Sated

I stretch a leg

Footprint

On the inside

Of the front window

Chevy Silverado

 

Timber’s tavern

Sparse parking lot

Sober going in

Drunk coming out

 

Air turns icy

But we wait

Glad he’s there

Not with us

 

Little brother and I

Not yet puberty

Fog on the windows

From voices unheard

 

Entrance opens

Stare at the door

Wide eyes

Quick pulse

 

Finally he emerges

Clock says one

Pulse quickens

Unlocks driver’s door

 

Face red yet relaxed

Waft of spirits

Hum of the engine

Seatbelt clicks

 

Driving is different

Peaceful in his weaving

A silver snake

Heading home

 

We go to sleep

Safe in our rooms

Tonight he wasn’t angry

Tonight he is sated

Humble

Trudge through drifts of snow,

I manage to find home.

Space enough for a mouse.

Beer and mayonnaise in

small fridge, hand-me-down

rocking chair for furniture.

My breath, like a wanton spirit,

rises from my mouth, entwines

with the frigid air. Heat off.

I go to check the breaker: broken

for some time.

 

Pain swells in my stomach, coiled and venomous.

I check the bills in my wallet, tattered, old. Enough

for two more days: if I skip today,

two days of meals afterwards, then

my next check.

 

I surrender as my knees buckle.

Air becomes motionless, cold wraps around me, an old friend

comforting me. I sink to the floor, beaten. My back curves in

like a hag’s. On my knees, my head bows, no strength to stand,

and my body turns to gelatin.

Glimpse

A picture on the fridge

vision of a past life,

a glance at ghosts, smiles forgotten

by all but the framed

 

memory speaks to me:

two smiling faces

badly tuned guitars

fingers blur

class rings

backs against fence

 

scenes beyond the picture

grass, fence, trampoline

characters in the play

who never walk on stage

friends from forever ago

caught forever

memory laughs with them

holds the camera steady

 

young legs wearied

jump in rhythm

nearly fall from trampoline

 

memory tires

youthful energy

gives way to rest

the scene quiets

 

memory gives a final embrace

sends this moment to its grave

unrepeatable

memory stops talking today

 

each scene set to rest

with a colorful gravestone:

a photograph,

a glimpse of what was

a speck of mortal dust

 

but,

it’s alive

in motion

I’m Somebody

I’m Somebody! Who are you?

Are you – Somebody – too?

Then I’m no longer alone!

Shh! Don’t tell the nobodies – Jealous, you know!

 

How boring – to be – nobody!

How pointless – like a bug –

No one knows your name – crunch

Under somebody’s boot!

Shattered

I never knew much about people until I saw the way she looked at herself in the mirror.

 

Some girls stand as though being admired by the whole world and they were the center of it. Not this girl, though. As soon as she saw her reflection, everything changed. It seems subtle to most people; around anyone else, she would act as though she didn’t see herself, as though she wasn’t there, or if she had to, as though she was the smallest detail, barely noticeable.

 

By herself, it was different. I saw her stand in front of the mirror, a full-length mirror, not admiring her body, but judging it, every detail, her hips, her thighs, her calves, her stomach, her arms, her breasts, her smile, her stare.

 

Then I saw a crack appear in the mirror, starting near her eyes like cracking tears, then, spreading, supernaturally, cruelly, down her body, splitting, pieces falling, a sound somewhere between a pop and a scrape and as pleasant as neither. She opened her mouth to scream.

 

And before I knew it, she shattered into tiny pieces, spread out all over the carpet, and the mirror glinted, unfazed.

Emotion

She must have been the fastest runner I’d ever seen. A glimpse of green flashed from her hand as she fled down the tight alleyway. Dark hair and a girlish figure were all I could remember as the driver pulled the squad car over to the side, behind the sirens of the officers already on the scene. “Usually quiet this time of night,” my partner said from the driver’s seat. He and I go out of our cars, drawn and ready, even though the suspect was already long gone. Two officers were already following her.

The lieutenant, a tall, lean, authoritative woman, gave us fresh orders. “We’re stationed on the other side,” she explained. Most likely she’ll be trapped, but she may come back this way. As she explained, she pulled out a holographic map, showing the locations of both the officers and the suspect. Somehow, using odd and awkward back alleys, she avoided without actually being able to escape. “When the next pair get here, I’ll send both of you in.” She saw the next squad car coming in the corner of her eye: she was famed for her peripheral vision in our department. “In fact, they’re here. We’ll stay here in case she doubles back. Go. Be careful.”

My partner, Stilkes, led the way, a dark red orb hovering in between two hands, one under and one above, with the orb floating directly between them. I had my orb drawn as well, a smaller blue orb.

We followed her down the alleyway, stopping at a cross section. “I’m sure she went that way,” he said, and turned the corner. Right before my eyes, I saw Stilkes fly ten feet in the air from a yellow-green blast. I turned and fired a blue bolt at the suspect, but she was gone again. I turned back to Stilkes. Stilkes stood up and leaned against the wall. “I’ll be fine,” he said, “Go after her. Get that bitch.”

I followed down one alleyway, and another, knowing she could appear at any second. I came sprinting around another corner and, sure enough, she was there. She was jumping up, trying to reach a window ledge just out of her reach. “Halt!” I yelled, orb drawn. She stopped and looked, terrified, gaunt, like a wild animal. “Don’t try it! I’ll have no choice but to kill you.” She quickly considered her options, her eyes jumping here to there, terrified. She could have made a desperate move, a last chance, possibly even overtake me and have another chance for escape. She didn’t tremble.

But, alas, she was beaten. Her head drooped with defeat, and she sank to her knees. Still cautious, I approached, not allowing my guard to drop. She was thin, too thin, like a feral animal that had been forced to the outskirts of society.

“According to the law of Social Order,” I stated, “I am legally obligated to take your orb from you. May you have mercy on your soul.” Carefully, slowly, I reached into her pocket, pulling out her orb from her pocket. The green color that had once been so prominent was gone, and in its place was dull yellow. It was the first time in my career that I actually had to confiscate an orb: it was rare in our district. As the orb separated farther from its owner, the color became dull, then, slowly, turned clear, and a look of peace overcame the suspect, and the girl began to look pale, white even, and then light gray. Particles drifted with the turning of her skin and she began to crumble, leaning to one side, and, finally, she slumped over into a pile of gray dust. The once vibrant orb was completely clear and could no longer float, a lifeless crystal ball in my hand.

 

 

A white t-shirt showing her belly ring barely concealed her breasts. It took a lot of effort not to stare at them, or the form of her hips in jeans, as she sat to one side, one arm holding her up and the other resting on the curves of her body. We were both on a blanket, overlooking the small town, and the stars were just about to emerge. “And then I told him to go home, you ruined one birthday cake already.”

She laughed, her whole body heaving. A flip of her dark hair revealed her pouty lips, a few freckles, and eyes, sensual eyes, that seemed to dared me, complete with eyeliner, lipstick, and makeup just for me. Was her laugh a little forced? Perhaps, but that only meant that she was trying, too, that she wanted in my pants just as badly. I moved a little closer.

“So you’ve never been up here before?”

She smiled, looking at me. “No, never. I love the view. And the stars. Do you know any constellations?”

I kept my smile up, even though I knew what was coming. “Not a darn thing. Could you teach me?”

“Of course,” she said, almost shyly. “That one’s…” I heard names and watched her pointing, feigning interest for a while, but then I knew my next move. Right in the middle of her sentence, I moved close. She sensed it, but kept going. She’s waiting. Mid-word, I landed a kiss right on her lips.

It was an awkward angle at first, but I made it work. As we made out, she instinctively put her hand up to my face. I’m not much for having my face touched by people I don’t know, but I let it slip this time, allowing my hand to follow the side of her body, skin against skin, starting at her extra rib and down to her waist, finally holding her waist with one hand and holding myself up with the other. Since her eyes were closed, I stole a peek at her orb, lying next to her. Vibrant pink. She thinks this is love. Fine by me. I grinned: I was getting lucky tonight.

A pair of headlights suddenly blinded both of us, flooding us and our immediate surroundings with light. I tried to cover my eyes and see what was happening; both were in vain until a car door opened and slammed. The lights stayed on. “Margerie, come with me.”

“Dad?” She exclaimed, standing. “Dad, I…”

“Not a word,” he said. “Car. Now.” Her head bent down. “Joey’s a nice guy.”

“Joey’s a nice guy, huh? Notice the color of his orb?” She said nothing. “Didn’t think so. Get in the car.” She moved to obey.

“And you, young man,” he said, challenging me. “I know you’re trying to drain color out of her orb. And I know what else you’re up to. I was your age, once. But you’re not even old enough to support yourself. Leave on your own, youngster. Be glad that’s all you get for now.” With that, he left, and darkness returned.

Well, my night was ruined. I picked up my blanket, floundering in the dark until I realized I could use my phone as a light. Too bad she’s under his thumb. Maybe when she’s older. I packed up, started the car, turned on my headlights, and headed home.

 

 

“Tonight on World Broadcast Network, home to the world’s most trustworthy news.”

“Hey Chad,” I yelled to the upper floor. “Live Programming’s on.” Although much of regular television had all but died out, Chad always appreciated live newsfeed, as though it was more real. I didn’t have much interest, but since Chad was going to change the channel anyway, I left it on. “Crime has statistically skyrocketed in the past six months, a drastic change since the Social Adjustment Measures were enacted. Authorities say this is due to more criminals being caught, while critics argue that these measures aren’t tough enough, citing the need for capital punishment for more offenses. One important aspect of the new Measures is that Authorities have granted the right to Police Officers to confiscate orbs from dangerous criminals immediately on the scene. Authorities believe this will eluviate the public outcry for justice and…”

Click. “How can you do this to me, Marvin? After all we’ve been through?”

“It’s not you, baby, it’s me.”

When my roommate finally came down the stairs, a stern-faced carrot top, he gave me the look. “You were taking forever,” I replied. Click. A very old movie appeared on the screen, black and white, with a giant lizard monster walking across a miniature city.

He joined me on the couch. “Could you at least recount what they talked about?”

“Confiscating more orbs. Oh, and crime is skyrocketing as well.”

He sighed. “Harsher punishments mean more criminals.”

“Or maybe they’re doing their jobs.” Click.

“Part of the system, man.” He pulled out his orb. “All about controlling these. They control our orbs, they control our lives.” Click.

“I’m not being controlled by the Authorities.” Click.

“Whatever. At least decide on a channel you want to watch.” Click.

 

 

He walked into the office, seemingly amazed with everything in it. It was a large room, collected replicas of antiques made to look exactly like their real counterparts. There was an Ivory chess set on the counter: the Boss didn’t know how to actually play the game. No one is brave enough to point that out, though. The visitor, a short, wiry man with thin, blonde hair and a second-hand suit, eyed the room with quick, nervous eyes and then rested them on the Boss. The Boss (god, I hate using that pretentious name) was a thick, bulging man with a charm that took attention off his quick temper. I sat next to him on the uncomfortable couch, striking an even more uncomfortable sensual pose that drew the visitor’s attention every so often, though he tried to hide it. I wore a dress with the silly opening in the leg. To me, that takes away the whole point of a dress, but it wasn’t my idea, I just get paid to look pretty (And yes, I literally get paid to look pretty. Nothing more, thank god). As much as I look like it, I’m not much of a girly girl. In fact, I’m not much for the cliché scene the Boss creates anyway. Cross-legged, I waited patiently for moron #1 to initiate contact with moron #2.

“Charlie Briggs,” the Boss said. “Have a seat.” Charlie saw a chair in-between two men in dark suits, the lackeys, and as uninviting as it looked, Charlie took a seat.

“They call me the Boss. I’ve heard good things, Charlie. So let me give it to you straight. You have talents that I could very well use, and I have something that you need. You follow, Charlie?”

With a gulp, he responded with a barely audible “yes Boss” and a nod.

“Very good. Now quite a few people are in the business of orbs. Color, you get me? And many of them refuse to work with me. I need someone to help me out, kid. Someone who can tell me what the other big boys are doing. And I would pay handsomely for it. So, what do you think?”

Charlie struggled to get his answer out. “We-Well, yes, I would s-s-sure like that.”

The Boss nodded. “Good. This is the big league, kid. And the big league kids get big rewards. Marcie, bring in the Machine, please.” He looked to me, acknowledging me for the first time that day.

I got up to leave, and when I came back, I was rolling out the Machine, a great big box of metal with cables, hoisted on a tall trolley. The breeze in the slit dress annoyed me as I sarcastically waved my hand to the Machine. Fortunately, no one here is smart enough to catch onto my sarcasm; all they see is a nice ass and long legs. Though that can be quite the advantage, sometimes. I sat back down near the Boss. “This Machine,” the Boss explained, “has color from orbs all over the world. The last shipment was from Africa. Warlords would do anything to support their civil wars. Anything with their child soldiers who aren’t good at soldiering.” He took a cable and pulled out his orb, a sickly green. He connected the cable and different colors flooded in, blue and red and white, all swirling together until they morphed into the same sickly green, only more dense than before. “Color is power, my friend. By helping me, you help yourself.” The Boss handed over the cable. “Try it. It feels good. Powerful.”

Charlie took out his own orb, a hysteric, bright purple at first, but as he gained color, the swirls started to turn to a distrustfully dark, ruddy orange. The Boss smiled. “You see? The next shipment isn’t quite as good. The poor and desperate usually pay up the best. This time it’s from a bunch of politicians. They need extra finances here and there, and they pay well. Very well. Eventually, my plan is to own the whole market on color. A monopoly, so to speak. You know why, Charlie?”

Charlie shook his head. “No, sir.”

The Boss grinned. “Because whoever can manipulate color can manipulate the world.”

 

 

My mom collected clear orbs every day. A short, dark, stocky woman who kept to herself, she always wore a heavy, oversized coat with large pockets, though, as I always admired, she was always able to look cute in it. She would stop by the hospital first, visit with some of the nurses and doctors if they had a moment to spare, and take a crate out to the van. Next was the Old Folk’s Home, which she always corrects with “Nursery”. She would go around town, collecting orbs, until she ended up at the local Police Station. Usually she wouldn’t let me come in, but this time I begged her. I was fourteen already. If that’s not old enough, how old do I have to be?

When I asked her for the hundredth time (though it had been a long time since last time I bothered to ask) she looked at me for a moment, weighed it, and nodded, turning to pick up an empty crate. “Finally!” I said, and then a hasty “thank you” before we got in the door.

Two men were in a conversation, and then one left, leaving an older man, gray hair, barrel chest, and a handlebar mustache, who was adjusting a worn-out ball cap. “Just as I was on my way out,” he said, beaming. “Caught me before I left, as usual.”

“How is it this time around, Randy?” My mom replied, eyeing the crate full of orbs on one of the counters.

The man caught on and switched her the full crate for an empty one. “More cocksuckers in jail this time. Too many lawbreakers. But a’least I’ve taken less orbs this week.”

She looked to me and nodded. “Alex, this is Officer Bill.”

He turned his head down toward me, tipping his hat. “Howdy,” he said. I didn’t respond.

Mom sighed and ignored me. “Taking orbs is nasty business.”

“If that were the worst of the whole fuckin’ thing,” he barked, as though his thoughts were a zit that needed popping. “I’ve dealt with quite a few in my career, I ‘ave. But most o’ those are criminals, black and white. They knew they did wrong and got punished for it. Some o’ these, though, somethin’s off. Their orb color, I mean. A’least a criminal’s looks healthy, rational I mean. Now, more and more turn a sickly yellow before they go. You know what that means? They’re sick, confused. Not knowing what to do. No peace in death.” He looked up, his entire demeanor changing in an instant. “But, somebody in this world’s got to keep the peace,” he added, attempting a cheerful smile. “That’s what we’re here for.”
We finally headed home for the night. I helped mom with the crates and brought them into the workshop. She piled them up with many of the others in a waiting line. I don’t think she ever got to the point where she didn’t have at least one crate piled up, and she worked long hours. As soon as the crates were down, she took the next one in line and examined it, finding a few broken parts where the orb was probably smashed. She took a substance from a tube and started to apply it, filling the holes. While she worked, I could see the orb in her coat pocket, glowing a light blue, but very light, and very dull. This meant she was focused on work, and not much else. Just to have a little interaction before I left her workshop and went to my room, I asked a question. “Mom, you said when I was older, I could ask you about the orbs. Why we have them, I mean.”

She stopped filling the cracks, swiveled in her chair, and, for the first time that day, looked at me. “We’re here to let people have peace. That’s what we do with the orbs, we let them rest. We also keep them from being misused by other people. You’ll know more as you age, but orbs can be manipulated for other people. Other people can give your orb vibrant colors, and other times they can drain it. There are good people in the world that try to help other people maintain good color. There are also bad people in the world who try to take color away from other people, use it for their own, even steal their orbs any color in them. That’s why it’s important to remember to keep your orb safe. You don’t have to be distrustful of everyone, but don’t let the colors control you. They’re easy for others to see and manipulate. Now, I have work to get done, and I’m sure you have homework.”

“Okay,” I said, and turned to leave.

“Alex,” she said. “I love you.” For the first time that day, her orb turned a light pink, with swirls of green, forest green, nurturing green. “I love you too.”

Then she went back to work, her orb turning a dull blue again as she worked on someone else’s former orb.

It Came At Night

It came at night.

The air oozed silence, no passing cars or other people. We were far enough outside of town not only to see stars but to enjoy them with peace as well. Dinner was heavy enough to send me to my rocking chair, the one that lures me to sleep, overlooking the Sunrise Valley of green brush and golden grass; the view always threatens to bring comfortable sleep. My eyelids started to cover my eyes by a will of their own, and as I was filled with my last conscious thoughts, I could see only a vision of the stairs leading up to the porch, only slightly crooked, old, leading out into the darkness beyond the light. Sleep came. I closed my eyes.

I hear a howling, snapping, clanking of wind chimes, louder and louder, horrific as nails, chalkboard nails, chiming frozen melodies, compressing my head. The chimes stop. Silence comes: brief silence. I open my eyes. The lights are off, and I see only dimly. Darkness is prevalent. Then I see a shadow, like a man or an ape, not yet visible. Its shoulders were hunched, crooked, one side faintly rising and falling with each step. I began to see its hands, long and spindly, casting their own shadows over the porch like the limbs of trees. Its head bent over until it reached the first step, then arched up towards me. On top of its uneven shoulders was a crooked skull of an antlered buck, glowing dully white, even in the dark of night, its empty eye sockets sucking the air from my lungs. I watched, petrified, as its antlers waved, clopping step after step, creaking and moaning, the specter advancing. Its human ribs were inhumanly bent inward, and the spine was bent to accommodate the unnatural head. The bones softly jangled as it reached the top step, hooves on human legs, echoing, reverberating through empty air. One long arm half curled under the body, half drooping, lifeless, vines growing through the skeleton, a Black-Eyed Susan blooming on its shoulder. It cocked its head at me, knowingly, and raised its other arm, arm and finger bones stretching toward me, palm open, outstretched to grab me.

“Jesus, Marty!” Marge came bustling out of the screen door. “Are you alright?”

As though awakened from a trance, one last shiver traversed through my spine as I realized Marge and I were the only ones on the porch. “My God, you were screaming again.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Let’s get you inside, I should have known better than to leave you to sleep in that damn rocking chair.”

“It helps me sleep.”

Marge, a large woman with high cheekbones and narrow eyes, turned back into the doorway. “It helps give me a heart attack,” she said over her shoulder. She wanted to say, ‘stay away from that rocking chair,’ but truth be told, she was as afraid of it as I was.

 

 

“Alright, Jean, pull me out,” I said, thinking the job was done. Lifting my head slightly from under the sink in an attempt to see my daughter, a tweak in my back tightened as though I hadn’t stretched it for years. I could see just enough of a younger version of my wife’s features in my daughter, high cheekbones, narrow eyes, but her body more closely resembled mine, narrow features, as well as other features I try to ignore as she gets older. I could also see the smartphone she texted on, the texts keeping her focus.

“Jean?”

She sat bolt upright. “Sorry!” she said as she quickly pulled on the flat scooter underneath me in an instant to pull me out. The problem with such a maneuver, however, was that my head was still up, and the pipe was of solid material.

A tonk sound echoed in my head. “Jesus,” I said as my daughter pulled me all the way out.

“Shit!”

“English,” I muttered, as my way of saying ‘watch your language.’ “Help me up.”

This time, she was very careful, slowly pulling me to my feet. My back tightened but not enough to make me squeal. Her hand covered my forehead. I swatted it away, muttering. Jean said no more.

I went out to my chair on the porch. As I sat down to relax, I finally felt a sharp pain in my forehead. Involuntarily, my hand reached up to touch the spot, which hurt more, at which point I cringed and moved my hand away. Voluntarily, I looked at my palm. Blood. It seeped down my forefinger, leaving a crimson trail, to pool in the cracks of my hand. There seemed to be an excessive amount for a small bump, more-than-droplets crisscrossing to heed the call of gravity, eventually dripping over the side and onto the porch. Red dripped, dripped, until it fell one last time, cascading, blending with a small stream underneath, crimson twisting and bending, mixing, swirling until the swirls lost color. I stood on the bank, moonlit, reeds blowing in the wind, trees narrowing my view, tall grass, tall trees. Gurgling from the stream started to rise, faster, louder, but became subtler to my ears, quieter and quieter, jarring against rocks. In its place came footsteps, crackling. I looked. On the other side was a figure, covered in a black robe, walking slowly through the dry bank reeds. As it stalked, the only skin that could be seen was a hand, pale white, lifting up from the robe. The other hand appeared, ghostlike, hovering over an open palm, fingers, fingertips grasping, pulling a few petals straight from the palm I could no longer see and ejecting them, a flowing hand from the wrist to the tips, leaving a shower of petals to float, slowly, down to the water and be carried by the stream. Mesmerizing. I took a step closer, and another, trying to peer into her hand. I leaned over. As her hand went down to take another handful, in her open palm, was red, a red, beating heart, fleshy, blood pouring over the side. Her hand grasped again. Skin, heart skin, stretched, stretched farther, separating, reshaping, become petals in her hand. Plop. My heart jumped. I looked down; my foot was in the water. I looked up. The figure had turned towards me, a shadowy figure of a white face, a specter, taught skin; it opened its mouth, and a long, painful, piercing sound came out, a harrowing scream.

 

The next day, I dropped my pen by the door of my daughter’s bedroom, and as I picked it up, I heard voices. I leaned closer to the door. I could just hear “Marty” and “nightmares.”

So, by accident or by purpose, I overheard their conversation about me:

“You know your father freaks out from time to time.”

“He wasn’t even asleep!”

“It’s not his fault.”

“I’m not saying it is!”

“You have to understand…”

“You’re not even listening to me!” Jean screamed. A pause. “Dad needs help. Serious help. Like a psychiatrist or something.”

“Good heavens, Jean.”

“I’m serious.”

“It’s not that serious.”

“Not that serious? Are you fucking insane?”

I straightened up, pen in hand. All I could hear from then on was too much. The strain was too much. It was time to end this suffering, for my family, and for me.

I went to my rocking chair again, same old heavy, color-drained seat cushion on top. I never noticed it in so much detail before: it used to be just my rocking chair. Like never before, it terrified me: the rocking chair was my portal.

The wood groaned under my weight as I waited for the dreams.

 

Hours seemed to drain by; now that I wanted it to come, it took its sweet time. Light slowly faded. My wife didn’t come out to see what I was doing, as she is used to my outbursts. My daughter came out, but, seeing the expression on my face, was speechless. She also let me be, though certainly not from apathy. After a while, the day began to wear away, and darkness took the place of light.

Sure enough, it came for me.

It appeared on the porch steps ahead of me, its head cocked. I couldn’t open my mouth to speak, but it already knew my question: it reached out its hand and closed each finger, one at a time, starting with the smallest on the end, in a gesture I understood. I stood up and followed the creature.

Its gait was odd, but it walked with purpose. I followed behind, walking around the brush and attempting to keep from tripping in the darkness. My eyes began to adjust, and I could see the creatures around me: the bright eyes of whitetail deer, the cautious walk of a feral housecat, the swoop of an owl. It wasn’t long before the creature found the stump, the halfway point, a landmark to find what I had hidden.

The creature never once turned to make sure I followed, though now and then it would look around as though its memory was as corrupted as its body. I felt an air of familiarity toward the creature, its hideous demeanor notwithstanding. Finally, it stopped, stooping over a place in the ground with a weather-worn shovel stuck in the mound. I knew.

I took the shovel in hand and started to dig. The creature, ominously, crouched next to me as I lifted the first, second, third shovel-fills of dirt. A sliver pricked my hand, piercing, a splinter caught in my palm. I heaved ten, twenty, thirty times and fell into a rhythm. I worked as though a slave, my fate sealed beforehand, working toward my own destruction, the ruin of man. As I sank lower, the creature stood above me, head cocked, staring, unmoving, lifeless. Then, as though choreographed, planned, or scripted, I bent down and moved the dirt with my hands, my fingers, trembling fingers, dirt in my nails. Eventually, I touched it: cautiously, carefully, my hands pulled away small layers, roots, pebbles, flakes, making an outline, starting at first in a semi-circle, more semi-circles, whole circles, liberating pits, small pits, working down, finding lines and curves and patterns and bones, more bones, finally revealing the skeleton of the man I shot and killed one year before.

 

One year before was the third day of hunting season, and I took a couple days off from work to celebrate it. I often went alone, since my daughter never took up interest and my wife annoys me (admittedly because she is a better shot than me). I went alone, my packing my rifle and walking out from the house before the sun had risen. I took no flashlight, as I would allow my eyes to adapt to the darkness, and I took no lunch, since I tend to find a deer before lunchtime even comes around. I followed the same old trail my grandfather used to use, and then my father and uncles, and now it was only me, alone, wandering deeper into the area I thought of as my property, even though there is more land than a man can really control.

I did not stop until evening. I was a hungry, though only a little, but I was very thirsty. I followed the trail home, my stomach leading the way, reminding me that supper would be on the table. My pride was a little hurt, since it was the first time in years I did not find a decent buck by the third day. It had not been a good day.

My eyes followed the trail lazily up a hill, my feet practically dragging. Then, from some primal instinct luring my gaze upward, I finally saw it. Standing on the top of the hill was a four-point buck, staring, immobile. It certainly wouldn’t be the best rack I’ve collected, but at this point, I wanted what I could get. I pulled my rifle from off my back and put the creature in my sight. Adrenaline kicked in, helping me aim. The buck looked as though it was just about to bolt. With the speed of molasses, I pulled the trigger. Crack. I must have gotten excited and missed, but the buck didn’t move. I thought I was lucky. Crack. The buck jumped and bounced away, but my adrenaline began to cease. I must have hit him that time. I slung my rifle and made my way to the top.

There was blood, alright. Enough to follow him by. I stopped for a good half-an-hour, trying to see through the dense trees, one of the few places with anything taller than me growing on the whole property. After a moment of waiting, I unslung my rifle and followed the blood trail, a little tense from the adrenaline.

After meandering through thick brush, I found the carcass. The deer was dead, probably not long before I had reached it. A feeling of relief flooded over me. A clean kill. I started to look at the kill I had made, one of many. It was something I was used to. Just then, a chill vibrated on the back of my neck. Something else was here. I looked up. There was a figure, lifeless, in a small clearing fifty yards away. Everything told me not to go up to it, but my body disobeyed me. I walked toward it.

On the ground was a forty-to-fifty year old man with a speckled gray and brown beard. He wore all camo, no ‘hunter’s orange’ or pack. He lay sprawled against the ground, his eyes staring upward. His throat was covered in red, one hand still over his wound. Though I couldn’t know this, it seemed that he had choked to death on his own blood. He wasn’t supposed to be on the property, but here he was. After seeing his body, I turned back toward the buck, pulling my knife out, prepared to go through the tribal motions of gutting and quartering, ready to…

What was I doing? A man lay dead just behind me. I couldn’t turn to see the man again, the blood still pouring from the wound onto the ground. Something my grandfather had told me came back to me: “Never shoot over a hill, son. You never know where that bullet might go.” I saw the buck again, with new eyes: blood poured from his chest, still pouring, a fresh kill, fresh death, red, blood covered the dirt, soaked up the red blood, red, still bleeding, his hand on his red, red, on his neck, red, red, red…

I couldn’t remember the next part. It was dark, very dark, and there was a hole where the man’s body was. A compactable shovel was in my hand, one I always bring with me. Both of the bodies had gone. I stood and, following the old trail, made my way home.

I stepped up onto the front porch, shovel in hand. The lights in the house were on, and a figure moved back and forth. My tense feet struck the steps with a heavy thump, thump, thump. The wind chimes started acting up, making a ruckus. I heard some commotion from inside the house. Halfway up the steps, the front door opened. My wife took one look at me and screamed, a soul-piercing sound that made me tremble. I froze.

“My god!” she said. “You scared me half to death! You know I was waiting up all night for you…” She didn’t know. A part of me felt relieved. I barely listened to her in my state of mind. “… You’ve never been gone so long. What a heart attack you gave me!”

“I’m sorry, dear,” was all I could mutter.

She gave me an odd look. “Why, you’re all covered in blood. My, men are messy! But at least you get the job done.” She smiled. “I suppose you’ll go back for it in the morning, hmm? Big, strong man couldn’t carry it by himself?” She looked at my shoulder. “Honey, where is your rifle?” I gave her a puzzled look. “Oh, you know, your father’s rifle!”

“Oh,” I managed, “I must have put it down somewhere.”

She made a tisk tisk sound with her mouth. “You know what your father would say. ‘If someone dropped that rifle, then someone had better be dead!’ Now come inside, dinner’s cold enough as it is.”

“That’s alright,” I responded a little too quickly. “I’ll have a moment in my chair.”

Her eyebrow raised. “Suit yourself, but I’m going to bed. Finally.” She left.

Once she was gone, I had another feeling, the same feeling I had when I found the dead man. I turned, slowly, against my will, toward my rocking chair. It was occupied by a slouch-backed man with both hands on the end of the arms of the chair, not rocking, not moving. He wore the same camouflage as before, had the same build as before. I looked at his face. Instead of a man’s head, it was an antlered buck, fleshy, lifeless, staring away, its tongue lolling out of the side of its mouth, its teeth showing. A fly buzzed around from out of nowhere, landing at first just above the eyelash, then crawling, purposefully, onto its eye, searching the surface, until the eye twitched, the fly fled, brown eyes pointed, purposefully, directly, at me.

Clay Jar

In the house on the hill, there lived a man and a woman, newlyweds that loved each other dearly. For many years, they lived, loved, and enjoyed what they had together. After some time, they decided to have a child and were blessed with a baby girl. They were happy.

There was a certain gift given to the couple for their wedding by the pastor who married them: a clay jar. The pastor told them that what was important was not the jar itself, but what lay inside of it. For many years afterward, the couple kept the jar on the shelf as the most precious gift they had received.

However, the man became gravely ill. A doctor in a nearby town gave the man an examination and told the couple that he did not have long to live. Devastated from the news, the woman cried nearly every night when sleeping with the man. Nevertheless, near the man’s time of death, he brought his wife to his side with their daughter in her arms. He said, “Last night, I was visited in a dream by a man standing by the river Jericho. I may be dead soon, but a part of me will always stay with you. When I die, take my heart out of my chest and put it in a clay jar. Don’t be afraid. After I die, my heart will keep beating, and as long as you love me, my heart will still beat for you.”

Not long after, the man died. The wife could not bring herself to take her husband’s heart out herself. Therefore, she called for the doctor and asked a favor of him before a funeral could be planned; she asked for the heart out of her husband’s chest and into the clay jar. The doctor was horrified, but the wife convinced him to take out the heart. Using his expertise and what he had on hand, he took out the heart and put it in the nearby clay jar, not noticing anything out of the ordinary. After the doctor left, the wife took up the clay jar. For a minute, it stayed as lifeless as it had been in the doctor’s hands: but after a few moments, she began to hear the heartbeat, and she cried. Every night since then, she took the jar down from a spot on the shelf and listened to the heart’s beat.

Life was not easy for the mother and the daughter. After many years, the daughter moved away in order to start a fresh life. The mother, on the other hand, eventually became bitter and would blame the death of her husband for her misery.

One day, the daughter came back to visit her mother, realizing that she did not want her mother to feel abandoned. The mother was thankful, and they visited about the daughter’s new life and the joy she created for herself. Unfortunately, when the daughter asked about her mother’s life, the mother talked only bitterly, saying her only comfort was the clay jar. The daughter claimed that her mother should have moved on, and they engaged in a spiteful argument. In anger, the daughter blamed the clay jar itself, and in an instant, took it down and threw it to the ground. The mother gasped and looked down at the jar. It was then that both mother and daughter observed that all there was left from inside of the now-broken jar was lifeless dust.

Magnets

To them, it’s just a picture on the fridge.

A vision of a past life, long since lived.

A glance, ghost-ridden, smiles forgotten

By all but the framed:

A memory, a grave;

So many meanings.

But,

To them, it’s just a picture on the fridge.

Invasive

By Jared Probert


There was a bright flash, and then the world went dark. The only sound was an irregular drumbeat pulsing, followed by a steady, repeating drip like soft rain, resounding through the black void. Everything was dark, quiet, empty.

I carefully reach for my towel, moving my outstretched hand in a circle until I can feel the cotton. As I start to dry myself off, messing my hair and smothering my face, I pull the heavy curtain back into place, thankful that my shower ended just before the lights went out. Having lived here for two years aided me from being completely lost in my own apartment. On the other hand, the night light also went out.

Wrapping the towel around my body, I open the bathroom door. All dark. Once outside, I turn toward where the kitchen is, walking carefully. There, as I remember, is my flashlight. Cold tile meets my bare feet. Water still drips. I bump into the counter with my knuckles, and I find the flashlight handle with my first try. I suppose it has a wide handle, though, since it’s more of an electric lantern than a flashlight, some birthday present my father bought from a sporting goods store, complete with a floral pattern on its round top. I remember seeing it on an advertisement on television. I’ve long since forgotten why I wanted it, at least until now. Pressing the on button to the lantern, my apartment fills with light, an eerie, moon’s reflection kind of light. I walk back toward the bathroom. The small puddles I left behind catch my eye, but a little water never hurt anyone.

It’s still warm when I step back in. Light shines across the bathroom counter and on the fogged-up mirror where I can only see a vague reflection of myself. I go one more round of drying my skin off, watching the last bit of steam roll off of my shoulders. At once, I close the door, partly to keep in the warmth, partly because I feel much more comfortable closed off from the rest of my apartment. I’m not sure why, exactly, but the feeling of being closed off usually brings me comfort.

On most days I’d spend time caring about my appearance, even if I have nowhere to go. Today, though, the power outage puts me in a weird mood, and I won’t bother to wipe away the mirror to critique my reflection. I put on some sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I don’t bother with a bra; I’m not going anywhere, and they’re nothing but a nuisance to me. After brushing my teeth and whipping my long, blonde hair in a ponytail, I wander out, in my fuzzy slippers this time. Outside, it’s already getting dark. Even just a few minutes in the shower, and a good chunk of my evening’s slipping away. Of course, by few minutes I mean half an hour, but nobody’s timing me.

My first instinct is to check my laptop on the desk. I press the on button, and I press it a second time. Nothing happens. Sighing, I scold myself for my bad habit of running technology until it runs completely out of battery. Since I had just started charging it before I got into the shower, it is still effectively dead.

Whatever. I have a laptop that fits in my pocket. I pull out my smartphone and press a side button. I look forward to seeing what my friends are up to tonight, but I get the icon for a text message. Robby. It’s from almost two hours ago, his third message in a row. Like every other guy I know, he doesn’t get that he’s being ignored. “No” means “Yes” in guy language. And he’s not even that attractive. Ok, fine, he’s cute, and him hanging around me all the time makes me get so used to him that I start to miss him: the relentless puppy-dog tactic. Right now, though, I want nothing more than to relax, and I always feel guilty using my phone when I’m purposefully ignoring someone. I put it away, deciding it was low on battery anyway.

I resort to the couch. I grab the remote and, oh, I’m a genius. Power outage, no television. I lay back, covering my face in one hand in embarrassment. At least no one was around to see that. With limited options, now is the perfect time to finish that book. I’d been procrastinating it for a while, some long, dry narrative my mother wants me to read so that I can, as she stated it, “be more cultured.” Whatever that means. Swiping it from the coffee table, I flip to the place I was at, marked by a preacher’s calling card. As I stare at the page, I realize I have no idea what’s going on. Might as well start from the beginning.

At times like these, I wish I could go over to a friend’s house and just stay the night. I know I’m supposed to be adult-ish and that nobody does that anymore, but after growing up with my parents, I hold the firm belief that adults are nothing more than overgrown children. Anyway, after getting an apartment to myself and not having the social circles I had in college, it feels like there aren’t many people around anymore.

I read the first line of the prologue, not hooked. I read the first paragraph and beyond, but I know at this point it won’t last. No long into the first chapter, I’m already daydreaming, following the words but not actually reading them. I stop pretending after a while and put the book down, pages closed. “I’ll never read this,” I say to myself. Sighing, I pick up my bookmark, the church card, twirling it around in my fingers. On one side, it has the church’s info; Northern Baptists, a cliché catchy phrase for people who actually read it. On the other side, the preacher’s name, number, and residence. Simple design, from a simple person.

 

I was walking out of the grocery store when the man approached me. He was a short, round man with graying hair, round glasses, and bulging, confessional eyes. I’m not sure what it was about me that he saw, maybe it was just chance, but he came up to me like Jehovah’s Witnesses come onto an Agnostic’s doorbell. The man’s lip trembled a little when he started to speak, almost blocking my shopping cart. “Good afternoon, ma’am. Do you have a moment to talk about your afterlife?”

I felt his eyes judge my cardigan and tights. “Not really. I have to go home to my kids,” I lied.

“It will only take a minute,” he said as though I hadn’t said anything.

“I can tell you how the Lord filled my life with purpose. He can fill you too! All you have to do is ask.”

“Thank you, but no thank you,” I say, turning my head and walking past him.

Bubble man’s face looked like it was about to pop. Priceless. “One minute,” he huffed, catching up to me. “One minute! You’re not ready yet, but when you are, you can come and meet Pastor Norman.” Out of nowhere, a card was held out to my face with pudgy fingers. “Conquering the world for Jesus,” he said, smiling.

Not wanting to have to tell him no, I figure it’s easier to go with it. I take the card without another word and start pushing my cart. “Jesus is watching over you!” He yelled after me.

The way he looked at me. Passionate, creepy, yes, but also desperate, looking to give someone else something he couldn’t find in himself. I held my purse out to put the card in with whatever else was in there. The way he was filled with “the spirit” made him seem so lonely. Lonely and empty.

 

Grrrrmmmm. The sound resonates through the dimly lit apartment. I grab the closest object and hold it tightly. After a few seconds, the groan repeats itself, longer this time. Muscles tense in preparation, breathing becomes fast. In this state, I wait.

After a long while, I realize how ridiculous I must look, holding the closest object there was: the book. What am I going to do to an invader, read them a page and bore them to death? I put the book back down, hopefully for the last time. As I silently laugh at myself, I see the formerly-bookmarking card. I didn’t even realize I had dropped the card. Sighing, I pick it up again and, instead of putting it back into the book, I get up to throw it away. Procrastination has enough of a grip on me. As I walk over and stand above the flipped-open garbage can, a strange guilt comes over me – would you really destroy your chance for eternal life? Don’t you know your soul is doomed?

“You’re annoying enough,” I say, finally letting the card drift down into the abyss.

Shadows dance around me when the deed is done. Light from the lantern can barely reach me all the way over here, in the next room. At the edges of its influence, I feel conflicted: I’m afraid of the encroaching darkness, but I’m squeamish to go back into the all-seeing light.

Instead of going back to the couch, out of boredom, I open the refrigerator. On the left side, I see and snatch the last cheese snack. Time to go to the grocery store tomorrow, if only for the cheese snacks. I stare at the other side of the room while satisfying my boredom cravings. Standing in the kitchen, staring at an awkward lantern. This is my life.

As I stand, thinking about what my day will be like tomorrow, I hear a loud thud, thud, thud. After being startled, it takes me a second to realize that someone’s knocking on the door. A confident knock. I swear, every noise gives me a start tonight. I just hope it isn’t another Jehovah’s Witness. Maybe it’s Rachel, she’s always in the middle of a breakdown. Or Robby found out where I lived. I wouldn’t be particularly thrilled if either of these people came over, but at least I wouldn’t be bored. For some reason, I forget all about the terror of the light and the dark, knowing that someone else is near, and I walk over to answer the door, a little closer to the light.

After brushing my hair behind my ears and straightening my sweatshirt, I open the door. At the threshold between my space and the outside world is a gaunt, sharp-featured man with thick veins and an earnest look on his face, somewhere around my age.

“Good afternoon, ma’am,” he says charismatically. He’s wearing a nice suit.

“I’m sorry, I’m not interested in bibles,” I say automatically.

He laughs. “I bet not. But I bet you’re interested in something that will help you clean up around the place better?”

Oh, because I’m a woman? Of course! I want to say, though something tells me that’s not his intention at all. “Not particularly,” I say instead as a cue for his big reveal.

“Well, I think everybody is to some extent. I’m here going door-to-door with one of the greatest vacuum cleaners I’ve ever laid hands on. It’s called the Clean Thief, with a price so low it’s a Stainless Steal! In fact, if you don’t believe me, and if you don’t mind me asking, I can come in and give you a show?” As appealing as he was, there was something worn out in his voice, though probably from what he had to do for a living.

“You have to say that at every door?” I ask.

Though trying hard not to show it, he was a bit perplexed at my question, whether he should keep face for his job or let his fake cover go. “Very Punny, I know,” he replies, after a pause. “I’ve tried it myself, though. About as decent as they get, I’d say.”

“Nice night, isn’t it?” I say, looking out and back at him. I can feel how uncomfortable he is.

Shuffling his feet a little, he takes a brief glance at the darkness. “Oh, yes, warm for this time of year.” He turns back, expecting me to say something else.

“I’m not interested in the Clean Thief,” I continue. “What I’m worried about is the power outage.”

“Oh yes, heard about that going door-to-door,” he says, brightening up again. “Talked to one old man who tried to convince me it was the terrorists.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, the whole Obama-the-Muslim planning Martial Law thing. Poor old man, it’s like he doesn’t have a life outside of that T.V., not even another person in the house. Didn’t know what to do without his news channel. Can’t think for himself anymore.” I see his charismatic face return. “Anyway,” he says, changing the tone of the conversation, “thank you for your time. Maybe next time I can get you a Stainless Steal,” he says, winking.

I realize the interaction is over. “Maybe,” I say, making myself smile. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” he replies, tipping an imaginary hat, re-masking himself from newly adult to happy salesman. I close the door slowly behind him.

When I know he’s gone, I sigh. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe it’s just a long, boring night. After that short conversation, there’s an odd feeling of words unsaid, another conversation that could have happened. Not anymore. Empty.

Is this what my life is about now? Follower of so many others’ big ideas, told what I need and want, until I’m like that old man without even my own mind left?

A bright flash. The Television snaps on. “… buy it now, now, now!” a pushy man says from the screen. Well, power’s back. Now I’ll have something to pull me out of this mood.

I rejoin the couch. Rather than looking at the channel guide, I start flipping, remote in hand. The first channel is some football team against another, then fading into a brand new commercial. I’m more entertained by the advertisements. I try the next one. Reality show. Reality. Next, a preacher in black with his five steps to heaven. Then some superhero movie in a well-known fast food restuarant. Fried crab. Political ad campaign. Not-so-subtly biased news. Click. For the first time, I realize something is wrong.

The television, the radio, laptop, phone, buzzing lights; everything is humming with artificial life. It surrounds me, suppresses me, the holographic light infiltrating my mind, images of faces, faces of priests and preachers converting me, politicians and bankers handing me speeches and money interchangeably, voices and images reaching for my body, hands forcing a chastity belt on me, battling with more hands forcing it off, bibles and brochures and dollar bills swarming me, choking and gagging my throat with superficiality until I can no longer tell how much of my own mind was genuinely me and how much was genuinely fake. The television then opens its mouth and laughs, heartily, at me. The radio squeals, the laptop claps open and closed, images, a charismatic face with an all too friendly voice–

I clicked the T.V. off. If that wasn’t the weirdest experience of my life, I don’t know what was. While convincing my heart to stop beating so rapidly, I turn off the radio, the laptop, the lights, and even my phone.

It’s all invasive. Am I allowed to live my own life, think my own thoughts? Or is it possible?

I’m in bed when I set the alarm clock. Thankfully, I have no fear of it; it’s not a radio alarm clock, so I won’t be hearing any propaganda tonight. Though I do have to admit, the red numbers leave me feeling uneasy. I make my usual “mmph” sound into my pillow, my customary goodnight ritual. I close my eyes.