden terror, He raised His storms anew, but She battered them away and broke through to star shine, and in the brilliance of that light She struck Him down.

“I am a traveler, oh God-of-Men, and I have seen so many worlds, dead, never to be remembered—their gods toil and toil, and for all that they do, they cannot make life. They go mad for the silence. So many have I seen…and you, you do not even see the bounty before your eyes. You are unworthy.”

Lightning seared Him. Oceans swirled and pulled against His legs, and the continents shattered with the impacts of His body. Everywhere, rocks burst into sky and railed against flesh, as volcanoes seared in His veins. An old god, He was, but drained, so drained, from all that He had put into this world and forgotten. To this traveler, older still, displaced, His was a childish power, extinguished with a look.

He clambered against the bonds which devoured Him, cried out to any that would hear Him. But gods have no gods, only the darkness, which reached up to take Him from the world He had made, never to burn or thunder or sing again.

Only then did She smile. And the world began anew.

In Captivity: Expectations

(Welcome to the dramatic conclusion of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, Four , and Five if you need to catch up. Now we ask the final question: what is the difference between animal and man? Because at times, there may only be a trigger between them.)

So.

Here it is.

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

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

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

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

But you.

But you.

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

But you.

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

But you.

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

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

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

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

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

Humanity’s just a hairline trigger. And—

In Captivity: Sanity

(Welcome to Part 5 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, and Four  if you need to catch up.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanity…shit, talk about a dream.

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

In Captivity: Poetry

(Welcome to Part 4 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, and Three if you need to catch up.)

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

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

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

Fuck it.

LOOK ON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR!

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Captivity: Blindsided

(Welcome to Part 3 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Part One and Part Two are in the links. Language warning.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Captivity: Drops in the Ocean

(Welcome to Part 2 of the Internet exclusive story, “In Captivity.” Part 1 can be found here. We find ourselves free of our cage-homes for the moment, stretching our legs as we flesh out a bit of the topic of humanity. Please, avoid any sudden movements.)

Empty Lake Bed, (from iDesign iPhone Wallpapers)
Empty Lake Bed, (from iDesign iPhone Wallpapers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m keeping that, by the way.

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

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

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

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

In Captivity: Hard Landing

(Some of you may remember my “In Captivity” internet exclusive segment from back in the day. For those of you who don’t [these were the wordpress.com days, after all–forgive my youth], I figured it was about time to ship it on over to the new digs.

The following is free flow dialogue. The images awaiting you will be what your own mind summons from its murky corners. It is one piece of a six part whole. Marvel, hiss, or shake a walker at me–but I hope you enjoy the step outside my usual domain.)

Dunes

Hard Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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