Short Sunday

New Short Fiction every Sunday evening at 6pm.

Month: March, 2013

Graffiti

It’s a stupid system because I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s dark all the time, but it’s good to leave a trail and everybody else is doing it. Just a spiral in marker until that ran out, and now scratched with stone or whatever I can find, as big as I can, over the panic graffiti that popped up when things got bad.  Idiots writing “The End is Near” on walls all over town, “The Dead Live”, bible passages, warnings, prayers. Every building covered over in paint, warnings running into prayers, prayer paint dripping down and over the army leaflets that popped up overnight. I don’t know where everyone got so much paint, but it’s fun to think that some of them got eaten while they were out there, scribbling the weather report on the walls. “We Are Lost!”  No shit. Run, dummy.

 

“EVERYTHING IS DEAD” was popular. It was every few miles and seemed to be the same handwriting, but there’s no way to know. I started doing the spiral a few months ago, after I first saw it underlined “EVERYTHING IS DEAD”.  There’s a lot in that line.

 

I lived in a storage locker for three months. Whatever happened, happened while I was on the top floor of a burning building. I got to watch it all from the rooftop, all the stairs beneath me burned, the building didn’t collapse. I lost a lot of weight and ate from the vending machines. Other than that, I’m fine. Only had to kill one thing and I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not the only one, but I haven’t seen anybody else. All I know is someone is underlining, someone is a dove, someone is a stick figure and I’m a spiral.

 

It’s impossible to tell who got killed, who was eaten, who was dead, and who was dead and starved. There’s a lot of decay in the air. If the four of us make it through, we’ll die from whatever diseases must be on the wind. I hope they’re nice. Not the diseases. The other people.

 

If I had to guess, I’m a few weeks behind whoever is underlining, less from dove, and maybe only a day or two behind the stick figure but I can’t seem to catch up. I try to leave more information when I can, when I find pens and paper, and enough of it to drive into a post, let whoever’s behind me know that it’s over. It’s still bad and we might all die alone, walking wherever we’re going, but it’s over. East. I know we’re going East. Maybe to the ocean? I wish the underline would slow down.

 

I figured out a way downstairs once the groaning stopped. Maybe in January. I thought they just moved on, but I kept my eye on a pack near the bank. I threw gravel from the rooftop when I got bored and kept score when I hit. Cruel, maybe, they used to be people, but probably bankers, so kind of a wash. They just stood around until they dropped over one day. I checked after they were on the ground for a week. Almost broke my neck climbing down. Did three floors a day, and made it down in a week. Alive again.

 

Stick figure seems kinda lame. The Dove makes sense, it’s a good symbol. I wish I went with something other than a spiral, but I didn’t know it was a thing until it was already a thing.  I can load it up with enough symbolism if I try, at night, when it’s dark and I can’t think of anything else. Stick figure just doesn’t seem like he’s even trying. Sloppy, sad work, getting worse before it gets better. Half the time there’s no arms.  I’m stepping over bodies all day too, but, still, happy I made it, take pride in your work. He might be drunk. There’s so much booze everywhere. Every glove box, without fail. Found tequila and margarita mix in a Bronco about a week ago, I don’t drink, but I figured what the hell. Pretty sure it was Easter, why not celebrate. Fixed up a margarita on a highway full of dead people and just about lost my mind screaming.

 

That happens. It just does. It takes a few minutes to get it together. Remember that you have a purpose and that you are blessed to be alive.

 

It’s not as bad now, screaming. it doesn’t wake anything else up and it’s faded as I’ve followed along. There’s absolutely nothing else to be afraid of anymore and that’s it’s own burden, but a blessing. Maybe the heat. Maybe the animals. But be careful and keep walking, keep faithful and carry on. Try to catch up to the writing on the wall before you die wandering in the dark because there’s no reason it’s not going to happen again. Everything was just as dead before it all got up and stopped being so dead so maybe I’ll die and come back and keep walking and on and on and why not? The important thing is to keep moving. Catch up to The Line. Follow him right out into the ocean if that’s where he wants us to go. Better I should be certain that I’m going somewhere no matter what awfulness it takes to get there. It’s all I have, all I understand, all that I am, all that is left.

 ———

Next Week’s Prompt: Grand Notions. 

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Read Instructions Before Use

Paul found it in the back of an obscure old comic book that he liked to think was the only one still in existence. A terrible and comic from the atomic age called “Allen Extra and Wonder Larry”. It was terrible, but Paul thought he bore a striking resemblance to WonderLarry, and bought it at a yardsale, and for all of his searching, has never found another copy of the book. On the very last page, the same yellow and brown page that sold the pills that would turn you from a four-eyed weakling to a muscled beach bruiser, the x-ray specs, the joy buzzer, there was Mar-Lo, advertised as a three foot tall clockwork detective.

 

Normally, he wouldn’t have altered the near-mint condition of the book, but he couldn’t find a trace of Mar-Lo anywhere else. Nobody in the collectors forums had heard of it, nothing on Ebay. A rare, maybe the rarest, toy. He figured it would fit one of the shelves in the spare bedroom, maybe next to the gumball machines. Or possibly next to the original 3ft tall G.I. Joes. So he winced and cut out the order form, and sent it away with  thirty dollars and forgot about it until it arrived.

 

Mar-Lo arrived in a faded blue box that showed more signs of wear than Paul would have liked. It was clear it had been opened and returned and he didn’t care for it’s used condition. It was unclear if he would be able to restore the packaging, and, more annoyingly, there were no supplemental materials, no instructions, no manufacturing information. Just Mar-Lo. A once golden metal robot, with one eye in his square head and three vertical spaces for a tinny, squeaking speaker with a spyglass in his right hand. It seemed damaged and probably not worth the thirty bucks he paid for it, but he turned it on anyway.

 

Once activated, Mar-Lo rolled around the house on old tank treads, presumably looking for clues. occasionally blurting “MAR-LO!” from his mouth. It turned poorly and ran into corners and chair legs. Kind of adorably clumsy, but pretty disappointing on the whole. It just seemed to say Mar-Lo! over and over again.

 

It bounced around for about five minutes until it said – “BZT! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE!” Oh, neat. It says other things. “BZT! BZT! MAR-LO! SUBJECT IS FIVE FEET SEVEN 190 POUNDS A REAL MOOK, A DRIP, A SOURPUSS.”

“Wow, that’s kind of –”

“A REAL NOBODY, GET ME?”

“You don’t know that.”

“BZT MAR-LO! BZT! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE!

“I guess it just says insults.”

“YOUR FATHER NEVER LEFT WHEN YOU WERE SEVEN!”

“Wait, what?”

“BZT! MAR-LO! HE LIVES IN PALM SPRINGS WITH A WOMAN NAMED SANDY AND HIS NEW FAMILY WHO HE LOVES MORE THAN YOU! HE DOESN’T CALL BECAUSE HE THINKS YOU ARE BORING. I ALSO THINK THAT YOU ARE BORING.”

“I’m not sure –”

“YOU ARE BORING. EVEN RIGHT NOW.”

“Jesus”

“BZZT! FICTIONAL DEITY CREATED BY MAN TO OBSTRUCT THE VOID! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE! YOUR FATHER WILL DIE OF A HEART ATTACK IN 582 DAYS, SANDY WILL DIE OF CANCER IN 882 DAYS. THEY WILL BOTH DIE PEACEFULLY AND NOT THINK OF YOU. MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE! BZZT!”

 

“THIS BUILDING WAS BUILT IN 1929, IT WILL BE RAZED IN 5,813 DAYS AND BE REPLACED WITH A PARKING LOT.  THE PREVIOUS OWNER WAS MURDERED WITH A BOWLING PIN BY THE CURRENT OWNER WHO WILL DIE OF OLD AGE! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE! CRACKED THE CASE! YOU WILL DIE IN 1,381 DAYS. YOU WILL CHOKE ON A TGI FRIDAY’S APPETIZER! BZT! BORING! BZT LONELY! BZT! BZT! CHOKE ON THE HIBACHI TAPA-TIZER SKEWERS!”

 

“THE WAITRESS’S NAME IS SANDY, IT DISTRACTS YOU AND YOU CHOKE. SHE TAKES A MOMENT TO NOTE HOW SAD YOU LOOK BEFORE YOU SUCCUMB. SHE WILL DIE IN A CAR ACCIDENT IN LAS VEGAS IN 1532 DAYS.  THEY DON’T EVEN CLOSE THE RESTAURANT FOR THE EVENING YOU DIE. YOU ARE THERE AT TGI FRIDAY’S IN THE MIDDLE OF A WEEKDAY DAY DAY DAY, ALONE. BZZT! SAD! SAD! BZZT! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE!”

 

“MAR-LO WILL BE THROWN OUT THE WINDOW IN FIVE SECONDS! BZZT MAR-LO! MAR-LO WILL SHATTER ON THE GROUND IN THE SUNSHINE! THE SUN WILL EXPLODE IN 55949939 DAYS! BZZT! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE!”

 

Paul, possibly overreacting, casts Mar-Lo out into the midday sun and watches him spin down to the pavement, where he shatters into pieces, croaking out a dull, last “MAR-LO!”

 

——

 

Next Week’s Prompt: Graffiti  

Saf-Keep Storage

Contents of #101

Stuffed blue elephant approximately eight feet tall, five feet wide wearing Marti Gras beads, uncomfortably forced into the back corner of the unit. It is possibly a 1:1 scale replica of actual elephant wearing Marti Gras beads. Third Place Ski Ball Trophy. Elaborate schematics of Ski Ball machines and various Ski Ball trajectories. Six storage boxes of Dave and Buster’s prize tickets. Picture of enormous stuffed pink elephant in prize cage at Dave and Buster’s. Framed inspirational photo of a tall mountain with the word “DETERMINATION” underneath. One 25 pound barbell.

Contents of #405

Hammond Organ. Piano bench. Books of practice drills. Sheet music. Small Coffee Machine. Tool Kit. Three spools of wires. Book on Organ repair. Three flashlights and one small framed photo of Bill Doggett.

Contents of #493

The lock is purple with a sparkly smiley face drawn on it in nail polish. The unit is overfull and empties trash bags of women’s clothing into the hallway when opened. All items are various shades of purple. Everything smells like candy.

Contents of #666

A swirling red mist that whispers your name over and over. The door is hot to the touch and can only be opened by agreeing to it’s terms. It hisses and says it will show you the future. It says your name again. You don’t realize your hand is burning until you say “No thank you.”

Contents of #893

The nexus of all reality, from that Sci-Fi story you wrote when you were in sixth grade. It is improbably nested in the back of an Old Cadillac, just as you wrote it. It flickers and shows you a world where you don’t wind up reading a shockingly similar story written by Stephen King a few years later, and never suspect he is somehow stealing your thoughts or plagiarizing from the back of 6th Grader’s Social Studies notebooks.

Contents of #389

Another nexus of all reality. These are less rare than people think. This one is another boring “What if Hitler Won?” nexus.

Contents of #004

A desert landscape. It is warm and welcoming and relaxing and beautiful and you cannot resist stepping in. There is howling in the distance, but it’s far away in the dark, and you are holding someone’s hand so you close the door behind you and decide to stay.

——————-

Next Week’s Prompt: Read Instructions Before Use.

Boomerangs and Puppy Dogs

The house is yellow in the middle of the desert. It’s one of the survivors of a collapsed development that was originally called Kactus Flats. Luckily no one calls it that since some of the neighbors got together to knock over the sign when the developers went bankrupt. Molly took the letters “LUCK” from the sign and hung it up in her dining room.  It’s ugly, but makes her feel clever for seeing it and saving it. She thought it might help her stay focused. The rest of the sign got crumpled up in a pile of metal and glass. Ted took it all to the recycling center in his pick up. Ted is older, but handsome and too friendly. She keeps away from him.

Her house is yellow and bright with the desert and she smokes out back, hoping her neighbors don’t see. The house blocks the wind and she taps ash into an old tin ashtray she pocketed in Vegas years ago when she did things like that. She sits and smokes and looks for Max, and thinks about what it would be like to come back.

There are a lot of neighbors. It’s turned out to be a nice community after, and maybe in spite of, the bankruptcy and the empty half-finished house at the end of the road that leans to one side. They’ve all talked about finishing it, maybe turning it into a library or community center. Or knocking it over for being an eyesore, and having Ted haul it piece by piece to the recycling center. He volunteered to do it, said it would be fun. Ted has a ponytail and is too nice and she gets nervous when he’s around. The neighbors only got so far as to tear the plastic off the windows that would flap and slap against the shingles in the wind. It’s still there, at the end of the road, doing nothing but casting a shadow like a sundial.

She misses the sound of the plastic snapping in the wind. It’s so quiet. Nothing for miles. She sleeps with the TV on and has nowhere to go when she wakes up.

She’d needed to get away from the city. She owns her home and has enough left over from the divorce to get by for a few more years but doesn’t know how she’ll get along after. She thinks about going back to work the casino, but she’d get sucked back in, she’d lose again. Again again.

She moved in a hurry after the divorce and took a box of odds and ends and Max (short for Maxine) a small mutt he’d brought home one day. A stray loose in the city, dehydrated and sick. They fixed him up and loved him but he took care of Max. It was his dog. Another rescue. He was always on the lookout for strays, it turned out. After the papers were all signed and splayed out on the kitchen table, she grabbed the dog and left before he got home from work. Grabbed Max by the scruff of her neck and left with the car.

The desert house came furnished. It was easier. All set up and ready to live in. Like she’d been there already but forgot all about this other life in the middle of nowhere, a thing she just got to come back to, waking from another bad dream to find herself home again. She only had the one box and some clothes to unpack and there she was. Like she’d never left the place she’d never been.

Max ran away right away. She let her go. She ran out the back door, ran straight out into the desert and she watched her go bounding over the scrub brush. She’d just started smoking again, on the way from there to here, and she sat down on her back stair with her cigarette and her ashtray and watched her run and run and run.

—————–

Next Week’s Prompt: Safe-Keep Storage

Update: Starting next Sunday, new short stories shall be posted at 6pm since Short Sunday at Six is significantly more satisfying to say than Short Sunday at Five. Seems like something I should have noticed before today. 

Your First Grey Hair

I went through a rough period recently. I thought I had cancer. It turns out I didn’t. But things looked that way for long enough that it didn’t really matter. I didn’t have cancer, but that for a few weeks, there being cancer in my bones or my belly or wherever was didn’t matter. I had  Schrodinger’s Cancer. I had cancer because I didn’t not-have cancer. Here’s the interesting thing: At the end of a few weeks of tests and self reflection and worry and sleepless nights and outright, shameful 3am panic – when the tests came back and I didn’t have cancer: I didn’t go skydiving.

The air wasn’t sweeter, food didn’t taste better. Nothing changed. I didn’t come away with some new understanding of the world or any wisdom. I went back to work. I just got to kick the tires on a few cancer specialists that I’ll eventually need later. It’ll happen eventually, right? And I don’t feel more prepared or wise or soulful about anything. I am exactly the same except a small patch of grey hair behind my right ear. A grey badge of cowardice, tucked someplace where I’ll never have to look directly at it, never have to think about how my suddenly being alive mattered so little that it barely altered the course of my own existence.

In the face of absolutely everything, I just wanted to not be whatever it was that I was at that time, and when that was done, I went back to not wanting to be the first thing either. I went back to the middle period between not wanting and not having, living and not dying, settled right back into existence and that is the most interesting thing that has ever happened to me. That despite everything, no matter what happens, it just happens and that’s all that happens because I am absolutely no one and so is everyone else.

 

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Next Week’s Prompt: Boomerangs and Puppy Dogs