Check out my new horror, short story Tidal Pool on Vocal – https://vocal.media/horror/tidal-pool
It’s about five pages, and views can help out in case of ties.
My parrot sits,
on the balcony rail
far above the bustle
turning a wry eye
to watch me eat my omelet.
LOOK! AWWKK! I’M A HUMAN!
His sharp beak scratches at me
Then . . .
I’M SO DRUNK! AWWKK!
His mocking beak spits at me
tottering drunkenly, slovenly
side to side
on the precipitous rail.
Another fluffy bite of chorizo
MY! BEST FRIEND! AWWKK!
His pointed beak darts up and down
SORRY MARK! AWWKK! SORRY MARK! AWWKK! SORRY MARK! AWWKK!
His broken record hawks at me.
The wind whips around the building’s corner.
A tasty sliver of sausage
riddled with fat
slides past my tongue and gets
sideways, my eyes wide
OH GOD! AWWKK! MARK PLEASE! AWWKK!
His insinuating beak accuses as he
falls backward from the rail.
The attenuating wail becomes lost
as I hack the fatty pork
back atop my omelet.
I stare with tears at the plate
and my sarcastic parrot
on the rail.
Death walked amongst the tombstones in no particular hurry. His cloven feet had been specially fitted only a week ago, but now his shoes were rubbing. He should have broken them in. No use in whining about it now.
He looked down at his legs. As it turned out, duct tape did not fix everything. His flesh was still strung together haphazardly, with the bones exposed and shinning a bright white here and there. No matter how many times a day he ate, no matter how many plates of Burrito Supremes with extra beans he put down, no matter how much he lie around and took whole weeks off at a time (in which no one on Earth died, not that anyone noticed) he was still skin and bones. Literally. Still, after hanging out with Famine for a few days last spring, he couldn’t really complain. He was a pot-bellied pig compared to Famine.
Reaching his boney hands into a small, black sackcloth, Death grabbed a vial. It was about the size of a baby turtle minus the shell. Never seen a turtle without its shell? Never mind, it’s a little underwhelming anyway. To better explain, it was about the size of an Argentinian, three toed sloth in its twelfth week of gestation. Give or take a few ounces.
As Death glided silently through the dew-ridden grass and past numerous fake flower arrangements, he uncorked the vial. Maybe that’s a misnomer. It wasn’t a cork that was holding things inside the vial; it was actually the souls of one thousand and four Billy goats born on a summer’s solstice. Cork, you see, is slightly porous over millennia, and the souls of Billy goats are not.
The nubby carpals held slightly over the opening while those souls scattered in all directions with a panic that was devoid of any real purpose. Every so often, one of the souls would come across a train or screaming child and the goat soul would suddenly go stiff and fall over. This is because they were fainting goats in their past lives. Old habits die hard. At any rate, no one living noticed, and after a few seconds the goat souls hopped back up and continued on with their panicked travels.
There were only four million, seven hundred forty six thousand, nine hundred eighty eight drops, so he would have to choose carefully. It sounds like plenty, but there are a huge, huge amount of dead people all over the planet. Like billions. Probably a lot more than that, but I don’t want to sound braggy or pretentious by spouting off arbitrarily large numbers. Fine, I don’t really know the number, but it is really, really more than you could imagine without thinking about it for an amount of time that would also be so huge you really wouldn’t want to take the time to think about it, and then, well you see where that could end up going.
When Death chose a plot, he tipped the vial and let one drop of viscous, glowing purple liquid fall from the its open mouth. There was a moment of silence as time stopped and the lavender droplet fell through a vacuum of anticipation. When it finally passed through the Earth’s epidermis, there was a sound akin to a miniature, clown’s motorbike slamming its brakes on. A parade squelch of tiny rubber tires finding purchase on a summer Main Street in a small, Midwestern town. It was quite counterintuitive and very unnerving. He wasn’t sure of the physics involved, but was certain that said substance had no actual mass in this plane of existence and should therefore not make a sound at all. So the fact that it did made him question the one who had sold him the concoction. But that was a few thousand years ago and to tell the truth, he wasn’t certain if he still had the receipt, having kept it in a corked vial.
Death wondered to himself what the sound should sound like. What kind of ring it would have to have to please the ears or, at least, make sense based on the drop’s apparent liquidity and the grounds limestone mix. Like a heavy rain drop slapping some mud? A small, seedless grape being hit with a tennis racket? And if it didn’t have to make sense, as apparently it did not, then why not something more fanciful? Something like a woman’s quick, orgasmic moan, or the mischievous laughter of three dead children? Or for that fact, what about something you could actually listen two over and over again, millions of times, without getting bored out of your mind with it, like John Lennon’s Mind Games. And wouldn’t that be appropriate and fitting?
Another teardrop of magenta lightening passed from the chilly graveyard air to the casket below. Squelch!
“Fucking seriously, then!” Death raised his voice, and then quietened, looking around and feeling at once embarrassed with his outburst.
Death continued into the night. In his wake, no pun intended, the grounds began to loosen in places as the dead clawed their way from their claustrophobic, little resting places. And if you thought about like that, it was more of a rescue really.
The small plastic balls of varying color bounced around inside the nets as small hands flailed, a few of the balls breaking free and rolling past our feet. My son of three, smiling away, crawled out of the balls and disappeared quickly into one of the tubes, as did many others.
People abound and pigeons galore, we looked away and chewed our burgers slowly, trying to keep the wind from carrying the fry bag away. Sprinkling salt into the puddle of ketchup. Talking about the weather, my job, and bills to be paid. Then a scream. It is my child’s scream.
Terror. He’s hurt. Perhaps twisted an ankle and fallen down a tube? A busted lip? In a fight with a larger child? Following the scream from outside we see his face through the clear plastic of a corner section.
The others had left and the maze had turned thick… dark, empty. He had probably circled once, maybe twice, with nothing familiar, the walls of the labyrinth impenetrable. Trapped with no way out.
We pointed out directions as we tried with calm voices to settle his heart, elephant tears rolling from his cheeks. As my wife walked to the tunnel entrance and hollered to provide direction, I couldn’t help but realize the silliness of it all.
A small laugh giggled its way up in spite of his tears and terror, and as he turned to follow the voice I wondered how he could be frightened at all. In the mind of my child it was the end, with no way out and no hope. And there was no one else around to help. His fate had been sealed by a colorful tube with a bubbly, convex lens through which he could see the outside world but never reach it.
Safety couldn’t have surrounded him more that day if it tried and the unnecessary screams were calmed in a short time. His tears and terror soon forgotten as he attacked another section of the playground. We settled back to dipping fries and I couldn’t stop laughing.
As a result of this encounter with terror and loss of hope, I wonder if in my most pitiful of states, my darkest of hours, in which all of my hope is gone and there seems no way out, if God is looking at me and wondering why I’ve lost all hope and given up. Why I am crying at all. Why I can’t just stop and listen.
God is whispering through that dark tunnel so I can find my way.
He is watching from very close by.
And my tears and terror will end soon enough.
And I wonder… no, I’m certain.
He is giggling all the while.
The hot asphalt is drenched in sweat. A turnout of over 3,200 triatheletes this year. Over six million viewers and close to six thousand users paying for direct links. And although they’ve been outlawed in several countries, we know of plenty underground linkage providers that have parallel sensory links with embeds. The users feel everything the tri’s feel. Everything. But that’s for big gold. Only the toppers can afford that. The rest of us down here at street level have to gorge ourselves on second hand electro’s and coarse-fitting neurals.
The runners have weaved their way through the sweltering January heat, through the smog pits, along the outer rim of the ground zero crater for the 2025 nuclear attack on what used to be Los Angelos. The initial swim through the shark infested waters of Upper Mexico left around 2,500 participants. That’s another 200 over what was eaten last year. They’re thinking about moving the swim lanes again, as the sharks are starting to gather in greater numbers every year at the currently designated lanes. There have also been reports of people illegally chumming in the areas a few weeks prior to the games. You can’t really blame them, though. After the amount of money they lost in the years following the 80 percent games, people were very forgiving when it came to rigging and cheating. They called it the 80 percent games because almost 80 percent of the participants survived. Nobody is interested in games where everybody wins. What’s the point? Where’s the danger? The adrenaline? People were paying record prices to link to tri’s that crossed the finish line. When they unplugged, they were just exhausted. Not much of a rush for the price. Things are much more exciting now.
The timer is huge this year. It’s neon yellow numbers are over 30 feet high in the amber sky, and you can even see it through the pollutes from almost a mile away. Everyone is crowding the road. The first time idiots who make their way to the front of the masses find out too late that when the timer runs out, they are suddenly part of the games, whether they like it or not. In the frenzy, everyone pushes forward, expectant, and those little two foot gaps that existed between pavement spectators disappears. There’s no way to turn around and sift back into the crowd. You wanted front row, buddy you got front row.
The timer is ticking down now. 38 . . . 37 . . . 36 . . .
The crowd’s murmur is intensifying; some of the tri’s family members are screaming for them to Run! For the love of God! Run! But the exhaustion is setting in and the pollutes are filling their lungs. Tri’s aren’t allowed to wear their masks for the last part of the race. Their throats must be burning pretty bad right about now. People linking in are probably hacking and coughing away in their little underground playpens. Choking on what is, to them anyway, imaginary particles of acid rain, CFC’s, ammonia, and enough carbon to choke a horse, if there were any still in existence.
12 . . . 11 . . . 10 . . .
The crowd is going beserk now. You can look out over the sands and see ripples of excitement coursing in waves through the masses. The runners near the line expend whatever energy they have left to make it before the countdown ends. A few groups of ten or twenty make a last ditch effort and make it across in small desperate clutches. Everyone knows that if you miss the countdown, the only chance you have is to form a clutch with the unlucky RBI’s on the outside.
3 . . . 2 . . .
When the timer hits zero, the crowds are deafening. You can’t even hear the gunfire. You can see it though. Flashes of red from the tips of the weapons and the runners forming and reforming groups as they struggle for the line. Some of the front row spectators are dropping.
The big gold players, they pay big for the first shots. During a race three years ago, a man paid a month’s food ration to have the first five minutes to himself. He had all twenty weapons in a row, filled to capacity, and emptied them all in the first five minutes. Only three or four tri’s out of a couple hundred got by. It was a slaughter. Viewings were at an all time high.
They can’t all be like that, but this race looks to be a solid 30 percenter. No shame in those kind of numbers, folks. This is ViewLink One bringing you live coverage as always, right from ground level. Remember, we stay connected until the end.
You walk into the doctor’s office and there is a heavy smell of antiseptic and death. There is no one at the front desk so you stand in front of it like a confused tree. Five minutes tick by and no one returns to the desk. Other patrons sit with straight backs, spines so erect it makes you uncomfortable. You are wearing a T-shirt, faded jeans, and a pair of muddy sneakers. Looking at the other patrons, you see everyone else is wearing their Sunday’s best. Ties and brooches, diamond earrings, shiny black shoes that make hard clacking sounds on the floors of important buildings. You look down at your shoes to see your left one is untied, so you lean over and retie it.
Sitting down without signing in will make your visit a useless one. You will never get seen. There is no sign-in clipboard on the counter. The other patrons are eyeing you with careless pity. You do not make eye contact with them. You listen for footsteps. Perhaps someone is about to open the door and call out one of these citizen’s names. You have waited eight minutes. You are now this room’s center of gravity; its focal point. If someone throws this room across the universe in a wide arc, your path will remain a smooth curve on an unseen graph. You decide to sit down at the chair closest to the front desk. Someone will come in and you will see them and jump up and take your rightful place at the head of a two person line. Or the person will come back from their bathroom break and sign you in.
You stare forward at nothing, making yourself invisible. No one can detect you in your invisible chair, surrounded by an invisible cloak. You focus on nothing and you are nothing. You are unaccounted for with no name on a paper that is not on the counter.
A lady in a white coat emerges from a small doorway behind the counter and you jump up like a rabbit during hunting season. You will soon exist. You will soon be a part of a process with a name, a time, an insurance card, and a phone number. These are all properties of you, and since they exist, you must therefore also exist.
The lady opens your mouth to say something, but another lady comes through the main door and opens your mouth instead.
“I am ready,” you hear yourself say.
“Wonderful,” you feel yourself thinking, and the words emerge from the lady’s mouth.
You intend to smile and her lips part to show pearly white teeth.
She leads you down a long, polished concrete hallway. The walls are white. The lights are bright. Nothing to hide here. When you turn and enter the room, there is an elderly lady lying on her back. The cold, silver puddle of steel lies underneath her. There are instruments lying in front of you. A scapel, tongs, pliers, garden shears, lighter fluid, a translucent bag of leeches, and a small kitten actively trying to escape its cage. The woman has already been opened from belly-button to sternum, a crimson meat flower ready for pollenation. You step forward and as you reach for the lock on the kitten’s cage a small, rustic farmer-looking gentleman rushes into the room, boots leaving clumps of red clay all over the floor.
He says, “Sorry, sorry . . . this young citizen is here to have her gall bladder removed.”
The woman in white says, “Oh . . .” and then turns to you and says, “come with me.”
You turn to look at the room one last time on your way out. Everyone is smiling. Their smiles are wide, like a youth minister’s. The kitten hisses at you. The woman on the table breaths through a tube. You make your way down the hall again. The smooth floor becomes textured. The walls are made of cotton. The nurse stops and suddenly turns to face you.
“I need you to cough,” she states. You can tell by the manner in which she says this that she has said it millions of times. You try to repsond, but cannot. “I need you to cough,” she states again. The walls begin to dissapate; the cotton turning a soft, slow black, like survivalist tinder. And then without warning the floor is gone and you are falling at 9.8 meters per second.
“Sweetie, I need you to cough,” the nurse says. You emit a dainty wisp of air on your third attempt. The room spins and time is no more. You open your eyes again and the nurse asks if you would like more blankets. Yes, you would. How you convey this, you are not certain. You are not fully self-aware, but this person is standing in front of you. You are not invisible. She can see you.
Before time is fluid again, you think for some reason of Juliet, your cat. Have they fed her? You must do what the nurse and doctors say and heal quickly so you can get back to your garden. So you can dig your wrinkled fingers in the dark, wet potting soil and give life to your flowers and herbs.
There are flames everywhere. I’m sitting in the window seat of the bookstore, sipping my coffee.
Exactly three people are on fire. Two are dead. It’s St. Patrick’s Day. Only six of the people outside are wearing green. One of the dead is clad in all green, but his foot-tall, striped hat was blown off with the wind from the initial impact. His beer mug, however, is still clenched firmly in hand. One wonders if these priorities will carry over to the afterlife?
The people around me are choosing three different methods of panic. Nine of them run screaming to the back of the store, looking for a way out. Four older German ladies run screaming to the bathroom, a solid structure in the middle of the store. That would help in a tornado, but not for this. Who wants to die in a public bathroom? Apparently old German ladies. There are two stalls in the men’s bathroom, but I have no idea how many are in the ladies. I thought about a quick glance once, just to see, but the thought of getting caught was too much. Two people, a loud-speaking, maudlin hipster couple, are behind the coffee counter huddling with the baristas. The woman who has received her double chocolate-chip frappacino has kept hold of it as she dashes behind the safety of the expresso machine. You can have my overpriced caffeine and diuretics, these citizens are saying, when you pry it from our cold dead fingers.
The two people who are on fire are being put out by four men who have come from the bar across the street. They are dragging the limp bodies back through the door of the bar. The stuff that was burning them is like Greek Fire. Their clothes and skin, the men were able to put out, but the amoebic lava that had crawled its way into the flesh, that was still burning them from the inside out.
There are two mopeds, six bicycles, and one motorcycle outside. There are 36 flowers in the median, evenly spaced in a checkered pattern. They are all fake.
The second impact sets everything in the street on fire. The vehicles, the dead people, the plants, and even the asphalt in the road. The sidewalks are not on fire, the curb being the straightline separator. Everything between the two curbs is melting into the river of liquid Sun that was the road. The heat doesn’t penetrate the imaginary line either; a wayward burger wrapper sits a few inches from the volcanic pathway and doesn’t so much as turn black.
The book I’m reading costs twenty eight dollars. It has 320 pages. Why does a piece of cardboard in front of and behind the content of a book raise the price by thirteen dollars? The tax is ten percent here, but a membership card cuts ten percent off of the price.
There are two other people sitting at the window, watching and counting. One is a small boy and the other is a female college student. We will sit here for another thirty two minutes, until the fifth impact. That’s when the culling begins. But we count first. How many of them are left is important. To few and we’ll end up having to take care of this planet ourselves. To many and there’s always insurrection.
There are 346 other planets to resource, but when we’re done, we get to pick any of those for the Longevity. It is 2:31 pm in this time zone. There are twenty-four time zones.
All hail Lord Pox.
They surge with idealistic urges
ripe with poetic angst
against prejudicial columns and old bricks;
they turn mind-scraping cartwheels,
kaleidoscope cobwebs breaching their minds
little-bitty itsy-bitsy earth-shattering ideas
come and go
silent and unannounced
and they know something wonderful has just passed through
their rusted lives
like a bullet train of condensed meaning
An explanation flits like a drunken butterfly
in front of hazy emotions
whispering life’s secrets in their ear
in a subliminal, foreign language
too cheap to listen to
and too quiet to hear
over the din of raucous laughter
Life, 15 Nov. 1968. The writer, William Zinsser, jokingly suggested amperstop (&;) “to catch that delicate moment when you want to say something more and then think better of it” and the percentoquote (%”) “to suggest that the person being quoted should be only partially believed.”