Another Day In Paradise
Burn, fire, burn. Take us away. Cleanse us with your tongue of flame and agony. Lick the world anew and reduce the nonbelievers to ash. Free us from our prison and allow us to walk the new Earth on roads of charred pavement. Race through the streets and touch all of us with your red-orange flickers of pain. Alight everyone and everything and turn us into your signal, your beam, your announcement. Come and be the heat and horror that brings us into a new age.
No. Come, rushing tide. Flood our alleyways and thoroughfares with wave after wave of brackish, salty water. Use the power of momentum and choppy, white rapids to demolish our homes and businesses. Wipe us away in a surge of blue and black. Tear bricks from their foundations and drag them away. Take those who would deny you and pull them into your swirling depths. Show them the might of what once brought life to the world.
No. Arrive, earth, and erupt from below. Send boulders above and crash down onto the populace. Heave and crack and open up great gashes in the planet. Swallow us whole into impossible depths. Rumble and shake the marrow from our bones and chew us to bits with stone teeth. Grind us to dust with rocks and gravel and sand. Remind us from whence we came and to where we shall return. Take from us our pretensions of control and pull us back into our birthing place.
No. Blow, wind, blow. Scream and howl and bleed our ears. Whip across the land and rip chunks of the world apart. Scourge our skin and remind us what it is to breathe when the air is stolen from our lungs. Remove us from gravity’s grasp and hurtle us like weightless specks through untold spaces, spaces never before experienced by man. Smash through our monuments to stability and pull us limb from prideful limb. Take our heft and float it away.
No. All of you. All of you must combine and free the world from what we have done to it. Band together, you lords of nature, you kings of pure primeval energy. Work together in tandem to free us from our wickedness and greed. Our perversion and our hate. Our tribality and our division. Unite us together once more in defiance of your power.
And then teach us that we cannot win. Show us the folly of attempting to defeat the elements. Instruct us in the way to move forward with our lives in deference to the might and strength of the world around us. Take from us our pride and our arrogance and reduce those of us left to our knees. Remove the wickedness from this world and bring to us peace in our weakness. Only then can we rebuild and find hope in our new Eden.
They will call it apocalypse. The End of Days. The end of the world. They will be wrong. It will finally be freedom.
It is like glass as it ripples and warps and then bursts. Splinters fly and pierce your mind as you slumber without peace. Something has come. Something big. Something has split the veil between your thoughts and whatever else may be out there. Lucky you. You have a front-row seat.
Shards cut and slice and open seams in your mind. Lines of blue and black and green appear and spread, exposing boiling colors. Nothing comes through. Not yet. It seems to be enough to simply have the option. It is not your option, though. You have no say in the matter.
You could try to wake up. Should, in fact. It may work. It may do something. It may save yourself and the rest of the world. But what if it doesn’t? What if you staying asleep is what is keeping the things inside you at bay? What if it is better for the world if you never wake up? Can you accept that?
As the dreams develop, you can feel the bits push into the corners of your mind. They pierce memories and leave them bleeding. The thoughts leak and drip from where they have been sliced, like pigs at a slaughterhouse. The runoff pools on the floor of your mind and mixes together. Your prom is now part of kindergarten. Driving with your ex is mingling with the breakup in a strange, melancholy fashion.
Something calls to you from within the dream. Something dark and deep. Something wide and mean. Something that wants you to wake up, to make you a portal to wherever it’s from. Stay asleep if you can. Delay as long as you can.
You feel anger now. It comes toward you, not from you. You are not cooperating. The glass in your mind pushes deeper, cuts harder. It’s trying to hurt you now. Force you to let it out. It’s going after the most precious of your memories. Your eighth birthday where you went to Disneyland, for instance. The colors are seeping into it and changing the memory. Where you had met Mickey, now he is touching you inappropriately. Where you rode a roller coaster for the first time, now you are covered in your own vomit and fear. This blessed recollection is tainted.
Stay strong. They are only memories. They are only thoughts. They do not exist anymore and the experience itself cannot be changed. Even if you do not remember it the same way, it still happened and you can be assured of that.
It rages now. It yells at you in some unearthly voice in your mind. It tells you to wake up, to set it free. It demands action. It demands your obeisance. It will not receive it.
It did not consider what you had done. It did not know of the poison flowing in your veins. It did not know of the final trip you were taking, an escape from your life.
Ironically enough, the needle saved the world.
With Or Without You
Some people have the will to live. Some don’t. It’s a hard pill to swallow when those you thought did turn out to not. When the bombs dropped on that Tuesday morning, we all got to find out who was who. In that first hour was when 80% of the populace dropped, either from the bomb impacting, the resultant damage to the cities, or from not being willing to live in a world so irreparably changed.
The rest of us, we formed packs. Bands of people sticking together to find food and places to sleep. Groups to protect us from the more violent and unrestrained. Each of those groups had its own makeup, own identities. Our group was decent. Sure, we had a few of those macho men who thought they would be the kings of the new world. That changed, though, the second one of them lost his guts on a wrought-iron fence after falling from a second story window.
Those first couple weeks were an adjustment. You couldn’t just find what you wanted when you wanted. You learned to scavenge and loot. Houses that were empty were fair game. You’d have to fight off animals and other raiders. Sometimes you’d win and leave with your treasure. Sometimes you’d lose and bury another friend. But you got used to it after a while and routines set in.
It was when The Lady came upon our group that things went upside-down. She was pretty and entitled and knew how to throw her weight around. She came with a retinue of desperate and lonely men, aching to take their places at her side. She would toy with them, choose one, make him her lover, and then toss him aside. More often than not, there would be bodies left behind from the more despondent of the discarded.
We were suspicious at first. Why would you not be? Someone who treated people like disposable playthings didn’t particularly inspire trust in most of us. We had a shortage of everything. Why throw away people when we need everyone we can get? It made no sense and made us nervous.
She talked to us, though. Talked to me, specifically. She explained that she never demanded anything of these men and that she never promised them anything. All she did was exist. It wasn’t her fault that they went overboard. And it made sense. Of course it did. She couldn’t be blamed for the choices they made.
My other group members didn’t like this. They said she was manipulating me, using mind tricks on me. They didn’t know what they were saying. They didn’t know her like I did. They were jealous that she liked spending time with me and that took away time for themselves. It was so obvious. So clear to me.
We’re leaving soon, she and I. The others have told me not to go, but my mind is made up. She’s promised that I’ll be the man by her side. Her king.
(I Just) Died In Your Arms
Shhh. Shhh. It’s okay. Just breathe. Breathe while you can. It’ll all be over soon. Let your heart slow down and stop peacefully. You shouldn’t be in any pain. If you are, let me know and I’ll fix that for you. Just a little joke there, of course. You can’t let me know because you can’t talk.
While we have a few minutes, I’m going to talk to you and you, well, are going to have to just sit here and listen. Don’t worry, I’ve got you. You’re leaning up against my chest now. You can probably feel my heart beating. Excitement in my case. Not the same for you, probably. That’s okay. I can talk for both of us.
First off, I want to assure you that you did nothing wrong. Not really. You didn’t go down a back alley or engage in a drug deal or anything like that. All you did was walk into your favorite bar for a drink after work like you did every day. Nothing wrong with that! Habit and routine can be fun, after all. A little bit of joy before the end of the day is necessary, especially after working so hard like you did.
You couldn’t have known that I was watching. How could you have? I keep to myself, keep to the shadows. I’ve been watching you for some time. Watching how you treat others. You’re always so kind and friendly to them. It’s a sign of character, I think, and I approve of it. That’s why this is such a shame. In any other world, you’d be headed home to watch TV and relax rather than be, well, here with me.
But you’re not. We’re here and you’re leaking your life out on the floor and I’m holding you and it’s perfect. How is it perfect, I can hear you trying to ask. Well, it’s simple. This is when you really get to know a person. Right at the end. There are no more lies, no more conceits. They aren’t trying to impress you or make you believe something about them that’s not true. It's pure and honest them.
And you’re ready. I can tell. You’ve been ready for a while, haven’t you? You’ve been tired of this place, of your daily grind. I can see it in your eyes. I can feel it in your blood. You’ve been wanting this.
It’s okay. Don’t struggle. Don’t thrash. It just makes things go more slowly. Just relax and let yourself slip away. You’ve earned it. And you’re not alone. I’ll be here the whole time. It’s a blessing in a way. You don’t have to go through this by yourself. Aren’t you lucky?
You’re getting quiet now. That’s okay. We don’t have to talk anymore. We can just sit here and let things take their natural course. I would like to know one thing though.
Did you ever think it would end this way?
I mean, it’s cliché but-
Her beauty was ethereal. It was intimidating, in a way. From her flowing blonde hair that looked like it had been forged from the sun itself to her eyes, wide and deep, almost-purple blue, she had a quality to her that was beyond simply human. The way she walked was more like hovering along the ground, barely placing a foot down to steady herself. Every movement was languid and practiced and both drew attention to her and made people forget she was there. She was like some sort of goddess that floated her way across campus.
And I asked her on a date.
I have no idea how it happened. That’s not me. Never has been. I’m more the kind of guy that gets drunk, gathers up the nerve to send a rambling text, then wakes up, deletes it, and blocks the number out of sheer terror the next morning. Confidence has never been my thing. So, when I saw her there, sitting at a table in the lunch area, reading a book of chemistry or something like that, all prior experience would have said that I simply scuttled away like a crab and taken up refuge in the men’s bathroom until such a time as I felt safe to leave. That’s not what happened though.
I was glancing at her, entranced, but trying to appear nonchalant. You know the kind of thing I was doing. Looking but not looking but definitely looking. Well, she caught me. She locked eyes with me and, in that moment, it was like I saw into the stars themselves. Something burned in my chest and I found myself walking over to her. This was weird. This was not normal. But the terror usually existent in my chest was not present.
She drew me over and, when I stood next to her, I felt the words spilling from my mouth. I said she was beautiful and that I wanted to take her out to dinner. She smiled and worlds burned. She agreed and said she would meet me outside the student center at 6 PM. I don’t remember what happened after that. I’m pretty sure my heart exploded from stress.
6 PM came and I stood there, shaking, waiting and expecting that she would not show. But she did. She was wearing a blue and green swirling dress and it looked like clouds around her. She took my hand after I said hello and heat raced up my arm. Dinner was an afterthought as she led me through the campus to one of the soccer fields.
She asked me, as we entered, if I was scared. I said no. She smiled again, said that was good, and gave me a kiss. I felt fire surge down my throat and into my chest and, when I breathed out, everything went black.
I’m floating now, above my body. Smoke is curling out of my mouth and she is long gone. I wonder if she’s ever coming back.
Every Breath You Take
Tara awoke with a start. She wasn’t sure when she had fallen asleep, but clearly she must have been tired. She tried to sit up and her forehead impacted something hard and painful. She yelped as she lay back down and tried to touch her head, but she could not move her arms or hands. That was curious. As she came to real consciousness, lightning hit her in the stomach as she realized that she could not see anything. She could not move. All she could do was hear the sound of her own increasing breathing.
All around her was wood, scratchy, full of splinters. She could not stretch her arms out to feel much of it, but her hands scraped against roughness everywhere they could. She tried to shift her body as much as possible, but there was little room to be found. She was trapped. Fervently, she hoped it was at least above ground, but the oppressive quiet around her put paid to that idea.
It wasn’t worth thinking about who or how or why or anything like that right now. Her focus needed to be on two things: staying alive and getting out. Neither seemed especially likely, given the dearth of room she had inside her makeshift coffin, but she had to keep her mind locked on those two goals or she was going to panic more than she already was. That wouldn’t help her and would reduce her oxygen.
Oxygen. That needed to be the first order of business. How much did she have? How much had she used? She didn’t feel a mask over her face, so they – whoever they were – hadn’t buried her with a tank. That was either good news or very bad. It would be good if they intended to only have her down there for a certain amount of time to scare her or get a ransom. It was very bad if they had no intent to retrieve her.
She needed to conserve her oxygen, which was hard enough given the stuffy, hot air that was around her. She could already feel her lungs straining a bit with the pressure in the container. More and more carbon dioxide was filling the space and, when it became too much, that was going to be game over for her. Think, think, think. What to do? How to get out?
Get out. Get out of where? Where was she? Oxygen, right. Time to think. Think hard. Think fast. Hot. It was hot. She was sweating. Her head was getting fuzzy. Her vision was swimming a bit. She needed to…do something. What was it? She couldn’t quite remember. She couldn’t get her brain to register thoughts.
She was tired. She was getting tired. Her muscles ached. She must have been running. Better to take a nap. Right? A nice nap would make things all better. It always had before. She would just close her eyes and nap and she’d wake up refreshed.
She’d wake up.
Take On Me
Lifeless, formless, effervescent, you flit around. A shroud in midair, a fluttering cloak of invisible darkness. You drift from person to person, examining and overhearing their lives. One at a time, you judge them as suitable or not and move on to the next person. With each person, you find reason that they are not acceptable.
That one was too loud. Too exuberant. That wasn’t you. You would be exhausted trying to maintain the façade and, worse, would be forced to explain why the personality had shifted from boisterous to quiet and reserved. No, no. This one would not do.
Nor would the next one. Tall, clumsy, a bit unsure of how he walked. It was charming, in a way, but that would not do either. You were graceful and poised. You moved as if gliding across ice without a trace of effort. A ballerina, almost, if one were to say that. It would take too long for you to learn how to control this body and, even then, it would not be how it was. No, on to the next one.
Closer, yes, but still not quite there. She is pretty and reserved, both qualities you admire, but you can sense a streak of cruelty deep within her. You can see it with how she behaves to waiters and service workers. Slight aggression and derision, a sense of superiority. She thinks she is better than them in all senses of the word. She could be humbled, you suppose. It may be fun to try. Still, you don’t wish to start anew already working from behind. No, she may keep her bitter life.
Nearly there with this next one, you feel. Kind and generous, friendly and welcoming, her goodness radiates from her like warm breezes on a summer day. She smiles at all and gives of herself tirelessly. She would be perfect, were she not so old. It hurts you, it does, to pass her by. She fits all that you wish for, all that you want to be again. But her time is waning. Her sunset is coming. And you need more than that. You need more time than that.
Her granddaughter, though. All the qualities of her Nonna with the verve and drive of youth. Her energy pulses and the blood in her veins is strong and healthy. She beams like the sun and all who pass by her fall in love. She is a magnet of hope and love in a world too often draped with darkness.
Yes. Yes, she is perfect.
You find her as she sleeps, gentle and peaceful. You take your place on the bed next to her and rest a shimmering hand on her cheek. She will not know you are there. She will never know you are there. But you will be her passenger, her provider. You will bless her and damn her enemies. She will be untouchable by all but the worthiest.
You enter her and open your eyes.
Waiting Is The Hardest Part
It’ll only be an hour or two, I tell myself. It’s so stupid of me to be here in the first place. I was putting up Christmas lights and my foot slipped off the ladder. I went down and something erupted in pain. My girlfriend insisted I go in, but the only thing open right now is the ER, so here I am.
It's the usual motley crew of ER denizens around me tonight. The toddler with breathing issues. Probably croup. Just give him meds. The old man with half a finger from trimming trees. The couple clearly on drugs sitting and watching some crappy Nickelodeon movie and giggling. And me, someone who sees it all as nothing more an overabundance of caution.
There’s a man on the other side of the barrier from me who is clearly having a bad time. He’s moaning and gagging pretty much non-stop. It’s kind of overexaggerated, which is funny, but it’s bordering on ridiculous. I kinda want to just call back for him to either die or stop bitching, but that would be gauche and probably get me dirty looks from other people. Although, given their clear annoyance with him too, they may actually agree with me.
His gagging is getting worse. There’s a heave and now something splattered on the floor. Lovely. I don’t want to turn to look, but that didn’t sound like puke. More like…meat. Sausages maybe. In the reflection of the glass in front of me, I can see something pouring out of him. Maybe he should go next. Nobody seems to be bothered by this, though, so I guess this is just normal.
Someone else is coming in now. Not sure why they brought her to the ER. She has half a head. I can see all the structures inside what’s left of her head from here, but she’s still standing. Okay, sure. You see weird things at the ER all the time. Behind her, there’s a guy that clearly has been dead a while, since he’s mostly rotted away.
This clock isn’t moving. For the love of all that is holy, just make the clock go faster. I don’t even care that they just wheeled in someone that’s been bitten in half by a shark. I don’t even care that I’m sitting next to a lady that looks like a pretzel except in human form. None of that bothers me.
It's the clock. The damn clock. I don’t see it ticking. I don’t see it moving at all. That’s the worst part. I keep checking my phone, but the time keeps changing. It’s three hours later. It’s five hours before. It’s a different date. None of it makes sense and that’s annoying me.
I just want to get in, get my foot taped up, get my pain meds, and get home. I’m sure my girlfriend is worried sick. She’s sent me a few pictures and she’s crying in them.
I just don’t get why she’s wearing black.
Money for Nothing
It seemed so simple, so easy. All Harvey had to do was sit in a comfortable chair in a comfortable room and wait. He could play on his phone, sleep, take snacks from the plate in front of him, or just relax. He could get out of the chair and walk around. He couldn’t leave the room itself, but there was a bathroom attached if nature called. For all of this, only eight hours of his time, he would receive $50,000. One more caveat, the guy had told him, though. He had to tell the truth when the time came. That was all.
It was simple, he thought. Harvey was an honest guy. He never really lied. Not really, anyway. When the people had approached him and made him the offer, he had seen nothing wrong with doing so. This was the easiest easy money.
It was around Hour 5, though, that Harvey began to get some second thoughts. There was such a thing as too easy and this may have been one of those situations. He hadn’t asked too many questions. Maybe that was to his detriment. But nothing bad had happened to this point and they had seemed genuine. Perhaps he was too trusting as well, he thought. Good ol’ trusting Harvey.
Around the start of Hour 6, he heard a knock at the door and one of his employers – for that was technically the right word – came in and smiled at Harvey. He asked if he was doing alright and, when told yes, he nodded appreciatively. He told Harvey that, in a few minutes, he would need to tell the truth as requested, but then he would be free to go and would still be paid the full amount.
Harvey felt supremely lucky in that. His butt was falling asleep, honestly. However, when a couple men dragged in a beaten, bruised, bloody man and sat him down across from Harvey, the chair suddenly seemed far too close to the actual action. He recognized the man immediately. It was his brother-in-law, Benson. This seemed less simple now.
Harvey was asked if he knew this man. He said yes. He was asked his relationship to Benson. He told them that he was the man’s brother-in-law. In the corner, a small woman made notes on a piece of paper. Harvey felt his nerves twitch every time she scribbled something down. He was asked a few more questions, all pertaining to their relationship, and Harvey answered them as honestly as he could.
Then, finally, they asked him if he loved his brother-in-law. He paused. He remembered their nights at the bars, laughing. But he also remembered having the hell beaten out of him for dating Benson’s sister. He remembered the humiliation at his bachelor party. He remembered the mean jabs at his weight, height, social status.
He said no. Benson cried and was dragged off. The man thanked him and handed him a check.
It felt good to tell the truth.
One Night in Bangkok
Go to where the streets are bright
Find the blue shop and take a right
Walk under the hanging sign
Hope that nothing there is malign
Ignore the people calling out
They only wish to inspire doubt
Take your time and see the sights
Make this an unforgettable night
Stroll through crowded, stuffy streets
Selling trinkets, soup, and meats
Pay attention to who passes by
But do not mention their third eyes
Or tentacles in long, dark coats
Or teeth and mouths lining their throats
Do not focus on their skin
Green and spiked, clear and thin
Just play dumb to dragging tails
Littered with sharp studs and scales
As you go on your excursion
Pay no mind to your second version
That follows you from steps behind
Put the thoughts of it from your mind
It will only serve to distract
Delay you when it’s time to act
It won’t touch you on its own
Only when you’re left alone
The whispers digging in your ear
Look to fill your heart with fear
Block them out with gentle hums
Or at worst just use your thumbs
But keep on walking, slowly, sure
Past the stables with manure
From creatures tall and wide and thin
With muscles bursting from within
And twitching, writhing as they work
To make the creatures move and jerk
Uncannily, as a puppet sings
When a master dances its strings
At some point, you will find a fork
In the road, now cloudy and dark
To the left, bright lights and sound
To the right, nothing is around
You will feel compelled to take
The road where nothing seems at stake
Don’t be fooled by light and life
Down the left is only strife
And terror deep, infused in pain
Despite the urge pouring like rain
Take the right road, the only choice
Do not fret when you lose your voice
This road is meant for quiet peace
A place to make apprehension cease
For minutes seemingly never-ending
Despite the signals you’ll be sending
Demanding sound and not to mention
Begging for someone’s attention
But please do not fear being alone
There are worse things down this road
Continue moving and do not stop
You’ll reach a hill and go to the top
And when you get there, take a breath
For now, you have avoided death
Up here the air is cool and clean
Behind you floats dark swirling green
You breathed it in, but made it past
The dark and twisting sick morass
Ahead of you now is the place
You’ve looked for now what seems like days
It’s small and cozy, brown and cramped
And in the air the smell of damp
But forward go and ring the bell
And pay no mind to the decaying smell
Someone will come and meet you there
Appraising you with a dull stare
They’ll ask what brought you here, uncaring
How you answer them with glaring
Eyes and will welcome you within
Therein you’ll find oblivion
Here is where I''ll post random stories that aren't, as of yet, in a larger book. Call it a free ride into the mouth of madness, yo.