Special

I awake, as always, to the click and whir of a thousand hidden cameras, and the rising glow of the ambient lights. Over the next 30 minutes, the curtains on my bedroom will slowly part, gliding on mechanized tracks, and the yellow sunlight of dawn will stream into the wide circular room. Like all mornings, I entertain for the briefest moments the thought of hurling myself at the windows and plunging the half mile to the ground. I hold on to the little fantasy of wind and sky and falling for as long as it will remain, dreaming of those magnificent moments of freedom and choice.

Even if I were not a coward, there are a thousand unseen barriers and safe guards. I can not see them, but several parents are doubtlessly just outside the door, and would be between me and the window before I could leave the bed. I allow the dream of freedom to evaporate for another morning.

The woman next to me, I can not recall her name, shifts and rolls to embrace me. I wrap my arms around her and return the affection, but there is no love in it. She is young and soft, skin still stretched taut over her athletic and perfect frame. I know that in my youth I would have been buzzing with anticipation and lust simply seeing her, but now I can only take solace in the momentary ghost of affection and emotion. Her skin is warm, and her fine and downy body hair is smoother than the silk of the sheets. I draw an abstract of pleasure from this closeness, feeling something akin to happiness when our bellies synchronize in breathing, pressed close as they rise and fall in an alternating rhythm. Her breath is hot and damp on my chin and neck. It only takes me a few moments to tire of her, and I swing my legs to the edge of the bed.

Continue reading “Special”

Sick, or The Algorithm

My final version of The Algorithim will appear in the upcoming anthology “No Monsters Allowed” from Dog Horn Publishing. Tom Festo’s fantastic adaptation of this story can be seen here.
 

Sometime during the third consecutive night spent huddled over the toilet, insides heaving and shuddering as I vomit forth seemingly everything I’d ever eaten, I realize what’s happening: He’s trying to poison me. It’s all so elegant, so perfect, and so clear, that I almost laugh, but another barrage of retching forces me into silence.

The next morning I throw everything in the kitchen away, wrapping it three times in black plastic and burying it deep in the apartment’s communal trash cans, to prevent an unfortunate transient from crossfire of His wrath. I am out the door of the complex and halfway to the corner store when I realize: He knows, must know, where I would shop.

I pick a direction and walk, enjoying the chill winter air that soothes the ragged shreds of my inside. I turn at random intervals, following an improbable path out of my familiar neighborhood, until I find a small shop with an unfamiliar name. Once inside, I hurriedly fill a small plastic basket; brands that I never have eaten, strange tins of ethnic ingredients I can’t recognize, foods that I’d never thought of buying. Soy milk. Tofu. I can feel my stomach reborn in anticipation of an untainted meal.

I prepare the meal in a fog of nervous anticipation, trying to focus on savoring the aromas and the grease spitting sounds of the frying pan. It tastes clean, but then, so has every other meal before this. I try to tell myself that the mounting pain inside me is simple fear and anxiety, but before the stroke of midnight, I am again crouched in the dingy bathroom, surrendering the days work into the porcelain mouth of the sewer.

Continue reading “Sick, or The Algorithm”

Underground

Nadja doesn’t make it. I turn at the steps of the bunker and watch as the artillery shell lands on the shattered street between us. I hold our daughter and watch my wife smolder in the crater, deaf to the thudding concussions around us. Someone grabs Inna from my arms, thrusts cold gloved fingers in the neck of my jacket, and pulls me back into the black throat of the small shelter. I see my last glimpse of Leningrad’s cracked and wounded skyline, and then it goes black. The door slams shut, screeching steel and spinning locks clattering in rhythm with gun fire. I finally find the voice to scream Nadja’s name.

Inna is crying in the dark, cradled by the last of Svetlana’s daughters in the small entry way. I suddenly find I have no knees and I am on the floor with a hot choking hand around my throat. Boris and Grigory slide away from me in the darkness, I can hear them averting their gaze, necks scratching against thick coats as they twist away from me. I thrust my tears into my gullet and gag, retching and heaving up the thin watery remains of my last meal. Inna needs me, and I need strength.

The rosy cheeked boy that led our last charge, all ill fitting uniform and tilting helmet, doesn’t have the grace to leave me be, and puts one soft hand on my back. I shrug him off, and stumble to my feet. In the slowly seeping light of his oil lantern, I see his face and his fear, and I look away. He backs away from us, turning down the long dark featureless tunnel ahead. Turning back, he surveys the dozen survivors before him, shivering and broken. The short run from the grand ballroom has taken its toll on our weakened bodies. The last of the ratty birds in the hotel’s eaves had been caught a week ago; a chorus of hollow sunken eyes now stare back at the trembling child clutching a rifle.

Continue reading “Underground”

Collision

There are moments in your life, in every life, where you can look back at the small nodes of causality, those split second forks in which your course and path are fundamentally altered, sent careening in unanticipated or unforeseen directions. I prided myself, once, in being able to see these moments before they arrived, but the truth is, we hardly recognize we are at a crossroad until it has receded into the distance. You can spin the gears of your mind until they grind smooth, wondering what would happen, if only… If only you had refused the last drink, or took a cab instead… If only you had held your temper and your tongue… If only you had believed her… If only.

When I allow myself to drift down these avenues of doubt, I dream of being able to sleep through the night without waking in screams, without the sweat soaked sheets clinging to my shuddering body. I dream about looking on the deserts of my former home, and smelling the dry, warm earth without gagging and trembling like a lamb. If only.

When I arrived at my nexus, a literal crossroad on Indian Route 8064 in the high desert of Arizona, I had not an inkling that I was on the precipice. The sun was low in the horizon, fat and bloated red through the dusty air, and the heat of the day was only beginning to recede. Ahead of me was the long drive to Flagstaff through the great empty patches of the state. Long, long ago, I had taken to avoiding the highways and began taking the old roads, the crumbling delta of blacktop that go almost unused as they silently crisscross the desert. Each time, I would take a new fork, and allow the desert’s quiet purity envelop me as I traversed an unfamiliar path. It was like meditation, a way to wipe clean the slate of my worries: the rising debt, the disintegrating marriage, my mother’s rapidly metastasizing cancer. It was a place of simplicity and calm, earth and sky and quiet and emptiness. It was my paradise, the great panacea to my doubts and worries.

Continue reading “Collision”

Featured

Before

The sun is high above me by the time I see the farm on the horizon, with its tattered yellow flag whipping in the hot breeze. The central roof beam of the barn is bowed, sagging gently in a way that feels warm and inviting, a childhood ideal of a barn. There’ve been a half dozen farms along the last stretch of road, but none displayed the signal flag, or showed any signs of habitation. It is providence that I should come to this place, so I step off the highway onto a weed-choked gravel path.

I’ve been following Highway 37 all morning, the blacktop scar dividing the glass-still wetlands to the South from the fields and hills of wild golden grass to the North. Alone except for the elegant cranes above the water and the herds of deer grazing in the dry brush, I find long silent hours to reflect and meditate on the days passed, and the glorious days ahead. I savor the quiet emptiness of Creation. Beneath my feet, the pavement is hot, and the air shimmers in the distance. There is a wet, earthy riot of smells, like fresh tilled soil and still waters. The whine and drone of insects is a monotone symphony, unbroken save for the short cries of waterfowl.

The Vallejo crater is far behind me now, hidden by a ridge of meek hills and the opalescent summer haze. Ahead, a little farmhouse comes into view from behind the barn, a leaning two floored structure, pale yellow paint peeling in the sun. My heart sings at the charming innocence of the little home. I try to imagine it without the thick wooden boards nailed over the windows and doors, without the furrowed claw marks on the barricades.

Continue reading “Before”

How This Ends

There were parties that night, but I elected to spend it alone, drinking and snorting the last of my priceless heroin on a wooded bluff overlooking the sea, capturing what quiet I could on my own terms and determined to meet the last day sober.

I woke, caked in vomit and pain as the sun arose, and trickled down to the beach, relishing the cool salt breeze on my chapped face. As I plunged my face into the water, I heard a tinny wail of joy, and turned in mute disbelief. A child raced down the beach, trailed by her mother. As public opinion had slid into open hatred of those who knowingly reproduced, births had become unheard of.

I swam in a wash of emotions: raw fury at manifest selfishness, an aching nameless joy, a thousand other twinges of head and heart. In the last decade, when it was clear that nothing could divert the comet’s path, the final gasps of propaganda’s engine had repeated this final message: Don’t Make It Worse.

I rose, fists balled, but my shout of indignant protest died on my lips. The earth trembled, a passing shock wave under foot. The impact was hours ago, in the steppes of Asia; the wall of fire and pressure had made it’s solemn journey around the world to us.

The girl was swept into her mother’s arms. They looked serenely at me, twin eyes of sea green. For a moment, I bordered epiphany. Guilt washed in behind the tide of anger. Then it was gone, and I was empty at last.

“I love you,” whispered the mother, holding the child close.

I sighed, and the air grew dim and thick with the onrush of steam. My vision clouded, and I turned to the sea, one final time.



This is not the weekly story, but instead something I wrote a year ago for a “No Longer Than 300 Words Science Fiction” competition, and it’s interesting to me for several reasons. As you may have noticed, I have a tendency to use 9 words when one will do; my first draft of this piece was well over 600 words, and I spent many cycles of revisions and iterations to reduce the size so drastically. As a result, there is an economy to the language in this piece that I like very much, it’s something that I have not been effectively able to repeat. Hell, look at the size of this introduction… at any rate, enjoy!

Thaw

Something is wrong.

Consciousness drifts back to me lazily, like an incoming tide as my mind and body awake in stages. At first, it is dark, and I have no form, just a terrified animal spark suspended in a featureless abyss. My primal hindbrain sends useless impulses to my unanswering body, demanding that I run and hide, but I am still. How long I drift here, I do not know, and the darkness devours time.

Gradually I become aware of muted sensory impressions, the faint hiss of venting gas, the dry taste of recycled air. It is utterly black however, darker than I would have believed possible, and I slowly realize that my eyelids refuse to open. I am aware of them now, thin sheets of flesh that tug across my face, but remain closed despite my efforts. Even without them, I can still sense the glass and metal frame around me.

With a dawning wave, I realize how cold I am. So cold, that for a hideous and protracted moment, I believe I may be on fire. I begin to panic, still trapped inside my nearly lifeless body, wanting to slither and crawl away from the pain. My lips part with a tear of flesh and I can feel blood trickling into my mouth, growing instantly cool as it runs between my clenched teeth. My jaw remains locked in place, the muscles straining weakly beneath my cheeks.

Continue reading “Thaw”

Quiet

A polished and updated version of this story will be included in the upcoming Cruentus Libri’s anthology “War is Hell”

I never saw the ocean till I was nineteen, and if I ever see it again it will be too goddamn soon. I was a child, coming out of the train, fresh from Amarillo, into San Diego and all her glory. The sight of it, all that water and the blind crushing power of the surf, filled me with dread. I’d seen water before, lakes, plenty big, but that was nothing like this. I don’t think I can describe what it was like that first time, and further more, I’m not sure I care too.

You can imagine the state I was in when a few weeks later they gave me a rifle and put me on a boat. When I stopped vomiting up everything that I ate, I decided that I might not kill myself after all. Not being able to see the land, and that ceaseless chaotic, rocking of the waves; I remember thinking that the war had to be a step up from this. Kids can be so fucking stupid.

I had such a giddy sense of glee when I saw the island, and it’s solid banks. They transferred us to a smaller boat in the middle of the night, just our undersized company with our rucksacks and rifles and not a word. We just took a ride right into it, just because they asked us to. The lieutenants herded us into our platoons on the decks and briefed us: the island had been lost. That was exactly how he put it. Somehow in the grand plan for the Pacific, this one tiny speck of earth, only recently discovered and unmapped, had gotten lost in the shuffle; a singularly perfect clerical error was all it took. It was extremely unlikely, he stressed, that the Japanese had gotten a hold of it, being so far east and south of their current borders, but a recent fly over reported what looked like an airfield in the central plateau.

Continue reading “Quiet”

Exit

I know this road better than I know myself. I know each of Interstate 85’s 250 odd miles; I know that it takes me an average of 3 hours and 26 minutes to drive west, from Charlotte to Atlanta, and an average of 3 hours and 29 minutes to make the same trip going eastward. I know the price of gas at a dozen stands, and the closing hours of each fast food shack and greasy diner. I know the curves of each low hill and I know each stand of pine and oak trees. I know the stretching dark of the long winter nights and the wet heat of the summer breeze. I know these things well because they are the totality of my existence now.

I know the names of each exit, westward and east. Batesville, Poplar Springs, Spartanburg. They tick through my head as I pass, but the Silver Creek Road exit is never among them. In three years of this endless loop, it has never appeared again. If I ever begin to doubt that it will, then I have nothing left.

The Silver Creek Road exit doesn’t exist on any map, or at least, it no longer does. It may have once, but like the road itself, it has been razed from the earth and from all memory and record. At the beginning, I spent long anxious days poring over old surveying maps and neighborhood planning documents, searching in vain for any sign of the road, or the exit I know I had taken. When there was nothing left in the libraries and city halls to comb through, no meek county official left to interrogate, wide-eyed and frothing, then I began the drive.

Continue reading “Exit”

Fog

A polished and updated version of this story is can be found in Cruentus Libri’s anthology “The Dead Sea”, available now from Amazon.

If you are reading this, then I am dead, and you are standing aboard a derelict Cyclone class patrol ship, the USS Mistral, with her engines dead and her electrical systems nonfunctional. I am, was, the XO of this vessel, Lieutenant Commander Ryan Simmons.

Please read this carefully. If you are an officer or enlisted man in the United States Navy, this is an order:

Scuttle this vessel, immediately. Do not finish this letter. Get off the Mistral at once, and send her down. Consider this a quarantine scenario; all hands are likely dead. God help you if they are not.

We are eight days out of Kirkwall, tracking an intermittent and scrambled distress call from what appeared to be a Icelandic fishing vessel, the Magnusdottir, deep in the no-fishing zone of the North Sea. We found the vessel, or rather, we found a mile wide streak of oil and fragments, the largest of them still burning. The night before, the enlisted man on watch had reported seeing a flash of light on the horizon.

Continue reading “Fog”