Die, Mug, Silence

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The waitress eyed his mug like a Black Friday shopper eyeing the father who just grabbed the last Tickle-Me-Elmo. His knuckles white from keeping a tight grip through the handle around the sphere of the terracotta cup. His eyes glancing at the waitress and back at the coffee, half full and still steaming in his hand. The waitresses grip on the coffee pot equally as tight, a white band appearing where her choke hold on the handle, pressed against her wedding band and drained the blood around that finger.

He watched as she delivered a plate of egg whites to an older man two tables away. Then she walked over to his table.

“How is everything?” her question a distraction to her real intention. A rope-a-dope as her coffee pot hand darted forward across the table toward his mug.

“Everything is great, thank you.” He said, taking a sip from his coffee and bringing closer to his being, away from the hovering mother ship of coffee.

“Great, I’ll be back to check on you.” She wavered eyeing the mug, her hand beginning to shake from the extension of the nearly full pot in her hand. The moment passed and she retreated, moving on to the next table, where their mugs were exposed, and she filled to the brim each one with steaming coffee.

His mind was quiet. Eating alone, he’d become accustomed to the silence in his immediate vicinity. The conversations and cacophony of forks, knives and cups clattering spilled over into his space, but that was to be expected.

The waitress stopped at the coffee maker and began reloading her pot. She glanced back at his table; the mug still locked in his hand. She nearly spilled the coffee but there was more than enough in the chamber to cock back and fire more coffee into his cup, no matter how full it may have been.

She walked straight back to his table. “Refill?” The pot hovering inches from his mug-holding hand.

“No thank you,” he replied.

“Are you sure?” She insisted, pushing the pot closer to him until they nearly made a toast.

“Yes, I’m quite satisfied with the amount I have, one cup is enough.”

“Well, refills are free, sir, don’t be shy.” She was on the attack. He still stayed on the polite defense.

“That’s a great policy but I think I’ll have had my fill with just this one cup, thank you.”

“Okay, I’ll be back to make sure.” She fired back. This shot wiped out his front line and civility became the casualty.

“Ma’am, no need to come back. I only want one cup of coffee.” The smile on his face turned a few degrees to a thin line.

“Okay, we’ll I’ll be back in a few minutes to make sure. People change their minds.” She threatened to leave but her smile faded, and she stayed, her arm shaking from holding the full pot out in front of her.

“Do not come back. I have finished my meal and once I finish this very cup of coffee, this single cup of coffee, I will pay my bill and leave. Should you continue insisting, I will be forced to leave only a 10% gratuity.”

“Sir, are you not happy with our service?” Her brow furrowed and the line became a frown. His brow furrowed and the thin line became a frown.

“Your service is excellent, perhaps a bit too much. It could be said that there is too much service. And if there should be too much of something, it is still inadequate.”

“I will refill that mug.” She pushed the pot against his mug, threatening to tilt its spout into his mug.

“You will not.” He pulled the mug away.

“I will provide this service as per our policy.”

“Policy be damned, I would rather die than accept your refill.”

Sleep, Store, Offense

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Lemuel rested his eyes, just for a moment. The last few days had forced him to be alert, but the moment he let down his guard, he was out. His eyes fluttered rapidly behind his eyelids as his mind processed all its eyes had taken in.

Lemuel watched skeletons running around on a beach with black pebbles. Their bones clacking on the rock as they swiveled their heads around, which, their heads were cameras. Cameras with long lenses that whirred when they zoomed and had cables attached that ran all the way to somewhere Lemuel couldn’t see. The camera head skeletons crowded around Lemuel, pointing their lenses at his lemon stuffed mouth.

The setting and characters shifted. The clacking bones and whirring lenses morphed into the strange noises coming from all the people in the marketplace. All the strange noises from the other creatures in cages also stirred into the blurry soup being made in Lemuel’s mind. He stood in front of a long table, octopi crawling all over each other and up the pillars holding up the tent. A man came out making guttural noises from his mouth and maybe even nose before taking out a giant clever and hacking at the squirming maw of tentacles and beaks on the table. Heads, beaks and tentacles still suctioning flew everywhere.

One landed on Lemuel’s face and he tore it off with a hiss and pop. Lemuel stared horrified at the massacre of the sacred creatures he was taught to hold in reverence. The providers of the ink that allowed the lemonmouth to speak, to stand out amongst themselves and the rest of the world. The ink that allowed them to tell their stories, both ancient and new.

Lemuel began to cry, his tears hot and angry. He began to shake violently. His arms and legs stretching and growing wider all at once. Tiny suction cups dotted his growing arms and he grabbed at anyone with his new tentacles, anyone in the marketplace, but their quick pace and constant noise prevented them from noticing anything was going on. Every person Lemuel grabbed continued making their noises and looking around as if they had forgotten something.

Then Lemuel woke up. Someone was shaking him. He looked up into the eyes of a woman, she smiled but there was no lemon in her mouth and also not a single tooth. She spread her arms wide in the greeting he understood. On her bare chest, between a shirt, he could see the lines of the lemonmouth, from a different ship most likely, and quite old judging by its faded color.

The lines on her chest told a story of motherhood, of disgrace, of shame. There was also a new line, one Lemuel hadn’t initially noticed. It was a skeleton hand, it’s pointer finger and pinky sticking straight up while the thumb and other two fingers were pressed into the palm, almost like a head with horns. Lemuel didn’t recognize that symbol, but in looking up at her face and keeping the new lines in his mind, he noticed a strength.

She motioned for him to follow and he did, this being the only other lemonmouth, or closest thing to one, he had found in a few days.

Canvas, Excavate, Term

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Stretched out before him was a blank canvas. Lemuel dipped his fishbone quill, into the inkwell fashioned to look like an octopus fanning out its legs, its bulbous head removed and shaped into a bowl. He hovered the pen over the paper, thinking hard of what he should daub. Looking over at the rest of his shiplings who were already daubing the familiar shapes of fish, boats, mermaids and lemons. He looked back down at his canvas and found that ink had dropped in a small crown on the page.

The instructor came by and shook her head. “Lemuel, you must look around you and put down to the canvas what you see. Remember, we are what we see, hear, touch, smell and taste. Don’t think so hard, it needn’t come from within you.”

Half paying attention, Lemuel dipped the quill again, this time down to the fingertips holding onto the bone. More drips appeared all over the canvas. He whipped his hand away, sending a line of paint streaking down one side of the canvas. The sight of it excited him. The line curved upwards to a point, reminding him of the crest of a wave. He looked over at the instructor, smiling and nodding at the illustration of fish and boats.

Lemuel dipped his pen again, this time intentionally getting his fingers and half the pen dripping in ink. He whipped his hand in the opposite direction, sending lines and splatters down the right side of the canvas. Something inside him was waking up, something that had been buried deep below everything he was told but something that he felt was right and true to the patterns of ink appearing before him.

Again, he dipped the ink and again he whipped his hand over the canvas until before him was the rough shape of a choppy sea. The dots, he thought reminded him of the spray that splashed off the crest of two waves coming together or from the bow of a ship crashing through the water.

He hadn’t noticed that his fellow shiplings had ceased their daubing and began huddling around him, watching him furiously swish and splash paint onto the canvas. Lemuel felt as if he were the very creator, whipping up the ocean and providing it with movement, light and life. These lines did not resemble anything created by daubers before him, but he wasn’t thinking of that. Right now, he was only following something inside him that told him this was right and true.

“Lemuel!” shouted the instructor. “What are you doing?”

Lemuel was shaken out of his daze. He looked up to see all of his peers staring. Some snickered, some looked horrified and the instructor stomped over yanking the canvas from table.

“These are not the lines of a lemonmouth. This is blasphemy. Perhaps you do not know what you have done but in creating such chaos you have also created an imbalance in the sea. This does not bode well. I will show your grandfather.”

The instructor rolled up the canvas, smearing the wet paint and ruining what Lemuel had thought was something he had never seen before. His excitement turned to disappointment and quickly into fear. His hand was covered in ink and his pantaloons had black splatters. Then he looked at the table, it was covered in wild lines turbulent drops, resembling the waves he was creating on his canvas.

Lemuel couldn’t quite put into words what he had felt while painting but he knew that he needed to feel it again.

Outlook, Violation, Thumb

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Lemuel sat at the bow of the ship staring at the thin line that his elders had told him was land. Born on the boat, he’d never been to land, but he was told it was like the deck of a ship that never rocked and often stretched as far as the eye could see. Lemuel was also told that there was no need to ever go there. The ship and the sea had everything they needed. Except for the lemons and a few other supplies.

To go and live on shore among all the evil that existed there was one of the main themes Lemuel was taught time and again. For the lemons and other necessities, special crew members called thumbs were designated and even then, they traveled ashore in groups of three; one with a blind fold, another with a gag in his mouth and the third with earplugs. Each specialized in a sense. The eyes (gag) surveyed and looked for the appropriate vendors. The ears (blindfold) listened to the side conversations of vendors to make sure they were not being taken advantage of. The mouth (earplugs) spoke for the fleet belonging to the Lemonmouths.

Lemuel looked down at his first tattoo, a small black lemon on his right wrist. Made from the ink of octopi and squid pulled up, boiled down and inked by the “daubers”. According to his grandfather, the Lemonmouth needed very little to communicate and in a picture a thousand conversations could be had. By looking at the other’s eyes and down to their tattoos, Lemuel had learned to communicate.

The lemon wedged in Lemuel’s mouth was still fresh, the rind had not yet broken down or been accidentally punctured by a tooth. He wiped away the steady stream of saliva with his water cloth, a strip of sail each Lemonmouth carried around for that purpose. His was brown and crusted by salt but that was normal.

In Lemuel’s world, the lemon was a sacred object. Geronimo Coolidge, their forefather, the lemon prevented scurvy, but it also kept out evil spirits, from entering the body or the world. A world, that for Lemuel, consisted of water and wood, yet he would stare at that thin line near the horizon and wonder what it was like, evil or not.

Mask, Impact, Discovery

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Perhaps loneliness can be written away. Getting lost in words, ideas, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, books, tomes, libraries. To become friends with letters and a tool for writing. Making acquaintance with a blank page, filling it with the handshakes and small talk of stories, essays, and poems.

Forcing one’s being to come into contact with the page, to forget all else. Surrounding loneliness with all that comes with writing and wrapping it all tightly around like a hug. Consumed by repeating the feeling period after period. Obsessed with filling the page and losing the self. Building a safe covering, draping oneself with the muses of tragedy and comedy; Melpo and Thalia.

All the while time moves, slightly faster, than when your eyes are locked onto the clock, moving with each blinking light or ticking hand. Loneliness slowing time. Time amplified and compounded by loneliness. Sleep and death the enemies of loneliness but friends of time and its passing.

Perhaps loneliness can be written away. Erased or at least postponed by the transcription of thought into words. How many words to erase loneliness? How many candles to light up a dark cathedral? How long can they burn? How much time passes before loneliness like a wind, rushes back in, leaving only the smoke of memory?

Burrowing furiously to unearth some sort of truth, the face behind those smiling and laughing masks, to the spiky ball of pain, down to the fluffy ball of joy. Digging down the white, throwing up black letter after black letter until you’re at the bottom of a page, buried safely under a pile of words.

Fork, Differ, Accessible

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

She swirled the noodles into a tight knot around the outer tines of the fork. Sauce dripped down her chin and onto her dress as she pushed the spaghetti into her mouth. She covered her mouth and giggled. Wiping her chin with the napkin from her lap, she leaned back and reached for her glass of water. Wetting the corner of her napkin, she dabbed and wiped at the sauce on her dress, only spreading it more. She laughed again.

He took a bite of garlic bread and just watched from across the table, smiling.

He looked up again and all he could see was the dirt patch he called a backyard. The smile remained but his eyes looked back down. That had never happened. He’d been alone so long he was imagining scenarios playing out with the woman he loved. Did she love him still?

Taking another drag from his cigarette and pull from his beer, he thought about the ways in which they differed. She loved soap operas, even though she called them “cheese.” He loved independent films, not usually box office hits. She like soft rock and love songs. He liked stoner metal and rap.

Another drag and pull from the tobacco and barley. Was she still accessible to him? Or had she closed off? Women have a way of expressing deep love but separating themselves from their lovers. Sometimes he wished he could do the same, but he couldn’t lie to himself.

They also had a lot in common. Both loved to intellectualize, rarely talking about people or things and always ending up talking about ideas, philosophy or “what ifs.” Though her ankle would get sore quickly, they loved taking walks. He loved watching the defiance in her steps, seeing her spirit almost grab the ankle and set it one foot in front of the other. They loved seeing and trying new things. They loved to cuddle. Kiss. Hold hands. Make love. Fuck. And make love again.

He knew why she left. There was never a wrong time to meet, only a better time to begin a relationship. When they met, he has just washed up on shore from a shipwreck. He knew he wasn’t ready, but…

He dropped his cigarette and poured the rest of his beer over it with a sizzle. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. Whatever came his way, he’d be ready, but he wanted it to be her.

Insist, Nap, Meaning

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The cowboys silhouette dipped left and right with the trotting of the horse. Dust swirled around and the tumbleweeds hopped and rolled across the trail. The horse would slow its pace until spurs dug into its side. A quick gallop and then back to a trot but the cowboy demanded they keep moving.

The journey had started just before the sun started peaking at them from behind. Now the sun was slipping behind the mountains in front of them.

They came across a stream and the cowboy stopped, taking the bridle in his hand and leading the horse to water. As the horse drank, so the cowboy dipped his cowhide waterskin for his own drink. After filling it, he cupped a hand into the water and drank.

Spotting a tree across the stream, they walked through the water and tried to rest. The cowboy leaned up against the tree and covered his face with his hat. The horse bended its knees and collapsed immediately into a snore. They would continue on during the night but from transition of light to darkness they would sleep.

Only the sounds of the snoring horse, wind flapping through the leaves and the stream could be heard. The cowboy kicked off his boots and rubbed his feet, keeping the hat over his face. The horse kicked out but kept snoring.

Crickets, invisible to eye but not to the ear, began to drown out the other sounds. The cowboy fell asleep and dreamed.

Of swirling dust, giant tumbleweeds, snorting horses, distant gunshots, crying children and a woman’s embrace. Riding a 20-foot horse, the cowboy approached a city the likes of which he’d never seen. Buildings like mountains, lights in the shape of words and tropical fruits. A thousand bells ringing and glasses clinking. Carts with giant wheels pulled by invisible horses.

The cowboy now rode on a horse smaller than the carts that passed him. He looked up all around to see walls of glass and light. No signs of tumbleweeds, cacti or even dust. A man wearing a bright orange cowboy vest that reflected light carried a giant satchel over his neck and around his waist. The man walked up to the cowboy, looking down at him and tapped two notes together before handing him one.

The cowboy held it in his hand “two for one drink special at the spicy cabana. Girls drink free.”

The horse snorted in his sleep, waking the cowboy who removed his hat and looked out over the plain. No glow in the distance, no sun only the moon, stars and the crickets. Scratching his head, the cowboy pulled on his boots. He stood up and looked all around. With two quick clicks of his tongue, the horse sat up and the cowboy bent down to pet its mane.

Strap, Navy, Onion

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Wiping away the tears under an orange sky. A peach-orange hue mixed with fog, chemicals and city lights. The knife pushed into the onions sending up its own natural recipe of tear gas. One wrinkled hand picked up the cutting board and another used the knife to slide the chopped pieces into a pot.

Sizzling and hissing, the onions surrendered with a delicious smell.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. The hands dropped the knife. The ships guns were starting their one-way messages. Boom. Boom. Boom. This time more distant, another ship in the fleet reiterating the firsts statement.

Picking up a potato, the hands deftly maneuvered the root vegetable into little starch squares. After each one, the hands picked up the cutting board and slid the pieces into the pot, adding to the onions smell.

After the potatoes came the carrots. The hands cut little circles, roughly the size of the squares and dropped them into the pot. Halfway through, a message from the enemy came through and rocked the ship back and forth. The hands dropped everything and grabbed a leather strap fastened to a steal handle on the kitchen wall.

The hands and strap swayed with the movement of the ship, both attempting to stay upright. It was only water that had been disturbed but the waves let the ship know it wasn’t pleased. The hands grabbed at the knife and carrot, now working slower, a little shakier.

A bead of sweat dropped onto the cutting board, a reminder. The hands grabbed a shaker of salt and sprinkled it into the pot.

Another message was sent from the enemy on shore, this time a BOOM. The ship’s lights turned red and the hands, fumbling for the strap, found themselves grasping for something as they slid on the floor, back and forth. Steadier, the hands pushed of the ground and shaking, attempted to pick up the knife. Realization. The knife set down, the hands grabbed the salt and a wooden spoon, stirring in salt with the other vegetables.

One hand fumbled for something inside a shirt. A necklace made of wooden beads all cascading down on a fishing line that ended in a lower case “t”. The other hand wiped sweat from a brow and scratched a temple.

“Who had cooked the last supper? Were they aware of the impending doom forecasted for later that evening? Were their signs?”

The pot steamed and the hands relaxed, back to their work.

Wave, Paper, Flexible

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Hands reached for the little boat. Fingers tapping its paper corners and sides but the current whipped it down the gutter. The blue and red ink began to puff out in areas where the boat was pelted with rain and splashed with the small waves rising over sticks, stones and garbage clogging the drains.

Dropped into the makeshift river, this little boat was light and feathery. It’s creases tight and corners sharp. Now after rain, rapids and collisions with hands and debris, the little boat was becoming heavy. The taut micro-fibers ultimately making up the boats triangular shape were losing their rigidity.

The rain turned to hail, and the sky’s angry kidney stones pelted the little boat. Each ice pea dunking portions of the paper vessel into the water. The sail was nailed from the side and submerged before teetering back to its shape. The bow was hit, and the boat flipped over, and righted itself once again, continuing its unguided journey.

No matter the danger, the boat stayed the course and went with the flow of the stream. The only thing that changed it was the fibers loosening their grip on its former shape. With each dip in the water, every wave, every reaching hand, stick, stone, hail or rain drop, the little boat slowly changed.

By the time the rain stopped, and the sun jostled its way through the angry clouds to dry its tears, the little boat was no longer that. Instead, a crumpled piece of paper snagged on a branch and dried in the sun.

A day later, with no rain, snow or hail forecast, a man without a home wandered down the street. The paper shivered in the wind, catching the man’s eye. He bent to pick it up and looked at its blue lines, like a watercolor prison door. Pulling a black marker from the side of his beanie, he wrote.

He stuffed the paper into his pocket and made his way to the intersection downtown. A woman, stopped at a red light looked over to her left and saw a sign that said, “Hungry, anything helps.”

The little paper had changed and changed back again. Now it would change again.

Twin, Undertake, Continental

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I weaved my way through jumping, sweaty people. Lights of all colors illuminating the room in a series of flashbulb photographs. My mind filling in the gaps where empty spaces had appeared a millisecond before. I touched my ear and in a flash of blue light saw some liquid on my hand, blood. The thudding continued. The sweat was making the hair on the back of my head stick to my neck at every swivel. Where was the bathroom?

I couldn’t know when this acid and bile was going to erupt from my stomach, but a mission to the find the bathroom was what I had to undertake.

To my right, a lizard tongue flickered from the scaly snout of a human sized reptile. No. I looked again. It was gone. I could see the sign with the naked human signifying my vomit sanctuary. The other wore a triangle.

The DJ booth was right in front of me, blocking the quickest route. I turned left. Something licked my right ear. I looked. A yellow eye blinked and the head in which it was housed pulled back its forked tongue.

The bathroom was right around a speaker, I grabbed the back of the speaker and propelled myself forward, through the swinging door of the bathroom. Straight through the swinging door of the first stall. The sides of the bowl caked in dried shit and the pieces of half-digested food of others. Grabbing the bowl of the toilet, my mouth opened and sprayed its own contents into what I realized was the mouth of some sort of lizard. Its tongue lapping at my sick.

Twins? That was my first thought. Not ‘what the fuck?’ or ‘is this really happening?’ My first thought, looking back was relatively rationale and progressive. Was this lizard a twin or a triplet? Not even, how the fuck was this huge lizard coming through the small toilet? I might as well have thought ‘from which part of the continental United States does this lizard hail?’ Jesus.

I pulled my head back and in that blur of a second, I was looking up at the stall door, the ceiling and lapping up sick from a familiar head opening its human mouth back at me. The lizard was gone but now I was looking out from the toilet.

A roar pierced through the thudding of the music. Water rushed all around my head and I began to spin. Faster. Faster. Faster until everything in view blended into shapes and colors. The shapes disappeared and all I could see was black.

The thudding crept back into my ear drums. A thousand little drummer boys in each ear banging to the same beat. I looked up and through the color tinted photographs saw the whole dance floor, the DJ booth, the bar and the signs for the bathroom at the other end of the room.

“Yo, are you alright?” a voice yelled in my ear. I looked up, it was human.

What? I said with my eyes.

“You threw up all over yourself.” The human yelled back.

I wiped at my chin, feeling wet from my beard. The table covered in yellow, bits of hotdog, and red ketchup. At least I hope it was ketchup.

Just a trip, that’s all. I leaned my head back and relaxed. It was over. Then I flicked out my tongue, cloven at the end, and lapped up the vomit.

Offspring, Forward, Tin

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was a simple bike. A red one with a single gear. She loved it. With the exception of a few flat tires, the bike never gave her problems. Not like her previous cycles with their rows of teeth continually biting into the chain and causing it to slip with every hill climb, slope or flat. The red bike simply went, not backward, always in the same direction.

When her mind wandered, she would allow the bike and her legs to carry her body wandering as well. When she felt the pressures of all that is external tightening her body, she would let the curves, slopes and speed of a ride loosen her up. When her heart ached, the two wheels and single frame were as sturdy a companion as any. Though at times she did feel, out of want and not necessity, that a companion would be nice.

She thought about someone with whom she could share her joys, fears, triumphs and failures. Not out of necessity but simply of want, a desire not to be lonely. Perhaps even one day to share the lessons the two of them would learn about their joys, fears, triumphs and failures with little versions of themselves. To create life would be yet another adventure.

Pedaling every day for the same reason yet spurred by different emotions, she thought about her past attempts at love. As she mulled each relationship over in her mind like beads on an abacus, she considered the weight of each person she had loved or nearly loved.  The sum total of which lead her to a question, are there any good men left?

Climbing up a hill, she leaned off the seat and pedaled with her head down. Some of those men had been thieves, stealing her time, attention and love by not completely sharing themselves. Or in some cases, sharing much but not exclusively.

At the peak of the hill, she sat back down and slowed her feet. She thought of the men who had tried to stifle her, to prevent her from being herself and only being for them. Those relationships were shorter.

At the crest of the hill, she stopped pedaling and let the physics of the slope and the wheels do the work. She thought of one more lover and friend. He was none of those things yet he could not take care of himself.

She coasted into her driveway and into the garage. Perhaps someday, he would be ready to come home. Until then, she would protect her heart, protected by dented tin, nevertheless protected.

Today

Today was a good day.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I blasted straight up through the clouds, punching that little grinning cherub on the 9th before rocketing past cloud 10, 11, 15, 37, 100.

I found another winning lotto ticket after losing the first in a drunken blur. Then, sober and aware, I found the first ticket, crumpled in a pocket.

I can see straight and think in any direction I choose. This morning I looked at the mirror, smiled, and realized I wasn’t staring at a stranger but looking at a friend.

I stepped out of my mind, out of my house and strangers walked up to me, asking about my shirt, my tattoos, my hat. The mask hid my smile but my crows feet must have been tap dancing around my shimmering disco ball eyes.

I have a full deck. I am kind, I am genuine, I am determined, I am empathetic, I love and want to be loved. I have bad cards too, but I’ve got a royal flush and I’m all in.

I am grateful, bowing to that mystical, cosmic energy. On my knees, not from defeat but in recognition and relief of victory.

She wore the band t-shirt I gave her before COVID cancelled the concert. I wore the band shirt she gave me the night before I wouldn’t see her for weeks after.

We met and I’m just glad I got to see her. I’m glad she got to see me. I’m glad I’m starting to see myself.

So now I look up at the stars before I go to bed and the terrors grip me, gasping in my sleep. I know I’ll wake up and have a beautiful day. And if I die before I wake, I’ll have lived a good day today.

And my youth is…

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

And my youth
is running out
and your age
is coming
to an end
and our time
together
has been
short lived.

So when my time
comes
let it be
in the embrace
of a hug,
the verge
of a smile
or
that wave of
emotion
that crashes into
a new parent
when they hold
their child
for the first time.

Let it be
in the silent scream
of a shooting star.

Birth and Illness as a Child

A short piece written in 2009.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Images of incubators, IV drips, tubes and a wrist band. Memories conjured up by repetitive whispering echoes. Stories on repeat for the benefit of the teller. Any deviation from the script might yield a moment of truth. The voices chant visions of a baby with chicken pox, red bumps, itching and bloody. Collective sighs of relief ease out of the peanut gallery. The boy is catching the right diseases at the right time. Praise god, thank you father and continue to bless us. A telling symptom for the diseases of the soul, an unquestioning heart and a reluctance to embrace the shit. While the doctors poke and prod, the peanut gallery; the gloria-inexchelsis-deo-gawkers destroy their knee caps and hold sweaty palms together. Oh what a friend we have in jesus. Indeed, while the doctor stabilizes gods little pin cushion, grabs a cup of coffee and announces to the gawkers as they rise from their diligence, “the babe will be fine.” The doctor takes a bow. The peanut gallery once again takes a knee and as they look up to god, the angels hook the doctor by the neck and pull him off stage. The illusion practically flawless; as solid as a slice of Swiss cheese.

Ages 12 & Up

A short piece written in 2008.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

This is the age of dissonance and divide, of fuck-you’s at school and prayers at home. The age of staring at girls. The age of exploring with fingers and untimely boners. The age of fantasizing about teachers and noticing mothers. This is the age of anger, of threatening teachers aids with a baseball bat. Of starting a reputation of unsportsmanlike conduct and hot-blooded tantrums.

Was it emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual trauma? A combination of all or any of the aforementioned? I don’t know. I hardly have any child hood memories. I feel stunted, less mature to deal with different stages of life and only until I’ve moved on to a new era or age do I feel all at once adept and inadequate all over again. Walking around pretending. An actor who highlighted the wrong parts of the script. Always wondering what it is that I am lacking and what it is so obvious to everyone but me. A theory, a specific method, a grammatical rule, a particular pronunciation, an author, a book, a piece of music or art, a historic event, an historic figure, the latest news, a cooking method, a social cue. So anxious and apprehensive about impeding my progress by misquoting, declaring a stupidity. I speak to strangers in a series or pattern of jests and facts; the language of the unconfident, the vernacular of the low-self esteemed. Sticking to things that are only true or saying things that are so over the top no one could dispute their falsehood, which is another type of truth. Steering clear of conviction or opinion or belief or individual truth. That isn’t easy. That is an un-lubricated trajectory.

What is my identity? What is my heritage? My background? My culture? I was born in the hospital of a city that was built around it. A mecca for Seventh-day Adventists wealthy enough to afford private schools but connected enough to get a discount. Long lines of last names trail the university’s history. New faces same names. A thriving enterprise in the middle of a decaying county/city. The navel-gazing institution growing to the tune of its own demand.

It’s a part of the story but not yet.

My mother was born in Spain. Emigrated to California at eighteen because she met my father. My father the son of an American soldier/missionary and a converted ex-catholic. He lived in Spain, Kenya, the pacific peninsula, and Oakland, California. From what he tells me, Oakland was tougher on him than the African wild ever was. Being the only white boy in a predominantly black school is the wrong reason to stand out. I was born the son of a teacher and a part-time hustler. My father taught Spanish, physical education and history at a small Adventist school in Redlands, California. My sister, four years younger was born the daughter of an attorney and a part-time hustler. In the time between my arrival on earth and my sisters, my father had quit teaching, moved us all to Canoga Park, Los Angeles and finished a law degree in two years.

I’m not sure how confident people are in their memories but I am not. I don’t know whether my active imagination recreated images to go along with the stories I was told so many times or if they are actual memories. In either case, none are very vivid. Foggy glimpses more than anything else. I’m also not sure if it’s my focus on the present or moving forward that makes me apprehensive about remembering things. What I do remember are emotions and lessons as they relate to this idea I have of the big picture. How things fit into the grand scheme. Exactly what or whose scheme it is, I don’t know. But I feel that I am constantly trying to zoom out, to view things from a more global perspective. When in fact I envy those who wear their hearts on their sleeves and keep the truth on the tips of their tongues.

A healthy amount of anxiety should also accompany the sudden thought of a memory. I become anxious because I have doubts that things actually happened as I remember them. And of course their are those vivid moments of drunken times that are ironically remembered. The moments of clarity that are the most clear in all the fog of the mind. Which I believe have to do with the reason why I drank. To come to terms with the way things are, to deal with life, to know that I live with a certain amount of privilege unearned brings a sharp dissonance. I do not call it guilt bit it’s a feeling of being the teacher’s pet, of being chosen first, of winning the lottery. It makes me think that god has less than pure motives for me if I am the teachers pet. But god and all the infinitesimal constructs that keep his wobbly frame standing have one fault. A fault that I will never be able to get over, even on my most optimistic days. Knowing that belief is a leap between two cliffs of knowledge or more often a leap off a cliff. The very fact that the idea of god was planted early and everything that comes with it, both good and bad are man made. Everything is man made. Our narratives put humanity at the center of the plot. Adam and Eve were to take care of the animals and the earth. But who would take care of Adam and Eve? Save for our meddling, the animals seem to be getting along fine. I will never be able to move past the thought that men continue to be confident about god. I myself can be confident about love, anger, sadness, hatred, integrity, etcetera. But what does that have to do with god? If I create my own god who is serving whom? Because I wish not to drink alcohol anymore, there are some who say that a belief in a power greater than myself is the only thing that will save me. Again if I create my god, what is saving me? And another rickety construct is born and it climbs in a jagged fashion along with the rest of the thin, beams to support an idea. An idea we call god (or whatever name) with infinitesimal foundations.

I continue to struggle with these existential thoughts but then ironically Jesus comes to mind. He was mostly about people. There are people around me all the time and when this thought crosses my mind I get disgusted with myself for staring up at the sky and ignoring what’s around me. People in my family, the people I was born to and those who are in close proximity, the people who have similarities and empathize. The people who help me and the people who need help. So I help and then I notice all the people that need help. We are everywhere. The more I help the more I realize I need help. And because I was raised to love myself as I love my neighbor I stop helping others and turn the help inwards. Some people call this selfish. They can go fuck themselves. (Which we all do anyway but because no one likes to talk about it or even recognize that it’s a normal part of life, we are offended when someone says go fuck yourself).

My interpretation of the golden rule is a good example of the constructs. Someone might hear my belief and hold a similar belief, the pastor of a mega-church may share their belief and an entire congregation will send up thousands of supports to hold up their version of the vagaries we all seem to insist upon. While I might knock down some people’s constructs, some other constructs will rise in its place, directly as a result of my cutting others down. There is no action that adds without subtracting or subtracts without adding. The idea that one is good and the other is bad is simply another part of the same vagaries we all maintain. Every person in a giant sphere. Close, but no one exactly on the same plane. Each one of us with a slightly different perspective than the person next to them. Each perspective growing more and more different until you look up and see the person directly opposite you in the sphere. You will think he is above and you below. The problem, is he may think exactly the same thing about you. So we draw lines. Lines from person to person, creating understanding. Yet this mostly fails because each line has a motive, so in reality there are two parallel lines running from person to person rather than a two way exchange, back and forth. There is instead a line for one and a line for the other: while one person shows their perspective, the other person does the same, simultaneously. Neither one paying attention to the other.

Memories

A short piece written in 2005.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I don’t have clear memories. Ask what I did yesterday and I sound like a slacking student during a pop oral exam. The ‘um’s’ and uhs start to stumble out. Luckily there is a script for moments like this, one word of dialogue, “nothing.” Which translates into nothing worth telling you about or nothing I would like to share with you. That is my answer to the question of what I did yesterday, so my childhood is a black hallway with shapes, noises and the odd flash of light on a moment. I’m not sure how other peoples memories function. Mine seems to flash on and off like hitting a flashlight with corroding batteries against my palm. But why? I’ve watched too many TV shows, films and read too many stories about children and the experiences they suppress. I’m afraid to explore for fear I may find I’ve been poked and prodded by aliens or worse, someone I know. The feeling is almost relieving. The feeling is eerily giddy, like snuggling under the covers during a storm. The feeling surrounds the thought that I may have an excuse. If what I, think is true then I’ve found my despair, the muse of all writers with lasting work and something to say. I have a reason to be miserable and pretend to enjoy other peoples company. If what I think is true then ill have a cigarette, hell ill have a black and mild and suck it back until it melts the plastic or burns the wood. Depending on who did what ever it is I think might have been done, I may have a drink. Hell, I may even go on a week-long binge because everything I know is a lie, the mirror I’ve been staring at has shattered before my eyes. If what I think happened actually happened. where do I start? Ask my mom if her only son may have been treated like a flesh-light? Will I honestly be traumatized? No doubt if such a thing is true I will be shocked if I discover who it was. However I’m not convinced that the trauma of the discovery will out-weigh my excitement about the possibilities of a reaction. Do I somehow wish that I was a kiddie who was diddled simply to justify a drink? Yes and who would blame me? Any reaction other than a drunk binge would seem strange. If I don’t remember what difference does it make to me if someone tells me its true? Reliving a memory is not the same as repeating a fact. The difference is between standing in the shallow end and thrashing in the deep end.

Is who I am the result of this possible event? My skepticism blurring with cynicism, my tight lipped nature, my apprehension at physical touch, the duality of my personality split between my family and myself. The truth is an open festering wound but with enough morphine…what’s on TV?

Orion’s Belt

A short piece written about my grandfather in 2017.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

My grandfather was a mechanic. I remember the bar of soap he used to clean off his hands. A dry bar with deep black and grey grooves. I wasn’t sure which was doing the cleaning; his hands or the bar. At the dinner table I distinctly remember how clean his hands appeared. The smell of his shirt a mixture of sweat and grease. It was a comforting smell. A smell I wanted to emit when I became a man. Before every meal I would hold hands with my grandparents while my grandpa blessed the food. After dinner he would read his bible, old and worn with nearly every page highlighted, underlined or dog-eared. His favorite book was Revelation. He always talked about Jesus coming back and taking us home. How he couldn’t wait for the day Jesus came back. How it wouldn’t be long now before Jesus came home. He pointed out all of the signs in Revelation and said how we were living in end times.

I remember the things he said. At the time they didn’t mean very much but now thinking about him they make me sad. My grandfather isn’t alive anymore but before he died in his nineties he tried to end his life in his seventies.

Entering my grandfathers garage from inside the house I was met with the heavy smell of grease mixing with my grandfathers body odor. After walking My grandfathers garage was a monument to tools and craftsmanship.

Looking back now the things I wish he would have taught me like how to change the oil in a car, change the brakes, check the fluids, take apart and re-build an engine, all of those things he always stopped when I got to his house. Instead he taught me about the bible and about Jesus. I think I’ve gotten past deconstructing everything he told me. Now I’m at the point where I am reconstructing Jesus, the bible and my cultural/religious upbringing for myself.

From what I’ve gathered, everyone, upon reaching adulthood does some relearning and reconstructing of things they were taught as children. Well this has been the most painful, slow remodel of all the constructs so far. The way life goes, the reconstructing will probably never end.

When I was four years old my grandfathers white Chevrolet station wagon broke down on the 5 interstate on our way from Oakland to Redlands, CA. I was in the back seat by myself, my grandma in the front passenger seat and my grandpa driving. I only know this because my grandma doesn’t drive. The rest of the story I’m not sure if I remember or if I’ve heard so many times that I’ve mixed it in with my memories. I’ve filled in a few details. It doesn’t matter.

The Chevy breaks down, grandpa grumbles and grunts out of the drivers seat and lifts the hood of the car. Grandma’s jet black beehive hair turns around and she smiles showing the wide gap in her front teeth. She gets out of her seat, grabs some blankets from the trunk and sits with me in the back. Grandpa walks back from using the call box and gets in the back seat on the other side. It’s a cold night and I’m snuggled between grandpa and grandma while we wait for the highway patrol to show up. We’d been waiting for a couple of hours. While we sit their Grandpa points out the stars through the sun roof.

I have a vivid memory of his finger dotting the sky, leaving tiny bright lights in ancient shapes. My grandfather did this on more than one occasion. I remember my grandpa telling me where Jesus would come from when he came back to earth.

“You see that star right in the middle of Orion’s belt? That’s where Jesus is right now. That’s where He (capital H) is going to come from to take us home. That’s where heaven is.”

Presumably where Jesus cleansed the temple, leaving many disappointed millerites and thus a new cell of religions virus split off and they called it Seventh-Day Adventism.

After my grandpa said this, they tell me that I sat their staring at the middle star in Orion’s belt . They tell me that I looked like I was thinking. Then, they tell me I said this, “Is Jesus going to come before the police do?”

They did. The police came and drove us to a motel 6. And that’s it.

At the hotel, they tell me I was so restless I jumped from bed to bed before crashing. A couple of hours later my aunt came and drove us the rest of the way home.

But when they tell me, they stop after what I said. And while they are laughing and smacking the table I think about that little kid and everything he saw after that night. Everything I remember.

11 years later, when I was 15. My grandparents now living in Redlands, a few minutes away from my house. My grandfather started his car, closed the garage, and breathed in the exhaust from a hose he pinched in the driver’s side window that ran into the exhaust pipe. He sat and waited for Jesus to come.

But again, the cops came before Jesus could. My grandma found him in the garage and dialed 911 just in time.

Then I ran. I ran from everything, including my roots in the Adventist church, a part of my culture. I denied any affiliation with Adventists and hated the fact that I knew what Nuteena and stripples were. That I knew what the blood of the lamb was supposed to mean even though I didn’t really understand it. I hated the fact that I felt guilty about listening to music that made my head bob and felt guilty about smoking and drinking. So I drank more and thought about a god that let my grandpa down. If jesus couldn’t save my devout grandfather, what chance did I have?

But I never blamed my grandpa. In fact for many years I defended him saying that suicide is taking matters into your own hands. I would tell myself that he was like Hunter S. Thompson and went out on his own terms, knowing that he always would. I was kidding myself.

I don’t know about a moral to these stories.

The questions of god, purpose and existence zip around in an infinite loop in my head. I do know this, the pedestal I built for my grandfather no longer exists but the love I feel for him is still alive. I remember giving him a hug at the behavioral medical clinic where they took him on a 5150 after his suicide attempt. He was wearing a gown, his eyes glassed over from the cup-o-pills, and his few remaining hairs tousled. he gave me a dopey smile and a big hug.

I experienced my own great disappointment and it was my grandpa that disappointed me. He clung to the church like a lush grips their liquor. And now he’s a husk of what I remember. If spirituality is the ocean and religion is the vessel my grandfather never learned how to swim. And when the storms came, the foundation he clung to didn’t hold up. The great disappointment wasn’t a singular event, my grandpa relives it every single day.

Golf

A short piece written in 2008.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

When I was around eleven years old, my dad got me a set of golf clubs. There were five clubs. A driver, a putter, a 5-iron, a pitching wedge and a sand wedge. All the clubs needed to start and finish a hole. My dad’s not a golfer. Neither am I, but we both have clubs.


Dad and I used to play once every year at my high schools tournament. We played with another father and son who were as equally skilled and practiced as we were. The tournament rules were that each team played the best ball hit; meaning all four of us would hit our dimpled balls, then select which shot was best for the next shot. We never won. Our highest achievement was second to last, which was a change of pace from our usual dead last position. Our foursome had the most fun guaranteed.


When the tournaments ended all the teams headed to the closing ceremony. While all the other teams were asking around, checking their scores against everyone else, we waltzed in thinking only of food and the memories of the day. When my dad sent a drive skidding along the grass just short of the ladies tees. When my buddy and his dad drove too fast in the cart and spun out on the slope of a hill. When all four of us spent 10 minutes searching for ALL of our balls in grass up to our knees. We remembered the collective nervousness of being forced to drive in front of other teams as we slowed the pace of the tournament, (spending 10 minutes a hole looking for little white balls adds up).


So by the time we arrived at the club house, we had no idea how many strokes we shared. The math would have been far too complicated and unnecessary. There was no talk of mulligans or handicaps. The other teams, upon arriving at the table at which we were already stuffing our faces, would begin to smile before even asking, “what was your score?” I can’t speak for all four of us but I know what I saw in each of their eyes. My father, ever the diplomat, would smile and say something to the affect of, “Oh, we didn’t keep score. We just play for fun.” It was true. In those moments however, when those men came with the full knowledge that we had not come close to anyone in the tournament, I wanted to play to win. Fuck fun, I wanted murder.


At age 30, I began playing golf again. By this time my father had bought me a few more clubs. I also borrowed quiet a few of his clubs. Between the days of playing golf with my dad and our friends much had transpired. I developed a tooth, much like those teeth given the “sweet” nomenclature. My tooth, teeth, tongue had developed a liking for alcohol. I went to rehab, struggled with the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous and with sponsors but those are experiences for another chapter. One virtue I learned from those experiences was discipline. Golf takes an incredible amount of discipline and patience. Not typically the virtues of young men and definitely not my forte.

Blackout Drinking

A short piece written in 2005.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The first time I reached zombie state. My body was still moving but my mind was gone. Bumping into people and things full of alcohol, hops and vomit jostling around after every step. I don’t think I ever felt better in my life. I had on a button up shirt and some jeans, I mumbled something unintelligible through shiny lips and heavy eyes. I saw someone smoking a cigarette that I would have never imagined. My threshold for surprise is changing right before my eyes, which are going blind. Oh god pull over now. Jesus. Ive never felt worse in my life.


BLACK
BLACK
BLACK
BLACK
BLACK

Night writing

A paragraph written in 2010.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It’s another night when my eyes close and open slowly. The ink oozes out of the pen from lazy twists of my wrist. A lonely moonlit bassoon plays discordant notes in my mind. Sympathy bangs the timpani and I scowl. Just a quiet solo and some time to listen until the moonlit bassoonist runs out of breath and the mood music stops. A thousand miles of empty desert in all directions is more company than the shadow over my eyes.

A lunch from a long time ago

A short piece written in 2011 or 2012

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

My aunt pregnant for the first time loses her baby. I am sad but I am too young to understand the impact a tragedy of that magnitude has on the person closest to it.
My aunt is a strong woman, full of love, confidence and wit. Perhaps a judgmental, albeit human, eye with a warm hug regardless of how she see’s you.
I make a habit of pushing myself into the spotlight of my mind but cuing the music to cut myself off early on the stage of life. My thoughts consume my relation to everything and everyone. I have learned that I need not waste time on people now if I will see them in heaven. What am I saying, there is no heaven. Childhood teachings are really sticky.
My narcissism is making me sick but I can’t stop thinking about me. The earth revolves around the sun, not the son of Christofer and Ester Chapman.

A lunch with my Aunt in which I cannot clearly remember if I was intoxicated or not. I remember itching for a cigarette as soon as I wolfed down the turkey salad on rye. I remember shaking my head and repeating “I’m fine, no, I’m fine. I’m okay. I’m okay.” The first lie we tell ourselves to convince the mirror that it will never shatter. My aunt relayed an observation about my 5-year-old self that has lingered and wriggled around in the back of my mind like a severed lizards tail.

Something changed when I was 5 years old. I can’t remember my childhood. It is as fuzzy as a booze fueled night on the town (or in my apartment). What happened to me? My heart races. Perhaps, this will be the tragic excuse of molestation. A victim of pedophilia turned poet. A writer who has been in the gutter and can paint it in a perfect-bound, hard cover copy of his first novel. How can I use this for immortality? I want to live forever. That narcissism can’t pull its gaze from the reflection.

My aunt lost a baby, maybe even two and I’m left wondering if I’ve ever been touched inappropriately or left in a toxic environment. Where do I get off feeling sorry for myself? Nothing has ever happened to me that I cannot handle. And there it is again that me word. Its all about me. Not you or him or her or them or it. Its all about me and yet I put myself in the lowest category of the last file in the dustiest, rustiest cabinet of life and all humanity but I insist to myself that everything is about me. Every hug, kiss, smile, squeeze, laugh, smirk, giggle, round of applause, slap on the back, is all about me. I am narcissistic and I don’t even think very highly of myself. Am I truly this selfish or do I indulge for the namesake of these pages? Both are scary prospects for an obsession that runs circles around my attention to anything else.

I have an excuse but you are simply stupid. I made a mistake but you have ruined my life. I forgot but you are careless. I am sick but you are lazy. I was wronged but you don’t stand up for yourself. I had a bad day but you have a bad attitude. I may gossip but you should get a life. I am frustrated but you simply don’t know what to do. I am not perfect but you think you’re better than me. I have an excuse but you are just stupid.

What is really going on here? The words follow the emotion, which rushes in after an experience. I feel less like a swan and more like a parrot. Obsessed with my own image and copying the noises closest to me. To be clawing through the same self absorbed drivel, session after writing session is enough to make me want to rip out my own heart and feed it to my brain just to get a taste of pure emotion. I am supposed to write for myself not about myself. This constant cycle of narcissistic thought is welling up in my chest I want to scratch out every letter “I”, “m”, “e” and hyper drive into some god like perspective. An uninvolved point of view. Place myself on the objective alter and slit my throat letting the Deus ex Machina of my psyche take over. To sever and shatter the ego from the self. Who am I supposed to be? Don’t follow me. We’re getting back into those dark slimy corners of the mind again. So deep down that I must slowly return like a deep sea diver coming up for air. Too fast and the chaos never leaves. Attempting never to dwell in the past I move ever forward so fast that the hair is being ripped off the front of my head and sticking to my back. Time whips past me and the closest I’ve ever come to the truth is a question. Does anyone get this right?

Shitstorm

A short fictional piece from a long time ago.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

“You’re a good writer.”

Lucy always told me that after I mentioned a new piece I was working on. I never believed her. I never believed anyone unless they told me they didn’t like it. I have no confidence in my writing. I think that’s why I keep doing it. Once I stood up on a surfboard I called it quits. I had done it.

That’s the problem with me, I need reassurance. I keep track of dates, remember peoples birthdays, show up at the same place at the same time every day until we apologetically call in with a raspy voice in between vomits to tell our bosses we can’t come in today (I’m not a fan of run on sentences, they never seem to end).

I guess it’s all a cruel joke. I write because my head fills up. Like a gray cloud and when it rains it pours. A class four hurricane is less chaotic. A confident writer is like a four-eyed teen on his first date. I try to believe it but I’ll always know the truth.

If I could just have it all; confidence, whit, humility, a fresh perspective, a unique point of view without any pretension. I might be happy. I might be able to participate in my own existence rather than simply write about it.

Lucy thinks I should let loose. I’m neither up nor down and unless I’m interested, nothing sticks. My interests are excessively fickle for any promises. I drink to have conversations, to care, to show concern and consideration (Next I’ll try expressing myself with words that begin with the letter D).

It takes everything I have to be sincere. being drunk simply makes the spinning slow down for a while. Or maybe the spinning speeds up so fast I don’t notice that I can’t concentrate. Blackout. Either way alcohol nurtures society but absolutely obliterates the individual. I choose not to be a martyr for booze. I don’t believe I ever had the courage to live absolutely on the fringe. Yet I have just enough disdain to keep the television off.

You or me

A short piece, September 16, 2020

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It is far riskier to live than to be dead. I will die, so I may as well behave as if I never will. Life is made miserable by the well-intended and mal-intended alike. Both similar in their impositions on life, though one may have the self in mind while the other follows their ego.

In the quest for all our somethings, we choose to be seen by what we do for ourselves or by what we do for others. I want to consider the other but not at the expense of self. I want to consider the self but not at the expense of the other.

Existentialism lacking altruism or altruism lacking existentialism. A panacea for existence does not exist.

And so, remember, I wrote this under a yellow porch light, slapping at mosquitoes, coughing up smoke from wild fires and thinking of me or you, or me.

My first song after choosing to be sober

A short story, 2019, draft.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I shimmy through a sea of arms and shoulders. Eyes watering from clouds of cologne. My angel grabs tight to my fingers, pulling us through. I am in the pub. Tonight will show me what life is like with everything in sharp focus.


Our party is already seated. The walk to our table seems straight forward. First, we need to pass the thirsty bar-stoolers, fingers tapping lazily on the bar for their next hit. The smell of wet oats and alcohol hits me. I shake my head to stay focused.


Next obstacle; stairs. Hang on to the railing and hope the next step rises to the occasion. I hope my knees can take it. Good, the ground is exactly where it should be. My angel lifts her hand and moves it side to side, gaining the attention of the beings we are meeting. She stops in front of an empty chair.


Quick! While I’m distracted, step onto the floor! I land with both feet on the same plane. So far everything is as I perceive it to be.


The table is covered in cloth and surrounded by chairs. The other patrons seem to be seated comfortably. I keep myself steady with one hand on my angel’s back, under the guise of
rubbing her wings. On closer inspection of the table, I see a plate aligned with a chair along with a rolled-up cloth. I reach out and grab it. Something inside, silverware, or so my instincts (what’s left of them) tell me.


I press a corner of the napkin between two fingers and let the other digits loose. CLANK! As I suspect, a fork, butter knife and a spoon collapse and lay still. I look around the table. The other patrons, I presume my fellow dinner mates, begin rolling their napkins on their laps. I grab the fork before pulling out the chair my ass will be occupying for the evening.


I notice the lighting. No sun. Only lamps. Again, as it should be or at least as I’ve perceived it before. Strings of bulbs on wires hang from bare wood jutting out of a concrete ceiling. The wood, slats of brown, knotted, un-sanded 2×4’s or 4×8’s or 8×16’s or 16×32’s or whatever. For a split second my arm stretches to the ceiling, my hand drops the fork and rubs against the beam. Splinters press into the skin of my fingers, bulging under the fingernails and squeezing into the palms. The chair squeaks and the splinters pull out of the hand as the arm collapses back into its socket. I take my seat.


I look around at the others seated at the table. I don’t know yet if they’re people. I haven’t even figured out if I am to be human for the evening. I search their faces for a clue, a cue to mirror their behavior, but careful not to mock.


The smell of the room seemed to be a mixture of cooking, alcohol, cigarettes, perfumes and lotions. Smells I was familiar with, the smells of death. I began to feel as if I belonged. My neck loosened and I looked around the room. Steaming dishes balanced on the extended fingers and outstretched arms of the runners. The runners wear small square hats with a wire running down to the corners of their mouths keeping them in a smile. A small trough extends from their belts and collects the drool sliding down their chins. The runners shuffle quickly from table to table nodding, taking, placing and scribbling in notebooks with final stage Parkinson ferocity.


A runner waddles up to our table, she wipes saliva from her notebook and asks, “How are we all doing this evening.” The collective response transports me to a farmyard with a herd of lowing cattle, indecipherable mumbling and grunting. We remain rather porcine, no matter the sophistication and setting of the trough. I cluck, feeling a string pull one side of my mouth upwards, or at least away from my chin.


The runner seems either satisfied or uninterested in our bovine reaction and continues, “What are we having to drink tonight? What are we having to drink tonight?” the voice lowers six octaves, “What are we having to drink tonight?” The voice now lisps. “What are we having to drink tonight?” The voice slips behind my eyes and massages some dusty grey matter. Perhaps I have been here before, perhaps this is something I know, but the voices are different. The faces different. It is the experience that is familiar. “I’ll have a water.” The feeling of familiarity stops. The runner scribbles furiously as the heads around the table call out their orders.


I watch, admiring the confidence related to their vices.


The runner shuffles off, leaving a string of drool on one of the face painted long haired beings. They call it she and they call me he. She doesn’t notice and her unassisted smile is my hint to stay quiet. Across from me the angel glows. Next to me the being is morphing. He morphs. A loose shape whose ghost I catch glimpses of with each flicker of his movements. It is, I suspect, the man’s shell. The ghost living just outside of the man’s conscience. It lags just long enough for me to catch the eye of his self. He turns to me and smiles. My subconscious smiles back and we release the grip on our Freudian handshake.


The runner returns, alcohol hoisted proudly on a silver platter, like the head of John the Baptist. The runner shuffles around the table, she sets down my water and I notice a muscle on her cheek struggling under the pull of the wire. The runner catches my eye and winks. “Are we ready to order?”
The table produces an audible lowing but the being next to me manages to force out their words, “Yes.” I point and nod at the menu. The runner’s wrist scribbles furiously, as if possessed by each order. The runner smiles and continues around the table.


Three men walk into the room carrying instruments. One a drummer, one a bass guitarist and one a pianist. The lull of voices, clink of glasses, steps of runners, coughing, laughing, and chewing continue around the room. The three men walk past me. I turn my head and pull my upper body around to look, bracing myself with one hand on the chair.


The pianist carefully pulls out a seat tucked under the piano. He sits and peels back the upper lip of the piano, revealing yellow and black teeth. The pianist scratches his beard, losing his fingers in the red and grey mat. White flakes drift onto his lap. Having escaped his beard, his fingers now press together, crushing each other with audible “pops” and “cracks”. Then the pianist flicks the pianos teeth.


The chatter in the room continues; the runners take orders and carry edibles on platters. The sounds of laughter, eating and drinking fill the room. The guitarist sits on a chair designed to furnish potluck halls and meeting rooms of whatever Anonymous. He flips the latch of his case and unsheathes a white bass guitar. A glint makes my eyes jump to a spot on its edge.


It leads my eye down aluminum strings to a spot where the bassist places his hand. He begins thumping the fat belly of the guitar.


I look up to see the bassist’s face and catch the end of his glance. Either his eyes are rolled back in his head or he is blind. He looks down at a little black box with the whites of his eyes and inserts a card. A deep hum and vibrating buzz creep into my ears and for a moment, meld with my own neural connections. As the guitarist begins to strum faster, I look over at the drummer.


I hear the taps of the snare lock as he pulls a hand free from under the drum. His left foot presses the peddle into the flesh of the biggest drum. He picks up sticks with his right hand and runs his thumb along the edge of a cymbal. His hand jerks back and he sucks it, closing his eyes. I crane my neck to see what happened. He pulls his thumb away from his mouth and puts a drumstick in each hand. He starts tapping on the overstretched skins below him. Red trickles down the neck of the rightmost drumstick.
The mouths around the room continue expelling their contents. The runners move from table to table, smiling and drooling. Glasses and silverware clink, clank and chip dishes. I turn my back to the musicians. My angel smiles and begins eating. I look down and notice my own food below me. I reach for a utensil but stop short. The dissonant, sometimes melodic growling of the bass guitar jerks my head back towards the three men and their instruments.


The growl is met with the screams and howls of the piano. But it is the steady panting and pawing of the drums that paralyzes me. It rips away my attention and leaves me with just enough breath to continue using my eyes. I no longer feel my body against the chair. Am I beginning to float?


A hot brand sizzles in my back, twists me around and sends my eyes spinning in all directions, looking for the person who said my name. I stifle rage. I know how unsightly raw emotion can be to those without drink. I pull the square box from my pocket. I place it on my head and extend the two wires that end with small hooks, sharp hooks. I stretch the corners of my mouth up to each hook and hang them there. The pain cranks open a valve and the rage steams out. With what I know to be a smile on my face, I reply, “Yes, what was that?”


“What do you do?” I tap the box on my head, the wires pull my lips up and dig their hooks in deeper. “I work in a place doing things.”


“Oh, really, that’s neat. Do you like it?”


“Yes, very much. What do you do?” I tap the box on my head, my right eye is beginning to water. While they reply, I dab the tear away with the back of my finger.


“I work in a place doing things. I like it.” I nod and look around at the others catching lines from the script. “He said something, she didn’t like it, they got mad and now I’ll tell you my opinion.”


“Well, I was born, then I learned, now I spend time doing something.”


“I had my eyes open and saw a picture of a man telling me to buy food here, so I told other people what the man told me and now we’re here.”


The beast with three bodies paws and snorts behind me, drowning out the sets of clacking teeth in front of me. I catch the face of my angel smiling. Out of habit I glance at the top of her head already knowing that she does not need a box to pull her mouth away from her chin. Her smile indicates that all is normal.


The beast screeches behind me. I turn. The bass guitar roars and stamps at the ground, pounding its blunt hooves in through the sides of my head. Each flick of the finger against the steel strings threatens to rip open my rib cage. The drums boom and thud against my chest. Each attacking wave threatens to steal the beating of my heart and replace it with its own. Or still my heart forever.


Through the roaring and the pounding, the pianist keeps my hair at attention. His vibrations travel under my skin, leaving bumps up and down the lengths of my arms and legs.


The corners of the pianist’s mouth begin pulling up, wrinkling his eyes and changing the shape of his beard. My eyes catch a drop of red splashing next to the pianist’s foot.


The pianist’s hands contort, twist and convulse. Some element is being exorcised from those hands. They bounce off of the piano’s teeth. Another drop of red splashes onto the floor, this time adding to the percussive flurry banging my ear drums. A third drop falls and before the slow-motion crown of liquid impact can rest, a fourth red drop breaks it.


In a distant, foggy memory I can hear clinking glass, silverware scraping on ceramic, idle chatter and clacking teeth. The beast in front of me abducts my senses and possesses my body. I convulse back and forth in time with its movements.


I close my eyes, but darkness does not greet me. My mind splayed and folded, projects out onto the skin of my closed eyes. The stuff of dreams, ideas and memories pool together, and the beast pushes me into the deep end. I rock back and forth in furious rhythm while my head sways side to side.


The box on my head tilts backwards and pulls my cheeks up to my ears leaving my mouth wide. Deep red lines curve up the sides of my cheeks. Red drips from the corners of my mouth. I watch it pool around my feet and soak into my lap.


The pianist seems to enjoy his plight. Blood from his hands ooze from the piano’s teeth and waterfalls down to the floor. As the musicians grow uglier and closer to death, the music they play grows sweeter. More mesmerizing. The musicians cling to their instruments, or try as much as possible to hang on while their bodies deteriorate.


Blood makes its way from where the musicians play to the steps I earlier descended. No one else seems to notice. The runners splash through the rising stream. Blood soaks up their pant legs and the occasional chunk of gore sticks to their uniforms.


A patron at the bar slumps off his stool and falls face first into the now raging river. Blood drips from his hands and off of his eyelids. He slaps one bloody hand on the bar stool and the other grips the edge of the bar. He sits up and reaches for his drink. As he drinks, blood from his hand falls down the glass and collects around his lips. In the corners, the blood mixes with the alcohol in his mouth. He doesn’t seem to notice.


Staring at the intoxicated barfly, I notice a ringing in my ears, the same ringing that occurs when one speaks out loud and hears the echoes of his own words in his mind but nothing banging on his eardrums.


The blood now up to my neck I stand up and turn to see the musicians slumped over their instruments, nearly submerged. The diners around me continue their droning, utensils and glasses now pinging like radar from a submarine. A few of the listeners attempt to clap but the amount of blood in the room only allows for splashy, muffled thuds that sent red flecks on their faces.


Cool and calm the entire evening, my eyes begin darting around the room. Every one of my senses are plugged into the buzzing amp of the bass guitar. I wade through the blood toward the barfly; I know the way out is just beyond him. Pulling myself in his direction, I catch a glimpse of the light from fluorescent streetlamps peeking through the windows. My foot slams against something hard. I lose my balance and am instantly submerged in the blood.


My arms flail frantically, my hands create whirlpools of blood as they grab at nothing. A hand touches my back, and another grabs my hand. Panic leaves and my feet touch solid ground. I emerge, wiping blood from my face and turning to look at my rescuer. It is my angel who parts the red sea and seems untouched by the clotting blood. Her hand still grips mine; we move to the door; the blood seems to have drained.


We pass the barfly, now covered in a brownish cracking paste, still guzzling his beer. Cold air blasts me and I turn to see my angel pushing the door open. I blink and my senses return. I can hear myself breathing. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol, instead I swam in the bloodbath.

Kids

A short story, 2018.

By Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I stepped out of the Vault.  I could only stomach so many drinks on open mic night.  I lit a cigarette and closed my eyes for the first inhale.  The pure puff.  I didn’t need a reason to drink but the first cigarette after wetting my throat was as good as any.  I could feel the smoke coating all the way down to my esophagus.  I held for a second then let the smoke waft out of my mouth.

I had gone out by myself.  The feeling was exhilarating because I knew how others looked at the lonely guy at the bar.  Going to parties or out with friends was predictable.  Sure, I would laugh and make others laugh but there were so many other emotions.  I flicked my cigarette and headed for the underground bar located two blocks away.  I had only been there twice before.  The crowd out front usually consisted of sun burnt felons with purchase stickers on their flipped-up baseball caps.  The thought and the alcohol made my blood angry.  I lit another cigarette to relieve the unwanted stress.  Rounding a corner, I looked across the street at the entrance.  A kid about 7 years old stood out front squatting down, tilting back and forth.  After crossing the street, I saw it was a little girl.  I was curious.

     “What are you doing out here?”

She didn’t look up but responded cheerily.

     “Waiting for my mommy.”

It was nearly midnight.

     “Where is she?”

I became conscious of my cigarette.

     “She’s downstairs.”

     “In the bar?”

I flicked my cigarette away from her.

     “Yeah.”

I thought about being noble and telling her mom off but decided that getting rid of my cancer stick was enough.

     “Okay, well be careful up here.”

     “Okay.”

     “And don’t talk to strangers.”

     “Okay.”

It wouldn’t ruin my evening because nothing beats the excitement of entering a bar.  It feels like waiting for the ball to drop at the roulette table.  Except the odds are always in my favor.  I walked up to the bar and placed my bet.

     “A jack and coke, please and a pint of whatever.”

I pushed the chair next to me a few inches further away.  I always got too restless at the counter.  The barkeep came back with my drinks and grabbed the money I put on the table.  I was a winner.  What I did with my winnings was unpredictable.  Often, I never knew how an evening would end.  I finished off the jack and coke in three gulps.  There was more beer, so it took a few more swigs.  It was time for a cigarette.  The trip upstairs was a little more cautious than the jog down.  I had plenty of time to pad my fresh pack, rip the plastic, tear the paper and flip a fag up with my thumb.  I pulled the cigarette out with my lips and stepped outside.  A couple were doubled over laughing and trying to say…something.  I smiled and raised my eyebrows as I fished for my lighter. 

The boyfriend made his way to me.

     “Dude, dude, dude.”

     “What’s up?”  I chuckled to be polite, but his laughter was contagious.

     “We just saw this homeless man.”

This sent them both into a guffaw.  I sent out an amused snort, realizing I was trapped, at least until he got to the punchline.  The girlfriend composed herself.

     “We saw this homeless guy walk by and his pants were sagging all the way down PAST his ass.”

The boyfriend picked it up from there.

     “And he was pushing his cart in front of him and shuffling like Frankenstein.”

The two lost it again and I thought about correcting the boyfriend.  Doctor Frankenstein was the creator of the creature.  The creature had no name.  A device probably used to further the creatures struggle with its identity.  I realized I was boring myself and didn’t think the couple would give a shit about what I had gleaned from my literary criticism class.

     The couple’s laughter died down and we talked.

     “I’m Charlie, Cigarette?”  I offered.

I don’t remember their names, but we talked.  Where you from?  What do you do?  How long have you lived there?  They were nearing the fork in the conversation where strangers either become friends or never see each other again.  Then the boyfriend said something that really impressed me.

     “Well now that the bullshit is out of the way, how about some weed?”

I thought about it for a few cigarette drags.

     “I appreciate the offer, but I had an experience with a demon in a bathroom the last time I mixed.”

     “Oh shit, you trip out?”

     “You could say that.”

     “I’m sorry bro.”

     “No worries, now I mainly stick to spirits.”

     “Then let’s get a drink!”

We hoofed downstairs and livened up the near empty underground bar.  We ordered drinks.  The couple would talk.  I would talk then we would all laugh.  Nothing would be remembered in the morning.  We all spoke freely. The girl sat down while the boyfriend and I laughed and patted each other on the back.

The boyfriend was getting horny.

     “Babe, you tired?  You want to leave?”

     “No let’s just get out of here.”

     “She’s right.”  I said, “This place is dead.  Let’s go to the Vault.  It’s a bar just a couple blocks away.  I want a cigarette anyway.”

We started our final trek up the stairs and the boyfriend shouted out.

     “Fuck this place!”

I laughed and high-fived him while his girlfriend looked mortified. 

I was drunk.  I handed out cigarettes and cut across the street toward the Vault.  By this time all the amateurs would be gone.  It was time to do some drinking.  The boyfriend ordered us three beers.  I was extremely grateful, but I ordered another jack and coke.  I didn’t like to take chances. 

We bullshit some more.  The couple danced.  I can never remember names.  Then the girl danced alone.  I was towing the line between drunk and insanity.  I sat quietly responding on auto-pilot.  The girl stopped dancing and the boy went to the bathroom.  She sat across from me and stared into my eyes.  She bit her lip.  Leaning on one arm she slid her finger up and down her bra strap. 

I watched the tip of her finger from the top of her shoulder to the top of her breast.  Her leg touched mine and mimicked the motion of her finger.  I looked toward the bathroom.  I stood up somber and put a cigarette in my mouth.

     “Cigarette?”  I offered.

She didn’t take the bait and continued lusting.  I looked toward the bathroom.

     “I think I’m going to take off.  Where did your boyfriend go?  What was his name?”

     “Why don’t you stick around.  He’ll be in there for a while.  He’s sick.”

     “Oh, well I’ll give him a cigarette when he comes out and call it a night.”

I was intently staring at the bathroom and looked up.  I wanted to get the fuck out of there.

     “Here, why don’t you give him the cigarette.  I’m in and out of consciousness.”

I handed her the cigarette.  She continued to stare. I could feel her horny, cheating eyes following me out the door. I stepped out of the Vault and lit a cigarette.  I closed my eyes, feeling the smoke coat my throat, esophagus and lungs.  I exhaled.  Alone again.

Vitriol

A short piece, September 10, 2020.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

You might read this and you might know me, or at least think that you do, but only those close right now know what I’m up to. I’m not the past, I’m not my experiences, or my family. Those may inform my choices but I am really only what I choose to do right now. So fuck you.

I sharpen my pencil when the letters get fatter on the page. Like a drop of blood sucked into the syringe of an addicts needle, you turn away your attention when my words bleed into your idea of me, just before plunging in your comfortable narrative.

Me? What a crazy concept. A ball of indie movies and music with arms and feet. A scarecrow mixed with contrarianism and a middle finger.

If you want it, chances are I don’t. if you’re talking about it, chances are I haven’t heard it. If you photograph it, chances are it’s not worth remembering.

This piece of vitriol brought to you by truth. Truth discovered by waving a machete through the dank foliage of your hashtags, peace signs, fake idealism and fear masked by makeup and dancing. Hacking at your need to defend yourself when no on is attacking.

My tips getting fat, it needs to sharpen again. It reminds me of you, I think you should get sharper too. Stop talking about what they tell you to talk about and start talking about why they tell you anything in the first place.

If you’re really against “flaming hot cheetos” that run “democracies” (your word, not mine) like dictators, then either put a bullet in his head or give your jabbering jaw a little slack. I know at least my ears will stop ringing from all your white noise, and it is white noise in more ways than one.

I am a man

A short poem, 2013.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I cry
I curl up under blankets with my hands between my knees and feel safe
I squeal and feel my heart bouncing when I see my dog or baby cousin
My body is beautiful with all its hair
I admire my tattoo’s
I take time to do my hair
I enjoy compliments
I have a hot temper
I am confident in changing a tire
I tremble when jumping a car battery
I struggle with expressing emotion
I feign humbleness when receiving a compliment
I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner
I am a man

I was a lover

A short piece from 2013.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I was a lover before this war and don’t tell me that mental pictures created by TV on the Radio don’t have the power to change chemistries. I am weary, sick and scarred from too many battles in the war of who could care less. When Uncle Ben Folds Five times and still doesn’t learn that the house of the Rising Sun never loses. We know then for whom the bell tolls. A sickening ring that continues its echo, repeating its cold brass answer.

It tolls for thee, for me, for she, and for he. And I refuse to continue wincing at questions of christianity (lowercase, improper noun) or other. It’s not as simple as loving my brother. So I shrug my shoulders at religion, at theology, and democracy, my politics apply only to me. I shrug at the dividing notions of this versus that because I wish to see through he and through she before I get to me.

I walk barefoot on the sand to feel the process of my steps. In the sun or in front of the stars. I open my eyes to fill my mind with everything the light reflects. My ears are open to fill something inside that can’t be described. To write is the most frustrating thing because there are emotions and experiences that will never exist in words. The contrast between black shapes on white space.

I was a lover before this war and I already know the ending. The question of my last breath is either sober or whiskey soaked. The continuous monologue in my mind reaches the end of its reel. I am not making sense but its my senses that make me. I don’t wish to Confucius you but the way of the tao (lowercase, improper noun) is better paved than that of christianity (lowercase, improper noun). If christ (lowercase, improper noun) was the way then that way was tao (you know).

Teetering

By Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Maybe I wasn’t there. Maybe I was but I’m a different person. Maybe I was there learning, adapting, and changing. Maybe not at your pace or your style but maybe I was there. Maybe the next one will be.

Maybe you didn’t know what you had. Maybe you built an excuse. God knows I’ve built my own: teetering Derrick’s pumping crude bullshit into my brain.

Maybe I didn’t say hi. Maybe I needed more time. God knows you do.

Maybe life is understood teetering on the middle of a maybe.

Where are my teeth?

A short piece of prose, or something.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

You get so up in your head that you want to flash back to your BMX with the two pegs to ride down the street and back as fast as you can.

Weeks go by. Years go by.

You get so far into your projections. You want to change.

Years go by. Decades go by.

You see your family the same but they’ve all changed but they haven’t stayed the same. You make the same mistakes but with bigger consequences. All around you the t-shirts change, the science changes, sensitivity changes but it’s all still the same.

The body ages but the mind grows chaotic: A frantic camper in the rain racing to drive down stakes into mud. Stuck to stories growing mold, fuzzy but always staying the same.

The sandman doesn’t sprinkle you with dust. St. Nick can’t give you what you want. Christ could be relatable if only he’d made mistakes. You bought the world’s spirits, elixirs and potions but snake oils only erase time for nothing in return. The tooth fairy took all your teeth but I think she also has your innocence, and you never saw a dime.

Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup. Too many voices in your head spoil the creativity. You can spend time but you can never buy it.

The only option is to drive down stakes into moments you never want to let slip.

What it’s like to meet a wonderful woman in the midst of divorce.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It’s like washing up on shore after shipwreck and a two-day storm. You need time to figure out what happened, where you are but you still get down on your knees and kiss the sand.

It’s like wandering through the desert for 28 days. You’re thirsty, hungry, lips cracked, skin red and aching but you’re grateful for the water at the oasis. However, you’re still wondering what happened, where you are.

It’s like crawling for hundreds of miles on your elbows and knees and someone, suddenly, helps you to stand. You are grateful and relieved but also feeling tired and looking down at your bloody joints.

It’s like buying a plot of land, planting one thousand seeds, watering, weeding and watching the plants grow, for years, until at the point of harvest, they bear fruit and someone comes at gun point to take it from you. You wander off the property and are suddenly given land that is double the size with fruit ready to be picked. You wonder how, why, where you are and what happened but you’re all at once grateful, excited and ready to move on. At the same time, you’re wondering what happened, always wondering what happened.

It is getting divorced and finding, on the same day, a girl, a woman, who touches your arm and says, “hi.” Six months later, you’re in love but, you’re wondering where you are and what happened. You’re grateful, excited and ready to move on but at the same time you’re wondering what happened, always wondering what happened, so that you’re not doomed to repeat your mistakes with the unicorn who touched your arm and said hello.

My own

April 26, 2020 – Evening on the patio, thinking about all things.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Jesus loves you, marriage is between a man and woman, dinosaurs aren’t real, win big with McDonald’s Monopoly, doubts lead to temptation, houses are a tax relief; a few things I was told, among others, that turned out to be lies.

This is the part where it ends and where there is peace, you know I will not be.

I don’t want to be alone. The glorious comfort of a star within Orion’s Belt being the home of Jesus does not comfort me. Lying to grandpa on his deathbed was a kindness, a little white lie. I do not know if there is or is not a heaven.

He lied to me so I repeated grandpa’s lies back to him.

These are the truths I hold as self-evident; I have the urge to fuck, to dance, to write those words that combine themselves into a sort of truth. The rest I was told by others, like a trash can spilling its contents, I’m full of shit.

Exemption, Marine, Slot

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was a losing combination but they met at cherry, grapes and seven. She was a marine, he was a truck driver. She was killing some time away from the barracks, not looking but maybe looking for something different. He was playing the slots like he was filling out paperwork for a 401K and life insurance policy all in one. Gripping the black stick he pulled it down, putting the machine into gear and starting its flashing lights, beeps, and boops.

She was adjusting her camo cap and looking at the roulette tables across the casino, to her right. She bumped into him. They looked at each other and then at the combo that stopped on the screen; cherry, grapes, seven. He chuckled to himself then stood up, “excuse me ma’am.” and gave a limp salute.

She smiled, “At ease, I bumped into you. Let me buy you a drink.”

“That isn’t necessary, ma’am. I’ve already got my security blanket here.” He twirled his glass so that the ice clinked.

“Well, if you change your mind I’ll be at the bar putting on my dancing shoes.” She smiled and looked him up and down.

He smirked and looked down at her tan boots. “I bet you could cut up a rug with those standard issue’s.”

“What’s your name, soldier?” she asked.

“Tom.”

“Staff Sergeant, Mary Maline.”

“Mary, it’s a pleasure to meet you. If your offer still stands, perhaps I’ll slip on some dancing shoes at the bar as well.”

The two made their way to the bar in silence, glancing at each other every so often. He looked down at his drink and around the flashing lights and sounds. She adjusted her cap and looked around at the flashing lights and sounds.

They reached the bar and she ordered. “Two Bulleit whiskey’s, neat.”

He raised his glass to her and finished off his drink, setting it on the bar with a clink.

“Where might two people move their legs and bodies around in a show of complete tom foolery?” he asked.

“I don’t believe the club is open, but there is music playing at the food court, if your up for dancing with complete exemption of social norms.” She answered.

The bar tender set their drinks on the bar. She paid. They toasted to warm casino nights. She grabbed his hand and they zig zagged through the smoke, illusions of grandeur, lights and sound of the casino toward the food court.

There was some contemporary pop playing, they rested their drinks on a deserted table with discarded Chinese food. Then they danced.

Qualify, Screen, Reaction

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Entitled by deed
Entitled by greed
Entitled to feed
Entitled to breed
Entitled to bleed
Entitled to stand on one’s own screed.

Begging for chances
Begging for advances
Begging at feet
Begging to eat
Begging for meat
Begging for the right to one’s own dances.

Burn up the screens
Burn up the scenes
Burn up the teens
Burn up the jeans
Burn for the queens
Burn to find out what everything means.

Tear down the bricks
Tear up the flix
Tear down the walls
Tear up the dolls
Tear down the malls
Tear of the curtain to see all the tricks.

Build up your scheme
Build up your cream
Build up your steam
Build up your dream
Build up your stream
Build to make the status quo scream.

Follow no man
Follow no plan
Follow no klan
Follow no fan
Follow no ban
Follow the instinct that tells you, “you can.”

Go up
Go down
Go left
Go right
Go in
Go out
Go

Projection, Obstacle, Hour

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

His mind projected to him what he wanted to see. Perhaps not what he would ever consciously want, what his ego would want, but what his id was subconsciously saying to him. A figure with a beard down past his knees. Gaunt cheeks yellowed with jaundice, as was the rest of his naked skin. His ribs showed and the skin between his collar bones sagged enough to hold a shot of whiskey on both sides.

What he faced now was the inevitable state of his future, if he kept at his current pace, actions and emotions. Somewhere within him, it felt only an hour away. The future he now saw in the mirror.

The only obstacle to this vision of fury, wasted away was that constant voice of societal pressure, pounded into his head since childhood that one must keep up appearances, maintain a stiff upper lip, keeping up decorum triumphs over weakness of the spirit. To see a well groomed, well-maintained, well-dressed figure in front of him would, should and could keep him within the acceptable realm of sanity.

He wanted to be in sanity. Completely doused in rubbing alcohol, clean and pure. Free of the germs of doubt, low self-esteem and decay. Though he secretly felt that what modern psychologists labeled as deficiencies of the mind, were really just the variables that made up a persons character and personality. The stamps of an original individual.

Why should his sanity ever be in question when it swam in the same pool of saturated judgements and opinions as those who were insane and those who labeled others insane. It was all the same doggie paddle, just different ends of the pool.

The difference, he thought, was that some very few felt comfortable swimming completely naked, while most felt the need to cover themselves with that seasons flavor of bathing suit. They were all naked, and sex assured that everyone viewed the clothed and unclothed alike, as naked or potentially naked. And so that question of sanity ran down the same track.

He smiled and wondered just how far into the deep end he could swim. How far he could dive before needing to come up for air. How long he could last before feeling the need to cover his nakedness in front of those who pretended not to be naked behind their trunks, one pieces and bikinis.

What was the point of the bathing suit if everyone already knew the truth underneath?

Cover, Relation, Hilarious

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Crown me King
I am at
the center.
You may be
sister
cousin
father
mother
brother
but I
am king.

An empire of
foxtails
dust
rotted fence posts
chipping paint

My loyal subjects
crickets
spiders
roaches
ants

My closest relations
anger
acrylic paint
sadness
drink
loneliness
my right hand
anxiety
my bicycle

The crown is
light
The scepter is
missing
The freedom is
looking out
through hard
plastic
packaging,
my case
my cover
molds
to me.

I am king and queen
prince
and princess.
I am jester
jester
Jester

I am dungeon master
and
shackled prisoner.

I am lord and lady
in waiting.
I am peasant
pageboy
Knight
and horse.

I am king
and you
are alien.

I am king
and you
are nothing.

I am jester
and I point
and laugh
at the king.

I am king
and I
am nothing.

Trace, Estimate, Satisfaction

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

His fingers traced the groove that ran down the center of the barrel of the gun. The pointer finger taking a sharp right turn down to the end of the handle.

“And you know how to use that sweaty?” He licked his lips after he said it.

Her thumb clicked the safety off and moved up to the hammer, cocking it back. She double squeezed the trigger as if clicking a computer mouse. One, two shots went into his chest. The second bullet assisted the first through his chest cavity, and past T5 and T6 of the thoracic vertebrae. Her employers required such details so they could verify them with the coroners office and newspapers.

He was wide eyed and taking short halting breaths.

“To answer your question, yes, I do know how to use this thing.” She let it flop back and forth in her hand. “It’s pretty easy really, just squeeze. It’s like using a weed whacker or hand blender. Pretty straight forward.” She holstered the gun in her bra and put her white gloves back on.

“If I had to guess, you have about 10 to 15 minutes of living left to do. That’s a gift in my book, not many people are given the satisfaction of knowing how much time they have before, well you know.” She sat with her legs crossed, bouncing her right foot over her left and her hands stacked on her right knee.

“You…” he tried to say something but the effort produced bloody spittle on his lips.

“If I were you I would take time to review your surroundings. Start with this beautiful hard wood floor and work your way over the Persian rugs, carefully laid over one another as if haphazard, follow them to the base boards and their precision cuts all the way around the room. Take in the eggplant colored walls and up to the crown molding with its striking bevels, curves and lines so elegantly dividing the wall from the ceiling. Take in the Spanish style texture of the white ceiling and follow that to the center piece of the room, the French empire crystal chandelier. Note how it’s trimmed by Swarovski crystals. I bet you never bothered before today, huh?” She winked at him.

His eyes were glazing over but he laid back and stared straight up at the bell shaped light fixture dangling above him.

“If you don’t mind, I’m in a bit of a hurry, so as you pass I’m going to search your pockets for the information I am required to find. I’ll do that now.” She paused, as if waiting for permission, seeing him blink she proceeded.

Bus, Defeat, Miracle

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

He hopped on, paid the fair and took an open bench seat towards the back. Someone had vomited in the seat across the aisle from him. Gripping the handle above him, swaying with the bus, he lifted himself into the window seat and stared out.

The rain drops on the window made all the head lights look like shooting stars passing him. No one was walking the streets. Homeless were huddled at bus shelters, doorways and underneath shop overhangs.

Then, once again, he thought about her, a new her, a more recent her. As quickly as it had begun it had ended and instead of the hurt subsiding, it was rising again.

He lowered his sleeve by raising his arm and twisting his wrist to check the time. 40 minutes to get home, review what he had written so far, think about the new direction for the project and then call Larry. The new project was about his divorce but he couldn’t stop thinking about the girl friend he had had shortly after signing all the paperwork. He had lost her too.

Maybe lost wasn’t the right word, she had come and gone. He had to sit with that. Accept it and not hold onto it. It was too easy, with everything that had happened over the past year and a half, to not view things as defeats stacking up. He was winning in defeats. He snorted and smiled to himself, checking the neighborhood they were in. Two more stops.

No one saw the smile because of the mask he wore, everyone wore. The pandemic was still raging and he thought about how much social distancing he had already lost, now this “act of god.” It would be nice to experience a miracle some time soon rather than disaster after disaster.

One more stop. The bus pulled away from the curb and he watched the red and blue lights of a cop car across the street. They bounced all inside the bus when they passed.

He had to force himself to think about the story. At first a good idea. Taking his recent experience with divorce and creating a fictional horror out of it, exaggerating the feeling of loneliness, strangeness of the once familiar and the questions of what he had done wrong.

The bus stopped, he grabbed his bag and jogged around the corner to his building. Someone was exiting and held the door for him.

“Thank you.” he said passing.

“No problem, it’s nice to catch a brake sometimes.” The old woman laughed and let the door slip from her hand.

He kept going, trying to force himself to think of the story, to write what he knew but be separate enough from it to tell it coherently. Unlocking the door, he nearly tripped over his dog, Marty who was nearly seizing from excitement.

“Marty! Not now. I got work to do, bud.”

Setting his bag on his desk, he pulled out the notes he had begun taking. Reviewing all the acts and asking himself, what small details can I add that provide some relief to the heaviness of the story?

Pilot, Hair, Wolf

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

…only beginnings

At mach speed it screams through me, mixing with my chemistries, passing through the shudder down my spine and ripping through my rib cage. I’m left with a glimpse, a still of a needle nosed jet driven by a figure with a helmet and tubes. Intimate is the moment, a photo, a tingling, an ache.

Follicles salute bloody snouts. Extending past split ends, peering at red snow, hearing howling, growling and snarls. Patellas chatter with tibia, fibula and femur. The vertebrae conga twists and sways. Visceral macabre discos, danced by ancient biological giants and jolted still by animatronic technologies. Everlasting, never changing pirouette’s dedicated to the unknown, to fear.

Notes bounce jagged lines over tympanic membranes. Hear and let beat what needs beating. Listen: I can be fulfilled alone. I let things come and go. There are only beginnings…

Cope, Oppose, Manage

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

An ocean of booze is not enough to forget. It’ll still spit you up on shore and you’ll squint at the sun wondering how you got there. But you don’t forget. You never forget. So you jump back in, swim as far as your arms and legs will let you and stop, maybe thinking of something else, but you’ll eventually crawl back up the sand and feel the hot sun.

You wade back into the water, jumping the small waves, diving under the big ones until again, you’ve reached the chop of the ocean. Then you find yourself spitting out sand and protecting your eyes from the sun. You take a skiff out until the engine runs out of gas. You can’t see the shore and so you think this enough. So with no life preserver you jump into the water, moving your arms and legs just enough to keep your mouth free for air. You don’t want to die, just forget. Yet you find yourself stuck in the rocky crags at the mouth of the bay. Hands, feet, sides and head bleeding from the beating your body took to get back to shore.

After climbing back to the sand, you lay down, exhausted. The tide begins lapping at your feet, your legs, your thighs, your hands and you remember. You jump in a plane and fly for hours until the view below is all blue with ocean. You jump and think you’ll never remember again. Your body slaps the water, bruising all over. Later you wake up with coast guard above you and family members crying. And still the waves lap at your feet, you can’t forget. You never forget.

Now you hobble back down to the waters edge, your legs are wobbly, arms feel like lead and that little ball of light inside you is dimming. You fall into the water pushing yourself crawling into the deep of the ocean. Why not just turn around and forget the water completely? Why keep trying to find the deep?

How do you cope with what you can’t forget? How do you manage what you remember? How do you prevent the memories from drowning you if you never stop jumping into the ocean?

Spirit, Reflection, Amber

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

When the lighter’s flame gets pulled into the leafs of tobacco tucked into the cigarette’s tip, a spirit is born. It dances and twirls like the gossamer on wild cactus. It bends and twists like the strokes of a painters brush. It flees off the white capped end of the cigarette like a stream of melting snow down a mountain. Its thin opacity creates a colorful reflection in the morning sun, a shape shifting stained glass window. It’s wispy shards equally as dangerous as broken glass but just as beautiful. It will take breath away.

At dusk, the end glows like ancient amber lodged in a fossilized tree. It’s color dimming and brightening with each inhale or gust of wind. The cherry end glows and fades like the spinning of a lighthouse lantern, the blinking of airport lights or the frantic braking of LA traffic.

The pleasure end stains with each dragging breath. From white to mustard to brown, the filter, a tributary for the waste of those dancing streams.

At its end, the cigarette is left curled up and alone in a mass grave of butts all spent and bent into the fetal position.

Production, Costume, Healthy

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

There was a calm in the crowd. That moment the lights flicker, signifying everyone to take their seats. Moments before there were members of the audience everywhere, in the aisles, restroom lines and mezzanine bar. Now they gingerly took their seats and made themselves comfortable. It was a professional crowd, each one doing their part to create a cohesive beast of attention.

He stood, stage right, peeking out of the curtain, watching them. Some opened the programs, others sipped drinks and in the balcony, a few focused their binoculars. They were nearly ready.

He looked down at his wardrobe; adjusting the lapels of his jacket, straightening the collar, un-ruffling his pants, and straightening the noose around his neck. Tonight’s performance would be his first and last. All 23 years of his life led up to this moment.

In the general public, out there where the world communicated in double-speak, entendre’s, metaphors and straight lies, his act was intolerable. Why would a healthy young man of 23 with nothing but future ahead of him take his own life? Why? Why? Why?

The stage would be his answer. He would deliver a monologue explaining his life, experiences, doubts, fears and perceptions. He would be joined on stage periodically by doctors, lawyers, therapists and his own parents. They would ask him questions and he would respond honestly. Then, after he’d make his exit, the audience would have an answer to the question of why, while staring at his swaying corpse.

The idea was that those viewers who accepted his answer may be closer to their own little productions than they would like to admit. And those who still did not understand were either in denial or what the actor playing the psychologist might say “in a healthy state of mind.”

Taking one more breath, he waited for the lights to dim and the spot to shine on the step stool center stage. No music, no sensationalism, just light and then darkness.

False, Leave, Posture

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Was it false? Her posture said yes when eventually she did leave. Her slow steps, that quick glance at the dogs, the fumbling with the lock she had opened hundreds, even thousands of times. Was she trying to convince herself of something? Something that she didn’t want in her mind but that her heart couldn’t support; not making the effort to pump blood to fingers, feet and eyes to make her way confidently out of the house.

I couldn’t know either but I suspected she wasn’t quite sure either. Decisions of the heart are never made in confidence. We may tell ourselves they are prudent choices but the heart plants a seed of doubt and only time will tell us if that doubt will grow into regret or die buried deep. I imagine that small unborn seed remains there, not growing but never truly dying, keeping its small hardness somewhere in the chest.

I wonder if it gets easier. Growth, nurturing, planting, giving, sharing time and energy. Or do those nutrients get lost with those seeds that never grow? Does the soil around those seeds grow into dust, leaving less and less space in the heart?

Then the weeds come. What did I do wrong? Was it this? Was it that? Was it all the things I was blind to? Was I selfish? Did I lose myself and become someone else? Will I be enough for anyone?

I’m only at the beginning but it already hurts to open up. It hurts to moisten and till the soil for new plantings. The first time, there was no pain in preparing for love but the more it happens, the more pain seeps into the process. The more those seeds of doubt poison what’s left of the soil around them.

What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me.

Resort, Trait, Separation

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Yeah, there were palm trees, cabana’s, poolside drink service, as many towels as you could request, a 24-hour buffet and plenty of security. A complete separation from what was actually just outside of the resort. They told me to stay within the confines of the property, you know, for my safety and shit. But what was out there? There was nothing at the pulga vieja that I couldn’t find at a Los Angeles or Miami beach.

I wanted to know what this country was like. What did they really eat. I was almost positive they didn’t eat Wagyu sliders and tapas, I was almost certain they didn’t bring you a towel and when you said thanks they would respond, “para servirle,” or “to serve you.” No, I imagined they were just like me when I was at home. Annoyed with herds of tourists crowding the places that I thought were beautiful, the places I enjoyed because they were part of my home.

So I grabbed a bag, called a local taxi number and got picked up in front of the main entrance of the resort. The guard at the front gate was trying to shoo away the cabbie when I got there. I told him it was for me and immediately his demeanor changed, though he tried to warn me against leaving. Was I being kept in the resort, where everything was charged to my room? Where the more time I spent inside, the more likely I was to purchase food and drinks?

I got in the cab and told him to take me downtown. With what little of the language I knew, I tried to talk to him. From our limited conversation of gestures and using only the words we knew in each others languages, we found understanding. He lived in a smaller city just a few kilometers from the main city, the tourist city. It was a quite place, he said. His wife worked in a small shop making some sort of food and he drove a cab.

We got downtown and I waved good bye, cinching up my backpack. I stayed where I had gotten out, in front of an old hotel I had read about in certain novels. The sort of novels that men in the 1950’s wrote about, pretending to be about grit and truth but really living in luxury without spending their millions and ignoring the people that had lived in that location for centuries, even millennia for all I knew.

I started walking down the street. There were luxury shops I had seen in downtown’s across the U.S. and Europe. There were street vendors selling the things I had seen about this place on television and movies. I got the sense that they had set up shop for all the backpack carrying people who needed sunscreen applied every 2 hours.

I stopped in front of a shop and ordered some of the local food I had heard so much about. It was good, but somehow didn’t sit well. Maybe it was the family of tourists at the table next to me, who looked like me, complaining about the service. Maybe it was the fact that just a couple blocks down the road I spotted a Kurber Bing, with its iconic scepter holding out a juicy burger (a burger, I might add, that never looked like it did in the advertisements).

I went down to the beach, removed my shoes and walked on the sand, looking out at the sea. Cruise ships were coming and going. I followed the line of oversized ships to the port where hoards of people, with backpacks, disembarked.

I took a seat in the sand and looked up at the sky. Not much different than where I called home. I looked down at the sand. Not much different than where I called home. An old lady made her way up to me, holding up a book with postcards of the scenery I was currently enjoying. I smiled and politely waved her off. Some kids came up to me with small toys that lit up with they made impact. I laughed and tried my best to tell them no in their native tongue. A young man came up to me and tried to sell me sandals, saying they were made by his grandmother. I said no thank you. I saw another woman coming up to me, about to sell me something else.

I was annoyed. I got up and started walking back downtown, ready to hail a cab. I wondered what this place would be. I had traveled so far but found that it seemed only to cater to me. What would this place look like if all eyes were not on me? I suspected that it was the way it was out of necessity. That it was this way because people like me kept traveling, expecting something authentic but only receiving what we expected.

Reasons to drink

Thoughts on growing up middle-class in America.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

At 3-4 years old I was asked which animals I wanted to pet in heaven. I was told from which star our savior would come. I was taught how to pray.

At 10-11 years old I got in trouble in my school for reading a book about my favorite dinosaurs, Velociraptors.

At 15 my grandfather attempted suicide. It was never talked about from that day forward, even though I saw him in a sterile facility, hair wispy, with a wrist band and hospital gown. I was asked if I wanted to go to church. I stayed home and watched stand-up instead.

At 33 I separated from my wife.

At 35 I get divorced.

At 34 I meet a real woman, I pee in my backyard, rent out a room to my best friend whom I met in rehab and do my best to limit my smoking and drinking.

And at some point I’ll stop listening.

I grew up in the land of mid-sized sedans, mini-vans and low-end luxury vehicles. The land where rap was tolerated as a phase instead of the gospel of fellow Americans. The land where men wore suits but ordered water when eating out on occasion. Where they preached loving they neighbor but threw their money at stained-glass windows and steeples.

I grew up in the land where causes had the opulence of being accessorized, awarded, badg-ed and medal-ed in. First place goes to the woman with her heart on her sleeve. What’s her prize? A podcast, followers and the right to perceive. Second place is forgotten.

I grew up where cultures were worn on the runway; tagged, liked and put to bed with the 24-hour news cycle. Where smiling with brace-corrected teeth was more important than listening. Where dents on garages were ignored for blue-tooth mirages. Where the placation of expressed problems were as cute as a stay-cation meme.

Meme, meme, me, me, me ,me: a virus of non-essential, feel-good, self-righteous, resting above comfortable but just below content ideas spread through imitation. Where love is shared with those who succeed and for those who don’t, martyrs are made. Where thought, like above, are unclear, influenced by what’s trending, not by what’s right.

I grew up where grandfather’s worked hard, father’s built empires and grandson’s teetered on their shoulders reaching for wisps of clouds. My hands are too soft, my mind too dull and my heart too brittle.

Where quarantine is spent at home with no reduction in grocery bills and no one wonders if today is the day. where there’s the luxury of debate, unpopular opinions and fundraising for traveling missionaries.

I grew up in the land where 14-year-olds built houses in foreign countries. Where 15-year-olds drove Mercedes-Benz and 16-year-olds started thinking about their parent’s colleges.

I grew up where authority is referred to on bend-ed knee but you don’t know what authority is. Authority is a running tally of wrist scars. Authority is counting days sober. Authority is orgasm at will. Authority is false teeth, cauliflower ears, and a crooked nose. Authority drags around an oxygen tank with wheezing breaths. Authority isn’t found on any screen, it rolls in a wheel-chair and dictates its will to on one.

I grew up where drugs, alcohol, pornography and other vice are worshiped for six days and absolved on the seventh. Where respect goes to the shiniest cars and the tannest chins. Where those who care the least are crowned the Kings and Queens of cool. A land of illusion where death is a shock at any age and life comes with medical, dental, optical and, a life insurance policy. Where people wait for bread with crossed arms and a tapping foot. Where necessity means a lack of excess and ignorance is an offer color joke chuckled at in church parking lots.

I grew up in the land of recycled boxes. Where one hundred rolls of toilet paper will never sell when on the self next to one-thousand roll packs for just a dollar ninety-nine more. Where emotions are changed by the click of a remote or swipe of a playlist.

No one taught me how to drink but Bukowski. No one taught me love but Shakespeare. No one taught me life’s lack of meaning but Seinfeld. No one taught me how to become a garbage pail for any drug passed my way but my lack of satisfaction. but I have a foot print on my ass the size of the middle class. Its kicked into my dockers in the direction of complacency, American democracy and mediocrity.

Rugby, Hair, Hammer

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

A real bruiser, this guy. He had a head that looked like it had been pressed by vices, one smashing his chin and nose, another pressing against his ears. His neck was about as thick as his skull. The rest of his body looked like a sculpture in progress. A cube of marble with arms, a chest, stomach, legs and feet with none of the ripples and bumps of a completed piece. He was a block.

He was most comfortable and alive in the middle of a scrum. Locked arm and arm with two other bruisers, pushing against the entirety of his opponents. His team would always say that they swore he was doing all the work and that they were just along for moral support.

He was one of those guys that stayed in shape from 18 to 50 years old, no matter how much he ate, drank or otherwise consumed. Teeth might fall out of his mouth but the rest of him remained an absolute unit, as they would say on the sidelines.

He would have kept going, there was no signs of him slowing down. Except one day his picture appeared in the paper. His face was caved in by a hammer. It appeared that someone wanted to put a little more detail into his bulky features.

And so he was remembered, briefly, by family, friends and team mates but will be all but forgotten when they also pass on. Hopefully by less artistic means.

Fantasy, Census, Mill

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

There was an explosion in his mind, a spectacular explosion of imagination. A world appeared out of thin air. It moved, breathed, projected light and shadows. Creatures moved in and out of the darkness and light. Buildings pocked the land from castles to shacks. It was a world of his own creation, built from scratch through memory and imagination. A world so vast and ever expanding it was impossible to keep a running record of all its inhabitants.

The walnut shaped mill in his head kept churning his thoughts into fantasy.

Everything was imagined from mythical beasts to majestic feasts. Yet he could not conjure her, even in his own memory. She would not appear in his imagined world.

The waiting room in which he had dozed had grown in occupants. Nearly every seat was filled with someone coughing, bleeding, clutching their chests, or nodding off to sleep. An EMT made her rounds through the room, checking vital signs and taking temperatures, just enough to ensure people were alive in that purgatory before a hospital bed.

He’d come in to the waiting room many times before. Sometimes for food from the vending machine, sometimes for warmth but mostly for a place to sit. He often waited a full day but it was still a nice reprieve from sitting by the highway or sleeping behind the rubble of an abandoned lot. Here he had to be seen, if not immediately, then eventually but he would be seen and heard and felt and spoken to.

Here in the waiting room, they were required to pay attention to him. To hear him out. Listen to him speak and speak back. Here he would be counted among the living, even if just before they died. There would be a record of him, no matter how menial the numbers of his blood pressure were.

He nibbled at the vending machine egg salad sandwich, savoring each bite. Here he was a person, waiting like all the rest to be seen.

Woman, Cellar, Cutting

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Her razor blade was still on the nightstand, dried brown with blood. There was water running, the shower, she must have turned it on to hide any sound. What sound, I didn’t know, but then again suicide is often uncharted territory if done correctly.

I put her clothes from the hospital in the hamper and sat on the bed. What were all those forms I needed to fill out? What were those phone numbers I had to call? Why did I put her clothes in the hamper?

I stood up, compelled by the only instinct, I knew. I headed down to the cellar and grabbed the first bottle of wine on the rack, not bothering to read the label. I suppose it wasn’t instinct, simply learned behavior.

I pulled off the label, twisted into the cork and popped it open. Red wine. Whiskey would be better but I was able to hide my learned behavior behind a hobby of wine collecting. Maybe that was one of the reasons that compelled her to leave. One of many, I guessed.

I went back to the room. No glass, just the bottle. I laid in bed. I need to fix that baseboard it’s loose. She had pointed it out. I never got around to it. Probably never would. Perhaps that was one of the last remaining forms of communication between us. A shared responsibility for the house. Without that, what was the house?

I turned and saw the razor blade still poised on the edge of the night stand. I imagined it had just been used and looked down to see the crowns of blood on the floor below it. What had that felt like? Sitting here, hiding from me, wanting to escape, not just this home but everything. There wasn’t a single place she would have rather gone, could have gone other than to that unknown place that hovers like a stick behind us. Or maybe in her case, like a carrot dangling in front of us.

A deep emptiness seemed to push all else out of my stomach. A pit so vast I couldn’t drink fast enough to fill it. The emptiness forced tears out of my eyes and shaking so violent I double over, gripping my pillow. It pulled my face in all directions, contorting my mouth into ugly cries. There was a deep hole and would not be filled again. Never.

What did it feel like to sit here, shower running and cut into the veins of the wrist? To cut so deeply that the blood rushed out like a crack in a dam. What sort of emptiness was that? Or was it exactly like my own. An agonizing look into nothingness.

I grabbed at the razor blade, spilling my wine. What sort of emptiness did she feel? That woman, that once called herself mine. My woman. A woman. What did it feel like?

Nipple, Mustache, Sprinkler

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was pierced. Some sort of small barbell that ran the diameter of the aureola. A few tattoos; praying hands, rosary beads with a cross, some biblical texts and a bloody Jesus on the cross on his back. He had slicked back hair and a lady tickler that seemed to be frozen in a crawl up into his nose and down into his mouth. Though, this priest wasn’t tickling ladies with that mustache.

“Turn, bend over, spread your cheeks and cough.” He paused and looked at the other freshly imprisoned men complying. His clothes black with a strip of white, wadded up on the floor behind him.

He finally turned and overheard someone say, “he’s going to be in that position a lot.” He wasn’t sure who said it, could have been a guard or an inmate, but it didn’t matter. The truth in his head was verbalized.

They shuffled down the corridors being shown to their cells. He reached his and a man, small, bone thin and not a tattoo visible would be his celly.

“What you in for?”

The priest hesitated with his answer as his cell mate looked him up and down. Seeing he wasn’t going to answer, the cell mate continued.

“It’s probably better not to answer that question or make up a lie. I have the bottom bunk, you’re on top. Keep your shit until I’m not sleeping, I don’t want a rude awakening.”

The priest set his clothes and things on the top bunk. He looked around at the toilet, the desk, the bunk bed, the bars at the end of the cell and the cobwebbed sprinklers on the ceiling.

“I’m Henry.” He said, still gazing up at the sprinklers.

“Well, Henry, I’m willing to bet that your pregnant pause when I asked why you were here was something that really only God can deal with. And their ain’t no sprinklers in hell.”

Eye, Leader, Raccoon

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Through the peep hole, all I could see was that big blue window into her soul. I smiled and knocked again. She opened the door but the chain kept the door open just a crack. Maybe she didn’t recognize me. Maybe I had the wrong house. Then her head peaked through the crack.

I smiled a little wider this time.

“Hi, it’s me.”

She only stared. Not saying anything. I could hear the sounds of a house full of living. Pots, pans, yelling kids, a TV.

“Is this a bad time.”

“What are you doing here?”

Now the words caught in my throat. I folded my hands behind my back and cleared the uncertainty welling up.

“Well, I wanted to be the first to tell you that I got that movie made. It was purchased and now there’s some director looking for actors and…well, I just wanted to tell you. You were always so supportive of that.”

She looked at me. Then closed the door. I heard something scratching and then the door opened all the way. She stepped onto the porch, shutting the door behind her. It took every ounce of social conditioning and domestication that had been thrown my way to not instantly through my arms around her shoulders and pull her head into my chest.

She crossed her arms slowly and then looked up at me.

“You couldn’t have called or texted?”

My cheeks flushed. I knew she could see that.

“I’m sorry, you’re right, this isn’t fair of me.”

“No, look, I think it’s great. That’s what you’ve always wanted. It sounds like you’re on your way to something great.”

I knew she was just extending a guilty hand. I looked around the yard and spotted chains and a lock on the lids of their trash cans.

“So you keep a pretty tight lid on your trash now, huh?”

“What?” She looked where my gaze held then laughed. That sweet laugh. “Oh, yes, well we have some pretty tenacious little bandits that dig around and spread it out every night if we don’t.”

She uncrossed her arms but took a half step backward.

“I’m sorry, again, I should have called, I just thought it would be cool for you to know when the trailers came out and stuff. You’d see them on TV and know who made the movie.”

She looked at me for what seemed like a full moon cycle. It was only a few seconds before she spoke but I could see that familiar glint, somewhere buried back behind her new life.

“Well, it’s just that, it’s hard to see…”

Another pause. I knew what she was going to say, something to the effect of it’s hard to see me but it wouldn’t work, it never worked. Despite what I thought to the contrary.

“Alright, well it sounds like you’re busy in there with the little ones. I just wanted you to know and now you do. It was great to see you.”

“It was great to see you too.”

I turned to go down the steps. She turned to go back inside.

I thought about the most memorable people in history. The presidents, kings, bishops, popes, captains, outlaws, revolutionaries and wondered how their greatness was shaped. I wondered if they didn’t have their own broken hearts and so turned the world into their anvils, beating it into the shapes that suited their desires.

As I got to the gate, she yelled out to me.

“Hey, I’m gonna see your movie the day it comes out.”

I smiled and thought about an empty theater playing my movie with only her big beautiful eyes to watch it.